Stinky Heralds of Spring
You know winter is nearing its end when Eastern Skunk Cabbage starts to pop up! The newly emerged plants shown in the photos above were spied during an afternoon stroll along the Marsh Trail in Holmdel Park, Holmdel. Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is easily recognizable by its purple, green, and yellow streaked spathe, the specialized leaves that form a protective hood around its flowers. A peek through the spathe’s small opening shows the club-shaped spadix covered with a cluster of tiny yellow flowers. As both its common and scientific name imply, Skunk Cabbage is a malodorous plant. The stinkiness and bitter taste of its leaves and flowers repel hungry herbivores like deer and rabbits hunting for late winter meals. Not all are repelled by the fetid odors, however. By mimicking decaying flesh, Skunk Cabbage entices carrion loving insects and other early spring pollinators to visit and consequently pollinate its flowers.
Skunk Cabbage’s early arrival in the spring is due in large part to its ability to melt through the frozen ground and snow. As one of a few thermogenic plants, skunk cabbage can produce and regulate its own heat, exceeding the temperature of its surrounding environment. You can imagine that insects and other small creatures would find this warmth inside the hooded spathe inviting (more pollinators!). As spring progresses and the spathes wilt, look for the Skunk Cabbage’s large cabbage like leaves that form pretty carpets of bright green along the wetland areas in our parks. (posted 2/20/2018)
Great Blue Herons:
It is good to see that so many survived the big freeze in January!
After the long freeze we had in January, it is good to see some of the area’s water birds. Wading birds, such as the Great Blue Heron, need open water to feed. This large wading bird is common in shallow water edge areas of our parks. The largest heron in North American, they are very adaptable and have a range that extends from Canada to South America. They are very shy will usually fly once they have seen you. For wildlife photographers, they are a blessing (when you can get one because they are very photogenic) and a curse (because they are so easily spooked.)
These beautiful birds are hard to mistake for other birds as they have a wingspan of up to 6 and a half feet and can be almost 5 feet tall. They are mostly light gray with some black and rust marking on the head and throat. Their face and neck are usually a lighter gray than their bodies. When in flight, they have a slow wing beat and their long legs hang straight behind them.
Unexpectedly, these birds nest it trees. You wouldn’t think that they could go unnoticed in a tree but their long legs and slender bodies blend in very well with branches making them almost invisible. They build large nests with sticks and grasses. The nest must be large enough to hold 3 to 5 young for about 60 days. If they can’t find a suitable place off the ground, they may nest in reeds on the ground.
It you are anxiously awaiting the chance to get out on the trails, bundle up and head out! It is the perfect time for birding. Great Blue Herons are a common sight as are many interesting, winter-season ducks. Others birds that are here year round are active and easy to spot in the bare branches of winter. If you would like to learn more about native birds, join a Casual Birder walk with a park naturalist. The next session is Thursday, February 22 at 9 a.m. at Hominy Path on Matthews Road adjacent to the Hominy Hill Golf Course.
For those of you who would like to try your hand at photographing birds and other wildlife, there is still room in Sunday’s Photographing Birds and Wildlife class. Register today while space is available. (posted 2/5/2018)
On Sunday, January 21, our resident Bald Eagle pair began incubation. Immediately upon producing their first egg, one of the adults will almost always be sitting on the nest. Over the following days, an additional egg or two may be produced. With hatching generally occurring 35-40 days after the egg is laid, we expect eaglets at the end of February or beginning of March.
Although eagles are known to reuse their nest each season, this couple has relocated to five different trees since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We are happy to say that their new nest can be viewed from inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell, via our Eagle Cam. (posted 1/23/2018)
UPDATE - Our naturalist staff is sad to report that the nest failed as of March 11. They believe the eaglets hatched on March 1. However on Sunday, March 11 staff observed two juvenile eagles (approximately 2 years old) as well as crows in the nest. This indicated the chicks had perished. Up until this point, the adults had been very attentive to the nest. The adults have been spotted in the area and seem in good condition. Our staff believes that weather may have caused the nest to fail. For more information, please visit or call the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center in Howell. (posted 3/13/2018)
Great Horned Owl
This Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, was found in Big Brook Park, Marlboro. It can be seen resting in a beech tree during the daylight hours, gearing up to go hunting during the night. These owls have specialized feathers atop their heads called “ear tufts.” Often mistaken for horns or ears, these tufts fulfill several roles for the owl, from silent communication between individuals, breaking up their body shape for camouflage, to being used for intimidation against threats. Next time you are walking on a forest trail, listen for the Great Horned Owl’s signature hoots. (posted 1/22/2018)
You Won’t Find Blueberries On This Tree
They may look like delicious blueberries but these round objects are actually cones, growing on an Eastern Red Cedar. Inside the fruity flesh will often be one to three seeds. Cedar Waxwings will often eat these Juniper Berries, and in doing so actually increase the new plant’s germination rate. Did you know? These seed cones have traditionally been used to flavor gin. (posted 11/28/2017)
It was a Great Summer for Monarchs at the
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center
This summer staff and volunteers at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center raised 172 monarch butterflies from eggs and caterpillars collected from the site’s butterfly garden. These eggs and caterpillars were given daily care and lots of milkweed to eat. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch and as such is the only plant that the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs on and the caterpillar will eat. Staff and volunteers released each butterfly within hours after emerging from its chrysalis.
Then in September, when monarchs migrate through the region, staff and volunteers began “tagging” these butterflies as part of a citizen scientist project through MonarchWatch.org. This project gives scientists data about how far a monarch migrates, where it came from, its sex, and its condition. Each tag is a small 1/4” diameter sticker that adheres to the hindwing of the butterfly. It has a specific number, the email address for monarchwatch.org, and a phone number to report if found. The Environmental Center tagged 75 monarchs this year. (posted 10/27/2017)
Hey, Is That Goldenrod or Is it That Other Plant Goldenrod?
Autumn, what a wonderful time of year! Apple cider, cool crisp nights, and everything under the sun is pumpkin flavored. With autumn comes a dazzling array of colors displayed all around us. And you needn’t only look to the trees for the show. I am talking about wildflowers, goldenrod to be precise! It seems as if people back in the day started calling any yellow flower in autumn a goldenrod. Did you know, there are over 100 species of goldenrod native to North America? The exact number changes all of the time as researchers debate whether certain goldenrods are truly a different species, or just a variety of an existing one. The next time you pass by a meadow or notice some weedy goldenrod growing along a path, take note of the differently shaped leaves, stems, and flower arrangements. Here at Huber Woods Park, you can find at least five different goldenrod types within a thirty minute walk around the meadows.
Solidago Canadensis, or Tall Goldenrod
Solidago rugosa, or Rough Goldenrod (Known for vibrant hues)
P.S. - Goldenrod is often blamed for causing fall allergies but due to a very low pollen count, point those accusatory fingers over towards ragweed! (posted 10/26/2017)
Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?
Pictured - Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush (Euonymus japonica) is a common landscape plant but can also be found in the wild and is considered invasive.
While some governors swear the leaves in their state change color to support tourism, reality is stranger than fiction. In order to answer what seems like a simple question, we need to first understand why leave have different colors to begin with.
Leaves use sunlight to power the system that makes the sugar, or food, they need to survive. To make the most sugar possible, they collect all the sunlight they can. Of the rainbow of colors in sunlight, plants only use blue, green and red light as energy. The plant need to ‘catch’ each color of light and the nets it uses are pigments (colors) within the leaves. Each color of light needs a specific pigment to catch it. Orange and yellow leaf pigments catch blue light. Red pigment catches blue and green light. Green pigment, however, is the most prevalent because it catches the most energetic light color, red, thus getting the most energy possible. Because it is the dominant pigment, plants look green even though they have the other colors too.
Trees, other than evergreens, drop their leaves in winter when they go dormant and don’t need to make food. When the tree cuts off water to the leaves, the highest energy-needing pigment “dies” first and the leaves lose their green. After green, the yellow recedes followed by red. Finally the leaf turns brown, dies and drops. Different species have different color concentrations of pigments and that is why they are different colors after the green fades.
