Friday, May 24, 2019

New Jersey Wildlife

New Jersey Wildlife

New Jersey is home to a wide variety of "critters", some are cute & cuddly while others are quite dangerous. If you walk along any trail or sit in a park you will certainly find squirrels and chipmunks running around as if they are late for their train. If you are quiet and look hard enough, you may find deer or any of a number of other creatures that call New Jersey home.


I came across this beautiful buck while hiking thru Thompson Park in Lincroft one afternoon during the rut. I was looking in the opposite direction as I was walking when something caught my eye - I turned and there he was, just staring at me. I had but a few moments to grab this image before he ran into the woods.

The young buck in the golden hour image was one that I was watching for a short time during a morning hike in the park. I sometimes detour to the beach or one of the parks along the way to the office to walk or maybe do some shooting. If I go to the park I often have the place to myself and will come across quite a few deer. This particular morning it was just after sunrise and there were about a dozen deer grazing in the field. This buck was by himself and didn't seem to really care that I was there. I got as close as I dared, took out the camera and grabbed a few images before he ran off into the woods. This is one of my favorite deer images, though I have many.


New Jersey is home to more than 475 species of birds and is an important stop along the East Coast migration route. While I have photographed a wide variety, I have nowhere near all - nor have I even seen them all. I have still not gotten a good glimpse of the Bald Eagles we have but still have hope.

The Northern Mockingbird shown here was captured during a lunchtime walk along the Henry Hudson Trail in Union Beach. This is another great example of the old axiom, f/8 and be there, as I had but a moment to shoot before he flew away. When it comes to birds, I do "play favorites." I have a great love for egrets, herons and raptors - in part because of the challenge but, mostly, for their beauty. I was fortunate to grow up with a small river inlet behind my home and we would see egrets and herons all the time. I have countless slides of them fishing along the banks or sitting on a dock. The black-crowned night heron is one such slide - he was perched on one of the pilings of a neighbors dock when I captured this image. The scan quality isn't great but the image is a good one.

While I have yet to capture an eagle, I have been able to get a number of red-tailed hawks - including the one shown here. This was another lunchtime hike and he caught me by surprise. I was in the woods and saw this hawk flying low across the trail and landed on a downed tree. He had caught a snake and was perched on the tree eating. When I got around to that side of the trail I started looking for it, hoping to get an image. To my disappointment, he was no longer eating and had flown off. I looked up and saw him sitting in the tree right next to me, he was maybe 10 feet away! I shot until he had enough and flew off.

I have written two blog posts about birds in New Jersey if you wish to read more - Birds of New Jersey - The Gray Catbird and Birds of New Jersey - The Great Egret.

Reptiles / Amphibians

Not all of New Jersey's wildlife is warm-blooded, as we have a very diverse range of reptiles and amphibians, too. This bullfrog was sitting on the side of a trail in Lake Topanemus Park in Freehold one afternoon. I had never shot a frog before and have not since. I was amazed at my skill of getting so close and not scaring it away, only to find out later that the frogs will freeze if they feel threatened and are not near a water source to jump into. I could have jumped up and down yelling and he never would have moved....

Turtles of all types are abundant - from the docile box turtle to the dangerous snapping turtle. I find box turtles in my yard rather frequently (I live at the edge of a large woods) and they can be found throughout the state. They are also probably the easiest to photograph - they are not overly dangerous, they move quite slowly and if you get close they "clam up" like this one. I often come across turtles sunning themselves on rocks or tree limbs in and around lakes but they often see me before I can get close enough for a decent shot and dart back into the water. Snapping turtles are rather mean and very dangerous and also the most common turtle in the state; I've only seen one in the wild once and that was in my own backyard about 25 years ago. I saw, what I thought was a large black trash bag in the yard. I went out to pick it up and noticed it was a snapping turtle - it was headed right for a forsythia bush in the middle of the yard. I stayed under the bush all day and then I never saw it again - later that year I dug up the bush.

I don't come across too many snakes in my travels but when I do they are invariably the harmless garter snake. The largest snakes in New Jersey are the Northern Black Racer and Black Rat snake, both can reach more than six feet and are found throughout the state. We only have two venomous snakes, the Northern Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake which are typically found in the northern part of the state - a friend recently came across a rattlesnake while hiking along the Appalachian Trail on Mt. Tammany. You usually don't have much to worry about with snakes unless, like most wild creatures, you startle them or encroach too closely on their space. While it is always a good idea to keep your eyes on the trail, it is particularly important when you are in "snake country" - just to be safe.

Small Mammals

I mentioned squirrels and chipmunks at the top of this post, here is one of the many squirrels I have encountered on my treks. You can read the story behind this image at Shhhh – there’s a deer but where are my keys?. Of course, rabbits are a frequent sight, too. This little guy was at Deep Cut Gardens one fine afternoon. Rabbits are fun to watch but can be difficult to photograph well.

New Jersey is also home to the bobcat, in fact, it is our only wild cat. They once roamed throughout the state but are now endangered and found primarily in the northwest part of the state but there have been sightings in the Pinelands. The bobcat is an extremely shy creature, as are most cats, and you are rather unlikely to see one and they pose very little threat to humans. I have never seen one in the wild.


New Jersey has a growing population of black bears and can be found in all 21 counties, though predominately found in the northwest part of the state. I have never had a wild encounter with a bear but they are always on my mind when I am in Bear Country. It is crucial that you learn what to do in case of an encounter with a bear - the wrong move can cause you serious harm, even death. You can read about what to do at get BEAR SMART society. There are many other places where you can get information, including kiosks at trail heads where encounters may be likely. REMEMBER - you cannot outrun a bear, trying to do so will most likely cause an attack!

I have covered but a small amount of the abundant wildlife to be found throughout our state. You can find other images in the Wildlife gallery on my website.

I leave you with one last image - the red-tailed hawk eating the snake. This was the best vantage point I could get, I was disappointed the branches were covering his head but you can't tell a bird to move to a better location!

I hope you have enjoyed my menagerie and would love to hear from you in the comments below. There is such diversity in our state and I have only covered the creatures that are found on land - fishing is incredible throughout the state, both freshwater and saltwater.

Until next time - get out and explore, witness the beauty of The Garden State firsthand! If you aren't in New Jersey, get out and explore the natural world around you; I can't think of a better way to recharge your batteries.

All photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at

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