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Must visit wildlife sites in New York State and New Jersey

There is much more to New York than just the city that never sleeps, and the state may be one of the most overlooked US destinations when it comes to wildlife viewing says Jim Mallman, president of Watchable Wildlife, Inc.  although it has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Here he guides us his favourite sites in New York and its neighbouring state New Jersey

Long Island

The Eastern shore of New York is dominated by the 118-mile long Long Island, the largest island in the contiguous United States. Although heavily populated, Long Island is located at a critical point of the Atlantic Flyway and thus provides a stopover and breeding ground for many species of migratory birds. Ospreys, green and great blue herons, wood ducks  and pine warblers are just a few of the bird species that migrate through and stop over Long Island.    

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

The Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex is made up of five areas open to the public. These include Amagansett, Elizabeth A Morton, Oyster Bay, Target Rock and Wertheim Refuges. The largest of these, Oyster Bay, is only accessible by boat but is very worth the extra effort if you want to view and photograph wintering waterfowl. You can also view Harbor Seals and four species of sea turtles in Long Island waters: the Loggerhead, Green, Kemp's Ridley and Leatherback. 

Target Rock is the smallest of the refuges, but don’t be fooled by its size. This 80-acre site located on the Lloyd Neck Peninsula has a mature oak-hickory forest, making it one of the best sites in North America to view over 40 species of vireos and wood warblers, as 16 of the species nest here.  

Wildlife viewing is best from three hiking trails. The Warbler’s Loop Trail winds through the forest for just over a mile. The wooded area provides coverage from predators for catbirds, cardinals, common yellowthroats and Carolina wrens. An extension of the Warbler’s Loop Trail, the Rocky Beach Trail, brings you down to the rocky shoreline of Long Island’s north shore.

Up The Hudson River Valley

Following the Hudson River Valley is a great route from Long Island into some of the most wild, scenic and historic sites on the East Coast. Named for the English sea explorer and navigator, Hendrick Hudson who first sailed up this waterway in 1609, the Hudson River Valley offers fantastic wildlife viewing venues, as well as scenic rural communities and charming small towns.

Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a globally rare pine barrens. This site has brush-covered sand dunes situated over 150 miles from the nearest seashore. The preserve is approximately 3,000 acres and yet this relatively small area is home to 45 Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

More than 90 bird species have been observed here, and this is one of the few sites where you can view the very rare and endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. Be sure to hike the Great Dunes trail, a favourite of most visitors. Fishers, white-tailed deer, red and grey foxes and coyotes are just a few of the mammals that can be found at this site.

"Bear Mountain State Park"  

As you move north up the Hudson River Valley from New York City, the landscape changes dramatically. Bear Mountain State Park provides one of the best locations to watch hawks glide on the air currents that rise up from the Hudson River. From the peak you can see Harriman State Park. This 44,000 acre park has 200 miles of trails and paths and 31 lakes and ponds and is open all year so excellent wildlife viewing can also be experienced in all four seasons.

From September through to November American bald eagles can be seen in the highlands of Bear Mountain. Migrating song birds and shore birds can be photographed in the spring and early summer months. Throughout the year white-tailed deer, red and grey squirrels, red and grey fox and cotton-tailed rabbits play on the trails and fields across the park.

The Catskill Mountains

One of the main driving routes through Eastern New York is Interstate 87. Just west of this route lays the rugged terrain of the Catskill Mountains.

Often overshadowed by its big sister, the Adirondacks Mountains, the Catskills offer incredible wildlife viewing opportunities and scenic walks that should not be missed. One benefit of the parks and wildlife preserves in this mountain range is the near proximity to the Hudson Valley and the State’s capital city of Albany.

The terrain of this mountain range varies from rolling hills to the south to 3,000ft peaks with deep cuts left behind from glacial action. River valleys and dense hardwood forests provide the habitat to attract a very diverse wildlife population. This region has been a longtime vacation destination for east coast residents and thus has great roads and well-established parks and preserves.  

Mongaup Valley Wildlife Management Area is a great example of what this region has to offer. This 11,855 acre wilderness has been designated a Bird Conservation Area by the State of New York. This is an excellent location to view and photograph the American Bald Eagle. The upland forest also attracts migrating hawks and owls as well as scrubland and wetland birds.