So now you know. Without the green color hiding the orange, yellow and red pigments, the leaves look like they have changed colors. In reality, these fall colors were always there waiting for their chance to shine! (posted 10/12/17)
To Eat or Not to Eat
I am often asked about the identity of mushrooms along the trails. The next questions is ALWAYS “Is it edible?” And, while sometimes I am sure that the specimen in question is edible, I usually say that I don’t know. This is because there are so many mushrooms that look alike that I don’t want to chance saying yes and being wrong. Almost every mushroom hunter I know has eaten something that they shouldn’t have and they will all tell you to be safe rather than sorry. That said, there a few edibles that can’t be mistaken for anything other than what they are. Three of these are shown below and all can be found at this time of year. Another option is to try your hand at growing your own mushrooms. If this is of interest, register for Cultivating Mushrooms Workshop on Sunday, October 7, 2017. You will go home with a log infected with different kinds of mushrooms that are guaranteed to be delicious!
Laetiporus sulphureus: The Chicken of the Woods
This large, orange-yellow fungus is the most brightly colored one I know. It’s ruffled ‘shelves’ can be found growing in rosettes on the ground or from the base of trees.
Calvatia gigantean: The Giant Puffball
This puffball is regularly seen in grassy areas and grows very large. This one, on the lawn at Thompson Park caught my eye because I thought it was a socor ball that had been left behind in a field.
Strobilomyces "floccopus": The Old Man of the Woods
This interesting mushroom looks like its name! The black spores and gills beneath the cap are distinct and, when that stem is cut, there will be a pinkish red color inside.
Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana) Hartshorne Woods
The wood stork is a large, white wading bird that is usually found in the southeastern wetlands of the United States. It stands about 40 inches tall, has a wing span of 50 inches and weighs about 5 pounds. The head of a mature wood stork is bald similar to a vulture. This is the only stork that breeds in the United States. Wood storks can live up to 20 years and pairs often mate for life. The US population was recently (2014) changed from endangered to threaten with an estimated population of about 8,000 pairs. There is a large breeding population from Central American to Argentina that is listed as “least concern” with a breeding population of 32,000 to 46,000. This year there have been multiple sightings of wood storks in New Jersey from Sandy Hook to Cape May. NJ Audubon has recorded sightings dating back to 1994. The last accepted sighting was in 2014. This juvenile wood stork was photographed at the pond in the Claypit Creek area of Hartshorne Woods Park by park patron Michael Mottl on Sept. 14, 2017. (posted 09/18/17)
What Is It?
“It” washed up on the beach at Bayshore Waterfront Park. It was a rubbery, sticky glob of … something. Something that was obviously a living creature. How exciting! “It” is a cluster of sea grape tunicates (Molgula manhattensis). These small, round animals are filter feeders and live attached to rocks, boats, sand and docks. You can see two tiny bumps on each of the round bodies in the photos. These bumps are “in” and “out” siphons used by the animals to pump water through its body for filter feeding. They are very hardy and are extremely tolerant of murky or polluted water.
This species was first reported in Long Island Sound in 1838 and is now found from Maine to Louisiana. It is native to the Atlantic and is commonly found in this area and in Europe. Unfortunately, it is also becoming common in areas of the Pacific where it is not native. There, the sea grape tunicate is considered a secondary threat level – not a top priority but becoming problematic. While they don’t look very threatening, they are particularly prolific spawners, in some cases, reproducing once every 24 hours when the water temperature warms to the right conditions. Because of this they can outcompete native organisms for food and space.
The variety of life on this planet is simply amazing! That this clump of ... something … turned out to be a group of animals is another reminder of this. It is why nature is something that is always fascinating and never, ever boring! (posted 9/13/2017)
Country Gait Trail
Early mornings and evenings are magical times to visit woodland trails like Country Gait Trail at Huber Woods Park, Middletown. The mornings are misty at this time of year and trails like this one truly come to life. Country Gait Trail travels through open meadows, forest and allees for approximately one mile. Rated ‘moderate’ due to some grade changes and roots and rocks creating an irregular surface, the trail is suitable for walkers, hikers and horses but not recommended for bikes. While in the meadows along Country Gait Trail, keep your eyes out for butterflies like this red banded hairstreak. (posted 8/30/2017)
Mushroom or Plant?
While often mistaken for a mushroom, this interesting organism is a plant. What you are seeing in this photo are the flowers of an underground plant called a Ghost Pipe or Indian Pipe. It is a parasitic plant growing off the roots of other plants. It is white because it lacks the green pigment that most plants have that allows them to make their own food. Ghost Pipes, therefore, must draw food off another source. In our area that tends to be the roots of nearby trees. Ghost Pipes are common in the woods at Huber Woods Park. (posted 8/24/2017)
There is a Fungus Among Us!
The warm, wet humid weather we have had recently is perfect for fungi and they are showing up in all their glory in our parks. While I have seen a wide spectrum of fungi – slime molds, jelly molds, mushrooms, shelf fungi and more within the last week, this post explores shelf fungi. Most people mistake the mushroom, or other visible portion of a fungus such as the shelf of a shelf fungus as the entire organism. However, the main ‘body’ of the fungus is like the stem, leaves and roots of a plant. The mushroom part is like a flower of a plant. It is for reproduction and spreading spores, which are similar to seeds. The majority of the fungus is underground or within the wood of a tree and the structure you see is a small part of its body, just like a flower is a small part of a plant. And, just like there are different types of flowers, fungi have different types of reproductive structures. The ones here represent shelf fungi and are usually found growing on dead or dying trees. The body of the fungus consumes the dead wood of the tree, breaking it down and returning it to the soil. The shelf structures have a solid, sturdy top side to protect against damage. The underside has gills, pores or teeth that grow and distribute the spores. A couple of the many types of shelf fungi found along our trails are pictured here. These photos were taken within the last 7 days at Huber Woods Park. If you are interested in seeing some of these interesting organisms, grab your mushroom ID book and hit the trails! (posted 8/23/2017)
Imperial Moth at the Monmouth County Fair
Humans are not the only creatures enjoying the sights and sounds of this year’s 43rd Annual Monmouth County Fair! Staff found this male Imperial Moth observing the fun times being had by the participants at the Monmouth County Park System’s climbing wall. Front gate staff report that these moths are often observed in the parking areas at the Fair. The male of this species can be distinguished from the female by their antennae which is quadripectinate for the basal two-thirds and simple for the remaining length (more feather like from the base of the head, being thinner at the tip). Female antennae are simple (thin) through the entire length. The male also has a heart shaped marking on its abdomen, like we can see on this specimen. After viewing the climbing wall, this Imperial Moth headed toward the back of the Fairgrounds, perhaps to observe some of the delicious food offerings and the main stage entertainment! (posted 7/31/2017)
A Seahorse Found at Bayshore Waterfront Park
Some days everything seems to come together. It was the first day of summer and the first week of free seining at the Bayshore Waterfront Park when a Northern Lined Seahorse was discovered in our seine net. Seahorses appear almost as mystical creatures like unicorns, but seahorses really do exist. The Northern Lined Seahorse is our only native seahorse along coastal Monmouth County. Seahorses like to cling to pilings or vegetation as they suck in small shrimp and plankton with their head shaped like a horse’s head. Free seining takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Bayshore Waterfront Park until Friday, August 25th. No reservations necessary. Every catch is different, who knows what we will find next in our net. It’s fun for everyone. Posted June 21, 2017
Ruby Throated Hummingbird Nest at Manasquan Reservoir
This female Ruby-throated hummingbird has nestled down and is waiting for her eggs to hatch. She selected only the best materials for her nest - cattail fluff and dandelion down for softness, lichen for structure and camouflage, and spider webs to bind it all together. The nest is the size of a ping pong ball. She may lay up to 3 eggs each the size of a tic-tac. Three newly hatched chicks can weigh less than a dime. Ruby-throats incubate for 11-16 days and fledge at about 21 days old. These birds will not use a bird house. They feed on nectar and insects and are significant pollinators. (posted 6/1/2017)
Turkey Swamp Salamanders
Manasquan Trail, at Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold
April 28, 2017 - Salamanders are often one of the most abundant organisms in a forest ecosystem, but are rarely sighted by casual hikers. Typically they will be found in the leaf litter or under fallen logs. In this particular situation these two red-back salamanders were found under a log. The red-back comes in two forms a redback (reddish stripe down back and black to gray sides) and leadback (black to gray that blends with sides) form. It should be emphasized that great care must be taken when searching for salamanders (or any animals) and anything moved needs to be replaced as found. (posted 5/2/2017)
Video of the Eagles' Nest
Two Eaglets Confirmed!
