A white mayapple flower has rain drops on its petals.
Mayapple Flower Mayapple flowers start to appear in April or May. © Charles Larry

Stories in New Jersey

New Jersey Seasonal Natural Events

Our small state offers an abundance of amazing natural areas that you can visit year-round. What you'll see at each preserve changes with the seasons.

Spring

A black skimmer is flying low over a body of water.
Black Skimmer Skimmers feed by opening their bill and dropping their mandible into the water, skimming along until they feel a fish. © Raymond Hennessy/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Spring Highlight: Return of our Beach Nesters

Each spring between March and May, beach nesting birds like piping plovers, American oystercatchers, least terns and black skimmers make their way to the mile of protected beach at our South Cape May Meadows preserve. Once they find a suitable mate, they will begin laying and incubating eggs with the hopes of successful fledges.

An adult piping plover is standing on a beach.
Two American oystercatcher eggs are in their nest.
An American oystercatcher is sitting on its nest on the beach.
Two adult least terns are practicing a courtship ritual.
A large flock of black skimmers are flying above a marsh.
A yellow prairie warbler is calling from a tree.
Prairie Warbler Warblers are neotropical migratory birds. © Shutterstock
Two adult purple martins are flying above their house.
Purple Martin Houses Each year, purple martins nest in the houses at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. © Jennifer Emerling
Prairie Warbler Warblers are neotropical migratory birds. © Shutterstock
Purple Martin Houses Each year, purple martins nest in the houses at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. © Jennifer Emerling

Spring Migration

Be sure to add visiting our South Cape May Meadows and Garrett Family preserves to your to-do list this spring. The preserves, located in Cape May, are some of the best spots in New Jersey to see spring migration. Neotropical birds, migrating waterfowl, and returning shorebirds are just some of the beautiful birds that can be seen this time of year. Spring migration also means the return of our resident purple martins at our South Cape May Meadows preserve, who can be seen and heard near the main trail entrance by the welcome center

 

Two adult glossy ibises are standing in a freshwater pond.
Glossy Ibis Glossy ibises can often be seen poking around in the mud in search of food. © Shutterstock
A bright green Jack in the pulpit plant is blooming in a forest.
Jack-in-the Pulpit Commonly called Indian turnip, Jack-in-the pulpit is a shade requiring species found in rich, moist, deciduous woods and floodplains. © Charles Larry

Beautiful Blossoms

After a cold winter, everything bounces back to life in the spring, and the flora found on our preserves are no exception. Jack-in-the pulpit, mayapple, and columbine are just a few of the beautiful blooms found on our Johnsonburg Swamp preserve. Keep your eye out for tulip trees, mountain laurel and pink lady slippers blooming at our Maurice River Bluffs preserve. The inland red maple swamps found at our High Mountain Park preserve make for a beautiful sight, as they begin to fruit in the spring. 

A small butterfly is resting on a pink mountain laurel flower.
Mountain Laurel Mountain Laurel typically blooms from late May to mid-June. © David Gumbart / TNC
A pink lady slipper flower is growing in a forest.
Pink Lady Slipper Pink lady slippers grow in wooded or semi-wooded habitats and blooms primarily in early spring. © Steve S. Meyer
Mountain Laurel Mountain Laurel typically blooms from late May to mid-June. © David Gumbart / TNC
Pink Lady Slipper Pink lady slippers grow in wooded or semi-wooded habitats and blooms primarily in early spring. © Steve S. Meyer

A Chorus of Frogs

Once spring arrives, the trails at our High Mountain Park preserve are noisy with the calls of spring peepers. Only the males can chirp, which they often do during mating season from March to May. These welcomed calls are a reminder that spring has arrived!

A male spring peeper calls while his vocal sac is inflated.
Spring Peeper As their name implies, spring peepers begin emitting their familiar chorus right around the start of spring. © Shutterstock

Outstanding Osprey

March marks the return of our resident osprey couple to their nest on our South Cape May Meadows preserve. They can be seen gathering nesting materials and methodically arranging them, making sure everything is just right for the arrival of their eggs. The nest is visible from our observation platform along the east trail of the preserve. We also live stream this nest, so make sure you tune in this spring! 

 
 
Ospreys tend to their eggs The ospreys at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve won your hearts over last year. Don't forget to tune in to the live camera feed this spring!
Four eastern painted turtles are basking in the sun.
Eastern Painted Turtles Eastern Painted Turtles are most active from April to September. © Shutterstock

Basking Begins

Watch your step on the trails, turtles could be crossing! Warmer weather and water temperatures means increased turtle activity throughout our preserves. Eastern painted turtles can often be seen basking in the sun on rocks, logs, and marsh reeds. Common snapping turtles are more active, swimming throughout freshwater ponds and swamps. If you're lucky, you might even cross paths with a diamondback terrapin at our Garrett Family preserve.

