Nature Now

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?


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


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 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!

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

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 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)



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


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 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


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)


American Redstart
American Redstart

Black Throated Blue Warble
Black Throated Blue Warble

Prarie Warbler
Prairie Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler


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)



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, 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


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




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)




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


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.


Painted Lady
Painted Lady

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.




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!



Canada Goose Family
Goose Family

Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

young eagle
A young eagle still in juvenile plumage

A Bunker for this Osprey!

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 


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


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. 




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

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

Pileated Woodpecker
Huber Woods Park

Pileated Woodpecker

This is a good time of the year to see a Pileated Woodpecker. There are few leaves to offer cover so it easier to locate them when they are knocking on a tree in search of food. The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America. That is unless you are one of the die-hard believers that think the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is still alive and well and hiding out in the backwoods of Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida or Texas.  The Pileated is about the size of a crow, 16 to 19 inches long, weighs 8.8 to 12.3 oz. and has a wing span of 26 to 30 inches. They prefer mature forests. 

Ten years ago it was difficult to find this beautiful woodpecker in Monmouth County. Now, virtually all of our county parks boast a pair of these large insectivores. Pileated Woodpeckers have recently been seen in Holmdel Park, Tatum Park, Huber Woods Park, Hartshorne Woods Park, Thompson Park, Clayton Park, Perrineville Lake Park, Dorbrook Recreation Area, Shark River Park, Turkey Swamp ParkBig Brook Park and Freneau Woods Park. These birds will hammer out a large rectangular excavation in search of their favorite food, carpenter ants. Pileated pairs stay together year round and will defend their territory for most of the year. The oldest known Pileated Woodpecker was 12 years and 5 months. It was a banded bird that had been recaptured and then released. It is believed that these birds have a life span of about 13 years. This male Pileated, pictured above, and its mate can often be seen at Huber Woods Park. (Posted 2/21/2019)

Manasquan Reservoir Bald Eagles Incubation Begins! 

Eagles' Nest February 2019
Photo by Aubrey Merrill

On February 11, our resident bald eagle pair began incubation.  From now on, one of the adults will almost always be on the nest. Eagles begin sitting immediately upon producing their first egg and may lay an additional two more eggs over the following days.  Hatching generally begins occurs 35-40 days after.  We are anticipating hatching approximately the third week of March. Nesting Bald Eagles are very sensitive to disturbance by humans and could easily abandon their nest.   The nest can be safely viewed from the walking path adjacent to Georgia Tavern Road or by TV monitor inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell.  (posted 2/13/2019)

Harbor Seal

Recently, a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) was seen resting near the beach at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch, NJ. This harbor seal was most likely part of the Western Atlantic Harbor Seal population, which ranges from eastern Canada to New Jersey, with reports of individual seals being spotted as far south as Florida. Most species of seals need quiet and safe places to rest in order to digest their fishy meals and relax after a long swim foraging for food, such as herring, menhaden, or flatfish. Like all marine mammals, seals are protected under the MMPA (The United States Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972), so if you spot a seal resting on rocks or on a beach, please give it some space and view this fascinating creature from afar. (Posted 2/5/2019)

Cooper’s Hawk

I find hawks tricky to tell apart.  Many times you are either looking up at the underside of a bird overhead, or, like this one, within the branches of tree.  And, when consulting my bird guide, I can’t always see the ‘defining’ trait!  I often ask the bird to spin around so I can see if he has a wing bar or a rusty-reddish crest that I can’t see, but they never comply! I always take my camera with me when I go birding.  I’m not expecting to get an amazing shot.  I just find it easier to look at the bird right then, by magnifying it on my camera, or later on my computer.  If I need help identifying it, having a photo helps. 

Copper's Hawk

This is a Cooper’s Hawk that I saw on Sunday.  It is a medium-sized raptor often seen flying within the dense canopy of trees in wooded areas.  Cooper’s Hawks prey on other birds and are excellent flyers.  They are swift and nimble and are able to catch a bird, such as a robin or blue jay, in flight.  While they form faithful pairs for a season or two, most do not mate for life. The males are much smaller than the females although both are similar in coloration.  Cooper’s Hawks can live for between 12 and 20 years.  Their main threat is habitat loss. 

Copper's Hawk

I was having trouble identifying this bird and thought I would share the tip that my ‘birding mentor’ gave me.  When trying to tell the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned hawk perched in a tree, draw an imaginary line from the top of its beak toward the back of its head.  If its eyes are below the line, it is a Cooper’s Hawk.  Luckily, this fellow showed me his profile!

Cooper’s Hawk

Happy Birding!  (posted 1/24/2019)

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Winter brings many birds southward where temperatures are more moderate and food is a bit easier to find. The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one such winter visitor to our parks. These birds are among the smallest raptors in North America. They are about 7 to 8 inches long, weigh between 3.3 and 5.3 ounces and have a wingspan of 16.5 to 18.9 inches. Saw-whets breed in the northern half of North American with some areas extending on the east coast into New York and into the northern half of Pennsylvania, out west the breeding range extends down into the Rockies as far south as New Mexico and Arizona, and along the west coast into the middle of California. These owls are monogamous for the season and will have a brood of four to six chicks. They are cavity nesters, often using cavities abandoned by northern flickers and hairy woodpeckers. Northern Saw-whets only live for about two to four years in the wild, with the longest known wild bird having lived seven years. Captive birds have lived as long as seventeen years. The owl is named for its call which can sound like a saw blade being sharpened on a whetstone (I am sure everyone knows that sound). Northern Saw-whets start arriving in New Jersey as early as October and some may stay until mid April.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whets are nocturnal hunters, preying on small mammals and small birds. They generally hunt at night from a low perch along the forest's edge. These are very common owls but are not that easy to find. Their mottle brown coloring and white face tend to make them almost invisible in the winter thickets. Saw-whets spend the day hidden in conifers like cedars and spruce or under honey suckle vines, usually between two and ten feet off the ground. They will very rarely flush from their roost as songbirds in the area will mob them if discovered. These owls are preyed upon by larger birds of prey such as Great Horned Owls, Screech Owls, Cooper’s Hawks and Peregrine Falcons. This individual was spotted by a Park System ranger who has developed a real knack for locating these hard to find beauties. Photos by Alison Astalos and Patrick Becker. Posted 1/23/2019




Often mistaken for mold or a mushroom, this peculiar structure was created by an insect, a Praying Mantis. It is known as an ootheca. Greek in origin, ootheca translates to mean “egg cover”. The name is very appropriate as inside this egg case, overwintering through the cold are hundreds of mantis eggs. They will hatch out of the ootheca during the warmer months, disperse and begin the life cycle anew. This specimen was found in Big Brook Park, Marlboro. (posted 1/2/2019)

Long-Eared Owl
Crosswicks Creek Greenway

Long-Eared Owl

The Long-eared Owl is a now considered a winter visitor to New Jersey. At first glance this bird appears very similar to a Great Horned Owl. The long-eared owl is, however, much smaller, weighing in at just under a pound and with about a 33 to 36 inch wing span. The “ear tufts” are much longer and more centrally located on top of the head. This strictly nocturnal owl is much more secretive than the Great Horned Owl and can be very difficult to locate. This species is considered “Threatened” in New Jersey and breeding pairs are scarce, if they still breed in the state at all. The loss of suitable nesting habitat due to development and changes in agricultural practices are partly responsible for the decline in the population.  Its low pitched “hoo” note can be heard about one kilometer away and these owls are generally quiet outside of the mating season.  (Posted 12/14/18.)

December Birding   

Winter is a great time of the year to get out and see what kind of winterfowl have migrated down from the Arctic where they breed in the summer.  New Jersey is home to a number of impressive species that can be found in our local waterways.  For those willing endure the cold, make sure to bundle up before heading out in search of these beautiful birds during the cold winter months. 

Red-throated Loon

The Red-throated Loon, Gavia stellate, is the smallest of the loon species.  This one was spotted swimming along the Manasquan Inlet near Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area.

Purple Sandpipers,

 These Purple Sandpipers, Calidris maritima, winter along rocky shores of the Atlantic Coast and were spotted at the end of the jetty at the Manasquan Inlet near Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area.

northern Shoveler

This male northern Shoveler, Spatula clypeata, is easily spotted even from far away with its large bill and bright colors. Found feeding at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center.

Hooded Mergansers

These Hooded Mergansers, Lophodytes cucullatus, are an extravagantly crested little duck that frequents small ponds and rivers in the winter and were found feeding at the pond at the Manasquan Reservoir Visitor Center. 


This male Gadwall, Mareca strepera, can be easily overlooked especially by novice birders because of its non-flashy colors compared to most male ducks of other species; however, it has a simple elegance. It was seen feeding among the other ducks at the Manasquan Reservoir.

Common Loon

This Common Loon, Gavia immer, can be found around seacoasts during the winter with its modest plain gray coloring.  Multiple common loons were seen feeding at the Manasquan Inlet near Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area.   

Common Eider

This immature male Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, has a distinctive sloped forhead and white molting on its back. It was spotted at the end of the jetty at the Manasquan Inlet near Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area. Common Eiders are the largest duck found in the northern hemisphere.

Brown Creeper

This Brown Creeper, Certhia americana, was spotted in the woods alongside the Manasquan Reservoir Visitor Center.  They are easily spotted by its signature spiraling up of large trees looking for insects hidden among the bark of trees.

Black Scoter

This Black Scoter, Melanitta americana, found at the Manasquan Inlet is easily recognizable because of its all black color except for a bright yellow to orangey knob at the base of the bill. (posted 12/6/2018)

November Birding    

Fall is a great time of year to get outside and look for wildlife, specifically birds.  Lots of birds are out feeding as they migrate through the area.  Some birds we are getting the last glimpses for the year and other birds are just arriving for the season.  It’s a great time to brush up on your bird IDs by checking out what the fall plumage for birds will be in our area, adding a fun challenge to bird Identification.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center seen hopping and feeding inside a sweet pepper bush, Clethra alnifolia.

Common Yellow Throat

A difficult ID to make for most beginner birders is this immature female Common YellowThroat, Geothlypis trichas, at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center front pond. 

Pileated Woodpecker

A Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, was spotted along the trail at the Manasquan Reservoir with its mate. 

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, found foraging for food among the leaves at the Manasquan Reservoir.

Love taking photos of nature? Why not submit an application (or two) for our photography exhibits at Deep Cut Gardens and the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center.  Both exhibits are using The Cycle of Life theme. Youth, amateur adult and professional divisions. See details for the Deep Cut Gardens Exhibit and details for the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center’s Exhibit. The deadline to enter is December 15th.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park

Red-breasted Nuthatch

A visit to Seven Presidents County Park, Long Branch, just might get you a close look at this little Red-breasted Nuthatch. Spotted there amongst a few others of its own kind, this small bird can be easily identified with its white and black striped head, bluish-gray back, and cinnamon-colored breast. (posted 12/6/2018)

Great Horned Owl
Huber Woods Park

This is the time of year to look for Great Horned Owls as there are fewer leaves on the trees and it makes them easier to spot. The birds also start searching for lifetime mates and setting up nesting territories so they are very active and very vocal. The typical “WhooWhooWhooing” easily identifies these large nocturnal and sometimes crepuscular raptors. The Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest, but prefer to take over an abandoned hawk’s nest, crow’s nest, osprey’s nest, or even an unattended bald eagle’s nest. They may also make use of a large hollow in a tree. The Great Horned Owl is a year-round resident in Monmouth County and can be found in all of our heavily wooded parks.  They have one brood per year, laying one to four eggs between late January and early March. With a 44 inch wing span and a average weight of 3.1 pounds, they are considered apex predators.

