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Allaire Nature Center: We are open for business!

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

by Charlene Smith, Allaire Nature Center Manager

Hi! My name is Charlene Smith and I am the manager at Allaire Nature Center. I am a recent graduate of Rutgers University where I majored in Ecology & Natural Resource Management. I have spent half my life in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and the other half in New Jersey and have been pleasantly surprised at the history, beauty, and diversity of this state. I have a passion for the outdoors and love discovering all the wildlife and various landscapes that New Jersey has to offer.

I am excited to kick off a new season of adventuring into the wilds of Allaire State Park.  Tucked away in the woods at the edge of a pond, I have always considered Allaire Nature Centerto be a hidden gem that only a few people have had the chance to experience.  

CWF is offering many nature based programs that help to get people out in the field and experience wildlife hands-on.  This weekend, come and explore the pond and stream or take a quiet bird walk.  Check out our programs page.

Many people come to Allaire and can’t believe what a beautiful park it is and that it took them so long to come visit. They always vow that they will return again soon and spread the word to friends and family.

So, what are you waiting for? Come spend the whole day at Allaire! Make sure you bring your walking shoes and curiousity – and stop by the nature center and say Hi!

Exciting Programs In State Parks This Summer!

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
Birding by Kayak on Barnegat Bay, surf fishing off Island Beach, night hikes, and more…

CWF is excited to partner with NJ State Parks and offer incredible programs about New Jersey’s natural world.  Programs are taking place at both Island Beach State Park and Allaire State Park.

Become a WILDCHILD, take a sunset kayak tour, try your hand at surf-fishing, go bird watching, or discover the night. Whatever you decide, you will be guided by professional educators and naturalists who have plenty of natural and wildlife stories to share with you.

At nearly 10 miles long, Island Beach is New Jersey’s most expansive stretch of undeveloped barrier island.  Our programs help you to connect with the beauty of this ecosystem and its ample natural resources.  Have your kids participate in a WILDCHILD program including surfing, surf-fishing, and island exploration. Try and catch the big one during a surf-fishing class or discover the beauty of Barnegat Bay through kayaking.

Allaire State Park covers almost 3,000 acres within the coastal plain of New Jersey.  An extension of the Pine Barrens, Allaire has sandy soils and forests of oak, cedar, and pine.  The Manasquan River flows through the park, creating floodplain that serves as habitat for many species of wildlife, including the barred owl, wood turtle, and bald eagle.  Discover moths, take a quiet bird walk, or splash around in the pond and stream during one of our summer programs.

For more information, visit CWF’s Parks Programs section on our website.

Camden Students Learn About New Jersey’s Rare Wildlife

Monday, February 20th, 2012

by Maria Grace, Education & Outreach Manager

Recently, I visited the 4th and 5th graders at ECO Charter School in Camden, NJ.  With plenty of wildlife specimens in hand, I talked to the students about NJ’s rare wildlife and why it is important to protect it.  I had fun interacting with these kids and they asked plenty of really good questions like “What does DDT stand for?” and “What do peregrine falcons eat?”.  I gave them a homework assignment – to share their newly discovered knowledge with their friends and family members, one of the most important things in protecting wildlife.  An easy lift, since each of these students participated in the Species on the Edge Art & Essay Contest and learned about one of NJ’s rare wildlife residents.

ECO Charter School 5th graders and their vibrant entries for the Species on the Edge Contest

Subaru of America generously sponsored the Species on the Edge Art & Essay Contest and specifically, they supported its expansion and promotion in Camden County, which notoriously had low participation.  Without Subaru’s support, I may not have been able to visit ECO Charter School and the students may not have found out about the contest nor chose to enter.  These students now have a better understand of the wildlife that shares our state with us.

CWF would like to thank all the sponsors of the Species on the Edge Art & Essay Contest:

PSEG, Church & Dwight, NJEA, Subaru of America, Verizon, and ShopRite.

Seeing Bats In A Different Light

Friday, October 28th, 2011

By Margaret O’Gorman, Executive Director

Sundays in my house usually involve the New York Times and some hard-core housework. But on a recent sunny Sunday, I found myself inMorris County, testing the limits of my flexibility as I maneuvered myself through a small opening that is the entrance to Hibernia Mine, the most important bat hibernation area inNew Jersey.

The entrance to Hibernia Mine.

Guided, with much patience and humor, by partner-in-bat-protection John Gumbs of the Bat Research Center and Mackenzie Hall, CWF’s resident bat biologist, I climbed up into a small space atop a steel door and, displaying little grace or athleticism, managed to wedge myself in the wrong direction, then the right direction, and finally to descend into the main mine shaft of Hibernia.

Once inside, aided by a headlamp, my eyes adjusted to the dark world and I was able to take in this old mine that is such an important site for our resident hibernating bat populations and, hopefully, a location that can play a critical role in its recovery.

White Nose Syndrome (WNS), the fungal infection that is devastating cave and mine bats acrossNorth America, took its toll at Hibernia Mine. Pre-WNS counts regularly found 30,000 bats in Hibernia. The population crashed over the winter of 2008, when 90% of the bats in the mine died and, with subsequent deaths during winter ’09 and ‘10, now only 1,500 call this place home. The remains of thousands of dead bats, scattered on the floor throughout the mine, bear sad testament to the losses seen by this place since WNS emerged as a mass killer of bats.

Squeezing into Hibernia Mine.

On this particular Sunday, we went into the mine to help John Gumbs with a research study that seeks to shed light – literally and figuratively – on the progression of the fungus that causes WNS and, in so doing, help develop a cure, a barrier, or at least a better model for the recovery of the population.

