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Harbor Seals in New Jersey – Nine Things to Know

Harbor Seals in New Jersey – Nine Things to Know

There are seals at the the Jersey Shore! In early April, we spotted over a dozen Harbor Seals off the shore at Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreational Area in New Jersey.

Seals migrate down to New Jersey from New England and Canada to escape the frozen waters during winter. Here, they can haul on secluded beaches to rest, relax and feed on an abundance of fish and crustaceans found in the bay area between New Jersey and New York City waters.

As it turns out, seals (pinnipeds) are common during the winter. Although they are not classified as threatened or endangered, according to Conserve Wildlife NJ, “They are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.” It is against the law to approach a seal, touch, feed or bother it.



Harbor Seals (Pinnipeds) hauling in calm, shallow water on a warm April day at Sandy Hook, NJ, USA.

Nine Things to Know about Harbor Seals in New Jersey


Why do seals lay around in the sun?

On sunny days, seals need to come out of the cold water to warm up their bodies. Known as hauling, they need peaceful, undisturbed rest in the sun to recharge their energy. If they become disturbed, they will abandon the haul-out site and may never return to that location again.

What is a Pinniped?

It means fin-footed. These amphibious marine mammals include seals, sea lions, fur seals and walrus.  The Harbor Seal is the most common seal spotted in New Jersey. Other species include the gray seal, which is larger; the harp seal, and the least common hooded seal.  Male and female seals look very much the same; the male is a little longer and heavier.

Why do seals haul out in large groups?

Seals are social animals. They also hang out in groups to avoid predators. While hauling, they will interact with other seals, watch over and raise their pups, molt, and even give birth!


A Harbor Seal suns in shallow water along the shore.

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

Do seals go far on land?

Seals have very limited mobility on land. If you see one on the shore, keep a least 50 yards away. Even though they look like giant puppies, it is important to remember that they are wild animals with sharp teeth. Their powerful jaws mimic the bite of a pit bull dog. Furthermore, their mouths contain a harmful bacteria, resulting in infection, loss of fingers, or much worse.

How long can seals go under the water?

Seals can go underwater for up to 30 minutes, although, they typically spend about 15 minutes underwater. They can even sleep underwater!

What do seals eat?

They mostly eat fish, but shellfish and crustaceans are also a big part of their diet. Depending on availability of food, they will do shallow and deep dives while searching for their next meal.


Harbor Seal Pup near the shore on a sunny day. 

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

How long do seals live?

The lifespan of the harbor seal is longer for the female, which live up to 35 years. The male seals typically live 20 to 25 years old; a shorter lifespan that may be affected by the stress of fighting during breeding seasons.

I spotted a seal on the beach – what should I do?

If you spot a seal on the shore that may be injured, call the NJ Marine Mammal Stranding Center at (609) 266-0538. Do not approach the seal. If the seal is injured, you can scare it back into the water where it may be killed.

Are seal numbers declining?

Actually, the number of seals have increase each winter – a positive outlook for these fin-footed cuties. If you hearing of a sighting in the area and get a chance to see them, bundle up and bring binoculars. Since they are not always in the same place, expect to walk up to a mile in sandy beaches.


A Harbor Seal on the beach working on her abs.  

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay


So there you have it. Although very cute, seals are quite dangerous. Enjoy them from a distance to leave them undisturbed so that they will return again and again. Bundle up, pack your binoculars and camera and hope you get to see some Harbor Seals along the New Jersey shore!

What It’s Really Like to Live with House Rabbits

What It’s Really Like to Live with House Rabbits

The traditional Easter Holiday is on the way. It has different meanings for some folks, but many associate Easter with Rabbits, specifically, the Easter Bunny Rabbit. Cute photos of bunnies pop up everywhere surrounded by pretty flowers, brightly colored eggs and baskets brimming with candy. Their adorable faces create demand for pet rabbits.

Forget about putting a rabbit in a hutch outside. Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to living with House Rabbits?  I’m here to tell you!

Be sure to read to the end to watch “30 seconds of Cuteness”!

Believe it or not, our rabbit journey began by fostering Guinea Pigs. We would drive over an hour to the “Guinea Pig exchange”, which was a mid-point for the Guinea Pig dealer and our house. It was in a parking lot behind a budget hotel off Exit 8 on the NJ Turnpike! We would be so excited to meet a new little furry friend and care for them until their forever owners were found. After fostering over 20 Guinea Pigs, we thought it would be fun to get a rabbit.


baby bun

Baby Bun was a visitor in the yard – not actually a pet.  Sure had a personality, though!

Our local pet/farm supply store had a rabbit running around the store with a bell around it’s neck. It was adorable and amazing. Soon after, Benjamin Bunny became available to foster. We drove over three hours to get him. After just one day, we realized we failed Rabbit Fostering 101 – we decided to keep him. That was 15 years ago.

Benjamin was with us for about eight years. During that time, we also adopted two older rabbits, Thumper, a lop-earred rabbit from my cousin and an older dwarf named Fred. Benjamin was the last to pass over the Rainbow Bridge.

We found a bonded pair about two weeks later. We frantically emailed the facility and already had new names for them. Luckily, they were still available for adoption and we brought Reggie and Rufus home.

reggie rabbit




Here are 10 things to know what it’s really like to live with two House Rabbits.


1. Bonding basics: Do all Rabbits get along with each other?

As cute as they seem, not all rabbits get along right away. It is necessary for one rabbit to be the dominant rabbit. This is usually the larger one. They must go through a period of bonding – getting used to each other, like a gradual buildup of friendship – so that one rabbit is declared dominant.  Ever see Watership Down?