In this photo, a murder of Crows was creating a large fuss high in a pine tree drawing attention to this owl. It was photographed at the back of the Huber Woods Environmental Center around 8 o’clock in the morning. (Posted 12/05/18)

Hydrilla at Manasquan Reservoir


Some of our visitors have noticed what looks like dead grass on the Reservoir’s causeways and floating in the Reservoir itself. What they are seeing is the highly invasive aquatic plant hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata). During the fall, the hydrilla senesces (deteriorates with age) and prevailing winds blow it toward the shoreline. Our partners, the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, who manage the Reservoir’s water, dam, and other structures, are actively working to manage this aggressive plant and control its spread. Boaters can do their part in controlling the spread of hydrilla and the Authority has created a website on how you can help - (posted 11/16/2018)


Hey...Who is That?

I am always hoping to see a rare or unusual bird and migration season is a good time to be on the lookout. An experienced birder once told me that a good place to spot an uncommon bird is within a flock of migrating, common birds. So, every spring and fall I get out my binoculars and scan flocks of Canada Geese, Brant, Starlings, Cowbirds and more. This past week I got lucky! A flock of sleeping Rudy Ducks caught my eye and, as I scanned through them, someone looked different – a little bigger than the rest.

Eurasian Widgeons among Ruddy Ducks  

I pulled out the binoculars and sure enough, there was a stranger with the flock! I took a few photos to use once I got home and could pull out my bird book. Bingo! A Eurasian Widgeon. A new bird for my life list and an uncommon visitor to Monmouth County.


Eurasian Widgeons are native to Europe and Asia, migrating seasonally between the two. While there are rare sightings of these beautiful birds in North America each year, they are not considered native to the New World and there have been no records of them breeding here. There have been some reported cases of them interbreeding with American Widgeons. The Eurasian Widgeons seen here are likely from eastern Siberia or Iceland. There are only three species of widgeon in the world, the Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope), the American Wigeon (M. americana) and the Chiloé Wigeon (M. sibilatrix). The males of all three are very colorful while only the females of the Chiloe Widgeon are also. They are dabbling ducks, eating from the bottom of shallow water by tipping their heads down rather than diving. Therefore, a good place to look for Widgeons is along the edges of shallow water.

Eurasian Widgeons 

The next time you are able to observe a flock of migrating birds, scan the flock. Look for an individual that is slightly larger or smaller, has different color feet or beak or just looks different from the others. You might get lucky and spot a new bird for your life list! (posted 11/7/2018)


Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

Behold, a committee of black vultures resting on a tree branch between meals (spotted at the Sunnyside Equestrian Center). During feeding, a group of vultures is called a wake, while the birds when circling around are referred to as a kettle. Due to their poor sense of smell, black vultures often follow the olfactorily-gifted turkey vultures to carcasses. Once there, these vultures have been seen to band together and secure their new food supply. (posted 11/7/2018)

Highlighting of Fall Sightings

October is a beautiful time of year - the leaves are falling, the temperature is beautiful, and lots of creatures are on the move.  It is also a great time of year to go out birding as birds are starting to migrate south for the winter and head to warmer weather. It’s the perfect time to see fall warblers, birds of prey, and wintering ducks. 

 Eurasian Wigeon  Ruddy Duck Ruddy Duck

PICTURED - An Eurasian Wigeon, Mareca penelope, spotted at Lake Como on October 25 (left); an American Wigeon, Mareca americana, spotted at Silver Lake in Belmar on October 24 (center); and a Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, one of the first winter duck migrants to arrive in Monmouth County, at the Manasquan Reservoir on October 24 (right).

Yellow Rumped Warbler Palm Warbler American Kestrel

PICTURED – A Yellow Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata, the only wintering warbler of New Jersey spotted in large numbers, at the Shark River Inlet in Belmar on October 22 (left); a Palm Warbler, Setophaga palmarum, at Assunpink Wildlife Management Area on October 14 (center); and an American Kestrel, Falco sparverius, spotted at Assunpink Wildlife Management Area on October 14 (right).

Northern Brown Snake Park Naturalist holding a northern Brown Snake 

PICTURED – A Northern Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi, found at Huber Woods during the stage set up for the Creatures of the Night program on October 19 (left); Park Naturalist Blake Beyer holding a northern Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi, also found at Huber Woods during the stage set up for the Creatures of the Night program to be relocated to a safe location on October 19 (right). 

Northern Watersnake Northern Slimy Salamander 

PICTURED - A Northern Watersnake, Nerodia sipedon, found at the Manasquan Reservoir on October 17 (left); a Northern Slimy Salamander, Plethodon glutinosus, found at Huber Woods by Naturalist Blake Beyer, Ruth Carll, and Paul Mandala on October 2 (right).

Green Snake Naturalist holding a Green Snake Green Snake

PICTURED - A Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus, found at the Manasquan Reservoir after being moved off trail on October 17 (left); Naturalist Blake Beyer holding a rough green snake, Opheodrys aestivus, found sunbathing on the Bracken Trail at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center on a warm October day before being relocated to a safe location (center); and a Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus, on the Bracken trail of the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center on October 17 (right). (posted 10/30/2018)

Bald Eagle Release

You never know what you might see during one of our free drop-in programs! This video was taken by a lucky participant on our Casual Birder program this morning. An injured juvenile male Bald Eagle was found in early September in Monmouth Beach. It was rehabilitated at The Raptor Trust and released by state officials today (October 18, 2018) at Hartshorne Woods Park, Middletown. (posted 10/18/2018)

Fungi of Perrineville Lake Park

This week on our Awesome Autumn Amble, the forest was covered with many different types of fungi. These three examples below are all members of the Polypore group, their signature characteristic being a harder cap called a Conk. Polypores typically grow on or nearby dying or dead trees, and are a vital part of nutrient recycling in a forest!

Turkey Tail or Trametes versicolor  

Turkey Tail or Trametes versicolor  Turkey Tail or Trametes versicolor 

Artist’s Conk or Ganoderma applanatum  

Artist’s Conk or Ganoderma applanatum  Artist’s Conk or Ganoderma applanatum 

Reishi Mushroom/Lingzhi Mushroom or Ganoderma lucidum  

Reishi Mushroom/Lingzhi Mushroom or Ganoderma lucidum

Come check out our next Awesome Autumn Amble on Wednesday 24 at 10 a.m. at Hartshorne Woods Park for more mushrooms! Meet in the Rocky Point section, Highlands. Please note that the Rocky Point parking lot is closed for construction. Participants should park on Portland Road near Grand Tour Road. (posted 10/18/2018)


What is that shore bird with the big orange beak? 
It’s an Oystercatcher!

American Oystercatchers

American Oystercatchers

American Oystercatchers are large shore birds with black and white feathers and an out-of-proportionally large beak, making them very easy to identify.  They spend the summers in small groups or alone, and gather into flocks over the winter.  Even though they share their habitat with thousands of beachgoers, Oystercatchers seem to be doing well and their numbers are steady. They are considered a species of concern, however, due to the impact we have on their habitat. True to their names, they eat oysters by foraging in shallow water.  They open the oysters by waiting until the shellfish opens slightly and then jabbing its beak into the opening and cutting the muscles that closes the shell. They will also eat mussels, clams, marine worms, sand crabs, limpets, sea urchins, jellyfish, and other small creatures of the intertidal zone.  An interesting tid bit:  The oldest known American Oystercatcher was at least 23 years old! (posted 9/27/2018)

White Monarch Mystery at the
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center 


Each morning at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, staff checks on monarch chrysalides they have been raising to see if new butterflies have emerged.  On September 4 staff was amazed to find two white monarchs. Over the next few days they found two more, totaling four. 

Monarch butterflies (Danaus pleixppus) are known for their easily recognizable orange and black wings.  These markings help warn predators of the monarchs toxicity.  White monarchs (Danaus pleixppus nivosis) have grey where the orange color is normally found.  White monarchs still have the toxicity to predators but lack the color to warn them away. 
These white morphs were the result of a rare recessive gene.  While the exact mechanism is not known, one recent study suggests the gene may cause their wing scales to be bent instead of lying flat and neatly overlapping, and this may somehow prevent the deposit of the orange pigment.   

It is a very rare event to see white monarchs in the wild. But sometimes when monarchs populations are isolated or inbred the white monarchs appear.   So how did the Environmental Center have these butterflies? Usually, staff collect out monarch’s eggs and caterpillars from our gardens or volunteer’s gardens.  This year in late August, we received a donation of caterpillars. These caterpillars and resulting butterflies were the result of inbreeding.  The four butterflies  appeared healthy.  Prior to emergence, there was nothing unusual about the caterpillars or chrysalides that would have indicated the surprising color. 
The staff tagged the monarchs as part of the Monarch Watch tagging program and notated the coloration. (posted 9/14/2018) 


The Eastern Bluebird  

Eastern Bluebird

These birds are typical members of a group called “thrushes.” Thrushes are medium-sized birds with soft feathers, plump bodies and alert postures. They have long wings compared to their bodies while their tail and legs are fairly short. Their bills are short and straight as they are predominantly insect eaters.  Usually the female, and sometimes the male, have speckled breasts.

Eastern Bluebirds are unique among thrushes when it comes to nest building. They are the only thrush which are cavity nesters. This is why they will easily take up residence in bird houses if they are placed in open areas such as meadows or fields.

Male Eastern Bluebirds are blue with rust breasts and throats.  Females are gray and speckled with a blue bar on their wings and tail. Females may have some rust color on their breast as well. These birds are most often seen perched on wires and fence posts as they look for insects. Their population is on the increase due to the many nesting boxes that are being installed along Bluebird Trails, in many public parks, along pastures and even golf courses.

Many of the county parks have habitats where Eastern Bluebirds can be seen. These photos were taken in Holmdel Park, Holmdel.  Huber Woods Park, Middletown, is also a great place to see these beautiful birds. (posted 6/27/2018)

Behold This Beetle Beauty!

