Truth in advertising: Eighty percent of the photographs in this section were taken in Princeton Township, and all but one were taken within ten miles of Princeton.
It's not that every animal in Princeton is an unwanted pest; some of them are even cute! Among the more interesting fauna are the various waterfowl. Although not particularly numerous, they include:
(1) The sinister and fiercely territorial Great Blue Heron
(2) The very shy "Little" Green Heron (Photo 1, Photo 2).
Note the triple image (heron, shadow, and reflection) in Photo 2.
(3) The common white Egret that, unlike the other herons, seems to live happily in groups.
(4) The usual Ducks and Cormorants.
However, the subject of waterfowl brings up the first, most numerous, and most disgusting of the Princeton vermin: the Canada Goose. These filthy creatures can pop up anywhere. They seem to have no functions other than to squawk at passers-by and to turn grass into fertilizer. Moreover, despite being classified as "migratory waterfowl" by the federal government, most of the geese are too stupid to fly south in the winter! (It was 10 degrees F when I took this picture.)
I myself would prefer to see the geese displaced by Wild Turkeys. I never saw turkeys in New Jersey until 1994, when I stumbled onto this flock after crossing a stream near the edge of some woods. Since then, I have seen thousands of turkeys and photographed hundreds. Interestingly, about the same time that turkeys became common, pheasant disappeared; I have not seen a pheasant in the Princeton area since 1995. Turkeys have the reputation of being difficult to hunt because of their extreme wariness. However, as one turkey hunting web site says, "Wariness should not be confused with intelligence." Truer words were never spoken! It is easy to get very close to wild turkeys for three reasons:
(1) Turkeys are profoundly stupid.
(2) A turkey cannot outrun a man.
(3) Turkeys are reluctant to fly.
Anyone walking in the woods who keeps his eyes open will, from time to time, notice turkey heads bobbing up and down in the undergrowth. At this point, let the chase begin! I had chased this flock for about 300 yards when the turkeys crossed into a firebreak and were confounded by a couple of deer that were grazing there. Did they mistake the deer for predators, or were they just tired out? I suspect that a spear or landing net would be ample armament for turkey hunting in Princeton.
Deer, of course, are Princeton Vermin Number One. Disease-carrying pests that devour every kind of garden plant, they are aptly described as "rats with hooves". Worse yet, they are too stupid to get out of the way of cars, and indeed I have been in a car when it was struck on the SIDE by a leaping buck. There is a little compensation in the form of natural beauty. One may occasionally see (if one looks hard) a solitary doe in a pretty setting (rather than the hordes in the photo at the top of this page), a cowering fawn, a young buck with velvet, or even a mediocre trophy buck in the Princeton area. The problem is that, without any significant hunting pressure, the deer are still too numerous for their own good, and tend to be skinny and weak. (Princeton does not allow hunting with firearms, except by their dear-culling contractors; it would be far more sensible to encourage firearm ownership and deer hunting among the general populace; in that way the goose population might be reduced as well.)
Of course, a superabundance of vermin leads to a profusion of carcasses, and for this reason Princeton has become the Vulture Capitol of New Jersey. Turkey Vultures are most common. Given the number of vermin, the chances are pretty good that a deer, or perhaps a goose or two, will have a heart attack on any given morning. Anticipating this, here is a flock of 25 vultures waiting for breakfast. In the winter, business is brisk; this turkey vulture was waiting for a starving, freezing deer to expire in the local deer necropolis (I have omitted my photo of the prospective meal so as not to offend the sensitive). The Black Vulture is less common, and it does not seem to be as gregarious as the turkey vulture. Turkey vultures find their meals chiefly by smell, black vultures by sight; in a forested area like Princeton, the turkey vultures may have an advantage. An article a few years ago in Sports Illustrated asserted that bird feeders for vultures (outdoor tables stocked with rotting meat) are highly entertaining. I urge all Princeton residents to build one!
It would be nice if there were more true predators in the Princeton woods. About the only ones to be seen (and rarely) are foxes and coyotes, but they are not big enough to engage successfully in mortal combat with the larger vermin. Here is a fox munching on a small mammal, truly "nature red in tooth and claw". I wish it would have been a goose so the I could have seen the bloody feathers fly!