Enjoy some photos from a winter stroll along the North End of Brigantine Beach!
The Domestic Fowl of Smithville
At the end of February, I visited Historic Smithville in Galloway Township. According to its website, “Smithville started as a simple, one room, stage coach stop. Over the last 50 years it has blossomed into a wonderful memory-making way to spend a day or two!”
Officially categorized as an unincorporated community and census-designated place, Smithville features a shopping village with 60 “shoppes,” the Historic Smithville Inn “where the simple dream of Smithville began,” and Lake Meone. A flock of domestic ducks and geese freely roam Smithville and swim in the lake, mingling with shoppers and diners.
Beach and Barrens Photography
Photography has been a hobby of mine since I received my first camera, a Kodak Disc 4000, as a gift when I was a kid. While obtaining my bachelor’s degree at Temple University, I took a course in photography as part of my journalism major. This class taught me how to use a manual camera, introduced me to the elements of photo composition and photojournalism, and how to develop and print photographs. I started the class using a Kodak Retinette, a 35 mm viewfinder camera, and then purchased a Pentax K1000, a 35 mm single lens reflex camera. I used the K1000 for years until digital cameras made it obsolete. After that, I relied on point and shoot digital and cell phone cameras.
After moving to Waterford the week before Thanksgiving in 2019, I spent the holidays settling into my new house. I purchased a Nikon D3500 digital single-lens reflex camera during the post-Christmas sales. I tried it for the first time in January 2020 at Franklin Parker Preserve using an 18 – 55 mm lens, leaving it on automatic the whole time to see what it could do.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, I noticed a swan on Atco Lake while driving by and stopped to take a photo. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my new camera with me so it was not a particularly good photo but seemed appropriate for Valentine’s Day. I remembered my photography teacher’s admonition to take my camera with me as often as possible.
The next day I took my new DSLR to Brigantine and snapped photos at the North Beach seawall. It was a grey, overcast day, but the shots I liked the best included an American Herring Gull, a detail of the Spirit of Brigantine, aka the Seashell Sculpture, by Gregg Knight, and some scenic pictures of dunes and driftwood.
By the next month, the pandemic forced everyone into lockdown. Working from home gave me little opportunity to take photos until May when I began spending some socially distanced time outdoors.
A friend recommended Goshen Pond as a subject. I visited it at sunset on an early May evening. Several people fished in the cool blue water. The sun set behind clouds that reminded me of mountains, illuminating a smaller pond off the main pond near a beaver dam.
Later in May, I stopped at Atco Lake for another sunset photo op. A fisherman casted a line from his kayak as the sun went down. Bullfrogs hid in the foliage growing in and around the shallow water along the lake’s edge, making their presence known with croaking and the sound of splashing.
North Brigantine Natural Area
At the end of May, I also drove back to the North Brigantine Natural Area to take spring pictures. A very pretty and fearless little tree swallow posed on the observation deck, the first time I encountered one of these. A Willet coming in for a landing showed off its striking pattern.
I didn’t recognize some birds I photographed. I downloaded the Merlin app and identified this female red-winged blackbird and a dowitcher. I think it was the short-billed species, although its bill was still pretty long.
A flock of birds alighted on a tree in the dunes. It included Cedar Waxwings along with a brown thrasher and a red-winged black bird, a real treat to see such an assortment on one tree.
Summer in Shamong
When summer rolled around, I began taking my DSLR to the farm where I board my horse in Shamong. One day, I noticed a flash of blue swooping around the riding arena. I grabbed my camera and captured a male Eastern Bluebird perched on a farm fence post. Another morning I spotted a red-tailed hawk scanning for breakfast. I took a series of shots, the first time I captured one in flight.
With summertime came insects, including an unusual sight: triple piggybacking wasps! Genus Tachytes is my best guess as to what kind. These two dragonflies hovered near one of the farm’s ponds. According to someone more knowledgeable about dragonflies than myself, the darker blue one is a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) and the lighter blue one is an Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). A green frog floated languidly in the same pond. I waited for it to make a grab for a dragonfly, but it remained motionless, seemingly content.