Eyed Elater

The Eyed Elater, pictured above, is a 1-inch beetle with a remarkable pattern on its shell, also called the Elytra. This insect gets its name from the two false eyespots right below its head. Belonging to the larger family of insects called Click Beetles, this bug can hop a short distance while making a clicking sound. Before you take aim to squash this critter, know that its larval form is a voracious predator and helps keep other beetle populations in check! (posted 6/5/2018)

Red-Winged Blackbird at Freneau Woods Park

Red-Winged Blackbird 

This Red-Winged Blackbird appears to be a fan of our Rockin' the Trails birdhouse! Sporting a brightly colored red and white shoulder patch, the males of this species can often be found perched on high vegetation next to water habitats. During the breeding season, early spring through mid-summer, they will continuously sing out their signature “conk-la-reee” call. (posted 5/8/2018) ) 

Garter Snake at the Manasquan Reservoir

garter snake

This friendly little garter snake was found in front of the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell. Garter snakes are commonly found throughout Monmouth County and the rest of New Jersey. With a diverse diet including small rodents, frogs, salamanders, fish, insects, young birds, lizards and worms, the garter snake can find a meal and make a home in just about any environment. These docile, two-foot long snakes are non-venomous and poses no threat to humans. From early spring to mid-fall, garter snakes can be found warming themselves in a nice, sunny basking spot, typically near a body of water.  (posted 4/13/2018) 

Stinky Heralds of Spring

eastern skunk cabbage

 eastern skunk cabbage

You know winter is nearing its end when Eastern Skunk Cabbage starts to pop up! The newly emerged plants shown in the photos above were spied during an afternoon stroll along the Marsh Trail in Holmdel Park, Holmdel. Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is easily recognizable by its purple, green, and yellow streaked spathe, the specialized leaves that form a protective hood around its flowers.  A peek through the spathe’s small opening shows the club-shaped spadix covered with a cluster of tiny yellow flowers.  As both its common and scientific name imply, Skunk Cabbage is a malodorous plant.  The stinkiness and bitter taste of its leaves and flowers repel hungry herbivores like deer and rabbits hunting for late winter meals. Not all are repelled by the fetid odors, however.  By mimicking decaying flesh, Skunk Cabbage entices carrion loving insects and other early spring pollinators to visit and consequently pollinate its flowers. 

Skunk Cabbage’s early arrival in the spring is due in large part to its ability to melt through the frozen ground and snow.  As one of a few thermogenic plants, skunk cabbage can produce and regulate its own heat, exceeding the temperature of its surrounding environment.   You can imagine that insects and other small creatures would find this warmth inside the hooded spathe inviting (more pollinators!).  As spring progresses and the spathes wilt, look for the Skunk Cabbage’s large cabbage like leaves that form pretty carpets of bright green along the wetland areas in our parks.  (posted 2/20/2018)

 Great Blue Herons:
It is good to see that so many survived the big freeze in January!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

After the long freeze we had in January, it is good to see some of the area’s water birds.  Wading birds, such as the Great Blue Heron, need open water to feed.  This large wading bird is common in shallow water edge areas of our parks.  The largest heron in North American, they are very adaptable and have a range that extends from Canada to South America.  They are very shy will usually fly once they have seen you.  For wildlife photographers, they are a blessing (when you can get one because they are very photogenic) and a curse (because they are so easily spooked.)   

These beautiful birds are hard to mistake for other birds as they have a wingspan of up to 6 and a half feet and can be almost 5 feet tall.  They are mostly light gray with some black and rust marking on the head and throat.  Their face and neck are usually a lighter gray than their bodies.  When in flight, they have a slow wing beat and their long legs hang straight behind them.

Unexpectedly, these birds nest it trees.  You wouldn’t think that they could go unnoticed in a tree but their long legs and slender bodies blend in very well with branches making them almost invisible.  They build large nests with sticks and grasses. The nest must be large enough to hold 3 to 5 young for about 60 days.  If they can’t find a suitable place off the ground, they may nest in reeds on the ground.   

It you are anxiously awaiting the chance to get out on the trails, bundle up and head out!  It is the perfect time for birding.  Great Blue Herons are a common sight as are many interesting, winter-season ducks.   Others birds that are here year round are active and easy to spot in the bare branches of winter.  If you would like to learn more about native birds, join a Casual Birder walk with a park naturalist.  The next session is Thursday, February 22 at 9 a.m. at Hominy Path on Matthews Road adjacent to the Hominy Hill Golf Course.

For those of you who would like to try your hand at photographing birds and other wildlife, there is still room in Sunday’s Photographing Birds and Wildlife class.  Register today while space is available. (posted 2/5/2018)


Eagles News! 

 Eagles' Nest

On Sunday, January 21, our resident Bald Eagle pair began incubation. Immediately upon producing their first egg, one of the adults will almost always be sitting on the nest. Over the following days, an additional egg or two may be produced. With hatching generally occurring 35-40 days after the egg is laid, we expect eaglets at the end of February or beginning of March.

Although eagles are known to reuse their nest each season, this couple has relocated to five different trees since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We are happy to say that their new nest can be viewed from inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell, via our Eagle Cam. (posted 1/23/2018)

UPDATE - Our naturalist staff is sad to report that the nest failed as of March 11. They believe the eaglets hatched on March 1. However on Sunday, March 11 staff observed two juvenile eagles (approximately 2 years old) as well as crows in the nest. This indicated the chicks had perished. Up until this point, the adults had been very attentive to the nest. The adults have been spotted in the area and seem in good condition. Our staff believes that weather may have caused the nest to fail. For more information, please visit or call the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center in Howell. (posted 3/13/2018)

Great Horned Owl

great horned owl

This Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, was found in Big Brook Park, Marlboro. It can be seen resting in a beech tree during the daylight hours, gearing up to go hunting during the night. These owls have specialized feathers atop their heads called “ear tufts.” Often mistaken for horns or ears, these tufts fulfill several roles for the owl, from silent communication between individuals, breaking up their body shape for camouflage, to being used for intimidation against threats. Next time you are walking on a forest trail, listen for the Great Horned Owl’s signature hoots. (posted 1/22/2018)

You Won’t Find Blueberries On This Tree

Red Cedar

They may look like delicious blueberries but these round objects are actually cones, growing on an Eastern Red Cedar. Inside the fruity flesh will often be one to three seeds. Cedar Waxwings will often eat these Juniper Berries, and in doing so actually increase the new plant’s germination rate.  Did you know? These seed cones have traditionally been used to flavor gin. (posted 11/28/2017)

It was a Great Summer for Monarchs at the
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center

This summer staff and volunteers at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center raised 172 monarch butterflies from eggs and caterpillars collected from the site’s butterfly garden.  These eggs and caterpillars were given daily care and lots of milkweed to eat. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch and as such is the only plant that the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs on and the caterpillar will eat.  Staff and volunteers released each butterfly within hours after emerging from its chrysalis.  

Then in September, when monarchs migrate through the region, staff and volunteers began “tagging” these butterflies as part of a citizen scientist project through  This project gives scientists data about how far a monarch migrates, where it came from, its sex, and its condition.  Each tag is a small 1/4” diameter sticker that adheres to the hindwing of the butterfly.  It has a specific number, the email address for, and a phone number to report if found.  The Environmental Center tagged 75 monarchs this year. (posted 10/27/2017)

Hey, Is That Goldenrod or Is it That Other Plant Goldenrod?

Golden Rod

Autumn, what a wonderful time of year! Apple cider, cool crisp nights, and everything under the sun is pumpkin flavored. With autumn comes a dazzling array of colors displayed all around us. And you needn’t only look to the trees for the show. I am talking about wildflowers, goldenrod to be precise! It seems as if people back in the day started calling any yellow flower in autumn a goldenrod. Did you know, there are over 100 species of goldenrod native to North America? The exact number changes all of the time as researchers debate whether certain goldenrods are truly a different species, or just a variety of an existing one. The next time you pass by a meadow or notice some weedy goldenrod growing along a path, take note of the differently shaped leaves, stems, and flower arrangements. Here at Huber Woods Park, you can find at least five different goldenrod types within a thirty minute walk around the meadows.

Golden Rod in Huber Woods Park    

Solidago Canadensis, or Tall Goldenrod

 Golden Rod

Solidago rugosa, or Rough Goldenrod (Known for vibrant hues)
P.S. - Goldenrod is often blamed for causing fall allergies but due to a very low pollen count, point those accusatory fingers over towards ragweed!  (posted 10/26/2017)

Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?

Euonymus japonica
Pictured - Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush (Euonymus japonica) is a common landscape plant but can also be found in the wild and is considered invasive.

While some governors swear the leaves in their state change color to support tourism, reality is stranger than fiction.  In order to answer what seems like a simple question, we need to first understand why leave have different colors to begin with.
Leaves use sunlight to power the system that makes the sugar, or food, they need to survive. To make the most sugar possible, they collect all the sunlight they can. Of the rainbow of colors in sunlight, plants only use blue, green and red light as energy.  The plant need to ‘catch’ each color of light and the nets it uses are pigments (colors) within the leaves. Each color of light needs a specific pigment to catch it.  Orange and yellow leaf pigments catch blue light.  Red pigment catches blue and green light.  Green pigment, however, is the most prevalent because it catches the most energetic light color, red, thus getting the most energy possible.  Because it is the dominant pigment, plants look green even though they have the other colors too.

Trees, other than evergreens, drop their leaves in winter when they go dormant and don’t need to make food.  When the tree cuts off water to the leaves, the highest energy-needing pigment “dies” first and the leaves lose their green.  After green, the yellow recedes followed by red.  Finally the leaf turns brown, dies and drops.  Different species have different color concentrations of pigments and that is why they are different colors after the green fades.
So now you know.  Without the green color hiding the orange, yellow and red pigments, the leaves look like they have changed colors.  In reality, these fall colors were always there waiting for their chance to shine!  (posted 10/12/17)


To Eat or Not to Eat

I am often asked about the identity of mushrooms along the trails.  The next questions is ALWAYS “Is it edible?”  And, while sometimes I am sure that the specimen in question is edible, I usually say that I don’t know.  This is because there are so many mushrooms that look alike that I don’t want to chance saying yes and being wrong.  Almost every mushroom hunter I know has eaten something that they shouldn’t have and they will all tell you to be safe rather than sorry.  That said, there a few edibles that can’t be mistaken for anything other than what they are.  Three of these are shown below and all can be found at this time of year.  Another option is to try your hand at growing your own mushrooms.  If this is of interest, register for Cultivating Mushrooms Workshop on Sunday, October 7, 2017.  You will go home with a log infected with different kinds of mushrooms that are guaranteed to be delicious! 

Laetiporus sulphureus: The Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus sulphureus

This large, orange-yellow fungus is the most brightly colored one I know.  It’s ruffled ‘shelves’ can be found growing in rosettes on the ground or from the base of trees.

Calvatia gigantean:  The Giant Puffball

This puffball is regularly seen in grassy areas and grows very large.  This one, on the lawn at Thompson Park caught my eye because I thought it was a socor ball that had been left behind in a field. 

