Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Amphibian Crossing Project’

CWF in the News: Volunteers help salamanders cross NJ roadways

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

https://i1.wp.com/www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2021/03/19/NNJH/8d71f555-3ccd-4e67-b853-b91ad51421f9-Spotted-Female_In-Hand_MacKenzieHall.jpg?ssl=1
A volunteers handles a spotted salamander. Photo by Mackenzie Hall

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation has been partnering with NJ’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) since 2002 for the annual Amphibian Crossing Project. On warm, rainy nights in the early Spring, we work with a fleet of incredible volunteers to hustle amphibians across the road at three key rescue sites. Still groggy from their winter hibernation, roads can be incredibly dangerous for the slow moving frogs and salamanders trying to reach their breeding grounds.

Over the course of this project, we’ve crossed an estimate 14,000 individuals at the Byram Township site alone!

Commenting on last Thursday’s crossing, the first of 2021, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator Christine Healy had the following to say:

“We were a little unsure of what to expect, since the temperature was a little on the cold side, but we crossed 1,215 amphibians at Byram Twp., 1,132 at Stillwater, and 963 at Liberty Twp.

I’d call that a success! Really proud of all the volunteers who made it happen.

Conditions look like they could be good toward the end of this week for round two!”

Christine Healy, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator

Bruce A. Scruton of The New Jersey Herald recently spoke with Christine to discuss the Amphibian Croosing Project and its storied history.

You can read the profile over on NJHerald.com to learn more about what it takes to help hundreds of our amphibian friends hop and meander across dangerous roadways.

Click here to read more.

Spotted salamander on a log
A spotted salamander peeks over a log. Photo by Mackenzie Hall.

Wild New Jersey Revisited: Salamander Crossing – It Could Be Tonight!

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

by David Wheeler

The spotted salamander is one of the key amphibian species which crosses roads on their journey to reproduce every Spring, prompting road closures and volunteer crossing efforts like the Amphibian Crossing Project.

Wild New Jersey Revisited is a monthly series of excerpts from Conserve Wildlife Foundation executive director David Wheeler’s 2011 book Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State. Today we focus on a springtime migration…of miniature proportions – and one that could be occurring again tonight!


Excerpt from Chapter 22

Wild Nights in Suburbia

It’s not often that I find myself praying for rain on the way out the door. No, when I’m about to spend three-plus hours standing outside on a chilly Sunday evening in March, I usually prefer to stay dry. I’m kind of picky that way.

So if it seems odd that I let out a quick cheer when a few raindrops appear on my windshield as I navigate treacherous backroads in Warren County – well, there’s good reason. Without the rain, there are no salamanders crossing the road. And without salamanders or frogs, the scientists and a truckload of committed volunteers have no reason to be out here in the chilly twilight.

I arrive at the site, and my windshield is dry again. I fear that those lone raindrops were just a big tease. It could be a long night. Somewhere in the distance, a great horned owl hoots. Near the road, a lone spring peeper calls without end like a soapbox preacher. Perhaps he is divining the future for his fellow amphibians, and for us.

After all, this is their migration. We are just here as bouncers, keeping cars and trucks from crashing their party. Tonight, rain is the only question mark. The temperature is in the ideal range, mid- to upper forties. As planned, the night grew dark when the sun went down. (Whew – that’s a relief!) So that’s two out of three needs for the crossing to begin.

All we need is rain. One volunteer checks the Doppler radar weather forecast on his phone every few minutes.

“There’s a system over Lehigh Valley now, but it’s moving our way pretty quickly.”

Another volunteer reminisces about the good old days.

“2002 – that was the best year. We got a torrential downpour.”

A wood frog, held by an Amphibian Crossing volunteer. Photo by Mackenzie Hall.

Salamander Crossing

The volunteers take their places. For the next few hours, each person will walk a roughly 50-foot stretch along the dotted yellow traffic line in the middle of the road. Volunteers will tally any amphibians that pass through by number and species. The salamanders and frogs cross the road to get from their upland wintering areas to the vernal ponds on the other side, where they can safely lay their eggs. These vernal ponds, or temporary pools, dry up for part of the year. That means no fish are present to eat the amphibian eggs and tadpoles.

