Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

“New Jersey’s Little Lion”: Biologists Shed Light on Elusive Bobcat

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

By: David Wheeler, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey Executive Director

MountainLionBlog

With our eastern landscape largely devoid of top carnivores, bobcats are a throwback to the wild predators that once ruled our forests. No one understands that better than our partners from the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP). The bobcat was listed as a state endangered species in June 1991, and habitat fragmentation in our densely populated state has made their recovery especially challenging. Biologists Mick Valent and Gretchen Fowles study bobcats in the wild, and here they generously share their insights on this remarkable creature.

 

What do you find most compelling about working with bobcats?

Mick Valent: I have worked with many species during my tenure with the Division of Fish and Wildlife including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, Allegheny woodrats and timber rattlesnakes, to name a few. However, to me, none epitomize the “wild” in wildlife the way that bobcats do. To me, they are the ultimate New Jersey predator – highly adaptive, perfectly camouflaged, keen senses of sight and sound, blazing speed and quickness, razor sharp claws and teeth, and the ability to stalk their prey quietly or overrun them! Fierce and unyielding, when captured, they are truly New Jersey’s little lion!

 

Can you describe the feeling of your first bobcat sighting?

MV: As chance would have it, I went many years without seeing a bobcat in the “wild” in New Jersey – even as the population was apparently increasing. Despite spending many days afield tracking and trapping bobcats, it wasn’t until 2011 that I saw my first bobcat (aside from the ones that I trapped and collared). I was in Allamuchy Township in January of 2011 searching for a suitable area to trap, when an adult bobcat bolted from a pile of tree stumps and logs right in front of me. A perfect spot for a bobcat to seek shelter during the daylight hours. And by the way, we were never able to catch that animal!

 

Are bobcats proving adaptable to New Jersey’s changing landscape and human development?

Gretchen Fowles: Bobcats seem to be increasing in northern New Jersey. In the past couple of years, there have been an increasing number of bobcat sightings south of Route 80 (though still north of Route 78), suggesting that they have been somewhat successful at passing through that tough Route 80 barrier. Our data suggest that bobcats are finding a way to move between core habitat areas in northern New Jersey. We have several males and females that have moved over 30 miles from year to year.

However, major roadways continue to be a problem. We have GPS collar data from a couple of bobcats that indicate that major roadways, such as Routes 80 and 206, seem to be perceived as complete barriers to these animals. The collars recorded movement patterns with location points going right up to and paralleling the road, but not crossing over it. We have been monitoring about 12 crossing structures under major roadways in northern New Jersey that bisect suitable bobcat habitat.

 

What are the worst threats to bobcats in New Jersey?

GF: Habitat fragmentation and roads are the worst threats, and they’re getting worse. A young bobcat was hit by a car and was found on the shoulder of westbound Route 78 last year. So, they are trying to cross that barrier, but are having difficulty doing so. Another bobcat was hit by a car in Parsippany when attempting to cross Route 46. The final quarter of each year, between October and January, tends to be the peak period for bobcat road mortality, and it is important that people report these incidents to the ENSP. We are working on a project called Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) that is aimed at reconnecting the landscape for terrestrial wildlife, like bobcats.

We have formed a multi-partner, multi-disciplinary working group to inform the development of this statewide connectivity plan that will help target local, regional, and state planning efforts and ultimately reconnect the landscape in New Jersey. We are mapping the core habitat areas in the state as well as the corridors that can serve to connect those areas together, and are working on a Guidance Document that will recommend ways in which those cores and corridors can be made more permeable through targeted land protection, habitat management and restoration, and road mitigation efforts. We are also developing a bobcat recovery plan.

The constant threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, changes in land use, the existence of barriers to free movement between suitable habitats, and automobile collisions on our busy and abundant roadways will likely limit the growth of New Jersey’s bobcat population. It is likely that bobcats will remain only locally abundant in areas of suitable habitat, primarily in the areas north of Interstate Route 80. Whether or not a few animals are successful at crossing our major roadways, they will always pose an impediment to free movement between suitable habitats and will continue to be a source of mortality to the population.

 

What are some of the ways you study bobcats in New Jersey? Are you still using dogs in this work?

GF: We continue to use Bear, a professionally trained working dog for wildlife who is used to locate and alert biologists to bobcat scats, to help us better understand the New Jersey bobcat population. Bear is now about 12 years old, but his nose still works!
DNA can be extracted from sloughed intestinal cells contained in bobcat scat and can provide a wealth of information. DNA analyses of scat, as well as the locations where the scats are found, allow biologists to identify individual animals, their sex and movements. The DNA data from scats and tissue samples that we collect from bobcats killed on the road, accidentally snared, or trapped by ENSP in order to fit with GPS collars, are being fed into analyses that will help use estimate survival rate, population size and structure, and sex ratio.

We also collared three bobcats this past winter near major roadways, and set the collars to collect locations every hour. We are excited to retrieve the data from these collars in a few months to evaluate how those major roadways may be influencing the cats’ activity patterns and determine if, when and where they are crossing them. This information will help validate our CHANJ mapping and inform our Guidance Document.

