Thursday, July 12, 2012

"HOOT"enanny with the Jersey Devil

This Sunday, James and I were on our way home from a wedding in Delaware (the state where strip malls go to die) and we decided to make a stop at the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  As a girl who grew up in North Jersey, I've made it a point to Avoid the South. When I hear the words "Pine Barrens" I always immediately hear that banjo song from "Deliverance" in my head and simultaneously think of the Jersey Devil....terrifying.
For those of you who are not up on your NJ folklore (I mean, isnt that a top priority for everyone?) the New Jersey Devil is a mythological creature that supposedly has been haunting the Pine barrens for over 275 years. the most popular version of the story is about Mrs. Shroud of Leed's point NJ who had 12 children and stated that if she had a 13th child, it would be the Devil. ( I mean, anyone who is having 13 children is just asking for it.... I'm talking to you Octo-Mom.) Well, one stormy night in 1735, she gave birth to her 13th child. They say the child was born normal but then changed into a creature with hooves, bat wings, a horse head, and forked tail. Then it apparently flew up the chimney and headed to the pines where it has been terrorizing the locals ever since.

On our way to Cedar Run Wildlife refuge we did not see the Jersey Devil, however we did drive through a pretty secluded pine forrest and James did express some concern that I was taking him into the woods to murder him.
 I didn't know what to expect from the Refuge but was pleasantly surprised when we got there. Running entirely on donations, The Refuge cares for more than 4,000 injured, orphaned, or displaced wild animals a year. There is an animal hospital on site that rehabilitates injured animals and whenever possible, releases them back into the wild. There are some animals that cannot be set free because they may have a more permanent disability which would prevent them from taking care of themselves in the wild. As unfortunate as it was that these animals were hurt, it's amazing that they are now given a second chance at life when they would not have otherwise survived... and its also really cool that we get to see them up close.


  In order to visit with the resident wildlife, we had to cross the beautiful Cedar Run Lake on a very unique bridge made completely of recycled plastic materials. (the picture above.) as we walked up to the first enclosure, I think both of our jaws dropped as we spotted Hallie one of the resident Bald Eagles. She came to the refuge in 2005 after being found at the base of a tree in Wyoming. She was attacked by Crows when she was just a nestling. She seemed to be pretty happy just chilling on her log next to her coi pond with a piece of fish stuck to her talon. Then again, she is being kept in a habitat that is right on the Jersey Devil's path of terror.

This male model is "Digger" he's a Red Fox and he's pretty bad ass. I had to "SnapChop" his photo because he was making such a funny face. Snap Chop is probably the most entertaining IPhone app. It takes your photos and adds random captions to them. I thought this one was very fitting. Even though Digger is disabled and has a problem with his leg, he needed double fencing and actually has five feet of chain link fence buried below his enclosure so that he doesn't dig his way out.  I'm pretty sure he was Morgan Freeman's understudy in the "Shawshank Redemption"

 This is Big Mamma the Red Tailed Hawk. She has been at the refuge since 1989 when a car accident left her with a disabled wing and leg. So she's been around since before Martin Lawrence decided to dress up as an old heavy set lady and make not one but 3 painfully mediocre movies about it. She's the original Big Mamma and from the look on her beak, she knows it.

This is my new best friend Squam, the Barred Owl. He's been at the refuge since 2002 because an impact injury left him blind in one eye. I'm pretty much in love with him and I think the feeling is mutual, I mean look at the way he is looking at me! Amazing.

After all our searching, we finally found the New Jersey Devil and as you can see from this photo, he's kind of a big deal.  Actually this is "Little Girl" A woman in NJ found her as a small kit and raised her as a pet with a collar and a leash for 2 months before bringing her here. Now she is so used to humans that she cannot be released into the wild. I think in this photo, she is sleeping with her head hanging off a hammock. Either that, or she was seriously considering having me for breakfast.

The amazing thing about visiting the Refuge, was that after we crossed the bridge to the area where the animals were housed, we did not see any other human beings. we were in the woods next to a lake, connecting with these animals up close. Its wonderful to know there is a place like this that helps to protect our wildlife.

The Cedar Run wildlife refuge also helps to educate over 19,000 students each year through their on site and outreach programs. The also run an adoption program where you can support one of their animals for a year.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm hooked on Sandy!!!!

I had two lovely days off for the 4th of July and as we are still experiencing one of the worst heat waves I've ever felt, I did what most people do on a hot July day; I went to the beach!
Sandy Hook State Park in New Jersey is not your typical Jersey Shore beach. You won't have a "Situation" with anyone named "Snookie" and instead of a boardwalk filled with Bars, you will see sand dunes filled with birds and a possible appearance of seals (I have yet to see any.) there is also a really cool (and somewhat creepy) abandoned army coastal defense post called Fort Hancock. It was developed in 1895 to protect New York Harbor from Attack and remained active until 1974. The fort operated like a small town. it had its own school, movie theater, chapel, and even it's own baseball team. During WWII, the garrison of soldiers grew from 400 to over 18,000.  below are some pictures of the abandoned living quarters.  Pretty sweet diggs if you ask me. You really can't beat that ocean front view.

