I frequently post on birding message boards about my outings to Piney Hollow Natural Area in Franklin Township, Gloucester County. This place is not well known so I often receive requests for more information about this location. This blog post is intended to be a reference for those seeking more information about Piney Hollow.
To start, this is the best way to get there:
Piney Hollow parking lot is directly across from 1447 Piney Hollow Rd. Newfield, NJ 08344. Just punch that into gps and you’re there!
That’s for the main entrance. The “back” entrances are located on Unexpected Rd. which is about 1/4 mile south from the main parking area off Piney Hollow Rd. I’ll get into details about which way to enter depending on what you’re looking for and what time of year you’re visiting.
Most visitors enter the preserve from the parking area on Piney Hollow Rd. Here you will find a trail map and informational brochure. In late May through June you can often hear breeding Yellow-throated Vireos singing. It is very difficult to get a look at these birds because they often remain at the tree tops, which are quite high. In breeding season you will also likely hear Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Trush, Ovenbirds and Eastern Wood Peewee from anywhere on the property.
Follow the blue trail along large White Oaks and a variety of flowering shrubs including Mountain Laurel, Clethra and Highbush Blueberry. In this habitat you can expect Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse and Eastern Towhee in all seasons. Red-headed Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker have been recorded from this area.
It’s not long before the trail turns right and divides upland pine-oak forest to the right and cedar-maple swamp to the left. A little way up there is a trail that branches off to the right, it doesn’t matter if you stay straight or go to the right. The very short side trail goes through the upland portion but rejoins the blue trail in about 1/10 mile. I typically go one way in and the other way when I’m leaving. The blue trail usually always hosts some birds. In winter it’s Chickadees, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Titmice, and both nuthatches. There have been times on spring when this stretch of the blue trail has been filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Pine Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers and other expected species such as Vireos, Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The trail here can be very wet and I don’t recommend attempting to squeeze through the little bypass trails that go around the puddles unless you are sure-footed and wearing boots. It usually dries out in May and stays that way until mid-late fall.
Eventually the trail is intersected by another trail. To the right leads through upland oak-pine to a dead end. There was a pair of Northern Parulas that nested close to this trail in 2014. Several times I’ve flushed a Great-Horned Owl from the trees here and an occasional Woodcock from the ground. Great-crested Flycatcher and Scarlet Tanagers nest in this area as well. I like to stroll down this trail, although it dead ends into private property, it’s short and usually the only upland habitat to explore unless you plan to hike the red trail.
The more exciting choice from the blue trail here is to go left to the 1st dike. There are 3 dikes here that cross McCarthy Lakes, which are former cranberry bogs. They are all overgrown, in various stages of disrepair and lead to dead ends but making the effort to bushwhack through them is often rewarded. Many hundreds of swallows (tree,barn, rough-winged and bank) congregate over the lakes in early spring. Herons and Egrets inhabit lake edges and islands. Eastern Kingbirds and Brown Thrashers are usually seen on prominent perches along the dikes. Wood ducks are a constant presence around the lakes and often seen from the dikes. The sparrows I’ve seen on the dikes are Song, Swamp, Chipping, White-throated, White-crowned, Field, Fox and Tree Sparrows. Common Yellowthroat Warblers are usually here except in winter, when I’ve had Winter Wren.
View from the 1st dike:
Return to the Blue Trail and proceed to the 2nd dike. This stretch is inundated with Pine Warblers from spring to fall. I’ve counted 25 in a single visit in spring and fall. Their song is ubiquitous in spring and my favorite sign of the changing of the season in April. Before the second dike you pass over a culvert built into a land bridge. Green Heron and Prothonotary Warblers have nested close to this spot. The black gum and maple trees here are always worth looking through for passerines. There is water on both sides of the trail here. There is a great view of the middle pond here so I scan it every time. The reeds along the edges usually have Swamp Sparrows, I wouldn’t be surprised if Least Bitterns occur here too. Great Blue Herons like the little pond to the right of the trail.
The view of the middle pond from the land bridge:
The trails ahead get confusing. If you don’t pay attention, you can lose your sense of direction but you won’t get terribly lost(just frustrated). Make a left and head to the 2nd dike. The wooded trail here has also produced a few memorable moments during spring and fall migrations when the amount and variety of birds were very impressive. There are wet areas at the base of the 2nd dike that I scan from a distance because I always flush birds from around the puddles and shrubs as I walk up. Some interesting wildlife seen on the 2nd dike include beaver, river otter, and snakes. You can expect to see Bald Eagles, Osprey or Red-tailed Hawks from any of the dikes. Rusty Blackbirds tend to hangout around the swampy lake edges along the 2nd dike in late winter for the last several years. Yellow-throated Warbler nested in this in 2016.
After taking the 2nd dike as far as you’d like, turn around and head back to the blue trail. There is an unmarked side trail that goes along the lake edge. Prothonotary Warblers nest along this stretch every year. Along the blue trail between the 2nd dike and the red trail is always occupied by White-eyed Vireos in spring and summer. At the intersection of the blue and red trail is also a productive spot for migrants in spring.
The blue trail leads to the red trail. You can go left onto the red trail to go to the 3rd dike or go right on the red trail to the upland portion of the preserve. If the trail to the 3rd dike is wet, there is a side trail recently blazed by illegal ATVs that goes through a heavily vegetated area, it’s not always super obvious but it will get you to the dike. Th 3rd dike is the most easily traversed dike and always has a few sparrows worth looking for. Take advantage of clear views of the 3rd pond and it’s edges. When the area is very dry there is room for exploration on the north side of the 3rd dike. Most times it’s swampy and inaccessible. DO NOT go beyond private property signs on the north side of the dikes. The area is patrolled vigilantly by the private land owner.
If I visit all 3 dikes, I usually head back to the parking area at this point. The route explored so far is what makes Piney Hollow unique to the area. I spend about 2 hours doing this circuit depending on how the birding is and how far along the dikes I go. You can certainly proceed back along the red trail to the upland portion of the preserve but I will cover that section separately in another post.
A few disclaimers I’d like to make:
– As of 10/7/2016 only the blue trail is marked. Look for the blue blazes on the trees. Even with a trail map it is easy to get turned around in this place. Getting lost here is not life threatening but it can be very frustrating.
– Hunting is illegal here but it’s only beginning to be enforced.
– There is vehicle traffic along the Red Trail although it is illegal. It has never been enforced. Gates will be placed at entrances within a matter of months.
– All 3 dikes have been breached, attempting to cross the breached areas is highly discouraged. The breaches occur about half way down the dikes.
– Like anywhere else, the birds can seem nonexistent at times.
This promotional video is a good introduction:
Piney Hollow bird list:
eBird Field Checklist
Piney Hollow Preserve
Gloucester, New Jersey, US
134 species (+6 other taxa)
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
This field checklist was generated using eBird (ebird.org)