Friday, November 04, 2005

Fall Sedge Report

Summer at Sedge was very dry and warm so all the program participants loved the nice weather. Fall was wet and cold so all the program participants had deal with more challenging weather conditions. (see blog notes from Fall groups).

The end of the season at Sedge is always marked by Tony talking about how it is getting too cold to wear shorts. He and Jackie left the island in late October. In his last weeks at Sedge, Tony enlisted the aid of several of his friends to help paint the entire floor including the front porch. This task was made even more difficult as two separate northeasters (one lasting 8 days) flooded the island. (Water covered the docks, bulkhead and all the ground but never reached the floor of the house.)

On Halloween I paddled out to check on things. The air temperature was 70 F and with little wind I was comfortable paddling in a T-shirt. The water temperature however had dropped to a chilly 51 F. The house looked fine (I was careful not to hurt the paint by walking on the floor.) The outside was a different story as the high water had floated any thing not tied down to different parts of the island. This includes the “Balance of Nature” which weighs over 200 lbs and has not moved since 2001 when it was built.

Although the water was murky I did paddle around the shellfish lease to check on the clams. The 5 bags of clams that we planted in June were moved slightly but appeared to be fine. The 24 additional bags that we are over wintering for the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration program also look fine. The milk crate containing oysters (now 3 years old) is still hanging from the dock and will hopefully make it through another winter.

I will be paddling to Sedge at irregular days throughout the Fall and Winter months. If it is a warm day with no wind this can be quite a pleasant experience even though the air and water can be quite cold. If you are interested in joining me on the spur of the moment, give me a call (609) 658-7965 and maybe we can paddle out together. Jim

Monday, October 24, 2005

Blog Susquehanna University

Although they never actually touched Sedge Island, Susquehanna University was the last group to have a program associated with the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center this year. Because the new paint on the floor or the McLain center takes so long to dry, we had to conduct the program off site. The group of 14 students led by professor Jennifer Elick camped Friday night at Cedar Creek Campground. On Saturday morning they met Jim Merritt at the Forked River Interpretive Center on Island Beach State Park. The group began indoors due to heavy rain blowing in from a strong northeaster. A hike to the beach along the nature trail was made additionally challenging by the strong winds on the beach. Since a major part of the students’ work was to study diversity, we looked for as many examples as we could find. Our collection included: shells, bones, feathers, plant stems and leaves, but our best find was a four-foot dog fish shark.

Despite the fact that the rain continued, the group wanted to paddle. We hauled the kayaks out of the trailer that was parked near the dock and paddled toward the dike at the southern end of the Marine Conservation Zone. The strong wind pushed us across the sections of open water speeding our trip but in protected areas like the Snake Ditch we observed many Great Egrets, several Blue Heron, and a small flock of Black Brant. We climbed the dike and as we watched the waves lapping up on the geo-tube it seemed to me that it is more exposed than it was as recently as last week. This was a great opportunity for the Oceanography Class to see first hand the effects of the forces they have been studying. A strong downpour chased us back to the boats and we began the trip back – into the wind! We hugged the shore as much as possible. Strong paddlers made the crossing of the open water of Little Bay uneventful. Our final challenge (the longest, most exposed section) was the final half-mile to the dock. After a brief rest in the lee of the northern end of the Snake Ditch, we struck out on our final big push. Everyone pointed their bows directly into the wind (now gusting to twenty MPH) and stroked hard. At one point a pair of paddlers in the Big Banana asked me if they were still moving! Thirty minutes later we were all safely back at the dock. Knowing they couldn’t get much wetter, several of the students held hands and jumped off the dock.

This trip was a great conclusion to a wonderful season at the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center. I hope some of you students will write comments describing how the experience was for you. Jim

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

AMC October 8-10

People always ask why members of the Appalachian Mountain Club come to Sedge Island. Little do they know that the common bond for this group is a love of sea kayaking. As usual the group began their experience on Friday afternoon by paddling to the island in their own boats using paddles they had carved themselves. Saturday morning as we paddled through the relatively calm waters of small creeks and mosquito ditches we had good views of the peregrine falcons diving at birds sheltering in the Spartina grass. These birds were hunkered down in an attempt to avoid the high winds generated by yet another hurricane passing off shore. We too avoided high winds when we wisely decided not to paddle into the waves in Oyster Creek Channel out to Gull island (Later that day we measured the wind velocity up to 35 mph!)

