Imagine hopping in the car and driving a relatively short distance to the scenic Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. You get out of the car and hike along a path leading to the river and encounter a black bear using the same path. When you reach the river a blur over the water catches your eye and you turn in time to see a bald eagle pluck a fish from the surface of the river and land in a nearby tree with its lunch. This scenario and many just as exciting await wildlife watchers throughout the Garden State.
Recreation centered around watching wildlife is growing by leaps and bounds each year. Survey results estimate that more than 40% of the adult U.S. population participates in wildlife watching activities and the money spent on travel, lodging, food and equipment associated with this activity contributes nearly 20 billion dollars to the national economy. So where are people going or where would they like to go to watch wildlife? A national survey asked, "Where would you go to view wildlife if you could travel anywhere in North America?" Fifty-five percent of the respondents chose Alaska. When asked why they would choose to go there, Alaska's variety of animals was the most frequent reply.
If variety of animals is what wildlife watchers are looking for, New Jersey provides some serious competition for Alaska. Alaska hosts 425 bird species, 102 mammal species, 10 reptile and amphibian species and 150 species of fish. New Jersey hosts 325 bird species, 90 mammal species, 79 reptile and amphibian species and over 400 species of fish. When you consider Alaska is 75 times larger than New Jersey, we are the hands down winner over Alaska in wildlife diversity. In fact, on a square mile basis, no other state in the nation has greater wildlife diversity than New Jersey.
New Jersey's advantage is its geographic position. Our geographic position provides an amazing variety of mountains, valleys, rolling hills, wetlands, pinelands, beaches, estuaries and riverine systems. Also, our geographic position puts us where northern ecosystems reach their southern limit and where southern ecosystems reach their northern limit. New Jersey has the best of many ecological worlds.
New Jersey started spreading the word about our wildlife treasure and providing wildlife watching opportunities for our residents and tourists from around the globe in 1997 with the publication of the New Jersey Wildlife Viewing Guide (revised 2009). The Guide now lists 104 of the best sites in our state where people can observe and learn about our incredible array of wild animals and the habitats that support them.
The Guide takes residents and visitors to a diversity of sites throughout the state that all have one thing in common. People can see, enjoy and learn about our wildlife resource. Viewing site hosts are as varied as the wildlife that can be seen. The mosaic of wildlife viewing sites consists of wildlife management areas, state parks and forests, national wildlife refuges and recreation areas, county and municipal parks and conservation organization lands.
For the purpose of the Viewing Guide, the state has been divided along major ecosystem boundaries to create eight wildlife diversity regions that include the Ridge and Valley, Highlands, Metro, Piedmont, Lower Delaware River, Pinelands, Shore, and Delaware Bay / Cape May Peninsula. Sites are organized by region in the Guide and for each site there is an ecological description, directions, wildlife viewing opportunity and site facility / amenity information.
Wildlife viewing sites in the Ridge and Valley and Highlands regions of northern New Jersey feature mountain ranges, lush valleys, dense deciduous forests, numerous lakes, ponds, streams, bogs and freshwater marshes that support bear, bobcat, beaver, otter, deer, turkeys and hundreds of other species.
The rolling hills of the Piedmont provide some of the best agricultural land in the state dotted with productive woodlots and bordered by forested ridges. Viewing sites here support a variety of wildlife species that have adapted and benefited from the farming that has shaped the landscape over the centuries like red-tailed hawks, grassland birds, deer, coyote and a variety of reptiles and amphibians.
The unique Pinelands in the southern half of the state hosts viewing sites with vast pine forests, pure, tea colored streams and numerous cedar swamps and wetland systems that provide habitat for some wildlife species which are only found in more southern states, like the Pine Barrens treefrog, pine snake and corn snake.
The fresh, brackish and salt water tidal marshes and adjacent uplands along the Lower Delaware River provide a productive mix of viewing site habitats that support a diversity and abundance of aquatic mammals like otter and muskrats, ducks, herons and egrets. Viewing sites on the marshes, bays, beaches and dunes of the Shore and Delaware Bay/Cape May Peninsula regions abound with both breeding and migratory bird life. The Shore, Peninsula and Bay are key links in the migratory paths of many North American bird species and equally important to populations of resident terns, plovers, herons, ducks, osprey and marsh hawks. Breathtaking opportunities exist here such as the spring migration of hundreds of thousands of shorebird species like the ruddy turnstone and semi-palmated sandpiper that stop to feast on horseshoe crab eggs on Delaware Bay beaches.
Even New Jersey's often maligned northeastern "metropolitan" area offers a selection of wildlife viewing sites scattered like gems throughout the urban landscape. The majestic Palisades cliffs in the Palisades Interstate Park and the Hackensack Meadowlands are two urban sites surrounded by millions of people yet rival some of New Jersey's wildest sites for the number and diversity of wildlife species that can be seen. A stroll along the base of the cliffs at the Palisades provides the chance to see osprey or peregrine falcons, forest nesting scarlet tanagers and ovenbirds that you'd be surprised to find here and a variety of ducks, herons and egrets in the Hudson River.
The New Jersey Wildlife Viewing Guide pioneered the now popular 'Tour' or 'Trail' concept of linking multiple viewing sites to encourage self-guided excursions. The New Jersey Guide features Wildlife Diversity Tours within four of the regions that have large amounts of publicly owned land. The 'Wildlife Diversity Tours' are a major component of the Wildlife Viewing Guide. Selected wildlife viewing sites that reflect the dominant ecosystem in the region and the relationships of wildlife and man to those systems have been linked together to form a self-guided tour using interpretive text in the guide and at the sites. These tours have been designed to encourage overnight excursions and provide a product that will be packaged with regional natural and cultural attractions and local amenities in a manner that keeps tourists and tourism dollars in the area for longer periods of time.
New Jersey's original wildlife viewing guide can still be obtained through popular book selling sites like Amazon. A new Wildlife Viewing Guide for New Jersey was published in 2009.
The links below also provide valuable information on Wildlife Watching opportunities and public land we have for wildlife viewing.