Nature Now


Lark Sparrow

 Lark Sparrow

Sometimes you can find an unexpected gem during unlikely times. Over the past weekend, as staff was setting up for the Wind and Sea Festival at Bayshore Waterfront Park a bird caught the eye of Park System Naturalist Paul Mandala. Using a pair of binoculars, he was able to spot a Lark Sparrow that perched briefly on the fence of the main path. This large species of sparrow has a very distinctive facial pattern that makes them really stand out, described as a harlequin facial pattern. This was the first time one was spotted at Bayshore Waterfront Park and that is no surprise as their typical range is on the west coast and central parts of the United States and Mexico. (posted 9/21/2021)

 

Wood Duck 

Wood Duck  

Wood Ducks are a stunning species of ducks and like many other species, the female may get overlooked.  However, even the female of this species are gorgeous.  Wood Ducks are usually very timid and hard to spot, preferring secluded, wooded swamps.  The naturalist staff at the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell, were very fortunate during a recent September boat tour to have encounter such a stunning and friendly visitor.  In this photo, you can see in detail her webbed feet and the white ring around her eyes. (posted 9/20/2021)  

Salad Eating Contest Anyone?

monarch caterpillars
See full size image.

These very hungry monarch caterpillars are hard at work, chomping away at the foliage of some swamp milkweed plants, also known are Asclepias incarnata. Over time, they will dramatically increase in size by molting through five instar sizes. Can you find all seven caterpillars pictured above?

All milkweeds contain toxins called cardenolides, which protect the plants from most forms of herbivory. Through coevolution, monarch caterpillars have become specialized in eating milkweed leaves, resulting in becoming toxic themselves. Due to this specialization, monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants exclusively as host plants for their offspring.

Come visit Freneau Woods Park, Aberdeen, and check out the new Monarch Waystation where this photo was taken.

Random fact- monarch caterpillars often eat their own molts before continuing to feed on milkweed leaves. (posted 9/1/2021)

Manasquan Reservoir Eaglets Fledge June 6, 2021

juvenile eagles
Photo by D. Ruffe 6-6-21

Manasquan Reservoir’s two eaglets have taken their first flights! This milestone, called fledged, was reached on approximately Sunday, June 6. They were spotted together on a limb about 50 yards from the nest. Hatched on March 14, they are now about 11 weeks old. In terms of development, they have fledged right on time and are now considered “juvenile” eagles.   

While this marks the start of becoming independent, they must improve their flying skills and learn to hunt for themselves. The nest is still their home base for the next seven weeks or so. Through July and August, we will see them less and less around the Manasquan Reservoir. Eventually, they will leave the area and become nomads with no territory of their own. Juvenile eagles from our area tend to roam from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine until they mature, at which time they return to general area where they were raised. 

The photo shows their dark feathers, beak and feet. These dark colors act as camouflage to provide protection. It also differentiates them from mature eagles. They keep this specific coloration for about six months. Bald Eagles’ plumage continues to change throughout their development; it takes five years for the young birds to fully mature and acquire the classic white head and tail.  (posted 6/11/2021)

 

 Wildflower Rock Art 

rock art  

While on a stroll along the Huber Woods Discovery Path, you might come across some peculiar artwork like the painted rock pictured above. Acting just like plant labels, these rocks help showcase what each plant will look like even if it isn’t currently in flower. Stop by for a visit to see how the pollinator garden changes over time.

If you are interested in creating your very own rock art under the guidance of our green-thumbed painter, feel free to sign-up for our Wildflower Rock Art programs in July and August. Visit our program registration page for details.   
 

Can You Dig It?

fossil

Millions of years ago when dinosaurs literally roamed the Earth, most of New Jersey was underwater— including our very own Monmouth County! Fortunately for us, this means we can now find marine fossils along stream beds in the area. These can date back over 65 million years to the Cretaceous Period.

Fossiling is truly a great way to go back in time; no flux capacitor needed!  Want to try?  Join one of our Naturalists for Fossiling at Shark River Park on Saturday, June 5. Our Naturalist will show you where to look and how to find fossilized shark teeth.  An additional session is offered on Thursday, June 24. Pre-registration is required for these offerings and available online. (posted 5/19/2021)
 

  All That Glitters is Goldfinch

Goldfinches


The Eastern Goldfinch, or Carduelis tristis, is the official state bird for New Jersey and can be found year round throughout our Monmouth County Parks. Males are identified by a bright yellow body with black wings and tail, and black on top of their head. Female feathers are a more yellowish brown with dark brown wings and tail (males will also display similar colors in the winter months).

Goldfinches also breed later than most North American birds, nesting in June or July when seeds are usually more abundant. Their nests can typically be found in deciduous shrubs or trees less than 30 feet above the ground, and are so well made that they may even hold water!

A Goldfinch will lay between 2 and 7 eggs and have an incubation period of approximately two weeks. While the female does all of the incubating, both parents will take turns feeding the nestlings. Initially the male will bring the food to the female who will then feed their young, but over time they will both feed. Around 11-17 days after hatching, the young Goldfinches will leave the nest to strengthen their own survival skills.

Goldfinches are a popular bird to find at the feeders behind the Huber Woods Environmental Center. Their diet consists primarily of various seeds such as milkweed, purple coneflower (among other daisy-like flowers), sunflower, and thistle. These are great seeds to stock your own feeders and gardens with if you want to attract these beautiful birds to your yard!



Bobolinks

 Bobolinks

Bobolinks are a stunning member of the blackbird family.  It is a bird of open fields that perches on grasses.  The males are stunning with their white back and black underparts, and straw-colored patch of feathers on the back of their heads.  While uncommon visitors to Monmouth County, they sometimes stop during migration in parks like Thompson Park or Dorbrook Recreation Area, and are a wonderful treat to see.


Evening Grosbeak

  Evening Grosbeak

The Evening Grosbeak is a striking heavyset finch that is rarely seen in Monmouth County.  This winter was a particularly good year for finch migration, with birds pushing further south than typical.  These birds are migrating back to the northern coniferous forests in the northern United States and Canada.  We were lucky to have had a flock of these beautiful yellow thick billed finches stop over for a snack up at Huber Woods Environmental Center.  They were seen feeding on some berries from a tree in the parking lot. (posted 5/11/2021)
 

  Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue…

Common blue violets

Did you know that the common blue violet is the state flower for New Jersey? Common blue violets (Viola sororia) are short-stemmed herbaceous plants that are native to northeastern America. Their heart-shaped leaves are topped by beautiful purple blooms with white “throats.”

You can find these flowers in several of our parks such as Freneau Woods Park, Aberdeen, in the early spring months, typically March through May. Since there aren’t many insect pollinators awake yet at that time of year, violets have developed cleistogamous, or self-pollinating, flowers that bloom later in the season.

Legislation to adopt the flower as a state symbol existed in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it finally passed thanks to the urging of New Jersey garden clubs across the state.  (posted 4/30/2021)
  

 Two Eaglets at the Manasquan Reservoir!
3-29-21

Eaglets
Photo courtesy of USFWS

Naturalists at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center are excited to announce that two eaglets have been sighted in the nest.  This year’s nest is more shallow than usual which has made spotting the chicks much easier.  At present, they are small and covered with white downy feathers.  However, they are growing at an amazing rate, gaining up to one pound a week.  At nine weeks old, they will be the size of a fully grown adult eagle which can weigh between eight and twelve pounds (depending on the sex).  Females are larger than males.  Although they grow rapidly, they are not yet mature.  They must continue to learn to fly and hunt and will stay near their nest for about six months.  Eagles fully mature in five years.

