Along the South Branch

Written by Joe Mish
Edited by Alison M. Jones
Photos courtesy of Joe Mish

Joe Mish has always lived in sight of the Raritan River. Early years spent roaming the clay banks, streams, tidal creeks and swamps of the lower Raritan near Crab Island. Currently, Joe lives further upstream on the South Branch of the Raritan and continues to discover New Jersey’s natural treasures hidden in plain view, sharing them in a column titled, “Along the South Branch”, published in the Branchburg News and in his blog. Photos appear in the recently published book by Judy Auer Shaw, “The Raritan River: Our Landscape, Our Legacy.”

February 2019 – Connected!


Bears have no need to read signs, much less pronounce the names of obscure creeks, to figure out where they are going. They just put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.

Two yearling bears curled up to sleep in a jumbled embrace, to form a single pile of pulsating fur, from which random legs protruded.

Upon waking, one bear walked downhill 500 paces to its right, the other 500 paces left, each bear seeking to satisfy its thirst in the nearby streams.

Rested and full of adventure, thirst satisfied, both bears began to follow their respective stream in the direction the water flowed.

One bear followed Plum Brook to Wickecheoke Creek and ended up on the Delaware River, while its sibling rambled along the Second Neshanic River, to the First Neshanic River, to the Neshanic River, to the South Branch of the Raritan River, to the Raritan River.

bear1_01This bear has chosen its path, after a long moment of indecision.

The two streams, arising from springs, on each side of a common ridge, a mere half mile apart, lead to New Jersey’s opposite coasts. Together the streams form a direct pathway from coast to coast.  

We live in a provincial world defined by geopolitical borders, reinforced by the scale of our self-imposed home range. When we travel US route 1 in New Brunswick, we never consider that if we go straight, instead of turning into a Chipotle restaurant, we end up in Caribou, Maine or the Florida Keys. Same situation as the two bears.

Whether tracing the tracks of a rambling bear down a watery trail to the coast, or a paved highway to opposite ends of the continent, we begin to see connectivity to distant places. Artificial borders fall away and perspective comes into focus. Taken to the highest resolution, we see that celestial events in the cosmos dictate the requirements and conditions for life on earth.

Adjust the resolution and closer to home we see the Atlantic flyway, a major bird migration route from the arctic to Mexico. Events at either end of the spectrum and along the flyway, can have a dramatic impact on population dynamics of many species.

Preserved lands like the Rachael Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey are just two of many areas critical to migrating, nesting and overwintering avian activity. Private lands cannot be overlooked and must be appreciated for their valuable contribution outside established state and federal refuges and wildlife management areas.

On a smaller scale, though still expansive, is the critical need for linear greenways in an area broken into isolated segments of habitat.

Many reptiles, amphibians and furbearers are impacted. Isolated populations require a critical amount of genetic variation to remain viable into the future.

Slow moving turtles such as the bog and eastern box turtle are especially threatened. They are now exposed to predators and cars on their journey to lay eggs or migration forced by habitat loss. To celebrate the establishment of isolated patches of open space is misplaced, if a pathway is not considered.

Concerned with isolated habitat and lack of greenways connecting them, the State of NJ, Dept of Environmental Protection, Natural and Historic Resources, Div of Fish and Wildlife, has established a program to examine the impact of isolated habitat and genetic variation. Their program is CHANJ- Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey.

“The goal of this project is to collect DNA samples from a variety of native, terrestrial mammal species across NJ that represents the spectrum of movement capabilities. The genetic analysis will help us understand the impact of landscape fragmentation and road barriers on wildlife mobility.” (Quote taken from CHANJ website.)

Far away places exist only in our limited imagination, programmed with a distorted sense of scale. Find that far away places are not really that far away, once we see the connection.

Put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.

Images then and now.  Parkway bridge under construction in the background (Left). Winter escapade on the south branch (Right). Same kid.

Contact Joe Mish at
See more articles and photos at

2 thoughts on “Along the South Branch

  1. Must share images captured late yesterday afternoon on the edge of the banks of the south branch of the Raritan.. Posted some images on facebook.

    “Amazing late afternoon encounter with a ghost I have been chasing for decades. Face to face at 18 paces. First three terrified deer ran past. I do not use the word ‘terrified’ lightly. I picked up the camera in anticipation of more deer running through the constricted pass. To my amazement, shock and awe, a coyote appeared. I always wondered if I could tell a coyote from someone’s pet dog. Coyotes have been legal game since just before 2000. I’m here to tell you when you do s…ee a coyote, you will know it! No chance it can be mistaken for a pet dog. The yote seemed suspicious, though confident enough to stay on the deer’s trail for what seemed like several minutes as it searched around sniffing the air. The yote blended in so well to the woodsy surroundings as to almost disappear in plain sight. Here are just a few images along with red fox to illustrate the difference as many people who think they saw a coyote actually were looking at a red fox.”

    ________________________________ From: Judy Shaw Sent: Tuesday, February 5, 2019 3:42 PM To: NO WATER NO LIFE BLOG; Joe Mish Subject: Re: [New post] Along the South Branch

    Yay!! Go, Ali! Go, Joe!!!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone (330) 412-1449

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