Spring in New Jersey

Nature truly comes to life during the spring season in New Jersey. From bird migration, to flowers and trees blooming, there are countless incredible and natural events taking place on our preserves.

A dark adult mal purple martin is flying towards the camera.
A mayapple flower is blooming from a bright green stem.
A wood frog is surrounded by brown leaves on a forest floor.
A male red winged blackbird is singing while resting on a branch.
A flowering dogwood tree is in full bloom.
An adult killdeer is flying above a body of water.
A young red maple sprig is beginning to bloom.
Pale green and orange tulip tree flowers are surrounded by big, green leaves.
An eastern box turtle is looking directly at the camera.
A red knot is walking alongside the ocean.

Autumn

A small owl with brown and white mottled feathers stands on a branch staring at the camera.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl Each fall, migrating owls, songbirds, hawks and more funnel into southern New Jersey’s Cape May peninsula in great numbers. © Megan Lorenz

Autumn Highlight: Fall Migration

Cape May, New Jersey is a fall migration hot spot and an excellent time of year to visit both our South Cape May Meadows Preserve and Garrett Family Preserve at Cape Island Creek. Expect to see songbirds, hawks, owls, monarchs and dragonflies as they funnel into southern New Jersey’s peninsula in great numbers. Visitors to both preserves can enjoy amenities like maintained trails, a picnic pavilion, bird blinds, benches, visitor kiosks and artists’ easels.

Leafy woods in the fall.
High Mountain Park Preserve Each fall, hikers to High Mountain enjoy the changing colors of the seasons. © Jim Wright

Vibrant Fall Colors

In northern New Jersey, the leaves start to change from greens to golds and reds early at High Mountain Park Preserve. The preserve's panaramic vistas, stunning views and 11 miles of hiking trails through dense forests provide visitors with a beautiful backdrop to view fall foliage at its finest. Be sure to check out the rock shelters in the Franklin Clove section of the preserve, determined to be sites of prehistoric human habitation. Native Americans of the Lenape tribe wintered in the Clove during the 1600s.

Yellow goldenrod flowers against a bright blue sky.
Goldenrod Goldenrod in peak bloom at the Garrett Family Preserve in Cape Island Creek. © Lily Mullock/TNC
A black, yellow and orange monarch butterfly eating nectar from a white flower.
Monarch Butterfly Monarchs migrate through Cape May each fall. © Charles Larry

Migrating Monarchs and Gorgeous Goldenrod 

In autumn, a must-see is the gorgeous Goldenrod that blankets much of the Garrett Family Preserve in Cape Island Creek. This bright flowering plant blooms in late August through October and is an important source of nectar for migrating monarch butterflies.

Goldenrod Bloom A virtual walking tour of the goldenrod bloom at the Garrett Family Preserve along the pollinator trail.

Fungi of the Maurice River Bluffs Preserve

After a generous period of rainfall, many fungi make their presence known by sending up mushrooms—lots and lots of mushrooms.

Cauliflower-shaped purple mushroom on forest floor.
Close-up of a deep orange mushroom growing on a tree.
Delicate orangish-yellow mushrooms.
Large, fat brown mushroom on bright green forest floor.
Spongy, yellow closed-top mushrooms.
White mushrooms covering the forest floor.
Leaves and pine needles surround a small mushroom.
Rocky, wet soil, forest with bright orange mushroom.
Close-up of a yellow mushroom on forest floor.
Orange mushrooms growing horizontally on tree.

Fall is for fungi at the Maurice River Bluffs Preserve! Plan your visit a day or so after a good rain and you will see a plethora of different species. Take advantage of the 6 mile trail system, complete with a 35-foot long bridge, steps and rails throughout the steeper parts that make the trails accessible to all levels of hikers. 

Pools of dark blue water surrounded by trees and shrubs in fall color.
Johnsonburg Swamp Preserve This limestone wetland provides excellent habitat for rare plant species. © Dwight Hiscano

Scenic Swamp

During autumn at Johnsonburg Swamp Preserve, visitors experience the color of familiar favorites, and also that of natural wonders that are less common. A must-see located in the heart of the preserve is Mud Pond, a limestone wetland providing excellent habitat for rare plant species, along with waterfowl and other wildlife. The scenic limestone outcrops that overlook the pond to the west and north are the largest rock formations of their kind in the state. 