Strobilomyces "floccopus": The Old Man of the Woods

This interesting mushroom looks like its name!  The black spores and gills beneath the cap are distinct and, when that stem is cut, there will be a pinkish red color inside.
                                                                                                                        (posted 9/28/2017)

 Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana) Hartshorne Woods

The wood stork is a large, white wading bird that is usually found in the southeastern wetlands of the United States. It stands about 40 inches tall, has a wing span of 50 inches and weighs about 5 pounds. The head of a mature wood stork is bald similar to a vulture. This is the only stork that breeds in the United States. Wood storks can live up to 20 years and pairs often mate for life. The US population was recently (2014) changed from endangered to threaten with an estimated population of about 8,000 pairs. There is a large breeding population from Central American to Argentina that is listed as “least concern” with a breeding population of 32,000 to 46,000. This year there have been multiple sightings of wood storks in New Jersey from Sandy Hook to Cape May. NJ Audubon has recorded sightings dating back to 1994. The last accepted sighting was in 2014. This juvenile wood stork was photographed at the pond in the Claypit Creek area of Hartshorne Woods Park by park patron Michael Mottl on Sept. 14, 2017. (posted 09/18/17)


What Is It?

Sea Grape Tunicates 

“It” washed up on the beach at Bayshore Waterfront Park.  It was a rubbery, sticky glob of … something.  Something that was obviously a living creature.  How exciting!  “It” is a cluster of sea grape tunicates (Molgula manhattensis).  These small, round animals are filter feeders and live attached to rocks, boats, sand and docks.  You can see two tiny bumps on each of the round bodies in the photos.  These bumps are “in” and “out” siphons used by the animals to pump water through its body for filter feeding.  They are very hardy and are extremely tolerant of murky or polluted water. 

This species was first reported in Long Island Sound in 1838 and is now found from Maine to Louisiana.  It is native to the Atlantic and is commonly found in this area and in Europe.  Unfortunately, it is also becoming common in areas of the Pacific where it is not native. There, the sea grape tunicate is considered a secondary threat level – not a top priority but becoming problematic.  While they don’t look very threatening, they are particularly prolific spawners, in some cases, reproducing once every 24 hours when the water temperature warms to the right conditions. Because of this they can outcompete native organisms for food and space.

The variety of life on this planet is simply amazing!  That this clump of ... something … turned out to be a group of animals is another reminder of this.  It is why nature is something that is always fascinating and never, ever boring! (posted 9/13/2017)

Country Gait Trail

Country Gait Trail

Red Banded Hairstreak

Early mornings and evenings are magical times to visit woodland trails like Country Gait Trail at Huber Woods Park, Middletown. The mornings are misty at this time of year and trails like this one truly come to life. Country Gait Trail travels through open meadows, forest and allees for approximately one mile. Rated ‘moderate’ due to some grade changes and roots and rocks creating an irregular surface, the trail is suitable for walkers, hikers and horses but not recommended for bikes. While in the meadows along Country Gait Trail, keep your eyes out for butterflies like this red banded hairstreak.  (posted 8/30/2017)

Mushroom or Plant?

Ghost Pipe

While often mistaken for a mushroom, this interesting organism is a plant.   What you are seeing in this photo are the flowers of an underground plant called a Ghost Pipe or Indian Pipe.  It is a parasitic plant growing off the roots of other plants.   It is white because it lacks the green pigment that most plants have that allows them to make their own food.  Ghost Pipes, therefore, must draw food off another source.  In our area that tends to be the roots of nearby trees.  Ghost Pipes are common in the woods at Huber Woods Park.  (posted 8/24/2017)


There is a Fungus Among Us!

Fungus in Huber Woods Park

Fungus in Huber Woods Park

The warm, wet humid weather we have had recently is perfect for fungi and they are showing up in all their glory in our parks.  While I have seen a wide spectrum of fungi – slime molds, jelly molds, mushrooms, shelf fungi and more within the last week, this post explores shelf fungi.  Most people mistake the mushroom, or other visible portion of a fungus such as the shelf of a shelf fungus as the entire organism.  However, the main ‘body’ of the fungus is like the stem, leaves and roots of a plant.  The mushroom part is like a flower of a plant.  It is for reproduction and spreading spores, which are similar to seeds.  The majority of the fungus is underground or within the wood of a tree and the structure you see is a small part of its body, just like a flower is a small part of a plant.  And, just like there are different types of flowers, fungi have different types of reproductive structures.  The ones here represent shelf fungi and are usually found growing on dead or dying trees.  The body of the fungus consumes the dead wood of the tree, breaking it down and returning it to the soil.  The shelf structures have a solid, sturdy top side to protect against damage.  The underside has gills, pores or teeth that grow and distribute the spores.  A couple of the many types of shelf fungi found along our trails are pictured here.  These photos were taken within the last 7 days at Huber Woods Park.  If you are interested in seeing some of these interesting organisms, grab your mushroom ID book and hit the trails!  (posted 8/23/2017)

 Imperial Moth at the Monmouth County Fair

 Imperial Moth

 Imperial Moth 

Humans are not the only creatures enjoying the sights and sounds of this year’s 43rd Annual Monmouth County Fair! Staff found this male Imperial Moth observing the fun times being had by the participants at the Monmouth County Park System’s climbing wall. Front gate staff report that these moths are often observed in the parking areas at the Fair. The male of this species can be distinguished from the female by their antennae which is quadripectinate for the basal two-thirds and simple for the remaining length (more feather like from the base of the head, being thinner at the tip). Female antennae are simple (thin) through the entire length. The male also has a heart shaped marking on its abdomen, like we can see on this specimen. After viewing the climbing wall, this Imperial Moth headed toward the back of the Fairgrounds, perhaps to observe some of the delicious food offerings and the main stage entertainment! (posted 7/31/2017)

A Seahorse Found at Bayshore Waterfront Park


Some days everything seems to come together. It was the first day of summer and the first week of free seining at the Bayshore Waterfront Park when a Northern Lined Seahorse was discovered in our seine net. Seahorses appear almost as mystical creatures like unicorns, but seahorses really do exist. The Northern Lined Seahorse is our only native seahorse along coastal Monmouth County. Seahorses like to cling to pilings or vegetation as they suck in small shrimp and plankton with their head shaped like a horse’s head. Free seining takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Bayshore Waterfront Park until Friday, August 25th. No reservations necessary. Every catch is different, who knows what we will find next in our net. It’s fun for everyone. Posted June 21, 2017

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Nest at Manasquan Reservoir 

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

This female Ruby-throated hummingbird has nestled down and is waiting for her eggs to hatch. She selected only the best materials for her nest - cattail fluff and dandelion down for softness, lichen for structure and camouflage, and spider webs to bind it all together. The nest is the size of a ping pong ball. She may lay up to 3 eggs each the size of a tic-tac. Three newly hatched chicks can weigh less than a dime. Ruby-throats incubate for 11-16 days and fledge at about 21 days old. These birds will not use a bird house. They feed on nectar and insects and are significant pollinators. (posted 6/1/2017)

Turkey Swamp Salamanders


Manasquan Trail, at Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold

April 28, 2017 -  Salamanders are often one of the most abundant organisms in a forest ecosystem, but are rarely sighted by casual hikers. Typically they will be found in the leaf litter or under fallen logs. In this particular situation these two red-back salamanders were found under a log. The red-back comes in two forms a redback (reddish stripe down back and black to gray sides) and leadback (black to gray that blends with sides) form. It should be emphasized that great care must be taken when searching for salamanders (or any animals) and anything moved needs to be replaced as found.  (posted 5/2/2017)

Video of the Eagles' Nest


Two Eaglets Confirmed!

Nest at the Reservoir

It’s been confirmed! There are two bald eagle chicks in the nest at the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell.  They hatched on March 7 and are approximately three weeks old. Currently downy grey, the chicks will quickly turn black as their feathers develop. The chicks are growing very fast and will be almost as large as their parents in six weeks. Their arrival is especially exciting since it marks the first time eaglets have hatched at the Manasquan Reservoir since 2014. (posted 3/30/2017)

Bald Eagles Hatching at the Manasquan Reservoir


At the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, we’ve been watching the eagles’ nest in anticipation of their eggs hatching. This morning we observed the adult eagles reaching down into the nest and (presumably) feeding a chick. This behavior tells us that at least one chick has hatched. Eagles typically have between 1 and 3 chicks per season. It will be about two weeks before we know how many eaglets are present. It takes this long for the chicks to grow enough to hold their heads above the nest edge.

The nest can be seen from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting. Please remember that nesting is an extremely sensitive time for eagles. A nest can fail with disturbance including people try to get too close. Please do not approach the nest. (posted 3/7/2017)


Harp Seal Spotted at Bayshore Waterfront Park


Recently, a juvenile harp seal was seen by Park System staff at Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth. This marine mammal was resting on the beach after what was probably a busy night foraging for fish in Sandy Hook Bay. Harp seals are highly migratory species, and have been known to travel over 1,500 miles away from home in the chilly waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic Ocean to feed. The NJ Marine Mammal Stranding Center was notified of the seal's whereabouts in case the seal becomes ill or needs assistance in the near future. (posted 2/21/2017)


Manasquan Reservoir Eagles 

Eagles at the Reservoir

UPDATED -  Good news! The Manasquan Reservoir eagles are incubating as of January 27th.  Post Hurricane Sandy (Oct 2012), this date is within their typical range to start incubating.  If all goes well, hatching should be around the second week of March (35 to 40 days out). The nest is easily seen from Georgia Tavern Road and can be  viewed on a television monitor inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting.  (posted 2/8/17)

The bald eagle pair at the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell has been busily building a new nest. Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they have relocated their nest four times. The male eagle selects the nest location, and each nest has been within close proximity of the other. Both eagles share in building the nest. They have been seen bringing material, arranging it, and occasionally have disagreements on optimum placement of sticks. Staff and volunteers are watching for signs of the next phase: egg laying and incubation. In recent years, this has been late January or early February. The nest can be easily viewed from the walking path adjacent to Georgia Tavern Road or from inside the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather permitting. (posted 1/11/17)


Shark River Park Red-tailed Hawk

This adult Red-tailed Hawk appeared at Shark River Park recently and seems to have decided, like many other park patrons, this is a great place to hang out. This particular hawk appears to have become desensitized to humans and has startled some park patrons by sitting calmly on a fence post near the parking lot, a picnic table or the playground. The hawk pays little attention to people, other than to gaze at them as they approach. A gaze from a Red-tailed hawk can be a little intimidating. This is our largest resident hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and can be seen year round in Monmouth County. It weighs about 2.5 pounds and has 4 foot wing span. Red-tails feed primarily on small mammals such as mice, chipmunks and squirrels but will also take reptiles, amphibians and other birds. This individual may have been injured when young, raised by humans and released or it may have escaped from a Falconer. If you should happen to visit the park and see the Shark River Red-tail, enjoy this unusual opportunity. The hawk has been returned to the wild and should be considered a wild animal. As with any wild animal, do not try to touch or feed this hawk. Though they are not a threat to humans, raptors have powerful talons and sharp beaks and could accidentally cause a nasty injury. Posted 08/08/16


Black Swallowtail at the Manasquan Reservoir

  black swallowtail

This black swallowtail was seen feeding on a cluster of foxglove beardstongue (Penstemon digitalis) blooming the Butterfly and Pollinator Garden at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell. You can see the butterfly’s proboscis (a long slender tube which is used to sip nectar) entering the trumpet shaped flower. The black swallowtail butterfly became the official New Jersey state butterfly in January of this year.  (posted 6/9/2016)