I encountered a doe and her fawn near the farm’s jump course and on another day, took my first picture of a buck, antlers still in velvet, relaxing with a small herd of does and fawns. When they figured out a human was nearby, they took off running.
Charm of the Goldenrod
I was born in autumn, which might be one reason it’s my favorite season. In a wilderness dominated by pine trees, I was pleasantly surprised by the varied and spectacular display of fall color. The wild goldenrod blooming near my house kept an assortment of pollinators busy and reminded me of the stanza of a poem I liked.
A haze on the far horizon,Each in His Own Tongue by William Herbert Carruth
The infinite, tender sky,
The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high;
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the goldenrod —
Some of us call it Autumn,
And others call it God.
I hiked around Atsion Lake with Barbara Solem, author of Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. We spotted something scurrying across the trail and discovered a male Fence Lizard trying hard to be invisible while clinging to a tree. I snuck in a few shots through some space in the leaves.
Later that Fall, Barbara was kind enough to introduce me to Batsto Village with a guided tour. I visited again when the fall color was at its peak and was able to photograph some autumn glory in the village and along Batsto Lake. It was a clear, calm day, and the lake was like a mirror.
Autumn is the season for White Tail romance, otherwise known as the Rut. I photographed a buck as he pursued a doe into a pasture, lost her, and then cleared the fence to escape back into the woods.
Franklin Parker Preserve, where I started my DSLR journey in 2020, is renowned for its sunsets, and I visited several times. On the weekend after Thanksgiving, this eight point buck and I surprised each other on the trail near the Chatsworth Road parking lot.
As the year drew to a close, I stopped by Atco Lake one morning. Since taking that photo on Valentine’s Day, I had never been able to get a clear shot of the pair of mute swans living on the Lake. On this particular morning, I finally caught them feeding very close to shore.
Safaris, Spoonbills, and Sunsets
The Franklin Parker Preserve in Burlington County has an interesting history and story as a successful land conservation project. James Garfield DeMarco, a local cranberry magnate as well as an influential and colorful politician, sold 9400 acres of his family’s cranberry bogs in Chatsworth to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in 2004.The foundation named the new nature preserve after Franklin E. Parker, III, first chair of the Pinelands Commission. Horseback riders, hikers, fishing enthusiasts, and bicyclists access the preserve via two entrances, the Chatsworth Lake entrance and the Speedwell entrance. The Chatsworth Lake entrance and parking lot is on Tabernacle Chatsworth Road (Route 532). The Speedwell entrance is on New Gretna Chatsworth Road (Route 563).
January 2020 Photo Safari
I visited Franklin Parker Preserve for the first time in January 2020 just a few months after I moved into my new house in Waterford Township. I had recently joined a Facebook photography group dedicated to good quality photography of the Pine Barrens. The group’s owner periodically organized hiking trips through Pinelands sites for members to take pictures. He called them “safaris.” During my first such safari, I eagerly tried out my new Nikon D3500 DSLR using a 55 mm lens. It was a cold and quiet overcast day with not much wildlife to be seen. One member did spot a juvenile bald eagle, but it was pretty far away, especially for my short lens. The closest I came to a wildlife photo that day was a close up of a praying mantis case. The rest of my shots were scenic. Franklin Parker is known for spectacular sunsets, but I unfortunately needed to leave before the sun went down that day to attend an East Coast Regional Dressage Association awards banquet.
Franklin Parker, Autumn 2020
I returned to Franklin Parker in the Fall of 2020 hoping to get photos with more wildlife and sunset views as well as shots with some autumn color. I was not disappointed.
After a trip in October, I hiked the preserve again the weekend after Thanksgiving hoping to work off some holiday feasting calories. I had a wild encounter with a huge white-tailed buck, which I recorded in an exciting sequence. I also took a series of nice moonrise pictures.
