Science in the Watershed

The Raritan Headwaters Association gathers and records scientific data for a number of projects within the region.

Bird Surveys

Lauren Theis in field with binoculars

We work with both professional scientists and citizen scientists to  conduct migratory, nesting and winter bird surveys on a number of RHA’s wildlife preserves.  Birds can act as an indicator species for habitat changes, and these surveys allow us to identify areas that may need special protection on our preserved properties.


Our annual BioBlitz at Fairview Farm is a 15-hour (6 am to 9 pm) event where teams of volunteer scientists, students, teachers, and other community members take an inventory of as many species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, insects, fungi and other organisms as possible.  The long time frame gives scientists the opportunity to observe diurnal, nocturnal and crepuscular organisms and offers an annual snapshot of wildlife on Fairview Farm.

From the BioBlitz we generate a list of species found on the preserve, a first step in successful habitat management.  The BioBlitz helps us identify species that should be monitored, controlled and/or protected.  It sometimes helps us identify unique aspects of the preserve that we had not been aware of until this intensive annual examination of the property. This information, along with recommendations from the scientists who participate in the BioBlitz, is used to update our management plan for Fairview Farm, and we also share it with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Eastern Bluebird Nest Box Monitoring

@ Jim Gilbert

Nest box monitoring occurs annually from late March until mid-August.  During this time period, volunteers from a local Girl Scout troop visit Fairview Farm weekly to check on the status of each nest box.  The Scouts and their leaders make notes about their observations (the absence or presence of a nest, number of eggs and species occupying each nest box) and the data helps us track changes in the population from year to year.  We also upload the data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nest Watch program.  This program  is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. The Cornell database is used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.

In 2012 we helped Ethicon, Inc. establish a bluebird nest box trail on its corporate campus in Somerville.  Associates there have wholeheartedly embraced the trail and have become involved in the Cornell Nest Watch program.

Water Monitoring

Our stream monitoring program takes place annually from June 15 to June 30.  Over 50 trained volunteers venture out to local streams to gather visual and biological data.  By making visual observations, taking measurements and collecting benthic macroinvertebrates for analysis, our stream monitors play an essential role in producing usable, scientifically-sound stream data.  This data is used to characterize the health of each stream site, and to help us detect changes in water quality along a stretch of the stream or river and across the entire watershed.  Waterways that are currently monitored include:

  • Stream Monitor in the Black RiverLamington/Black River
  • Cold Brook
  • Drakes Brook
  • Holland Brook
  • Mulhockaway Creek
  • Neshanic River
  • Peapack Brook
  • Pleasant Run
  • Rockaway Creek
  • Turkey Brook
  • South Branch Raritan River
  • North Branch Raritan River

We share the data we collect with local municipalities and submit it to the NJDEP Bureau of Freshwater & Biological Monitoring’s Ambient Biomonitoring Network  database.  The Bureau uses the database to prepare an annual  inventory of impairments and initiate actions to improve water quality.

Well Testing

The South Branch Watershed Association conducted a well testing program for over forty years.  It has been expanded to serve members and communities across the entire Raritan Headwaters region.  The program gives homeowners a relatively inexpensive opportunity to find out if their well water is safe to drink (and learn what to do if tests indicate that it is not!) and the data we gather enables us to identify areas where ground water may be contaminated.  We track trends and work with residents and local governments to address pollution issues when our well testing data indicates poor groundwater quality.

Invasive Plants

In partnership with the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team, we gather data on the presence and spread of emerging invasive plant species on our preserved properties.  Volunteers work in the spring and fall to eradicate populations of these plants and restore habitats to their native state.

Emerald Ash Borer

Emerald Ash Borer pheromone traps have been installed at Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve to monitor for the presence of this destructive beetle.  The traps are monitored by the New Jersey State Forestry Services.

Emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, is an exotic beetle that was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage but cause little damage. The larvae (the immature stage) feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Emerald ash borer most likely arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes from Asia. Since its discovery in the U.S., EAB has moved across the northeast, and was recently found nearby in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  The pheromone traps at Fairview Farm will help alert foresters if/when the EAB makes its way into New Jersey.

Pollinator Study

Yellow Flower w PollinatorPollinator habitats were created in the meadows on Fairview Farm in 2010, funded in part by the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s  Natural Resources Conservation Service.  In the summer of 2011 scientists and graduate students from Rutgers University surveyed the habitat and control plots to gather data about the populations of pollinators that utilized the various types of vegetation at Fairview Farm.  This data is being analyzed by Rutgers and will be available as soon as the study is complete.

Deer Management

With oversight by the Association’s Stewardship Committee, RHA operates a deer management program at Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve, Fox Hill Preserve, Hollow Brook Preserve and Mill House Natural Area according to New Jersey State regulations.  Each year we collect and analyze data about the deer populations at these sites, as well as the rate and diversity of native plant regeneration, which improves as the population of deer is reduced.