Best Bunnies.

Once bonded, it is very sweet to see them groom each other, look after each other, be best bunny buddies.  Bonding is most successful with neutered and spayed rabbits.


Reggie and Rufus lived together in the same cage. They were considered bonded, but it was probably out of fear. As they began to experience some freedom in our house, they discovered more of their own personalities and their so-called bond was broken. We did not recognize the circling behavior – the first step of aggressiveness.


Until the dominant rabbit is established, they can become violent towards each other . It happens very quickly – some nipping escalates into an all-out fight with tumbling rabbits tearing tufts of fur.


Upon arriving home one day, it was clear that they had an episode of fighting.  We immediately separated them. In the days and weeks that followed, Rufus would try to make friends with Reggie by sniffing through his cage, but Reggie would usually nip back.  We could not bond them – they would be kept in separate houses from then on.

Bonded buns from Rebekka D of Pixabay

2. Are rabbits destructive? What to know about rabbits chewing.

Chewing is done out of necessity because their teeth grow constantly.  Same as Guinea Pigs.  All wires must be covered or tucked away. They especially love laptop wires – all it takes is a bite – and the charger is ruined. Hope you have an extra one!

Chewing on wood is popular.

Whether it’s the coffee table or the door molding, rabbits will chew them. It helps to have some untreated wooden crates to house them in, where they can also get their share of chewing. Heavy cardboard works too. Be creative – the more it resembles some type of housing or cover, they more they chew.

3. Do rabbits like to dig? What to know about rabbits tearing and digging.

Rabbits also love to tear things, especially rugs and carpets. If you have some old blankets, they’ll fix ’em up too – like Swiss Cheese – in a matter of seconds. Have lots of little area rugs and old blankets for them to work on. They will also eat part of them – natural cotton is the best choice in this case.

4. Are rabbits territorial? What to know about rabbits marking.

One of the main reasons to get rabbits “fixed” is so that they do not have the desire to mark their territory by spraying a little urine. They also rub their chin on objects they deem as their property – a much better way of proclaiming their possesions!

rufus chin

Rufus about to “chin” the Easter Bunny

5. Picking up after rabbits: Beans.

House Rabbits is that can easily be litter trained. Bedding material consists of newspaper, fluffed paper bedding and a sprinkling of pine pellets.

Rufus is excellent at using his litter box. However, he does drop a few beans, especially where he spends the most time relaxing during the day. This is normal and OK – rabbit beans resemble Cocoa Puffs and can be cleaned up quickly with no odor or mess left behind.

6. The other stuff

Now for the fun facts – Rabbits have a very complex digestive system. They need to eat a high-fiber diet, consisting of about 80% Timothy Hay. About mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon, they produce a different type of dropping called cecotropes. They must ingest the second type, which has a different consistency and odor.

According to House Rabbit Society, cecotropes are not considered feces. The cecotropes contain essential nutrients that are eaten soon after production. Without them, rabbits can quickly succumb to malnutrition. In any case, they usually produce cecotropes at a time when you’re not around and it is done quickly. What a relief!

7. Can rabbits learn tricks?

If you spend a good amount of time with your rabbit, they can learn how to perform a few little tricks, go in their cage, and most often, show up for a snack. For example, Rufus will stand on his hind legs if you stand with a small treat and say “Up Up”. With some hesitation, they will go return to their house with “Bye Bye”. If they hear a certain sound, they will show up expecting a snack and won’t give up until they get one.

Bunny Tricks by Francis Delapena at Unsplash

8. Do rabbits make noises?

Rabbits are very quiet animals – one of the great reasons for having one, especially if you are not a fan of barking dogs. However, their sense of awareness is quite amazing. If they hear a strange sound or suspect there is a predator or large animal outside, such as a cat or deer, they will thump loudly, requiring you to inspect the area for safety.


Some rabbits will also make a purring-like noise when they are relaxed. Rabbits do this by gently grinding their teeth together, quietly.


Don’t startle a rabbit, especially during nap time.  They will likely grunt at you and a nip may follow. This happens with Rufus if you “bother” him during his afternoon nap or if Reggie doesn’t get his breakfast quickly enough. They will also bite the wires on their cages to get your attention if they are not happy about something. In Reggie’s case, again, it’s not having breakfast ready fast enough.


Rabbits have a very keen sense of hearing. A quiet, calm enviornment is required. A certain crinkly bag noise will alert them of their favorite treats. The sound of the refrigerator door opening also warrants attention to a snack.

9. What should I feed my rabbit? A proper Rabbit Diet.

Timothy Hay consists of 80% of a proper rabbit diet. The fiber helps their digestion and also helps them keep their teeth trim. Otherwise, a small serving of fresh greens like Kale, dandelion leaves and Romaine lettuce is provided for breakfast and supper.

An occasional treat includes a grape, baby carrot, apple peel, raisin, banana piece. Finally, they enjoy Timothy Hay biscuits and a very small serving of cereal – Rabbit pellets – a tiny pinch sprinkled on their hay.


Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail relies on fresh greens – so do House Rabbits

10. Rabbit maintenance: Care and Grooming.

a.  Do rabbits shed? 

Rabbits molt their fur once per year. The amount of fur is remarkable – brushing takes too long and best saved for the end of this process. Luckily, they molt during early Spring, so this can be done outside: A towel, brush and bag is used and each rabbit spends at least 10 minutes per session being “plucked”.