Forsythe, August 2021
Another favorite place to take photos is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. I made several trips to Forsythe in the spring of 2021. I planned to continue visiting periodically during the summer but broke my right ankle a few days after Memorial Day. Half of the summer passed before I was able to drive again, and I didn’t get to the refuge until the middle of August. Instead of walking, I drove slowly around the entire Wildlife Drive loop. The greenheads were awful and pelted my Jeep Renegade the entire way so I had to keep my windows closed. Monarchs floating alongside and in front of me were more welcome companions.
I took photos of terns, snowy egrets, great egrets, osprey, a black skimmer, a glossy ibis with a crow, a night heron, gulls, double-breasted cormorants, and a diamond-backed terrapin. Best of all, I photographed roseate spoonbills, rare visitors this far north, and American Avocets.
Beach and Barrens Snowfall
Happy New Year! The first Monday of 2022 brings with it my first snowfall of the year. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for my area calling for three to six inches.
Last night, at the barn where I keep my horse, I helped prepare for the storm. After bringing the horses in for the night, we left the field gates open to make it easier to plow the next day. We needed to switch the horses over to heavier blankets since the past few days had been so warm.
In Waterford, I noticed the snow starting to accumulate on cars by about 5 a.m. It snowed steadily throughout the day but did not begin sticking on the roads and sidewalks until around lunchtime. With below freezing temperatures, road conditions are treacherous. The Waterford Public Works snow plow passed my house once already. I hunkered down for the day and looked back through my previous winter photographs.
I dedicated several days last year photographing the aftermath of a February snowstorm around the Pine Barrens of Burlington County. The ponds at the farm where I board my horse froze over as did the bogs of a nearby cranberry farm nestled in the woods, creating enchanting snowscapes. A series of photos I took at Batsto Village looked like winter scenes from holiday cards. Ice-encrusted branches guarded the iconic mansion outlined in snow. Batsto Lake remained defiantly unfrozen. Snow blanketed the branches of the pine trees lining it like giant flocked Christmas trees.
In February of 2021, for the first and only time since the pandemic began, I needed to return to my office in Philadelphia for a few hours. I took the opportunity to stop at the nearby John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. Lamar Gore, a biologist who sits on the Board of Directors of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, manages the refuge. Many of the same species found in South Jersey make their home in “America’s First Urban Refuge” next to the Philadelphia International Airport. On and around the frozen impoundment on this February day, I photographed an American Goldfinch, downy woodpecker, fox sparrow, seagull, mallard ducks, swans, and some kind of raptor. I took a series of shots from various angles of a great blue heron. This majestic bird found a hole in the ice and spent the afternoon ice fishing.
Since I’m not planning to go out, I thought I’d share some photos of winter scenes I’ve taken over the past few years.
Beach Snow and Sea Ice
When I lived year round in Brigantine, the most memorable snowstorm I witnessed down the shore occurred in December 2017, causing Brigantine’s annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge to be rescheduled along with several others. I had never seen that much snow on the beach. The sea moved with slow, thick currents. As frigid as it was, I remember watching a flock of seagulls float undaunted on the ocean as if it were the height of summer. The back bay was frozen, something I had never seen happen before, and large chunks of ice floated on the ocean. The whole island reminded me of the lyrics from a song at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
The earth was frozenWinter Light by Tim Finn
Ice upon the water
All at once you saw her
There in the Winter Light
2015 was a more typical year in Brigantine with a foggy Christmas Day. I walked out on the jetty across the street from my house Christmas morning and took these shots of the waves breaking on the jetty’s tip.
During the pandemic, I took my first winter photos in the Pine Barrens starting with the first snowfall in December 2020 at Goshen Pond in Shamong. Just a dusting, but the iced foliage added some sparkle to my morning walk. A heavier snow fell in February. Afterwards, I spent about an hour or so enjoying a peaceful winter hike, the stillness broken only by a pair of swans taking flight across the pond. The change over to winter made sunset at the pond otherworldly.
