After a few progressively longer and better planned hikes the remaining biological treasures are slowly discovered while missing members of the natural community are just that………..gone.
Gradually one gets a taste of what species are present in acceptable numbers. Every half-mile a signing male Worm-eating Warbler’s insect like trill is heard (above). Over fifteen were found and no doubt there are at least one hundred pairs remaining in the larger area.
American Redstarts (above) are present in good numbers; a few hundred breeding pairs are no doubt feeding on the acceptable insect biomass of the forest. Ovenbirds (2 above) sing in the scores and here and there, in appropriate habitat, are a few Blue-winged (2 below), Black-and-White, Yellow, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Prairie Warblers (below) and Common Yellowthroats.
Some frugivores are in low numbers. The expected breeding forest thrushes, Wood Thrush and Veery are sparse. Blueberry plants are numerous but the flute-like song of even one Hermit Thrush is absent. In 2006 our survey team was surprised to find a few Hermit Thrushes singing in Earle Naval Base in Monmouth County, NJ surrounded by blueberry patches under the pines. And of course the species sings on in various places in N NJ similar to the Ramapo Mts.
And where are the Northern Waterthrushes, Hooded, Black-throated Green, Canada, Nashville, Parula, Chestnut-sided, Pine and Golden-winged Warblers? Are we seeing the same compounding ecological problems of invasive plant species, over browse by White-tailed Deer, Brown-headed Cowbird, excessive multiple use, unneeded trails and fragmentation that we see in other NJ counties? Probably.
Wood Ducks, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Red-eyed Vireos (2 below), Eastern Wood Pewees, Great Crested Flycatchers, an Acadian Flycatcher (nest found), Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanagers (below), Brown-headed Cowbirds, Northern Cardinals (4 below), Chipping Sparrows (5 below) and other species were noted.
Although several species of herps were found they seem to be in low numbers; some local extirpations may be developing. The highlights were a large Timber Rattlesnake (well below), striking Eastern Garter Snake (2 below), Five-lined Skinks, Red Efts (below) and Wood Frogs.
One is immediately dissappointed by the baffling and excessive number of trails and roads penetrating the various Ringwood and Ramapo open spaces. Just about every body of water, even the small ones are completely ringed by trails. Some paths are for mountain biking but its all poorly marked. I couldn’t figure out which trail was safe from approaching bikes to feel comfortable losing myself while binning the canopy.
Bikers were observed in wetland areas and off allowed trails. Anastomosing roads for emergency response or maintenance are numerous; these gaps are all attractive travel “prairies” and expedient sight lines for Brown-headed Cowbirds, a brood parasite.
Between the sparse vehicles and frequent bikes there is undoubtedly direct herptile mortality. The road hardpack allows surface water to linger for weeks which unfortunately attracts courting and egg laying amphibians with mostly poor results.
A hundred plus acres of manicured grasses in Ringwood Manor State Park and the Botanical Garden are unnatural feeding grounds for White-tailed Deer and feral Canada Geese. The forest’s deer browse line was severest nearest these blankets of food; invasive plants are spreading since deer prefer natives.
The ponds near the visitor center which might be able to support State Endangered, Pied-billed Grebes instead are occupied with aggressive Canada Geese which in general preclude grebes and other native species from breeding.
Invasives like Japanese barberry (below) covered many acres. Berberis thunbergii forms dense stands in various US habitats including canopy forests, open woodlands, wetlands, pastures, and meadows. It alters soil ecology by raising pH and changing nitrogen levels. Once in a forest, barberry displaces native plants and reduces wildlife habitat and forage.
White-tailed deer apparently avoid browsing barberry, preferring to feed on native plants, giving barberry a competitive advantage. In New Jersey’s open space, Japanese barberry has been found to raise soil pH and reduce the depth of the importnat leaf and top soil layer.
Together these seemingly small impacts have and will continue to lead to local extirpations. A call to the park’s supervisor to find out more on these issues informed me of personnel cuts and the lack of any local biological staff to address ecological issues.
Regardless of problems the Ramapo Mountains contain substantial biodiversity with the potential for restoration and improvement with citizen input. Local academics and NBP are interested in teaming with citizens or students to work on solutions. Contact us if interested in discussing pragmatic projects that will help biodiversity and animals ( NBP@comcast.net ).
After reaching the more secluded habitats of the Ramapo Mts. a careful search was made and a very healthy Timber Rattlesnake with 12 rattles was located.
NBP would like to thank F. Virrazzi for submitting this article and B. Rothauser, S. Elowitz and F. Virrazzi for the pictures which are their copyright and/or NBP’s.