The fur is removed in stages, but some parts come out faster than others. Fur is never yanked – just a gentle tug when petting the rabbit releases an abundance of fur.

Most molting is done over a two-week period, but can last longer, depending on the rabbit. Reggie can tolerate grooming for hours and hours. Rufus gets nervous after about ten minutes. During the remainder of the year, rabbits do shed, but it largely depends on the breed. Reggie barely sheds.

b.  Do you have to clip their nails?

Rabbit’s nails must also be trimmed regularly. This is done by placing the rabbit on it’s back. It helps to cover the rabbits eyes and be in a very quiet and calm environment – otherwise, you will get scratched and kicked and the session will need to resume the next day. I’m not an expert, but usually hold each nail taught and securely trim to the paw hairline. This is done about every six weeks.

c.  Do rabbits need baths?

Rabbits are very clean and do not need baths, nor do they smell. They usually groom each other. In our case, we mimic grooming by petting them with a stuffed animal. Reggie will move his head under your closed fist for more petting and grooming.

d.  Do rabbits have to go to the vet regularly?

They do not require regular vet visits. However, if they do go, prepare to pay a lot, about $400 USD for an average visit. Be sure to have a vet before getting a rabbit.


Do you think you would like a house rabbit? You can sense that they have unique personalities. They are quiet and smart. They need a specific diet and lots of free time to move around a rabbit-proofed house. They typically live eight to ten years long.

It’s hard for me to imagine not having a pet rabbit, but it’s not for everyone. Think about it before getting an Easter Bunny for your kids – most likely, you will be the one to clean their litter boxes and provide the proper care, maintenance and attention they require and deserve.

Hope you enjoyed learning about what it’s really like to have a house rabbit!

A Winter Hike and Wildlife:  Looking for Porcupines

A Winter Hike and Wildlife: Looking for Porcupines

A winter hike can be a great experience. Recent snowfall turned a leisurely hike to a more strenuous activity, requiring snowshoes. It was peaceful and easier than ever to see wildlife.  There were footprints in the snow. Hawks, Juncos and Chickadees were found in trees. And, to our delight, we spotted a Porcupine!

Porcupines can be a little tricky to find, even in the winter. To the average person, if the Porcupine is not hanging out towards the end of a branch, it may be overlooked as a squirrel nest.

During the day, they may rest near the truck of the tree. Their dark color can provide camoflauge against the bark, especially in Pine or Hemlock trees.

porcupine (2)

Porcupine in a Pine Tree. The branches make it difficult to get a clear photo.

Porcupine Facts

The North Amercian Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is the second largest rodent in North American, behind the North American Beaver.

  • Porcupines weigh from 10 to 28 pounds (4.5 to 13kg). For a diet consisting mainly of trees, that’s pretty heavy!
  • They are typically dark brown or black in color with white highlights.
  • Their bodies are stocky, with short legs, a short and a thick tail.
  • Although they have big brown eyes, their vision is not very good.

When are porcupines active?

They are mostly nocturnal – active at night – and have an amazing memory for finding their way through mazes to food sources and back to their dens.

Can porcupines shoot their quills?

The most familar feature about a Porcupine is their quills. An adult has about 30,000 quills on most of it’s body, except for it’s underbelly, face, and feet.

Although the quills are used as a defense mechanism, they cannot throw or shoot their quills. They will contract their muscles when threatened, causing the quills to stand up from their body. This makes it much easier for the quills to detach from their body.

Backing up into the predator is a commmon way of defense, leaving the attacker with a patch of painful quills that are hard to remove. The quills look long and straight, but they actually have little barbs which stick into the flesh of the enemy. Ouch.


porcupine (3)

Porcupine in Pine Tree during winter.

Do Porcupines hibernate?

Unlike our Groundhog friends, Porcupines do not hibernate. They hang out in trees close to their dens in the winter. The den may be a rock crevice or cave, a hollow log, or sometimes under a barn or shed.

How long do Porcupines live?

Porcupines are naturally social-distant, living mostly solitary lives up to 30 years. They may starve, fall out of a tree, or get hit by a car.

The Male Fisher is it’s greatest natural enemy. The Fisher can climb trees. If it can cause the Porcupine to climb down, it will attack the face and underbelly.

What is a baby Porcupine called?

One of my favorite things was to learn that baby Porcupines are called Porcupettes. Their quills are soft when they are born, thankfully for Mama, and will begin to harden within a few days. Typically, only one Porcupette is born at time.

What do Porcupine eat?

They will eat conifer needles and tree bark. The damage they do to trees makes them a pest to some people.

Porcupines love salt.  They will seek out road salt, which can also result in getting hit by cars. They will also eat plywood for it’s salt content and even eat sweat-soaked leather gloves and wooden tool handles from forestry workers.

Some Porcupines love Pumpkins, like the famous Teddy in this YouTube video.  They make the cutest noises ever!


Photographing Porcupines

It is not easy to get a good photo of the Porcupine in the wild, despite it’s slow movement. It is almost always obstructed by tree branches. Otherwise, it it curled up and sleeping or will move closer to the trunk, where it will hide it’s face. They are usually high up in a tree.


Porcupine at the Zoo, image by Eliza28diamonds of Pixabay



Next time you are out on a hike, especially in Winter, be sure to check for wildlife.  You might just spot a Porcupine while you’re at it!

Interesting Groundhog Day facts you may not know

Interesting Groundhog Day facts you may not know

Groundhog Day is a fun holiday to look forward to. A chubby brown critter gets his day in the spotlight every February 2nd.