FOOD, FOOD, FOOD! Meal coordinator, Betsy is an incredible cook. Our Friday night meal consisted of butternut squash soup and a huge freshly baked Ruben hoagie with blond brownies for desert. Cold cereal for breakfast? Not on your life - Puff pancakes with pear compote was the early morning fare. Other members stepped up to the challenge producing incredible stews, and even baking two fresh fruit pies.

On Sunday the wind diminished so we paddled the 3 miles to the dike. We stood on the highest point overlooking Barnegat Inlet to see incredible waves rolling into the beach near the point where the geo-tube is exposed. Eight members of the group seized this incredible opportunity to kayak surf. We portaged our boats over the dike and launched in the small shore break. For several hours we caught wave after wave sometimes riding hundreds of yards on unbroken rollers. It was without question the best kayak surfing I have ever experienced! Later we paddled along the edge of the Oyster Creek Channel around the extreme southwest end of the Marine Conservation Zone. Since we had an incoming tide and the nasty weather had all but eliminated boat traffic, we took a detour to Gull Island. The only signs of the thousands of gulls we encountered in the spring were the crab, clams and other shellfish remains. We finished with a circumnavigation of Sedge Island. Wow, can this group paddle!

Since this was the last group to stay at Sedge this year, we began the task of closing down the McLain House. This required an even greater amount of work than usual as Tony has plans to repaint the entire floor. We spent our Columbus Day moving mattresses, taking apart bunk beds, packing books and equipment and carrying furniture into the boat house.

I can not begin to thank this wonderful group of people for the work they did. They have promised to return in March to reassemble the beds and restore the McLain House to normal prior to the arrival of the first official group. I promised to start a “Friends of Sedge Island” organization to recognize the work that so many individuals and groups do to help out. The Division of Fish and Wildlife could not run the Natural Resource Education Center without all of your help. Thank you so much. Jim

PS Please continue to check this web site throughout the winter. Katina and I will post the latest happenings in the Marine Conservation Zone, at Sedge, and even in our lives. Please respond in our comments section! We love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Haddonfield High School September 18 &19,2005

On September 18th we welcomed Haddonfield High School for their first visit to Sedge. Prior to boarding the pontoon boat to the island, the group spent several hours exploring Island Beach State Park. We first visited the interpretive center where we examined exhibits relating to the history of the area and learned about some of the plants and animals found in the Marine Conservation Zone. We also took a walk on the beach where we measured ocean water salinity and viewed the topography of the barrier island from the primary dune.

The group of eighteen students and two teachers filled the McLain House. But, because the group worked so well together it never seemed too crowded. Everyone pitched in to help with program activities as well as chores. Warm water and warm air temperatures allowed us to kayak comfortably in bathing suits and many of the students snorkeled on the sandbar south west of the house (AKA - the Bahamas.) After a circumnavigation of Sedge Island, we returned to the house where we fished (several small sea bass and snapper blues) and crabbed (three blue claws and one large green crab). AP Biology teacher Jan Eckhouse and some of the students helped Jim clean, sort and measure a sample of the 10,000 seed clams we have growing in five plastic mesh bags (the average size is now 19 mm compared to 11mm when we put them in the water at the end of June.)

After dinner we gathered on the porch to watch the Harvest Moon rise over the bay. We briefly turned on the lights so students could take notes as AP Environmental Studies teacher Ron Smith talked about estuaries and the general ecology of the salt marsh. Then we walked out on the dock and with the full moon illuminating the entire area we were treated to a display of bio-luminescence in the water. It was such a beautiful night that many of the students elected to sleep out on the upper deck of the house.