The Bald Eagles’ nest and surrounding area are protected. They are very sensitive to disturbance by humans.  Approaching a nest could cause them to abandon their eggs or young.  Please do not approach the nest or enter any protected areas. The nest can be viewed safely from the Manasquan Reservoir trail adjacent to Georgia Tavern Road or from inside the Manasquan Environmental Center via live television monitor.  Overcast days make the best viewing from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center’s television monitor as they provide the clearest images. (posted 3/29/2021)
 

Manasquan Reservoir Bald Eagles’ Eggs Hatch 3-12-2020

 Eaglets
Photo from US Fish & Wildlife


During the second week of March, Park System Naturalists at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell, were closely watching the site’s Bald Eagle nest for signs of hatching.  It began right on time (35 to 40 days after the start of incubation on February 2) when late Friday afternoon, March 12, the adult eagles were observed reaching down into the nest and delicately feeding their chick(s).  At this time, we don’t know the number of eaglets.  The newly hatched offspring are too small for us to see.  As the days go by, we may see a head or a wing pop up as they grow bigger and stronger.  It will be a couple of weeks until we know the actual number of chicks.  

Please be aware that nesting Bald Eagles are very sensitive to disturbance by humans.  Approaching a nest could cause them to abandon their eggs or young.  Please do not approach the nest or enter any protected areas. The nest can be viewed safely from the Manasquan Reservoir trail adjacent to Georgia Tavern Road or from inside the Manasquan Environmental Center via live television monitor.  (posted 3/18/2021)  
 

Snowdrop at Huber Woods Park  

Snow Drops

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. Re-posted 3/16/21

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Recently at Big Brook Park, Marlboro, we had an unexpected guest!  A lone Common Redpoll was spotted visiting the feeders at Neuberger Lodge.  Common Redpolls are rarely seen in Monmouth County and only visit during the winter season in irruptive years.  A small energetic finch that actively forages for food, it has a small conical yellow bill and heavily streaked back and sides with a distinctive red patch on the crown of its head.  Common Redpolls are known to occasionally tunnel into the snow to stay warm during winter nights.  (posted 3/9/2021)

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane Sandhill Crane

A large bird was recently spotted in a cornfield by one of our Park System Naturalists while driving along Emely’s Hill Road in Cream Ridge, just down the road from the entrance to Clayton Park trail head. The bird stood out as being oddly tall and had an overall greyish appearance. It turned out to be a Sandhill Crane which stands at over three feet tall. They are beautiful and elegant birds and, if you look closely, have a red crown on their heads. It’s a real treat to be able to see one in Monmouth County as they are not a common visitor. Interestingly, some people have actually theorized that some of the Jersey Devil sightings may have actually been Sandhill Crane sightings. (posted 2/26/2021)

Snowy Owl

snowy owl  

 

Winter can bring lots of excitement to the Jersey shore, and some years brings an influx of bird species that are not commonly seen as these birds push down from ranges further north. Recently, a Snowy Owl made an appearance and became a local celebrity – giving us a great opportunity to share our owl knowledge.

Snowy Owls like to frequent dunes and beach habitat as they hunt for prey. Dunes give them a nice, high vantage point to hunt successfully. While they’re found in the habitat of places like Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, you never know when and where they will show up. Exact locations for owl species and other sensitive or endangered species should not be shared as roosting (resting) locations are important for the animal. An influx of people, cameras and attention may cause them stress and hurt their chances of hunting prey successfully.   

Thankfully, the owl pictured perched high atop an apartment complex, seemed to have enough distance to be comfortable. A good rule of thumb is to view wildlife from a distance with the use of binoculars or a scope; and that your actions should not change their behavior. (posted 2/26/2021)

Incubation Begins for Bald Eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir!

 eagle

Eagle in nest

We are very happy to announce that the resident Bald Eagle pair began incubation on February 2.  Naturalists observed the female sitting low in the nest and remaining there. From now on, one of the adults will almost always be seen in the nest. The female eagle begins sitting immediately upon producing her first egg. She may lay up to three eggs over the next five to six days. The male assists with incubation by giving the female breaks. He also brings food to the female and helps protect the nest.   If everything goes well, we expect hatching to occur the second week of March. They are nesting in the same nest as last year.

Nesting Bald eagles are very sensitive to disturbance by humans.  Approaching a nest could cause them to abandon their eggs or young. Please do not approach the nest or enter any protected areas. The nest can be viewed safely from the Manasquan Reservoir trail adjacent to Georgia Tavern Road or from inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center via live television monitor. (posted 2/5/2021)
 

Red Crossbill

 Red Crossbill

Don’t let the name Red Crossbill confuse you. Pictured above is a female Red Crossbill.  Females have a yellow-green coloration compared to the red coloration of the males. Finches, including Red Crossbills, are experiencing an “irruptive” year.  This is most likely due to an unproductive crop of its conifer food sources (further north) that has them wandering out of their normal range in search of seeds. These foraging Red Crossbills feed on the cones of their favorite evergreen trees such as pines, hemlocks, Douglas-firs and spruces. They use their very specialized “cross” bill to break open cones. This female was seen actively feeding on the cones of the pine trees found at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park.   (posted 1/20/2021)

Dovekie

Dovekie 

Seeing a Dovekie from land is rare and something most birders do not get a chance to do in New Jersey waters.  According to Cornell Labs’ All About Birds webpage, Dovekie are one of the most abundant seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere but they live so far north that relatively few bird watchers get to see them. However, there seems to be a unique phenomenon this January with reports of Dovekie being seen along the coast of New Jersey from various points at the same time. 

A few lucky birders were able to see Dovekie, a tiny 8.5 inch, black and white, and roughly football-shaped Auk, through binoculars and scopes. These birds spend most of their time at sea. They feed by surface diving down for small aquatic invertebrates and zooplankton.  When they do come to land for the breeding season, they nest on cliffs in the high Arctic.  If you wanted to try sea watching in your Monmouth County Parks, the beaches of Seven Presidents might just grant you a brief glimpse at these adorable birds. (posted 1/13/2021)

  

Possible Bullock's Oriole Sighting at the Manasquan Reservoir

Bullock's Oriole
Bullock's Oriole (ID awaiting confirmation from the NJ Bird Records Committee)

This winter has been a great season for seeing Baltimore Orioles at parks and home feeders in New Jersey. As all good birders know, it's always important to look at the fine details on a bird because you never know what might be hiding in plain sight. This December at the Manasquan Reservoir, a report of an interesting looking Oriole came in that looks to be getting identified as a Bullock's Oriole, a species normally found on the west coast. The overall greyish back, white belly, and yellowish chest gave a first clue, and the black in the throat and black eye line help confirm the ID as a 1st year Bullock's Oriole. If accepted by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee, this may be only the 5th record of a Bullock's Oriole spotted in New Jersey, and the first for Monmouth County. (posted 1/8/2021)

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole (for comparison)

Canvasback and Pine Warbler Ducks

Canvasback

Winter ducks have started to make their way to our area and this female Canvasback was the first of the year spotted in November by our naturalist staff at the Manasquan Reservoir. 

