Conserve Wildlife Blog

Tracking The Mammals Of The Coast

September 28th, 2020

by Meaghan Lyon

Beach goers are not the only ones that enjoy the sandy shores of New Jersey’s beaches. Wildlife like deer, fox, racoon, opossum, and skunk also make use of the beach and dunes. At the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center (NGTC), wildlife game cameras have been capturing images of the wildlife prowling in the dunes for the past two years. Conserve Wildlife Foundation has been contracted to monitor wildlife populations at the NGTC under an Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.

Wildlife game cameras are a common tool used by biologists to observe mammals with very minimal disturbance to the animal itself. The cameras are installed along potential travel paths and dens sites to optimize sightings and when the camera senses movement it captures a series of images or video depending on the specified settings. Wildlife game cameras could also be valuable to homeowners who are curious to see what wildlife they have in their own backyard.

Another useful tool used when determining wildlife populations is tracking. At the NGTC, there are approximately 16 acres of sandy coastal habitat, including the dune and beach. Sand is an ideal substrate for reading tracks as it often provides a clear footprint or other evidence of many species that wander by.

Through wildlife game cameras and tracking at NGTC, six mammal species, including some you may not have expected, have been identified onsite. Red Fox and their kits can be found denning in the dune area by day and venturing onto the beach by night for travel and in search of food. Opossum, skunk, and racoon often skulk in the evening and just before dawn. Rabbits munch on dune vegetation, and deer rest in the shade of maritime forests. The beach not only provides a source of food, whether it be crabs, bivalves, or trash remains left by humans, but for many mammals it also acts as a corridor, connecting isolated dune or forested habitats.

It is also important to understand how wildlife, particularly potential predators, interact with endangered species like Piping Plover and Least Tern. Red Fox, opossum, racoon, and skunk are known to eat eggs from shorebird nests. Those nests could also potentially be trampled by deer walking through nesting sites. Red Fox especially pose a threat to beach nesting birds due to their ability to devour an entire colony of tern nests, causing nest abandonment. Insight into how predators use coastal habitat is needed to make more informed decisions on managing habitat for endangered and threatened species. 

Meaghan Lyon is a biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

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