Friday, June 26, 2015

A Nature Filled Summer Awaits Your Family!

Don't let your children get bored this summer! Offer them the excitement of nature fun instead. This summer your county parks are offering a variety of drop-in programs that will get your children both learning and having fun discovering the nature that surrounds us. Check out these great opportunities to take advantage of this summer:


Don’t know what to do on a weekday this summer break? Why not seek out some nature fun with Enviro-Quest? Start in the parking lot and follow the Enviro-Quest signs to where the Park System Naturalist is waiting. Once there join in activities, crafts or games for 30-60 minutes of nature fun. Activities may include meeting a live animal, finding hidden treasure, discovering incredible parts of a flower, creating artwork with natural materials, or participating in a fun nature themed game. You bring your sense of adventure and we'll bring the rest! FREE!
Thursday, July 2 at 2 p.m.  
Shark River Park, Wall - Start in the main entrance parking lot off of Schoolhouse Road.
Friday, July 10 at 11 a.m.  
Thompson Park, Lincroft - Start in the Old Orchard parking lot.
Monday, July 13 at 2 p.m. 
Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown - Start in the parking lot.
Wednesday, July 22 at 2 p.m.  
Manasquan Reservoir, Howell - Start in the Visitor Center Parking lot.
Friday, July 31 at 11 a.m.  
Sunnyside Recreation Area, Lincroft - Start in the Equestrian Center parking lot.
Thursday, August 6 at 11 a.m.    
Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold - Start in the parking lot nearest to the Shelter Building.
Monday, August 10 at 11 a.m.  
Dorbrook Recreation Area, Colts Neck - Start in the parking lot near the basketball courts.
Thursday, August 20 at 2 p.m.  
Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth - Start in the parking lot.
Wednesday, August 26 at 11 a.m.  
Charleston Springs Golf Course, Millstone - Start in the Stonebridge Trail parking area off of Stagecoach Road.
Monday, August 31 at 2 p.m.  
Holmdel Park, Holmdel -  Start in the Forest Edge parking lot.

Bayshore Summer Drop-In Programs

Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth

Summer Seining

Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays through August 21 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m.
Discover a variety of fish, crabs, and other creatures of the bay as we pull a 30' seine net though the calm waters of Sandy Hook Bay. It will be a fun time for everyone as we discover what lives in the bay. Closed-toe shoes are required. Meet on the beach. Open to all ages, under 18 with adult, the program is designed for individuals and families, not groups. Sunscreen and drinking water are recommended for all attending the program.
Program runs weather permitting. For more information, please call Bayshore Waterfront Park at 732-787-3033, ext. 2#.

Make a Fun Fish Print

We have lots of paint so why not make a colorful fish print of a rubber sea star, flounder, skate and more to take home. Fish printing, the art of Gyotaku, dates back to Japan over 100 years ago. Anglers made fish prints to record their catches and to save information on fish biology. Why not try it yourself to see what you can discover.
From 3-3:45 p.m. on:
  • Monday, June 29
  • Wednesday, July 8
  • Wednesday, August 12
  • Wednesday, August 26 

Seashell Painting

Have you ever come home from the day at the beach with a collection of shells you didn’t know what to do with? Why not paint them? We will supply the paint and brushes. Bring your own shells or feel free to use ours to make a unique and attractive coastal attraction. It will be a shell-spectacular time! 
From 3-3:45 p.m. on:
  • Thursday, July 9 
  • Monday, August 10
  • Monday, August 24
  • Thursday, August 27

Tidal Tuesdays  

Tuesdays, June 30-September 1 at 11 a.m.
Looking for some Tuesday fun by the shore this summer? Stop by the Fisherman's Cove Conservation Area Activity Center in Manasquan and join a Park System Naturalist to discover exciting things about nature and our coastal habitats. Each week take part in a different activity such as meeting creatures living in the water that we find in our seine net or creating crafts from natural materials found along the shore. Programs run for about 30-60 minutes. For details on the activity for the week, please call 732-751-9453.

