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Edwin B. Forsythe NWR:  NJ Bird Photography Paradise

Edwin B. Forsythe NWR: NJ Bird Photography Paradise

Where can you go any time of year to observe and photograph birds for just about every skill level, age, physical condition in the comfort of your own car?

You got it – Forsythe is THE PLACE for Bird Photography!

In these times where social distancing is required, it is tough to think of a better place than “Forsythe”.  For starters, it features an 8-mile auto road.  It is a bird sanctuary – a bird photographer’s paradise! Driving on Wildlife Drive, there will be birds to the left of you.  And birds to the right.   Look up for more birds in flight!

It’s a National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps one of the largest in New Jersey.

According to the official website, the refuge protects over 47,000 acres of coastal habitat in southern NJ. This location makes it a prime flight path in the Atlantic Flyway, which is crucial for migrating birds in every season. As more people develop land on the NJ shoreline, this protected area becomes more important than ever.

Be aware that this post is based on the Main Refuge Headquarters and Wildlife Drive.  There are other sections of the refuge.

snow geese at forsythe

Snow Geese make a stopover during winter.  Look closely and you can see their “mugs” covered in mud from foraging in the marshlands.

Getting There

Address and link to Google Maps:

800 Great Creek Road
Oceanville, NJ 08231

From Garden State Parkway Southbound:

The refuge is easily accessed using Parkway Exit 48. You will exit onto US Route 9 South. The refuge entrance is at the 3rd traffic light (Great Creek Road). Turn left on Great Creek Road, which ends at the refuge.

Hours:

Wildlife drive is open every day from sunrise to sunset. However, routine maintenance may require closures; check the website before your visit to check what is open.

There is a fee to enter the park; $4 per car and $2 for walk-ins and bicycles. There are other options for more frequent visits.

 

common tern forsythe summer

Common Terns are a common sight in late spring and throughout the summer

Amenities

  • There is a visitor center but refuge facilities are closed. There are port-o-johns available.
  • Several picnic tables are located near the visitor center.
  • Nature trails surround the visitor center – great if you just drove a few hours to get there. Depending on season, there are tons of songbirds, warblers, squirrels, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and more.
  • Wildlife near or in the ponds surrounding the trails may include muskrats, turtles, frogs and the occassional otter and mink.

Bird Photography along Wildlife Drive

This is an amazing opportunity to get stellar close-up photos of a huge variety of birds. Your vehicle is the perfect “blind” to allow safe viewing:

  • The one-way 8-mile drive is in a square shape.  Good light will be on one at least one side of your drive for most spots along the drive.
  • For example, on a sunny morning at the begining of your drive, Atlantic City will be on your right side and be backlit. Birds on the left side of the drive will be in ideal light and will be easier to get good photographs.
  • A lens of 400mm or greater is recommended. Many of the “pros” bring their 600mm + lenses without having to lug them around – definitely a huge benefit of Wildlife Drive!

Many birds are in the pools and channels right next to the road – it is like a wildlife safari!

Very often, seagulls will fly overhead to drop a mussel or other mollusk snack to help break it open. They will wait until the last minute to get out of your way.

In late Spring and Summer, Terns, Egrets and Heron – even Night Heron – can be found near drainage areas to fish for their meals. Great photo opportunities abound!

You can get out of your vehicle, but be sure to stay on the drive.

northern pintail

Hundreds of Northern Pintail can be seen during late winter and fall migration

northern shoveler

Northern Shoveler make their way through Forsythe in the hundreds during winter months

Wildlife Highlights by Season

Winter

Winter is home to thousands of Brant, Black Ducks and Snow Geese. Raptors include Red-Tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, Short-Earred Owls, and even a Snowy Owl. Ducks like Northern Shovelers, Pintails and divers such as Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Grebes and Mergansers can be spotted. We got a special visit from this Merlin during our drive in mid-January.

merlin closeup

Closeup Merlin, also featured image

Merlin on bird sign at Forsythe

Yes – you can get THIS close – here’s the same Merlin on bird sign at Forsythe, so fitting “for the birds… and you!”

Spring

Spring is my favorite time to visit – there is just so much happening. Ospreys return, Snowy and Great Egrets, Herons, Oystercatchers, Terns and Warblers arrive, as well as all the shorebirds and sandpipers. Purple Martins can be spotted near the Visitor Center. Diamondback Terrapins lay their eggs in the soil – be careful driving. There are patches of bright Daffodils on some trails and the fruit trees produce beautiful flowers. Keep an eye out for Glossy Ibis.