The confluence here of the Mongaup and Delaware rivers and the abundance of water bodies and wetlands provide food and habitat to a wide variety of mammals and reptiles. The tracts of hardwood trees attract warblers including the rare Cerulean Warbler. An experienced birder offers this tip about recognising this warbler in the wild:  “If you think you’ve seen a cerulean warbler you most likely didn’t, because when you do spot one, you’ll know it!”

Black bears, white-tailed deer, foxes, porcupines, beavers and northern river otters can make any hike through this site a real adventure.

For anyone interested in viewing grassland birds, the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge is a must. Managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, this refuge is relatively small at 566 acres. Formally a military airport, it is one of the few locations on the Hudson Valley with grassland habitat large enough to attract migrating grassland birds.



Recommended reading     

New York wildlife Viewing Guide

Majestic mountains, urban heights, world class parks and lakes to pastoral farmlands and vineyards New York State has it all! New York’s wildlife viewing and bountiful natural beauty is only matched by its rich history and invigorating culture. The New York Wildlife Viewing Guide is your key to unlock the treasures of the Empire State.

$14.95 - buy it here 

Upland sandpiper (a State-threatened species pictured above), bobolink, eastern meadowlark, and savannah sparrow are commonly found nesting on refuge lands. The refuge provides important habitat for wintering raptors that depend upon its expansive grasslands for hunting and cover. Raptors such as the short-eared owl (State-endangered), northern harrier (State-threatened) and rough-legged hawk (light and dark phases) can often be found hunting the open grasslands. More than 150 bird species have been sighted on the refuge, which has a New York Audubon designation as an Important Bird Area. 


New Jersey

If all you know of New Jersey is what you have seen on American television and gangster movies, get ready for a real shock. Although this State is one of the most densely populated in the US, most of the congestion is located in and around New York City. The remainder of the State is a wild and wonderful experience.  

Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, the city of Cape May sits on the tip of the Cape May Peninsula. This historic and charming city is considered the country's oldest seaside resort community. During the summer months, the area is filled with families and other beach-loving tourists. But with the start of school in September, the hotels empty out and the expert birders fly in.

It is not difficult for someone willing to put in the time and show the patience to sight over 100 species of birds. In the autumn, the raptors take the stage:  peregrine falcons, osprey, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks and American bald eagles rest on their journey down the Atlantic Flyway before attempting to cross the Delaware Bay. 

In the spring, warblers and ducks will most likely cause you to wrench your neck trying to take them all in. Many of the world’s most renowned birders say this spot should be on every birder’s Bucket List. 

Laurie Pettigrew, the Regional Superintendent, N J Department of Environmental Protection says: “A stop at the famed Cape May hawk watch platform in Fall frequently yields unexpected finds. Wildlife viewing is at its best at the tip of Cape May where you can experience the drama of a monarch flight and the magnificence of the raptor migration all in the same day. There is nothing quite like the warbler trousseau dressing Cape May following a spring warm front.”

New Jersey has 11 National Parks Historic Sites & Monuments, 39 State Parks, 42 Natural Areas, 11 State Forests and six National Wildlife Refuges. Notable among them are the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Maurice River Viewing Areas, and the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. These sites are home to a total of 535 species of wildlife including 64 terrestrial mammals and 28 marine mammals, from black bears and pygmy shrews to river otters and humpback whales.   


About Watchable Wildlife, Inc.

“To Help Communities and Wildlife Prosper”—a simple mission statement for a complex challenge. Watchable Wildlife, Inc. is an independent nonprofit working with communities across North America, promoting a better understanding of the real value of their wildlife and remaining wild places.

Partnering with state and federal wildlife agencies, we assist when asked in developing sustainable and economically viable wildlife/nature tourism programs. We work towards accomplishing this mission of developing sustainable wildlife-viewing programs by focusing on three key areas: an annual conference, publications such as state wildlife viewing guides, and on-the-ground projects.

Brown road signs with the binoculars logo let travelers know that they’re in a great spot to watch wildlife! These uniform signs found throughout the US are an example of the programs of Watchable Wildlife, Inc.