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Announcing the Winners of the 2022 Species On The Edge 5th Grade Art & Essay Contest

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

Red-headed Woodpecker by Anya Pole (Franklin Montessori School, Somerset County)

Thank You to Everyone Who Participated in the 2021 Species on the Edge Art & Essay Contest

Congratulations to the hundreds of hardworking and creative 5th grade students who advocated for an endangered or threatened species from New Jersey through an art piece and essay. You have inspired everyone at Conserve Wildlife Foundation with your enthusiasm for protecting our cherished wildlife.

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Critter Chaos: Round 5 & 6 Update + FINAL RESULTS

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Our exciting tournament came to a conclusion last week! For those of you who have been following along, here’s the update on the final battles.

Round 5: Shorebirds & Raptors vs. Reptiles & Amphibians

The start of the semi-finals featured a rather surprising match-up as the #1 seeded peregrine falcon took to the arena against the #9 seeded bog turtle. Our peregrine pair habitually nested on the Delaware Memorial Bridge and were thus quite familiar with the surrounding area. Father falcon was in the mood for red-winged blackbird and flew to a wetland where he knew they were plentiful. On the way, he reminisced about a most unusual creature, distinguishable from the mud by two orange patches flanking its tiny head, that he had once seen nearby. Upon arrival, he noticed that the wetland, formerly characterized by tussock sedge and sphagnum moss was now thick with tall phragmites. The invasive vegetation rendered the habitat unsuitable for bog turtle, and forced a once-thriving population to abandon it. Peregrine falcon successfully caught his dinner but was left wondering why his opponent never turned up. Habitat loss eliminated bog turtle from the competition, propelling our mighty raptor into the championship.

Round 5: Mammals vs. Grassland Birds and Invertebrates

The semi-finals continued with the harbor seal vs. the bobolink. This unlikely duo met in Atlantic City after unseasonable temperatures encouraged bobolink to begin its migration back from Bolivia earlier than usual. Upon entering NJ airspace, a severe gale blew bobolink off course and nearly out to sea! Finding shelter underneath a patch of dune grass, bobolink waited out the storm. Unbeknownst to him, he caught the eye of a nearby harbor seal. Mistaking the black and white bird for a tiny eider, which seals will occasionally eat despite their largely piscivorous diet, harbor seal quickly captured bobolink who was no match for his unbelievable bite force.

CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND!

And so, it was harbor seal and peregrine falcon that ultimately earned the right to compete for the prestigious CWF Darwin Award! Both animals are adapted to make them favorable competitors within their respective niches. Though not one to spend much time on the beach, peregrine falcon was lured to Liberty State Park by the promise of an easy meal of seagulls. The seagull that had caught his eye also happened to be the target of harbor seal’s attentions, though our marine mammal was much more interested in the large fish that the gull was picking at. Harbor seal approached the bird at the same time that peregrine falcon stooped down on it- mutilating it and causing absolute bedlam among the flock. The motion and noise were too much for harbor seal, who quickly fled back to the security of the surf. Peregrine was left with the seagull, the fish, and the glory, as he became the worthy winner of the competition!

Congratulations to Peregrine Falcon and thanks to everyone who cheered all of our competitors on from the sidelines!

Critter Chaos Round 3 & 4 Update!

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

It’s been a chaotic week in our tournament with contestants undergoing two rounds of battle to
determine the champion that will be representing each division in the semi-finals. For those who
missed it, here’s the breakdown:

Shorebirds & Raptors Division:

First up in round 3, it was least tern vs. peregrine falcon. Our shorebird “terned” heads and
sparked outrage when it defeated fan favorite, the bald eagle in round two. Unfortunately for
least tern, the representative this week was only a baby! Patiently awaiting the return of mom,
our competitor was hiding in vegetation when an off-road vehicle drove by and scared the chick
away from its shelter. Cruising around on the hunt for pigeons, the movement did not go
unnoticed by our keen-eyed peregrine. The raptor stooped down on tern and quickly snatched
the victory.

Next, we had eastern screech owl vs. black skimmer. The skimmer, our #6 seed, also upset
some fans with a shocking win over the #3 seeded osprey last week. Like the least tern,
however, the shorebird’s shot at the trophy was dashed when beach litter, strewn about by
vacationers, lured hungry rats and gulls toward their nest. Screech owl opportunistically
snagged a rat for dinner, but a gang of gulls closed in on our skimmers, viciously driving the
parents away while smashing and feasting on the eggs. Just a friendly reminder to all those with
plans to recreate on the beach this summer (or in any natural area) to be courteous and
respectful guests!