 

Is the big picture for bobcat populations any different nationally?

GF: A recent national status assessment conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service found that bobcats were generally increasing throughout their North American range. This appears to be holding true in New Jersey in areas where we have suitable habitat that is accessible to the population.

 

Tell me about your most memorable encounter.

MV: My volunteer and I had responded to a call from a trapper who accidentally caught a bobcat in his cable restraint during one of those January cold spells. The bobcat was caught on the bank of a medium-sized stream next to a footbridge. As we approached, the animal was pacing along the stream bank and jumping up on the foot bridge. As my volunteer distracted the animal, I came in from behind and jabbed the cat in the rump with a jab pole loaded with a tranquilizing drug. We immediately backed off to let the drug take effect so we could remove the cable from the animal’s neck. As the drug began to take effect the animal lost the ability to stand and slipped into the water – struggling to stay above the surface.

Without hesitation, we ran back to the stream. My volunteer arrived first, jumped into the frigid, chest-deep water, and grabbed the cat and pulled him to safety. Although the cat was not fully sedated, we were able to wrap him in a dry blanket, remove the snare from his neck and get him into the truck and off to a rehabilitation facility without incident. Everyone survived unscathed – although I’m certain the bobcat was much better prepared for going into the water than we were!

 

Learn more:

 

Climate Change is Threatening the Existence of the World’s Most Amazing Bird

Monday, December 15th, 2014
The Rufa red knot (a shorebird) named "Moonbird," or "B95," photographed in a crowd of birds at Fortescue, NJ. Credit: Christophe Buidin.

The Rufa red knot (a shorebird) named “Moonbird,” or “B95,” photographed in a crowd of birds at Fortescue, NJ. Credit: Christophe Buidin.

“Moonbird is the most famous, charismatic member of a group of mid-sized shorebirds called Rufa red knots, whose numbers have plummeted so dramatically in the past several decades that they just became the first bird ever listed under the Endangered Species Act with climate change cited as a “primary threat.”

 

Rufa red knots are among the avian world’s most extreme long range flyers (especially in light of their relatively small size). They travel vast distances — some flying over 18,000 miles — in the course of an annual migration that begins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and extends all the way up to the Canadian Arctic (and back again).

 

Which brings us to Moonbird’s distinction: Because he is so old — he is at least 21 — he is believed to have flown as many as 400,000 miles in his lifetime. The distance to the moon varies, depending on where it is in its orbit, but the average distance is about 237,000 miles. Thus, Moonbird has not only flown the distance it takes to reach the moon — he has also covered the bulk of the return voyage.

 

Assuming that Moonbird is still living — the last sighting was in May — there are reasons to wonder whether there will ever be another bird that is his equal. Why? Simply put, his subspecies has been devastated, and climate change will only make matters worse — making extreme survival of the sort that Moonbird has achieved that much more difficult.”

 

Washington Post Science and Environment Reporter Chris Mooney explores Moonbird’s journey, threats to the species, and the recent Endangered Species Act listing of the Rufa Red Knot:

 

Learn more:

 

Humpback Whales Increasing in Waters Near NYC

Thursday, December 11th, 2014
Humpback Whale feeding off New York City's Rockaway Peninsula. Photo Credit: BBC News

Humpback Whale feeding off New York City’s Rockaway Peninsula. Photo Credit: BBC News

Humpback Whales were spotted 87 times from whale-watching boats near New York City this year, and by cataloging the whales’ markings, at least 19 different humpbacks have been identified in the waters off the city. Naturalists aboard whale-watching boats have seen humpbacks in the Atlantic Ocean within a mile of the Rockaway peninsula, part of New York’s borough of Queens, within sight of Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

 

In 2012, there were 15 sightings; in 2013, 33; and this year there were 87 sightings totaling 106 humpbacks.

 

It’s not crystal clear why humpbacks, which can be 50 feet long and weigh 40 tons, are returning to New York’s shores, where they were abundant before they and other whale species were nearly destroyed by whaling.

 

Associated Press Reporter Jim Fitzgerald investigates the sightings:

 

Learn more:

 

Wildlife Beach Restoration Groups Applaud Endangered Species Act Designation for Red Knot

Thursday, December 11th, 2014
Shorebird now federally protected as threatened species under Endangered Species Act
A red knot in breeding plumage along the Delaware Bay. © Bill Dalton

A red knot in breeding plumage along the Delaware Bay. © Bill Dalton

Wildlife conservation organizations leading the efforts to restore New Jersey’s Delaware Bay beaches for at-risk shorebirds today applauded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to designate the Red Knot, a migratory shorebird, as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. A “threatened” designation means a species is at risk of becoming endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

 

“This federal designation will make a big difference in strengthening the protections of this incredible shorebird,” said David Wheeler, Executive Director for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

“Here in New Jersey, we are restoring the vital beach habitat that had been decimated by Hurricane Sandy, and this designation ensures the safeguards we are providing can be complemented along the East Coast,” Wheeler added.

