Hackensack River Canoe &
Sedge Island Weekend
A Green Living/Learning/Paddling Weekend
by Monica Orso
June 20-22, 2014
After nervously watching the weather forecasts for a week, the weather gods smiled and things magically turned in our direction for a cool, dry and comfortable weekend. The gang consisted of myself, Cory W, Mark D, Rich H, Teri R, Catherine M, David S, Jim G, Barrett W, Mike E. and his son Mike Jr.
On Friday morning we gathered at the south dock on Island Beach State Park where we were met by several program interns and the Education Coordinator from the State. From there we loaded their pontoon boat with our weekend supplies and gear, and then paddled a mile or so out to Sedge House to settle in and get oriented. Located in Barnegat Bay, the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center is an old renovated duck-hunting lodge powered by the sun, and rumor has it that Babe Ruth once stayed here back in the day.
After lunch and unpacking, we set out to paddle and explore. Colby, a senior intern led us through the marshes stopping along the way to talk about some of the marine life we were encountering. Then he led us to his favorite blue mussel collection area, parking our boats a ways away and then slogging through the marsh to get to the spot. Catherine the Brave jumped right in and started scooping up big clumps of what was soon to be dinner. After filling the bucket, we worked our way back to Sedge House while observing many bird species, lots of young'uns too!
On the final stretch, Jim, who is a geocacher, alerted me that we were pretty close to a hidden cache, so he and I lagged behind to search the suspected area. I was staring right at it and didn't see it, but Jim found it immediately. OK, I haven't cached in years...but I'm working on getting Jim to organize a geocaching paddle. No pressure Jim, no pressure at all...hehehe..
Back at Sedge House, folks spread out to either clean the mussels, fish or relax. Dr. John Wnek from Project Terrapin gave an interesting talk on terrapins and also relocated some eggs that were collected elsewhere into the cages on Sedge for protection from predators. He was also treating an injured adult that was run over by a car on Island Beach. Very, very sad.
Just before dinner, our program director Jason arrived with 2 stragglers from our group...Mike Jr. had final exams and unfortunately couldn't reschedule them. After a long day, we feasted on burgers, mussels and pot luck dishes and desserts, then chilled out with some more fishing, kite flying, and the ever-so-popular "just plain relaxing". There was a nice scope in the house which was set up by the south porch and pointed into the marshes. It seems that in the bird world, the real estate just across from Sedge is very valuable. One egret was constantly defending his fishing spot from visitors. I found that if I put my camera lens against the scope, I got a free telephoto lens with a little jiggling about...pretty cool.
We enjoyed the sunset from the deck, spotted the space station passing overhead and then went over to the water to watch jellyfish that glowed in the dark. Teri and I decided it would be nice to sleep on the upper deck along with the interns, but bailed after a few hours...the skeeters were getting too hungry. One of the interns who stayed out there woke up with a very swollen face!
Early on Saturday, most people got up to see the sunrise, and it was a beauty. One member had to leave early due to a sick cat at home so he was graciously shuttled back to the dock in the pontoon boat. After breakfast, the plan was to paddle across the channel, circle a small island out there to observe some birds, then cross over to High Bar Harbor and Viking Village on Long Beach Island. The tides and wind should be working to our advantage.
Those of us with skirts "skirted up" and everyone set out with a strong tidal push from behind. We navigated around an area dubbed "the Bahamas" because of the clear shallow waters. We crossed the channel with some fun bumpy stuff and started our circumnavigation of Gull Island, which was teaming with all sorts of wildlife. This small island was a product of the dredged material from the channel that had build up over the years and the wildlife and native grasses took it over. A new island has now been started with the dredged sand just to the west.
On the last leg of the Gull island paddle we got caught in the surf zone...lots of fun (for me at least!). We got a bit wet here, and it was a little workout and a learning experience for some. A few boats without skirts were taking on water, and the wind was not diminishing as predicted... it seemed to be getting stronger. So we regrouped and decided that it was in the best interest of the group to not continue on to LBI and headed back to the marsh area.
We pumped out a few boats and crossed the channel at a different point, stopping a few times to allow for power boat traffic to pass. We dealt with some good currents near shore until we got in the actual marsh channels. From there we paddled to a clamming spot and dinner was gathered. Then it was off to find a nice spot to have lunch.
At some point, this trip organizer's tummy was gurgling loudly, it had been shaky since some not-so-good pizza on Thursday night. So I decided to skip this last leg of the trip and head back to Sedge house "just in case" (not to go into too much detail). Two of the interns joined me, the one who was bug bitten overnight was not feeling well.
Once back at Sedge, it was a good opportunity to stretch out on the pontoon boat and just absorb the sights, sounds and smells of the moment. I noticed the 2 interns doing the same thing on picnic tables. In a short while the others arrived from the last leg of their trip which was an area that had a good view of the lighthouse by the inlet. They were able to hike around and find a nice lunch spot, and I was told that they also ate some sort of seaweed and pea-like plant. mmm..yumm...(?)