 Pine Warbler

This female Pine Warbler was an unexpected late visitor for December when it was spotted hunting for insects on a particularly warm afternoon on the front lawn of the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. (posted 12/17/2020)

King Eider, Common Eider, Black Scoter, Surf Scoter, White Winged Scoter and Harlequin Ducks at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park

Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park is a great location to go sea watching.  This is especially true in the winter months when many sea duck species appear.  Two difficult-to-find in Monmouth County species -  the King Eider and Harlequin duck -  were seen during the same visit to the park in early December along with the Common Eider, Black Scoter, Surf Scoter and  White Winged Scoter. 

King Eider
King Eider

Common Eider
Common Eider

This particular King Eider was a female.  While it does not have the male’s ornate coloration, it still has a sloping profile to its head.  Compared with the Common Eiders, she is slightly smaller in size and has a lighter coloration of molted brown. Common Eider females have a much darker coloration while the male has a spectacular black and white appearance with yellow flash on the front slope of its head.   A few immature and eclipse males were mixed in with the group. 

Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck

Another highlight that day was seeing an immature male Harlequin Duck with almost adult plumage.  A smaller duck than the Eiders, it has a distinctively smaller bill, a white facial crescent, and a spot on its head. 

Black Scoter
Black Scoter
 
Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter
 
White Winged Scoter
White Winged Scoter
 

Also seen that day were a number of scoter species including the Black Scoter, the Surf Scoter, and the White-winged Scouter.  Males Black Scoter have a distinct orange knob at the base of their bill while the Surf Scoter has a distinct large sloping orange bill with a white base.  It can have a red tinge as well as a distinctive white patch on the back of its neck. While only a female White-winged Scoter was photographed that day, both males and females have a distinctive white wing patch.  (posted 12/17/2020)

 

Wilson Snipe at Clayton Park 

Wilson Snipe

It’s always a great idea to scan waterways with an extra careful eye because you never know what may be hiding in plain sight.  These Wilson Snipe are masters at camouflage, if you look closely you can see a distinguishing mark referenced as the “snipe stripes” running down its back. (posted 12/15/2020)

Bald Eagle, Fox Sparrow, and Pine Siskin & Nashville Warbler
at Crosswicks Creek

Bald Eagle

Late fall is a great time to see birds as they are migrating south for the winter season and Crosswicks Creek was a great location to see some seasonal highlights this year.  There were multiple Bald Eagles seen on the same day over the pond.  Pictured above are two Bald Eagles.  One is an adult  with the white head and white tail present, and the other is an immature  that does not yet have its adult plumage.

Fox Sparrow

October and November are the prime migration time so it’s always good to keep your eyes open to the skies above.  However, don’t forget to keep your eye open to the smaller birds as well.  November is a great time to see some more cryptic and harder to find birds as well.  For example, Fox Sparrows start to appear in our area and can be notoriously difficult to locate because of their preference for dense brushy areas. 

 Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler

Pine Siskins
Pine Siskin

It also isn’t too late to find a late warbler either. This Nashville Warbler was a nice find, spotted feeding in and amongst the tall grasses along the Crosswicks field.  It was joined by a few Pine Siskins -  which are not common visitors - from further north.  This year, in particular, has been an irruption year and some of the northern finch species are heading further south.  (posted 12/15/2020)

Red-breasted Nuthatch

red-breasted nuthatch

It’s not every year we get this fall/winter visitor from the far north - the red-breasted nuthatch.  This year is slated to be an irruption year for these birds and may be a great chance to get out and see this beautiful species as they head further south than usual (into New Jersey and beyond) in search of food. (posted 10/29/2020)

Juvenile Eastern Box Turtle & Fowlers Toad

Eastern Box turtle juvenile eating slug
Juvenile Eastern Box Turtle

Juvenille Fowlers Toad
Juvenile Fowlers Toad

These juvenile animals were recently spotted during a walk at the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell. This beautiful juvenile eastern box turtle was foraging along the trail edge and caught in the act of eating what appears to be a slug.  Just moments later along the same trail we were lucky enough to spot this stunning juvenile Fowlers Toad camouflaging in with the trail gravel. (posted 10/2020) 

Hawks and Falcons

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red-Shouldered Hawk

Fall migration isn’t only for shore birds and warblers.  Hawks and Falcons also congregate for fall migrations, making this a great time of year to get out and see them.  At the Manasquan Reservoir, we are fortunate to have a few of these birds stop along their journey. (posted 9/30/2020)

Warbler Migration

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler 

Northern Parula
Northern Parula

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler 

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler

A highlight of the year for birders can be the warbler migration.  In the fall, birds can be extra difficult to identify because they are no longer in the flashy breeding plumage, but instead have their duller, non breeding plumage and do not call as much as they do in the spring.  However, for dedicated birders, fall is a wonderful time for a peck of color. (posted 9/28/2020

Lookin’ Solid!

Showy Goldenrod  Showy Goldenrod 

Showy Goldenrod

Showy Goldenrod is a favorite autumn wildflower. It’s Latin name is Solidago speciosa, and it’s just one of many species of native goldenrods that flower throughout Monmouth County this time of year. Showy Goldenrod can be identified from the rest of the goldenrods by its rather large club-shaped blooms and stalks originating from a single clump on the ground.

This plant is not just here for good looks; it serves a vital role too! This end-of-season bloomer provides valuable nectar and pollen for native bees and butterflies. These pollinators, whether they are getting ready to migrate south or lay eggs for overwintering locally, will use this food to accomplish those goals.

Think about adding some in your yard to help create a wonderful pollen-nation spectacle! (posted 9/28/2020)

Manasquan Reservoir, Howell

Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper on timber

green heron
Green Heron

As the water level falls at the Manasquan Reservoir, birds take advantage of the new exposed beach to feed.  Least Sandpipers and other shore birds have been spotted stopping during their migration to feed.  A Green Heron was seen stalking its prey by slowly walking along the shore. (posted 9/25/2020)
  

Golden Hedgehyssop (Gratiola auroea)

Golden Hedgehyssop

This delicate native perennial plant can be found en masse on the shore of the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell.  Averaging 6 inches in height, the plant produces small, bright yellow tubular flowers on its upper leaf axils.  Its leaves are opposite, meaning they’re positioned directly across from one another.   Often creating a green and yellow carpeting effect due to its large numbers, Golden hedgehyssop is associated with coastal plain habitats with blooms occurring from July to September.   Interestingly, it is listed as an Endangered Species due to loss of habitat, pollution and invasive species in neighboring Pennsylvania. (posted 8/3/2020) 
  
 

Dragonhunter Dragonfly

Dragonhunter Dragonfly

Dragonhunter Dragonfly

This Dragonhunter dragonfly was found basking horizontally on some flower stems at Clayton Park.  It is the largest dragonfly in the Clubtail (Gomphidae) family of dragonflies.  It is a predatory dragonfly that eats other dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies. (posted 7/15/2020)

Redbelly Turtle

Red Belly Turtle

This Redbelly turtle was found at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell, trying to cross the road in the parking lot after it must have ventured out of the reservoir to find a spot to nest.  Our Naturalist staff helped her along to the safety of the waters edge, as that was the direction she was headed.  Female red bellied turtles can be quite large and are the largest species of basking turtle in New Jersey. Commonly they can be seen basking in the sun on floating logs during the day. (posted 7/10/2020)

Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus clouds

These Mammatus clouds were a beautiful surprise to see on one summer afternoon as thunder storms passed the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell.  According to BBC.com their name derives from the Latin mamma, which means “udder” or “breast”.  Essentially, Mammatus are upside-down clouds formed from sinking pockets of cold, moist air. None of our naturalist staff could remember ever seeing such a cloud formation but it reminded us of the wonder of nature.  (posted 7/10/2020)

Transformers…Loopers in Disguise

Camouflaged Looper

One sunny afternoon, I found myself admiring the yellow yarrow behind the Huber Woods Environmental Center. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a slight movement, but when I turned to see what it was, I saw nothing. I figured it was most likely a small bee buzzing around, but I decided to have a closer look just in case it was something more. Upon closer inspection, I happened across this curious invertebrate!