As the story goes, if it is sunny and clear, there is six more weeks of winter. Spring would come early if it was cloudy.

So how did this tradition get started?

Here are interesting facts about Groundhog Day that you may not have known.


The original holiday from Germany was Candlemas, also celebrated on February 2nd. Early European Christians believed that if the sun came out on this holiday, there would be six more weeks of winter.

An old English rhyme helps us to remember:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

Candlemas, or the Blessing of the Candles, is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church. It occurs 40 days after December 25 – Christmas Day – and marks the end of the Christmas season.  It is also the meeting of the Christ child in the temple.

It is celebrated a little differently in various regions of the world.

Here are some traditions:

  • Crepes, the delicate golden sweet pancake, are a traditional food in Belgium, France and Swiss Romandy. It is thought to have the likeness of a of a solar disc, meaning the return of Spring after the darkness of winter. All candles in the house should be lit.


  • In Mexico, the day is celebrated with adoration of the Christ Child with richly decorated clothes and brought to the church to be blessed. Afterwards, the entire family is invited to a meal of Tamales.


  • One of the largest cultural festivals in Peru celebrates the Virgin of Candelaria. It is one of the three largest festivals in South America, the others being Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and in Bolivia, Carnaval de Oruro. Music, dancing and elaborate costumes are at the core of the festivals. Thousands of people are involved as participants, organizers, musicians, and costume makers.
groundhog kit in grass happy groundhog day (2)

So how did a Christian holiday turn into a celebration of Groundhogs?

 Germans settled into Pennsylvania in the 1880’s. Many of them were farmers. In Germany, they relied on a hedgehog to help them with the weather, since they didn’t have TV’s or satellites.

They adapted to the tradition when they arrived in the United States. They used the Groundhog, commonly found in PA and the northeast, as their weather prognisticator.

    Punxsutawney Phil

    • Ever since the debut of the movie, upwards of 30,000 people would gather in the small town of Punxsutawney, located about 1.5 hrs northeast of Pittsburgh, PA, for the annual celebration.
    • You can visit Phil in his burrow- he lives at the Public Library. The town is also decorated with 32 artistic larger than life Groundhogs lining the streets of the town.

    Phil is not the only famous Groundhog. Other famous Groundhogs include:

    • Staten Island Chuck, also known as Charles. G. Hogg, resides at the Staten Island Zoo in New York. My favorite memory is when the ex-Mayor of New York (Mike Bloomberg) stuck his hand in the cage – and got bitten. Don’t mess with the Groundhog!
    • Jimmy The Groundhog is from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. In 2016, he also bit the Mayor, who thought it would be cute for the Groundhog to whisper in his ear. Wrong!
    • Chatanooga Chuck lives at the Tennesee Aquarium
    •  General Beauregard Lee, from Jackson, Georgia, makes home at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.
    • Thistle the Whistlepig hails from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
    • Stonewall Jackson VIII* from Space Farms Zoo and Museum is a resident of Sussex County, New Jersey. *There have been several generations of Stonewall Jackson, I think they’re up to eight.
    young groundhog pair near shed

    A couple of cute Groundhog kits outside the shed on a sunny Spring morning.

    Other names for a Groundhog include Woodchuck, which some believe have origins from the Algonquin name of Wuchak. They are also known as Whistle Pigs, Ground Squirrel and Gopher. They are from the Marmot family, Marmota Monax is their scientific name.


    Groundhogs have skills.

    • They are powerful tunnelers, digging complex tunnels over 30 feet long with multiple entryways and chambers. All that digging equates to about 700 pounds of dirt. They can also climb trees and swim.
    • They also have little stumps on their from paws, like thumbs, which allow them to hold and manipulate objects.
    • Voracious herbivores with an occasional sprinkle of grasshopper, they seem to eat constantly. They especially love grasses – and gardens – one of the main reasons gardeners and farmers try to eradicate them.
    • Their large tunnel systems can also do extensive damage to property, especially near sheds where they can easily burrow. Lawn tractors and equipment can get stuck if they do not maneuver carefully.
    groundhog kit with mom (3)

    Groundhog Kit with Mama

    More Groundhog facts:

    • Groundhogs weigh between 9-15 pounds, but put on a lot of extra weight in the fall to prepare for hibernation.
    • They’re an average of 20 inches long with a big bushy 6-inch tail.
    • They live up to 6 years old, but since they love to forage near the edge of the road, they also get hit by vehicles.
    • Other major predators include fox, coyotes, raccoons and dogs.
    • They have a litter of 4 to 9 kits or cubs. The kits open their eyes at 4 weeks old and don’t leave the den until almost 7 weeks old.

    Watch a cute video about Groundhogs:

    How accurate is Phil?

    About as accurate as most other weather predictors, about 40% of the time, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NOAA).

    Finally, Groundhogs know when winter is over.

    After their long hibernation, they emerge in early spring to look for a mate. As the weather becomes more seasonal, they appear more often.


    What is something you didn’t know about the Groundhog?  Let us know in the comments below.

    groundhog kit in grass

    If you can relate to the Groundhog or know someone who doesn’t like winter, consider getting one of these fun t-shirts.

    The Groundhog is wearing a blue or red beanie hat, with the words, “Wake Me Up When Winter is Over”. It’s fun to wear all winter long! Get yours today on Amazon $14.99 – you’ve got six more weeks!