Summer

Summer brings the pollinator insects and butterflies that you can see in abundance along the nature trails. The turtles are out in full force, and Fiddler crabs can be seen when the tide is low. Black Skimmers are a favorite to watch as they hover low to the water to catch any insects on the surface. Be warned – Summer is Green Fly season and it is amazing how they can swarm. Our last summer visit was in mid-July and it was difficult to put the windows down.

Fall

Be on the lookout for migrating hawks by early September. Monarch Butterflies also migrate through in order to prepare for their final journey south. As the weather gets colder and the days become shorter, foliage turns brilliant colors of yellow, orange, red to rust. As the frost arrives, so do wintering ducks and geese – their home for the win

black swallowtail on pink knapweed

This beautiful Black Swallowtail on Pink Knapweed was captured near the Wildflower Nature Trail, just outside the Visitor Center.

Notable Information

In order to keep up to date on the most recent sightings, be sure to check out ebird.org, a popular bird sighting and reporting app developed by Cornell, where hundreds of users report daily sightings, many of them regular and reliable visitors to the refuge.

Extending your stay?

If you are planning to make a few extra stops or extend your stay, be sure to check out Historic Smithville, located about 5 miles from the refuge headquarters.

  • There are over 50 specialty shops, about 10 different eateries, including the Smithville Inn, where you can also stay the Night.
  • The setting could hardly be more picturesque. The shops are a collection of wooden clapper board-syle building that surround a lake.
  • There is a train, carosel and even a covered bridge! There are events year-round. Check out their highly informative and up-to-date site Historic Smithville map and info.

If you do plan on staying, there are hotels in nearby Little Egg Harbor; we haved stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton a few times, located about 20 minutes from the refuge.

For a quick pit-stop, there is a Wawa convenience store just up the road from Smithville, on Route 9 (from GSP South x 48)

If you like golf, there are some beautiful resorts in Galloway, including the Galloway National Golf Club. High-end restaurants, spas and other lodges options can be found in Galloway.

For a regional visit, I highly recommend staying in Cape May, home to the World Series of Birding.

There are many opportunities for lodging, including AirBNB rentals. You can even take your vehicle on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry for about a 1.5 hrs trip to Delaware to visit more Wildlife Refuges. We did this and visited Bombay Hook NWR, which also has a wildlife drive. In my humble opinion, Forsythe is much better. The ferry ride was nice, but it does take up most of the day because you have to arrive early for security, etc.

egret

Great Egret photo from Bombay Hook NWR.  This photo was captured in the Birds as Art (BAA) style of world renowed photographer Arthur Morris

FAQ and Resources

Here are some resources to help facilitate you on your journey to Forsythe – they are all from the official Forsythe NWR site and include PDF Maps and other great info to accompany your visit:

Is swimming allowed?

No, the refuge was built to protect wildlife and provide and maintain resources for them to survive and thrive.  Besides, salt marshes have mud flats, insects, crustaceans: a buffet for birds, definitely not a swimming hole.  Go to the beach or local pool for swimming.

Are there picnic areas at the refuge?

There are picnic tables near the visitor center. However, due to Covid, picnicing has been prohibited in public places. Check the main headquarters for updates.

How about a snack bar?

No, but there are vending machines at the Visitor Center. Carry out any trash or disposable items.

Can I bring my dog?

No, pets are not allowed at the refuge.  Dogs are highly disturbing to all the ducks, birds and other wildlife that call the refuge home.  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.

Can I camp out at the refuge?

No, camping is not a permitted activity. There are some great resorts and hotels in the area.  Camping in popular as you make your way to Shore points.

Can I ride my bike?

Yes! Be advised that Wildlife Drive is a dirt-packed road.  It can be very dusty on windy days and muddy during rainy season.  The road is out in the open except at beginning and towards end, where there are trees to get some respite from the sun.

There is also a fee that must be paid before entering the loop road.

Can I launch my boat from Wildlife Drive?

No.  Wildlife Drive is restricted to vehicles, walking, or bike riding only.  The refuge encompasses 47,000 acres; there are other sections that do allow boating

Boats may be launched at the Brigantine Division’s Scotts Landing boat ramp, located at the end of Scotts Landing Road, off Moss Mill Road, at Leeds Point.

