This is perhaps the most perfect time to enjoy a hike or a cycling exercise through the vast stretches of the Pine Barrens. Nature is at its cleanest, with the only the faintest hints of spring about to pop. A bud here, an early blossom there, but overall totally open woodlands that reveal Mother Nature in the raw before she get into her spring dress up.
The intoxicating essence of autumnal decay is being replaced with a freshness, a rebirth, in the breezes that you can almost taste. Spring is ever-so-slowly being sprung. What’s more, it’s an ideal time to observe wildlife. During our late winter/early spring jaunts we’ve caught glimpses of deer, coyotes, red and gray foxes, snakes, beavers, muskrats, bald eagles, great horned owls, turkeys, snapping and box turtles, osprey, red-tailed hawks, and a multitude of songbirds. And once, in a “Do you see what I see?,” moment, an extremely-rare-but-there-bobwhite quail.
Granted, these were seen while hiking. On a bike, well, I’m more about watching where I’m going and getting there in one piece than checking out the surroundings. A hike, at least from this corner, serves the viewing much better.
A couple of bonuses for us, in addition to exercise and stretching the leg muscles, show in the form of looking for shed antlers (found one here and there over the years), and boning up on turkey calling. As of yesterday, just prior to the spritzing morning rain, a gobbler sounded off near the parking lot of the Batona Trail in Bass River State Forest. A few hen yelps on the box call (always present in the hoodie pocket this time of year) and he thundered again. Sure, perhaps a week or so early, but there is always a precocious young stud turkey getting ready. We’ve noticed a few small flocks of hens and jakes on field/woodland edges in our travels through South Jersey the past week, so it is about that time.
Our fave trails include the seven-mile beat of the 50-mile Batona Trail (which runs through Brendan T. Byrne and Wharton state forests, and ends in Bass River) and the four-mile CCC Trail and the 3.2-mile Poppy Allen Trail, all in Bass River State Forest, and the 7.2-mile East Creek Trail loop in Belleplain State Forest.
Certainly not to overlooked are the latticeworks of sandy roads not only in these state forests but also in Wharton State Forest, and the Greenwood Forest and Stafford Forge wildlife management areas. Just be sure you have a functioning GPS, as it’s easy to get turned around, especially on the smaller side trails off the main sand roads.
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