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 – it’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, “Who Cooks for You, Who cooks for you, allll”, with ”hooah” 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’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:
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”, 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’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 “Winter Birding Expedition” 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’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
An Eastern Screech Owl recently took advantage of a nesting box near Huber Woods Environmental Center to rest up during the day. Monmouth County’s smallest year round resident owl comes in two phases. This is a Red Morph individual but Gray Morph individuals may also be seen. Screech Owls are quite common but are small secretive birds and their nocturnal and crepuscular habits make encounters rare. These cavity nesters are usually monogamous with the male doing all of the hunting when the female is incubating the eggs and caring for the young. Screech Owls eat a large variety of prey including worms, insects, crayfish, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, small birds and rodents. Posted 12/19/12
A common winter visitor has been showing up recently in the cold estuarine waters near the Bayshore Waterfront Park. A small flock of about a half-a-dozen beautiful Buffleheads have been seen diving for their morning meals, always popping up after each dive like corks. A Bufflehead is a buoyant, tiny duck that arrives each winter from their breeding grounds in northern Canada to Sandy Hook Bay and surrounding tidal waters. Here they will rest and feed on a variety of crustaceans and mollusks, such as shrimp, snails, and clams. The males are striking in color with a black-and white body and a head that shines in the sun with a bright glossy green-purple color. Females are muted gray-brown with a white patch on the cheek. Posted 12/18/2012
Geminids Meteor Shower Peeking 12/13-12/14
The Geminids meteor shower will be peeking tonight and tomorrow morning in the eastern sky around midnight. Oddly this meteor is not caused by a comet by rather by 3200 Phaethon an astroid that is often dubbed the "rocky comet". Posted 12/13/12
Recently, while walking along Sandy Hook Bay at the Bayshore Waterfront Park, a piece of coral was found washed up in the tideline. Northern Star Coral is the only hard species of coral that lives in the cool, turbid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Though it can be found from Cape Cod down to Florida, Northern Star Coral thrives around Long Island Sound and along the Jersey Shore. It does not form massive reefs, but instead attaches itself to stones, old shells, pilings, and shipwrecks, where it grows to 4 inches in height. When alive, Northern Star Corals are beautiful looking, off-white to pink in color with bushy polyps extending outward. Most people, however, just find the hard bleached skeleton on the beach. Posted 11/29/12
This beautiful native holly is deciduous and sheds its leaves in fall. However, as the common name implies the leaves are replaced by a wonderful display of bright red berries in winter. The Winterberry, along with other native hollies, serve as an important winter food source for songbirds and other animals and should be considered in any landscaping plan. Posted 11/28/12
Downed trees and Wildlife
Hurricane Sandy and the recent snowfall caused large numbers of trees to fall and one may wonder what effect this will have on the local wildlife. The truth is our parks will bounce back from the loss and may become stronger for it. It might be surprising to some that seemingly catastrophic natural phenomenon
like forest fires or volcanoes can, in fact, be very beneficial to an ecosystem. Certain ecosystems, like the pine barrens of Southern New Jersey require forest fire to maintain their unique mixture of hardy pitch pine and other species. Volcanoes, likewise, are destructive, but provide the building blocks for very rich soil that promotes plant growth. This process of forest or ecosystem change is known as succession. In our
case the loss of many older trees by wind damage will make way for a new generation of saplings that would not have otherwise survived under the shadow of their parent trees. Posted 11/19/12
State biologist at work
This year's eaglet banding was not completed due to concern that the branch supporting the eagle's nest was rotting and would fail. As a result, biologists from New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Non-Game Species program suggested to Park System Naturalists that a platform be built in the hopes that the eagles would move to a more secure location. The biologists are placing boards into a more stable location below the existing nest and will arrange dead branches to entice the eagles to this new nest platform. We hope the eagles will like their new home and expand it when the breeding season starts in December. Posted 10/23
Recently, a medium-sized tern in winter plumage, known as a Forster’s Tern, was seen resting among a flock of Herring gulls along the shoreline of Sandy Hook Bay, at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. A tern is a water bird. Though related to gulls, terns are mostly smaller, slimmer, and more graceful in flight than many gulls. Terns spend most of their day over the water forging for fish. With its comma-shaped black ear patch, orange legs, and sharp beak, Forster’s terns are relatively easy to tell apart from the local gull population. Posted 10/16/12
The Tiger beetle likely goes unnoticed by most visitors, but it belongs to a large group of aggressive and swift hunters. One species in fact can run at 5.6 mph which is equivalent to a human running 480 mph. New Jersey is home to twenty different species of tiger beetle including the state endangered and federal threatened Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle. The species pictured seems to be a Cicindela hirticollis common name hairy-necked tiger beetle. This species is closely associated with bodies of water: oceans, lakes, rivers, or streams and their associated beaches. It is seen spring and fall and has a one or two year life cycle. The picture is courtesy of Ben Wurst with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. Posted 10/4/12
Royalty was recently spotted near the historic Seabrook-Wilson House at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. A pair of Royal Terns was found resting along the bayside beach. Royal Terns are large, pale fish-eating birds with black on the head, a heavy orange bill, and a forked tail. They feed by plunge diving for fish. Historically, Royal Terns were very rare to see in New Jersey. They were more common on southern ocean beaches from the Carolinas to Florida. Recently, though, Royal Terns have been extending their range north and now can easily be spotted along the Jersey Shore in late summer and fall. Posted 10/3/2012