Can I go fishing along Wildlife Drive?

No, not along Wildlife Drive, but there are designated areas at Brigantine and Barnegat divisions under Federal and State regulations.  According to the website:

  • These areas include: Salt water fishing (from land) at Gravelling Point, Little Beach (with permit), Parkertown Dock Rd, Cedar Run Dock Rd, and Stafford Ave.
  • Boats may be launched at the Brigantine Division’s Scotts Landing boat ramp, located at the end of Scotts Landing Road, off Moss Mill Road, at Leeds Point.
  • Fresh water fishing is permitted on Lily Lake in Oceanville.
forsythe photo

There are several lookout towers on Wildlife Drive.  The first one is a quick 1/3 mile walk from the Visitor Center.  Check out the pools for ducks, turtles, herons at Red-Tailed hawks.

A group of Sandpipers flew in.   After taking a few shots, they were easy to identify.

What should I bring?

Other than dressing accordingly for the season and your favorite camera, binoculars are highly recommonded. 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.

High-value binoculars to consider under $100 on Amazon:

Gosky 10×42, HD Professional Binoculars with Phone Mount, highly rated at about $85 on Amazon at the time of this publication

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.

It is handicapped accessible?

Yes.  There is a paved path to the Visitor Center and the parking area is flat.  There are ramps to some of the trails and Wildlife Drive is best enjoyed from the comfort of your vehicle.

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, undected, 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.

Are there a lot of mosquitoes at the refuge?

Depending on the season, especially in the summer, mosquitoes can become a nuisance. Green Flies are be very bad too.  Since most of the refuge is surrounded by wetlands, ponds or saltmarshes, mosquitoes and other biting insects 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, here are some great alternatives, available on Amazon:

Are there restrooms at the Refuge?

Yes, there are port-a-john toliets at the Visitor Center.

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 Visitor Center has the most parking spaces, enough for about 30 vehicles.  Trails and lookout points offer an average of 5-10 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?

As mentioned above, here are some resources to help facilitate you on your journey to Forsythe – they are all from the official Forsythe NWR site and include PDF Maps and other great info to accompany your visit:

SUMMARY

  • Be sure to include Forsythe on your top birding spots whenever you are in the south NJ area.
  • There are outstanding opportunities to photograph a large variety of birds from the comfort of your car. Be sure to check on the latest sightings and make sure the areas you plan to visit are open.
  • To my knowledge, the largest closure occurred after Hurrican Sandy caused destruction to wildlife drive to the point where it was not safely driveable. Otherwise, head on down for a great day of birding!

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:

Winter

  • 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.

Spring

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.

Summer

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

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

egrets

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

Fall

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:

FAQ

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.

 

SUMMARY

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.

Raymondskill Falls:  Better Days Ahead?

Raymondskill Falls: Better Days Ahead?

Raymondskill Falls is the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania. Adding all three tiers, at about 150 feet tall, it is just a few feet shorter than Niagara Falls. However, it is difficult to view all three tiers together, especially with the closure to the bottom of the falls. Which is why I ask, are there better days ahead?

Getting There

Located just a couple of miles from Milford, PA, it’s easy to get to. From Scenic Route 6 heading west, take a right onto Raymondskill Road with some S curves and you’ll reach one of two parking lots on your left.

The parking lots hold about ten cars each. On a recent trek back from Shohola Falls, it was easy enough to swing by. However, the lot was full. In this day of Social Distancing, that was too full for me and so I returned again this week.

hackers falls map

Hackers Trailhead Map can be viewed from the parking lot 

The Trail

The trail is a short 0.3 miles to the main viewing platform. However, it gets steeper as you approach the falls, making it uneven. To reach to upper falls, follow the wooden steps up about 75 feet which provides a view of the upper pool and some cool rocks carved from the water erosion.

There are several resources available from the park service, including a map of the area and the trail system.

A quick video of Raymondskill Falls during my recent visit

Better Days Ahead?

Over the years, I’ve visited Raymondskill about ten times, mostly in the fall and winter. The cover photo for this post, taken on 10/20/20, was “touched up”.

There has not been a lot of rain in the past couple of months and the low volume was not as aesthetically pleasing than in times past. Some large trees became lodged into the falls and have been there for at least a year.

