Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘reptiles’

Wildlife returns to the industrial Newark Bay waterfront

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

by David Wheeler

Under the sweltering September sun, our team discovers the earth at our fingertips. We ready the manure, topsoil, and mulch, wield the pickax and trowel, and labor the wheelbarrow through the trees and up the slope of a tidal berm.

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We plant 250 native shrubs and 580 native herbaceous plugs. We hammer in nest boxes, install pollinator houses, construct mounds of brush for local and migrating wildlife, and create nesting habitat for northern diamondback terrapin, an at-risk turtle species.

We lose ourselves in nature for the day.

A migrating butterfly flits past leisurely and I look up from the soil to wipe my brow. Suddenly I remember exactly where this newly vibrant natural ecosystem is. Nearly overhead, I can watch never-ending streams of commuters and tractor trailers motor past over one of the busiest bridges in the nation – the Newark Bay Bridge. Just across the bay, I can see heavy industry. Out beyond the fence, more industry – ancient, tireless, modern progress marching forward.

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Yet on this morning, and those that follow, we now have ecological progress here as well, in a place that was written off entirely not so long ago. The Newark Bay region has suffered a century and a half of environmental degradation at the hands of industry and unbridled development.

This active industrial site is home to Firmenich Inc., one of the largest manufactures of fragrances in the world. We have transformed the land today to invite wildlife partners to help balance the scales of the region’s damaged ecology.

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Green Darner dew laden on Echinacea.

These partners are vital to our environment, to our health, to the world around us. They are the butterflies and bees, the wasps and beetles, the flies and moths that make up an army of pollinators that in coordinated effort provide humanity with the lungs of our planet. Without these pollinators, native plants could not sink carbon dioxide and impart oxygen to our surroundings, every minute of every day. Without these pollinators, the bread baskets of the world would wither away, no longer filled with grains, fruits, and vegetables.

The natural partnerships don’t stop with the pollinators born forth from meadow creation. These partners extend to migrating songbirds and mighty raptors, small mammals and diamondback terrapins.

“If we give nature an inch, it’s going to take a yard. Give it a chance and nature will return,” says biologist Blaine Rothauser, who is directing the restoration for GZA Environmental. “Wildlife just needs an opportunity.”

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Immature night heron with crab.

Nature’s inspiring return builds upon decades of ecological recovery in the region. Thanks to President Nixon’s Clean Water Act of 1973, the water began to get cleaner. Improving the water quality reanimated the food chain from the bottom up – phyto- and zooplankton, invertebrates and crustaceans reappeared. In turn, a fishery was reborn, which ushered in the return of herons, ibis, osprey, turtles, and even harbor seals – seen sunning on the banks of tidal shores in winter!

Yet much of the land around the water’s edge is still wanting.

“The restoration site is an important buffer habitat to a large portion of undeveloped tidal bay directly adjacent to the Firmenich complex,” says Rothauser. “Today we have 60 people planting a native community of shrubs, trees and plants on a formerly sterile lawn and an unnaturalized earthen berm. It is vital work that makes a real difference.”

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The team has also created opportunities for rare species to nest. Above our heads, an osprey platform has been installed, empowering this magnificent fish-eating raptor to continue its recovery along Newark Bay and many other New Jersey waterways, industrial and remote alike.

A barn owl box offers one of our most mysterious nighttime predators the opportunity to set up shop in a beneficial area – where there is no shortage of rabbits and field mice to help control.

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Close up of a barn owl.

Across the pond, a purple martin condominium-like house offers the ample space necessary for these communal swallows to reside, a home base where they can feast on flying insects.

With the first phase of the project almost complete, the second phase will seek to transform the site’s holding ponds into ecologically productive floating wetlands, bringing herons and egrets and other wading birds.

Ultimately, this project is envisioned as one that can be replicated just about anywhere along Newark Bay – or any industrial waterfront for that matter. All it takes is the willingness to look at a site’s land from a different perspective – and in so doing, to understand that the ecological benefits of bringing back many wildlife species aren’t negated by losing economic tradeoffs.

Instead they can mean parallel economic benefits. Natural pest control. Fewer landscaping and pesticide costs. Increased employee morale and productivity, with a newfound opportunity to recharge body and mind with a rejuvenating break outside, enjoying natural beauty and the engagement of your senses.

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Images above from left to right – Killdeer, 12 Spotted Skipper, and American Kestrel.

New Jersey has long served as a primary engine for America’s industry and commerce – and in return has often been derided as the “Which exit?” land of nothing but turnpike and smokestacks. The Meadowlands just to the north of here bore the brunt of that reputation, yet in recent decades has made a mind-blowing ecological recovery to become a wildlife – and ecotourism – destination.

The waters flow south from the Meadowlands along the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, and they come together in the Newark Bay. Now, that next wave of wildlife recovery and habitat restoration has arrived just downstream – along the Newark Bay waterfront.

For wildlife, it’s where the action is.

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David Wheeler is the executive director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation and author of the book, Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State.

