2005-11-03 / Front Page

Walk shows residents natural beauty in S.B.


Staff Writer

Guide Andrew Besold consults his book to confirm that the hawk seen hunting over the field is an American kestrel. CHRIS GAETANO Guide Andrew Besold consults his book to confirm that the hawk seen hunting over the field is an American kestrel. SOUTH BRUNSWICK — The Eastern Villages Association in cooperation with the Lawrence Brook Watershed Fellowship hosted a nature walk through Pigeon Swamp State Park on Sunday.

The walk, led by EVA member Jean Dvorak on horseback and LBWF member Andrew Besold, guided about 20 people through centuries-old fields and woodlands. During the walk, the history and ecology of the park were discussed.

The idea for the nature walk began in the summer, when members of the EVA and LBWF took the time to thoroughly explore the park. There, the guides showed them a wealth of natural beauty in an area more well-known for its warehouse development and the New Jersey Turnpike.

“We thought we had to take people back here and show them what’s in their own backyard,” Besold said.

While the group waited for the hike to begin, much of the conversation centered around development in the area. Many people there had been residents for decades, and most seemed concerned at the pace at which the area is being built up.

“New Jersey is so beautiful, so rich — can’t we have some peace?” said Joanne O’Malley, of South Brunswick. “The environment is so important.”

The walk began at the Habiak farm, which is adjacent to Pigeon Swamp, and went through an open field of recently harvested corn.

Besold pointed out that while many might think that an open field has no ecological value, it is actually an ideal place for large birds of prey to hunt. As if on cue, a hawk (pointed out as an American kestrel by Besold) was seen chasing three small birds known as starlings. Kestrels, which have an eyesight 20 times keener than that of humans, are raptors that pluck their prey directly from the air.

Later on, a juvenile red-tailed hawk, a ground hunter that swoops down and grabs more terrestrial prey, was seen hunting in the same field.

As the hike continued on, the field eventually turned into a path to the woods. Before moving on, Besold said that the soil in this area is some of the highest quality in the world. He said he was concerned that soil of this quality was vanishing due to people building things over it.

“This is it. This is our agricultural heritage. This is why New Jersey is the Garden State,” Besold said. “We need to make sure we have places like this so that we can feed ourselves. ... I don’t mean to put some doom and gloom in your day, but this is the stuff that keeps me up at night.”

The group then entered the woods. The ground was muddy, with huge puddles sometimes blocking the way. To the left of the path were trees partially covered in water due to flooding. Besold said that these trees will probably die as a result of oxygen being choked out of the soil by the water.

As the group advanced into the woods, Besold stopped several times to explain things that he saw.

There was a vernal pool, which is a pond that forms only once a year, which is critical for amphibious wildlife to reproduce. Besold said that Pigeon Swamp is one of the richest areas in New Jersey for vernal pools.

As the group continued, Besold pointed out white oaks, red oaks, blueberry bushes and black birch trees, which is what birch beer is flavored with. He cut a small branch off and invited the group to chew pieces of it. It tasted like birch beer.

The group also stopped by Gordon’s Pond, a man-made body located in a clearing in the middle of the woods. In the 1950s, a company began mining sand from the area, leaving the space for the pond to form in behind.

By the time the group left the woods, many people were tired but had enjoyed the hike.

“What I really appreciated was to be able to come to a place I had never been to before and be able to walk through it,” said Louise Seaman, South Brunswick.

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