The main viewing platform received a much needed makeover for safety. It was looking strong and tough. The path down to the falls also got some reinforcements. However, access to the bottom of the falls at Raymondskill Creek, was closed due to dangerous conditions – Sigh!

main viewing platform

Main Viewing Platform of Raymondskill Falls

 

This was my first time visiting with the closure. There are some beautiful streams that meander from the main falls. They’re very picturesque and gives you more time to explore the area.

raymondskill falls autumn 2017

Raymondskill Falls in Autumn 2017

Extend your visit

There are some hiking trails across the lower Hackers Falls lot that offer several miles of hiking and some scenic views known as the Cliff Park Trail System.

There is also the McDade Recreational Trail, which is a hard-packed gravel trail next to the Delaware River. It runs about 22 miles, nearly the length of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on the PA side.

After a recent visit of walking and biking McDade Trail with a hybrid Trek bike, I highly recommend walking. There are some hilly sections along the southern part of the trail near the White Pines parking area.  It was difficult to maintain traction uphill with that bike.  Even still, I did manage to bike all the way to Dingmans Falls!

For some shopping and a bite to eat, explore historic Milford, PA. The Apple Valley Inn is a casual family restaurant and bar and there are several fun and “touristy” shops in the vicinity.

Summary

After visiting Raymondskill Falls several times over the years, I have seen it looking better. The extended closures were disappointing to me. However, it is a quick stop to see some nice waterfalls if you are looking to expand your trip to the area.  Also check out the following from Raymondskill Falls:

  • Dingman’s Falls is a short 15 minutes drive south.
  • Bushkill Falls is about 30 minutes drive south, open seasonally for a fee.
  • Shohola Falls is about a 20 minute drive west, recently visited and reviewed.

 

Need some tips on taking great photos of Waterfalls?  Check out my post!

Shohola Falls:  Quick Stroll to Amazing Waterfalls in the Poconos

Shohola Falls: Quick Stroll to Amazing Waterfalls in the Poconos

Visit Shohola Falls, located in Pike County, Pennsylvania. It is located off Route 6, approximately 10 miles northwest of Milford, PA. It may not be well known, but it is one of the easiest-to-reach waterfalls in the Pocono Mountains.

The Shohola Marsh Reservoir empties into Shohola Creek, where a series of cascades, steep ledges and deep holes forms into Shohola Falls.

The falls were visited at the end of September and middle of October 2020. There had not been a lot of rain at the end of summer and early fall, but that did not affect how the water flow cascaded over the rocks. Some beautiful fall foliage surrounded the falls.

There are photos and a short video to show what you can expect on your visit to Shohola Falls.  Get tips about camera settings, filters and light conditions so that you will be prepared to take great photos of Shohola Falls!

Shohola Falls sign

Shohola Falls wooden sign near Route 6

Shohola Falls view from parking lot

View from parking lot at Shohola Falls

Getting there

Shohola Falls is located off scenic Route 6, approximately 10 miles northwest of Milford, PA. There are two parking lots.

Heading north on Route 6, you will see a wooden sign, “Shohola Falls” on your left. Further north, a larger lot has a sign, “State Gamelands 180, Hunt Safetly” which brings you to the east side of the falls.  Here’s an official map of the State Game Land 180.

On my first visit, I turned back and chose the modest lot with the Shohola Falls sign. You can park at the lot near the road or drive in about 1/2 mile to another parking lot. When you drive in, the falls are a very short walk from the parking lot. Wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots because the trail is slippery in parts.

Trail to Shohola Falls

Entrance to the falls

photographer on the trail

Photographers on the trail

The Trail

The falls were approached from the West side. You will see the dam spillway from the parking lot. Follow that down along the river and you can see the top of the falls before it cascades down.

There are a few steps and a muddy, rocky path. Take that down to get a better view of the falls. If you decide to continue down further, be extra careful because the mist from the falls make the rocks slippery and there are some steep steps.

Shohola Falls

Near the top of the falls 

Shohola Falls middle

View from the trail

The Falls

There are varying reports about the size of the falls. Some say it is only 50′ tall by 50′ wide, other reports claim the waterfall is 70′ tall and about 75′ wide. Perhaps it depends on the volume of water flowing at the time.

It is hard to imagine, but people have actually kayaked down the falls!   That’s a little too crazy for me.

 

Photographing the Falls

The lighting conditions during my September visit were much different than the mid-October trip. I also changed up the filters and settings.

