New Jersey, June and August 2007 - Trip Report


New Jersey – June & August, 2007 – Pine Barrens, Great Swamp NWR & Kittatinny Valley State Park


I had a couple of business trips to the New Jersey area this late spring and summer and I was able to stay-over on a weekend each time, enabling me to get out and do a little exploration around the “Garden State.”  First, for those that have not been to New Jersey before, there is more to the state than Newark and Atlantic City, in fact, there are some downright beautiful areas in the state that boasts the densest population per square mile of any state in the US (1174 people per square mile according to 2006 population data.)  The challenge, as just about anywhere you go, is knowing where to look! 


I have long wanted to visit the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and finally was able to make it there in June of this year.  Unfortunately, as was the case in many trips this year, the rain followed me almost the entire time.  I had decided to try to do two stops on this trip, Friday afternoon in the Pine Barrens and Saturday at The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (which I had visited a couple of years prior.)  I had a morning appointment that Friday in Newark and as soon as it was finished I headed back to my hotel, changed my clothes and picked up my gear and started the 2.5 hour drive to my destination.  I was on the road by 11:00 AM and was in Wharton State Park within the New Jersey Pine Barrens by 2:00 that afternoon.  Thunderstorms were all around me and the rain was relentless until very late in the day making for dark conditions and not a lot of wildlife.  I was able to see an amazing event as a large Common Snapping Turtle decided to walk across a very congested highway 206 just a few car lengths ahead of me.  While I awaited the carnage I was amazed to see drivers in both directions (including a large truck) slam on their breaks and allow the creature to move across the highway and into a drainage ditch on the other side of the road.  Unfortunately I was not able to get any pictures but it was quite a site and I was quite impressed as drivers went out of their way to avoid killing the creature!


Finally, late in the afternoon, the thunderstorms let up for a while allowing for a brief period of sunlight.  I was able to take a couple of short hikes before the sun went down and then do a little road cruising before heading back to my hotel that night.  Here are some of the highlights from the afternoon.



This is a typically side road through the area.  Note the sandy soil which is consistent in this area.



My first bird of the trip, a Laughing Gull


I stopped at a place called Atson Lake Recreation Area as a large thunderstorm rolled through.  This is a view of the area before the skies opened up.


Aston Lake as the storm passed.  The lightning was quite spectacular for nearly an hour with several strikes appearing to hit on or quite near the lake.



As the last storm rolled off into the distance, some residual showers continued to dampen the area on and off but I was able to take a quite walk around the lake and grab a few photos.



Eastern Phoebe


Brown Thrasher



Eastern Towhee (male)



Eastern Towhee (female)


Pine Warbler


Chipping Sparrow


It was now started to get toward dusk and I decided to drive some of the side roads to see if I could spot anything of interest as time was already getting short.  The afternoon rain had cut several hours out of my plans.  The area is one that I will want to visit again, hopefully under better conditions.  I took a couple of side roads and the scenery was great!


Another Pine Barrens Road, note the standing water.



View across a small glade in the Pine Barrens


Another Road, this one with some interesting stuff…


I was driving along this road, almost at dusk when I saw what I thought was a very round rock in the middle of the road.  Turned out to be a very wet Eastern Box Turtle.  He was not too pleased to see me and I was only able to get a couple of shots of him before he retreated inside his shell.  I placed him well off the road and continued on my way.


Eastern Box Turtle



Eastern Box Turtle


Another view along the road.


It was now dark and I was a few miles from the main highway when I decided to turn around and start heading back to my hotel, a good 3 hour drive from where I was currently at.  As soon as it was dark, I started seeing these guys hopping around, all over the place!


Fowler’s Toad


Another Fowler’s Toad


Yet another Fowler’s Toad!


After I was satisfied that every single toad was a Fowler’s Toad I had enough and headed back to my hotel, I wanted to get an early start the next day (my last day) and had a very long drive.  I got back to my hotel a little after midnight, greeted by another downpour of almost biblical proportions!



The next day (Saturday) I was up early and headed for the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (  A preserve only 26 miles as the crow flies from downtown Manhattan New York yet worlds away in terms of what is there.  Again, thunderstorms (which were quite spectacular most of the night) were still in the area and I dodged light rain most of the morning and then torrential downpours which ended my day earlier than I wanted it to.  Here are the highlights from the tour of the Great Swamp.


First bird encountered that morning was this nice Tree Swallow, perching on a reflector at the entrance to the parking lot.



An American Tree Sparrow was next up.


Followed quickly by a very active and obvious Yellow Warbler


It was quite misty and a bit steamy from all the rain and the distant rolling of thunder told me that the storms were not over yet.  A few drops of rain were constant mixed in with intermittent periods of brief sunshine as the clouds rolled by at a fast clip throughout the morning.



