This past weekend was full of adventures as Paul and I visited family and friends up and down the east coast. Our first stop was a visit with Paul's parents, who live right in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. On Sunday morning, Paul's dad and I headed out to explore the nearby Franklin Parker Preserve, a former cranberry farm that is now being reverted to natural wetlands and woods. We saw tons of interesting things on our walk, including several plants and creatures that were totally new to me. The Pine Barrens is such a strange and amazing place!
Our walk took us around wet (and lush!) bogs and lakes, but the ground we were walking on was dry and sandy, typical for the Pine Barrens. A lot of the plants growing in this sandy soil seemed especially adapted to their harsh environment; put another way, there were some weird plants here! What looked like clumps of spiky moss and misplaced white flowers turned out to be a little plant called Pine Barren Stitchwort (Minuartia caroliniana):
How cool that such a tough-looking plant produces such delicate flowers:
The tiny yellow flowers of Pineweed (Hypericum gentianoides) were also decorating the sandy path; these apparently leafless plants almost look like some sort of succulent to me, but they're actually a type of St. Johnswort:
The wetlands were also brimming with flowers. I didn't see any orchids (alas), but I was impressed by these pretty and abundant Meadow Beauty (genus Rhexia) flowers:
A Painted Turtle watched us from the water among floating bladderwort blooms:
And a wonderfully pudgy Fowler's Toad hopped across our path:
We have Fowler's Toads in Connecticut as well, but I've only ever seen American Toads before. What a lovely sandy creature.
Several bushes along the path (I neglected to ID these plants) were host to these intense Azalea Caterpillars (Datana major), who curled around to show their spiky red legs when we got too close:
A Field Sparrow popped up with a well-caught mantis meal:
Not shown beyond the right-hand edge of the above picture: a hummingbird that I really should have tried harder to photograph. All we were able to figure out in the few moments it buzzed around us was that it wasn't a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (it was bigger, rufous and green and white, and with black stripes down the sides of its face), and since Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds in this area, that pretty much means it was some far-wandering individual from Mexico or another exotic place.... So yeah, no picture, which means no ID (since neither of us are familiar with non-local hummingbirds) and no lasting evidence of the strange visitor to New Jersey. Ah well, it was a cool and unique sight nonetheless.
A subtly-marked (presumably female) Black-and-White Warbler foraged up and down pine trunks while a Pine Warbler family searched for food in the trees' branches:
Acrobatic maneuvers and grappling-hook claws sure do make hunting on tree trunks easier:
As we were leaving, another creature showed off its pine-trunk climbing skills as well. I saw a quick scuttle in the sand and then Paul's dad spotted this creature heading up a neighboring tree. An Eastern Fence Lizard!
I've never seen a fence lizard before, and New Jersey is right on the northern border of this species' range. It's so cool to be in a place where lizards scurry up trees! I suspect that this individual is a female because of the dark wavy lines on her back. What a lovely spiky face she has:
The lizard shimmied around to the other side of the tree after a bit. Such amazing camouflage!
Tiny spots of blue showed under this creature's chin, which I think is also consistent with female fence lizards' patterning; males have huge swathes of blue on their chins and sides during breeding season:
I'm always glad for a chance to explore the Pine Barrens. This place never ceases to amaze!