Hackensack River Canoe &
Sedge Island Weekend
by Monica Orso
July 15-17, 2016
This year at Sedge we had a full house. Attending were Cory W., Tom B., Lori B., Joanne G., Jim G., Tina A., Doug S., Joan N., Herta D., Teri R., myself and 3 club guests from Scotland - Lorna, Sean and Finn-Barr M.
We were scheduled to meet the Sedge crew at 4 at the docks at Island Beach State Park, and a few paddlers braved the heat and went down early to paddle all day. From the safety of my air conditioned car I watched the outdoor temperature display go from 88 to 99 during the 1˝ hour drive...it was going to be a steamy weekend.
Upon arrival, the legendary greenheads who were hungry for new flesh attempted to devour us as we loaded the Sedge pontoon boat with our gear and got the kayaks into the water. Insects continued to be a strong theme throughout the weekend whenever we set foot on land. The bug spray helped a bit, but was not the cure-all I had hoped for!
After a pleasant paddle over to Sedge House, we unpacked our gear and food supply, settled into our rooms and proceeded to get dinner ready. Dinner consisted of some amazing pot luck dishes plus grilled items...we totally impressed the Sedge staff with our culinary prowess. A post dinner sunset paddle proved to be spectacular in the marshes with wildlife galore and a stellar sunset. The osprey nests were all full of hungry chicks, the peregrines were hanging out in their tower, and the wading birds were everywhere. On the way back to Sedge House, Mae, our staff guide, grabbed a horseshoe crab in shallow water to pass around and talk about. After lingering in the sunset for a while, it was time to head back to land and brave the biting bugs. A few folks took to some fishing, although nothing was biting but seaweed and eel grass. As it got dark out we were treated to a little fireworks show happening on Long Beach Island in the distance, and after playing a few parlor games, it was time for bed. It was stifling hot once off of the water, and many chose to sleep in the front room of Sedge House where there was a bit of a breeze. Most got minimal sleep, but woke up eager to get out there again.
After breakfast and packing lunch and a LOT of water, we headed out for the day. One paddler was not feeling well and remained behind. The plan was to explore the marshes and work our way over to a lunch spot near the Barnegat Inlet for lunch, then do some clamming on the way back. Fortunately it was quite comfortable paddling, not as hot as we feared. After several miles of leisurely exploration, we pulled our boats up on a beach at low tide and began our trek over to the ocean side, walking along the inlet directly across from the lighthouse on Long Beach Island.
On land once again it was hot, really hot. Fortunately once on the ocean side, the cool clean water was a welcome friend indeed. If you have ever been to the tip of Island Beach State Park, you know most of the time it is absolutely packed with vehicles on the beach and scads of people fishing. But lucky for us the beach was temporarily closed off to vehicular traffic because a pair of nesting Piping Plover were spotted there. We spent some time making sand castles in teams at the water's edge, and waited to see whose could remain standing the longest with the incoming tide on the attack. No surprise that the visiting Scots engineered the winning castle with the aid of a hunk of metal found on the beach. They know castles. We don't. So we ate our sandwiches (mine turned out to live up to the name “sand”wich!) and some of us went in for a quick dip and frolic in the surf.
Along with us on the Saturday trek we had not only Mae and several interns, but Jason, a Sedge bird specialist came along. He was determined to find the Plover nest, so we took a long long hike along the deserted beach, with the poor intern schlepping along a tripod and scope in the wicked heat. But alas, no Plover were spotted and the gang turned back towards the inlet.
A glance at the sky brought on concern by all. By the time we got back to our boats on the bay side, the sky had filled with ominous dark clouds to the west...exactly where we were going. We agreed to paddle like all heck to get back to Sedge House, but when lighting was spotted the decision was made to change course and get on land by the docks where we had parked our cars and wait out the storm. The lightning continued giving a glorious show, and the wind picked up to the point of almost blowing you over. If we were out there on the water, it would not have been pretty at all! The thick black clouds were slow to move on, but finally, after not seeing lightning for a while and tracking the storm cell with our cell phones (ain't technology grand?), we hopped back in our boats and continued on to Sedge House at a very brisk pace, not stopping for clams. By the time we got there, it had cleared up quite a bit. We discovered a little later that 2 women were struck by lightning in Pt. Pleasant...less than 20 miles north of us.