    Wake Me Up When Winter is Over Groundhog TShirt SALE Blue
    Wake Me Up When Winter is Over Groundhog TShirt Red

    Some other designs to consider for Valentine’s Day and St. Patricks Day:

    HUG ME I'm Vaccinated
    Shenanigan Squad
    V is for Vaccinated Hug Me Bear pink

    Disclosure: Some of the links on this page contain affiliate links, such as Amazon links. I may earn a small commission from purchases made through some of the links, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products that I personally use and highly recommend. Any purchases made through affiliate links are greatly appreciated, as they enable me to continue to create content to share with you.

    Wallkill River NWR Wildlife Highlights and Activity Guide

    Wallkill River NWR Wildlife Highlights and Activity Guide

    The Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge is a diverse habitat consisting of grasslands, wetlands, a multitude of freshwater ponds, vast fields and upland forests and part of the Appalachian Trail.

    Established in 1990, it borders nine miles of the Wallkill River in Sussex County, New Jersey and Orange County, New York, managing this conserved land of over 6000 acres.

    The refuge provides quality habitat for an abundance of wildlife and recreational activities for public use.


    In 2020, it become more of a refuge for people at a time when many state parks were closed due to Covid-19. If you have not had a chance to visit, here is a list of common activities you may enjoy participating in and wildlife you may encounter.  There’s also a YouTube video below to see wildlife highlights.

    Getting There

    Due to the size of the refuge and type of activity planned, there are a number of places to choose.

    The Main Headquarters is located at 1547 Route 565, Vernon, NJ.

    Main activities and amenities include:

    • Nature Walks
    • Hiking
    • Bird Watching
    • Wildlife Observation
    • Botany and Nature study
    • Photography
    • Fishing
    • Snow-Shoeing
    • Restrooms

    The Dagmar Dale Trail traverses some open fields with views of the Kittany Ridge and High Point State Park Veterans War Memorial obelisk and follows the edge of the Wallkill River.  Take a look at a map of the trail and Main Refuge Map.

    Nearby trails:

    The Wood Duck Trail is located near the corner of Route 23 and Route 565, Sussex, NJ, across from Quick Check gas station and convenience store.

    The three mile out-and-back trail consists of an old railroad bed, so it is very flat, with marshes and light forests bordering the trail.  Here’s a map of the Wood Duck Trail.

    Activities include:

    • Walking trail
    • Bird watching
    • Botany and Nature Study
    • Photography
    • Dogs and Bikes are NOT allowed
    • No restrooms

    Similar trails:

    Timberdoodle Trail

    About 4 miles out-and-back, located on Bassett’s Bridge Road near Owens Station Crossing.  Here’s a map of the Timberdoodle Trail.

    Activities include:

    • Walking trail
    • Bird watching
    • Botany and Nature Study
    • Photography
    • Dogs and Bikes are NOT allowed
    • No restrooms

    Winding Waters Trail

    Located at Oil City Road, shared parking lot with Fishing and Canoe access to Wallkill River.  About a 2-mile walking loop through fields and picturesque parts of the Wallkill River.

    Activities include:

    • Walking trail
    • Kayaking / Canoeing in Wallkill River
    • Fishing
    • Nature trail
    • Bird watching
    • Botany and Nature Study
    • Photography
    • Hunting in winter – visiting strongly discouraged to casual observers
    • No dogs allowed
    • No restrooms

    Liberty Loop Trail

    At 2.75 miles and a mostly flat trail, it is also part of the Appalachian Trail located on Oil City Road, Pine Island, NY.  This is one of the more popular areas of the refuge, probably due to accessibility, easy walking and diverse birding opportunities.  The parking lot is small, allowing for about a dozen cars.  Here’s a map of the Liberty Loop Trail.

    Activities include:

    • Walking trail
    • Bird watching
    • Botany and Nature Study
    • Photography
    • Part of the Appalachian Trail
    • No restrooms

    Owens Station Crossing

    A new Visitors Center will open here in 2021.  It features an accessible dock where you can fish or launch a kayak.  There is a pavilion with picnic tables.  A paved trail, about 1 mile in length out and back, borders a lake used for kayaking, canoeing and fishing.  There is a very large pollinator garden that boasts a variety of beautiful perennial flowers.  Ample parking is available, as well as a restroom.

    Activities include:

    • Walking trail
    • Kayaking and Canoeing
    • Fishing (catch and release)
    • Bird watching
    • Botany and Nature Study
    • Photography
    • Dogs and Bikes are NOT allowed
    rabbit on the trail

    Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus floridanus, is a familiar sight at dawn and dusk in many parts of the refuge.

    rabbit grooming

    Eastern Cottontail Rabbit grooming.  Walk gently and quietly in order to capture wildlife closeups like this.

    This is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA), according to Audobon. Learn more about the common birds and conservation concerns outlined in this article by Audobon.

    • Since the AT shares this trail, dogs are allowed on a leash and owners must clean-up pet waste
    • If you park at Owens Station and cross the road, there is about 2 miles of recently paved trail for mobility access.
    • Notable wildlife observation is available throughout the refuge, most commonly on the Liberty Loop.