 

All photos courtesy of Blaine Rothauser.

 

Keeping Turtles Wild

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016
TURTLES SHOULD NEVER BE TAKEN FROM THE WILD!

by Kathleen Wadiak, CWF Intern

Have you ever seen a cute little turtle on the roadside or in a river or lake? Lots of people have had the pleasure of seeing turtles in the wild- as they are often easy to see and not too weary of people! This time of year, turtles are beginning to hatch after months of developing inside eggs that were laid in the spring. When turtles are just hatched they are the most vulnerable to predators and even humans! Most hatchling turtles can fit inside the palm of your hand. Often time humans have the misconception that a small turtle is a helpless turtle. Turtles are wild and unless they are trapped or diseased- they do not need our help!

A hatchling bog turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

A hatchling bog turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

If you find a turtle, please leave it – even if the surroundings seem strange to you, it probably feels right at home. Moving turtles away from their home range can cause disorientation and leave it vulnerable to predators or other hazards.

If a turtle is ON a roadway- then it can be quickly helped off the road! Please see our recent blog post about helping turtles on the road. If you do move a turtle off the road, never take the turtle to a completely new location. Finally, handle it as little as possible to reduce the risk of injury or disease for you and the turtle.

It can be exciting to see a turtle in the wild, and it may be tempting to continue to handle it or even take it home to keep as a pet; however, it is important to remember that they are wild animals and will live much better lives in their natural habitat than they will in a tank. In many cases, wild caught turtles do not adjust to captivity, as they do not react well to sudden space and dietary restrictions. Furthermore, only a small percentage of wild turtles survive to adulthood, so removing them from the population can be detrimental to that population’s future.

Thanks for helping us Keep Turtles Wild!


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Helping Turtles Off Roads

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
ROADS ARE DANGEROUS CROSSINGS FOR SLOW-MOVING TURTLES

by Kathleen Wadiak, CWF Intern

New Jersey is home to a number of turtle species, and this time of year, it is not uncommon to see some of them crossing the road. Slow movers on land, they are not well equipped to avoid the dangers of a busy roadway. If you come across a turtle on one of your streets, what should you do?

An eastern box turtle. Photo by Ben Wurst.

An eastern box turtle. Photo by Ben Wurst.

First of all, it is important to think of your own safety in addition to the turtle’s. Be sure to pull completely over to the side of the road and to put on your hazard lights. Check for cars, and make sure that you are visible to oncoming traffic.

 

Snapping turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

Snapping turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

If you want to move a turtle across the road, there are a few things to keep in mind. To start, remember to never lift a turtle by its tail or limbs, as this can cause serious injury. With most turtles, it is best to pick them up on either side of their shell between the forelimbs and hind limbs. Even small ones may squirm and kick, so try to keep a firm hold and carry them low to the ground to avoid a dangerous drop!

 

If the turtle is large with a long tail and pointed head, it is likely a snapping turtle and should be met with some extra caution. Try using a blunt object to gently coax it to the roadside, and be careful to avoid touching it anywhere within range of its bite, which can reach as far back as the middle of its body! If you think you need to carry it, hold it with two hands on the shell behind its hind legs, on either side of the tail.

 

Terrapin X-ING sign along Great Bay Blvd. Photo courtesy of Ben Wurst.

Terrapin X-ING sign along Great Bay Blvd. Photo courtesy of Ben Wurst.

Before you handle a turtle, notice which direction it’s facing. Move it to that side of the street, as it is likely determined to head to a certain site, and will end up in the road again if it is moved away from its goal. This is an especially important point with the many threatened and endangered turtle species in our state. Helping turtles in trouble across a roadway and leaving them to enjoy their natural environment is a great way to ensure that there will be more wild turtles to appreciate for years to come!


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Giving the Federally Endangered Bog Turtle a Fighting Chance in New Jersey

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
Coalition of Agencies Working Together to Enhance Turtle Habitat in Sussex County

by Kelly Triece, Biologist

Bog Turtle photo by Brian Zarate, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife

Bog Turtle photo by Brian Zarate, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife

Through federal partnerships and incentive programs, the federally endangered bog turtle can have a fighting chance in New Jersey! The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in partnership with Conserve Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey Audubon Society, and Wallkill River Watershed Management Group, are currently working to restore a once natural wetland on private property in Sussex County. The program is possible through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Wetlands Reserve Easement (WRE). WRE is a voluntary program that provides an opportunity for landowners to receive financial assistance in exchange for permanently protecting retired agricultural land. In their first year, NRCS and USFWS helped to restore and protect 52 acres of bog turtle habitat in New Jersey!

 

The goal of this project is to restore hydrology, enhance bog turtle habitat, control invasive species, and stabilize the stream bank. Through the partnerships we have already planted riparian buffers along the river and plan to conduct invasive species removal and create shallow water pools for wildlife such as amphibians.