Eastern screech owl and peregrine falcon then went head-to-head in round 4. Deciding to try a
different path while hunting for lizards in the NJ Palisades, eastern screech owl failed to pay
heed to mother falcon’s angry warnings that he was getting too close to her nest. Father falcon
stooped in to teach our owl a lesson about trespassing, stealthily slamming in to him from above
and sending the feathered pair spiraling toward the ground. Screech owl disengaged from the
falcon’s talons and high-tailed it off the battlefield, leaving the peregrine falcon the win and the
title of champion for the shorebirds and raptors division!

Peregrine Falcon and Ben Wurst. Photo by Northside Jim.
Reptiles & Amphibians Division:

The first matchup for round 3 in the reptiles and amphibians division was all about the turtles! It
was fan-favorite diamondback terrapin vs. lucky “under”dog, bog turtle. This battle was rather
unconventional, as it occurred at a head start facility where conservationists were attempting to
hatch eggs for release into the wild. A series of unfortunate events led to the incubation area
experiencing very high temperatures all summer long. For bog turtles, this didn’t matter so
much, as sex is determined genetically by chromosomes, however, like many other reptile
species, terrapins have temperature dependent sex determination. All hatchling terrapins were
females, while there was a healthy mix among the baby bog turtles. As diversity is important for
recruitment, the bog turtle was deemed the winner.

Northern copperhead and eastern tiger salamander then entered the arena to put their toxins to
the test. Or would have, if they ever encountered one another. The salamander dipped into a
vernal pool to deposit her eggs, while northern copperhead lazily enjoyed the warmth of his
hibernaculum. Our venomous snakes’ failure to turn up left tiger salamander the de facto
winner.

Bog turtle’s unbelievable streak continued due to very sad circumstances in round 4, when
opponent eastern tiger salamander was squished by a careless ATV rider. In pursuit of an epic
splash picture to post on social media, he drove right through a highly sensitive vernal pool
habitat, causing untold damage. Please stick to designated trails, folks!

Bog turtle advances to the semi-finals as the champion of the herptiles, leaving CWF biologist
Christine Healy absolutely dumbfounded… It was the #9 seed!?

Bog Turtle. Photo by Lynn Sambol.
Mammals Division:

First up for the mammals, it was river otter vs. bobcat! As was the case in round 2 against the
red fox, the river otter had the upper hand in this aquatic competition. Though bobcats are more
at home in water than other felids and will happily hunt for beaver in the shallows, pursuing the
speedy river otter through deep water was simply not worth the calories…

Our two relative behemoths, harbor seal and black bear, accidentally met on a beach in Jersey
City, after black bear’s dispersal along an abandoned railway brought him to uncharted territory.
Mistaking the hauled out seals for moving rocks, black bear got too close, which prompted a
divide in seal behavior with some taking to the water and some adopting vigilant stances. Safety
in numbers and the bears’ confusion allowed our marine mammal to seal the deal.

In round 4, river otter and harbor seal found themselves several miles from the NJ coast.
Capable of diving >1,500 ft to fish in the mesopelagic zone, harbor seal felt right at home in the
deep water, while river otter, whose diving ability is still impressive at 60 ft, was totally out of his
element. Best of luck to river otter at getting back to shore and congratulations to harbor seal on
his advancement into the semi-finals as mammal division champ!

Grassland Birds & Invertebrates Division:

The first battle for this division took place at the Atlantic City Airport, where our competitors,
cowbird and grasshopper sparrow, were thriving due to recent management activities. Cowbird,
a young and inexperienced female, jumps at an opportunity to parasitize grasshopper sparrows’
nest, where she deposits a smaller than typical egg. Recognizing the imposter upon her return,
grasshopper sparrow was able to push the heavy egg away from her own eggs and out of the
incubation area. Cowbird left the battlefield to plot her revenge.

In the last round 3 battle, our final invertebrate, frosted elfin, took on bobolink. Poor frosted elfin
missed out on the hat trick due to extensive herbivory by white-tailed deer. A herd found their
way into a managed grassland along a powerline through a weak point in the exclusion fencing.
Bobolink could do nothing but watch the habitat destruction occur.

And finally, in the last battle of the quarter-finals, it was bobolink vs. grasshopper sparrow. A
vigilant non-parental helper from the previous brood warned grasshopper sparrow about danger
near her nest! Returning swiftly, grasshopper sparrow adopted a broken wing display, in the
hopes of luring the threat away, not realizing that “threat” was actually just bobolink, trying to
return to his nest with a juicy caterpillar for his chicks. The spectacle did, however, attract the
attention of a northern harrier that had been hunting nearby. The harrier’s swift predation on
grasshopper sparrow’s nest propelled bobolink on to victory.

So, it’s peregrine falcon vs. bog turtle and harbor seal vs. bobolink in the semi-finals. We’ll soon discover the worthy winner of the prestigious CWF Darwin Award- stay tuned!

Critter Chaos Round 2 Update!

Friday, March 18th, 2022

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

For those of you following along with our Critter Chaos Tournament, we’ve reached the end of
round 2!