Luna Moth at the Huber Woods Environmental Center

luna moth

This luna moth was recently spotted enjoying a beautiful day on the side of the Huber Woods Environmental Center, Middletown. Emergence from its pupal form typically occurs in the mornings or this species to allow time for expansion and drying of the wings before its normal nocturnal activity. (posted on 5/31/16)

Harbor Porpoise Near Henry Hudson Trail

 Harbor Porpoise

Recently, a sub-adult Harbor porpoise was found swimming in Wacckaack Creek in the Borough of Keansburg, near the Henry Hudson Trail. This marine mammal was likely pursuing a large school of fish in Raritan Bay and followed the fish into the creek, then got disoriented. Staff from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center located in Brigantine, NJ was called in to help safely remove the misplaced porpoise from the narrow creek and return it to open waters before injury. Harbor porpoises are one of the smallest of the oceanic cetaceans, its maximum length is about 6 feet. While it’s a common marine mammal during the colder months of the year to Monmouth County, the shy and elusive nature of the Harbor Porpoise makes it difficult for people to notice. (posted on 4/4/2016) 

Manasquan Reservoir Eagles Nest Update

We are sad to inform you that on March 4, the eagles abandoned their eggs after 28 days of incubation.  Possible reasons for this are: egg predation (a great horned owl, for example)   or outside interference (humans too close to nest or another adult eagle).  We suspect interference by another adult eagle.  We have determined that our female is still here.  The posted photo by Dennis Ruffe taken March 15 identifies her by the leg bands.  We have yet to positively identify if it is still our same male, who has no leg bands.  The pair is frequently seen together at the reservoir.


Manasquan Reservoir Eagles Are Back!

Eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir

The Manasquan Reservoir eagles have moved their nest back to the shores of the reservoir. They have taken up residence in their favorite tree after nesting off park property during 2015. Incubation began on February 5, 2016. 

The new nest is on a nesting platform built for them in 2012. That year the eagles’ nest was supported by a dead limb and near collapsing. The Endangered Species Division of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (ENSP) had successes “building nests” for eagles in other locations under similar circumstances. With the assistance of the ENSP, the Monmouth County Park System decided to try the platform at the Manasquan Reservoir for the eagle pair. Just before hurricane Sandy in October of that year the nesting platform was built. It wasn’t until January 2016 that the eagles finally decided to use it. 

This nest and the incubating eagles are easily viewed from the comforts of the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center (weather permitting). The staff is happy to answer any questions. Remember, nesting bald eagles are an endangered species and very sensitive. Disturbances can lead to nest abandonment. Please respect all laws and protections. (posted 2/16/2016)


Wading Birds Roosting at Hartshorne Woods Park

Birds Roosting

Recently a park patron took a picture of around 48 wading birds, mostly Great Egrets or Snowy Egrets, roosting around a pond in Hartshorne Woods Park, near the Navesink River. The birds swooped into the trees to rest, relax and to wait for the next low tide to forage. There are actually many of these waterside roosts all over Monmouth County. They provide an important and safe location for birds at night to congregate to rest, stay warm and find protection from predators. If you see birds roosting, please stay far away, as too many disturbances to a roosting site will cause birds never to return. Posted 8/12/2015

Flying Squirrels at the Manasquan Reservoir

flying squirrel

A lucky group of third graders got to see young flying squirrels during their class trip to the Manasquan Reservoir. Two species of flying squirrels are native to New Jersey, the Northern and Southern Flying squirrels. These nocturnal animals are common, but seldom seen. They are active at night, high in the tree canopy. Flying squirrels do not fly, but glide.  A membrane that extends from their front to back legs allows them to glide from tree to tree. They steer as they glide by adjusting their legs.  Flying squirrels nest in abandoned woodpecker holes in dead trees. Posted 6/9/2015


 Blowfish found at Bayshore Waterfront Park 


During a recent saltwater seining program near Sandy Hook Bay, Park System Naturalists found a blowfish or a Northern puffer fish in a seine net. Without a doubt, third graders visiting the park during a school field trip were thrilled to see the little fish as it puffed up about twice its size by inhaling air or water into a special organ near its stomach.  Thanks to improving water quality in New York Harbor, blowfish are becoming more common sights. They can be found from spring through fall, leaving the harbor in the winter for deeper ocean waters. Posted 6/2/2015. 


 Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Wolf Hill Recreation Area

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

This is a very secretive bird and if were not for their loud and distinct call most would go unnoticed. It is a common breeder in Monmouth County and can be found in most of our parks during the summer months.
Yellow-billed cuckoos live in wooded habitat with dense cover, abandoned farmland and dense thickets along streams and marshes. This is one of the few bird species that feeds on hairy caterpillars. Cuckoos have been known to devour 100 tent caterpillars at one sitting. They will also feed on insects, frogs and lizards. The cuckoo will lay its eggs several days apart thus the ages of the chicks can vary as much as five days. During times of scarce food the male cuckoo may remove the youngest bird from the nest. The nesting cycle is only 17 days from hatching to fledging. Both parents take part in the brooding and switch often during the day. The male however will stay with the nest all night. Once in awhile yellow-billed cuckoos will lay their eggs in nests of other birds such as robins, catbirds and wood thrushes. Posted 05/19/15

Nodding trillium in Thompson Park, Lincroft

nodding trillium
Photo by Jamie Evans

Park staff recently found a plant called nodding trillium, or trillium cernuum, at Thompson Park, Lincroft.  This is the first time staff has identified this species in the parks, although other trillium species have been reported from some of our western Monmouth parks.  Trillium are not studied particularly well in the state, but many are increasingly rare throughout their ranges due to habitat destruction and deer herbivory.   The seeds are typically dispersed by ants, which carry the fleshy coated seed away from the flower, consuming the fleshy parts and depositing the seed.  It’s probable that this plant has been here a long time – and just overlooked when not in bloom, as its leaves do resemble non-flowering Jack-in-the-pulpit. 
(posted 5/19/2015)

Northern Flicker Makes a Home at Bayshore Waterfront Park

Northern Flicker

Recently, a park naturalist noticed a newly arrived male Northern “yellow-shafted” flicker woodpecker making a summer home in a dead tree at the Bayshore Waterfront Park, not far from the beach. The bird was busy carving out a 3-inch hole approximately 15 to 20 feet off the ground. The female was in close proximity as well, foraging for food, mainly ants and beetles, and waiting for the male to get tired so she could lend a hand or beak in helping to make a home for their young. Both sexes will help with nest excavation. Eventually, the nesting cavity will be 13 to 16 inches deep and become a home to 5 to 8 all-white eggs.  Posted 4/30/2015


 Dune Grass Growing at Bayshore Waterfront Park

dune grass

A nice new natural feature to observe at the Bayshore Waterfront Park are the emergent American dune grass or beach grass plants located on the high sandy dunes above the beach.  This hardy grass was planted over the winter to help stabilize the newly replenished beach. The grass will help anchor shifting sands during harsh coastal wind storms and also create a welcoming place where other plants can grow more easily. These plants will help to naturally guard the coast against storm waves that could flood the land beyond the dunes. While the grass doesn’t look like much right now, it will spread horizontally quickly through rhizomes up to 6'-10' annually and will grow up to 2'-3' tall. While American dune grass is a tough pioneering plant that can tolerate very hot and salty environments, it cannot withstand people walking on it or much foot traffic, otherwise stems are broken and the plant dies. Please protect dune grass and its habitat by staying off the dunes and walking in designated areas to the beach only. Posted 4/30/2015



 Northern Water Snake at Turkey Swamp Park

Northern Water Snake

Our Roving Naturalist group happened upon this northern water snake during the Earth Day celebrations on Sunday. The northern water snake is a fairly common sight in the spring and summer near the lakes and waterways in our parks. They are often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth water moccasin. The northern water snake does have a triangular shaped head, which is a trait often used to distinguish a venomous snake from a non-venomous one. The cottonmouth's northern range stops in Virginia and does not extend into Maryland, Delaware or New Jersey. There are no venomous snakes indigenous to Monmouth County. These are harmless snakes that will slither away into the water or beneath a rock when approached too closely.

The northern water snake can attain a length of about fifty-three inches. They are dark-colored snakes, brownish, tan or grayish in appearance. The back and sides have a series of square blotches alternating with each other that may merge to form bands. A dry adult snake will appear to be solid black or brown. The belly is white, yellowish, or orangish and will have dark half-moon-shaped black edges. Females are usually much larger than the males.  They may be found sunning themselves on rocks or logs and are very active in May and June. The northern water snake eats fish, amphibians, insects, birds, reptiles and small mammals. They are viviparous, which means they do not lay eggs and their young are born alive. (04/28/15)


Eastern Box Turtle Huber Woods Park


A Park System Naturalist recently discovered this eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) apparently emerging from hibernation. Box turtles are cold blooded and therefore cannot regulate their body temperature. During the cold months of the year, eastern box turtles will look for a place to hibernate. This could be under a pile of leaves, under a log, in a log, or in an underground burrow vacated by another animal. Hibernation will generally start around September or October and last until temperatures start warming up in March or April. The function of the box turtles organs will slow down to a level that barely maintains life. In order for the box turtle to survive hibernation, it is essential that it be healthy prior to entering into this state. Hibernation plays an important role in the overall health and reproduction process. The eastern box turtle population is declining in New Jersey and it is listed as a "Species of Special Concern". The decline is largely due to loss of habitat. Many box turtles are also killed crossing roads and by lawn mowers. Box turtles are protected in New Jersey and it is illegal to take one out of the wild without a special permit. (4/24/15)   


Early Spring Frogs Calling at the Manasquan Reservoir

Spring is in the air and so are the calls of wood frogs, spring peepers, and New Jersey chorus frogs. These amphibians began calling in mid-March, but New Jersey chorus frogs may call as early as February. Wood frogs breed only in vernal wetlands; these temporary wetlands form from spring rains and snow and are vital for several amphibian species. Spring peepers also call from vernal wetlands, but are not particular and will use any body of freshwater to breed. The call of the wood frog is a duck-like quacking; tiny spring peepers, as their name implies, loudly peep; and the New Jersey chorus frogs have a 'preep’-like call. The eggs pictured above are wood frog eggs; the black dots are the embryos. They will hatch sometime in April and by June they will be adult frogs. (3/27/15)



Ringed-necked Pheasant on the Union Transportation Trail


This beautiful bird was photographed by one of our Park System Construction Inspectors along the northern section of the Union Transportation Trail. The ringed-neck pheasant is one of the most popular game birds in the U.S. It is, however, not native to the state or even the continent. This is a Eurasian species that was introduced into the U.S. for hunting purposes back in the late 1800s. The U.S. population is made up of several subspecies. There are successful feral populations throughout much of the Midwest and northern sections of the country, but most populations need to be re-energized with newly released birds periodically. It remains a highly sought after game bird and is often released on private and public lands. This is a male bird or rooster. The female, or hen, is a mottled golden that will blend in well with the native plants. The ring-necked pheasant prefers open agricultural areas mixed with areas of vegetation. This chicken-like ground dwelling bird eats grain waste, insects, and seeds. (3/26/15)


