Bear Swamp, Millville NJ
  Jan 03, 2007 20:24 PST 

December 28th 2006 I traveled with Meg Varnes, Bill Sweeney, Dr. Susan Munch, Dr. James Thorne of Natural Lands Trust, and a volunteer named Mike. It took about 1 1/2 hours to reach the swamp located near Millville Nj. We had to stop and sign in at a sand mine, as we had to travel on their property to get to the swamp. Apparently Bear Swamp was a 25 year struggle for the Natural Lands Trust to acquire. The sand is a fine silica that is great for making glass and other things. The mineral rights were held by a mining company that intended to strip the land for the sand, as they had done to the surrounding area. Luckly it was saved. 
sweet gum small.jpg (96798 bytes)
Sweet Gum
sweetbay magnolia small.jpg (103609 bytes)
Sweetbay Magnolia

The water table is only a couple of feet down in places, and most of the swamp is under fresh water. This was what I define as a true old growth forest. Never farmed, logged, or messed with in any way. I did not see any non native species the entire day, let's hope I didn't track any in! My first surprise was the offer of hip waders. I! didn't thnk of that, but luckily there were enough to go around. On the walk in we set our GPS to mark where the cars were and headed to a known point in the swamp where Dr. Thorne had been working previously with Mike. Along the way we followed the edge of a lake that only exists because they mined the sand. On the banks grew clumps of Clethra, high bush blueberry, and swamp azalea surrounded by broom sedge and other native grasses. At one point we were walking on a carpet of Cranberry, which by the way, have fermented quite nicely by the end of December (yuck!) The edge consists of Pitch pine and Virginia pine mixed with Sweetgum, Tulip poplar, black gum, and white oak. As we entered the swamp I was blown away. In the distance I spotted trunk after trunk measuring 10' cbh or better. In the swamp proper, the dominate canopy species are Sweetgum and Black gum with a rare tulip poplar here and there. 

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Up shot of Black Gum
up shot sweet gum small.jpg (124922 bytes)
Up shot of Sweet Gum

The understory consisted of Red maple, American holly, Sweetbay magnolia! and very large shrubs of Swamp azalea, Clethra, Highbush blueberry and winterberry holly. Tying it all together, literally, was thousands of linear feet of catbrier. The canopy trees reached just over 90' tall but the CBH measurements continued up to about 60' before there was much taper at all. Hundreds of years of Atlantic storms have caused the tops to break out of the trees to form these gnarly twisted crowns that proved difficult to measure, even in December. I am Happy to say that we found a Champion Sweetbay Magnolia for NJ. Which was easy, as they didn't have one listed yet. I don't think this one will be beat, unless we come across another one in Bear Swamp.

Black gum
10.2 x 84.1
10.2 x 86.4
11.4 x 71.2

Sweet gum
12.7 x 91.3
11.9 x 87.4
10.7 x 89.2

Tulip Poplar (only one worth measuring)
9.9 x 85.6

Sweetbay Magnolia
5.4 x 64.3 x 37
5.1 x 68.0 x 34

American Holly
5.1 x 71.2

The Gums all maintained their circumference to about 60' and looked like large cylinders rising up out of the muck, it was truly breath taking

We saw swamp azaleas that were 4"dia x 15-20' tall, Highbush blueberry and Clethra in the same range.

I can't wait to get back in there. We probably saw less than 5% of the total area. Bill Sweeny and I talked about going in and camping overnight so that we could get further in. I don't know if I have the manhood to do that. New Jersey Devils and all...

We also saw a Bald Eagle and Mistletoe the size of a beach ball. Just a great time all around. In a way it reminded me of Cook, because at the right time, you couldn't hear anything but nature. NICE!


Re: Bear Swamp, Millville NJ   Edward Frank
  Jan 03, 2007 21:49 PST 

I would get some measurements on the azaleas, blueberries, and clethra. Shrubs that size are worth noting.

Bear Swamp tupelo ages?   Thomas Diggins
  Jan 04, 2007 10:27 PST 

Hi Scott,

Are you aware of any updated information on the ages of those black
gums (tupelos)? I believe they are widely suspected of exceeding 500
years, but I was wondering if there has been any recent confirmation of
their ages.

Tom Diggins
Re: Bear Swamp, Millville NJ
  Jan 05, 2007 11:48 PST 

Bear swamp is located between Paynters Crossing and Turkey Point Nj. If you mapquest these towns and go to aerial image, it is the smaller formation between the two towns. It is about 11 miles from the Delaware river. It is a lot further from the ocean. It is not pine barrens, but a remnant of the costal plain. Bill said he doesn't have any time during the week to go back, and my weekends tend to be tied up with family obligations. I may go back during the week with Jim from NLT, I don't know if we could camp in there. Jim didn't seem to interested when I mentioned it. The mining company doesn't want a bunch of people crossing their property to get in due to liability. It is best to go in with NLT people.

Re: Bear Swamp tupelo ages?   Neil Pederson
  Jan 06, 2007 14:22 PST 
Tom, Scott, ENTS,

I cored at least 15 of the tupelos in Bear Swamp. All but 2 were hollow.
Rings for the two trees are not very distinct and difficult to age. They are
likely 300-400 yrs, but Nyssa is a hard species to pin down, age-wise.

Re: Bear Swamp, Millville NJ
  Jan 06, 2007 19:43 PST 

I hope to go back in there this month. One interesting thing that caught my eye was mud dauber wasp nests on American Holly tree trunks. I have never witnessed the mud tubes of this wasp anywhere but on the eaves of my house. While in the swamp we noticed that as the Holly trees leaned and bent, looking for the light, they created "eaves" where the mud dauber made it's tubes. I never saw them in the wild before, and I found it intriguing.

Re: Bear Swamp, Millville NJ   Michele Wilson
  Jan 07, 2007 16:04 PST 
I don't recall ever seeing such a thing in the wild before either.


Re: Bear Swamp, Millville NJ
  Jan 09, 2007 05:36 PST 
Jess, Ed

The swamp does remind me of the descriptions of southern locations. It must have been something when the swamps stretched down the East coast. Imagine the settlers first glance when they came across the barrens and ran into these dense swamps. I wonder how many turned around and said forget it.

I will measure the shrubs on my next visit. I hope to find some bigger specimens. I don't think the site will go taller. I also don't think there are enough species for a 10 count rucker.

Ed, thank you for posting the pics.

RE: Bear Swamp, Millville NJ
  Jan 09, 2007 09:53 PST 

Scott, Great report! Those gums are huge. Also, nice photos thanks for
sharing them. I'll be on the lookout down here for some older gums. We
may have some like that in the Delta National Forest, Pascagoula Swamp
and Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.   Larry