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The site contains active bog turtle habitat that has been degraded over time through grazing and other human induced impacts. Bog turtles are found throughout the state, but Sussex County is a hot spot because of its prime wetlands habitat. At the bog turtle site, cattle will be actively managed to graze the area for specific periods of time throughout the year. This will reduce invasive species and create mucky soils preferred by the bog turtle.

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New Jersey Audubon Society was also able to supply a native sedge plant to enhance the wetland. Last week, a youth corps group from Phillipsburg, New Jersey met on site to help plant green bulrush. The bulrush will aid to improve water quality, as it will take up phosphorous and other nutrients moving into the water column. It will also aid to reduce erosion and provide food and cover for ducks, and other water birds. So far, 5,050 plugs of green bulrush have been planted!

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CWF has also partnered on other Sussex County bog turtle restoration projects with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, USFWS, and the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Program.

Learn More:

 

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

How You Can Help Fill-in Data Gaps

Friday, January 29th, 2016
YOUR WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS CAN HELP INFORM NEW JERSEY’S BIOLOGISTS

By Michael Davenport, GIS Program Manager

Compared with most of the states within the United States, New Jersey is relatively small in area. However, it is still too large for biologists within New Jersey’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) to survey every inch of the state for rare species at all times. Therefore, ENSP has created a Rare Wildlife Sighting Report Form with which any bird watcher, hiker, fisherman, and anyone else with knowledge on how to identify New Jersey’s rare wildlife, may submit information on rare species which they may have come across in their travels. This information assists ENSP biologists in monitoring their species’ numbers and whereabouts and may aid in targeting areas for future surveys. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) staff work very closely with ENSP to encourage the public to submit their observational data and then process the information which gets submitted.

A spotted salamander, photographed during a quiet moment along the road shoulder. © Brett Klaproth

A spotted salamander, photographed during a quiet moment along the road shoulder. © Brett Klaproth

The first step in reporting rare species sightings is to first determine whether the species you observed is a species which is tracked. Tracked species are those listed in New Jersey as endangered, threatened, or special concern. The lists of these species can be found on these ENSP’s websites:  endangered & threatened species and special concern species.

The greatest need for data is for those species which are new to the proposed list of endangered, threatened, or special concern species. Because they did NOT previously have an imperiled status, they have largely been ignored in terms of survey effort and/or data acquisition. At the current time, there is a great need for data regarding observations of the following species:

Reptiles

Amphibians

Butterflies

Once you have determined that you observed a rare species, the next step is to complete a Rare Wildlife Sighting Report Form. You may complete one of these forms if you made the observation yourself – second-hand observations or information whose source was a report, letter, conversation, or other document will not be accepted. Also, one form must be completed per species. Thus, if you observe a heron rookery comprised of great blue herons, tricolor herons, and snowy egrets, then three sighting report forms may be submitted.

Rare Wildlife Sighting Report Forms are available for download and/or printing here. Part of the process of completing the form is to submit a map of the location where the animal was observed. This is critically important for reasons to be discussed later. The preferred map to submit is an aerial image of the area which you have marked with the animal’s location; however, a topographic map is also acceptable. Aerial images may be accessed via Google maps. Topographic maps can be accessed here. In addition to the form and map, it is also extremely helpful if you can submit at least one photograph of the animal in order for an ENSP biologist to verify the identification of the species.

In 2016, the NJ Endangered & Nongame Advisory Committee approved that the rough green snake be added to the state's list of Special Concern species. © Keara R. Giannotti

In 2016, the NJ Endangered & Nongame Advisory Committee approved that the rough green snake be added to the state’s list of Special Concern species. © Keara R. Giannotti

After you mail in your form and map to ENSP, CWF or ENSP staff will enter it into their tracking database at which point it will receive an Observation ID number. You will then receive an e-mail acknowledging receipt of your form and providing you with your Observation ID number in the event you wish to follow-up with additional information or inquire as to whether the biologist has reviewed your form.

The form then goes to a CWF or ENSP biologist who will evaluate it to determine whether it is a valid sighting and whether it should be integrated into the next version of ENSP’s Landscape Project. This is why receiving accurate locational information along with the sighting report form is crucial. The Landscape Project is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) product whereby critical areas are identified for imperiled species based upon species locations as well as land-use classifications. The resulting maps enable state, county, municipal, and private agencies to identify important habitats and protect them in a variety of ways. This information is even utilized to regulate land-use in the state and attempt to preserve whatever endangered and threatened species habitat remains in New Jersey.

A common misperception many New Jersey nature watchers have is, if they happen to report their rare species sightings to institutions such as Audubon or Cornell (e-bird), that information will make its way to the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program. That is not the case. ENSP needs you to submit your data directly to them. So, please, become a Citizen Scientist and assist both CWF and ENSP in tracking New Jersey’s rare species, in the hopes that our work can prevent them from becoming rarer.

If you have collected a large amount of data and submitting it via multiple Sighting Report Forms may be too time consuming, please contact Mike Davenport, CWF’s GIS Program Manager, at Michael.davenport@dep.nj.gov Other options exist for data submittal (Excel spreadsheets for example) so long as all of the required information is included.