Second Snake Sighting and Top Ten Cool Rattlesnake Facts

Eastern Garden Snake found in front of my house.

Another Snake Sighting!

I’ve seen many different animals while living in New Jersey, especially since my house abuts the South Mountain Reservation. Want to know what I’ve spotted? Check out Animal Kingdom in the Suburbs. But, I’ve never seen skunks despite smelling them, and I’ve never seen a snake…until last week.

While walking Lucy, my neighbors (shout out to Jeanne and Jim) said there was a snake on the road ahead. I kept an eye out, but it must have moved on. I returned home to see our cat Midnight batting what looked like a small branch. It wasn’t a branch? It was a small snake! I figured it was a harmless garter snake so, you guessed it hon, I picked it up! So cool! It was smooth and surprisingly warm. Another neighbor (shout out to Heather) was walking her bear–umm, I mean giant, black, fluffy dog Gracie–when she said, “What have you got there?” She thought the snake was cool, too.

You know who wasn’t that interested in this exciting finding? Lucy and Gracie! They were all like sniff, sniff, done. But Midnight stayed half hidden in his “jungle” (the garden in front of my house), watching. Why? Because he wanted to finish the job he started! That poor, little snake had an injury–a wound on its underside with a spot of blood. Midnight wasn’t just playing with it. ūüė¶

I nestled the little snake in dense brush. I hope its’ wound heals and returns to doing whatever it is Eastern Garden Snakes do.

How strange that I go for years without seeing a wild snake, and in the span of a month, there are two in my path? Hmmm, is it a sign or coincidence?

The other snake I came upon was, you may remember, coiled and rattling in New Mexico. Hon, of course I wanted to know more about rattlesnakes! Wouldn’t you?

Top Ten Cool Rattlesnake Facts:

  1. “Rattles are segments of keratin that fit loosely inside one another at the end of the snake‚Äôs tail. These segments knock against each other to produce a buzzing sound when the snake holds its tail vertically and vibrates the rattle. Each time a rattlesnake sheds its skin it adds another segment to the rattle.”(Source: Madison, Wisconsin herpotologist Sara Viernum.)
  2. In addition to rattling, rattlesnakes warn by hissing.
  3. Snakes do not communicate with each other by hissing since they’re deaf to airborne sounds. Their hiss is a warning for animals that can hear.
  4. There are 32 different species of rattlesnakes.
  5. The snakes can are found everywhere from sea level to a high elevation of 11,000 feet (3,353 m).
  6. Several generations of rattlesnakes will use the same dens.
  7. “Mothers can store sperm for months before fertilizing the eggs, and then they carry babies for about three months.”
  8. “Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, which means that eggs incubate inside the mother‚Äôs body. Babies are born live, encased in a thin membrane that they puncture after being born.”
  9. “The digestive process can take several days, and rattlesnakes become sluggish and hide during this time. Adult rattlers eat about every two weeks.”
  10. Rattlesnakes most distinctive features are their triangular heads and vertical pupils.

Sources: Rattlesnake facts: Live Science and Reptiles Magazine; Photo of Western Tanager: South Dakota Birds and Birding

Top Ten Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles

Enormous snapping turtle spotted on a walk in the South Mountain Reservation a few weeks ago.

Box Turtle found in my garden.

Despite the Turtle Back Zoo being a local attraction, I’ve only seen turtles in the area a few times. There are the small turtles that sun themselves on logs in Diamond Mill Pond in the South Mountain Reservation, the box turtle that showed up in my garden, and the box turtle who peed a gallon on me when I picked it up by¬†The Waterfront. Compared to the “Animal Kingdom in the Suburbs,”¬†in which chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, raccoons, moles, opossums, turkeys and foxes are common, turtle sightings are scant.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I spotted a prehistoric-looking creature a few feet from the road!

It was an enormous snapping turtle whose shell was about 2 1/2 feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide. Add in its head and long tail and it was about 3 1/2 feet long. People were gathering and the turtle didn’t look happy. Hon, you know what I had to do once I got home? Look up snapping turtle facts, of course!