Synchlora aerata, or the Camouflaged Looper, is a small caterpillar that feeds on various types of flowers. What makes them absolutely fascinating is their ability to camouflage themselves using a strategy called self-decoration. There are only a handful of species in the world that perform this type of behavior. As the caterpillar feeds atop a flower, it will actually cut and attach bits and pieces of said flower in order to blend into its surroundings. Once it decides to crawl onto a different plant, it’ll remove the old flower bits and go for a completely new look, all in the name of hiding from predators. (posted 6/29/2020)
 

Red Milkweed Beetle

Red Milkweed Beetle

Milkweed plants provide hosting duties for more than one insect, not just the Monarch Butterfly. Pictured above is the  Red Milkweed Beetle, spotted in the Huber Woods Discovery Path Pollinator Garden. Native throughout the Eastern United States, this insect can be found wherever there is common milkweed growing.

Red Milkweed Beetles are known for their vibrant red color, with tiny spots scattered along their bodies. Adults emerge in early summer, and the females will eventually lay their eggs on the lower stems of milkweed plants. Their larva will then overwinter inside the roots and pupate around springtime.

It is no coincidence that both the Monarch Butterfly and Red Milkweed Beetle are brightly colored. Because they feed on the toxic foliage of milkweed, they themselves become poisonous. The evolutionary trait is called aposematic coloration.

You never know what you’ll see when you stop and look at the flowers.

Common Snapping Turtle


Being such a large specimen, the Common Snapping Turtle can be a little intimidating at first sight. Growing up to fifteen inches, long, this native reptile packs one powerful bite. While typically showcasing a black or brown shell, the algae covering this individual’s shell suggests it recently left one of our nearby ponds at Huber Woods. Snapping Turtles can also be identified by their large head, long tail, and their small plastron (the bottom half of the shell).

Most likely due to their inability to retreat inside their shells, Snapping Turtles may become aggressive when cornered on land. Female Snapping Turtles prefer to lay their eggs in a sandy substrate near a permanent water source. If you find yourself walking along a sandy trail and notice some broken egg shells, it’s probable that a predator like a fox or raccoon raided the turtle’s nest. Fortunately, one female can lay dozens of eggs in a single nest. (posted 6/25/2020)
 

Free Seining at the Bayshore Waterfront Park

seining

It wouldn’t be summer without free seining at the Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth. Staff with the Monmouth County Park System are happy to help people discover some of the many sea creatures living near the shoreline of Sandy Hook Bay using a 30-foot seine net. Recently, an adult female horseshoe crab was found as well as juvenile Atlantic silversides, jellies, and the molts of blue crabs and horseshoe crabs.  The fun takes place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11am to 12pm on the beach near the historic Seabrook-Wilson House.  The last day for free seining is Friday, August 21. Everyday is different, you never know what will we find! (posted 6/22/2020)

Promethea Silkmoth

Promethea silkmoth female

During our recent Summer's Wonderful World of Moths program, Park System Naturalist Paul Mandala led participants in catching and identifying some moth species found in Monmouth County.  The highlight of the evening was catching one of the big silk moth species, a Promethea Silkmoth female. The Promethea silkmoth, Callosamia promethea, is one of the larger species of moth you can find in Monmouth County with a wingspan of up to about 3.5 inches.  They have sexual dimorphism with the female Promethea (pictured) having lighter brown coloration while the male is darker black in coloration.
(posted 6/18/2020)

Warblers

American Redstart
American Redstart

Black Throated Blue Warble
Black Throated Blue Warble

Prarie Warbler
Prairie Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler

Vireos

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo
 

White-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo

Birds at the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell

Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee

Great Creasted Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher

Wood Thrush
Wood Thrush

Clayton Park, Upper Freehold  

 Jack in the Pulpit
Jack in the Pulpit

Lady Slipper Orchid
Lady Slipper Orchid

May Apple
 May Apple

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail at Manasquan Reservoir  

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

This beautiful female Tiger Swallowtail was captured recently by one of our naturalists. This species overwinters as a pupa and emerges in spring. Females can be light or dark and only females have blue on the hind-wings, as we see with this individual. Males resemble a light female but smaller. Major food plants include wild black cherry and tulip tree. (posted 5/7/2020)

 

Manasquan Reservoir: Hatching Begins for Bald Eagles 

bald eagle
Male eagle bringing a fish to the nest.
  (photo courtesy of A. Merrill)

bald eagles nesting
Bald eagles nesting
(photo courtesy of A. Merrill)

At the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, we have been eagerly watching the eagles’ nest anticipating hatching. This week we have been observing the adult eagles reaching down into the nest and delicately feeding their chick(s).  This is a clear sign that hatching has occurred. Eagles typically have between one and three chicks per season.  We do not know the number of eaglets at this time.  The newly hatched offspring are small and weak.  We cannot see them until they are strong enough to hold their heads up. It may be a couple of weeks until we know how many there are.

Please remember that nesting is an extremely sensitive time for eagles.  A nest can fail with disturbance caused by people trying to get too close.  Please do not approach the nest tree or enter any protected area.  The eagles’ nest can be viewed from the Manasquan Environmental Center, weather permitting. Our hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.  Stop by to find out more!  (posted 3/12/2020)
 

Salamander 

Salamander

This small amphibian is a vital component of the forest food chain as it is both a predator of a variety of macroinvertebrates and prey for a variety of small vertebrates. Even with its small size, nocturnal behavior, and lack of vocalizations, the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) is commonly encountered under leaf litter and woody debris on the forest floor. A member of the lung-less salamander family (Plethodontidae), this salamander lacks lungs, absorbing oxygen through its skin. There are two color phases of the red-backed salamander. The “redback” phase has a gray or black body with a red or orange stripe down its back; whereas the “leadback” phase (above, found in our greenhouse) has no striping and is purely grey or black.  (posted 2/11/2020)

Razorbill

Razorbill
Razorbill, Alca tord, Non breeding plumage, spotted just offshore in Monmouth County.

A razorbill, a pelagic species of bird in the Auk family, was recently spotted swimming just off a jetty in Monmouth County.  Razorbills are a rare winter visitor to Monmouth County because of its pelagic lifestyle, meaning that it spends most of its life in open oceans of the Northeast Atlantic except to lay eggs and raise young.  At those times, they come ashore to nest further north. In the winter, they come down as far as the coast of New Jersey in search of food.  They can be very difficult to see from shore, usually requiring a birding scope, binoculars or a ticket on pelagic boat cruise.  Every once in a while, they do come in close enough to shore to get a picture or see with the naked eye.  There is always a small chance you could encounter one swimming along the ocean, for example at Seven Presidents Ocean Front Park during the winter months.  For those tough enough to brave the cold in winter, sometimes there is a nice reward to be found along our beautiful coastline. (posted 2/10/2020)

Bald Eagles are Incubating at the Manasquan Reservoir!