Light

My first visit was on a variable cloudy day in early afternoon. Clouds and sun appeared randomly. The clouds cast even light throughout the falls, although they were a bit darker.

Shohola Falls Sep 2020

Shohola Falls first visit.  Canon 18-135mm f/11, ISO 100 with CPL filter

My second visit in mid-October was a glorious morning with peak foliage. However, there were hardly any clouds. By mid-morning, the trees surrounding the falls were brightly lit. The falls were still shaded. This posed a challenge to capture the entire falls in even light.

What to do?

Pick your spots and edit in post. The easier task was to simply move to a spot where there was even light. Looking at the photos, my favorite section was the last one I photographed, near the top of the falls. All the photographers were gone – I had the place to myself for a little while!

There were beautiful reflections in the water from the sunlight that I did not notice the first time. There was a pool of water under a tree that draped over the falls. Leaves fell gently with the breeze. It was spectacular!

Shohola Falls peak foliage

Camera Settings – White Balance

Most of the time, I shoot in AWB (Auto White Balance), RAW and edit in post. However, I wanted my video to look better out of the camera. The AWB was casting a very blue hue on the scene. Since the falls were mostly shaded, I switched to “Cloudy”, which is quite warmer (between 6000-7000) and that made a huge difference.

Shohola Falls AWB

AWB:  Auto White Balance cast a cool blue hue

Shohola Falls WB shade

White balance on “Cloudy” warmed up the tones

Filters

On my first visit, I used a CPL filter – a circular polarized filter.  See the image above, under Light.

Second time around, I tacked on a ND4 (neutral density filter). Looking at the raw video, the ND4 gave a warmer, more pleasing effect.

Here’s a filter pack that contains a CPL, ND4 and a UV filter, available on Amazon.

Summary

Be mindful of the light. It is always better and easier to photograph waterfalls on a cloudy or partly sunny day. The light will be more even and you can slow your shutter down without issue. On a sunny day, the light really created a large contrast against the falls. However, it did create some gorgeous reflections on the water that was shaded by draping trees.

Think about your white balance, especially if you do not intend to do any post-processing. Experiment with filters.

Expect there to be other people and be especially happy when you have a few moments to capture the beauty all by yourself!

Check out my article about Photographing Waterfalls for more tips.

 

Here’s a quick YouTube video I put together highlighting Shohola Falls:

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.

Can’t get to Shohola Falls anytime soon to take your own photos?  Get a beautiful print, sticker, magnet, shirt, pillow, poster or choose from 50+ other items.

Also available with text “Shohola Falls” and in portrait orientation.

Fulfilled by Redbubble.

Art Board Print

Shohola Falls Art Board Print

dt 20 year anniversary plan
Scarecrow Decorating Ideas

Scarecrow Decorating Ideas

The year 2020 has been pretty crazy. What started out in March with a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses turned into over six months of phased re-opening. Tons of events concerts, fairs and more have been cancelled. We still do not have indoor dining approved in New Jersey – it’s October!

As a result, Halloween events this year will have to be safe and socially-distanced. There is a lot of creativity out there and here’s a trending activity that is family-friendly, festive and fun – a Scarecrow Decorating Contest!

Here’s some Scarecrow decorating ideas to help with your own neighborhood contest.

There’s even a quick 60-second video that you can check out. Enjoy, good luck and Happy Halloween!

 

scarecrow decorating ideas
scarecrow decorating ideas
scarecrow decorating ideas
scarecrow decorating ideas

Here in Sussex County, New Jersey, we have some beautiful and idyllic rural towns. Branchville is on the short list, for sure! This year, they’re hosting another contest, poised to be bigger and better than those in the past. Since I’m no longer decorating the office for Halloween, I thought I would take a stroll down Main Street to check out the creations.

 

scarecrow decorating ideas front porch
scarecrow decorating ideas farmer
scarecrow decorating ideas frankenstein
scarecrow decorating ideas getting married

Ready to visit Branchville? Here’s a few places you might want to check out in and around town:

In addition, there are a bunch of farm stands, U-Pick Pumpkins and U-Pick Apples. There is also the Culver’s Lake Flea Market open on the weekends.

Enjoy your visit and good luck with your Scarecrow Decorating!

Need more inspiration for Fall?  Check out these other posts:

 

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.

dt 20 year anniversary plan
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