Top Ten Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles:
  1. Turtles have a hard plate that covers the stomach, called a plastron. But, a snapping turtle’s plastron is small, so they can’t pull their head and legs into their shell for protection. They make up for this lack of body armor with an aggressive temperament.
  2. In the wild, snapping turtles are estimated to live up to 30 years, and in captivity, they can live up to 47 years. Once they reach a certain size there are few natural predators of snapping turtles.
  3. A snapping turtle’s tail has sharp ridges running along its length, and is nearly as long as the shell. Their necks, legs, and tails have a yellowish color and the head is dark. A snapping turtle’s mouth is shaped like a strong, bony beak with no teeth. Their skin is rough with characteristic bumps, called tubercles, on their necks and legs. The feet are webbed and have strong claws.
  4. Turtles lack teeth. Most are mute, but they have keen senses of smell and color vision.
  5. Living only in fresh or brackish water, snapping turtles prefer water with muddy bottoms and lots of vegetation so that they can hide more easily. They spend almost all their time in water, but do go on land to lay their eggs in sandy soil.
  6. They like to bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying is used to surprise prey.
  7. Snapping turtles have a small growth on the end of their tongues that looks like a wriggling worm. To capture fish, the turtle opens its mouth to make the “worm” visible. When a fish comes to the worm, the snapping turtle grabs it with its strong jaws.
  8. Snapping turtles will eat nearly anything that they can get their jaws around. They feed on dead animals, insects, fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and a surprisingly large amount of aquatic plants. They kill other turtles by biting off their heads.
  9. Snapping turtles are solitary. Even though many turtles may be found in a small area, their social interactions are limited to aggression between individuals, usually males.
  10. Snapping turtles communicate to mates with leg movements while the turtles face each other. Snapping turtles also use their sense of smell, vision, and touch to detect prey. They may sense vibrations in the water.
Source: BioKids

Coywolf Country?!

Wolf, Coyote, or a Combination?

Three of us thought we saw a wolf in our backyard, but¬†according to Endangered New Jersey,¬†“There are no wolves in the wild in NJ.” Here’s what the site says:

Wolves can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Expanding development, farming, and ranching activity has drastically reduced the wolf’s range and population. Suitable habitat now restricts wolves to remote areas of their traditional range.

But conservation and education efforts will hopefully protect and preserve wolves throughout the world. There are no wolves in the wild in NJ, but you can visit them in captivity.

Reintroduction programs are being implemented and captive wolves in zoos, and wolf research centers are being maintained to insure that the genetic purity of wolf species is preserved. Turtle Back Zoo’s wolves come from Wolf Park Research Center in Battle Ground, Indiana.

In the urban wilderness of Essex County, you can visit wolves at the Turtleback Zoo which has a Wolf Woods habitat. You can see timber wolves close up but safely through glass panels that let you feel like a member of the pack. Several viewing stations let you see the wolves from different angles. You will wolves see crossing a stream, resting on logs and rocky outcroppings and nose-close right at the window.

If you want to hear the howling of wolves in NJ, you can also head to the mountains of the Delaware Water Gap in Warren County, NJ. At the Lakota Wolf Preserve, (Pics above are wolves I photographed at the Lakota Wolf Preserve.) there are great photo opportunities with packs of Tundra, Timber, and Arctic wolves in a natural surrounding. There are also bobcats and foxes at the reserve. The preserve is at at 89 Mt. Pleasant Road, Columbia, NJ.

If it wasn’t a wolf, what was it?!

Animal spotted at about 10am Thursday, February 13, 2020.

Could it be a Coywolf?! What is a Coywolf?

Shout out to my critique partner, Kathy, for introducing me to¬†New Jersey’s “apex predator!”

In an article by by

Coywolves are said to be Eastern coyotes, “the latest cool-sounding hybrid animal that researchers say now can be found by the millions throughout the Northeast.”

The coywolf is actually a cross between a coyote and a wolf, and it’s pretty common in the Northeast U.S., including N.J., according to several reports.

What used to be considered an eastern coyote is more accurately called a coywolf, according to Smithsonian Magazine, since eastern wolves interbred with western coyotes when deforestation and hunting threatened their population.

Researchers have learned that the coywolf is about twice the size of a coyote, with larger jaws and bigger muscles that allow it to kill deer, the UK Independent reports. The animals were dubbed the new “superpredators” by Field and Stream.