Roving Park System Naturalist

Join our Roving Park System Naturalist for a walk in a beautiful county park and learn about seasonal points of interest. Feel free to join in the walk and ask questions.  The schedule for this FREE activity is as follows:  
  • Friday, July 10 at 8 a.m. in Crosswicks Creek Park, Upper Freehold. Meet in the parking lot.
  • Friday, July 24 at 8 a.m. in Holmdel Park, Holmdel. Meet in the Longstreet Farm parking lot.
  • Sunday, August 30 at 2 p.m. in Perrineville Lake Park, Millstone. Meet in the parking lot.
  • Friday, September 11 at 9 a.m. in Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold. Meet in the main parking lot.
  • Monday, September 21 at 4 p.m. in Weltz Park, Oakhurst. Meet in the parking lot.  
  • Friday, October 2 at 10 a.m. in Huber Woods Park, Middletown. 
  • Sunday, October 25 at 1 p.m. in Big Brook Park, Marlboro. Meet in the parking lot.
  • Monday, November 2 at 9 a.m. along Hominy Hill Path (adjacent to Hominy Hill Golf Course, Colts Neck).  Meet in the parking area on Matthews Road.
  • Sunday, November 22 at 1 p.m. in Hartshorne Woods Park. Meet at the Rocky Point entrance in Highlands.

Looking for an adventure you can have on your own? Check out our Safari Backpacks! These backpacks contain all you need to fill your self-guided nature walk with adventure and exploration! Use of a backpack is free but you must leave your valid NJ driver's license with the docent.  
Backpacks are available on a first come, first served basis at the following locations:
Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell  
Explore the reservoir with your family and friends throughout the year as the contents of these backpacks change seasonally. For more information, please call 732-751-9453.
Huber Woods Environmental Center, Middletown    
Turn your walk through the woods into an adventure by choosing a Pre-K, Forest or Meadow themed backpack and experience the park in a new way. For more information, please call 732-872-2670.
Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown   
Set out on an exploration of the gardens and discover new ways of seeing living and non-living features of the gardens using these Garden Safari Backpacks. Backpacks available in the Horticultural Center. For more information, please call 732-671-6050.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Get Out on the Water this Summer!

From the Manasquan Reservoir to various lakes and rivers, the Park System has plenty of water features to enjoy! And if you've ever been interested in boating or kayaking, this is the season to give it a shot! We're offering a variety of drop-in programs to get you enjoying nature by the seat of a kayak or a calming paddle with family or friends.

Check out these great summer drop-ins that are sure to have you paddling and making memories:

Canoe Rentals at Thompson Park

Head out onto picturesque Marlu Lake for a relaxing paddle in one of our canoes. All equipment is provided; a limited number of canoes are available. Open to ages 3 and up, under 18 with adult. Cost is $15 per boat for 1-3 people for 2 hours; cash or check only please. 

Weekend Canoe Rentals are available from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on:
  • Saturday & Sunday, June 27 & 28
  • Saturday & Sunday, July 11 & 12
  • Saturday & Sunday, July 25 & 26
  • Saturday & Sunday, August 8 & 9
  • Saturday & Sunday, August 22 & 23 
Wednesday Evening Rentals are available from 3-6 p.m. on:
  • Wednesday, June 24
  • Wednesday, July 8
  • Wednesday, July 22
  • Wednesday, August 5
  • Wednesday, August 19 

Eco-Kayak Drop-In Tours of the Navesink River

Get a view of nature from the seat of a kayak with our nature tours of the Navesink River. Tours depart from the Claypit Creek section of Hartshorne Woods Park, Middletown. Novice paddlers welcome, all equipment is provided. Both single and tandem kayaks are available for use on a first come, first served basis. The program is limited to only ten participants and all tours department on time. Please wear appropriate clothing that can get wet. Ages 12 and up, under 18 with adult. The cost is $20 per person; cash or check only please. For more information, call 732-787-3033, ext. 2.

Dates & Times:
  • Monday, July 6 from 5:30-7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 7 from 6-7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, July 20 from 9:30-11 a.m.
  • Monday, August 3 from 9:30-11 a.m.
  • Monday, August 17 from 9:30-11 a.m.
Please Note: The kayak launch system is off a bulkhead. Participants must be physically fit and able to easily bend down and rotate their body to get in and out of the kayak. Weight limits for kayaks are 250 lbs. for a single and 400 lbs. for a double. Inclement weather will cancel a tour. 