It’s been confirmed! There are two bald eagle chicks in the nest at the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell. They hatched on March 7 and are approximately three weeks old. Currently downy grey, the chicks will quickly turn black as their feathers develop. The chicks are growing very fast and will be almost as large as their parents in six weeks. Their arrival is especially exciting since it marks the first time eaglets have hatched at the Manasquan Reservoir since 2014. (posted 3/30/2017)
At the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, we’ve been watching the eagles’ nest in anticipation of their eggs hatching. This morning we observed the adult eagles reaching down into the nest and (presumably) feeding a chick. This behavior tells us that at least one chick has hatched. Eagles typically have between 1 and 3 chicks per season. It will be about two weeks before we know how many eaglets are present. It takes this long for the chicks to grow enough to hold their heads above the nest edge.
The nest can be seen from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting. Please remember that nesting is an extremely sensitive time for eagles. A nest can fail with disturbance including people try to get too close. Please do not approach the nest. (posted 3/7/2017)
Recently, a juvenile harp seal was seen by Park System staff at Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth. This marine mammal was resting on the beach after what was probably a busy night foraging for fish in Sandy Hook Bay. Harp seals are highly migratory species, and have been known to travel over 1,500 miles away from home in the chilly waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic Ocean to feed. The NJ Marine Mammal Stranding Center was notified of the seal's whereabouts in case the seal becomes ill or needs assistance in the near future. (posted 2/21/2017)
UPDATED - Good news! The Manasquan Reservoir eagles are incubating as of January 27th. Post Hurricane Sandy (Oct 2012), this date is within their typical range to start incubating. If all goes well, hatching should be around the second week of March (35 to 40 days out). The nest is easily seen from Georgia Tavern Road and can be viewed on a television monitor inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting. (posted 2/8/17)
The bald eagle pair at the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell has been busily building a new nest. Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they have relocated their nest four times. The male eagle selects the nest location, and each nest has been within close proximity of the other. Both eagles share in building the nest. They have been seen bringing material, arranging it, and occasionally have disagreements on optimum placement of sticks. Staff and volunteers are watching for signs of the next phase: egg laying and incubation. In recent years, this has been late January or early February. The nest can be easily viewed from the walking path adjacent to Georgia Tavern Road or from inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting. (posted 1/11/17)
This adult Red-tailed Hawk appeared at Shark River Park recently and seems to have decided, like many other park patrons, this is a great place to hang out. This particular hawk appears to have become desensitized to humans and has startled some park patrons by sitting calmly on a fence post near the parking lot, a picnic table or the playground. The hawk pays little attention to people, other than to gaze at them as they approach. A gaze from a Red-tailed hawk can be a little intimidating. This is our largest resident hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and can be seen year round in Monmouth County. It weighs about 2.5 pounds and has 4 foot wing span. Red-tails feed primarily on small mammals such as mice, chipmunks and squirrels but will also take reptiles, amphibians and other birds. This individual may have been injured when young, raised by humans and released or it may have escaped from a Falconer. If you should happen to visit the park and see the Shark River Red-tail, enjoy this unusual opportunity. The hawk has been returned to the wild and should be considered a wild animal. As with any wild animal, do not try to touch or feed this hawk. Though they are not a threat to humans, raptors have powerful talons and sharp beaks and could accidentally cause a nasty injury. Posted 08/08/16
This black swallowtail was seen feeding on a cluster of foxglove beardstongue (Penstemon digitalis) blooming the Butterfly and Pollinator Garden at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell. You can see the butterfly’s proboscis (a long slender tube which is used to sip nectar) entering the trumpet shaped flower. The black swallowtail butterfly became the official New Jersey state butterfly in January of this year. (posted 6/9/2016)
This luna moth was recently spotted enjoying a beautiful day on the side of the Huber Woods Environmental Center, Middletown. Emergence from its pupal form typically occurs in the mornings or this species to allow time for expansion and drying of the wings before its normal nocturnal activity. (posted on 5/31/16)
Recently, a sub-adult Harbor porpoise was found swimming in Wacckaack Creek in the Borough of Keansburg, near the Henry Hudson Trail. This marine mammal was likely pursuing a large school of fish in Raritan Bay and followed the fish into the creek, then got disoriented. Staff from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center located in Brigantine, NJ was called in to help safely remove the misplaced porpoise from the narrow creek and return it to open waters before injury. Harbor porpoises are one of the smallest of the oceanic cetaceans, its maximum length is about 6 feet. While it’s a common marine mammal during the colder months of the year to Monmouth County, the shy and elusive nature of the Harbor Porpoise makes it difficult for people to notice. (posted on 4/4/2016)
We are sad to inform you that on March 4, the eagles abandoned their eggs after 28 days of incubation. Possible reasons for this are: egg predation (a great horned owl, for example) or outside interference (humans too close to nest or another adult eagle). We suspect interference by another adult eagle. We have determined that our female is still here. The posted photo by Dennis Ruffe taken March 15 identifies her by the leg bands. We have yet to positively identify if it is still our same male, who has no leg bands. The pair is frequently seen together at the reservoir.
The Manasquan Reservoir eagles have moved their nest back to the shores of the reservoir. They have taken up residence in their favorite tree after nesting off park property during 2015. Incubation began on February 5, 2016.
The new nest is on a nesting platform built for them in 2012. That year the eagles’ nest was supported by a dead limb and near collapsing. The Endangered Species Division of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (ENSP) had successes “building nests” for eagles in other locations under similar circumstances. With the assistance of the ENSP, the Monmouth County Park System decided to try the platform at the Manasquan Reservoir for the eagle pair. Just before hurricane Sandy in October of that year the nesting platform was built. It wasn’t until January 2016 that the eagles finally decided to use it.
This nest and the incubating eagles are easily viewed from the comforts of the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center (weather permitting). The staff is happy to answer any questions. Remember, nesting bald eagles are an endangered species and very sensitive. Disturbances can lead to nest abandonment. Please respect all laws and protections. (posted 2/16/2016)
Recently a park patron took a picture of around 48 wading birds, mostly Great Egrets or Snowy Egrets, roosting around a pond in Hartshorne Woods Park, near the Navesink River. The birds swooped into the trees to rest, relax and to wait for the next low tide to forage. There are actually many of these waterside roosts all over Monmouth County. They provide an important and safe location for birds at night to congregate to rest, stay warm and find protection from predators. If you see birds roosting, please stay far away, as too many disturbances to a roosting site will cause birds never to return. Posted 8/12/2015
A lucky group of third graders got to see young flying squirrels during their class trip to the Manasquan Reservoir. Two species of flying squirrels are native to New Jersey, the Northern and Southern Flying squirrels. These nocturnal animals are common, but seldom seen. They are active at night, high in the tree canopy. Flying squirrels do not fly, but glide. A membrane that extends from their front to back legs allows them to glide from tree to tree. They steer as they glide by adjusting their legs. Flying squirrels nest in abandoned woodpecker holes in dead trees. Posted 6/9/2015
During a recent saltwater seining program near Sandy Hook Bay, Park System Naturalists found a blowfish or a Northern puffer fish in a seine net. Without a doubt, third graders visiting the park during a school field trip were thrilled to see the little fish as it puffed up about twice its size by inhaling air or water into a special organ near its stomach. Thanks to improving water quality in New York Harbor, blowfish are becoming more common sights. They can be found from spring through fall, leaving the harbor in the winter for deeper ocean waters. Posted 6/2/2015.