The extensive coywolf studies of Pepperdine University biology professor Javier MonzA3n concluded that coyote DNA dominates, but the animal is also 10 percent dog and 25 percent wolf, the Economist reported.

A 2014 PBS special on the coywolf observed that the coywolf may be taking over the region but its appearance only began within the last 90 years.

Coyotes now exist in at least 400 towns across the state, according to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, NJ Advance Media has reported.

One eastern Coyote/coywolf research site says that the animal is found from New Jersey to Maine, weighs 30 to 45 pounds on average, and ranges in color from “blonde to darker black and brown, but is usually tawny brown.” While the animal may be stronger than the coyote, coywolf attacks are extremely rare, and there’s no reason for “wolf hysteria,” the Coywolf Association says.

Photo of a coywolf courtesy of WMHT.

So cool!

Wolf Sighting In My Backyard!

Three Women and a Wolf

You’re not going to believe what me, my daughter and a friend witnessed this week…a wolf walking alongside our fence!

We couldn’t believe what we were seeing and as I was shouting, “It’s a coyote!” my daughter and friend disagreed and were yelling, “No, it’s a wolf!” Hon, you may remember my post about living in New Jersey, Animal Kingdom in the Suburbs, but I’ve never seen–or even heard–of a Grey Wolf sighting in the area! The only wolves I’ve seen in the Garden State are the ones I photographed at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in ¬†Columbia, NJ. They were gorgeous, interesting, and on the other side of a chain link fence. The wolf in my backyard looked lost, like how the heck did I end up here and how can I get back up to the South Mountain Reservation? He wasn’t hunting and, though he was larger and taller than a full breed German Shepherd, didn’t look scary. I wasn’t quick enough to get a good photo–in the one I snapped, he’s hunkering down.

So cool!

Grey Wolf seen in my backyard.


Fairy Trail Finale

Fairy House Architect

Want to know who’s behind the little bit of magic in the South Mountain Reservation?

Therese Ojibway took to the woods years ago when her son, Clinton, who is now 25, was 3. He has autism, and the nature reserve has been a place of freedom for him and a retreat for her.¬†Five years ago, Ms.¬†Ojibway, a 60-year-old special education teacher, started building the fairy houses, drawing upon a childhood she said was rich in fairy-tale lore and stories like ‚ÄúThumbelina‚ÄĚ by Hans Christian Andersen, ‚ÄúThe Borrowers‚ÄĚ by Mary Norton and the Flower Fairies, illustrations by Cicely Mary Barker.

Ms. Ojibway said she was also influenced by the fairy homes on Monhegan Island in Maine.¬†‚ÄúI started looking at the hollows of the trees and thought, ‚ÄėIf I were a fairy I would live there,‚Äô‚ÄĚ she said.¬†Ms. Ojibway says she loves that children have been inspired by her work to make their own creations.¬†Children occasionally leave notes with instructions for the fairies, which Ms. Ojibway sometimes acts on. One child left a shell for her to make into a bed, which she did. Others have left their baby teeth for the tooth fairy.¬†She does upkeep on her little houses about once a week, usually in the evenings with her son.











Source: New York Times

Related Posts:

Fairy Trail

Fairy Furniture, Part 1

Fairy Furniture, Part 2

Fairy Furniture, Part 2

 More fairy furniture!

Do these picture inspire you? Need a fun kids activity? Click here for instructions on DIY fairy furniture. Click here to learn more about the Fairy Trail in the South Mountain Reservation.

Can you guess which set-up is my favorite?

Outdoor swing.

Another swing.







Reading Nook.

Sister fairies must meet in the middle.

Chairs and a¬†mirror furnish this “open-air” fairy¬†house.

The Reading Nook is my favorite fairy furniture!

Fairy Furniture, Part 1

What’s more magical than fairy houses? Fairy furniture!

Indoor fairy furniture was formed using wood, rope, mushrooms, cork, burlap and pebbles. Some of the pieces must have come from old-fashioned doll houses. All of it is oh-so-cute! Click here to learn more about the Fairy Trail in the South Mountain Reservation.

Mushrooms, moss and corks make up this tiny dining set.

There’s room for lots of fairies at this table.

Fairies would have sweet dreams on a burlap bed with cork pillows.

Twigs and rope make a cute canopy bed.