A Year at Goshen Pond
Goshen Pond is a New Jersey state campsite located in Wharton State Forest along the Mullica River. Situated upriver from nearby Atsion Lake in Shamong, it is easily accessible by turning off Atsion Road onto an unimproved dirt road and following the signs to the campground. According to the New Jersey State Park Service website, Goshen Pond is a pet-friendly, primitive campsite with a hand water pump, fire rings, and pit toilets. The South Jersey Trails website provides tips for visiting and a review of the facilities, noting: “The pond is quite pretty. Check it out especially at sunset. There is a beaver dam and lodge in the pond.” I couldn’t agree more, and I made regular visits to the pond from the spring of 2020 through the spring of 2021, photographing the area during that year’s worth of time.
I first photographed Goshen Pond on May 3rd after a friend recommended it to me. I photographed carpenter bees busily pollinating flowers with my iPhone 8. The next time I visited the pond the following Thursday evening, I took my DSLR with me and spent several hours happily snapping pictures. Since the location of the pond was very close to my house as well as the farm where I boarded my horse, I decided to return for multiple visits and photograph the changing seasons. Most of my first spring shots were scenic, but in June, I photographed this beautiful cedar waxwing very high up a tree. Wish it had been a little closer.
Goshen Pond teemed with life in the summer of 2020. An orchard spider spun a web along a path in the bushes. A wild Blue Flag Iris bloomed near the water and water lilies on its surface. A gray catbird called in a summer evening, and I caught another diving off a tree. A short hike yielded shots of a curious deer and a tiny gray tree frog. The deer was quite interested in the strange camera sounds coming from my Jeep so she stared for about a minute and then took off. Poor thing had some deer flies on her forehead, though.
In October, the woods around the pond lit up with the fire of autumn color. It was prime time for kayaking. An irruption of pine siskin occured in 2020, and I found a few to photograph in addition to a bluejay and woodpecker. I saw one last lone water lily floating on the water. Late autumn brought an early herald of winter with a light snowfall in mid-December.
Ice formed on the pond as the weather turned cold. We received a good amount of snow in the Pine Barrens in the winter of 2021. I hiked around the pond in mid-February after a heavy snowfall.
The Beaver Paparazzi and the Mayfly Dance
Spring rolled around again. While hiking around Shamong’s Goshen Pond in Wharton State Forest one evening in April of 2021, I heard a very loud splash. It sounded like something big dropping or being thrown in the water. Puzzled and a bit unnerved, I went to investigate. Turns out it was not someone dumping a body or anything. It was one of the pond’s resident beavers slapping its tail in warning. Clearly, it did not appreciate someone lurking near its territory shooting photos like one of the beaver paparazzi. After delivering the tail slap, the beaver dove under water where it could utilize its tail as a rudder to get away from what it perceived as a possible threat.
This was the first time I encountered a beaver in the wild slapping its tail. It was pretty cool to hear and watch. I did capture some video here on Youtube. I wish the quality was better. I’ve just started experimenting with my DSLR’s video capability. I lost focus on the beaver but was happy I got the splash.
Beavers were nearly driven to extinction thanks to demand for their fur and deforestation. They have since recovered in New Jersey and throughout the rest of the country. The New Jersey beaver population is now so robust that the state allows trapping with the proper permits.
Beavers are natural engineers and famous for the dams and lodges they create. Their construction activities can sometimes bring them into conflict with humans by causing flooding and tree damage. The Humane Society offers some tips for dealing with beavers and their dams.
Although the beaver was my most memorable wildlife encounter at Goshen Pond to date, I also had another fascinating experience with some local fauna. While driving down the dirt road to the pond at dusk, I noticed some kind of winged insects swarming around my Jeep and floating in the air. By sheer luck, I had wandered into the spring mayfly emergence, when these little creatures hatch en masse and perform an ephemeral and ethereal dance around each other like magical fairies.