Within Fort Hancock is also the Sandy Hook Lighthouse which is the oldest Lighthouse in the United States. Being the skeptic that I am, I found that hard to believe and had to do a little research.  It turns out that the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island was the first lighthouse built in America in 1716 but it was dammaged in the Revolutionary war and had to be rebuilt in the late 1700's.  That means the oldest lighthouse as it was originally constructed is the one on Sandy Hook, built in 1764.
Enough with the boring history lesson. I came here for a reason and was not intending to leave until I was at least 2 shades darker.  There are several beaches to chose from in Sandy Hook. I usually head to the North Beach. If you are taking the Ferry from Downtown New York, this is probably the closest  to your drop off point and also provides a view of the New York skyline... which is awesome if you are playing hooky from work and can vaguely make out the outline of your office from your glorious spot on the beach. Most of the beaches have bathrooms and concession stands at the entrance. One beach that I would recommend avoiding though, is Gunnison Beach. This is Sandy Hook's Nude
Beach. I've accidentally gone there before. Yes, I swear it was completely accidental and I will surely never go there again. It is not what you picture when you think of a Nude Beach. I warned one of my friends to avoid it, and she went anyway thinking that it was no big deal. She ended up having nightmares for two days.   Their Motto is, "Life is short... Play Naked." but it is mostly older heavy set men who are heeding this philosophy.  They Proudly strut around the beach with hands behind their backs so as not to hide any of their normally hidden parts, and the best way to describe the activity in the ocean is Frolicking.  there is lots of hopping, flopping, jumping and accentuated body movements in the water. No Judgement from me if this is what you are in to, or if you are an older man who likes to frolic naked in the ocean. But if you have never been to a nude beach, this is probably not the place for you.
The rest of dear old Sandy is lovely and I would highly recommend a visit. If driving, there is a $15 per car fee. If you are taking the Ferry, I believe it is $26 one way.  Carpooling might be the way to go.  There is also a bike rental place near Fort Hancock and all 7 miles of Sandy hook is lined with bike trails so it's a great way to see the area and some of the wildlife.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Great Swamp Caper

Today was 95 degrees... not your normal 95 degree day, but the kind that causes your fingers to swell up and give you that weird muffin top over your wedding rings. What better day to kick off my commitment to getting outdoors more than a hot day like today, and what better place to go than the hottest stickiest place I can think of;  A Swamp!  We ventured out to The Great Swamp National Wildlife refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ.  The Swamp was formed about 25,000 years ago when the Melting Wisconsin Glacier poured into the Passaic River valley.  It's only about 40 minutes from Hoboken and they have easy trails on boardwalks so we wouldn't be over-exerting ourselves in this heat.  There are more traditional hiking trails as well but we decided not to do that today. 
  I have to say, when we set out to go here, I couldn't help but think of the Great Fire Swamp from my favorite childhood movie, "The Princess Bride."  I was picturing James sinking into the quicksand, being attacked by a Rodent of Unusual size and me having to save him. This place couldn't be further from the Great Fire swamp. And the closest thing we saw to a Rodent of Unusual Size was this guy below who was more of a rodent of unusual posture:

I like to call him "Yoga Squirrel" or "Downward Facing Squirrel." It was very unusual the way he was holding his tail and he kept flicking it towards his head. I've read that this may be a form of communication used during mating season which falls right around this time for them.

  This was about the extent of the wildlife that we saw and you probably won't see too much more than that, especially if you are accompanied by a loud flip-flop wearer like I was.
It was amazing though to hear the sound of the wind picking up speed through the trees. This is a sound I never appreciated when I was growing up but I miss it so much now that we live in an urban area. It starts of with a slow gentle rustle and picks up intensity almost like the sound of applause in an opera house.   I like to think the leaves were applauding the chorus of birds in the treetops.  I tried to take some photos of the birds but they were too quick and the one time I almost got a shot, James turned around and yelled, "What are you trying for a Big Year or something?" oh well.
 One thing we did see a lot of were Dragonflies. These were the biggest I've ever seen, some being about the size of my index finger. I get really creeped out when insects are big enough that you can notice thier eyes looking back at you. This may or may not be because one of my girlfriends made me watch "The Fly" at a sleepover party when we were much too young to be watching it.:
 He's pretty amazing looking, but he's definitely looking at me like he wants to hurt me... or eat me.

I think the part of the walk that excited James the most was the turtles. He kept stopping to look for them but was not successful until we reached the end of the boardwalk. We must have stumbled upon Turtle Mecca. I counted at least 20 turtles just that we could see alone! I watched this one little guy pull himself up onto a lilly pad and was amazed to see the size of his claws. I didnt even know that turtles had such long and sharp claws. I looked it up and read that amphibious turtles have sharp long claws to pull themselves up onto banks and logs and that males are particularly long because they may use them to stimulate the female during mating. ouch!
Other than the few animal sightings that we were lucky to see, the area was quite beautiful. I would imagine that Autumn is very nice here and much less humid. If my camera strap was not stuck to my neck with sweat, I would have ventured onto one of the more traditional hiking trails but the boardwalk was good enough for today.  The Swamp is definitely worth a visit even if you only stay for a couple of hours. If you are looking for a place to eat, head into the center of Basking ridge. It's an adorable little historic town with lots of cute shops and restaurants.  I will definitely go back there possibly to visit Jockey Hollow, one of the Revolutionary War sites, or even Washington's winter home.  Stay tuned for more.