The Moody Pine Barrens

Still playing the waiting game, both on a professional project and on Mother Nature’s spring fun. So on Saturday I got up and announced that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. The upside of having a husband who travels a lot for work is all the points you get to use for your own fun. I started a little too ambitious, tempted by 70 degree weather in Virginia and the knowledge that the herps would be out and about there. But 5 and a half hours in the car was just too much. In the end, we settled on a quick jaunt to Philly, and on the way home, I planned a stop in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

Brendan T. Byrne State Forest

I had initially hoped to stop at Wharton State Forest, since they boast a half-mile trail that they say is home to their native amphibians, but it would have taken us a little too far out of the way and there are only so many times I can hear “How many more minutes?”

So we went to Brendan T. Byrne State Forest instead, and couldn’t find the trail I had in mind, but went wandering down what was there and just turned back when we’d had enough. The bark was deep brown and wet from all the rain, and liberally dusted with pale green lichen. The forest floor was covered in orange needles. It was foggy and creepy and everyone loved it! My daughter announced that we needed to come back to camp there, and even my lifelong suburbanite husband declared it his favorite part of the trip. It really felt like a different world, just driving through the silent forest as we arrived, narrow roadways stretching out until they disappeared in the thick trees and the mist.

In the car I read all kinds of crazy stories about the Pine Barrens, from the Jersey Devil to baseball-sized blueberries to mob hits, but my real draw was of course the amphibians. Not only do they have my beloved Northern Red Salamander, it’s one of the few places you might still find an Eastern Tiger Salamander in the wild. They used to be native to Westchester County, but they have sadly been extirpated. They are enormous. I don’t know how many times larger than your average Eastern Redback they are, but in my mind I feel like it’s comparing a housecat to a tiger! You can visit a pair at Teatown to see for yourself.

Time to start planning our return…

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