This is a very secretive bird and if were not for their loud and distinct call most would go unnoticed. It is a common breeder in Monmouth County and can be found in most of our parks during the summer months.
Yellow-billed cuckoos live in wooded habitat with dense cover, abandoned farmland and dense thickets along streams and marshes. This is one of the few bird species that feeds on hairy caterpillars. Cuckoos have been known to devour 100 tent caterpillars at one sitting. They will also feed on insects, frogs and lizards. The cuckoo will lay its eggs several days apart thus the ages of the chicks can vary as much as five days. During times of scarce food the male cuckoo may remove the youngest bird from the nest. The nesting cycle is only 17 days from hatching to fledging. Both parents take part in the brooding and switch often during the day. The male however will stay with the nest all night. Once in awhile yellow-billed cuckoos will lay their eggs in nests of other birds such as robins, catbirds and wood thrushes. Posted 05/19/15
Nodding trillium in Thompson Park, Lincroft
Photo by Jamie Evans
Park staff recently found a plant called nodding trillium, or trillium cernuum, at Thompson Park, Lincroft. This is the first time staff has identified this species in the parks, although other trillium species have been reported from some of our western Monmouth parks. Trillium are not studied particularly well in the state, but many are increasingly rare throughout their ranges due to habitat destruction and deer herbivory. The seeds are typically dispersed by ants, which carry the fleshy coated seed away from the flower, consuming the fleshy parts and depositing the seed. It’s probable that this plant has been here a long time – and just overlooked when not in bloom, as its leaves do resemble non-flowering Jack-in-the-pulpit.
Recently, a park naturalist noticed a newly arrived male Northern “yellow-shafted” flicker woodpecker making a summer home in a dead tree at the Bayshore Waterfront Park, not far from the beach. The bird was busy carving out a 3-inch hole approximately 15 to 20 feet off the ground. The female was in close proximity as well, foraging for food, mainly ants and beetles, and waiting for the male to get tired so she could lend a hand or beak in helping to make a home for their young. Both sexes will help with nest excavation. Eventually, the nesting cavity will be 13 to 16 inches deep and become a home to 5 to 8 all-white eggs. Posted 4/30/2015
A nice new natural feature to observe at the Bayshore Waterfront Park are the emergent American dune grass or beach grass plants located on the high sandy dunes above the beach. This hardy grass was planted over the winter to help stabilize the newly replenished beach. The grass will help anchor shifting sands during harsh coastal wind storms and also create a welcoming place where other plants can grow more easily. These plants will help to naturally guard the coast against storm waves that could flood the land beyond the dunes. While the grass doesn’t look like much right now, it will spread horizontally quickly through rhizomes up to 6'-10' annually and will grow up to 2'-3' tall. While American dune grass is a tough pioneering plant that can tolerate very hot and salty environments, it cannot withstand people walking on it or much foot traffic, otherwise stems are broken and the plant dies. Please protect dune grass and its habitat by staying off the dunes and walking in designated areas to the beach only. Posted 4/30/2015
Our Roving Naturalist group happened upon this northern water snake during the Earth Day celebrations on Sunday. The northern water snake is a fairly common sight in the spring and summer near the lakes and waterways in our parks. They are often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth water moccasin. The northern water snake does have a triangular shaped head, which is a trait often used to distinguish a venomous snake from a non-venomous one. The cottonmouth's northern range stops in Virginia and does not extend into Maryland, Delaware or New Jersey. There are no venomous snakes indigenous to Monmouth County. These are harmless snakes that will slither away into the water or beneath a rock when approached too closely.
The northern water snake can attain a length of about fifty-three inches. They are dark-colored snakes, brownish, tan or grayish in appearance. The back and sides have a series of square blotches alternating with each other that may merge to form bands. A dry adult snake will appear to be solid black or brown. The belly is white, yellowish, or orangish and will have dark half-moon-shaped black edges. Females are usually much larger than the males. They may be found sunning themselves on rocks or logs and are very active in May and June. The northern water snake eats fish, amphibians, insects, birds, reptiles and small mammals. They are viviparous, which means they do not lay eggs and their young are born alive. (04/28/15)
A Park System Naturalist recently discovered this eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) apparently emerging from hibernation. Box turtles are cold blooded and therefore cannot regulate their body temperature. During the cold months of the year, eastern box turtles will look for a place to hibernate. This could be under a pile of leaves, under a log, in a log, or in an underground burrow vacated by another animal. Hibernation will generally start around September or October and last until temperatures start warming up in March or April. The function of the box turtles organs will slow down to a level that barely maintains life. In order for the box turtle to survive hibernation, it is essential that it be healthy prior to entering into this state. Hibernation plays an important role in the overall health and reproduction process. The eastern box turtle population is declining in New Jersey and it is listed as a "Species of Special Concern". The decline is largely due to loss of habitat. Many box turtles are also killed crossing roads and by lawn mowers. Box turtles are protected in New Jersey and it is illegal to take one out of the wild without a special permit. (4/24/15)
Spring is in the air and so are the calls of wood frogs, spring peepers, and New Jersey chorus frogs. These amphibians began calling in mid-March, but New Jersey chorus frogs may call as early as February. Wood frogs breed only in vernal wetlands; these temporary wetlands form from spring rains and snow and are vital for several amphibian species. Spring peepers also call from vernal wetlands, but are not particular and will use any body of freshwater to breed. The call of the wood frog is a duck-like quacking; tiny spring peepers, as their name implies, loudly peep; and the New Jersey chorus frogs have a 'preep’-like call. The eggs pictured above are wood frog eggs; the black dots are the embryos. They will hatch sometime in April and by June they will be adult frogs. (3/27/15)
This beautiful bird was photographed by one of our Park System Construction Inspectors along the northern section of the Union Transportation Trail. The ringed-neck pheasant is one of the most popular game birds in the U.S. It is, however, not native to the state or even the continent. This is a Eurasian species that was introduced into the U.S. for hunting purposes back in the late 1800s. The U.S. population is made up of several subspecies. There are successful feral populations throughout much of the Midwest and northern sections of the country, but most populations need to be re-energized with newly released birds periodically. It remains a highly sought after game bird and is often released on private and public lands. This is a male bird or rooster. The female, or hen, is a mottled golden that will blend in well with the native plants. The ring-necked pheasant prefers open agricultural areas mixed with areas of vegetation. This chicken-like ground dwelling bird eats grain waste, insects, and seeds. (3/26/15)
This red-bellied woodpecker was photographed along the Discovery Trail at Huber Woods Park. Easily identified by their strikingly barred black and white backs and vibrant red caps, the red-bellied woodpecker is a relatively common year-round resident of Monmouth County. Like other woodpeckers, the red-belly will work its way along the trunk or branches of a tree, picking at the bark to uncover insects and spiders hiding in bark crevices. The red-belly has a barbed tongue that extends nearly two inches past the edge of its beak and sticky saliva to help it to snatch prey from deep inside crevices. Occasionally, you may even witness one wedging a large nut into a crevice before using its beak to smash it into more manageably sized pieces. Keep an eye out for these sleek looking woodpeckers on the trunks and main branches of trees, as well as backyard bird feeders! (3/23/15)
Eagles' nest - photo by Dennis Ruffe
Hatching began later then previous years occurring March 2, possibly due to extremely cold weather conditions. This nest is the third in the state to have hatched so far. Reports are that many nests monitored throughout New Jersey have are delayed. Typical indicators of hatching are changes in behavior such as an adult sitting higher in the nest and feeding the young. However, we will not have a chick count for at least three weeks. They need to grow enough to be seen above the nest edge; then we need to see all the heads up at the same time to get an accurate count. Eagles typically have between one to three chicks per season. Eaglets grow quickly, almost matching their parent’s size by six weeks. This requires a lot of food, especially fish, a favorite in their diet. This is another reason why the Manasquan Reservoir is great eagle habitat.