Nesting eagles
Photo courtesy of Aubrey Merrill

These are exciting times at the Manasquan Reservoir located in Howell, NJ!   On January 28, our resident Bald Eagle pair began incubation.  From now on, one of the adults will almost always be seen on the nest. Eagles begin sitting immediately upon laying their first egg.  They can produce up to three eggs over the following few days.   As incubation requires 35 to 40 days to complete, we expect hatching the first week of March. 

Eagles are known for using the same nest year after year.  However, this pair has relocated their nest essentially every year since 2012.  This year they are located on a man-made frame that was built for nesting eagles by the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife. They last nested at this location in 2016.   
Nesting Bald eagles are very sensitive to disturbance by humans.  Approaching the nest could cause them to abandon their eggs or young.  Please do not approach the nest or enter any protected areas. The eagles’ nest can be viewed from the Manasquan Environmental Center. Our hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.  Stop by to find out more! 
 

Clubmoss at Freneau Woods Park

Clubmoss

This picture might look like a bunch of juvenile pine trees within the winter woods, but don’t be fooled! They are actually a type of clubmoss or lycophyte. But even this can be confusing, because clubmosses are not a type of moss. Clubmosses are actually an ally of ferns. Clubmosses evolved some 410 million years ago and along with ferns dominated the swamps or wet woods of the Carboniferous geological period. Clubmosses, sometimes known as ground pine, are all perennial evergreen plants. Individual plants in many species are connected by horizontal stems that run above ground or below ground. Clubmosses are not flowering plants, but just like ferns, will reproduce sexually by spores. Posted 1/29/2020

A Splash Of Color In A Sea of White

Witch Hazel Witch Hazel 

While walking on a wintery December day, you might stumble across a peculiar plant. One that appears to be all mixed up, blooming in winter as if nobody had told it what time of year it was. With its uniquely shaped yellow blossoms, this shrub is none other than Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana.

With all of the typical characteristics of a flower pollinated by animals, scientists and admirers alike were perplexed for a long time over what pollinator would be active in wintertime. Enter naturalist Bernd Heinrich, who discovered that a particular group of insects in the Owlet Moth family are active on winter nights. By utilizing a shivering technique, these winter moths are able to warm their bodies up so that they can take flight and search for food. While mostly feeding on sap from injured trees, Heinrich found that these moths also visited Witch Hazel flowers. And thus the mystery was solved! (posted 12/12/19)

 

Northern Shoveler at Freneau Woods

Northern Shoveler

Recently, a small flock of Northern shovelers were spotted in Lake Lefferts near Freneau Woods Park, Aberdeen. These dabbling ducks love marshy or muddy ponds or shallow lakes to feed on aquatic plants and animals, which they strain with their large bill, about 2.5 inches long and shaped like a shovel. This odd shaped bill has about 110 tiny projections, called lamellae, along the edges that act like a colander, filtering out tiny crustaceans, seeds, and aquatic invertebrates from the water. The bird is a winter visitor to Monmouth County. Northern shovelers generally breed close to the water in prairies and grasslands of Canada and the north-central United States. (Posted 12/4/2019)

Cackling Goose

geese

geese

goose

One of the more challenging aspects of birding are the species that resemble other species.  A lot of attention to detail is required to discover and differentiate between some of these look alike species.  For example, the newly recognized Cackling Goose is a smaller version of the Canada Goose, only being designated as a new species circa 2004. Recent work on genetic differences found the four smallest subspecies forms of Canada Goose to be different enough to designate them as a full species: the Cackling Goose. 

Can you spot the difference?  Compared to the Canada Goose, the Cackling Goose is smaller and compact with a shorter neck, small bill and steep forehead.  Its head and neck are black and white with a large white cheek patch similarly to a Canada Goose. Some have a thin white necklace.  Typically here in New Jersey, a few Cackling Goose are mixed in with large flocks of Canada Goose so it takes a keen eye and practice to find one. 

See if you can spot any of these beauties at any of our county parks where you see large flocks of Canada Goose. Thompson ParkDorbrook Recreation Area and Holmdel Park are some northern Monmouth County parks to check out and Clayton Park, Perrineville Lake Park, and the Manasquan Reservoir are some southern Monmouth County parks that may have a hidden Cackling Goose in the midst of migrating Canada Goose. Did I just send you on a wild goose chase? Good luck in your search. (posted 11/14/2019)

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat Close Up

Eastern Red Bat

This adorable Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) was found by a family as they were walking the Perimeter Trail of the Manasquan Reservoir and brought to the attention of the Naturalist staff of the Environmental Center. Red Bats are one of North America’s most abundant tree bat.  Red tree bats typically roost in the foliage of deciduous or sometimes coniferous trees, where they dangle by one foot and twist in the wind, perfectly camouflaged as a dead leaf or pine cone.  All bats in New Jersey are incredible aerial predators of insects, devouring 20-50% of their body weight each night. That includes mosquitoes! These bats are one of three migrating species of tree bat in New Jersey, and the other six bat species are all cave hibernators come winter.  Naturalist Blake Beyer is pictured assessing the health of this bat before it was determined to be healthy and released back into the wild. (posted 11/6/2019)

Katydids

katydids

katydids

It's more likely that you've heard rather than seen katydids during the summer months. Sometimes called a bush cricket or long-horned grasshopper, katydids are actually neither! However, katydids are related to crickets and have a distinct song. Male katydids will often sing in unison, so their song is loud and easily recognizable among other nightlife sounds. Like crickets, the sound is made by rubbing their forewings together. Katydids display incredible leaf mimicry to hide in daylight while they rest. They are most active at night and have very long antennae to help them move around in darkness. Their bodies are taller than they are wide, and they have long hind legs to jump great distances. This katydid is likely one of the last of the season as they die off when the weather turns cold.  In the spring, eggs laid the previous summer will hatch a new generation of katydids. (posted 11/4/2019)

 

Leopard Slug (Limax maximus)
a.k.a Great Gray Slug, Giant Garden Slug
Thompson Park

Leopard Slug

Leopard Slug

Leopard Slug

Land snails and slugs belong to a class of animals known as Gastropods. In North America, there are 49 genera and 364 species of caenogastropod snails (marine freshwater snails and slugs), and 29 genera and 162 species of pulmonate snails (terrestrial snails and slugs). Gastropods have a single muscular foot, a univalve shell, and possess a file-like radula used in feeding. The Leopard Slug is indigenous to Europe but has been introduced into North and South America and South Africa. It prefers to live close to human populations (synanthropic) and is found in parks, gardens, cellars, greenhouses, outhouses and woodlands.  The Leopard Slug can reach 20 centimeters length and eats vegetation, detritus, and other slugs. This species mates while suspended on a thick mucus strand in the air, often under an overhanging branch or post. Slugs and snails move from slow (0.013 m/s) to very slow (0.0028 m/s). Posted 10/29/19

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)
Thompson Park

Common Gallinule

The Common Gallinule is not so common in Monmouth County. An immature common gallinule (picture by park patron Melody Ragle) is currently visiting Marlou Lake in Thompson Park and has been there for the last week or so. The adult is a blackish, chicken-like marsh bird, found near cattails and never far from water. It can often be seen swimming, picking at the water's surface, or walking along the edge of aquatic vegetation. The Common Gallinule has thick legs and long toes that are drab yellow. Adults have bright red bills with a yellow tip, thin white side stripes, and some white under the tail. Immature birds are paler and grayer than the adults and lack the brightly colored bill. The summer range for these birds extends north to the Canadian border, just west of the Mississippi and south to the Gulf of Mexico. They winter along the east coast down through the and across the gulf states, over to Mexico and along the coast of California. Posted 10/29/19.

