One big perk of visiting Paul's family (in addition to seeing everyone, of course) is that I sometimes get the chance to explore the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a truly strange and interesting place (and very different from the New England forests I'm used to). Even better, I get my own personal tour guide in Paul's dad, who is always willing to share his great knowledge about the wildlife and history of the area. So this past weekend, when we made our way into the wild lands of South Jersey to join everyone for an early Thanksgiving, I got to go on another adventure. :)
This time, Paul's dad took me to Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest, which was the name that still appeared on the signs and map I saw there). It's quite a big piece of land, as Google Maps tells me, encompassing areas that -- once upon a time, a century or so ago -- held industries and homes, but are now mainly forest. We spent most of our time driving around what was once a productive cranberry farm. The bogs are still there, as are the cranberries, but the place has become a little more wild in the intervening years:
I love the purple hue on those cranberry leaves, which make up most of the bog in the above picture, and the berries themselves are so festive:
We saw a few people wandering through the bogs, gathering the bright red berries into plastic bags. I munched on a berry out of curiosity, and it really wasn't as sour as I was expecting -- perhaps I picked a particularly ripe one. :)
There were a few other treats to be found on our adventure as well. This male Eastern Bluebird, along with his girlfriend, were hanging out with a flock of goldfinches in the trees next to the bog:
And this juvenile Northern Water Snake was sunning itself right in the middle of the sandy road:
Isn't it a little late in the season for you to be out, little creature? Not only was this snake much smaller than the others of its species that I usually see (it was about the size of a small Garter Snake), but its banded pattern was much clearer and brighter, too -- very pretty:
But that was nothing compared to the fantastically gorgeous and intricate pattern on its belly:
I've certainly never seen a Northern Water Snake from this angle before -- they're usually too big and imposing to try to pick up -- and it was quite a pleasant discovery! In the end, we encouraged the little snake to find a less hazardous place to bask, and we all moved on our way.
I think another trip to this bog in the spring may be in order, if the timing works out -- I suspect there will be many interesting plants and animals to see in a more active season in this place!