    Here is a list of common species by season, including, but certainly not limited to, the following:


    • Raptors such as Harriers, Cooper’s Hawks and Red-Tailed Hawks are common.
    • Bald Eagles have a nest located near the Wallkill River and Short-Earred Owls visit briefly
    • Winter songbirds include Northern Cardinal, Black-Capped Chickadee, Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco, Cedar Waxwings, woodpeckers, sparrows and more.
    • Snow Geese are common flyovers, sometimes landing to forage in the rich black dirt farm fields surrounding the refuge.
    • In late February and early March, Woodcock can be heard and sometimes found displaying their courtship dance, which includes an unforgettable “helicopter” flight.
    • Muskrat can be seen foraging around their lodges. They are similar to beavers, but smaller in size and do not have the engineering marvels of the beaver.
    • An occasional Red Fox and even White-tailed Deer are common throughout the year.
    • Coyote may be spotted.
    bald eagle couple

    Bald Eagles have a nest at the Liberty Loop section of the trail and are a familiar sight in winter.


    An abundance of waterfowl can be found including Northern Pintails, Wood Ducks, Widgeons, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Green-Winged Teal, Blue Teal, Ring-Necked Ducks, Common and Hooden Mergansers and Swans.

    You may also notice a Canadian Goose – hundreds and hundreds of them!

    • Thousands of Red-Winged Blackbirds arrive and stay through most of the year.
    • Common Moorhen (Gallinule) and American Coot nest and raise their young here.
    • In late spring, a huge variety of warblers visit the refuge.
    • Eastern Cottontail Rabbits are abundant in spring and fading out gradually during summer.
    • Woodchucks (Groundhogs), Eastern
    • Gray and Red Squirrels, Chipmunks and the occasional Fisher may be found.


    Warblers continue throughout the summer. Grassland-dependent birds like the Bobolink can be found here, listen for their bubbling metallic song, which reminds me of R2D2 of Star Wars.

    • Indigo Buntings are a welcome sight in the summer, as well as Egrets and Herons.
    • Baltimore Oriole, Sandhill Crane, Kingbirds
    • Double-Crested Cormorant may be found at Owens Station.
    • Common Milkweed attract Monarch Butterflies and other pollinators are plentiful
    • Frogs provide a spectular concert during mating season, especially in mornings and at dusk
    • Turtles, including the endangered Bog Turtle may be found here
    • Grasshoppers seem to pop up over every step and are an important source of food for Herons and Egret, among others
    • Dragonflies are common, especially at Liberty Loop throughout the open marshes.

    Mink, Mustelidae, on the trail on an early summer morning.


    Great Egret flies in to check out what Little Blue Heron is snacking on.


    Any of the warblers that stayed for the summer will depart for their wintering grounds.  Hawks and Raptor sightings increase, especially during their migration in early fall.  In November, Northern Pintails, Widgeon and Green Teal are common visitors.  Other wildlife sightings may include:

    • Canada Geese
    • Tundra Swans
    • Mallard and Black Ducks
    • White-Tailed Deer
    • An occasionnal Opossum
    • Bald Eagles
    • Harriers
    • Red-Tailed Hawks


    Water Activities

    Other popular activities include kayaking, canoeing and fishing at Owens Station and on the Wallkill River.

    Canoe and Kayak access points include:

    • Owens Station – easy access very close from parking
    • Oil City Road – a very short walk from the parking lot
    • Bassets Bridge Road – carry your boat on a boardwalk to access the river

    Fishing is popular at all three above locations, and also the “new” Hidden Ponds access point off Lake Wallkill Road. There is a tiny parking lot with a grass path that leads out to at least 3 large bodies of water. In the summer, look for wildflowers, pollinator butterflies and bees and hummingbirds.


    hidden ponds wallkill river NWR

    Hunting is allowed on many parts of the refuge, mostly with permit access only. White-Tailed Deer and Turkey are commonly hunted. For more info about hunting, check the refuge website.

    Some other pre-Covid activities included the following and may be re-introduced, depending on current guidelines:

    • Astrology
    • Veterans Appreciation
    • Kids Activities
    • Nature Crafts
    • Birds of Prey Demonstration
    • Releasing Rehab Birds

    Here’s a YouTube video of Highlights from many parts of the refuge with a focus on birds and wildlife:


    Is swimming allowed in the Wallkill River?

    The short answer is no. An article posted in The Other Hudson Valley outlines a number of issues,  the most common being Algae Blooms. In recent years, Algae Blooms have become more prevalent, affecting many area lakes such as Swartswood Lake State Park and Lake Hopatcong, among others. Additionally, according the post, there is a high level of fecal matter, which can host a number of dangerous pathogens. There are also aging pipes and pump stations, which can ultimately seep into the river. You’re better off with an inflatable pool if you want to go swimming.

    Are there picnic areas at the refuge?

    There are picnic tables at Owens Station. However, due to Covid, picnicking has been prohibited in public places. Check the main headquarters for updates.

    How about a snack bar?

    No, There are no vending facilities or snack bars on site. Food can attrack unwanted visitors and pests. Carry out any trash or disposable items.

    Can I rent a kayak?

    A new visitor center is being built for 2021 at Owens Station. Kayak rentals are being planned for public usage. Keep informed on the latest developments and read the article about the new visitors center posted by the NJ Herald here.

    Can I bring my dog?

    Dogs are only allowed at the Liberty Loop section of the refuge and must be kept on a leash at all times and all waste must be cleaned up immediately and carried out. Animal waste is detrimental to the health and welfare of the wildlife and people who visit the refuge.

    What are the hours?

    Most areas are open from dawn to dusk. No overnight parking is allowed on any part of the refuge.

    Is is safe to walk alone?

    If you see any suspicious or unlawful activity, here is the Division of Refuge Law Enforcement, National Wildlife Refuge System Turn In Poachers, or TIPs, hotline. Please call this phone number to report any unlawful activities observed on the refuge. 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477).

    Can I camp out at the refuge?

