A Taste Of Spring On A Garden State Safari

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by David Wheeler

Listen to the singsong melodies of a common yellowthroat bird perched on a nearby branch.

Savor the fragrant scent of viburnum and bluebell wildflowers blooming from the winter-dormant earth.


Cherish the stunning sight of a sunset over the nearby pond or lake.

Nothing beats engaging your senses – especially in springtime. After months of relentless cold and snow, nearly all of us are ready to trade in our winter doldrums for a chance to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air and sheer beauty of spring. Our timing couldn’t be better. After all, we aren’t the only ones anxious for a fresh start.

All across New Jersey, the options for enjoying our one-of-a-kind nature experience and outdoor activities are endless. Though stereotypes portray our state as little more than the Turnpike and “Jersey Shore”, New Jersey boasts incredible outdoor riches. No other state in the nation boasts so much wildlife diversity in so compact an area. And nowhere else can offer you options from mountains to saltmarsh, from beaches to Pine Barrens, from city skylines to oldtime farms, all within a reasonable drive.

Indeed, there’s something for everyone on this Garden State safari. Look to the skies for the great annual spring bird migration already underway. Fascinating sightings like hawks, waterfowl, raptors, and colorful neotropical birds such as Baltimore orioles can be found just about anywhere, with Middlesex County’s Dismal Swamp and Cheesequake State Park offering ideal regional options.

Our resident mammals are also making up for lost time. Beavers, river otters, and bobcats make for spectacular, if uncommon, sightings. Yet even in the midst of suburbia, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, and red fox bring life to our landscapes right out in the open.

Many wetland areas across the state offer surprising tastes of the tropics, even in our packed suburbs. At this time of year, wetlands are bursting with life, none more loudly and insistently than the deafening drones of spring peepers and wood frogs. Spring peepers, which are tiny frogs hardly bigger than your thumbnail, call out through the late afternoons and nights from vernal ponds and other wet areas. A drive or walk nearby at dusk makes you feel like you’ve entered a rainforest.

Even on the days you can’t break free to get outdoors, there’s a way to bring the birds right to you. I don’t mean birdfeeders, though those are welcome additions to any backyard. Nest cameras accessible from www.WildNewJersey.tv now deliver birds right to your computer screen, including bald eagle chicks at Duke Farms and peregrine falcon nestlings on a Jersey City skyscraper.

Yes, the Internet and digital television seem to deliver almost everything possible directly to our screens. What they can’t bring us, however, may be the most important thing of all – the experience of our five senses.

So get outside and create your own springtime adventures in wild New Jersey!

David Wheeler’s book, “Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State,” was published last month by Rutgers University Press. His book tour has scheduled 40 events across New Jersey throughout the spring and summer of 2011.

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