Please remember that nesting is an extremely sensitive time for eagles. A nest can fail with disturbance including people trying to get too close. Please do not approach the nest. (3/17/15)
Female Northern Cardinal
Northern cardinals are always striking against a fresh winter snow. These birds are eye catching since they do not molt into a dull winter plumage as many other birds. Permanent residents throughout their range, northern cardinals do not migrate south. You can hear a cardinal singing daily even in the winter. Habitat preferences are dense shrubby areas, forested edges, overgrown fields and backyards. Berries and seeds are favorite foods from a wide variety of native plants, including various grasses, sedges and trees, such as mulberry, winged sumac, and hackberry. Insects are included on the menu and are especially important for nestlings. The range of the northern cardinal has been expanding further north and west; one explanation for this is the proliferation of backyard birdfeeders. (3/6/2015)
This red fox was spotted by Marlu Lake in Thompson Park.
There are two species of fox that occur in New Jersey; the red fox and the gray fox. The fox is a member of the Canine (dog) family. They can sometimes be difficult to tell apart as their coats can appear very similar. However, the white tipped tail of the red fox is always the key identifying character. There is some argument over the history of the red fox in New Jersey. Some maintain there was a small population of native red fox prior to the arrival of Europeans. Others believe it was introduced in the 1600’s. The Europeans liked to hunt fox for sport but when their dogs gave chase to the American gray fox it would run up a tree and hide instead of leading the hunters on merry chase through the woods. Thus, the Europeans introduced the European red fox and were able enjoy the sport in its traditional form. There are now healthy populations of both gray fox and red fox throughout our state. These animals have proven to be very adaptive and live in our towns and neighborhoods. The fox is mostly nocturnal and feeds primarily on small mammals, like meadow voles which make up about half of its diet. They are efficient scavengers and appreciate open garbage containers. They weigh about 8 to 15 pounds. Foxes are not a threat to humans but like all wild animals should be given a wide berth. Especially, if it may be acting strange or appear ill as the fox is a known rabies carrier. Posted: 03/05/15
The Common Loon is actually very common along the New Jersey coastline during the winter months. Their winter plumage (exhibited on this bird) is not particularly striking. These large birds are very noticeable with a wingspan of 46”, length of 32”, weight of 9 lbs. It can fly in straight line at 70 mph. The Common Loon spends the summer months throughout all of Canada and south into the northern portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire and Maine. Once extirpated from Massachusetts, there is currently a small re-introduced breeding population. Common Loons move inland during the breeding season and prefer quiet, crystal clear lakes to raise their young. They are known for an eerie forlorn sounding call. These birds are water birds and usually only come on shore to mate and to nest. The Common Loon needs about 30 yards of open water in order run and flap along the surface while it builds up enough speed to take off. Some loons have become stranded by landing in a parking lot, on a highway or in a small pond and are unable to reach take off speed. The Loon is an accomplished diver and extremely agile underwater. A study discovered that a family of four loons can eat about 1000 pounds of fish in a 15 week period. Posted: 03/02/15
Eastern Bluebirds are a welcome sight in the spring and summer and some people may not associate them with the cold winter months. Eastern Bluebirds range from Manitoba Canada down to Nicaragua and have the largest range of the three Bluebirds found in North America. The Western Bluebird and the Mountain Bluebird have more restrictive ranges. New Jersey is on the northern most edge of the range where Eastern Bluebirds can be seen year round. These birds eat insects, berries and seeds. Some have been observed taking larger prey such as lizards, salamanders and shrews. Eastern Bluebirds maintain the same plumage colors throughout the winter and the male’s electric blue back and warm reddish brown breast is a beautiful sight against a winter backdrop. They are cavity nesters and will start searching for nesting sites in late February. Thompson Park, Dorbrook Park, Holmdel Park, Huber Woods and the Manasquan Reservoir are some of the parks which have Bluebird Nesting Boxes. Eastern Bluebirds will usually have at least two broods every year. This bird was photographed this week in Thompson Park and was hanging out with two other males and a female. Posted: 02/13/15
The Long-eared Owl was a former breeder throughout New Jersey from Sussex to Salem County. The clearing of forest for agriculture and general development during the late 1800’s and through the 1900’s reduced the number of breeding locations. The number of breeding pairs declined steadily through the 1960’s and 1970’s. There was an extensive search in the 1980’s but only a few nesting pair could be found. In 1991 the bird was listed as threatened in New Jersey and is now considered a rare winter visitor. Long-eared Owls are long lanky owls with two long tufts on top of their head. These owls are strictly nighttime feeders and fly low over open fields in search of mice, voles and other small mammals. They weigh just under a pound, have a wing span of about 39 inches and are about 16 inches long. They prefer to roost in evergreens such as spruce, pines, cedars, and hemlocks. The Long-eared Owls can arrive in NJ as early as November and are usually gone by the end of March. Several have been seen in our parks this year and this one was photographed this week by one of our Naturalists.
Recently, a Harbor Seal, a typical winter visitor to Sandy Hook Bay, was seen at the Bayshore Waterfront Park in Port Monmouth. A Park Naturalist observed the seal early in the morning resting on a wooden dock most likely after a night of hunting or traveling. Harbor Seals frequently travel from northern New England or Canada to over-winter along the Jersey Shore. While here, seals will rest and feed on a wide variety of fish and crustaceans before swimming back north to mate in the spring. If you see a seal, please do not disturb the animal. Enjoy the sight from a distance. Harbor Seals and other marine mammals are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. If you see a seal that appears injured, entangled, sick, or being harassed by a person, please call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. This organization has the authority to help stranded or sick marine mammals and sea turtles.
Learn more about these fascinating creatures during our Harbor Seals of New Jersey presentation and hike on Saturday, January 17. Registration and fee required. Online registration available.
Posted on 1/6/2015
Cedar Waxwings at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center
Cedar Waxwings - photo by Aubrey Merrill
Cedar waxwings have been seen filling up on the winterberry holly berries at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. The name “waxwing” comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of their secondary feathers. These birds are present year-round in New Jersey and are one of the few North American birds to specialize in eating fruit. If you want to attract them to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that produce berries including serviceberry, eastern red cedar, common juniper, and blackhaw viburnum. Posted: 12/23/14
Sparrow Migration at Dorbrook Recreation Area
Lincoln's Sparrow American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow Field Sparrow
Fall is in the air! It’s a wonderful time of year to enjoy the colors of the season and look for birds migrating through our parks. October and November are prime months for sparrow migration. Sparrows are a group of birds that are so similar in color and general appearance that many just refer to them as “LBJs” or Little Brown Jobs. About 30 species have been seen in New Jersey.
Some such as the white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco will winter here and others that have been here all summer such as the Chipping Sparrow will leave and head south. Still others such as the song sparrow, swamp sparrow and the field sparrow can be seen in New Jersey year round. Sparrows are primarily ground nesters and seed eaters. These LBJs can be seen traveling in large mixed flocks through most of our parks this month.
Our local sparrows are considered New World Sparrows, family Emberizidae, and are not in the family Passeridae, the true sparrows or Old World Sparrows. New World Sparrows are considered short distance migrants traveling only to the southern part of the US, Mexico and rarely into Central America. Posted 10/14/14
Praying Mantis at Huber Woods Park
The praying mantis is one of our more fascinating insects. There are about 20 species that are native to North America and several exotic species that have been deliberately introduced. All mantises are carnivorous and have a voracious appetite, feeding almost continuously throughout the day. Mantises feed on insects, frogs, snakes, lizards and will even eat other praying mantises. Many gardeners consider these eating machines to be highly beneficial. However, the mantises do not discriminate and will eat beneficial insects as well as those considered pests. A hungry female mantis may devour the male after mating. The cautious male mantis will seek out a well fed female for courtship and often escape the encounter.