Red-Bellied Woodpecker at Huber Woods Park

Red-bellied woodpecker

This red-bellied woodpecker was photographed along the Discovery Trail at Huber Woods Park. Easily identified by their strikingly barred black and white backs and vibrant red caps, the red-bellied woodpecker is a relatively common year-round resident of Monmouth County. Like other woodpeckers, the red-belly will work its way along the trunk or branches of a tree, picking at the bark to uncover insects and spiders hiding in bark crevices. The red-belly has a barbed tongue that extends nearly two inches past the edge of its beak and sticky saliva to help it to snatch prey from deep inside crevices. Occasionally, you may even witness one wedging a large nut into a crevice before using its beak to smash it into more manageably sized pieces. Keep an eye out for these sleek looking woodpeckers on the trunks and main branches of trees, as well as backyard bird feeders!   (3/23/15)

 Bald Eagles Hatch at the Manasquan Reservoir

Eagles' nest March 2015
Eagles' nest - photo by Dennis Ruffe

Hatching began later then previous years occurring March 2, possibly due to extremely cold weather conditions. This nest is the third in the state to have hatched so far. Reports are that many nests monitored throughout New Jersey have are delayed. Typical indicators of hatching are changes in behavior such as an adult sitting higher in the nest and feeding the young. However, we will not have a chick count for at least three weeks.  They need to grow enough to be seen above the nest edge; then we need to see all the heads up at the same time to get an accurate count. Eagles typically have between one to three chicks per season. Eaglets grow quickly, almost matching their parent’s size by six weeks. This requires a lot of food, especially fish, a favorite in their diet. This is another reason why the Manasquan Reservoir is great eagle habitat. 
Please remember that nesting is an extremely sensitive time for eagles.  A nest can fail with disturbance including people trying to get too close.  Please do not approach the nest.   (3/17/15)

Female Northern Cardinal at the 
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal

Northern cardinals are always striking against a fresh winter snow. These birds are eye catching since they do not molt into a dull winter plumage as many other birds. Permanent residents throughout their range, northern cardinals do not migrate south. You can hear a cardinal singing daily even in the winter. Habitat preferences are dense shrubby areas, forested edges, overgrown fields and backyards. Berries and seeds are favorite foods   from a wide variety of native plants, including various grasses, sedges and trees, such as mulberry, winged sumac, and hackberry. Insects are included on the menu and are especially important for nestlings. The range of the northern cardinal has been expanding further north and west; one explanation for this is the proliferation of backyard birdfeeders. (3/6/2015)

Red Fox at Thompson Park

This red fox was spotted by Marlu Lake in Thompson Park.

There are two species of fox that occur in New Jersey; the red fox and the gray fox. The fox is a member of the Canine (dog) family. They can sometimes be difficult to tell apart as their coats can appear very similar. However, the white tipped tail of the red fox is always the key identifying character. There is some argument over the history of the red fox in New Jersey. Some maintain there was a small population of native red fox prior to the arrival of Europeans. Others believe it was introduced in the 1600’s. The Europeans liked to hunt fox for sport but when their dogs gave chase to the American gray fox it would run up a tree and hide instead of leading the hunters on merry chase through the woods. Thus, the Europeans introduced the European red fox and were able enjoy the sport in its traditional form. There are now healthy populations of both gray fox and red fox throughout our state. These animals have proven to be very adaptive and live in our towns and neighborhoods. The fox is mostly nocturnal and feeds primarily on small mammals, like meadow voles which make up about half of its diet. They are efficient scavengers and appreciate open garbage containers. They weigh about 8 to 15 pounds. Foxes are not a threat to humans but like all wild animals should be given a wide berth. Especially, if it may be acting strange or appear ill as the fox is a known rabies carrier. Posted: 03/05/15   

Common Loon Fisherman's Cove


Common Loon


The Common Loon is actually very common along the New Jersey coastline during the winter months. Their winter plumage (exhibited on this bird) is not particularly striking. These large birds are very noticeable with a wingspan of 46”, length of 32”, weight of 9 lbs.  It can fly in straight line at 70 mph. The Common Loon spends the summer months throughout all of Canada and south into the northern portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire and Maine. Once extirpated from Massachusetts, there is currently a small re-introduced breeding population. Common Loons move inland during the breeding season and prefer quiet, crystal clear lakes to raise their young. They are known for an eerie forlorn sounding call. These birds are water birds and usually only come on shore to mate and to nest. The Common Loon needs about 30 yards of open water in order run and flap along the surface while it builds up enough speed to take off. Some loons have become stranded by landing in a parking lot, on a highway or in a small pond and are unable to reach take off speed. The Loon is an accomplished diver and extremely agile underwater. A study discovered that a family of four loons can eat about 1000 pounds of fish in a 15 week period. Posted: 03/02/15 

Eastern Bluebird Thompson Park

Eastern Bluebird


Eastern Bluebirds are a welcome sight in the spring and summer and some people may not associate them with the cold winter months. Eastern Bluebirds range from Manitoba Canada down to Nicaragua and have the largest range of the three Bluebirds found in North America. The Western Bluebird and the Mountain Bluebird have more restrictive ranges. New Jersey is on the northern most edge of the range where Eastern Bluebirds can be seen year round. These birds eat insects, berries and seeds. Some have been observed taking larger prey such as lizards, salamanders and shrews. Eastern Bluebirds maintain the same plumage colors throughout the winter and the male’s electric blue back and warm reddish brown breast is a beautiful sight against a winter backdrop. They are cavity nesters and will start searching for nesting sites in late February. Thompson Park, Dorbrook Park, Holmdel Park, Huber Woods and the Manasquan Reservoir are some of the parks which have Bluebird Nesting Boxes. Eastern Bluebirds will usually have at least two broods every year. This bird was photographed this week in Thompson Park and was hanging out with two other males and a female. Posted: 02/13/15


 Long-eared Owl Thompson Park

long eared owl

The Long-eared Owl was a former breeder throughout New Jersey from Sussex to Salem County. The clearing of forest for agriculture and general development during the late 1800’s and through the 1900’s reduced the number of breeding locations. The number of breeding pairs declined steadily through the 1960’s and 1970’s. There was an extensive search in the 1980’s but only a few nesting pair could be found. In 1991 the bird was listed as threatened in New Jersey and is now considered a rare winter visitor. Long-eared Owls are long lanky owls with two long tufts on top of their head. These owls are strictly nighttime feeders and fly low over open fields in search of mice, voles and other small mammals. They weigh just under a pound, have a wing span of about 39 inches and are about 16 inches long. They prefer to roost in evergreens such as spruce, pines, cedars, and hemlocks. The Long-eared Owls can arrive in NJ as early as November and are usually gone by the end of March. Several have been seen in our parks this year and this one was photographed this week by one of our Naturalists.  

 (posted 2/12/2015)

Harbor Seal Spotted at the Bayshore Waterfront Park 

Harbor Seal
Harbor Seal

Recently, a Harbor Seal, a typical winter visitor to Sandy Hook Bay, was seen at the Bayshore Waterfront Park in Port Monmouth.  A Park Naturalist observed the seal early in the morning resting on a wooden dock most likely after a night of hunting or traveling.  Harbor Seals frequently travel from northern New England or Canada to over-winter along the Jersey Shore. While here, seals will rest and feed on a wide variety of fish and crustaceans before swimming back north to mate in the spring. If you see a seal, please do not disturb the animal. Enjoy the sight from a distance. Harbor Seals and other marine mammals are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. If you see a seal that appears injured, entangled, sick, or being harassed by a person, please call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. This organization has the authority to help stranded or sick marine mammals and sea turtles.

Learn more about these fascinating creatures during our Harbor Seals of New Jersey presentation and hike on Saturday, January 17.  Registration and fee required.  Online registration available.

Posted on 1/6/2015

Cedar Waxwings at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwings - photo by Aubrey Merrill

Cedar waxwings have been seen filling up on the winterberry holly berries at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. The name “waxwing” comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of their secondary feathers. These birds are present year-round in New Jersey and are one of the few North American birds to specialize in eating fruit. If you want to attract them to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that produce berries including serviceberry, eastern red cedar, common juniper, and blackhaw viburnum.  Posted: 12/23/14

Sparrow Migration at Dorbrook Recreation Area  

Lincoln's Sparrow   American Tree Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow                                    American Tree Sparrow   

Song Sparrow  Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow                                               Field Sparrow  

Fall is in the air!  It’s a wonderful time of year to enjoy the colors of the season and look for birds migrating through our parks. October and November are prime months for sparrow migration.  Sparrows are a group of birds that are so similar in color and general appearance that many just refer to them as “LBJs” or Little Brown Jobs.  About 30 species have been seen in New Jersey.

Some such as the white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco will winter here and others that have been here all summer such as the Chipping Sparrow will leave and head south.  Still others such as the song sparrow, swamp sparrow and the field sparrow can be seen in New Jersey year round.  Sparrows are primarily ground nesters and seed eaters. These LBJs can be seen traveling in large mixed flocks through most of our parks this month. 

Our local sparrows are considered New World Sparrows, family Emberizidae, and are not in the family Passeridae, the true sparrows or Old World Sparrows.  New World Sparrows are considered short distance migrants traveling only to the southern part of the US, Mexico and rarely into Central America.  Posted 10/14/14

 Praying Mantis at Huber Woods Park 


praying mantis
Praying Mantis  

The praying mantis is one of our more fascinating insects. There are about 20 species that are native to North America and several exotic species that have been deliberately introduced. All mantises are carnivorous and have a voracious appetite, feeding almost continuously throughout the day. Mantises feed on insects, frogs, snakes, lizards and will even eat other praying mantises. Many gardeners consider these eating machines to be highly beneficial. However, the mantises do not discriminate and will eat beneficial insects as well as those considered pests. A hungry female mantis may devour the male after mating. The cautious male mantis will seek out a well fed female for courtship and often escape the encounter.

