Postcards from a cranberry bog

The *where we live* photo meme post that Laura at Vitamin Sea started a few weeks ago has me thinking like a tourist. Rather than staying home the past few Sundays (grading papers like a good teacher) I’ve been dreaming up places to visit that I usually just breeze past on my way to somewhere else. It’s been a good excuse to get a homebody like myself off my duff and keep the camera in good working order.

I’ve been very pleased with the complimentary comments posted here about the beauty of my home state; I understand that NJ is not often thought of as so picturesque. Most of my travels searching for photos have brought me to the shore, whether close to home at Sandy Hook or further south to Cape May. Today I headed south again, but just a little ways to the tip of the NJ Pine Barrens and then headed west into the bogs and cedar swamps of the pinelands.

The pic above left was taken just outside of Whitesbog Village, which was home to the largest cranberry farm in NJ during the early 1900’s. I spent a few hours roaming the sandy roads that traverse the abandoned bogs and blueberry fields, and watched red tails and kestrels hunting despite the clamor from kids on motorbikes and ATV’s. I’d heard of Whitesbog before, among birders, because the area attracts Tundra Swans in late winter and Gull-billed terns in September, although I’m not sure that is still the case. Would Patrick know?

Cranberries are still grown commercially in the area, although the blueberry is the state fruit, and by nosing around down enough sandy dirt roads (an awful lot of them labeled for some gun club or another) I came across an active bog in the process of being harvested. The beauty of the harvest was hard to describe – I think just the combination of berries against the water, with the blue sky and pine forest in the distance. From what little I know about cranberry harvesting, I suspect a machine had gone through this part of the bog earlier in the day to *beat* the cranberries from their vines and the wind in the vast open bog had pushed the berries to one corner where they would later be harvested with the use of a boom to keep them corraled in one place. There is a complicated system of canals and gates to flood and empty each bog as required by the season. Of the twenty or so working bogs that were visible in this one field, only five were completely flooded and three, like this one, yet to be harvested. Most of the others had some water remaining on the margins, and the expected herons, egrets, and waterfowl that one might expect to be there. Of course I have more photos, which Blogger stubbornly won’t allow me to load, but they were mostly meant to give you an idea of the size of a cranberry farm. Very big and windy on a chilly October afternoon.

It was a nice way to spend a few hours, there was no traffic jam on the way home like last Sunday, and it sure beats grading papers! I’m thinking of going back next Friday for a sunset hayride through the bogs, followed by pinelands songs and stories around a campfire. I’ll at least get back to see the Tundra Swans in February.

20 thoughts on “Postcards from a cranberry bog”

  1. Thanks for sharing your trip to the pine barrens. Don’t know why, but I’ve always loved the pine barrens, even before I read John McPhee’s book by that title about 30 years ago. I long to take a bike tour there.

    Are you enjoying “Whispers in the Pines”?

  2. Are you trying to make me cry?

    My grandparents lived on Cape Cod when I was a kid and I spent a lot of time out there. In many ways it feels more like my home than the places I actually grew up in.

    As you know, the Cape is well-known for its cranberry bogs. They always make me smile, but they start me down the road of wishing for a lot of things I’ll never get back, too.

    You owe me a kleenex.

  3. Mojoman: I almost bought that McPhee book out at SHBO a few weekends ago, but decided to wait until I get through the current reads first. Too many books piling up right now. Whispers in the Pines is good, though I’ve only read the first few chapters, I’m reading about the pine barrens on Long Island at the moment, but only during my lunch hour at work. You might check the Whitesbog site for a bike tour – I’m sure they have them, if not check the Pinelands Preservation Alliance website.

    Bunnygirl: I’m sorry! Until today I didn’t know that Mass. was the leading producer of cranberries (always thought it was NJ) and also learned they’re grown in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never been to Cape Cod, but the few books I’ve read make it sound wonderful and a lot like some of the backwater places here in NJ.

    Hope they’re mostly good memories.

  4. I visited Whitesbog once in the winter, but all the impoundments were frozen so that there were no tundra swans – or many other birds, for that matter. However, I did later see a life pine siskin in Chatsworth on that trip.

  5. So that is where my cranberries come from! I really had no idea how they grew or were harvested. I hope Blogger will let you add another picture or two.(We had to switch to Firefox for our browser to get rid of photo posting problems)

  6. Wow! That is beautiful! Please post more photos when blogger is behaving. I didn’t know anything about cranberry bogs until reading your post, and would love to see more photos! Thank you!

  7. I would love to see a cranberry bog!

    I have to admit that I used to not think of New Jersey as a beautiful state, but, your blog has given me a whole new picture of the state.

  8. Laura,

    They definitely still have Tundra Swans and GB Terns at Whitesbog. It’s a spot we visit on the World Series. We actually had a lingering (probably injured) Tundra Swan this year during the World Series. I haven’t done enough birding in that area otherwise. There are lots of good dragonflies, butterflies, and wildflowers to be seen there too.

  9. Great photo of the cranberries and thanks for reminding me about them. Did a story on them waaaay long ago, but haven’t been to the bogs in ages. Field trip ahead!

  10. John: I’d read that they’re sometimes hard to find and will move from place to place, wherever there’s open water. Guess you were here in a bad winter. Glad you got a pine siskin in all that cold anyway. Think I went to the Adironacks for mine.

    It’s colorful isn’t it, Pam?

    Ruth: Blogger is a pain, it can handle just photos or just text, but not both! I added a few more pics tonight, but it still wouldn’t load a favorite from the more wild part of the trip. ;-(

    Naturewoman: Done! Most of the pics are too far away and I brought the wrong lens for my camera, but they’re up.

    Flroidacracker: Is there anything that doesn’t beat grading papers? God I hate it. Now I understand why some teachers growing up gave so little homework. Lots of people leave NJ and retire in Florida, probably just to escape the cold here – but you’ve got all those bugs!

    Sandy: Mostly it’s just water and wind, but the color is intense.

    Madcap: Gosh I hope they taste better than they smell!

    DKM: I forgot to even mention the craisin angle.

    Patrick: I’m surprised you include it on WSB day – aren’t the swans gone by May? What do you hope to get there?

    Joanna Burger’s other book, “25 nature spectacles in NJ” includes a couple other places I’d like to visit in the area, but I’m not so comfortable roaming around there by myself – a bit too isolated – may just have to drag a friend along. Have you been to Webb’s Mill Bog for wildflowers? Gentians are suppossed to bloom in the barrens in October, but I don’t have a clue where to find them.

    Laura: Let me know if you ever are down this way – company might be nice (see comment to Patrick above. lol!)

    Lynne: Awesome teacher that I am, I grumpily graded papers over dinner tonight.

    Susan: it does – they do grow for Ocean Spray.

  11. Laura,

    It’s decent for warblers, shorebirds, and raptors in the spring. Since we only do Ocean County, it’s one of the spots we stop at.

    I planned to go to Webb’s Mill this summer, but never got around too it. All sorts of interesting plants bloom including pitcher plants and several orchids. Next year!

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