The praying mantis population status is stable throughout its range and it does not appear on any threatened or endangered species lists in the U.S. In autumn, eggs numbering from 10 to 400, depending on the species, are deposited in a foamy secretion that will harden, forming a protective case. In the spring, the young will emerge as nymphs looking similar to the adult without wings. The young grow rapidly throughout the summer, molting several times. The life span of a wild mantis in temperate climates is about 12 months and in captivity about 14 months. Praying mantises are prey for bats, birds, lizards, snakes and other insects. Posted 10/08/14
Recently, a flock of gull-like birds with orange bills were spotted along the edge of Sandy Hook Bay at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. The birds were Royal Terns that have come north from their breeding sites in southern New Jersey or perhaps in Chincoteague, Virginia or even as far south as North Carolina to rest and forage for small fish, including spearing and bay anchovies. Soon, the birds will be off again to migrate south for the winter in Florida. A group of royal terns are collectively known as a "highness" of terns, so it appeared for at least for a day that royalty visited the park. Posted 9/26/2014
Magnolia Warbler American Restart
Northern Parula Red-eyed Vireo
Fall migration is well under way in our area and can be a real treat for the observant park patron. Many songbirds can be seen as they work their way south to their wintering grounds. Wood Warblers are an especially colorful group of small birds that are currently traveling through Monmouth County and other parts of the country. There are approximately 40 species that may be seen in NJ during spring and fall migrations. Traveling with these flights of migrating warblers will be vireos, orioles, kinglets, and gnatcatchers. The birds pictured here were seen at Huber Woods Park this week all feeding and traveling together. All one needs is a keen eye and a pair of binoculars to enjoy these beautiful birds as they move through our area over the next several weeks. A bird identification book could also come in handy. Posted 09/24/14
Read more about fall bird migration in our Fall issue of the Green Heritage.
At first glance these pictures may appear to be a two-headed snake. A closer inspection reveals that this snake is in the process of shedding its skin or ecdysis. This young Black Rat snake resides at the Huber Woods Reptile House. Our animal care technician was able to take this unusual photograph. Shedding is a natural process associated with growth and can be influenced by health, age, nutrition, ambient temperature and humidity. Adult snakes may shed once every 4 to 6 weeks and young snakes may shed a few times a month. A healthy snake will usually shed its skin in one piece. A shed that results in sloughing pieces of the skin could be an indicator of poor health, improper lighting, poor humidity or low ambient temperatures. Posted 09/24/14
The delicate pink flowers of the wild Pinxter Bloom Azalea can be seen both trailside and roadside in Huber Woods Park. These particular shrubs were spotted through shady, dappled sunlight along Brown’s Dock Rd.--an ideal growing condition for this type of plant. While they used to be classified separately, today azaleas are classified as rhododendrons, but the word azalea persists in garden use and custom. Can you see why that might be? Posted 06/09/2014
The Rhododendron is having an exceptionally lovely season this year. Just check out this specimen, located along the Service Road just past the Production Greenhouses at Deep Cut Gardens. The whole shrub is covered with large, bright purple blooms. Posted 06/09/2014
This photo was taken by our volunteer Mary Jane Davis, a Bluebird house monitor at Dorbrook Recreation Area.
Ms. Davis is a teacher at Red Bank Catholic High School whose students built and installed the bird houses.
The Bluebird Boxes at Dorbrook Recreation Area are proving successful again this year. These five recently hatched chicks seem quite comfortable in their well kept house. While some Bluebirds will migrate south during the winter months, many are year round residents in Monmouth County. Although primarily insectivores during the spring and summer, Bluebirds will eat berries and small seeds during the fall and winter when insects are in short supply. Bluebirds will pair up in the spring and may produce 2 or 3 clutches each year. The clutches can have 2 to 7 chicks. In the winter, Bluebirds will band together in small flocks and have been known to use the nesting boxes for shelter. As many as 12 birds have been found cuddling in a nesting box on a cold winter’s day. Posted 05/18/14
Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphullum) in Holmdel Park
Along a stream trail in Holmdel Park, one of our Park System Naturalists came upon a growth of Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphullum). These plants get their name from the plant parts that surround the flowers. Easily confused with being a flower, the spathe is greenish yellow to green and is tube shaped and curved over the top like a hood. On the inside there are often black stripes. Inside the spathe (“Pulpit”) is the spadex (“Jack”), the part that the flowers grow on. Both male and female flowers occur on the same plant, the male flowers blooming earlier than the female flowers. In late summer, the flowers become bright red berries. The plant has one to two leaves that surround the Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Each leaf has three leaflets and can be from 1-3 feet in height. All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested, but an interesting find on a nature walk. Posted 4/30/2014
Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) at Huber Woods Park
The Redback Salamander (Red-backed or Red Back) is a native, hardy and small terrestrial salamander. This species lives under rocks, leaf litter and rotten logs in forests. They are common in forest habitats and abundant beneath old logs, bark, moss, leaf mold and stones in evergreen, mixed and deciduous forests. This animal is nocturnal and feeds on invertebrate insects, such as ants, collembolan (springtails), mites and termites. The Redback lacks lungs; it breathes through its skin and does not need to be in the water to lay its eggs. Posted 4/22/2014
Two Eaglets at the Manasquan Reservoir
Photo of another pair of eaglets, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife
We are happy to announce there are two eaglets in the Bald Eagle nest at the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell. Over the next few weeks, these eaglets will change quickly. By six weeks they grow to nearly the size of their parents and their grey down will become black feathers. At 10 to 13 weeks (approximately May), they will take their first flights.
Interested in learning more about the eagles and their history at the Manasquan Reservoir? On Sunday, April 13 at 10:00 am we are offering Bald Eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir (#I0942A). Online registration is available by clicking on the title of the program.
The eagle family can be easily viewed from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. Please remember, nesting eagles are very sensitive and could easily abandon a nest if disturbed. Respect all protected areas. Posted 3/21/2014
Beautiful crocuses are beginning to pop up in the meadows of Huber Woods Park. Early to late spring, as well as during the fall, is the best time to view these delicate flowers in our area. Crocuses come in a variety of beautiful colors such as blue, white and yellow. They are native to North America and Europe and grow in meadows, scrubs and woodlands between a wide range of elevations, from sea level to alpine tops. Posted 3/17/14
Galanthus nivalis, commonly called snowdrop, is a bulbous perennial that is native to Europe. It has escaped gardens and naturalized in parts of eastern North America. It is a true harbinger of spring that typically blooms from late February to late March, often poking its head up through snow cover if present. Posted 3/13/14
Photo by Aubrey Merrill
During the last week of February, egg hatching began in the Manasquan Reservoir Bald eagle’s nest. At present, we can’t see the chicks because they are too small. How do we know hatching occurred? It’s all about changes in the parent’s behavior. We observed the sitting adult moving around more, sitting higher in the nest, looking down often, and most importantly we observed feeding behaviors. The next big question is how many eaglets are there? We will have to wait and see. It will take another week or two before they are big enough to be seen easily.
The nest can be viewed from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. The Environmental Center hours are 10am-4:30pm, daily. If you view the nest outside, remember nesting eagles are very sensitive to human disturbance and could easily abandon a nest if disturbed. Please respect all protected areas. Posted 3/5/14
Full Moon Over Sandy Hook Bay
Last Friday, several people joined a Park System Naturalist for a full moon beach walk along Sandy Hook Bay at Bayshore Waterfront Park. It was Valentine’s Day and a beautiful evening to watch the moon rise over the bay. Winds were light, the sky was clear, and temperatures were relatively balmy in the lower 30s. It was a full “snow” moon, named by many prehistoric Native American people in the Northeast, since some of the heaviest snowstorms took place during this time of year.
