Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’

Meet the 2015 Honorees: Pat Hamilton, Women & Wildlife Leadership Award Winner

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015
Fisheries Biologist Honored for her Contribution to Wildlife Conservation

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

Pat Hamilton Leadership Award Winner

Pat Hamilton Leadership Award Winner

Pat Hamilton has worked for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries since 1980, most recently as the Principal Fisheries Biologist. Ms. Hamilton has become a leader in managing and conserving coldwater fisheries throughout the state. She is considered to be the champion for Eastern brook trout, the state’s only native salmonid, and a species once extirpated from over 50% of its historical habitat due to human impacts.


For her Master’s Thesis “Wild Brook Trout Genetics,” she examined the genetic diversity of Eastern brook trout populations in streams throughout the Raritan and Passaic watersheds. In the first study of its kind for the state, Ms. Hamilton determined that the trout present today are part of a lineage dating back to when the last glacier receded from New Jersey – some 16K-18K years ago! Since this landmark study, she has worked to restore and protect not only this ancient fish, but also the pristine habitat on which it depends.


Currently, Ms. Hamilton is one of three fisheries biologists in New Jersey endeavoring to strengthen the state regulations to further conserve native brook trout streams. Thanks to her efforts, more than 200 northern New Jersey streams have been designated as Trout Production Streams, which afford the streams higher levels of state protection.


Join us to honor Pat and the two other 2015 Women & Wildlife Award Winners on Wednesday, October 28 beginning at 6pm. Purchase events tickets and find more information.

We asked Pat a few questions about what working in wildlife conservation means to her:


Do you have a New Jersey wildlife species that you like best? Why?

When I was 12 years old I caught the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. Carefully thumbing through a fish ID booklet, I realized I just caught my first Brook Trout. Even its scientific name, Salvelinus fontinalis, meaning living in springs, captivated me and, as I committed this name to memory, I vowed to become a fisheries biologist when I grew up. Now as a professional, I value this species for reasons well beyond my childhood memories. The Brook Trout is a Jersey native. Their wild, naturally reproducing populations inhabit small streams scattered primarily across North Jersey. The species is synonymous with cold, clean water. A host of other wildlife species benefit from their presence because these streams and their watersheds receive greater protections through NJDEP regulatory programs that govern land use. My first Brook Trout encounter was definitely a life altering experience for me!

What is your favorite thing about your job?

The variety – no day is the same – and in particular, any fieldwork that puts me in the middle of a trout stream!

What do you find most challenging about your profession?

Fisheries management has become very complex. Our science is better plus there is greater public involvement in our decision-making process. I find balancing ecological, economic, and social/cultural values to be the most challenging because often there are competing interests that must be addressed as part of that process.

What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working?

Spending time outdoors fishing, especially when combined with kayaking. If the fish aren’t biting, it’s still a win-win.

Name one thing you can’t live without.

Water. Pure and simple.

Please join us on Wednesday, October 28, 2015, from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey to honor the contributions that Pat Hamilton, MacKenzie Hall and Tanya Oznowich have made to wildlife in New Jersey.


This year’s very special event will feature keynote speaker Governor Christine Todd Whitman. The event will also celebrate CWF’s past decade of honoring women for their success in protecting, managing, restoring, and raising awareness for the Garden State’s endangered and threatened wildlife species.


Learn more:


Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

From Birds to Butterflies

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Why Should We Care About Endangered Species?

by Lindsey Brendel, Technician

Piping plover sheds its breeding plumage as it readies for migration to wintering grounds. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Piping plover sheds its breeding plumage as it readies for migration to wintering grounds. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

As summer melds into early autumn, migration comes underway.  The nesting season for beach nesting birds is drawing to a close, and shorebirds can be seen feasting along the beaches as they fuel their bodies for their journey south. This was my first season working with endangered beach nesting birds.  Watching territory disputes and courtship displays early in the spring transitioned into nest searching and anxiously awaiting the hatch dates of our incubating pairs.


I feel an incredible sense of pride in the birds that have survived to fledge. It is impossible not to become attached when you spend weeks closely watching tiny chicks who take a tumble, are then brooded under their parents’ bodies, and finally mature into independent, fully feathered young birds, preparing for their first migration.


The start of fall migration also marks the reason I originally came to New Jersey one year ago, that being to study the monarch butterflies’ southward migration along the Atlantic coast. Last year was my first season as a field technician with the NJAS Monarch Monitoring Project, a research and education program that performs daily censuses of migrating monarchs, public tagging demos, and educational outreach. The project runs from September 1 through the end of October, and I will be back and working with the team again this fall.

