Pine Barrens are actually a type of habitat, characterized by sandy soil and frequent forest fires. It’s hospitable to certain species, such as pitch pines. There’s actually a pine barrens area on Long Island, but the Pine Barrens or Pinelands of New Jersey are more commonly known, probably because they encompass over a million acres.
We spent a little more than 24 hours in the area, and while I was very disappointed not to see a pine barrens tree frog, we encountered some wonderful creatures.
The carpenter frog may not be as unique to the habitat as the pine barrens tree frog, but we don’t have them in Westchester and they were abundant on our night hike. They’re called carpenter frogs because their call sounds like the knocking of a hammer. Even today scientists doing research in the pinelands will get questions from visitors about construction going on!
During the day, we targeted a couple of special snake spots. The pine snake is found throughout the southeast US, but has a population in the pine barrens that is under threat. We found a few of these large, beautiful and docile snakes. One of the reasons the species is at risk is because of collection for the pet trade, and having held a couple of them now, I can see why they are popular pets. All of us fell in love with them a bit. (It goes without saying that wild-caught pets are not only illegal but completely unethical.)
We also went in search of timber rattlesnakes. In the summer, mama rattlers have to do a lot of basking to prepare for birthing 5-20 live young. We found this beauty soaking up the sun near some water.
Another denizen of the pine barrens that we supposedly have in Westchester–I admit I am beginning to be skeptical–is the eastern fence lizard. They are spiky-looking and come in a range of grays and browns for blending in to the environment, but males have a couple of bright blue patches on their bellies and throats.
Unlike the first time I visited the Pine Barrens in early spring, when it was wet and moody, it was super hot and sunny in June. I still think a camping trip in spring or fall is in order!