“We focus not only on salamanders, but on amphibians as a whole, because they are ecological indicators,” says Kris Schantz of New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, who started the migration night surveys in 2002 and has run them every year since. “They play an important role in helping us understand the ecosystem health, water availability, and water quality. If there are problems with the water, we will see it in them first.”

Schantz, along with MacKenzie Hall from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and Mike Anderson from New Jersey Audubon, works with municipalities to coordinate these rural road closings for two or three nights each year. Yet Schantz is also calling for a permanent solution: culverts underground. Such systems are in place in Massachusetts and Europe, but have not yet been tried in New Jersey, which has more roads per square mile than anywhere else in the country. Culverts would do wonders here.

The first three-hour shift is ending without a single crossing. I say my goodbyes and begin walking back to the car. And then – “Spring peeper!”

“Salamander!”

A volunteer shines his beam on the spotted salamander, a good six inches of stunning dark blue dotted with bright yellow spots. A few feet away, the spring peeper – a tiny tree frog no bigger than my thumb, with a beautiful darkened X pattern across its olive-colored back – slowly makes its way across the road. It feels great to see these brave individuals, who appear to be testing the conditions for the rest of their groups – perhaps they are the amphibian equivalents of “guinea pigs.”

Oasis in the Forest

While state surveys are manned only by trained volunteers, there’s another opportunity for anyone to experience a salamander migration first-hand. Each March and April in East Brunswick, the town closes down a half mile of Beekman Road to drivers for a handful of rainy nights. Scores of local residents gather to observe the migration, watching spotted salamanders, spring peepers, red efts, and red-backed salamanders.

This unique public event started in the early 2000s when environmental scientist David Moskowitz found his first dead salamander on the road. He told then-Mayor William Neary about it, and the mayor was surprisingly receptive to closing the road. Each year since, the rural road has shut down for up to nine nights, depending on the quality of each mass movement.

The crossing attracts large numbers of participants, largely because it seems like such a different world in the middle of suburban East Brunswick. During my visit to the crossing, the frog calls echo so loudly that I might as well have entered a tropical rainforest.

“On many nights, we actually have a parking problem, so many families want to come out,” says Moskowitz. “Our message is that the perfect analogy of the vernal pool is the oasis in the forest. If you lose a vernal pool, you lose all of those species that go into a vernal pool.”


Ten Years Gone

In the decade since Wild New Jersey was published, the amphibian crossings in northwestern New Jersey have continued each year, though with some scaling back in 2020-21 due to Covid safety restrictions. Christine Healy of Conserve Wildlife Foundation manages the 2021 crossing project, and MacKenzie Hall still provides major oversight – albeit now as a New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife scientist.

The Division has since launched CHANJ (Connecting Habitats Across New Jersey) to address the habitat connectivity concerns mentioned above in biologist Kris Schantz’s remarks, including constructing underground wildlife culverts in places like River Road in Bedminster and an ongoing project at Waterloo Road in Sussex County. The PBS program EcoSense for Living spotlighted New Jersey’s leadership on wildlife crossings in an episode last year.

David Moskowitz continues to manage the East Brunswick amphibian crossing, attracting hundreds of people each spring to safely enjoy the wonders of seeing these unique creatures, including introducing many people to the first close-up looks at a salamander or spring peeper. Visit the environmental commission’s project webpage for a detailed overview and regularly posted updates of conditions and likelihood of the road closing during this time of year.

– David Wheeler, March 2021


*Special Note, March 18, 2021*

Tonight’s forecast calls for relatively ideal conditions, so be sure to check out the East Brunswick salamander crossing updates for the likelihood of a road closure and the chance to visit the amphibian migration tonight!

Stay tuned for April’s installment of “Wild New Jersey Revisited” – a trip to the “Bayshore Bayou” in search of bald eagles!