After a brief stop on Sedge, about half of us went out trawling on the shuttle boat. This involved slowly letting the net off the boat and then reversing the engine for a bit, then hauling in the net. We got a ton of mussels, some different species of crabs (including a big female horseshoe) some tiny flounder, shrimp, a pregnant seahorse, a lovely log, and a lot I'm sure I'm forgetting. We brought the catch back and Jason explained a lot about the species we brought in, especially details about the horseshoe crab and how it's blood is used for medical screening.
Time for cheese, hummus and crackers before actually starting dinner. Some folks worked on the clams, and others worked in the kitchen. Cory made his special clam sauce and before long we were eating dinner, including a bluefish that I believe Mike Jr caught. After another spectacular sunset, it was a little more unwinding, fishing, chatting etc before hitting the sack.
Sunday morning's sunrise was another beauty but most people slept in. Terri and I did a sunrise pajama paddle, and Mark followed shortly after. We just circled Sedge Island, and it was spectacular. We silently slipped through the quiet morning water with only the birds activity to focus on. It was a meditation of sorts.
The trip was winding down, but after breakfast Jason got folks to do a little seine net fishing right by the house. His knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area was something to commend. He knew the Latin names for the most obscure things, as well as every little bit of info about them!
After cleaning up the house and dividing up the leftover food, we paddled back, unloaded the pontoon boat and headed out. Mark stayed a bit longer and paddled to some tidal islands and then relaxed on the beach.
Thanks to all the participants for their team effort to make this a great weekend getaway!
Here are some impressions from the participants:
Catherine M: It was bliss to wake up on the island amid the peace and greenery and bird calls and get a cup of coffee so considerately prepared by someone else and sit out on the veranda and just take it all in. And then looking through that optical device and seeing up close and personal the osprey couple feeding a fresh-caught fish to their three chicks. And the boating and the food and all the interesting information about the denizens of the marsh...there was so much to like and remember about the trip.
Rich H: I am so glad that I decided to go on this trip. The location, the people and the paddling made it so enjoyable. I greatly appreciated the wildlife, particularly the ospreys. Although I was really tired and sore on Sunday night every twinge reminded me of the pleasure I experienced in acquiring the pain. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Mike E: The trip was a perfect combination of kayaking, exploring and learning. I had no idea there was such protected beauty in NJ. The NJ Fish and Wildlife staff (Jason, Colby, etc.) were very knowledgeable about the local wildlife, habitat and general area such that it was very informative. The food situation was very good with both the provisions brought along as well as the Pot Luck plates. Plenty of food and variety for all. Catching and eating the mussels, clams and fish was a nice part of the trip. Another reason why its so important to protect the area.
Cory W: I loved the marshes and the diversity of marine and shore life, holding the blow fish in my hands Friday afternoon was a treat. The netting of the sea horses, various crabs, needle fish, shrimp and baby flounder was a unique experience and harvesting the mussels and clams for dinner made our meals special. Jason's nature observations and commentaries help bring a better understanding of the health and impact of human actions on Barnegat Bay and the interns brought back memories days past. The morning and evening peacefulness on the top deck of the Sedge house to witness the sunrise and sunsets/moon rise was the absolute best. All this for less than a tank of gas round trip!
Teri R: Most memorable for me was the morning paddle. It was so peaceful and calm. A beautiful sunrise with just the birds as background noise. Perfect!
Jim G: A trip to sedge is always very relaxing after all the preparation is done. Things can get hectic getting everyone on the water at the launch site, but after that you're up for a few days of learning, sun, fun, and chilling out. This was my first real trip with HRCKC and it's nice to see the camaraderie and everyone working together. Nothing like going out during the day and finding some nice fresh clams and mussels for dinner. I think we could give those other foodies a challenge. I was also impressed to see our young adult interns so interested in the environment and how to preserve and protect it. After all, they are our future.
Dave S: Enjoyed the Sedge trip, especially the chance to learn about the wide array of life in the waters and the marshes. The kayaking was fantastic, as was the food and company.
Mark D: This paddle was a pleasant surprise. I was ambivalent about going, and wasn't necessarily looking forward to it due to my memories of the Barnegat Bay. I kind of forced myself to go because I know so little about the ecology of NJ's estuaries, back bays, and brackish waters, and wanted to learn more about them. Cory and Jason were great - sharing their knowledge with obvious passion. A highlight for me was seeing the birds - the osprey feeding her chicks fresh hunks of bluefish meat - hearing the Willets, and watching them flitter and hover like they do - the egrets stabbing at, and catching fish, then swallowing them up whole - and lastly, the hand-painted looking beauty of the common tern, with its characteristic call reaffirming where we were. The other highlight for me was looking into the clean and clear water of the bay - seeing it, but not believing it, recalling the many times that I've been there where the bay seemed polluted. Eating clams and mussels for dinner harvested earlier in the day reaffirmed for me that the Barnegat Bay is back.
Mark's Bird List: Peregrine Falcon, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black Crowned Night Heron, Herring Gull, Black Backed Gull, Laughing Gull, Cormorant, Willet, Little Blue Heron, Glossy Ibis, Brown Hooded Cowbird, Osprey, Song Sparrow, Red Winged Blackbird, American Oystercatcher, Common Tern, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Boat Tailed, Grackle, Mallard.