    No, camping is not a permitted activity. There are some great campgrounds, resorts, and hotels in the area.

    Can I ride my bike?

    No. The primary function of the refuge is to provide priority habitat for “Wildlife First”. Pets, jogging, bicycling, horseback riding and motorized vehicles are not allowed on refuge trails, which disturb visitors, wildlife and erode trails. One exception is dogs all allowed on leash on the Appalachain Trail, which spans two miles over the Liberty Loop trail.  Here’s a complete list of rules from the refuge.

    Is there an auto road, like at Forsythe or Montezuma?

    No, the refuge is best enjoyed by foot, wheelchair, stroller, or in the winter, snowshoes or cross-country skies. For more information, see Rules and Regulations.

    What should I bring?

    Other than dressing accordingly for the season and your favorite camera, binoculars are highly recommended. Serious birders will commonly have pro-grade binoculars and spotting scopes.

    If you’re looking for high value binoculars and just getting into bird watching, there are some suggestions below.

    Binoculars are rated by their magnification power (strength) and diameter of the lens in millimeters, such as 8×42 or 10×50. The higher the first number, the more distance can be captured. However, longer distance also equals more hand-shake and less light.

    For bird watching, 8×42 is the standard and also useful for boating, nature and hiking. If you are experienced at handling binoculars, consider 10×42, 10×50 or even 12×50 for details in smaller species at a distance.

    The lowest priced binoculars generally do not provide good optics, take extra time to focus and can become misaligned or break easily – very frustrating.

    Here’s a pair of high-value binoculars to consider under $100:

    Gosky 10×42, HD Professional Binoculars with Phone Mount, highly rated on Amazon

    Are there family-friendly activities?

    Yes. Most of the refuge is fairly flat so that people of all ages and most abilities can find a trail suitable for the amount of time they want to spend, activity or wildlife they wish to observe.

    The refuge is a haven for nature, birds, mammals, flora, insects and more, and can be very educational for children. In addition, Friends of WRNWR offers various activities, including Junior Refuge Manager. Check back in 2021, when their new Nature store will open.

    It is handicapped accessible?

    At Owens Station, there is a handicapped-accessible dock for fishing and for kayakers. Recently, about a 2-mile stretch has been paved at Owens and stretches over to Liberty Loop. There are excellent wildlife viewing opportunities along this stretch, and you may fish along the Owens portion of the path.

    Are there dangerous animals at the refuge?

    In general, it there are no dangerous animals at the refuge. The most dangerous threat is to be bitten by an infected tick, undetected, which could lead to Lyme Disease. Ticks are common on Deer, which are abundant throughout the refuge. They are also very common in grasslands and wherever deer forage.

    What is the best way to prevent tick bites?

    Wear light-colored clothes, tuck socks into pants, a bug repellant may help, do a quick inspections frequently, perhaps every 15 minutes, to see if you have any “hitchhikers”. They can usually just be “flicked” off if they are on your clothing.

    One of the best ways to prevent tick bits is to spray your clothes with Permethrin, an insecticide, medication which is also a pesticide. This spray should only be used outside and away from pets, small animals and children.

    Spray clothing outdoors, such as hiking boots and shoes, pants, backpacks and more, allow to dry thoroughly. As an insecticide, it will kill insects that touch the treated articles.

    Unlike insect repellent, Permethrin can irritate skin via direct contact and can also cause breathing problems to vulnerable populations if inhaled or used indoors.

    If you are looking for a more natural repellent, Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Fisherman’s Formula is a long-lasting insect repellent against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies and more.

    Are there a lot of mosquitoes at the refuge?

    Depending on the season, especially in the summer, mosquitoes can become a nuisance. Since most of the refuge is surrounded by wetlands, ponds or the Wallkill River, mosquitoes can become prevalent.

    Take caution by wearing long sleeves and pants, a hat, and using bug spray, like Off. If you are concerned about chemicals, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus is deet-free and repels mosquitoes for up to six hours. The active ingredient is Oil of lemon eucalyptus 30% (smells good, too!). Natrapel 8 Hour is another natural remedy against mosquitoes, with an active ingredient of Picaridin (20%), also a common ingredient in Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula, mentioned above.

    Other than ticks and mosquitoes, snakes can be found on most trails, although most pose no harm. Black bears may be spotted; most of the time they will run away soon after they are spotted. However, if they do not move, appear grounded or grunt, and begin to back away slowly. Waves your arms high and make a lot of noise to “shoo” them away. Do not run. For more tips on Black Bear safety, know the Bear Facts from NJ DEP.

    Are there restrooms at the Refuge?

    Yes, there are flushing toilets at the Main Refuge Headquarters. There are also pit toilets at Owens Station. However, due to Covid, many restroom facilities in public lands were closed. Check the refuge headquarters for the latest information.

    Where can I park?

    Depending on your desired activity, there are limited amounts of parking throughout the refuge. The main Headquarters and Owens have the most parking spaces, enough for about 30 vehicles. Other facilities offer an average of 10 vehicles per lot. Weekends tend to be more popular visiting times and fill up faster. Plan accordingly.

    Where can I find maps of the refuge?

    Here is a PDF Map of the refuge:  Refuge Map

    Interested in getting more involved? Visit the Friends of Wallkill River NWR for family activities, education / outreach, volunteer opportunities, make a donation, and new developments for 2021.



    Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to visit year-round.  It offers an abundance of photography opportunities for birds in flight, wildlife, flowers, insects, landscapes and more.  There are some easy trails for a short stroll or connect with the Appalachian Trail for more extensive hiking.  You can also go fishing, kayaking, canoeing and in certain areas, hunting.  If you are walking your dog (only in approved areas), please keep it on a leash at all times, clean up waste immediately and carry it out.  Please remember that first and foremost, this space is to provide the best habitat for wildlife to thrive and survive.  Enjoy and respect nature!


    Products recommended in this post, available on Amazon:

    Disclosure: Some of the links on this page contain affiliate links, such as Amazon links. I may earn a small commission from purchases made through some of the links, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products that I personally use and highly recommend. Any purchases made through affiliate links are greatly appreciated, as they enable me to continue to create content to share with you.

    Favorite Photos of 2020

    Favorite Photos of 2020

    Happy New Year!

    I wanted to share my favorite nature photos of 2020, including small animals, birds, landscapes, waterfalls and morning fog.  Scroll down to the end for my top “Pic”. 

    Hope they bring you a big smile!



    baby groundhogs

    Baby Groundhog pair pals

    chipmunk vote

    The Chipmunk too?  

    back off prairie dog

    Gimme some space!  Prairie Dogs pair

    baby bun

    Cottontail rabbit with character


    chickadee spring

    Chickadee in Spring

    tree swallow

    Tree Swallow in Spring

    cardinal spring

    Cardinal in Spring


    hay bales fog

    Morning Fog on the Field

    refuge fog fall

    Fall on the Refuge


    cormorant catfish

    Cormorant with a Catfish

    harlequin duck

    Harlequin Duck


    Esopus Meadows Lighthouse Ulster Park NY

    Esopus Meadows Lighthouse Ulster Park NY

    Rondout Lighthouse Kingston NY

    Rondout Lighthouse Kingston NY


    milford PA overlook

    Milford PA overlook in Fall

    stokes fall

    Little Flatbrook, Stokes State Forest


    magical morning

    Magical Morning

    On many weekends during the summer and fall, hot air balloons are launched when conditions are calm.  I’ve taken many photos of this balloon, but the sunrise melting away the fog on the field was really special.

    Other than the photos listed here, one of my favorite places to visit was Shohola Falls, just over the border in PA.  With all the travel restrictions in place, we were lucky to visit.


    What is your favorite photo?   Is there a special place or photograph you would like to capture in the new year?  Let us know in the comments below!  

    Happy New Year!

    Opossum in a Bare Tree and Fun Habitat Facts

    Opossum in a Bare Tree and Fun Habitat Facts

    Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, aka, North American Opossum.

    As the song goes, “And a Patridge in a Pear Tree”, from the classic Twelve Days of Christmas. It’s not a Possum – shows you how good I am with one of the best Christmas songs out there, in terms of popularity.  Anyway, I discovered this pink-nosed ball of gray fuzz this afternoon and it made me curious about Opossum habitat.

    First of all, there is a difference between Possum and Opposum; the later is native to North, Central and South America. The Possum is a common critter down under, an Aussie. However, they are both marsupials, the only ones found in North America. Finding it in this tree is actually quite common. It’s one of their favorite hang-outs. They also prefer marshes and swamps, which is also where I discovered it.

    Opossums will look for existing structures like hollow logs and trees, brush piles, or burrows of other animals. You might even find one in your garage – better keep it clean!

    They are extremely adaptable and do well in a variety of climates. As long as they have food, water and shelter, they’re pretty much good to go.

    Opossum Mama by daynaw3990 from Pixabay

    Are Opossums good for anything?

    If you happen to find this critter, which commonly roams around at dusk, don’t worry. Opossums will will actually pick through your garden looking for slugs and snails and garbage from spilled pails. They will eat rats, mice, even cockroaches! Perhaps one of the best things about them is that they will eradicate ticks – a natural deterrant against Lyme Disease.


    Fun Facts about Opposums

    • Don’t judge! Despite their suspicous looks, they almost never get rabies. Being Marsupials, they have a lower body temperature than most mammals, so their bodies do not provide the proper environment for the virus.
    • Say What? They are immune to most snake venom. The Coral Snake is the exception. They take advantage of this by chowing down on snakes whenever they get the chance. A match for the Honey Badger?
    • They can’t handle stress. One of their famous behaviors is playing dead when faced with a predator; however, they cannot choose how long they will remain absolutely still. Their intense fear of danger causes them to seize up and flop, where they may remain for hours.
    • Not a skunk, but… When the Opossum plays dead, it also brings on a wretched smell to turn off predators.
    • They have really good memories. They’re better at remembering how to get to food than cats, dogs, pigs and rats.
    • Appreciate them while you can. Despite all the great qualities you just learned about, Opossums have an unusually short lifespan compared to other mammals and marsupials. In the wild, they only live to about two years old. In captivity, they may live up to four years.

    What kind of sound does an Opossum make?

    Watch this quick video of an Opossum Mom with a head injury at a rehab center calling for her babies:

    What do you think about Opossums? 

    Has your opinion changed at all after learning a few new things? 

    Let us know in the comments below!

    And while we’re on the subject of Christmas Songs, I highly recommend this fun and catchy song by the Snake Oil Willie Band, “Gift Card“.  It’s rated PG and I happen to know these guys…  Happy Holidays!!!

    Disclosure: Some of the links on this page contain affiliate links, such as Amazon links. I may earn a small commission from purchases made through some of the links, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products that I personally use and highly recommend. Any purchases made through affiliate links are greatly appreciated, as they enable me to continue to create content to share with you.

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