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Posts Tagged ‘Spotted Salamanders’

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.


Salamanders already on the move

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

by David Wheeler

Photo by David Moskowitz

The salamanders and frogs in East Brunswick got an early start to their migration season by crossing this week on February 15. David Moskowitz found spotted salamanders, wood frogs, dozens of spring peepers, and one wood frog crossing the temporarily closed section of Beekman Road in the early evening rain.

“This is the earliest they’ve ever moved – by about a week – in the 12 years I’ve been closing the road,” said Moskowitz.

East Brunswick has closed the road for a few nights each late winter/early spring when conditions are just right. While all amphibian species are vulnerable, spotted salamanders are a species of special concern in New Jersey.

 

Photo by David Moskowitz

Conserve Wildlife Foundation partners with certain municipalities and the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program on salamander crossings in northern New Jersey. This is a key initiative among CWF’s amphibian projects.

The East Brunswick crossing offers the best opportunity for the public to take part and see these salamanders and frogs up close. Check their website for the next expected crossing and share the road with a salamander!

What’s Happening at Waterloo?

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

By Allegra Mitchell, CWF Biologist

 

Waterloo Village in Byram Township, Sussex County is more than a tourist attraction and local gem, it is also home to the largest cross-road amphibian migration in New Jersey. Each spring, frogs, toads, and salamanders stir from their hibernation to make their way to their breeding sites. Some of these sites, like the one at Waterloo, are vernal pools – small, temporary bodies of water that appear in early spring as snow melts and rain and groundwater gathers, and disappear throughout the summer as they evaporate. The ephemeral nature of these pools can’t support fish, which would prey on amphibian eggs and larvae. Vernal pools therefore provide some protection for amphibian offspring, with many species such as wood frogs and spotted and Jefferson salamanders – both of which are listed as New Jersey species of Special Concern – relying exclusively on these vernal pools for breeding.

 

 

The greatest challenge for amphibians breeding at Waterloo Historic Village is crossing Waterloo Road. Living in the most densely population state takes a toll on many species of wildlife in the form of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Each year, many amphibians become victim to vehicular collision as they move from their hibernation sites across Waterloo Road to the vernal pool in which they reproduce. Amphibians may be disproportionately affected by vehicle-caused road mortalities compared to other wildlife because of their tendency to migrate en masse to breeding sites. These annual road mortalities can have devastating effects on amphibian population sizes, especially for the local at-risk salamander populations. In fact, as little as about 10% annual risk of road mortality in spotted salamanders can lead to the local extinction of an entire population.

 

Wood Frog eggs. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Hall.

To address this problem, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) and the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) organized amphibian rescue efforts. Since 2002, dedicated volunteers have assisted frogs, toads, and salamanders across Waterloo Road during the busiest migration nights. This aid has proven effective in reducing amphibian road mortalities, but it is not a permanent solution to the problem. Efforts are underway to construct under-road tunnels to help guide amphibians safely across Waterloo Road. These tunnels will provide safe passage for these critters throughout the breeding season, including on their migration back into the woods where they will hibernate. Since this return migration is more sporadic and less weather-dependent than migration to the vernal pool, it is much harder to protect amphibians as they make their way back to the forest.

 

 

This year, CWF scientists have begun the initial phases of research to understand current amphibian population sizes and the impact of vehicle traffic on these animals at Waterloo. Scientists and volunteers have been out 7 days a week since amphibian migrations began in late February to tally daily roadkill on Waterloo Road. This study will be used to evaluate changes to frog, toad, and salamander populations as the under-road amphibian tunnels are installed. CWF scientists have also conducted egg mass counts in the vernal pool at Waterloo Village to estimate the current population sizes of the different amphibian species in the area. Having this knowledge will allow CWF to improve on future projects to minimize road-related human-wildlife conflicts.

 

Spotted Salamander egg mass. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Hall.

Along with improving conditions for amphibians in this location, CWF’s work at Waterloo Village will serve as an example of New Jersey statewide initiatives to reconnect wildlife habitat as a part of the Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) program. The goal of CHANJ is to make our state landscapes more permeable to wildlife movement so that all of New Jersey’s residents – human and wildlife – will have the space they need to thrive.

 

In an effort to bring people and wildlife together in a positive way at Waterloo Village, CWF scientists are leading educational walks for the public and local schools. Through hands-on interaction, local residents can learn about and appreciate the remarkable wildlife right in their own back yards and what they can do to support conservation efforts.

 

All New Jerseyans can help wildlife this season by planting native plants for their gardens, building bat boxes where bats can roost, and, of course, by keeping an eye out on the roads, especially on warm, rainy nights when amphibians might be migrating.