At sunrise we had the most unique wakeup call Jim has experienced in his five years at Sedge. Group coordinator, Ron Smith played Revile on his fiddle! The soothing notes were just loud enough to ease the group awake. After breakfast we paddled about ¼ mile east of the island to do some more scientific research. Half the group did a transect study of an eel grass bed while the other half used a seine net to capture and identify as many large aquatic animals as possible. We then paddled through some of the natural canals and a mosquito ditch the marsh near the peregrine falcon nest (we saw two birds on the platform.) We noticed that the only osprey still around seem to be the birds from farther north who are making their way down the coast. Perfect weather allowed for optional activities of more fishing and kayaking in the afternoon prior to departure.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Nine middle school students and three teachers from the Academy’s science camp had a three day experience packed with activities. Starting before sunrise they did most of the traditional activities such as clamming (caught 50), fishing (caught snapper blues, sea bass and even one small king fish), crabbing (scooped lots of mature females which they returned to the bay), kayaking (paddled to the dike at Island Beach), snorkeling (swam against a strong current on both sides of the channel in murky water), and more. In addition they found time to dissect squid, make fish print T-shirts, and play electric clam. They used the squid ink to print their names on their Sedge journals in which they wrote each night. For all their efforts, the group was treated to the best display of planktonic bioluminescence seen yet this summer. Getting off the island in a hurry due to the passing remnants of Hurricane Katrina, the group stopped off at Island Beach to see the wild, wind whiped surf and then went to the Cooper Nature Center at Cattus Island to do some seining.
Jim Merritt

Monday, August 29, 2005

Newark Academy

Eighteen students in grades 9-12 spent the weekend at Sedge with four of their teachers. Although this was a large group, everyone worked together to share resources. They found places to sleep (on the porch, in the front room, and even on top of the picnic table). Because we didn’t have enough kayaks we used the Mother Ship (our 22’ aluminum canoe) to carry extra people, crab nets, clam rakes, and other gear as we paddled through the Marine Conservation Zone. The group had a special treat when John Wnek (MATES teacher and Ph.D. researcher) demonstrated how his research with the Diamond Backed Terrapins is progressing. It was a warm day and he was able to capture one day old hatchlings which he showed to the students. Special thanks to the students who helped Jim Merritt sort and count the seed clams which are growing on our shellfish lease. Despite the fact that a few sea stars seem to be able to find their way into the protective bags, a high percentage of the original 10,000, 12mm. clams are still alive.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sedge House Dedication

On August 17, 2005 a group of seventy people gathered at the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center to name the house for a person who has done more for conservation in Barnegat Bay than any other person. Paul D. (Pete) McLain was commended by the DEP’s Directors of both Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Forestry, for his untiring efforts over the past fifty years.
Other dignitaries from local and national conservation organizations were joined by Pete’s family and friends to honor him. After the dedication of the house, the group enjoyed fresh clams and crabs recently caught in the waters around the island.

For the past five years visitors to the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center have heard tales of Pete’s many accomplishments as they have kayaked in the channels and ditches in the salt marsh. As they gaze at the tall tower south of the sedge house, they hear how Pete almost single handedly reintroduced the peregrine falcon to the eastern United States by bringing chicks from Alaska and rearing them in a nest on the hacking tower he built. Everyone who visits the Sedge Island Marine Conservation Zone is impressed by the more than thirty osprey platforms in the area.
In the 1970’s Pete began bringing fertile eggs from Maryland to replace the DDT laden eggs in NJ nests. As a result of this effort, the Sedge Island Area now has the largest osprey concentration in New Jersey and one of the largest on the East Coast.

Two other people were also honored at the dedication. Tony and Jackie Raniero have been the caretakers of the island for over 30 years. They were also recognized for their unrelenting contributions and efforts that make the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center the incredible place that it is. Visitors first meet Tony when he transports them from the Island Beach dock to Sedge Island. Later they see him fixing something, cutting the grass or doing some other work around the island. Now as a result of another plaque being installed, people will be made aware that Tony almost single handedly constructed the shop/boathouse. Jackie, while less visible, keeps track of the visitors and makes sure the house is in order after each group leaves. For the past few years she has made a major contribution to research on the diamond back terrapin by capturing and tagging over 100 nesting females each year.

To Pete, Tony and Jackie: We thank you for your tireless effort and love of this education center and area.

‘…there are those who love Barnegat Bay and consider it a natural resource jewel. They have tasted the salt, smelled the clean air, enjoyed the wildlife, and feasted in its fins and shellfish. To know Barnegat Bay is to love it” ~ Pete McLain

To see more photos from this event:
  • Sedge House Dedication