Marbled Orb Weavers in Huber Woods Park

Marbled Orb Weavers

Marbled Orb Weaver

Along with pumpkins and leaves, brightly orange Marbled Orb Weavers are very popular during the autumn months in Eastern United States. This arachnid can quickly be recognized by its unique marbled abdomen, orange head, and black and white banded lower legs. Like all other orb weavers, this spider creates a new circular web every day, preferring to build on shrubs or tall grasses near wooded areas. Females can easily be identified apart from males as they are 2-3 times larger. Although individuals can grow to be quite large, the species is an unlike threat to humans. (posted 10/25/2019)

Baby Snapping Turtles 

Baby Snapping Turtles

Baby Snapping Turtle

Large adult female common snapping turtles, Chelydra serpentine, come on land in the late spring to early summer to lay their nests. It isn’t until the fall that the eggs hatch and baby turtles come to the surface. Nests usually hatch after three to six months after the mother turtle lays her eggs, depending on the weather, usually before November. Interestingly, the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the baby turtles. Colder temperatures produce males and warmer temperatures produce females.  Once the babies hatch from the egg, the real danger starts as they have various predators such as birds and other wildlife.  Our naturalist staff at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center helped half a dozen of these little beauties find their way down to the water.  Once they reach adulthood, they have very few predators but at this tender age can use all the help they can get. (posted 10/7/2019)

Late Bloomers

Comparison

Summer’s peak bloom may be behind us, but that does not mean the flowers are done showing off! Here are two different MVPs, or Most Valuable Plants, side by side. On the left is White Snakeroot, and on the right is Late Boneset. Both flower during this time of year, and both can be found in meadows as well as abandoned lots and such. These particular individuals were photographed along the Huber Woods Discovery Path. White Snakeroot and Late Boneset are extremely valuable plants, attracting a wide swath of pollinators, from bees, butterflies, beetles, flies, wasps, you name it! Below you can see some of the aforementioned visitors.

 

Monarch
Monarch
 
Painted Lady
Painted Lady
Skipper
Skipper
Buckeye
Buckeye

Painted Lady Butterfly on Sedum 

Painted Lady Butterfly

As a good late summer bloomer providing nectar when flowers are getting scarce, this sedum in the pollinator gardens at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center has attracted several painted lady butterflies.  

One of the most widespread butterflies in the world, the painted lady originates in northern Mexico and can be found throughout the northeast.  Reasons for its success include the wide range of host plants the caterpillars can eat (including thistles, mallows, sunflowers and legumes) and their ability to migrate. Spring migration is sporadic but when the rains are abundant and population numbers are high enough, we’ll see a large irruption of these butterflies in the northern regions of the United States and Canada.  In the fall, painted ladies migrate south to escape the cold.  (posted 9/19/2019)

Grass Spider at Thompson Park

Grass Spider

Also known as Funnel Web Spiders, Ground Spiders, Sheet Web Spiders or Funnel Weavers, these North American spiders are harmless. They can be identified by the arrangement of their eight eyes into three rows. The top row has two eyes, the middle row has four eyes, and the bottom row has two eyes (spaced wider than the ones on the top row). They have two prominent hind spinnerets, somewhat indistinct bands on their legs, and two dark bands running down either side of the cephalothorax. Their unique web is sheetlike with a funnel that leads downward into a shelter, often vegetation or a rock crevice. (posted 8/27/2019)

Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger) at 
Swimming River Park

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers are a State endangered species of beach nesting bird that can be found each summer in Monmouth County when they come to breed along our shores.  They are a magnificent looking long winged bird with sharp black and white color contrast of the body, black above and white below.  Its name is derived from the distinctive black and red bill that it uses to skim the water for fish. The lower bill is shorter than the upper, and is used to feed by flying low to the water, lowering its lower bill to slice through the water, skimming the water for fish.  When the bill touches a fish, the upper bill will snap down on its prey.  It is a special treat to see one skimmer or even a flock of skimmers feeding along our waterways during the summer months. (posted 6/25/2019)

 

What’s Blooming in the Pollinator Garden?

With the official start of summer, spring flowers make way for the next palette of colors! These plants all began to bloom this month, and provide no shortage of color or form. Try to find them all on the Huber Woods Discovery Path.

 

Giant Hyssops

 

Our Giant Hyssops began blooming this week. Their flowers are a soft purple. Over time, the plants will produce tall flower stalks with oppositely placed flowers. Move in for a sniff and smell something akin to anise or licorice. If you enjoy the smell you’re not alone - bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies will join in the fun.

 

False Sunflower

 

This tall member of the aster family reaches well over four feet in height. The yellow flowers attract all sorts of pollinators too. Though it’s not a true genetic member of the sunflower genus, it has a close enough resemblance to earn the common name False Sunflower.

 

Foxglove Beardtongue

 

Here are four words you probably never would have strung together, Foxglove Beardtongue. This showy white flower is a North American native, and a favorite of bees and hummingbirds. Its Latin name is Penstemon digitalis, “digitalis” because its flowers look like fingers, and “penstemon” due to it containing five stamens per flower. It gets the name beardtongue due to one of its stamens containing a tuft of hair like fibers.

 

Moonbeam Coreopsis

 

This cultivated hybrid of Thread Leaf Coreopsis is called Moonbeam, for its creamy soft yellow coloration. The common name is Tickseed, as its seeds tend to resemble…well, ticks! Throughout the summer, this plant will produce copious amounts of small flowers that are visited by all sorts of tiny pollinators. Coreopsis never get too tall, making them wonderful foreground and border plants.

 

Yucca

 

These large white flowers belong to the Yucca. An evergreen plant, it forms tall stalks which get pollinated by none other than yucca moths. These small insects in the Prodoxidae family use yucca plants as hosts during egg-laying season. It is no coincidence that yucca flowers are white and also get pollinated by moths. Moths have an extremely well-developed sense of smell, therefore their host plants need not have vibrant colors.

Bee Balm

Bee Balm is a very common flower in native plant gardens, and for good reason. This plant produces large, beautifully vibrant flowers in summer. Give the leaves a rub and you’ll smell a minty scent. Though it’s called Bee Balm, this plant isn’t exclusive and will attract other pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. The aromatic leaves of this plant have traditionally been used in teas and salads. (posted 6/25/2019)

 

Swimming River  Park

If you are a serious birder or just a newbie, the Swimming River kayak launch should be a stop on your travels.  Both common and rare birds can be seen.  Eagles and osprey are regulars – a great stop for photographers!  Here are a few from a rainy morning last week.  Luckily, it cleared up for a second visit in the afternoon!


Cormorant


Osprey
Osprey

Canada Goose Family
Goose Family

Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

young eagle
A young eagle still in juvenile plumage

Osprey
A Bunker for this Osprey!