LEARN MORE


Allegra Mitchell is a biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Connecting Habitat: Waterloo Road

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
Conserve Wildlife Foundation Releases New Amphibian Crossing Story Map

by Kelly Triece, Wildlife Biologist

Spotted Salamander Crosses a busy road to reach a nearby breeding pool. Photo by Kelly Triece

Farewell to May — also known as Wetlands Month! As a final ode to Wetlands Month, Conserve Wildlife Foundation would like to share a story about a very special wetland! Please check out our latest Story Map: “Connecting Habitat: Waterloo Road.” This story map shares the story about a vernal pool wetland that is located at Waterloo Village History Site in Byram Township, Sussex County, New Jersey.

WaterlooRoadStoryMapScreenshot

This vernal pool wetland, as depicted in the Story Map, is a breeding ground for thousands of amphibians. However, each spring these amphibians must cross the heavily trafficked Waterloo Road in order to reach the pool. A single vehicle can crush dozens of the slow-moving animals as they try to cross the road during migration. High enough traffic volumes can wipe out entire populations over time.

 

Since 2002, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has worked to protect early-spring breeding amphibians like the wood frog, spotted salamander, Jefferson salamander, and spring peeper during their annual migrations through the Amphibian Crossing Project. On peak nights each spring, we work with a fleet of incredible volunteers to hustle amphibians across the road at rescue sites, collect data on the numbers and species seen, measure the impacts of vehicular traffic, and document additional amphibian crossings for future protection.

 

This is our 2016 Waterloo Road Amphibian Crossing Report:

  • Spotted Salamander: 334
  • Jefferson Salamander: 147
  • Wood Frog: 215
  • Spring Peeper: 255
  • American Toad: 479
  • Pickerel Frog: 2
  • TOTAL Amphibians: 1,432

 

The Amphibian Crossing Project aims to secure funding for amphibian crossing tunnels at Waterloo Road. This project is part of a larger effort led by the Division of Fish and Wildlife called Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ). CHANJ aims to identify key areas and the actions needed for preserving and restoring habitat connectivity for terrestrial wildlife in New Jersey. CHANJ has the potential to increase the sustainability of New Jersey’s terrestrial wildlife populations and de-list endangered species. #CHANJiscoming #CHANJ

 

We hope you enjoy our Story Map, Connecting Habitat: Waterloo Road!

 

Learn More:

 

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

Exploration of An Ecosystem That Most People Will Never See

Thursday, May 5th, 2016
CWF Vernal Pool Walks Connect New Jersey Residents with Rare, Seasonal Marvel

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

AndreaProctor_SpringPeeper

Spring Peeper photo by Andrea Proctor.

We all know that “April showers bring May flowers,” but the earlier rains of March stir up beauties of a different kind. When the first spring raindrops hit the barely-thawed ground and night falls on the forest, frogs, salamanders, and toads emerge from their winter burrows. These amphibians – the spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and others – are anxious to get to their breeding pools and lay their eggs. The waters that they choose are called vernal pools because they fill with rainwater, snowmelt, and rising groundwater in early spring but then dry up as summer advances. The pools are thus temporary and cannot support fish, meaning fewer predators for the amphibian eggs and young.

In the northeastern United States, vernal pools are home to over 500 species. In New Jersey, these pools are critical habitat for amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, migratory waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. All 14 of New Jersey’s frog species use vernal pools to breed and two endangered salamander species breed exclusively in vernal pools, including Cape May’s eastern tiger salamander.

The new generation of amphibians must race to complete metamorphosis and leave the vernal pool before the water does. Under perfect conditions of warm, thawing, nighttime rains, there may be hundreds or even thousands of amphibians moving at once toward the same breeding pool. The darkness and the rain allow them to move stealthily over the landscape, hidden from predators like the owl and raccoon.

 

CWF’s Kelly Triece organized a series of walks through the vernal pools of Waterloo Village in Sussex County, New Jersey, and showed residents the unexpected creatures swimming in the pool’s shallow waters. Kelly led the exploration of an ecosystem that most people will never see! Participants listened to the songs of Spring Peepers and discovered salamander eggs, fairy shrimp, and other unique creatures as the evenings set in. Here are photos from her walks:

CWF biologist Kelly Triece educates participants on the natural resources of Waterloo.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece educates participants on the natural resources of Waterloo.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece looking for wildlife in the vernal pool.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece looking for wildlife in the vernal pool.

 

Spotted Salamander Eggs! Photo by Kelly Triece.

Spotted Salamander Eggs! Photo by Kelly Triece.

 

Green Frog photo by Kelly Triece.

Green Frog photo by Kelly Triece.

 

Examining the wildlife found in the vernal pool after dark.

Examining the wildlife found in the vernal pool after dark.

 

 

 

Learn More:

 

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