New Jersey is home to a wide variety of “critters”, some are cute & cuddly while others are quite dangerous. If you walk along any trail or sit in a park you will certainly find squirrels and chipmunks running around as if they are late for their train.
If you are quiet and look hard enough, you may find deer or any of a number of other creatures that call New Jersey home.
Deer are a staple animal across New Jersey — but it may be difficult to get a photo of them unless you sit still and wait. Here are a couple of my favorite deer images, and some tips on how I got them.
I came across this beautiful buck while hiking through Thompson Park in Lincroft one afternoon during the rut. I was looking in the opposite direction as I was walking when something caught my eye — I turned and there he was, just staring at me. I had but a few moments to grab this image before he ran into the woods.
I sometimes detour to the beach or one of the parks along the way to the office to walk or maybe do some shooting, and quite often I will come across a few deer. This particular morning it was just after sunrise and there were about a dozen deer grazing in the field at Lake Topanemus Park in Freehold.
This buck was by himself and didn’t seem to really care that I was there. I got as close as I dared, took out the camera and grabbed a few images before he ran off into the woods. This is one of my favorite deer images, though I have many.
New Jersey is home to more than 475 species of birds and is an important stop along the East Coast migration route. For more birding/bird photography tips, check out our guide.
The Northern Mockingbird shown here was captured during a lunchtime walk along the Henry Hudson Trail in Union Beach. This is another great example of the old axiom, f/8 and be there, as I had but a moment to shoot before he flew away.
When it comes to birds, I do “play favorites.” I have a great love for egrets, herons and raptors — in part because of the challenge but, mostly, for their beauty. I was fortunate to grow up with a small river inlet behind my home and we would see egrets and herons all the time.
The black-crowned night heron is one such slide — he was perched on one of the pilings of a neighbors dock when I captured this image.
While I have yet to capture an eagle, I have been able to get a number of red-tailed hawks. I was in the woods and saw this hawk flying low across the trail and landed on a downed tree. He had caught a snake and was perched on the tree eating. When I got around to that side of the trail I started looking for it, hoping to get an image. To my disappointment, he was no longer eating and had flown off. I looked up and saw him sitting in the tree right next to me, he was maybe 10 feet away! I shot until he had enough and flew off.
Birds can be as fickle as deer — get the shot as soon as you can!
Reptiles & Amphibians
Not all of New Jersey’s wildlife is warm-blooded, as we have a very diverse range of reptiles and amphibians, too.
This bullfrog was sitting on the side of a trail in Lake Topanemus Park in Freehold one afternoon. I had never shot a frog before and have not since!
I was amazed at my skill of getting so close and not scaring it away, only to find out later that the frogs will freeze if they feel threatened and are not near a water source to jump into. I could have jumped up and down yelling and he never would have moved….
Turtles of all types are abundant across the Garden State — from the docile box turtle to the dangerous snapping turtle.
I find box turtles in my yard rather frequently (I live at the edge of a large woods) and they can be found throughout the state. They are also probably the easiest to photograph — they are not overly dangerous, they move quite slowly and if you get close they “clam up” like this one. I often come across turtles sunning themselves on rocks or tree limbs in and around lakes but they often see me before I can get close enough for a decent shot and dart back into the water.
Snapping turtles are rather mean and very dangerous and also the most common turtle in the state; I’ve only seen one in the wild once and that was in my own backyard about 25 years ago. You can also see them swimming around the Great Swamp.
I don’t come across too many snakes in my travels but when I do they are invariably the harmless garter snake. The largest snakes in New Jersey are the Northern Black Racer and Black Rat snake, both can reach more than six feet and are found throughout the state.
We only have two venomous snakes: the Northern Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake which are typically found in the northern part of the state. You usually don’t have much to worry about with snakes unless, like most wild creatures, you startle them or encroach too closely on their space. While it is always a good idea to keep your eyes on the trail, it is particularly important when you are in “snake country” — just to be safe.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits are a frequent sight across New Jersey.
This little guy was at Deep Cut Gardens one fine afternoon. Rabbits are fun to watch but can be difficult to photograph well.
New Jersey is also home to the bobcat, in fact, it is our only wild cat. They once roamed throughout the state but are now endangered and found primarily in the northwest part of the state but there have been sightings in the Pinelands. The bobcat is an extremely shy creature, as are most cats, and you are rather unlikely to see one and they pose very little threat to humans.
New Jersey has a growing population of black bears and can be found in all 21 counties, though predominately found in the northwest part of the state. I have never had a wild encounter with a bear but they are always on my mind when I am in Bear Country.
It is crucial that you learn what to do in case of an encounter with a bear — the wrong move can cause you serious harm, even death. You can read about what to do at get BEAR SMART society. There are many other places where you can get information, including kiosks at trail heads where encounters may be likely.
REMEMBER – you cannot outrun a bear, trying to do so will most likely cause an attack! Learn more about how to hike and coexist with bears here.
I hope you have enjoyed my menagerie and would love to hear from you in the comments below. There is such diversity in our state and I have only covered the creatures that are found on land — fishing is incredible throughout the state, both freshwater and saltwater.
Until next time – get out and explore, witness the beauty of The Garden State firsthand — I can’t think of a better way to recharge your batteries.
The NJspots team has seen toads, snakes, deer, insects, birds, bears, and more on hikes around New Jersey! Check out our hiking guides for more chances to see wildlife across the Garden State!
This post was originally published on Exploring Photography with Joe Valencia.