Walking deep into the mine with John and Mackenzie, it was hard to get a true feeling of the earth pressing down on top of you. The main shaft we were walking through was wide and tall. Parallel tracks down the shaft were evidence of the presence of a steam train that had hauled ore from the mine during its peak production phase in the late 1800’s.  Traces of soot from the underground steam trains mark the ceiling of the shaft. It was only when we went deeper into the mine, and explored a partially collapsed shaft with boulders as large as VW vans hanging above our heads, that a sense of the weight of the place became apparent.

But we were not there to explore. We were there to work. The purpose of our trip into the mine was to take photographs of bats under UV light to record the level of fluorescence on the bats’ wings.

Main tunnel into the mine. This photo was not taken in 2011. Since the discovery of WNS, the use of cameras in the mine has been limited.

John Gumbs and Mitzi Kaiura from Bat Research Center have pioneered a new research tool that uses UV light to visualize the tissue reaction caused by the fungus most likely causing WNS, Geomyces destructans (Gd), before other clinical signs are apparent. This research will expand biologists’ knowledge of the disease and the timeline associated with its impact on the hibernating population. You can read more about the Bat Research Center’s project and goals here.

To help John, we collected a small number of hibernating bats from the walls and roof of the main shaft. Each bat was plucked off the wall and placed into a small container with air holes. John set up a camera midway in the shaft. The collected bats were carried to the camera and gently laid on a cloth-covered black box, extending their wings to fill the camera’s viewfinder. Once the bat’s wing was positioned fully in the viewfinder, off went our headlights and on came the UV light which showed the bat in, no pun intended, a whole new light. Their teeth glowed in the UV light, their feet glowed likewise and their wings showed speckles, dapples or entire washes of fluorescence – possibly indicative of the progression of the disease. John hopes to develop a multi-year photo documentation of all phases of the Gd disease progression during hibernation and afterwards illustrate a link between this fluorescence and Gd.

Time flowed in a strange way inside the mine as we walked along the shaft examining clusters of hibernating bats and choosing some to be photographed. Time was told only by the cold seeping in through our boots or along our fingers.  In the darkness, time seemed to be totally absent and the ever-encroaching cold was the trigger to send us up and out of the mine.

On finally emerging into a sunny Sunday, following the reverse maneuver through the opening in the gate, it was like departing one world – dark, damp, silent and cool – for another full of sound, light and color.  Hikers passing by wearing shorts on this Indian summer day must have wondered at the winter-clad people emerging blinking into daylight!

A few things struck me about this adventure, not least of which is that I spend way too much time in the office. But the most important thing was the ingenuity and hard work of the people focused on protecting our bat population from extinction. John Gumbs, through his work, has developed photography methods to track the disease, engineered special tools to increase his efficiency and is now pioneering a method to cool bats into hibernation as a way to re-introduce them to their natural hibernacula, all on his own initiative and without any funding. We support John’s efforts and if you would like to also support his efforts or learn more about his work, please see our partner page.

The fight to save our bats from extinction continues in the cold, quiet darkness of Hibernia Mine and if passionate, innovative people like John Gumbs from Bat Research Center; Mick Valent from the state’s Endangered Species Program; Jackie Kashmer whose rehabilitation work we profiled recently; and Mackenzie Hall from Conserve Wildlife Foundation, are focused on this, we can hold out some hope for our precious and valuable bats.

Union Township students go batty!

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Wildlife Preservation Club members build bat houses for NJ bats

by Maria Grace, Education & Outreach Manager

On Tuesday, December 14th, I had the pleasure of working with over 60 middle school students from 2 Union Township (Union County) schools, Burnet Middle School and Kawameeh Middle School.  Larry Petras, Advisor of the club, received a grant to educate the club members about bats and build and install bat houses around the township.  Mr. Petras  reached out to Conserve Wildlife Foundation to help fulfill his and his students wishes of improving bat habitat throughout their community.   So with wood, caulk, screws, and power drills in tow, I arrived at Burnet Middle School to assist the students in building bat houses that will be placed around the township to bolster the bat population.

First, I gave a presentation about bats – their natural history, habitat requirements, and importance to the environment.  Afterwards, the over 60 students were broken into groups and given the task of building 3 chambered maternity bat houses, capable of holding of approximately 80 bats.

I have run many bat house building workshops over the last couple of years and I always describe the scene as “controlled chaos.”  Enthusiastic kids with power tools, staple guns, and caulking guns, can make any educator a bit tense.   And to top it all off, this group was the largest group that I had ever done a bat house buildilng workshop for – over 60 middle schoolers! (we usually top out at about 25 students for building 5 bat houses.)  But Mr.Petras assured me that the students would be well-behaved and respectful of the work that would be completed.

The kids moved through the task with shining colors – I was so completely impressed with how the students worked together and allowed each other to help build the houses.  They made sure everyone had a turn working with the tools.  Those that knew how to use a caulking gun or a power drill, taught those who did not.  The satisfaction of building something from a pile of wood was evident in the buzz that hummed throughout the room.

The end result was 5 bat houses capable of holding 400 or more bats.  With plans to build more bat houses, Mr. Petras and his students are well on their way to doing their part to conserve wildlife in their community.

To Mr. Petras and his students, thank you for wanting to help protect New Jersey’s imperiled wildlife.  It is inspiring to see such enthusiasm and dedication in a group of young people.  I hope you enjoyed the project as much as I did.

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