The praying mantis population status is stable throughout its range and it does not appear on any threatened or endangered species lists in the U.S. In autumn, eggs numbering from 10 to 400, depending on the species, are deposited in a foamy secretion that will harden, forming a protective case. In the spring, the young will emerge as nymphs looking similar to the adult without wings. The young grow rapidly throughout the summer, molting several times. The life span of a wild mantis in temperate climates is about 12 months and in captivity about 14 months. Praying mantises are prey for bats, birds, lizards, snakes and other insects. Posted 10/08/14

 Royal Terns at Bayshore Waterfront Park

Royal Terns

Recently, a flock of gull-like birds with orange bills were spotted along the edge of Sandy Hook Bay at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. The birds were Royal Terns that have come north from their breeding sites in southern New Jersey or perhaps in Chincoteague, Virginia or even as far south as North Carolina to rest and forage for small fish, including spearing and bay anchovies.  Soon, the birds will be off again to migrate south for the winter in Florida.  A group of royal terns are collectively known as a "highness" of terns, so it appeared for at least for a day that royalty visited the park. Posted 9/26/2014

Birds on the Move Huber Woods Park 

Magnoilia Warbler American Redstart 
Magnolia Warbler                                    American Restart   

Northern Parula  Red Eyed Vireo  
  Northern Parula                                        Red-eyed Vireo    

Fall migration is well under way in our area and can be a real treat for the observant park patron. Many songbirds can be seen as they work their way south to their wintering grounds. Wood Warblers are an especially colorful group of small birds that are currently traveling through Monmouth County and other parts of the country. There are approximately 40 species that may be seen in NJ during spring and fall migrations. Traveling with these flights of migrating warblers will be vireos, orioles, kinglets, and gnatcatchers. The birds pictured here were seen at Huber Woods Park this week all feeding and traveling together. All one needs is a keen eye and a pair of binoculars to enjoy these beautiful birds as they move through our area over the next several weeks. A bird identification book could also come in handy. Posted 09/24/14

Read more about fall bird migration in our Fall issue of the Green Heritage

 Black Rat Snake at Huber Woods Park 

Black Rat Snake

Black Rat Snake

At first glance these pictures may appear to be a two-headed snake. A closer inspection reveals that this snake is in the process of shedding its skin or ecdysis. This young Black Rat snake resides at the Huber Woods Reptile House. Our animal care technician was able to take this unusual photograph. Shedding is a natural process associated with growth and can be influenced by health, age, nutrition, ambient temperature and humidity. Adult snakes may shed once every 4 to 6 weeks and young snakes may shed a few times a month. A healthy snake will usually shed its skin in one piece. A shed that results in sloughing pieces of the skin could be an indicator of poor health, improper lighting, poor humidity or low ambient temperatures. Posted 09/24/14 

 Pinxter Bloom Azalea at Huber Woods Park


The delicate pink flowers of the wild Pinxter Bloom Azalea can be seen both trailside and roadside in Huber Woods Park. These particular shrubs were spotted through shady, dappled sunlight along Brown’s Dock Rd.--an ideal growing condition for this type of plant. While they used to be classified separately, today azaleas are classified as rhododendrons, but the word azalea persists in garden use and custom. Can you see why that might be? Posted 06/09/2014 

Rhododendron at Deep Cut Gardens

 rhododendrons   rhododendron bush

The Rhododendron is having an exceptionally lovely season this year. Just check out this specimen, located along the Service Road just past the Production Greenhouses at Deep Cut Gardens. The whole shrub is covered with large, bright purple blooms. Posted 06/09/2014



Eastern Bluebird at Dorbrook Recreation Area 

This photo was taken by our volunteer Mary Jane Davis, a Bluebird house monitor at Dorbrook Recreation Area.  
Ms. Davis is a teacher at Red Bank Catholic High School whose students built and installed the bird houses.


The Bluebird Boxes at Dorbrook Recreation Area are proving successful again this year. These five recently hatched chicks seem quite comfortable in their well kept house. While some Bluebirds will migrate south during the winter months, many are year round residents in Monmouth County. Although primarily insectivores during the spring and summer, Bluebirds will eat berries and small seeds during the fall and winter when insects are in short supply. Bluebirds will pair up in the spring and may produce 2 or 3 clutches each year. The clutches can have 2 to 7 chicks. In the winter, Bluebirds will band together in small flocks and have been known to use the nesting boxes for shelter. As many as 12 birds have been found cuddling in a nesting box on a cold winter’s day. Posted 05/18/14


Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphullum) in Holmdel Park

     Jack in the Pulp       Jack in the Pulp  

Along a stream trail in Holmdel Park, one of our Park System Naturalists came upon a growth of Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphullum). These plants get their name from the plant parts that surround the flowers. Easily confused with being a flower, the spathe is greenish yellow to green and is tube shaped and curved over the top like a hood. On the inside there are often black stripes. Inside the spathe (“Pulpit”) is the spadex (“Jack”), the part that the flowers grow on. Both male and female flowers occur on the same plant, the male flowers blooming earlier than the female flowers. In late summer, the flowers become bright red berries. The plant has one to two leaves that surround the Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Each leaf has three leaflets and can be from 1-3 feet in height. All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested, but an interesting find on a nature walk. Posted 4/30/2014


Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) at Huber Woods Park

Redback Salamander

The Redback Salamander (Red-backed or Red Back) is a native, hardy and small terrestrial salamander. This species lives under rocks, leaf litter and rotten logs in forests. They are common in forest habitats and abundant beneath old logs, bark, moss, leaf mold and stones in evergreen, mixed and deciduous forests. This animal is nocturnal and feeds on invertebrate insects, such as ants, collembolan (springtails), mites and termites. The Redback lacks lungs; it breathes through its skin and does not need to be in the water to lay its eggs. Posted 4/22/2014



 Two Eaglets at the Manasquan Reservoir 

Photo of another pair of eaglets, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife

We are happy to announce there are two eaglets in the Bald Eagle nest at the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell. Over the next few weeks, these eaglets will change quickly. By six weeks they grow to nearly the size of their parents and their grey down will become black feathers. At 10 to 13 weeks (approximately May), they will take their first flights.

Interested in learning more about the eagles and their history at the Manasquan Reservoir? On Sunday, April 13 at 10:00 am we are offering Bald Eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir (#I0942A). Online registration is available by clicking on the title of the program.
The eagle family can be easily viewed from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. Please remember, nesting eagles are very sensitive and could easily abandon a nest if disturbed. Respect all protected areas. Posted 3/21/2014 


Crocuses at Huber Woods Park 


Beautiful crocuses are beginning to pop up in the meadows of Huber Woods Park. Early to late spring, as well as during the fall, is the best time to view these delicate flowers in our area. Crocuses come in a variety of beautiful colors such as blue, white and yellow. They are native to North America and Europe and grow in meadows, scrubs and woodlands between a wide range of elevations, from sea level to alpine tops. Posted 3/17/14


Eaglets Hatch at Manaquan Reservoir

Photo by Aubrey Merrill

During the last week of February, egg hatching began in the Manasquan Reservoir Bald eagle’s nest.  At present, we can’t see the chicks because they are too small.  How do we know hatching occurred? It’s all about changes in the parent’s behavior.  We observed the sitting adult moving around more, sitting higher in the nest, looking down often, and most importantly we observed feeding behaviors.   The next big question is how many eaglets are there?  We will have to wait and see.   It will take another week or two before they are big enough to be seen easily. 

The nest can be viewed from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center.  The Environmental Center hours are 10am-4:30pm, daily.  If you view the nest outside, remember nesting eagles are very sensitive to human disturbance and could easily abandon a nest if disturbed.  Please respect all protected areas.  Posted 3/5/14


Full Moon Over Sandy Hook Bay

Last Friday, several people joined a Park System Naturalist for a full moon beach walk along Sandy Hook Bay at Bayshore Waterfront Park. It was Valentine’s Day and a beautiful evening to watch the moon rise over the bay. Winds were light, the sky was clear, and temperatures were relatively balmy in the lower 30s. It was a full “snow” moon, named by many prehistoric Native American people in the Northeast, since some of the heaviest snowstorms took place during this time of year.

If you missed this nighttime walk, please join us for Full Moon Meander (#INF42A) on Saturday, March 15th at Mt. Mitchll Scenic Overlook or Stargazing at the Seashore (#INP42A) on Saturday, April 26 at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. Online registration is available by clicking on the title of each program.  Posted 2/18/2014

Snow Buntings at Bayshore Waterfront Park

Recently, a small flock of about six to eight Snow Buntings have been showing up every morning near Sandy Hook Bay at the Bayshore Waterfront Park. The small birds have arrived from the high Arctic, where they have nested and raised 2 to 7 young during the summer. In the winter many Snow Buntings can be found around the bay resting and feeding on plant and grass seeds. The birds are getting ready for another long migration and busy breeding season up in the tundra starting in the spring. Posted 1/31/2014

 Bald Eagles Begin Incubation at Manaquan Reservoir


These are exciting times at the Manasquan Reservoir!  On January 21, our resident Bald Eagle pair began incubation.  From now until hatching, one of the adults will almost always be seen on the nest.  Eagles begin sitting immediately upon laying their first egg, but may produce up to two more eggs over the next few days.  If more than one egg is produced, the eaglets will hatch in the order they were laid over several days.  Generally, incubation requires about 35 days. This makes the approximate date of hatching during the week of February 24.  The eagles' nest can be viewed from the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, weather conditions permitting.
Posted 1/27/14 



 Short-eared Owl at Wolf Hill Recreation Area

Photo by park patron Jeff Lee

A Park Ranger recently discovered two Short-eared Owls hunting the open fields at Wolf Hill Recreation Area on Christmas Day. These Owls are regular winter visitors to New Jersey and are occasionally seen in Monmouth County. Short-eared Owls have a mottled brown appearance, are about 17 inches tall, weigh 7 to 16 ounces, and have a wing span of 25 to 40 inches. These grassland birds feed mainly on small mammals and may compete with the Barn Owl where their ranges over lap. They hunt during the day as well as at night. These Owls have a distinctive hunting technique, floating low over meadows and fields then diving on their prey. Their nests are mainly on the ground and their clutch can range from 1 to 11 eggs. Short-eared Owls are one the most widely distributed Owls in the word ranging across North America, South America, and Eurasia as well as many oceanic islands. Posted 01/03/14

Snowy Owl at  Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park



One of our Park Rangers spotted a couple of Snowy Owls at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park over the past several weeks. New Jersey is experiencing an unprecedented incursion of Snowy Owls this winter with more than 30 individuals reported along our shores. These beautiful birds stand about 28 inches tall, weigh around 4 to 5 pounds and have a 50 inch wing span. These are diurnal owls on their home range, the Arctic Tundra, where they feed on many small mammals but mainly on lemmings. They will also take small birds. The normal clutch size is usually between 3 to 4 but may be as many as 11 eggs. The adult males are almost all white while the adult females will be white with brown barring. Juvenile male and females will both exhibit the brown barring and can be difficult to distinguish. Posted 01/02/2014


Marbled Orb-weaver Spider - Huber Woods Park

This Marbled orb-weaver spider, found in Huber Woods Park, is part of the largest spider genera Araneidae. At 1500 species worldwide, the orb-weavers are at the top of the chart. Although scary looking, due to its large size (9 to 20mm) and extremely bright colors, this lady (females are larger than males) is quite harmless. Marbled orb-weavers are common inhabitants of trees, shrubs and tall weeds, but they prefer the grasses in moist, wooded settings and can frequently be found along the banks of streams. The spider gets its name from the beautiful marbling of its abdomen. Most common colors are orange, yellow, brown and purple and their hues. They build elaborate circular webs to catch their prey, but unlike most spiders they tend to hide under a leaf nearby instead of being displayed on their web. As seen in the picture these spider have 8 small eyes. Four are in the center of the head forming a box and a pair to the left and another pair to the right. These creatures are seen most frequently in late summer and fall. Next time you cross paths with one of them give them your best smile, they will not survive the cold New Jersey winter. Posted 11/08/13