 

Since the 1980’s, the Knot’s population has fallen by about 75 percent in some key areas. Wildlife biologists believe the major threat to the Red Knot is the dramatic decline of horseshoe crab eggs, an essential food source at the most critical stop over during their 8,000 mile trip from southern wintering grounds to Arctic breeding territory. High-energy horseshoe crab eggs provide nourishment for Red Knots to refuel and continue their journey.

 

“This is an important and needed step in the conservation and recovery of the Red Knot. It is an essential step in preventing the extinction of this amazing long distance traveler,” stated Tim Dillingham, Executive Director for American Littoral Society.

 

The largest concentration of Red Knots is found in May in the Delaware Bayshore of New Jersey and Delaware, where the shorebirds stop to gorge themselves on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs. In just a few days, the birds nearly double their weight to prepare for the final leg of their long journey.

 

“The major decline of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay is one of the largest threats to the survival of the shorebird,” explained Dr. Larry Niles, a biologist who leads the beach restoration efforts for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and American Littoral Society, and has studied Red Knots for three decades. “Agency groups have been working hard for the last two years, and will continue for the next two years going forward to rebuild the habitat damaged by Hurricane Sandy that the horseshoe crabs rely on. This work is integral to the recovery of the Red Knot and the shorebird’s best hope for survival.”

 

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the New Jersey Recovery Fund to remove 8,000 tons of debris and added 45,000 tons of sand to the beaches just before the annual spring arrival of the Red Knot in 2013.

 

Learn More:

 

Piping Plovers and Researchers Return to The Bahamas

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
PROTECTING PIPING PLOVER HABITAT CRITICAL PART OF CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION’S WORK

By: Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

We talk quite a bit about “site fidelity” in connection with our beach nesting bird project. And for good reason, whether it be on the breeding or wintering grounds, these birds, like most wildlife, are strongly connected to specific places and types of habitats. Not just in the general sense; many piping plovers return to the same precise site year after year.

Aerial view of one of several hundred Bahamas islands and cays, with tidal flats, highly suitable piping plover habitat, visible stretching around the island.

Aerial view of one of several hundred Bahamas islands and cays, with tidal flats, highly suitable piping plover habitat, visible stretching around the island.

 

We were reminded of this the last several days as we made our way around Abaco, The Bahamas, in search of wintering piping plovers. Having made a number of trips to Abaco since 2011, we have started to narrow down where it is likely we will be able to find them: the Green Turtle Cay Gillam Bay flat at low tide or the adjacent upper beach hummocks at high tide, Casuarina Point to forage at low tide, a number of the main island’s southern oceanfront beaches for roosting, to name a few. We are still finding new sites, not previously surveyed or documented, but we now have a much better idea of what to look for and on what tide or wind condition.

 

The catch is, this only works if the habitat remains intact and suitable. Back in New Jersey, we know this well, as many of the formerly suitable sites for beach nesting birds are lost forever to development or are highly disturbed by recreational activities so the likelihood of reproductive success is low even if they do choose to nest at those locations. Sadly, our breeding pairs of piping plover are relegated to a limited number of suitable sites, which is not a good recipe for recovery of this endangered shorebird.

 

With its hundreds of islands and cays, many undeveloped or lightly settled, we may be inclined to think this is less of an issue on the wintering grounds in the Bahamas. And relatively speaking, this might be true to some extent, but it would be unwise to believe this will always be the case. Economic forces are a driving factor there, as in anywhere in the world, so the lure of development and commercial use of resources is strong in the Bahamas as well.

Black Flag "K2", a Canadian breeder and one of six color marked piping plovers observed on wintering grounds on Abaco, The Bahamas, this past week by CWFNJ's Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger.

Black Flag “K2″, a Canadian breeder and one of six color marked piping plovers observed on wintering grounds on Abaco, The Bahamas, this past week by CWFNJ’s Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger.

 

Fortunately, there is also a strong incentive to protect shorebirds in the Bahamas. The tidal flats and shallow water habitats that shorebirds use are also important for bonefish, conch, and other fisheries that are important to the local economy and provide jobs. Furthermore, birding and wildlife-based activities are increasing an important part of the tourist sector. However, In order to sustain those activities and opportunities, ecosystems must remain intact and pristine.

 

A number of organizations, local and from abroad, are diligently working to designate more protected areas in the Bahamas. One of the top priorities now, an effort being led by the Bahamas National Trust and National Audubon Society, is to protect the vast flats area in the Joulter Cays, Andros, which are especially important for shorebirds such as the piping plover. On Abaco, where we have been focusing our piping plover work, Friends of the Environment  is strongly advocating for protection of East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, and more recently The Marls.

 

During a survey this past week on Man-O-War, one of Abaco’s offshore cays, we were able to locate a banded piping plover that had originally been marked on its breeding grounds in Canada. In discussing the bird with a local resident who had first spotted it, she was surprised that the bird was remaining in the same spot ever since she saw it two months ago. This was site fidelity illustrated in its truest sense, and in the same vein, the researchers in Canada are already anticipating it will return to the same site to nest next spring. From what we know about piping plovers that is highly likely…as long as we remain committed to protecting the habitat they use.