The Rt. 539 Painted Rock

Rt. 539 in Ocean County, New Jersey
Rt. 539 in Lacey Township, New Jersey

There’s a very large and somewhat famous rock sitting in the Pine Barrens, next to County Route 539 in Lacey Township, New Jersey.  According to local lore, the rock was left behind by a truck driver who had it off-loaded to fix a flat tire.  Over the years, the rock was painted with a number of designs and became known as (sorry about this) the “Painted Rock”.  Ba-dump-bump.

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Shortly after the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, a local artist began painting the rock with a stars and stripes pattern.  Since then, it has become something of a shrine and attempts to paint it with other designs have always resulting in re-painting with the stars and stripes seen in my photo.

While I appreciate the patriotic zeal that has kept the rock painted with the stars and stripes, I do miss the more whimsical designs from the past.  You can read more about the history of the Painted Rock and see some of the early designs here .

Cranberry Glades

A few weeks ago I published a rememberance of family vacations spent at Cranberry Glades.  Shortly after writing that article, my wife and I had the great fortune of visiting my childhood home.  On the way back to New Jersey, we stopped by Cranberry Glades for a quick hike.  The Glades were already boasting their fall colors under blue skies.  The temperature was perfect – what a beautiful place.

At about 750 acres, the Cranberry Glades are the largest area of bogs in West Virginia.   This unique ecosystem, which consists of 5 bogs, was preserved by the U.S. Forest Service in 1965 and protects over 60 species of plants, most of which are usually only found much farther north.  The gladed land is highly acidic and supports cranberries, skunk cabbage, sphagnum moss, and two types of carnivorous plants (purple pitcher plants and sundews).

A half-mile boardwalk traces along the edge of two bogs and through a small wooded area, giving you the opportunity to experience and enjoy this remarkable and ecologically-sensitive area.  I especially enjoy the boardwalk – slowly walking through the Glades, stopping here and there to enjoy an unusual plant or snap a photo.

Not far from the boardwalk, you can visit the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.  Open from April through November, the Center has an exhibit hall and audio visual programs which provide interpretation of forest ecosystems and local history.  You will informational brochures and maps and, if you’re like me, a nature book or two to add to your library.

After so many years away, it was invigorating to re-visit one of my childhood stomping grounds.  I highly recommend the experience for everyone!

Marsh Birding

 

Wet areas like marshes and swamps are extremely productive for a variety of plants and animals, especially birds.  Many species of birds live out their entire lives near these wet areas.  Here is a juvenile Black-crowned night-heron which, according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website, is one of the most wide spread species in the world.  According to Cornell,  “With a range that spans five continents, including much of North America, the Black-crowned Night-Heron is the most widespread heron in the world. It is most active at dusk and at night, feeding in the same areas that other heron species frequent during the day.”

This young fellow simply stood on the mudflat and watched me as I took several photos.  He didn’t seem at all preturbed by my presence or any of the dozens of cars which drove by while I observed him.

Double-crested cormorant is another common species along the New Jersey shore.  These birds are experts at fishing but must leave the water periodically to allow their feathers to dry.  Unlike most other water fowl, their feathers lack the natural oils that would help keep them afloat.   As they remain in the water, they slowly become less bouyant and will gradually begin to sink.  You can tell how long a cormorant has been fishing by how much of his body remains above the water’s surface.  Looks like these two were just getting started.

Clapper rails are very secretive bird and are much more often heard than seen.  However, at low tide , you might get lucky enough to find one foraging along the water’s edge – like this fellow.  The body of Clappers, like many of the rails, are laterally compressed  so that they appear very thin for their height.  Ever heard the saying “thin as a rail”? 

This bird hung out for quite some time along the water’s edge and allowed me to capture this image.  All together, a pretty neat day in the marsh!