Recently a pair of wood turtles, raised in captivity, were relocated to Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. The turtles are about twelve years old and are seven inches long. Wood turtles are a threatened species in New Jersey. Historically found in Monmouth County, their largest populations are in Northern
New Jersey. The wood turtle, unlike most of our native turtles, uses both aquatic and upland environments, which makes conservation efforts even more complex. Remote freshwater streams and rivers are used for mating, feeding, and hibernation and during summer the turtles move into surrounding woods and fields for foraging and egg laying. They are generally omnivores. Wood turtles are aptly named and their carapace (top shell) is sculpted as if it were made from wood and their throats are an orange color (our turtles have a less common yellow throat). You are welcome to come and visit them at the environmental center daily from 10:00 to 4:30. Posted 10/2/12
For the last few years osprey at the Reservoir have been unable to find dead trees sufficient for their needs and none have nested on the reservoir itself, though a pair nested on a platform behind the main dam. Staff worked with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and Monmouth County Audubon to place a platform in a more visible location. On Wednesday, September 19 staff and volunteers from Conserve Wildlife joined Park System Naturalists to erect a platform near the Environmental Center. The platform can be viewed from a short nature trail near the building. We will learn if the osprey approve of the platform when they return to the area next March. We would like to thank Conserve Wildlife, Monmouth County Audubon, and our visitors for their help and support with this project. Posted: 9/20/12
This beautiful Red-spotted Purple Butterfly is a mimic of the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillar’s feed on a variety of trees like birch, willow, and cherry and adults feed on sap flows, rotting fruit, carrion, dung, and occasionally nectar. Posted: 9/7/12
This medium size bat weighs in at around .3 to .5 ounces and has a wing span of about 11 to 13 inches. It ranges as far north as the southern half of Canada, south to Florida (except the extreme southern tip of the Fla. peninsula) the entire eastern half of the U.S and down into NE Mexico. It appears to be doing well in all areas of its current range. The Eastern Red bat spends the day hanging by one foot in the foliage of shrubs and trees and seldom enters into caves. They consume mosquitoes, true bugs, beetles, moths, crickets, flies and other insects. One to four young are born in late spring. This individual was spotted hanging on the underside of a couple of leaves along the Discovery Trail adjacent to the Huber Woods Environmental Center. Posted: 8/31/2012
This young Northern Gray Tree Frog was one of several brought to the environmental center recently along with tadpoles that a visitor found on their pool cover. The bright green color, which is reminiscent of the threatened Pine Barrens Tree Frog, is only found in hatchlings and is soon replaced by its signature gray color. Posted: 8/29/2012
Often mistaken for a hummingbird, this interesting insect is actually a moth and known as a Common Clearwing, or by its more colloquial name the "hummingbird moth". Like its avian namesake it feeds on nectar and hovers in front of flowers in a manner similar to the ruby-throated humming bird.
This fan to kidney shaped, stalkless and shelf-like mushroom is bright yellowish orange to orange on the upper surface and bright yellow on the undersurface. Young fresh caps of the Sulphur Shelf, like this one, get dull orange as they age. You will find this mushroom on deciduous trees, stumps and logs. It can sometimes weigh fifty pounds or more. They are found throughout much of North America. It fruits mostly from midsummer to mid-fall. The Sulfur shelf is an edible mushroom sometimes called the chicken of the woods.
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This beautiful vine is a humming bird favorite for its large, showy orange-red flowers. The thick tangle of woody vines also provides a good hiding spot for other birds. It is a popular garden plant, but it is a very hardy and fast growing plant, so it can become invasive outside its normal range. Posted: 7/13/12
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On Tuesday, July 3, staffers at Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown, spotted a butterfly they didn't recognize. They took a few photos and compared them to those in one of their butterfly identification books. Surprisingly they found it was a Zebra Swallowtail, very rare to this area because they normally only fly as far north as Maryland. It seems to have had a rough journey since his back "tails" were missing. It's possible he blew up our way after various storms south of us or because of the high heat we'd recently been having. Posted: 7/12/2012
I Found Baby Birds - What Should I Do?
During the spring and summer one of the most common questions we get at the Park System's Environmental Centers concerns baby birds and what to do if you find one seemingly abandoned. In most cases, when a young bird is found outside the nest it's a fledging and the parents are likely nearby and actively caring for it. This is the case with the Carolina Wrens pictured. If after a few hours the parents are not sighted, a wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted. If the young bird is sparsely feathered, and not hopping, it might be a nestling, in which case an attempt should be made to locate the nest and return the bird to it. And don't worry, birds have a poor sense of smell so any human scent will go unnoticed by the parents. At no time should you bring a young bird home or attempt to care for one yourself. Caring for young birds requires a great deal of skill and knowledge, which is why every effort should be made to keep the bird where it was found. Posted: 7/3/2012
Recently, an adult female Diamondback Terrapin turtle was spotted walking in one of the gravel parking lots at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. Almost certainly she was looking for an ideal location to lay her eggs. From late May until early July, adult females look for sandy beach areas to lay eggs. A single female can lay up to 3 clutches of eggs per nesting season. Diamondback Terrapins are the only turtles in the U.S. that live exclusively in brackish saltwater marshes and coastal bays. They range from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Corpus Christi, Texas, including Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay, NJ. If you see one, make sure to keep some distance between you and the turtle; if disturbed the turtle will abandon her nest. Posted 7/03/2012