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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

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

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

Field Cameras Capture Mammal Population Data

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

by Sherry Tirgrath, Wildlife Biologist

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWFNJ) has returned to the National Guard
Training Center (NGTC) in Sea Girt to continue their work surveying beach wildlife, conducting
vegetation control and providing rare species protection. One facet of the work done here is
using game cameras, deployed throughout the site, to remotely observe and monitor mammals
that utilize the area. CWFNJ has partnered with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Consultants (VHB) and
the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) to gather data on the
species, number, movement and overall activity of mammals that are captured on the cameras.
This information is used for keeping records and to better understand the travel paths various
mammals take throughout the site.

The game cameras are triggered by motion, so they only capture an image when something
passes within range in front of the sensor. Because motion isn’t specific to just wildlife,
occasionally the cameras capture beachgoers, vehicles and moving vegetation. This means that
it’s important to position the cameras appropriately so that the SD card memory doesn’t
become crammed with “blank photos” caused by false triggers. Even weather can have an
impact on images that are captured: a bad windstorm once resulted in over 1000 blank photos
caused by the camera shaking on its mount. CWF is exploring the use of Google Photo’s
Artificial Intelligence tool to sort through and review the pictures in a more efficient manner.
This AI could potentially isolate photos with wildlife, domestic animals and people from the
blank photos. The SD cards are collected regularly to transmit images to a computer which are
later reviewed and analyzed to gather data. So far, a few different species have shown up
rather frequently on the NGTC cameras.

The most common mammal observed is red fox, followed by white-tailed deer and Virginia
opossum. These are all common species in New Jersey and it’s no surprise that they inhabit the
beach-front property around the National Guard Training Center. All the deployed cameras
captured wildlife which indicates that mammals traverse the site very frequently and utilize the
paths as predicted. Through careful analysis, CWF biologists can even roughly identify
individuals and come up with an approximate population number. For example, a fox with a
short tail has been seen on multiple game cameras so far and is easily identifiable. CWFNJ will
continue to monitor the game cameras and collect images throughout the rest of the year.
Some favorites have been shared below for the public to enjoy.

CWF Supports Efforts to Remove Marine Debris from Barnegat Bay

Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

by Meaghan Lyon, Wildlife Biologist

Debris collected during the 2018 cleanup effort.

CWF and Fishing for Energy are excited to announce the addition of a new port in Waretown, New Jersey, where a bin will be placed to collect marine debris removed from Barnegat Bay. Lost, abandoned, and discarded fishing gear threatens important marine wildlife in this USEPA Estuary of National Significance. Barnegat Bay contributes over $4 billion each year to the regional economy, and is home to 560,000 people, and over 1 million people during summer.

Fishing for Energy is an innovative public-private partnership that provides commercial fishermen with a cost-free solution to dispose of derelict fishing gear or gear that is lost, abandoned or discarded. Fishing for Energy is a nationwide partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program (NOAA MDP); Covanta, a world-leading sustainable waste and energy solutions company; and Schnitzer Steel Industries, one of the largest metal recycling companies in the United States.


NJ State Endangered Upland Sandpiper End of Season Update

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

by Meaghan Lyon, Wildlife Biologist

An upland sandpiper looks out from it’s perch atop a post. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

In partnership with the USFWS New Jersey Field Office, CWF surveys a small population of upland sandpipers and other grassland birds at the McGuire Airfield in Burlington County, New Jersey. The upland sandpiper is a state endangered species nesting at only a few locations in New Jersey. Upland sandpiper, like many other grassland birds, require vast expanses of grassland habitat for nesting and caring for their chicks. Airports tend to be favorable locations consisting of maintained grassland habitat and limited human disturbance.

A total of 35 upland sandpiper observations were made at the McGuire Airfield in 2021, with an average of roughly 8 observations per survey. The overall number of upland sandpiper observations was comparable to 2018’s total of 37 sightings, but the average sightings per survey was lower than last year’s average, as well as the averages since 2017. Based on these observations, at least two to three pairs of upland sandpipers were nesting at the airfield this season. This estimation of nesting pairs is also lower than previous survey years.

Locating upland sandpiper nests is difficult due to the expansive habitat and the birds’ behavior. Most upland sandpipers nest in areas larger than 100 acres with relatively short grass heights. When nesting, the birds tend to fly in circles and loudly call from above to draw attention away from nests and unfledged chicks. Upland sandpipers are also easily disturbed during surveys, often taking flight long before surveyors get close to the nest or chicks. Additionally, the upland sandpipers’ song and call, a whistling “quip-ip-ip-ip, pulippulip, or whip-whee-ee-you,” can also be heard over a long distance.

Surveys during the breeding season from May to July have been ongoing over the past five years to determine the presence of breeding upland sandpipers in relation to ongoing habitat restoration efforts. Restoration efforts include the eradication of invasive plants and seeding of native warm season grasses. Restoration efforts will help conserve nesting habitat for grassland birds and help further limit human disturbance by minimizing mowing activities.