Swans
Swans are staples in this section of the Swimming River. (posted 6/13/2019)

 

Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)
Dorbrook Recreation Area

Grasshopper Sparrow

The “proof is in the pudding” is a phrase that is often used to indicate that an idea put into practice is resulting in the desired outcome. The Park System's Acquisitions and Design department has a planning section that develops a plan for each and every field within every one of our county parks. These management plans can be disrupted from time to time due to weather, equipment availability, personnel availability, or the reordering of priorities. All of this can make it difficult to adhere to the specific plan.  However, a particular management plan is working pretty well for a field at Dorbrook Recreation Area, Colts Neck.

The “proof in this pudding” is the presence of a state “threatened” grassland bird species, the Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). This secretive songbird requires open grassland for breeding. The open grassland habitat in New Jersey is dwindling due to development.  To maintain open grasslands, a strict mowing regiment is required so that the right habitat can be created to coincide with the Grasshopper Sparrow’s (and other grassland species) breeding schedules. Grasshopper Sparrows have been returning to this same field at Dorbrook for several years now and have been breeding here since at least 2017, earning our planning department a “Hats Off” for a job well done.

Interestingly, Grasshopper Sparrows are more often heard than seen, as they prefer to stay down low in the grasslands. Their name is derived from their song that sounds similar to the buzz of a grasshopper. The photo posted above was taken just after a rain and this individual was perched on top of a common milkweed plant singing. It was just one of several Grasshopper Sparrows seen in that field that afternoon.
(posted 6/11/19)

Pollinator Garden Is Open For Business!

Discovery Path Pollinator Garden

With the recent combination of heavy rains and intense sun, our Discovery Path Pollinator Garden at Huber Woods Park has come alive. Some plants were installed last year, while newcomers were planted this spring. Designed with a focus on native species, with a couple exceptions, over twenty species of pollinator plants are on display.  Following this holiday weekend, our first set of plants has already bloomed. This week’s bloomers are Blue False Indigo Baptisia australis and Moonshine Yarrow Achillea moonshine.

Blue False Indigo
Blue False Indigo
 
Moonshine Yarrow
Moonshine Yarrow
 
Bonus photo! Eagle eyes can spot a baby monarch caterpillar, just hatched and feeding on a young milkweed plant.
baby monarch caterpillar
Baby Monarch Caterpillar

(posted 5/28/2019)

Red Fox at the Dorbrook Recreation Area

Adult Red Fox

Red Fox Kit

This adult fox and its kit were seen in a field on the south side of Route 537 in Dorbrook Recreation Area, Colts Neck. There are two species of fox that can be found in New Jersey - the red fox and the gray fox.  The gray fox is more secretive and is not seen as often as the red fox.  While the two species appear very similar in coloring, the red fox has a white tipped tail.

A member of the Canine (dog) family, the fox feeds primarily on small mammals with meadow voles making up about half of its diet.  However, they also eat berries, fruit, insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles. They are efficient scavengers and appreciate open garbage containers. Foxes can weigh between 8 and 25 pounds. The life span of a red fox in the wild is only 18 months to 6 years. They usually will have between two to six kits in a litter but a litter of 13 was once recorded. These fur bearers readily adapt to human presence and will eagerly accept handouts. While not a physical or active threat to humans, foxes (like all wild animals) should be given a wide birth. This is especially true if the animal is acting strangely or appears ill, as the fox is a known rabies vector. Posted 05/21/19

Eastern Box Turtle

“Watch your step!” I heard while walking on last Saturday’s Roving Naturalist. This lovely Eastern Box Turtle was resting herself on one of the trails of Big Brook Park. True to its name, this turtle species has the ability to draw in its head and legs, then close its shell in the front like a box! This individual turned out to be a female box turtle, with its brown eyes. The males typically have red-colored eyes.

Usually found in forest habitats, box turtles eat a varied diet consisting of both plants and animals, including berries, mushrooms, and insects.  They contain a homing instinct which will bring them back to their home territory after foraging for food.

Eastern Box Turtles are officially listed as a vulnerable species, as their populations have been in decline. One of the main causes is due to pet trade collection. Please remember if you encounter one in the wild, leave it be and admire it without moving it. Thank you! (posted 5/7/2019)


 

American White Pelican
Henry Hudson Trail (North) - Natco Lake, Union Beach

American White Pelican

An American White Pelican paid a rare visit to Monmouth County on April 30. The bird was seen on Natco Lake and was visible from the Henry Hudson Trail. These huge soaring birds can stand 5 feet tall, have a wing span of 9 feet and can weigh as much as 30 pounds; although, the mean weight is closer to 15 pounds.  Life span in the wild is 16 years and one bird lived for 34 years in captivity. The American White pelican is usually found west of the Mississippi River, north to Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, then south to Mexico. Recently a population has been breeding in southwest Ontario.

These birds are uncommon but seen almost annually in New Jersey now.  It is still rare for Monmouth County. Pelicans feed mostly on fish and will work in a group to manipulate schools of fish toward each other for easier fishing. The large fleshy protuberance or horn on its beak is grown during breeding season and drops off afterward. Both males and females will have these horns. White pelicans usually have 2 to 3 chicks each year. The dark bird that photo bombed the pelican photo is a Double-crested Cormorant.  (posted 05/01/19)

Reptile Sightings at the  Manasquan Reservoir

Now that spring has arrived, we’re starting to see reptiles come out.  We’ll often catch these cold-blooded creatures basking in the sun to warm up.  So far we’ve had two notable sightings at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center.  Our first was a baby Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), who must have just emerged from its mother’s nest as it was only about the size of a nickel. 

Baby Painted Turtle
Baby Painted Turtle

Our second was a Northern Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii).  These harmless small woodland snakes mostly eat earthworms and small salamanders.  They can be differentiated from the Southern Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus punctatus) by the yellow ring around its neck.  The Northern Ringneck Snake’s ring goes completely around its neck while the Southern Ringneck Snake’s ring doesn’t. 

 

Northern Ringneck Snake
Northern Ringneck Snake
 
Northern Ringneck Snake
Northern Ringneck Snake


We were lucky enough to get some photos of these early sightings.  If you get any great wildlife photos of your own at the Manasquan Reservoir or Deep Cut Gardens, consider entering our photography contests.

Here are the details:

Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center’s Photography Contest and Exhibition

Join Manasquan Reservoir’s Photography Contest and Exhibition.  This year’s theme - The Colors of Nature at the Manasquan Reservoir - highlights the ever-changing colors of nature and wildlife. Divisions include youth, adult amateur and professional. Categories are wildlife photography and general photography. Interested in entering? Submission time frames for each seasonal category are as follows:

  • Spring - March 16 to May 30, 2019
  • Summer  -  June 1 to August 30, 2019
  • Fall - September 1 to November 30, 2019

Rules and entry form are available on the Manasquan Reservoir webpage. Your photographs will help us highlight the colors of the seasonal changes at the Manasquan Reservoir for winter visitors during the exhibition throughout the month of February.

Deep Cut Garden's Eight Annual Photography Contest and Exhibition

Every year the Deep Cut Garden's Photography Contest and Exhibition grows! This year’s theme - The Seasons of Deep Cut Gardens – highlights the ever-changing nature of this community treasure. Divisions include youth, adult amateur and professional. Interested in entering? Submission time frames for each seasonal category are as follows:

  • Spring - March 16 to May 30, 2019
  • Summer  -  June 1 to August 30, 2019
  • Fall - September 1 to November 30, 2019

Rules and entry form are available on the Deep Cut Gardens webpage. Your photographs help us bring Deep Cut to life for winter visitors during the exhibition throughout the month of January.
(posted 4/30/2019)

Our Recent Spring Birding Expedition Trip 

Wimbrels
Wimbrels

Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs

What a day! Birders on our recent Spring Birding Expedition were very lucky to see over 80 species of birds during their trip to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management Area.  Sightings included a large numbers of Wimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) and close up views of the Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca).