Monarch butterfly refueling in Cape May as it prepares for fall migration to Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Brendel.

Monarch butterfly refueling in Cape May as it prepares for fall migration to Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Brendel.

For me, I see the monarch butterfly as the perfect gateway animal into the larger world of conservation.  Their widespread range in North America, and easy recognition means that many people are already familiar with this royal insect. Many school age children have learned about their life cycle in school, and may have even raised caterpillars and been witnesses to metamorphosis. Even if you have never learned about monarchs, their bright and bold appearance, sporting the warning coloration of orange and black, make them hard to miss.


That is one of the big differences I see between the beach nesting birds I have grown to love this summer and monarch butterfly. Cryptic and camouflaged are words that describe our beach nesters, specifically the endangered piping plover, who, when standing still, blends in perfectly with the sandy beach landscape. When I talk to people who have gone inside the fenced areas we have on the beaches for the nesting birds, a common response that serves as their rebuttal is that they “didn’t see” any birds, so they thought it would be okay. Situations like this happen frequently, and I have found that teaching, rather than scolding, is a better use of time. I love being able to show people the birds and highlight the fenced off areas as a family zone for our feathered friends; removing any mystery as to why these spaces are off limits.


Coming from a background in the arts, outreach is the arena I feel best suited for. I have had the pleasure of leading the beach nesting bird walks at Cape May Point State Park this summer. I love being able to share with others the life of a beach nesting bird, emphasizing that it really is a family affair, and a difficult one at that. The State Park will serve as a major hub for my work this fall, as that is where the Monarch Monitoring Project holds its butterfly tagging demos, and where we teach the public about the 2500-mile migratory journey the monarch butterfly undertakes to reach its wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico.


The beach nesting birds I have worked with this summer are endangered. Currently, the monarch butterfly is also under consideration to be listed as an endangered species. One question that comes up at both the bird walks and the butterfly tagging demos is, “Why would it matter if this species was gone?”


Sometimes it is asked with genuine curiosity, and other times it is said as a jab. Either way, it is a difficult question for me to answer, and I have to evaluate why I care. I think and worry a lot about the loss of milkweed, lack of nectar sources, and loss of wintering habitat for the monarchs all the time.  After working with beach nesting birds, I will never be able to enjoy a summer thunderstorm the same way again because I will always be picturing a tiny least tern or plover hunkered down on their nest trying to protect their eggs through the wind and the rain.


We protect things of value, but what value do these birds or this butterfly have? Why should we care about endangered species? One argument often made about rainforest deforestation is that there are possible undiscovered medicinal properties that could be cures for diseases. It is unlikely that piping plovers or monarch butterflies hold untapped medical value. So, why should we worry about their declining numbers?


Lindsey Brendel getting up close and personal with American oystercatcher chick, one of several beach nesting bird species she monitored this summer.

Lindsey Brendel getting up close and personal with American oystercatcher chick, one of several beach nesting bird species she monitored this summer.

For me, my fear is less about losing individual species, and more about the dangers of a widespread ideology where everything is treated as a commodity. I see this as the reason these two species have been pushed to dangerously low numbers and one of the hardest challenges conservation efforts have to face.  We live in a very “me centered” culture, and conservation asks us to acknowledge our place as just one of the many functioning pieces in the world around us. If we are going to be on the beach with our family, we need to understand that the least tern flying with a fish in its mouth is bringing food back for his family on that same beach. If we are going to invest in monoculture farms that heavily rely on herbicide use for our food, then we need to realize that we are taking away the food source for monarchs, and many other insect species.


Do I think compromise between humans and critical habitat for endangered species can be achieved? Absolutely. Indeed, one of my favorite parts about working with endangered species is letting go of my role as Supreme Being, and acknowledging that an insect or bird is doing something that I never could.  When a monarch butterfly emerges in the fall, regardless of the fact that it has never taken a long flight before, it starts off on more than a 2,000 mile journey to a place it has never been, but knows instinctively to navigate to. When an intruder gets too close to a plover’s nest, the adult will flop around pretending to have a broken wing, making himself look like the vulnerable and easy target, all in an effort to protect its eggs. Some of the best examples of determination and selflessness are happening right around us in the natural word, and we all have the invitation to expand, and learn, and watch it take place. That is the marvel. That is the mystery. That is where I feel the real value of protecting endangered species comes from.


Learn more:


Lindsey Brendel is a Technician with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, who worked with Todd Pover on our Beach Nesting Bird Project.