Here’s a summary of the action.

Shorebirds & Raptors Division:

In battle one, the peregrine falcon and round 1 victor, the red knot, met in the New Jersey
Palisades. A severe windstorm had blown red knot off course on its way back from the arctic,
rendering it exhausted and in need of some clean water. Stopping to take a drink, the
shorebird’s bright plumage made it an easy target for our #1 seeded raptor.

Next, we had the least tern take on fan favorite, the bald eagle. Nesting colonially, the least
terns sprang into action upon the approach of the eagle, who was on the hunt to find a tasty
morsel to bring back to his chicks. Agitated at being dived bombed, screeched at, and defecated
on, Papa eagle abandoned the battlefield on Sandy Hook to locate a meal elsewhere.

The American kestrel returned to test his strengths against the eastern screech owl. Both
tracking the same woodland vole in a Somerset County ecotone, the screech owl’s keen vision
under low-light conditions enabled him to snag the win from the talons of the small falcon, an
outcome that was not supported by the American Kestrel Partnership.

Finally, the osprey threw down with the black skimmer over Barnegat Bay for the last position in
round 3 for shorebirds and raptors. With a remarkably high kill ratio of 70%, we all expected the
osprey to advance, but black skimmer had the element of surprise on its side. Its unique fishing
technique that involves flying very low to the surface of the water allowed the shorebird to claim
both a bluefish and the win in a surprising upset.

Peregrine Falcon. Photo by Scott Miller.

Reptiles & Amphibians Division:

First up, we had the #1 seeded timber rattlesnake vs. the #9 seeded bog turtle. In the most
shocking upset of the tournament to date that made CC commentator Christine Healy check the
code for her random number generator, assuming it must be faulty, the bog turtle once again
claimed the crown. Timber rattlesnake was busy digesting a meal of field mice and was on her
way to her hibernaculum, so she had no interest in engaging with bog turtle. That’s the story
we’re going with!

Our subsequent battle was a test of testudines, featuring the northern diamondback terrapin and
the wood turtle. Favoring differing categories of water (brackish vs. fresh, respectively), these
two would not have come across one another if it hadn’t been for an irresponsible person that
tried to release their pet wood turtle into the Hudson River! An estuary from New York Harbor to
the city of Troy, NY, the salinity was too high for wood turtle, so he left the scene on foot to find
more favorable conditions.

Third up, northern copperhead sought redemption for venomous snakes as it entered the arena
against eastern spadefoot toad. From its hiding place in an old mulch pile, the copperhead
picked up on spadefoot toad’s odd peanut butter-like scent and moved in for the kill. With no
warning, spadefoot was unable to bury himself or emit his noxious secretion in time to defend
himself.

Last, it was a salamander standoff as an eastern tiger and marbled larva each developed in a
vernal pool in Cape May County. Both voracious predators, the eastern tiger salamander larva’s large size enabled him to chow down on marbled salamander larva, successfully achieving both
metamorphosis and the win.

Eastern Tiger Salamander. Photo by Bob Cunningham.

Mammals Division:

Indiana bat returned to the competition with New Jersey’s only wild felid- the bobcat. The bat
held his own in battle, but ultimately was no match for this stealthy cat. With excellent vision and
padded feet that allow them to move almost hobbit-like through the forest, bobcat’s predatory
skill is not limited by its small body size.

Our next matchup featured two competitors much admired for both looks and smarts- the
northern river otter and the red fox. Unfortunately for the red fox, this tussle took place in water,
giving river otter the upper hand. While foxes are good and capable swimmers, they generally
like to avoid getting wet when they can and bowed out gracefully.

In another aquatic battle, harbor seal defeated returning champion the Allegheny woodrat this
week. The seal’s strong flippers and thick layer of blubber allowed it to feel right at home in the
chilly Atlantic current. The same cannot be said for the woodrat…

Rounding out round 2 for the mammals, it was black bear vs. eastern cottontail. Though bears
will eat rabbits, they can’t often catch these lively lagomorphs. The cottontail evaded capture but
departed the battlefield first, handing a win to NJ’s largest land animal.

Bobcat. Photo by Steve Buckingham.

Grassland Birds & Invertebrates Division:

The crowd’s displeasure at the reappearance of emerald ash borer was palpable as this
invasive pest entered the arena alongside the brown-headed cowbird, another species whose
contributions are generally unappreciated. Cheers rang out as an unexpected intervention by a
pileated woodpecker removed the EAB from the competition and from Hunterdon County ash
trees.

The #4 seeded grasshopper sparrow went head-to-head with the #5 seed, horned lark. The
early return of the horned lark pair to the breeding ground meant that their second clutch had
already hatched and developed to the point that they were running freely around the grassland
at the start of our battle at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst! The grasshopper sparrows’
altricial chicks were still in the nest, dependent on mom and dad for everything. When a
predatory raccoon entered the fray, grasshopper sparrow defended his nest fiercely, while the
horned lark’s independence and inability to fly left him quite unprotected.