Eco-Kayak Drop-In Tours of the Manasquan Reservoir

Hit the reservoir in a kayak with a Park System Naturalist as your guide. Novice paddlers are welcome, we provide all the equipment! Single and tandem kayaks are available on a first come, first served basis.  Program is limited to 12 participants and all tours department on time. Wear clothing that can get wet. Weight limits for kayaks are 250 lbs. for single and 400 lbs. for a double. Inclement weather will cancel the tour. Ages 14 and up, under 18 with adult. Cost is $20 per person, cash or check only please. For more information, please call 732-751-9453.

Tours run from 9:30-11 a.m. on the following dates:

  • Sunday, June 28
  • Saturday, July 11
  • Sunday, July 26
  • Saturday, August 15
  • Sunday, August 30

Boat rentals are also available for the season at Manasquan Reservoir, Howell and Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold. For more information, click here.
For additional ideas on summer fun in the Monmouth County parks, visit us online at

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June Staff Spotlight: Naturalist Sam Skinner

Name and title: 

Sam Skinner, Senior Naturalist

Background in your field:
Education: Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Texas A&M University
Employment: Employed by the Monmouth County Park System for 11 years. 
Hobbies: I spend my spare time fishing, birding, camping, hiking, and kayaking. I'm also a member of the New Jersey Audubon and am a supporter of various nature and wildlife conservation efforts.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
I have always enjoyed investigating nature and interacting with people that share the same interests. As a Naturalist with the Monmouth County Park System, I do this on a daily basis. I often find myself wondering if I am on the clock or just out having good time.

As a Naturalist, what has been your favorite nature spotting?
I have experienced so many encounters with such a variety of critters that it is difficult to say which one is my favorite.
Here are a few examples:
Sitting at my desk in Huber Woods in the spring of 2005, I saw bird gliding in the distance out of my window and at first I thought it was an osprey which is a fairly common bird in our area. I went back to my computer and then noticed the bird was quite a bit closer and it was not an osprey but a swallow-tailed kite. This kite is only seen in New Jersey a few times a year and by only a few birders.  The kite decided to circle a meadow catching insects for about 15 minutes. I was fortunate to be able snap a few quick pictures to preserve the moment. It then flew off and I imagine back south toward Florida, where they breed, and ultimately back to South America where they can be seen year round.
In the spring of 1971 I was walking along the bank of the Brazos River, outside of College Station, Texas, and heard a slight rustling alongside the trail. I stopped and searched for the source. At first I could not see a thing and the rustling would start and stop without any apparent cause. I was patient and kept watching. Then I noticed a small herbaceous plant, about 2 or 3 inches tall, start to shake and vibrate and then it zipped below the surface of the ground and disappeared. I watched and waited, and then another plant went under and then another and another. I never saw the critter performing this magic trick but I suspect it was most likely a pocket gopher. They are native to the area and very seldom leave their underground burrow and tunnel system to venture to the surface. This was a simple encounter but one that most people have never seen, and it remains with me just as vivid today.

What is your favorite park to visit for nature sightings and why?
Picking a favorite park would seem like an easy thing to do, but I have been to them all on several occasions and find each of them just as interesting. Birding is my favorite pastime and birds are in all of the parks, so I never find one lacking.
I would have to choose Huber Woods Park, Middletown as my favorite as I frequent it the most. It is the hidden gem of the Park System with miles of trails through open meadows, stands of hickory, tulip trees, mountain laurel and evergreens. Scenic views of the Navesink River are a short walk from the Environmental Center. There are several small lakes that hold birds and fish (fishing is my other favorite past time). The park has a completely different look and feel throughout year with the seasonal changes. I have been here for 11 years and hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear from a first time visitor; “I have lived here all my life and I never knew this park was here. I love it!” 

