The holly forest at Sandy Hook comprises some 264 acres and is said to include the largest concentration of American Holly on the east coast. I went on a NPS ranger-led walk this afternoon that focused on the ways the Lenape Indians used the natural resources available in the forest and salt marsh to survive. Sandy Hook and much of the mainland in the nearby Highlands was *bought* from the Lenape in 1678. The Lenape had used the area for hunting, fowling, fishing, making canoes, and harvesting food from the natural vegetation. The wild beach plums were one of the main attractions of Sandy Hook for the Lenape and the fruit was collected and dried. The photo above is the fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus which is widespread on Sandy Hook. The fruit can be harvested (wear gloves to avoid the spiny parts) and made into jellies, dessert sauces, and one company even uses it to make lemonade. In Mexico, the fleshy part of the cactus itself is used in many recipes, including omeletes. The Lenape likely used the dried seeds to produce a product similar to flour. The fruit tastes somewhat like watermelon and is full of tiny seeds.
On our way to the holly forest, walking through the salt marsh, I found these Fiddler's Crabs at low tide. They scurry about in the sand foraging for food and doing maintenance on their burrows. I wasn't able to get a close pic, but the males are the ones with the large claws, which they wave around to attract a mate to their burrow. The Fiddler's plug up their burrows with a ball of mud during high tide, trapping a pocket of air inside, and emerge when the tide recedes. Northerh bayberry, typical of coastal habitats. The tiny berries are a food source for swallows and catbirds (I've read that Rails eat them also) and are also used in candlemaking.
Some of the hollies at Sandy Hook are thought to be as much as 170 years old. This tree was large, but was not the oldest among them. I loved the knobby look of the trunk. Today's walk was too short and quick for my liking, but it was nice to see this part of the holly forest. The area is normally closed to the public as it's part of a large wildlife management area. I didn't see any osprey or terns today, and the platform in the marsh was occupied by a greater black-backed gull when we walked past it. I saw a few migrating monarch butterflies, but the goldenrod isn't blooming just yet, so I can expect to see many more in the coming weeks.
14 hours ago