Folks were plenty hot and hungry, and many doused themselves immediately upon arrival at Sedge in the cool outdoor shower. During our absence at around noon, a female terrapin had come up on the island to lay her eggs. Katie, one of the interns, had marked the nest and grabbed the mom for show and tell when we returned. Since the eggs are very vulnerable to predators, they needed to be relocated to a caged-in area. After digging up the eggs, we helped measure them while Katie recorded the information....swatting skeeters the whole time. We then placed the eggs in a safe spot and marked the cage. Katie then talked about terrapins and how they are tagged, all the while our live terrapin model was squirming to get out of the spotlight. Finally she was released and made a direct bee line back into the bay.
Snacks were put out before dinner, and we mostly stayed indoors because of the bugs. A few napped a bit before our rather filling dinner. We consumed large quantities of food after a long hot day, then relaxed a bit before bedtime. I had it in my head that I would sleep outside on the pontoon boat, so I dragged my mattress and pillow on the boat and covered my exposed skin with bug spray. The bugs weren't as bad on the boat, just a few buzzes in the ear. The sounds of the osprey and gulls along with the gentle motion of the boat was setting me up for the best sleep of my entire life. But then, just as I was nodding off...plink..plink...rain! Argh. Can't win this one...dragged everything back inside.
Teri and I decided to do a sunrise paddle on Sunday morning and were out on the water before the crack of dawn. Although the cloud cover was pretty heavy in the east, it was still quite beautiful. We drifted into the bay until the sun came up and then did a very slow and silent paddle around the small island, being treated to wading birds fishing on shore and baby osprey testing their wings on the edges of their nest. One nest had mom (or dad) circling the nest with fish breakfast in her claws trying to feed the kids, but a little afraid of landing with us in the area. We moved on after Teri retrieved a Mylar balloon stuck on shore.
Back at the house we had a nice pancake breakfast and then proceeded to pack up and clean the house before our final adventure. The group broke up into 2 smaller groups to do a little trawling from the pontoon boat. Being in the second group, we waited a while at the house, then boarded the boat and headed out to a different spot from the first group. Apparently we got the better catch! A ton of crabs of all sizes and types, 4 or 5 seahorses (one very pregnant), a small eel, sea bass, a couple of toadfish, a pipefish, small flounder, a large terrapin and I'm sure some other stuff which I forgot. We headed back to Sedge House and went through the buckets-o-critters while Mae and Reed explained what we were seeing. After the talk we released everything back into the bay...the sea horses were particularly interesting as they got their little dorsal fins cranked up to motor on ahead (see video).
It was getting close to noon and time to head back to the cars. Waters were calm for the final paddle across the bay to the docks where we unloaded the gear from the pontoon and put our boats on the vehicles. The traffic right at the entrance of the park was jammed up, but a few of us managed to find a pretty good parking spot and grabbed a quick beer at Bum Rogers in South Seaside Park. Apparently the park was full up and they were turning away new arrivals.
All in all, a great time at Sedge in spite of the heat, bugs and a bit of sunburn.
Some comments from participants were: “feeling like a kid at summer camp...There were a lot of wonderful hands on moments with the local wildlife.”, “the highlight was holding a pregnant male sea horse and digging out a turtle egg ....definitely worth all the itching bug bites!” and “just enjoyed the solitude of Sedge in the early AM; the up close encounter with the Sedge marine life, and good company.”
Here are some pics and videos. Some of the videos are mixed in with the pictures and may take a couple of seconds to load. (To see the picture captions, after clicking on the first picture, click on the “i” in the circle on the upper right.)