All text copyright  Eitan Grunwald.  All photographs copyright  Eitan or Ron Grunwald  except photographs by others are copyright per photo credits.  All rights reserved.  Terms
NEW JERSEY
Shore
 1 of 2
NEW JERSEY
Shore
 1 of 2
At the southern end of the state, down by Delaware Bay, June brings the annual spawning of horseshoe crabs, when shorelines are covered with thousands of spiky, crawling masks on the move.  On this occasion I was slightly off for the mass mating, but did find a few couples on the beach aiming for an early start, plowing the sands like sauce pans in love. Facing inland, there's a wide expanse of salt marsh, occasionally divided by brackish inlets.   On the banks of those inlets or other elevations above the high-tide line, Diamondback Terrapins lay their eggs in June-July, the only time of year these aquatic turtles come on to dry land.   One June weekend I was out herping by the shore with my daughter, Shoshi, and some friends.  As soon as we entered the marsh there was a terrapin on the road.  While we stopped for photos another one emerged right in front of us.  Then one more behind us.  Then a fourth.  Same thing happened a bit farther down the road.  We just stood in one spot, watching terrapins cross all around us, all within a few minutes.  They were everywhere, New Jersey’s version of an arribada, the mass nesting of sea turtles on the beaches of Costa Rica.  If we had stayed more than a few minutes, I'm sure we would've seen dozens, without even driving around.   Very cool.    So, the next year we return and stay for more than just a few minutes.  As Shoshi and I enter terrapin habitat, we carefully search for subtle signs of turtle activity, and skillfully detect their cryptic appearance on land. On a road by the edge of a salt marsh we start finding lots of terrapins in various stages of egg laying. Driving along, and Shoshi spots something in the weeds by the side of the road.  It’s long, black, and twisted;  she thinks it might be a Racer, which would surprise me.  We’re on a thin strip of land surrounded by salt water, an area where I don’t expect to find snakes.  I back up, and sure enough, it’s a roadkill, but not the Racer we assumed.  Instead, it turns out to be a big Black Rat Snake, freshly shed and recently run over, probably hit just before we arrived.  It’s all the more frustrating because there’s practically no one on this road, only a few fishermen in their pick-ups.  Damn, damn, damn.   We continue driving until we come upon another turtle digging a nest.  This time, however, it’s a prehistoric- looking Snapper.      While we’re taking pictures, a pick-up truck pulls up behind us, and a couple of fishermen stop to take a look.   “Did you see that big snake back there?” they ask.  Great, probably the guys who ran it over.   “Yeah,” we reply, “it’s a real shame someone killed it.”  Shameless, they continue: “We seen it crawling across the road right in front of us.”   “Where abouts?” “Just before that culvert.”  Of course, same spot as the DOR.   “Then it went off the side and into the water.”  Hmmm . . . The Black Rat was in the weeds right by the road.  Were they denying responsibility, or just mistaken about how far the injured snake had crawled away?  Or, maybe it wasn’t the same snake?   The guys drive off, and we turn our car around to do another run.   Make it to the end, then double-back to see a few more terrapins. Along the way we pass a pick-up, the same one that stopped by the Snapping Turtle, coming from the opposite direction.  The driver waves, and then we realize he’s flagging us down.   “Hey, we was just fishing over by the culvert.  I was standin’ there and felt something.  Looked down, and there was this big black snake, crawling right next to my foot.  Scared the hell out of me!”   “How long ago?”   “Just a few minutes.”   “Thanks.  Gotta go.”  We’re off.   Get to the spot and look out into the marsh, realizing the snake has probably disappeared already into the reeds.  We push through the thick vegetation, hoping for a glimpse, but no sign.   Then all of a sudden, there it is where I least expect it, floating in the brackish water among the weeds.       Leap! Splash! Grab! and a moment later the handsome Black Rat is being admired on dry land.  Bigger than the DOR, and even better (to state the obvious), it’s AOR.      Finished up with a speedy little Mud Turtle and a bit of birdwatching on the way home.      
Eastern Mud Turtle Kinosternon subrubrum
 Shoshanna Grunwald
Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin
 Shoshanna Grunwald  Shoshanna Grunwald
Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina
Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta
 Shoshanna Grunwald  Shoshanna Grunwald