What is your favorite nature program in the Park System?
The seasonal Birding Expeditions are daylong birding trips. These trips were started by retired Park System Naturalist Bob Henschel back in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Bob has been retired for as long as I have been working for the Park System, but he continued to lead these trips after retiring and took me under his wing showing me the New Jersey hot spots and introducing me to his birding patrons. Several of the birders that frequent this program have been loyal customers for over 25 years. They are some of the friendliest folks I have ever met and, as you would guess, many are excellent birders both by sight and sound. We also get many new and less experienced birders along for the ride. Everyone is greeted warmly and the experienced birders are more than happy to help the beginners or less experienced. Everyone has a great time and new friendships are formed. 

Outside of the Park System, where is your favorite place to visit in your off time?
When I am not in one of our parks during my off time, I will go birding or fishing at Sandy Hook, after Labor Day and before Memorial Day when the crowds have grown smaller, or to Assunpink Wildlife Management Area for fishing or birding.

If you could give one tip to our visitors about nature in the parks, what would it be?
In my opinion the best way to enjoy nature in our Park System, and anywhere else for that matter, would be to take your time, be patient and bring a pair of binoculars. Sitting still or standing quietly for about 15 minutes will tremendously increase enjoyable nature encounters as the wildlife returns to their normal routines once your movement has ceased. Binoculars will open a completely new realm of vision from butterflies a few feet away, to snakes a few yards away, to birds a half mile away. I am off the clock in few minutes and I will head over to BayshoreWaterfront Park, Port Monmouth for some birding in the adjacent wetlands; I will probably see marsh wrens, night-herons, glossy ibis’, egrets, seaside sparrows and, if I get lucky, maybe a saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow or even a Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow.

Thank you to Park System Naturalist Sam Skinner for taking the time to tell us more about himself. Be sure to check out Sam's Roving Park System Naturalist drop-in program offered a few times each month at various parks around the county!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nature Now Offers Glimpse at Nature Happenings in the Parks

If you've never visited the Park System's Nature Now page, you're missing out. Published by a group of our Park System Naturalists, this page offers a look at the animals and plants recently spotted within our various parks. Check out the most recent posts:

Flying Squirrels at the Manasquan Reservoir
A lucky group of third graders got to see young flying squirrels during their class trip to the Manasquan Reservoir. Two species of flying squirrels are native to New Jersey, the northern and southern flying squirrels. These nocturnal animals are common, but seldom seen. They are active at night, high in the tree canopy.  Flying squirrels do not fly, but glide. A membrane that extends from their front to back legs allows them to glide from tree to tree. They can steer as they glide by adjusting their legs. Flying squirrels nest in abandoned woodpecker holes in dead trees.  

Blowfish Found at Bayshore Waterfront Park
During a recent saltwater seining program near Sandy Hook Bay, Park System Naturalists found a blowfish or northern puffer fish, in a seine net. Without a doubt, third graders visiting the park during a school field trip were thrilled to see the little fish as it puffed up about twice its size by inhaling air or water into a special organ near its stomach. Thanks to improving water quality in New York Harbor, blowfish are becoming more common sights. They can be found from spring through fall, leaving the harbor in the winter for deeper ocean waters.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Wolf Hill Recreation Area
This is a very secretive bird and if were not for their loud and distinct call most would go unnoticed. It is a common breeder in Monmouth County and can be found in most of our parks during the summer months.
Yellow-billed cuckoos live in wooded habitats with dense cover, abandoned farmland, and dense thickets along streams and marshes. This is one of the few bird species that feeds on hairy caterpillars. Cuckoos have been known to devour 100 tent caterpillars at one sitting. They will also feed on insects, frogs and lizards. The cuckoo will lay its eggs several days apart thus the ages of the chicks can vary as much as five days. During times of scarce food the male cuckoo may remove the youngest bird from the nest. The nesting cycle is only 17 days from hatching to fledging. Both parents take part in the brooding and switch often during the day. The male however will stay with the nest all night. Once in awhile yellow-billed cuckoos will lay their eggs in nests of other birds such as robins, catbirds and wood thrushes.

Be sure to check out this page weekly, especially during the warm weather months, to learn more about our local nature findings.