Check out this comfy couch and traditional floor lamp.

A tiny toilette!







My nieces on the Fariy Trail.

Want to learn how to make your own fairy furniture? Click here for a link for some great ideas. Happy creating, hon!

Fairy Trail

Fairies in the Forest

I’d heard mention of a Fairy Trail in the South Mountain Reservation, but didn’t know much about it until recently. When my sister and her three daughters visited, we found a whole village! I went a little crazy taking pictures of the tiny houses, so¬†I’ll share them over several posts.

Happy fairy house hunting, Hon!

My sister, nieces, daughter and dog ready to search for magic!



Add a roof to the door and the house takes shape.

Set a door against a gap in a tree and–voila–a fairy house!









Moss, bark and branches create an organic structure.

Check out the tiny furniture inside this fairy home.

Homes are under trees and on top of logs.

Want to make your own fairy house? Click here to find out how on wiki How

New Year’s Resolution

Painterly landscape of the Rahway River in the South Mountain Reservation, New Jersey.

In 2017 let us remember

that with one departure

there is an arrival,

that following every before

there comes an after

and that the moments that 

seem utterly minor

will undoubtedly add up to 

something major.

This year is just like any other.

The only difference is 

what you decide to make of it.


Source: Tiffany & Co. Jan. 1, 2017

Lucy versus Groundhogs

'I'll go wherever you go, Mommy."
“I’ll go wherever you go, Mommy.”

"You never know what scents you'll pick up in the wind."
“I love to stick my nose out of the window.”

"I'm on the lookout for intruders and wild animals!"
“I’m on the lookout for intruders and wild animals!”

What is it about groundhogs?

Despite living in a New Jersey suburb of Manhattan, frequent visitors to our backyard include wild turkeys, deer, raccoons, rabbits, opossums, foxes, chipmunks, squirrels and mice. ¬†I call our neighborhood, which backs up to a nature reserve, the South Mountain Reservation¬†“Animal Kingdom.” Lucy, our 4 year-old Labra-Collie rescue, is fascinated by all the animals, but morphs from Interested Observer to Psycho Doggie when groundhogs appear.

A few weeks ago Lucy was languishing in the heat, when she jumped up and made a bee-line down our hill. ¬†She chomped down on something furry.¬†I don’t know if she intended to¬†shake the small animal–dare I say?–to death, or if she meant to scare the wits out of it. ¬†Either way, it didn’t look good for the baby groundhog.

I raced down the hill, screeching, “Drop it! ¬†Drop it! ¬†Lucy, STOP IT!” ¬†(Yes,¬†I know that rhymes. I write picture books, hon. But, I digress.)

Did Lucy listen?  Noooo!

Instead, she proceeded to whip the baby groundhog back and forth like a stuffed toy while the groundhog struggled to free itself and while I chased her around the yard.  As I tried to catch Lucy, my youngest daughter watched from the sidelines.

“GET THE LEASH!” ¬†I hollered.

In the meantime, I managed to grab Lucy and press on the outsides of her jaw until she dropped the groundhog.  My daughter arrived with the leash and dragged her inside.

I approached the poor little rodent, apologizing profusely. Guess what? ¬†There were no bite marks or blood! ¬†Lucy’s Labrador Retriever “soft mouth” clutch didn’t break any skin. ¬†The groundhog, surely in shock, looked at me as if to say, “Thank you for saving my life.”

Despite its probable concussion, I figured it would get the word out to stay away from our yard. ¬†Apparently, it didn’t.

Earlier this week, I heard Lucy barking with a high-pitched voice I hadn’t heard before. ¬†I ran outside to find her nose-to-nose with an adult groundhog.¬† Again, I did the “Catch-a-Psycho-Doggie” dance. ¬†Again, amused bystanders watched from the sidelines. This time, it was my son and hubby laughing as I screamed, “GET THE LEASH!”

After quite a bit of chasing (us chasing Lucy, Lucy chasing the adult groundhog), we caught Lucy and dragged her inside.

Would you believe me if I told you Lucy really is the sweetest little angel, a sponge for affection? ¬†Don’t answer that question if you’re a groundhog or a… mailman…truck driver…repairman…motocycle driver…

 Related Post:  Top Ten Reasons Why Lucy Is My Inspiration Puppy