Fauna at the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary is intimately connected to the flora present here. Plants are primary producers and without them, there would be no wildlife to observe. The Sanctuary provides habitat for a variety of species, from tiny macro-invertebrates to Black Bear weighing hundreds of pounds.
The habitats at the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary have changed quite a bit since these lands were first assembled by our founder, Arthur D. Norcross, in the 1930’s. Forests were younger, the trees smaller and the fauna quite different. Imagine a landscape without the iconic Wild Turkey. This large game bird was extirpated from the state around 1850 due to overhunting. After a few failed attempts, the bird was reintroduced in the 1970’s. Now a common sight year-round at the Sanctuary, they were not present when Norcross began assembling Tupper Hill.
Beaver share a similar story, disappearing from the landscape in the early 1700’s due to human land use and extensive trapping. It could be said that this species is second only to man in their ability to alter their habitat. Beaver, once a prized commodity for their pelts, is now considered a nuisance by some.
White tailed deer populations have also changed, increasing dramatically in some places as old farmland succeeds to forest and suburbia. This species has adapted well to its human neighbors and has few natural predators. Predictably, deer are having a significant impact on our forests and in particular on our native wildflowers, hence the reason some of our gardens are fenced.
As our forest matures, we are now seeing sign of Black Bear and Moose, reclaiming their historic range like the turkey, beaver and deer before them. As you walk through the gardens and along the trails that connect them you will find a reflection of the various plant communities, the habitats for our fauna, which make up the greater Sanctuary mosaic.
Along the Vernal Pool Trail, approach quietly in early spring and listen for the “quacking” of Wood Frogs, a species dependent on these ephemeral ponds for breeding. You may also come across the tracks of an Opossum in the muddy edges as these temporary ponds dry up as summer approaches. In autumn this pool will begin to fill again, repeating the cycle anew.
Beware, there may be a nesting wild turkey under thick cover in the Coastal Grassplain or a Garter Snake sunning in the path. Look for turtles sunning on the rock in the Pond or a Belted Kingfisher seeking prey. Beaver have gnawed on trees here. The sandy soil along this trail is used by turtles to nest; the nests are often dug up by Raccoon or Fox.
Daffodil Hill is a carpet of yellow in the spring before the leaves emerge. As the deciduous canopy leafs-out, look above for Rose-Breasted Grosbeak or Scarlet Tanager. As you approach Dunham’s Brook listen for the call of the Louisiana Waterthrush, a type of warbler, and look into the stream to see Brook Trout or Crayfish. The brook runs along the Lower Trail to the Boardwalk and Circle Garden and is excellent place to observe tracks and sign as water is an essential component of habitat.
In the Pine Barren, listen for the Rufus-sided Towhee, Common Yellowthroat and Prairie Warbler. An occasional Spotted-Turtle will be in this shrubby habitat. This area, along with the adjacent bluestem meadow, is an excellent place to observe large Darners (dragonflies) as they hawk insects over the field. Look and listen for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows in this area. Caution: The Woodchuck is under the stairs.
Common feeder birds can be observed at the visitors’ center and greenhouse.
The dark, cool Cedar Swamp provides excellent cover to our resident wildlife. You can see plenty of White Tailed Deer sign here, notably the browse line and scat. It is not unusual to hear the hoot of a Barred Owl from this spot. Beyond the Cedar Swamp is the Meadow Garden, which is dazzling with colorful beetles, butterflies and bees, important native pollinators, in summertime. Here you may also spy an Eastern Cottontail or two.
The Holly Grove, when lush with berries, is a favorite spot for American Robins and other thrushes.
Look for signs of the Pileated Woodpecker as you walk along the Upper Trail. The mighty oak at the top of the hill has provided acorns to generations of wildlife here at Tupper Hill. Listen for the call of the Wood Thrush and other woodland birds.
The Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary is not a zoo or a rehabilitation facility. Wild animals that live within our boundaries are not kept in cages. They are free to roam across the land. Nor does the staff at the Sanctuary engage in wildlife rehabilitation. Our work is to maintain and improve the habitat where possible to provide a place and an opportunity for wildlife to survive and thrive.
Daffodil Hill, Dunham’s Brook, Holly Grove and the Upper Trails are destinations found along our trail system and can be located with help from our trail maps.
If you would like to know more about the wildlife mentioned above, please see the following links:
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