A Bevy of Birds

Another fall spectacle you won't want to miss is the annual tree swallow migration at the South Cape May Meadows Preserve. Here's a sneak peek in the video below. 

Tree Swallow Migration During the early fall, hundreds of thousands of tree swallows flock to the South Cape May Meadows Preserve. This marks the beginning of their migration, which takes 3-4 months for them to complete.

Winter

Winter Highlight: New Jersey Owls

The gorgeous autumn leaves have fallen from the trees, making it the perfect time to see and listen for owls. New Jersey is home to a variety of owls, including the great horned, saw-whet, barred, barn, Eastern screech, long-eared and short-eared owls. In recent winters, we've been lucky enough to see snowy owls as they migrate south.

A close-up shot of a great horned owl sitting on a tree
A barred owl on a stump surrounded by green foliage.
A close up of a snow-covered saw whet owl in winter.
A long-eared owl perched on a snow-covered tree.
Close-up of a snowy owl with what looks like a smile.

Winter Birding in Cape May

The South Cape May Meadows Preserve is a year-round top birding destination. Even during winter, the birding doesn't have to come to an end! Wintering owls, ducks, hawks, and eagles are just some of the reasons why winter birding is so thrilling during the colder months. Whether you're interested in seeing late-season migrant raptors such as the Red-tailed Hawks or Northern Harriers, or you're on the lookout for waterfowl like Buffleheads or Teals, The South Cape May Meadows Preserve is where you want to be. 

Snow-covered beach and view of the lighthouse.
Cape May Lighthouse TNC's South Cape May Meadows Preserve offers views of the famous lighthouse. © Shutterstock

The Feet You’ll Meet 

Snowfall in New Jersey makes for a great opportunity to put your animal tracking skills to the test. From white tailed deer, to red fox, to black bear, you’ll never know whose tracks you’ll stumble upon on our nature preserve trails. You might even be lucky enough to see tracks from the elusive New Jersey bobcat at our Johnsonburg Swamp Preserve. 

  

Bobcat footprints in snow.
Bobcat Tracks Bobcats hide so well, you may never see them even when they're around. © Shutterstock
A lone bobcat on snow-covered ground.
Bobcat Endangered bobcat photographed in northern New Jersey on a TNC preserve. © Tyler Christensen

Wonderful Winter Waterfowl

After a busy fall migration for songbirds and raptors, winter is the time for migratory waterfowl to shine. The freshwater ponds at our South Cape May Meadows and Garrett Family Preserves come to life with Northern shovelers, American black ducks, gadwalls, and green-winged teals, just to name a few!

Close-up of a bufflehead with colorful head feathers.
Two dusty brown gadwalls in flight.
Green head with wings in flight splashing in water.
Close-up side view shot of the duck, floating on water.
A white long-tailed duck bobs on water.

Busy Bald Eagles

While the rest of us are cooped up inside avoiding the cold, bald eagles in Southern New Jersey are busy preparing for their nesting season. Throughout December, they can be seen gathering sticks, grass, and other materials to repair and rebuild their nests. Just two weeks in to the New Year, they will start laying eggs. At our Maurice River Bluffs Preserve, visitors can watch this process from start to finish, as there are incredible views of a nest from our floating dock. The Maurice River and surrounding marshes provide excellent habitat for them. Be on the lookout for bald eagles hunting along the river and in the vast marshes.

A wooden trail marker sign covered in snow.
Maurice River Bluffs Winter is an excellent time to see bald eagles at the preserve. © Damon Noe/TNC
Bald eagle on log in the snow looking off into distance as it snows around him.
Bald Eagle During winter months, bald eagles are widely scattered throughout much of the continental United States. © Shutterstock
Maurice River Bluffs Winter is an excellent time to see bald eagles at the preserve. © Damon Noe/TNC
Bald Eagle During winter months, bald eagles are widely scattered throughout much of the continental United States. © Shutterstock

Nature in Winter

Don't let the cold weather keep you indoors this winter, there is so much to see and do in nature. Here are a few highlights.

Bright red cardinal on branch surrounded by snow.
Patch of snow-covered pine trees in New Jersey.
Bobcat under snow-covered pine trees.
A tufted titmouse on a branch of frozen red berries.
Frozen pond and grasses with snow in cape may.
Close-up of a fox with snow in the air.
Bright blue jay against a snowy background.
Dark, icy waters against a cloudy sky in winter.
Barred owl perched on a bare tree.
Two birds perched on a snowman.

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