Animals on the Run

Saturday mornings, my friend Brandon and I usually head out from his house for an early morning run around our local park, the Cooper River Park in Camden County, New Jersey.  We don’t have to go too far before we run into the most populous animals in the region, the so called Giant Canadian Goose.  These animals have learned to call New Jersey home, and long ago gave up their instinctive migratory pattern.  The reason they stay is that life here is pretty good for them.  According to state biologists and naturalists, they thrive on fresh water, grazing areas of tender, mowed grasses, and areas where they have a wide view of potential predators.  They like safe areas to make nests, which they make on the ground, with the goose laying five or six eggs, nesting for 30-35 days in April, and with the gander keeping guard.  All the eggs begin to develop the same day, and hatch the same day.  Once the goslings are out of the shell, they are taken right to the water.  The geese gather multiple nests-full of goslings together, making a very attractive grouping of thirty or forty goslings being watched over by the multiple parent geese of the broods.  It is sort of like how it takes a village to raise a child.  Apparently, our parks and lawns have created ideal places for these formerly migratory birds never to want to leave.  This is just one of numerous species we encounter on our runs.

Non-plussed geese and gosslings along the trail. (courtesy Sue Hamilton)

Non-plussed geese and gosslings along the trail. (courtesy Sue Hamilton)

Geese can be annoying.  They are crowding our parks, cover the trails with goose droppings, and hiss at us as we run by, indicating it’s their park now.  Counter to the geese, much fewer in number, and generally a pleasant natural site are our local ducks.

Ducks looking for a handout at Newton Lake Park

Ducks looking for a handout at Newton Lake Park (courtesy Brandon Hamilton)

I’m not sure of the particular species of these ducks, but I believe they are American Black ducks, common throughout the greater northeast.  Known as a dabbling duck species, meaning they tip bottom side up in the water to find food, they are fun to watch as they feed in the ponds.

Another very common site is the squirrel.  Now, everyone knows squirrels, and they do seem to be everywhere.  Our particular South Jersey squirrels are the Eastern Grey Squirrel, known by their genus Sciurus, a portmanteau of Greek, skia (shadow) and oura (tail), meaning that it is in the shadow of its tail, per the Wikipedia article.  They have adapted very well over a large geographic area, and even have pushed out other squirrel types in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia.  Closely related, but much harder to see for more than a few tenths of a second, are our local Eastern Chipmunks.

Chipmunk gathering seeds.

Chipmunk gathering seeds.

 

 

 

 

I see them mainly along heavily wooded trails in the local parks, darting across the trail to hide in dense roots and ivy.  They live in extensive burrow systems underground, where they store food, and have many entrances and exits.  I also see them darting out from overgrown ivy in my backyard to gather seeds that have fallen from our bird feeder.

A variety of turtles and frogs occasionally poke their heads out, or send a croak out along our lake side trails.

A little larger in the animal kingdom, and certainly more rare as a sighting, is the local red fox.  There are two species of fox in New Jersey, the red and the grey.  I’ve never seen a grey fox, probably because they live in the woods and rarely show themselves.  The red fox we see every now and then, early in the morning, trotting along the side of the water in our local park, looking for rodents.

Red fox.  Wonder what he is thinking....

Red fox. Wonder what he is thinking….

White Tailed Deer have become extremely common around us, which is a bit puzzling to me.  Living where I do in New Jersey, these animals had to cross some major highways, such as the New Jersey turnpike, I295 and US 130 to get to us.  I guess we are seeing the deer that got pushed out from the more desirable locations, or just a population that enjoys suburban living.

Some does have antlers, but this looks like a buck to me, with a fawn.

Some does have antlers, but this looks like a buck to me, with a fawn.  (from Rutgers website)

On a run through a local park not long ago, early in the morning, I was startled by a small herd of six deer bounding across my trail in a wooded area.  According to Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, the deer population in much of the northeast was almost gone around 1900.  This was due to a combination of hunting and natural predators.  Since then, there has been an explosion in the population, due to lack of predators such as wolves and cougars, lack of space for hunting, and increasing habitat in populated areas.  As with any part of an ecosystem, balance is important.  An acceptable herd size is good for forest edge regions.  Too many deer, though, can cause a spiral of decline of forests, as the underbrush is eaten out, leading to lack of saplings, lack of cover for birds and many small animals, and lack of leaves falling from the decreased tree population.  For runners, I’ve yet to hear of someone hit by a deer, but deer also carry the scourge known as the deer tick, a tiny biter which can pass on Lyme disease as well as other illnesses.  Watch your legs in grassy areas.

Looking up, one of the hardest birds to spot is the woodpecker.  In our area, we frequently hear these birds rat-a-tat sound from high in the trees along the trail.  But, the sound is tough to locate, so without spending some time standing still, not what we usually do on a run, we usually don’t spot these birds.  Most likely, we are hearing the tap of the red-bellied woodpecker, the most common in our area, or we could be hearing the marvelously named yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Red-bellied woodpecker (not red-headed, that's another type which is much rarer)

Red-bellied woodpecker (not red-headed, that’s another type which is much rarer) (from NJ Audobon Soc.)

 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker. (from NJ Audubon Soc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ultimate wildlife spotting while on a run, in my opinion, was when I was running early Sunday morning a few months ago.  What first appeared to be a large hawk took off from the high branches of a sycamore tree.  As it made a wide, arcing turn, though, we could see it was no hawk.  It was a bald eagle.  I had heard there was a bald eagle nest in this area, but this was the first and only time I have seen one.  It was a beautiful sight, and we followed it with our eyes as it headed along the park lake.

Bald eagle photo (taken from free photos from photobucket)

Bald eagle photo (taken from free photos from photobucket)

There are many other birds and land animals we encounter on our runs.  There are blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, groundhogs and an occasional snake.  On runs outside my own territory, there have been many animals I have spotted, including beavers, skunks, and others.  No bears, fortunately.  I enjoy spotting these animals on the run, and it’s part of the joy of running outdoors.  Very few animals, other than homo-sapiens, are spotted running on a treadmill.

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