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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.


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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!

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!


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