If you missed this nighttime walk, please join us for Full Moon Meander (#INF42A) on Saturday, March 15th at Mt. Mitchll Scenic Overlook or Stargazing at the Seashore (#INP42A) on Saturday, April 26 at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. Online registration is available by clicking on the title of each program. Posted 2/18/2014
Recently, a small flock of about six to eight Snow Buntings have been showing up every morning near Sandy Hook Bay at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. The small birds have arrived from the high Arctic, where they have nested and raised 2 to 7 young during the summer. In the winter many Snow Buntings can be found around the bay resting and feeding on plant and grass seeds. The birds are getting ready for another long migration and busy breeding season up in the tundra starting in the spring. Posted 1/31/2014
These are exciting times at the Manasquan Reservoir! On January 21, our resident Bald Eagle pair began incubation. From now until hatching, one of the adults will almost always be seen on the nest. Eagles begin sitting immediately upon laying their first egg, but may produce up to two more eggs over the next few days. If more than one egg is produced, the eaglets will hatch in the order they were laid over several days. Generally, incubation requires about 35 days. This makes the approximate date of hatching during the week of February 24. The eagles' nest can be viewed from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather conditions permitting.
Photo by park patron Jeff Lee
A Park Ranger recently discovered two Short-eared Owls hunting the open fields at Wolf Hill Recreation Area on Christmas Day. These Owls are regular winter visitors to New Jersey and are occasionally seen in Monmouth County. Short-eared Owls have a mottled brown appearance, are about 17 inches tall, weigh 7 to 16 ounces, and have a wing span of 25 to 40 inches. These grassland birds feed mainly on small mammals and may compete with the Barn Owl where their ranges over lap. They hunt during the day as well as at night. These Owls have a distinctive hunting technique, floating low over meadows and fields then diving on their prey. Their nests are mainly on the ground and their clutch can range from 1 to 11 eggs. Short-eared Owls are one the most widely distributed Owls in the word ranging across North America, South America, and Eurasia as well as many oceanic islands. Posted 01/03/14
One of our Park Rangers spotted a couple of Snowy Owls at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park over the past several weeks. New Jersey is experiencing an unprecedented incursion of Snowy Owls this winter with more than 30 individuals reported along our shores. These beautiful birds stand about 28 inches tall, weigh around 4 to 5 pounds and have a 50 inch wing span. These are diurnal owls on their home range, the Arctic Tundra, where they feed on many small mammals but mainly on lemmings. They will also take small birds. The normal clutch size is usually between 3 to 4 but may be as many as 11 eggs. The adult males are almost all white while the adult females will be white with brown barring. Juvenile male and females will both exhibit the brown barring and can be difficult to distinguish. Posted 01/02/2014
This Marbled orb-weaver spider, found in Huber Woods Park, is part of the largest spider genera Araneidae. At 1500 species worldwide, the orb-weavers are at the top of the chart. Although scary looking, due to its large size (9 to 20mm) and extremely bright colors, this lady (females are larger than males) is quite harmless. Marbled orb-weavers are common inhabitants of trees, shrubs and tall weeds, but they prefer the grasses in moist, wooded settings and can frequently be found along the banks of streams. The spider gets its name from the beautiful marbling of its abdomen. Most common colors are orange, yellow, brown and purple and their hues. They build elaborate circular webs to catch their prey, but unlike most spiders they tend to hide under a leaf nearby instead of being displayed on their web. As seen in the picture these spider have 8 small eyes. Four are in the center of the head forming a box and a pair to the left and another pair to the right. These creatures are seen most frequently in late summer and fall. Next time you cross paths with one of them give them your best smile, they will not survive the cold New Jersey winter. Posted 11/08/13
White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) Caterpillar Hartshorne Woods
There are several caterpillars considered "Horned Caterpillars" due to the large thorn like structure on its posterior. The White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar is a large, two inch long, colorful caterpillar that may appear intimidating but is actually quite harmless to humans. It is not considered an agricultural pest because the host plants are consider weeds by most people. They will feed on rose leaves but usually do not cause significant damage. The caterpillar will travel along the ground searching for a place to burrow and pupation will occur 2 to 4 inches below the surface. There are usually two broods of White-lined Sphinx Moths occurring between February and November. The November brood may overwinter in the pupate stage. Posted 10/16/13
Young box turtles are very secretive so it was a real treat to see this hatchling near the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell, in late August. Because they are so seldom seen this young, we know little about their habits. It is thought they spend most of their first years hidden beneath leaf litter eating insects. Box turtles reproduce very slowly, maturing by age 7 and producing 3-6 eggs once in
spring. Loss of habitat, people removing them from the wild, and slow reproductive rates contribute to the Eastern Box Turtle being listed as a Species of Concern in New Jersey.
Park Ranger Pat Becker spotted this Immature Brown Booby on the end of a jetty at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch, on July 2.
If you take a walk on the trails at Huber Woods you will see clusters of this strange looking white plant. This is Indian Pipe, also known as Ghost Plant. Since it lacks color, Indian Pipe is one of the easiest wild plants to identify. It grows from June to September reaching a size of four to ten inches tall. The Indian Pipe prefers shady woods with rich soil and decaying plant matter. It blooms with small waxy flowers that droop and is a favorite food source for small bumble bees. The plant turns black when it gets old.
June marks the peak of the spawning season for the Bluegill sunfish. While at Shark River Park stop by the lake and check out the numerous fish nests near the shallow edge of the water. They are the result of the very hard working male bluegill. Each year they claim a territory to build their nest. Using their tail they scoop out a six to twelve inches in diameter spawning site in the gravel or sand, where they will wait for a female to arrive and deposit eggs. After the eggs are deposited the male stays and guards the nest from any intruders. In addition to being a watch dog, he is constantly using his tail to fan out the silt from covering the little, fragile eggs.
Seal Released Off Monmouth County Coastline
Recently, an adult 600-pound plus Grey Seal was released back into the Atlantic Ocean at Sandy Hook. The seal was found sick and mal-nourished in February 2013 near Seaside Park. After several months of care and treatment from staff at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ, the seal was healthy enough to send back into the wild to be free. The seal was released at Sandy Hook because of its location &S211; it&S217;s the northern most spot along the Jersey Shore and nearest to New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces where the western Atlantic population of Grey Seals often gathers to breed, feed, and haul out to relax during the summer.
The trilling call of the male Northern Gray Tree Frog can be heard on mild, humid nights from late April to August when the temperature rises above 60 F. Tadpole development is quite rapid and the bright-green juvenile frogs appear at the edges of their birth pond in mid-July. The almost identical looking Southern Gray Tree Frog is endangered due to habitat loss. The Southern Gray has a quicker, shorter, and higher pitched trill. Generally the Southern Tree Frog is not found in Monmouth County.
This Barred Owl was photographed in Hartshorne Woods as it flew out to investigate a man washing his car. The Barred Owl has become a rare sight in Monmouth County due to habitat encroachment and destruction. It was placed on the NJ Threatened Species List in 1979. The Barred Owl is known by many colloquial names including; Swamp Owl, Hooter Owl, Eight Hooter, Rain Owl, Wood Owl, and Striped Owl. It has well established populations in remote wetland areas and the highlands areas of the state.
The Barred Owl preys on small mammals but may include reptiles, amphibians, insects, or small birds in its diet. It has even been observed wading into water to catch fish. The Barred Owl's call has been described as, &S220;Who Cooks for You, Who cooks for you, allll&S221;, with &S221;hooah&S221; at the end. This Owl can often be heard calling on a cloudy day and is sometimes seen hunting during the day. The Barred Owl has brown eyes, a wing span of 42 inches, stands 21 inches high and weighs 1.6 pounds. Posted 05/21/13
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Spring is here and the sight of fern fiddleheads along the pond at Huber Woods Park is just another reassuring sign. These fiddleheads are the beginning of the Cinnamon Fern. Cinnamon Ferns are large ferns native to the Americas and Eastern Asia; their leaves grow up to six feet long and a foot wide. They grow in large clumps in moist woods, marshes, wet ditches, and stream banks. This fern often grows alongside other plants, such as Highbush Blueberry and Greenbrier. In early spring, new young leaves start to grow. They look like a skinny stem, which uncoils into a leaf. These young skinny structures are called "fiddleheads." Fiddleheads are eaten by white-tailed deer and other animals. Cinnamon Fern provides good cover and protection for small animals, such as squirrels, toads, birds, snakes, and insects. Posted 04/22/2013.