Read the previous installments of Wild New Jersey Revisited:

Part One: A Predator Returns to the State’s Rugged Northwest

Part Two: A Taste of the Arctic at Sandy Hook

Purchase a copy of Wild New Jersey from the CWF Store.


Amphibian Crossing Project on PBS EcoSense for Living

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Wildlife habitats all over the country have been broken into ever smaller pieces by human development, making it challenging for animals to safely find food, mates or a place to make a nest or den. This is especially true in New Jersey, which has more people per square mile than any other state by far.

The PBS EcoSense for Living episode ”Wildlife Crossings” has captured the challenges habitat fragmentation poses to wildlife, along with the amazing work that scientists, engineers, and wildlife managers are doing to help. Projects supporting New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) initiative, including CWF’s Amphibian Crossing Project, are featured beginning at 14:10.

On warm, rainy spring evenings salamanders, frogs and toads venture out for the most eventful nights of their year. They have but one goal – to make it to a vernal pool to breed. But between them and the pool is a road, filled with cars barreling along, completely oblivious to their big plans.

A single vehicle can crush dozens of these slow-moving animals as they try to make it across the road. From the driver’s seat they may look like mere twigs, leaves, or raindrops bouncing off the road. With high mortality rates year after year, it doesn’t take long for a population to nose-dive.

The Amphibian Crossing Program helps hundreds of salamanders, frogs and toads make that hazardous journey so they can have their big night. We are also assisting NJDFW in preparing for a wildlife crossing structure system consisting of under-road tunnels and guide fencing to help amphibians at our busiest migration site.

Successful “critter crossings” at this priority site could pave the way for many other projects, allowing salamanders, frogs, and toads (as well as snakes, turtles, and other small animals) to safely and independently cross between their upland habitats and breeding pools each spring. To see how the Amphibian Crossing Project fits in with other statewide projects supporting wildlife habitat connectivity see Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ).

Want to help? Volunteers for the Amphibian Crossing Project must complete a training session. If you are interested in being a part of next year’s project, please contact allegra.mitchell@conservewildlifenj.org.

Resources

Wild for Volunteers Guest Post: Amphibian Crossing

Friday, April 24th, 2020

by Annabel Weiman

About the author: Annabel is a sophomore at Indian Hills High School in Oakland, New Jersey. When not helping amphibians cross the road she enjoys photography, the beach and badminton. Thank you for volunteering and sharing your experience Annabel!

Please note: the Amphibian Crossing Project activity described here occurred before restrictions for COVID-19 were in place. At this time CWF is only performing essential wildlife monitoring and conservation duties while practicing social distancing and following all state and CDC guidelines.

In early March, my dad Rick got an email from wildlife biologist Allegra Mitchell of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ (CWF) saying tonight was the night. My dad came home from work excited, got the flashlights and rain coats out, and called my Aunt June and cousin Sarah asking if they wanted to go with us. We had all signed up to be CWF amphibian crossing volunteers. 

Helping a Spotted Salamander cross the road.
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The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog – Uncovering the past

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

by Taylor Forster, GIS Intern

©Brian R.Curry

On a Tuesday morning, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey biologist Allegra Mitchell and I, GIS Intern Taylor Forster, went to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. We were looking at a newly identified species recently found in one of the largest metropolitan areas – New York! I learned that this species was discovered because of its unique “call.” A “call” is the sound a male frog makes to attract a female frog, and each frog species’ call is unique. It seems that this species remained undiscovered for so long because of its similar appearance to other, closely-related leopard frog species. The cryptic nature of this new species meant that the only noticeable distinction between it and other leopard frogs was the sound it makes.

After looking at this newly discovered frog, now known as the mid-Atlantic coast leopard frog, a few defining characteristics came to light that set it apart from the other leopard frogs. These characteristics make it easier to identify other mid-Atlantic coast leopard frogs that have been preserved and categorized as other species for museum collections. With this information in mind, Ms. Mitchell and I were at the New Jersey State Museum to investigate when and where this frog had been found throughout the state before anyone realized its significance. (more…)