“Scout Central” at the 2015 New Jersey WILD Outdoor Expo

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015
CWF to serve as “Scout Central” and Host Bat House and Rain Barrel Workshops at this year’s WILD Expo

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

2015 New Jersey WILD Outdoor Expo


The 2015 New Jersey WILD Outdoor Expoa free event designed for visitors to discover ways to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors, will be held on Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area in Jackson Township, Ocean County.


This year, Conserve Wildlife Foundation will be holding two exciting and worth-while workshops, “Build a Bat House” and “Make a Rain Barrel.” Help us provide safe roosting and maternity sites for bats being evicted from buildings through our “Build a Bat House” workshop! The bat houses built at the Expo will become part of an Eagle Scout Service Project benefiting Conserve Wildlife Foundation.


Eagle Scout Dan Silvernail assists a 2014 Expo attendee in the building of a bat house.

Join us in our activity tent for Conserve Wildlife Foundation merchandise, discounts on membership and activities for Boy and Girl Scouts. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation tent will serve as “Scout Central” at this year’s event. Stop by for important scout information, handouts and activities. For a list of Boy and Girl Scout activities at this year’s Expo, visit our website.



Wildlife biologist Stephanie Egger educating 2014 Expo attendees about New Jersey’s box turtles.

Learn more:


Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.


Black Rails: Secretive Denizens of our Coastal Marshes

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
Searching for a Small, Dark Bird at Night, in the Dark

By: Alfred Breed, Field Technician

What you can see at night while listening for Black Rail. Shown are the datasheet and speaker that plays the various calls. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

The nighttime view while listening for black rails in the marsh. Shown are the datasheet and speaker that plays the various calls. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

Shhhhhhhh. Be very, very quiet. Sit perfectly still. Listen. When you are searching at night in the dark for the black rail, the rarest and MOST secretive of the secretive marsh birds, your best sense to use for detection is hearing.


The black rail is a small, darkly-colored marsh bird whose numbers are believed to have declined precipitously in the past few decades, primarily due to habitat loss (when their preferred high marsh habitat was filled and developed), as well as sea-level rise and the loss of salt hay farms (in New Jersey). The breeding population is likely extirpated from both Connecticut and New York, while its continued stability here in New Jersey is in question. Its conservation status varies by state, with full protection as an endangered species in New Jersey and some other states, and only the cursory protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in other, mostly southern states. Even in states where they are not listed as threatened or endangered, black rails are rarely seen because of low abundance, their secretive habits, and the inaccessibility of their preferred habitat.


Because of both its rarity and extremely secretive nature, the detailed habits of black rails are little known. Furthermore, historic and current population numbers critical to establishing its conservation status are not well understood. It is thought that they mostly feed during daylight hours, quietly traversing the marsh mud in search of seeds and invertebrate prey, thus remaining largely undetected beneath the dense grass mat. But during the breeding season they call, quite loudly, to each other at night.


This habit, nocturnal vocalization, is what we hope to use to determine the continued presence of black rail here in our coastal marshes, and eventually their abundance and other critical biological information. As part of a cooperative effort by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, and New Jersey Audubon Society, staff and volunteers are conducting surveys at points throughout the black rail’s potential breeding range in New Jersey and other states. One purpose of such research is to collect and analyze data in order to establish sound, effective, science-based species management plans coordinated across the species’ entire range.

Underway during daylight hours to check-ride new field boat, and deploy an acoustic recording unit that also “listens” for Black Rail.

Underway during daylight hours to check-ride deploy an acoustic recording unit that also “listens” for black rails.

The current phase of the black rail project requires me to transport by boat four expert bird-by-ear surveyors, capable of identifying birds common to the coastal marsh habitat from their song alone, at night. I bring each “listener” to ten randomly selected points within suitable high marsh habitat at the proper tide and during the designated survey period between 10:30 PM and 3 AM. Each 10-point survey route is repeated three times across a six-week period from May-July. Surveyors record all of the identifiable species they hear as well as the direction and estimated distance of the calls from each survey point.


The survey consists of two minutes of passive listening followed by several recorded black rail vocalizations broadcast from a very loud speaker that are interspersed with short silences in order to listen for any response. The black rail calls are followed by calls from Virginia and clapper rails, as they will also sometimes elicit a response from our quarry. Surveys are conducted with winds below 12 mph and in little to no precipitation in order for the sound to carry to both human and bird ears. Absolute silence is critical in order not to miss any of the more distant calls that pierce the darkness. The scrape of a boot on the deck, the crinkle of a snack wrapper, or a sudden sneeze has the potential to drown out the sound of a distant call. Discussions about species, direction and distance are held in a quiet whisper.