In another unbelievable upset, almost on par with timber rattlesnake v. bog turtle, frosted elfin
nabbed the win from upland sandpiper in our penultimate round 2 battle! It came down to a
waiting game, and luckily for frosted elfin, a > 4,500-mile migration to Paraguay waits for no
man. Or butterfly.

Concluding round 2 for all divisions, it was bobolink and Savannah sparrow that met on a
recently burned grassland in Burlington County. The management efforts yielded ideal
conditions for these birds, which tempted Savannah sparrow to pursue a polygynous lifestyle
and reduced his parental investment. A cameo from our sneaky cowbird left the bobolink proud
and the Savannah sparrow nest parasitized.

Horned Lark. Photo by Blaine Rothauser.

Peregrine falcon, least tern, eastern screech owl, black skimmer, bog turtle, eastern
diamondback terrapin, northern copperhead, eastern tiger salamander, bobcat, northern river
otter, harbor seal, black bear, brown-headed cowbird, grasshopper sparrow, frosted elfin, and
bobolink all advance to round 3!

Black Skimmer. Photo by Ray Hennessy.

Critter Chaos Round One Update!

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

By Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Our search to find the worthy winner of the 2022 CWF Darwin award has officially begun! In
round one of Critter Chaos, 16 competitors headed into the arena to battle for advancement
within their division.

First up, representing the Shorebirds & Raptors, were the red knot vs. the American
oystercatcher and the American kestrel vs. fan favorite, the piping plover. Despite a valiant
attempt by the oystercatcher and her mate to defend their Atlantic County foraging grounds, the
territorial pair were out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned by a group of red knot, busy
bulking up for an Arctic migration. Guess somebody ate their Wheaties—or should we say
horseshoe crab eggs. Similarly, the piping plover and his new mate were driven off their
intended nesting grounds in Cape May County by an American kestrel that made a bee line for
the young male. Plover’s speed saved him from a grizzly end, but for the good of the species,
they had to flee. Perhaps they’ll have better luck at Todd Pover’s Plover Park!

In the Reptiles & Amphibians division, the ground skink took on the federally threatened bog
turtle while the eastern spadefoot toad and the pine barrens treefrog went head-to-head.
Ground skink was headed toward a cloud of flies, congregating over a pile of cow dung in a
Salem County pasture, when he noticed bog turtle basking in a nearby hoof print. Startled by
the appearance of such a bizarre creature, ground skink abandoned the flies and sought refuge
under a rotting log. That turtle may be small, but hey- so was Napoleon… Unfortunately for the
pine barren’s treefrog, it’s battle with the spadefoot coincided with a fierce storm, resulting in an
explosive breeding event for the latter. As the spadefoot is part of the family Scaphiopodidae
rather than Bufonidae and thus, is not a true toad, pine barren’s treefrog exited to a neighboring
vernal pool, unwilling to learn if boils or a thunderstorm of hail and fire were to follow this plague
of frogs.

For the Mammals Division, week one was a battle of bats and rats, with the Indiana bat’s
impressive appetite for insects fueling a win against the higher ranked (and larger) northern
long-eared bat, proving once again that size isn’t a guarantee of strength. Looking at you, bog
turtle! The next match up was between the tricolored bat and the Allegheny woodrat, both listed
as endangered species in New Jersey. The tricolored bat may have had literal flight on its side,
but it would appear it doesn’t matter what you float like if you can punch like a woodrat….

And in our final category, the Grassland Birds & Invertebrates division, we had invasive species
enter the scene! You knew they were going to… It was the robust baskettail (a state threatened
dragonfly) and the frosted elfin (a state threatened butterfly) vs. the dreaded emerald ash borer
and spotted lanternfly, respectively. The battle of dragonfly vs. borer occurred in a wooded
wetland in Camden County. One of the top invertebrate predators of the littoral zone, the robust
baskettail never stood a chance against a falling swamp ash, weakend by ash borer activity.
RIP, soldier. Happily, for the frosted elfin, the recent inclusion of Monmouth County on NJDA’s
quarantine list for spotted lanternflies meant that the “see it, stomp it” campaign was fresh on
the minds of residents. A group of hikers in Assunpink Wildlife Management Area saved us from
a long and likely uneventful standoff.

Red knot, American kestrel, bog turtle, eastern spadefoot toad, Indiana bat, Allegheny woodrat,
emerald ash borer, and frosted elfin all move on to round two!


If you’re enjoying Critter Chaos and you’d like to support our work with New Jersey species, consider symbolically adopting your champion!

We have digital certificates for 12 competitors available in our square store