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Bullfrogs are found throughout the state in any permanent body of freshwater; however, they are not found in the core pine barrens due to areas naturally acidic water. They are considered an invasive species in New Jersey and have displaced our native Carpenter Frogs and the threatened Pine Barrens Treefrog.
Bullfrogs spend two years as tadpoles. Males and females can be distinguished by comparing the size of their eye relative to their eardrum (tympanum). In females, the eardrum is the same size of the eye, or smaller, and in the male the eardrum is much larger than the eye. The males call from around April through July with a bellowing jug-o-rum. Posted 4/17/13
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Bluebells Blooming at Historic Walnford, Upper Freehold
The bluebells are blooming at Historic Walnford, Upper Freehold! These colorful wildflowers can be found along the banks of Crosswicks Creek. Even better, there&S217;s a good chance that the flowers will be at their peak for the Bluebell Festival on Sunday, April 14th.
We are very excited to announce that we have two eaglets at the Manasquan Reservoir! Here are a few eaglet milestones:
- Hatching began March 4th.
- At 4 to 5 weeks eaglets can stand and feed themselves.
- By 6 weeks they are almost as large as their parents and they take their first flights around 10 to 13 weeks.
Come visit us at the environmental center to learn more about our eagles and other wildlife. Posted 4/9/13
Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers Calling
Spring is in the air and so are the calls of wood frogs and spring peepers. These amphibians begin
calling in mid-March, but wood frogs may call as early as February. Wood frogs breed only in vernal wetlands. These temporary wetlands form from spring rains and snow and are vital for several amphibian species. Spring peepers also call from vernal wetlands, but are not as particular and will use any body of freshwater to breed. The call of the wood frog is a duck-like quacking and the tiny spring peepers, as their name implies, loudly peep. You can discover more about Monmouth Counties' amphibians with our Nature Series brochure on Amphibians (PDF required). Posted 3/13/13
One of our Park System Naturalists spotted this Silver-haired bat hanging on the side of one of the out buildings in the Timolat Section of Huber Woods recently. The bat appeared to be in great condition and was taking advantage of the warmth of the buildings southern exposure. Silver-haired Bats can be quite common when migrating and will be found on the sides of buildings, railroad ties and fence posts. This bat is a tree bat and it usually does not roost in large colonies. It typically roosts under loose tree bark but will also use woodpecker holes and bird nests. The Silver-haired bat was not affected by the &S220;White-nose Syndrome&S221; fungus that has devastated cave bats. This year the NJ Bat Sanctuary has experienced an increase in calls regarding the Silver-haired bat and many of the reports are from Monmouth County. These are medium sized bats with a wing span of 11 to 13 inches and weighing .3 to .4 ounces.
Eagle Hatching has begun! Hatching was officially called March 4th. We'll be waiting to see how many heads pop up in a week or two. Check back here for more updates. Posted 3/5/13
This beautiful adult Cooper's Hawk was seen near the Environmental Center recently. Cooper's Hawks belong to a group of woodland hawks known as accipiters that specialize in hunting small birds.The Cooper's Hawk is crow sized and fits between the smaller, but similar, sharp-shinned hawk and larger northern goshawk. During the breeding season, Cooper's Hawk are found in upland, riparian or freshwater wetland forests. For several seasons, a pair had a nest at the reservoir. The Cooper's Hawk was recently reclassified from Threatened to Special Concern due to an increase in the breeding population. However, this good news must be tempered by the continued threat posed by the loss of the large, contiguous forests it needs for breeding and hunting. Posted: 1/30/13
On Saturday, January 26th the bald eagle pair at the Manasquan Reservoir began to incubate eggs. For the next 35 days, on average, one of the adults will always be sitting on the eggs until they hatch around March 1st. Check back for more updates, or visit the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. Posted 1/30/13
White-Winged Crossbill and Red Crossbill
White-Winged Crossbills and Red Crossbills have recently been observed feeding in the Japanese Pines at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park and in the pines at Thompson Park (White-winged). These finches breed in Canada usually only visiting NJ in the winter and not all that often. They have specialized bills for removing seeds from pine cones. The upper and lower mandibles actually overlap, side to side, enabling the bird to easily remove the seeds. Photo by Jeff Lee - Posted 01/25/13
Razorbills have been observed up and down the East Coast this year with many sightings as far south as Florida. Several Razorbills have been seen from the beach at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park this month. These small pelagic birds have a wing span of 26&S221;, weigh about 1.5 pounds and are ocean dwellers. Razorbills venture onto land to breed along the cliffs and rocky islands of the northern most reaches of North America&S217;s east coast. However, about 65% to 70% of the world razorbill population breeds in Greenland. They mate for life and usually produce one chick per year. Razorbills feed on capelin (a type of smelt), sand lance, juvenile cod, sprats and herring. Most feeding takes place down to depths of 80 feet but they can dive as deep as 400ft. Photo by Jeff Lee -Posted 01/25/13
A Western Grebe was reported off the beach at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park this month. This species, though still rare in NJ, is beginning to be a yearly winter visitor to the Jersey Shore with sightings nearly every year since 2002. The dull yellow bill, dark face and long slender white neck are distinctive. Weighing in around 3.5 pounds and with a wing span of 24 inches, it is the largest Grebe in North America. This bird breeds in huge colonies on large lakes and marshes in the westen part of the US. They are known for a spectacular courtship dance that takes place in the open water. Photo by Jeff Lee -Posted 01/25/13
The Pink-footed Goose is a rare visitor to NJ. This one was photographed in Mercer County during the Park System's last &S220;Winter Birding Expedition&S221; bus trip on January 9. It has since been seen at Assunpink Reservoir and other locations in Monmouth County. The Pink-foot breeds in Greenland / Icland and very seldom ventures to New Jersey. The state&S217;s first sighting was in March of 2007. The Pink-footed Goose population is on the rise largly due to increased protection from hunting on its wintering grounds. This Pink-footed Goose (left) is next to a Canada Goose. Photo by Jeff Lee -Posted 01/25/13
The Bald Eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir have been busy. They have recently built a new nest about 150 yards east of their old nesting location. Historically this eagle pair has begun their egg incubation during the first and second week of January. Eagle watchers at the Reservoir are anxiously awaiting the event. Winter is one of the best times to view the eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir located in Howell, NJ. Drop by the Environmental Center for all the up to date information. Posted 1/10/13
This medium sized, well camouflaged woodpecker is a transient in Monmouth County seen during the spring and fall migrations. Occasionally, some will stay over for the winter. This male was photographed this week at Huber Woods in a stand of spruce trees. The females have a white throat but otherwise they are very similar to the males. Sapsuckers do not actually suck the sap from trees but they lap it up with their tongues from the holes that they drill into the tree. The holes are generally drilled in parallel rows. Insects will take advantage of the sap oozing from the holes and the sapsucker will readily eat the insects that may become stuck in the sap. Hummingbirds have been observed taking advantage of the sapsuckers handiwork as well. There have been over a 1000 species of trees that the sapsuckers have drilled but they seem to prefer birches and maples. Posted 01/03/13
Northern Saw-whet Owl
One of our park rangers discovered this rarely seen winter visitor and one of our park naturalists was able to snap a picture of this shy creature. With a wing span of only 17 inches and a length of 8 inches, the Saw-whet Owl is slightly smaller than the Eastern Screech Owl but, at 2.8 oz., weighs less than half as much. These nocturnal birds feed almost entirely on small mammals with deer mice being the preferred prey, followed by shrews and voles. They will also eat small birds, frogs and insects. The Northern Saw-whet inhabits deciduous and coniferous forests and is a cavity nester. The owl's name comes from the "skiew" call that is made when alarmed. This noise has a resemblance to the whetting of a saw. Posted 01/04/13