CWF field technician Alfred Breed, the intrepid nocturnal boat pilot for the Black Rail survey project.  Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

CWF field technician Alfred Breed, the intrepid nocturnal boat pilot for the Black Rail survey project. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

This season, our four survey routes encompassed appropriate habitat areas of several of the tributaries to the Great Egg Harbor Bay watershed. In our quiet and isolated marsh stream we are joined only by the birds we hear, many fireflies and less benign insects, spring peepers, croaking bullfrogs, and the occasional splash of a startled muskrat. Periodic traffic noise from the roads that encircle Great Egg Harbor Bay are a reminder that it is difficult to entirely escape civilization here in New Jersey. But listening to the marsh at night, while boating up a narrow isolated tributary that snakes its way toward the transition from marsh to upland, definitely allows for a sense of quiet communion with nature. Because of its extensive lighting, the BL England power plant in Beesley’s Point is truly a bejeweled wonder to behold at night from almost anywhere in the watershed, and the light pollution that emanates from the Atlantic City sky line can be actually quite helpful for nighttime navigation.


As far as this season is concerned, all of the hoped for data was successfully collected from each point during the survey periods, with only one survey transect interrupted by an un-forecast pop-up lightning storm that required a quick race back to the safety of the boat ramp. With the surveys now completed, we look forward to sharing the results when they are available for release.


This is the first of hopefully many seasons of data collection of this type. As each season’s final results are collected and analyzed, we hope to focus our survey efforts from geographically random points within appropriate habitat, to the areas of repeated detection, and to eventually be able to achieve our long term goal: namely a science-based understanding of the black rail population in our state that informs a viable and effective species management plan.


As a result of my participation in this study with four expert surveyors, for three survey nights each, at 10 points per night, and 10 minutes per point, I have had the privilege of intently listening for over 20 solid hours to our nighttime native secretive marsh bird songs in the presence of experts who can teach me what it is we’ve heard. Although I was only able to master a few of the calls with which I was not already familiar, it has truly been a pleasure and a valuable learning experience accompanying these experts into the field. I can’t wait to do it again next season!


The Conserve Wildlife Foundation and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife wish to thank Alf for the excellent logistical, navigation, and boat handling skills he brought to this project. Just as we could not conduct the survey without our observer’s expert ears, we would be equally lost without Alf’s expertise on the water. Thank you, Alf!

Ranavirus Impacting New Jersey Amphibians

Friday, March 20th, 2015
Emerging Disease Known to Affect Amphibians, Reptiles and Fish

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is excited to celebrate Amphibian Awareness Month during March 2015! Follow us on social media and be sure to check your email (sign up for our list) for weekly stories on the amphibians of the Garden State and our work to protect them. 

By: Kelly Triece, Wildlife Biologist


Wood frog and egg masses at a vernal pool in northern New Jersey © Kelly Triece


While human diseases such as Ebola and the zombie apocalypse virus have made recent headlines in the news and on our TV screens, there is a virus that is also affecting our local amphibian population. This emerging disease known as Ranavirus, has become increasingly common in the U.S., including New Jersey.


This virus has been known to affect amphibians, reptiles and fish. It is of great concern because it can kill nearly 100% of amphibian larvae (tadpoles) within just a few days once a population is infected. Ranavirus causes skin ulcerations and organ hemorrhaging, and is especially threatening to larvae, specifically wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus). Transmission of the disease can be spread direct contact, waterborne exposure, contaminated soil, and ingestion of infected tissues.


While the virus has been known to cause major die-offs all over the world, little information on the timing, extent, and frequency of the disease outbreaks is known in the Mid-Atlantic U.S.. In order to gain more information, a multi-state survey has been underway since 2013. The project is led by Scott Smith of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Conserve Wildlife Foundation staff biologists are doing a large amount of New Jersey’s field surveillance with support from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP).

Netting tadpoles ©MacKenzie Hall

Netting tadpoles ©MacKenzie Hall

As part of this project, in 2013, breeding ponds throughout the New Jersey were sampled for prevalence of Ranavirus. Thirty larvae from each study pond were captured by dip net, physically examined, euthanized, and preserved for screening and other analyses at the labs of Montclair State University and/or the National Wildlife Health Center. Results determined that about half of these ponds tested positive for Ranavirus.


In 2014, Ranavirus-positive sites were re-sampled for presence of the disease. At about 25% of the sites, disease symptoms and/or dead tadpoles were found, though no mass die-offs were observed. Investigations are still ongoing to further determine the impact of Ranavirus on amphibian populations as well as potential environmental factors that may be associated with the disease.


Learn more:


Kelly Triece is a Wildlife Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.