Gray Catbird



Eastern Phoebe



View of the Great Swamp


This was one of several Common Snapping Turtles I saw on the trip but they all proved too evasive for me to get a good shot.


Another Phoebe


This was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  I was standing on a boardwalk that gaps over a nice swampy area and leads to a bird blind when out of nowhere, an American Bittern flies right down and lands on the railing not 50 feet from where I am standing!  While not a lifer for me, I had never even gotten close to getting a picture of one of these shy birds and here is one, sitting on a rail, completely oblivious to me, gazing skyward!  I was able to get off a few dozen shots before it realized that it had company, gave one quick squawk and flew off into the cattails, not to be seen again.



American Bittern


American Bittern


There were several nesting boxes around and I was happy to see an Eastern Bluebird at least checking one out, I would assume that this late in the year it was already nesting in it or considering a second round!


Eastern Bluebird



Eastern Bluebird


Northern Cardinal trying to hide.



Yellow Warbler #2



Eastern Phoebe


American Tree Sparrow


I was a little disappointed with the amount of herp life in the area, other than a couple of painted turtles and a snapper plus a couple of bull frogs there was nothing much about.   As I walked around the various trails in the area however, the sun started to peak between the seemingly never ending stream of clouds and warmed things up a bit, this must of stimulated some movement in the bogs of perhaps I just hit the right location because suddenly I started seeing snakes everywhere!  They were all Northern Water Snakes but snakes none-the-less which was great for me!  I spotted a total of 9 of them in about 15 minutes, here are some shots…



Northern Water Snake


Northern Water Snake


Northern Water Snake



Northern Water Snake


Northern Water Snake


This Gray Catbird came in for a close inspection as I was photographing another snake.



I saw some movement in a small pond and was delighted to add this turtle to my life list, the aptly named Spotted Turtle…


In a very densely wooded area of the swamp I spotted this bird flittering around in the undergrowth.  I was able to get ahead of it and wait for it to come by me which it did, stopping ever-so-briefly for a couple of shots.


Red-eyed Vireo


Red-eyed Vireo



This little guy posed for me for a brief moment.



Another Water Snake


And another Spotted Turtle


Followed by yet another Water Snake.


While heading back toward the entrance I passed by the same area where I had photographed the Vireo earlier, this time I was greeted by a Veery.  I had heard them singing their strange, underwater/mechanical sounding (to me) song earlier but I was able to get this one to sit still long enough for a couple of photos.




It started raining again and there was thunder rolling in the distance as I headed back toward my rental car.  A Tufted Titmouse lit in front of me as a Pileated Woodpecker, startled by my presence took off for parts unknown.



Tufted Titmouse


I barely made it back to the car before the skies once again opened up.  I waited in my car for a while and finally heard the weather report, unfortunately the news was not good and it proved to be accurate as it rained the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening.  I went back to my hotel to take a look at the days results and start getting packed for an early flight out of Newark in the morning.  All in all not too bad of a trip considering but it sure would have been nice to have had at least a few hours of sunshine!  Oh well, not to be on this one!



Two months later, I was back in New Jersey again (August), this time however I only had one full day so I decided to revisit the Great Swamp NWR and another place that was recommended called Kittatinny Valley State Park.  This time there was no rain, just suppressive heat and an unbelievable amount of mosquitoes!   I started the day at Kittatinny and then went to the Great Swamp, here are the highlights from that trip…


Canada Geese, in large numbers at Kittatinny


Four different bird species in one shot on one bush!


Female Tanager





American Goldfinch


Many, many butterflies!


And some other interesting insects like this odd looking bumble bee


The area



Kittatinny Valley State Park



More from the park



There was a large aggregation of these beetles in the area, any specimen of this plant had at least a dozen beetles on it.


Here’s a nice Pickerel Frog found hiding in the leaves...



Deer were abundant


Bullfrog in stealth-mode


Swallow-tail Butterfly


Another variety of Swallow-tail Butterfly



Baby Eastern Painted Turtle


Eastern Painted Turtle


Painted Turtle Habitat



Kittatinny Valley State Park


After a quick jaunt through the park I made my way back to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for some additional hunting and exploring.  There were lots of frogs and turtles around and some interesting bird life however not any snakes, here are highlights from the last part of my trip out there in August.






Pickerel Frog


Green Frog


Great Blue Heron


Another Bullfrog


Eastern Painted Turtle


Bog habitat at Great Swamp NWR


Green Frog


Green Heron


Broad-winged Hawk


Many Turtles!


More Turtles!


Orchard Oriole


Well, that's a wrap for this trip report.  Certainly an area of interest with lots to see if you have the desire to look around for it.  Thanks for looking!

- Brad




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