By Michele S. Byers
When it comes to wildlife, New Jersey is well positioned. Not only does the Garden State have highly diverse geography – from the mountains of the Highlands to the ocean beaches, from the Pine Barrens to the tidal marshes of the Delaware Bayshore – but it’s at the sweet spot where northern and southern ecosystems overlap.
That adds up to great wildlife viewing opportunities close to home. With 325 resident and migratory bird species, 90 mammal species, 79 reptile and amphibian species and over 400 species of fish, New Jersey beats most of the 50 states, even Alaska, on species per square mile!
Invertebrates, especially insects, are spectacularly diverse. Insects make up three-quarters of the world’s species, and New Jersey has tens of thousands of species of butterflies, moths, beetles, damselflies and other insects. Hundreds are rare, and there are even more species awaiting discovery.
Now’s the time to get outdoors and see bald eagles plucking fish from the water, beavers building dams, black bears foraging for berries, red foxes running through meadows and butterflies alighting on wildflowers. Here are some tips for watching wildlife:
If you’re looking for a particular animal, do your homework. Each one has its own specific habitat requirements. Before you set out, learn when and where the animal feeds and nests. Dawn and dusk are the best times for mammal activity; warm, sunny afternoons are best for butterflies and dragonflies.
Pick your vantage point carefully, and don’t let the animals know you’re there. Use hills, hollows, ridges, gullies and tree lines to blend into the landscape. Cars make great blinds, if there’s a place where you can park and watch.
Go for camouflage. Wear muted, natural colors and unscented lotions, and avoid clothes that rustle. Leave your pets at home!
Keep your distance. Use binoculars and scopes; you’ll see greater detail. Don’t try to sneak up too close. If an animal reacts to your presence, back off and leave it alone.
Move like molasses. You’ll have a better chance if you move slowly and quietly. Just as you can spot wildlife by looking for movement, they spot you the same way.
Use all of your senses. Take in sounds and smells, as well as sights. In fact, closing your eyes for a few minutes can heighten your sense of hearing.
Respect the environment. Stick to marked trails, and don’t disturb plants, bushes or branches around nests or dens. Pick up litter and report vandalism.
Chill out. Unlike humans, wild animals don’t follow schedules. Allow plenty of time. Successful wildlife viewing takes patience, a relaxed pace and a little luck. It’s a lifetime learning experience, so the more you practice, the better you’ll get!
For detailed descriptions of more than 100 of the Garden State’s best places to view wildlife, pick up the New Jersey Wildlife Guide, published by the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife; it’s available through most online booksellers. You can find out more through the division’s “Watchable Wildlife” webpage at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/watchabl.htm.
And for more information on conserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.