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

The highlight of the day was getting a close up look at the Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tirgrina).  This bird gets its common name from Cape May, New Jersey, where Alexander Wilson first described it.  Unique among warblers for its curled and semi-tubular tongue that is used to collect nectar during winter; the Cape May Warbler breeds across the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States.  Its populations are largely tied to the availability of spruce budworms - its preferred food. These warblers are a spring and fall migrant in New Jersey.

If you missed the trip, don’t worry.  We have several upcoming sessions planned.  Here are the details:

Spring Birding Expeditions      
Wednesday, May 15 from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.    
Wednesday, May 29 from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.     
Both trips leave from Thompson Park, Lincroft - Estate Grounds Parking Lot.
Explore some of New Jersey's most scenic habitats in search of interesting and unusual birds. "Target" species include colorful warblers, orioles, tanagers, and shorebirds among many others. On some spring day-long excursions we tally more than 100 species. Participants should bring binoculars and lunch. Transportation via mini bus. Pre-registration and fee required; online registration available.

You may also enjoy:

Spring Wandering Warblers Walk   
Wednesday, May 8 from 9-10 a.m.   
Wednesday, May 22 from 9-10 a.m.   
Both sessions held at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell.  
A colorful highlight of the seasonal birding world that happens in New Jersey every spring is the migration of warblers. We will go out on an hour long or so walk in search of our colorful feathered friends of all kinds. Dress for the weather and bring a pair of binoculars. Beginners through advanced birders are welcome. A limited number of binoculars will be available to borrow. Open to all ages.  Pre-registration and fee required; online registration available.

Moths at the Manasquan Reservoir

moth

The Figure Eight Sallow (Psaphida resumens) was one of the first moths caught at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center this April.  They are known to be one of the earliest moths found each spring and are quite cold resistant.  So even though it’s too cold for most moths this early in the season, these little moths are already out nightly flying. 

 

moth

 

While I expected to find these moths in April, this one brought with it an unexpected mystery -  a yellow growth on its abdomen.  This very intriguing yellow ball-like structure extends into a blue tube with a fine yellow point. What could it be?  I love nature’s mysteries and will be looking into this one. 
 
Intrigued? Find out more about these fascinating insects by joining us for these upcoming offerings:

Wonderful World of Moths!   
Tuesday, May 14 from 8-9 p.m.   
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell
Learn about and help us identify some of the moth species found in Monmouth County during this hands-on program.  This program is free but pre-registration required and available online

Wild World of Moths Presentation  
Thursday, May 16 from 5-6 p.m.   
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell
Explore what makes moths so unique and take a look at the diversity of moths found here. We’ll focus on species that have been found at the Manasquan Reservoir during our ongoing Naturalist-led population survey. Pre-registration and fee required; online registration available.

                                                                                                         (posted 4/25/2019)

 

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) in Hartshorne Woods Park

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Wood Ducks

Arguably the prettiest duck in North America, the male Wood Duck has a chestnut brown breast, green crested head, bright red eyes, and bold white outlines. Females are warm brown with a white tear-drop eye ring. This duck truly looks like a hand-painted work of art. Although some will move a little south for the winter, Wood Ducks can be found year round in New Jersey. The population of these cavity nesting birds was in steep decline in the late 19th century due to overharvesting for their meat, the high demand for their feathers used in ladies hats, and loss of habitat - large trees with cavities.

The Migratory Bird act of 1918 enabled the population to start a slow recovery and the population is on the rise in North America.  Limits on harvest numbers, the development of nesting boxes, and the preservation of large tracts of land by conservation and government organizations further aided in the resurgence of the species. Wood Ducks readily accept nesting boxes and will often produce two clutches of 6 to 16 eggs per year. Their strong toenails aid in holding on to tree limbs and they will nest as high up as 60 ft. in a tree and as far as a mile away from water. The Wood Duck prefers small, woodland ponds and marshes, and is not often found in open water on large impoundments. They eat seeds, fruit, insects and other arthropods. Most are timid and will flush when approached too closely, as they are still highly prized by sportsmen. These beautiful birds can be found in virtually any of our parks with wetlands or a small pond.  (posted 04/01/2019)

Is That a Sunflower Seed…In a Tree?

Firefly on bark

Firefly
Photo taken at Tatum Park.

It can take a set of eagle eyes to notice this tiny insect. Surviving the bitter winter months by nestling itself into tree bark, believe it or not this is a firefly. However, unlike its bioluminescent cousins, this species does not glow. The Winter Firefly, Ellychnia corrusca, is one of the few species of firefly to overwinter as an adult. As spring warms up, keep an eye out for these beetles feeding off of tree sap. Once the adults mate in spring, they soon expire making way for the next generation. (posted 3/27/2019)

Bald Eagles Hatch at the Manasquan Reservoir

Eagles' Nest February 2019
Photo by Aubrey Merrill  (photo taken in February)

Manasquan Reservoir Naturalists have been eagerly watching the eagles’ nest anticipating hatching.  Since staff cannot view directly into the nest, they look for behaviors indicating the eggs have hatched.  After incubating 35 plus days, behaviors consist with hatching were observed including one of the adult eagles reaching down into the nest and delicately feeding a chick.  This eagle pair has been mated for at least 10 years and they are very experienced and gentle parents.

The new eaglet(s) are now very small and weak.  They cannot be seen yet.  It may be a couple for weeks before we spot them and can count how many are in the nest.  Eagles typically have between one and three chicks per season. The eaglets will grow very quickly and at six weeks be nearly the size of their adult parents.

The nest can be seen from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting.  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 and observe all restricted areas.     (posted 3/22/2019)

Update - Bald Eagle Nest Fails at the Manasquan Reservoir

Throughout the 2019 nesting season, staff at the Manasquan Reservoir had regularly observed one eaglet in the nest.  As of April 19, it appeared healthy and well fed. Sadly, that was the last day it was seen. The eaglet was just four weeks old and unable to fly.

We do not know what happened to this chick. In general, an eagle nest can fail due to severe storms; territorial conflicts with other eagles; predation from a raccoon, great horned owl or another large hawk; or interference from humans.
 
In early April, we observed two incidents of other eagles harassing the resident pair at the nest. These events occurred after the eaglet hatched.  With the increased population of Bald Eagles in New Jersey, these encounters are becoming more common. Still it is unclear what caused the death of the eaglet. This eagle pair last successfully raised eaglets in 2017.
  (posted 5/3/2019)
  

Harp Seal at Bayshore Waterfront Park

Harbor Seal

Recently, a juvenile harp seal was seen swimming and resting on a beach at the Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth. While harp seals spend most of their time diving and swimming in the icy waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, they are also highly migratory. Following the breeding season, harp seals from the Western North Atlantic will migrate south along the Labrador coast and sometimes as far south as the Jersey Shore feeding along the way on a variety of fish and crustaceans. They can stay underwater for 15 minutes. If you see a seal resting on a beach, please keep your distance and give the animal plenty of room, at least 150 feet. Approaching a wild animal can be considered harassment under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. – Posted 3/20/2019