 White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) Caterpillar Hartshorne Woods

There are several caterpillars considered "Horned Caterpillars" due to the large thorn like structure on its posterior. The White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar is a large, two inch long, colorful caterpillar that may appear intimidating but is actually quite harmless to humans. It is not considered an agricultural pest because the host plants are consider weeds by most people. They will feed on rose leaves but usually do not cause significant damage. The caterpillar will travel along the ground searching for a place to burrow and pupation will occur 2 to 4 inches below the surface. There are usually two broods of White-lined Sphinx Moths occurring between February and November. The November brood may overwinter in the pupate stage.  Posted 10/16/13


Hatchling Box Turtle at Manasquan Reservoir

Young box turtles are very secretive so it was a real treat to see this hatchling near the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell, in late August. Because they are so seldom seen this young, we know little about their habits. It is thought they spend most of their first years hidden beneath leaf litter eating insects. Box turtles reproduce very slowly, maturing by age 7 and  producing 3-6 eggs once in
spring. Loss of habitat, people removing them from the wild, and slow reproductive rates contribute to the Eastern Box Turtle being listed as a Species of Concern in New Jersey.
Posted 9/9/13


Immature Brown Booby at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park


Park Ranger Pat Becker spotted this Immature Brown Booby on the end of a jetty at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch, on July 2.
Posted 7/2/2013


 Indian Pipe at Huber Woods Park  

If you take a walk on the trails at Huber Woods you will see clusters of this strange looking white plant. This is Indian Pipe, also known as Ghost Plant. Since it lacks color, Indian Pipe is one of the easiest wild plants to identify. It grows from June to September reaching a size of four to ten inches tall. The Indian Pipe prefers shady woods with rich soil and decaying plant matter. It blooms with small waxy flowers that droop and is a favorite food source for small bumble bees. The plant turns black when it gets old. 
Posted 06/27/13





Bluegill Sunfish Nest at Shark River Park

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.

Posted 06/27/13




Seal Released Off Monmouth County Coastline


Recently, an adult 600-pound plus Grey Seal was released back into the Atlantic Ocean at Sandy Hook. The seal was found sick and mal-nourished in February 2013 near Seaside Park. After several months of care and treatment from staff at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ, the seal was healthy enough to send back into the wild to be free. The seal was released at Sandy Hook because of its location &S211; it&S217;s the northern most spot along the Jersey Shore and nearest to New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces where the western Atlantic population of Grey Seals often gathers to breed, feed, and haul out to relax during the summer.
Posted 6/12/2013




Northern Gray Tree Frog at Manasquan Reservoir



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.
Posted 5/22/13




 Barred Owl at Hartshorne Woods




This Barred Owl was photographed in Hartshorne Woods as it flew out to investigate a man washing his car. The Barred Owl has become a rare sight in Monmouth County due to habitat encroachment and destruction. It was placed on the NJ Threatened Species List in 1979. The Barred Owl is known by many colloquial names including; Swamp Owl, Hooter Owl, Eight Hooter, Rain Owl, Wood Owl, and Striped Owl. It has well established populations in remote wetland areas and the highlands areas of the state.


The Barred Owl preys on small mammals but may include reptiles, amphibians, insects, or small birds in its diet. It has even been observed wading into water to catch fish. The Barred Owl's call has been described as, &S220;Who Cooks for You, Who cooks for you, allll&S221;, with &S221;hooah&S221; at the end. This Owl can often be heard calling on a cloudy day and is sometimes seen hunting during the day. The Barred Owl has brown eyes, a wing span of 42 inches, stands 21 inches high and weighs 1.6 pounds.    Posted 05/21/13


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Fern Fiddleheads at Huber Woods Park


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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Male Bullfrog at Manasquan Reservoir



Bullfrogs are found throughout the state in any permanent body of freshwater; however, they are not found in the core pine barrens due to areas naturally acidic water. They are considered an invasive species in New Jersey and have displaced our native Carpenter Frogs and the threatened Pine Barrens Treefrog. 

Bullfrogs spend two years as tadpoles. Males and females can be distinguished by comparing the size of their eye relative to their eardrum (tympanum). In females, the eardrum is the same size of the eye, or smaller, and in the male the eardrum is much larger than the eye. The males call from around April through July with a bellowing jug-o-rum.  Posted 4/17/13


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Bluebells Blooming at Historic Walnford, Upper Freehold


The bluebells are blooming at Historic Walnford, Upper Freehold!  These colorful wildflowers can be found along the banks of Crosswicks Creek.  Even better, there&S217;s a good chance that the flowers will be at their peak for the Bluebell Festival on Sunday, April 14th.


Bald Eagle Update at Manasquan Reservoir


We are very excited to announce that we have two eaglets at the Manasquan Reservoir! Here are a few eaglet milestones:

  • Hatching began March 4th.
  • At 4 to 5 weeks eaglets can stand and feed themselves.
  • By 6 weeks they are almost as large as their parents and they take their first flights around 10 to 13 weeks.

Come visit us at the environmental center to learn more about our eagles and other wildlife. Posted 4/9/13



Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers Calling


Wood Frog


Spring Peeper

Spring is in the air and so are the calls of wood frogs and spring peepers. These amphibians begin
calling in mid-March, but wood frogs may call as early as February. Wood frogs breed only in vernal wetlands. These temporary wetlands form from spring rains and snow and are vital for several amphibian species. Spring peepers also call from vernal wetlands, but are not as particular and will use any body of freshwater to breed. The call of the wood frog is a duck-like quacking and the tiny spring peepers, as their name implies, loudly peep. You can discover more about Monmouth Counties' amphibians with our Nature Series brochure on Amphibians (PDF required). Posted 3/13/13




Silver-haired Bat Huber Woods Park



One of our Park System Naturalists spotted this Silver-haired bat hanging on the side of one of the out buildings in the Timolat Section of Huber Woods recently. The bat appeared to be in great condition and was taking advantage of the warmth of the buildings southern exposure. Silver-haired Bats can be quite common when migrating and will be found on the sides of buildings, railroad ties and fence posts. This bat is a tree bat and it usually does not roost in large colonies. It typically roosts under loose tree bark but will also use woodpecker holes and bird nests. The Silver-haired bat was not affected by the &S220;White-nose Syndrome&S221; fungus that has devastated cave bats. This year the NJ Bat Sanctuary has experienced an increase in calls regarding the Silver-haired bat and many of the reports are from Monmouth County. These are medium sized bats with a wing span of 11 to 13 inches and weighing .3 to .4 ounces.

Posted 3/11/13




Bald Eagle Hatching at Manasquan Reservoir


Eagle Hatching has begun!  Hatching was officially called March 4th.  We'll be waiting to see how many heads pop up in a week or two. Check back here for more updates. Posted 3/5/13




Cooper's Hawk at Manasquan Reservoir

This beautiful adult Cooper's Hawk was seen near the Environmental Center recently. Cooper's Hawks belong to a group of woodland hawks known as accipiters that specialize in hunting small birds.The Cooper's Hawk is crow sized and fits between the smaller, but similar, sharp-shinned hawk and larger northern goshawk. During the breeding season, Cooper's Hawk are found in upland, riparian or freshwater wetland forests.  For several seasons, a pair had a nest at the reservoir. The Cooper's Hawk was recently reclassified from Threatened to Special Concern due to an increase in the breeding population. However, this good news must be tempered by the continued threat posed by the loss of the large, contiguous forests it needs for breeding and hunting.  Posted: 1/30/13


Manasquan Reservoir Bald Eagle Update!

 On Saturday, January 26th the bald eagle pair at the Manasquan Reservoir began to incubate eggs. For the next 35 days, on average, one of the adults will always be sitting on the eggs until they hatch around March 1st. Check back for more updates, or visit the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center. Posted 1/30/13



 White-Winged Crossbill and Red Crossbill

  Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park

White-Winged Crossbills

Red Crossbills

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


Razorbill - Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park

Razorbills have been observed up and down the East Coast this year with many sightings as far south as Florida. Several Razorbills have been seen from the beach at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park this month. These small pelagic birds have a wing span of 26&S221;, weigh about 1.5 pounds and are ocean dwellers. Razorbills venture onto land to breed along the cliffs and rocky islands of the northern most reaches of North America&S217;s east coast. However, about 65% to 70% of the world razorbill population breeds in Greenland. They mate for life and usually produce one chick per year. Razorbills feed on capelin (a type of smelt), sand lance, juvenile cod, sprats and herring. Most feeding takes place down to depths of 80 feet but they can dive as deep as 400ft. Photo by Jeff Lee -Posted 01/25/13


Western Grebe Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park

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


Pink-footed Goose


The Pink-footed Goose is a rare visitor to NJ. This one was photographed in Mercer County during the Park System's last &S220;Winter Birding Expedition&S221; bus trip on January 9. It has since been seen at Assunpink Reservoir and other locations in Monmouth County. The Pink-foot breeds in Greenland / Icland and very seldom ventures to New Jersey. The state&S217;s first sighting was in March of 2007. The Pink-footed Goose population is on the rise largly due to increased protection from hunting on its wintering grounds. This Pink-footed Goose (left) is next to a Canada Goose. Photo by Jeff Lee -Posted 01/25/13



Bald Eagles at Manasquan Reservoir

The Bald Eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir have been busy.  They have recently built a new nest about 150 yards east of their old nesting location.  Historically this eagle pair has begun their egg incubation during the first and second week of January. Eagle watchers at the Reservoir are anxiously awaiting the event. Winter is one of the best times to view the eagles at the Manasquan Reservoir located in Howell, NJ.  Drop by the Environmental Center for all the up to date information. Posted 1/10/13


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Huber Woods Park


This medium sized, well camouflaged woodpecker is a transient in Monmouth County seen during the spring and fall migrations. Occasionally, some will stay over for the winter. This male was photographed this week at Huber Woods in a stand of spruce trees. The females have a white throat but otherwise they are very similar to the males. Sapsuckers do not actually suck the sap from trees but they lap it up with their tongues from the holes that they drill into the tree. The holes are generally drilled in parallel rows. Insects will take advantage of the sap oozing from the holes and the sapsucker will readily eat the insects that may become stuck in the sap. Hummingbirds have been observed taking advantage of the sapsuckers handiwork as well. There have been over a 1000 species of trees that the sapsuckers have drilled but they seem to prefer birches and maples. Posted 01/03/13


Northern Saw-whet Owl

One of our park rangers discovered this rarely seen winter visitor and one of our park naturalists was able to snap a picture of this shy creature. With a wing span of only 17 inches and a length of 8 inches, the Saw-whet Owl is slightly smaller than the Eastern Screech Owl but, at 2.8 oz., weighs less than half as much. These nocturnal birds feed almost entirely on small mammals with deer mice being the preferred prey, followed by shrews and voles. They will also eat small birds, frogs and insects. The Northern Saw-whet inhabits deciduous and coniferous forests and is a cavity nester. The owl's name comes from the "skiew" call that is made when alarmed. This noise has a resemblance to the whetting of a saw.          Posted 01/04/13