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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

How You Can Help Fill-in Data Gaps

Friday, January 29th, 2016

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:




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 Other options exist for data submittal (Excel spreadsheets for example) so long as all of the required information is included.

New Jersey’s Species Status Review Process

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

By Michael Davenport, GIS Program Manager

How does the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) determine whether a species is imperiled or secure within the state? The process for determining a species’ state status is known as the “Delphi” method of species status review and it is a process which Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ (CWF) staff assists the state with.

Monarch adult edit

In 2015, the NJ Endangered & Nongame Advisory Committee approved that the monarch butterfly be added to the state’s list of Special Concern species. Photo courtesy of Thomas Gorman.

The ENSP endeavors to complete a review of all species currently included on the Endangered and Nongame lists every 5-10 years. In addition, other species groups not currently included on those lists may be reviewed for status as well. At any given time, there may be several status reviews being conducted.

The first step taken in conducting a status review is to identify experts and invite them to participate as a member of a review panel. Members of the panel may be comprised of experts within academia, government agencies, non-profits, or private consultants as well as others.

Once a sufficient number of experts have agreed to participate, staff within the ENSP and CWF will compile background material for the species being reviewed. This may include reports, survey data, and data contained within the state’s Biotics database which is the electronic warehouse for all imperiled species data in New Jersey. This background data, as well as a list of the species being reviewed, and definitions of the status options, are then sent to the panelists for Round 1 of the review.

Delphi reviews are comprised of multiple “Rounds”. For each round, each panelist will choose a status for each species based upon that panelist’s expertise as well as the background material. The panelist then sends their selections and justification regarding each species to ENSP or CWF staff who compile the results submitted by all panelists. The review is completed anonymously, so the panelists do not know the identities of the other participants.

In 2016, the NJ Endangered & Nongame Advisory Committee approved that the eastern hognose snake be added to the state's list of Special Concern species. © Thomas Gorman

In 2016, the NJ Endangered & Nongame Advisory Committee approved that the eastern hognose snake be added to the state’s list of Special Concern species. © Thomas Gorman

For each species, the panel must reach consensus of at least 85% of the respondents for a species’ status to be determined. If consensus is not reached during the first round, then that species will move on to be reviewed in Round 2. For each new round, the panelists’ status choices during the prior round, as well as all the comments made, are available to the panel, so that reviewers can consider the weight of evidence and other reviewers’ opinions on status as they prepare to vote again. This continues until consensus is reached for all species under review.

Once consensus is reached for all species or, if after four rounds have passed and consensus could not be reached for some species, ENSP or CWF staff will take the compiled Delphi results to the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee (ENSAC). ENSAC reviews the results and makes the final recommendations on status for those species for which consensus was not reached by the expert panel. Based upon ENSAC’s recommendations, any changes to the Endangered and Nongame lists must go through a formal rule-making process before those changes can be made official.

The Delphi review process is a science-based, anonymous review by those with the most expertise on the species within New Jersey. A great deal of thought and time go into preparing for and carrying out a review and CWF has played a major role in assisting with the process. From the blue whale to fairy shrimp, each species will ultimately receive a state status, leading the way for conservation action.

The following are state conservation status categories; the last, “Not Applicable”, is used only during the status review and is not a legal status category.

  • Endangered
    Applies to species whose prospects for survival within the state are in immediate danger due to one or several factors, such as loss or degradation of habitat, overexploitation, predation, competition, disease or environmental pollution, etc. An Endangered species likely requires immediate action to avoid extinction within New Jersey.
  • Threatened
    Applies to species that may become Endangered if conditions surrounding it begin to or continue to deteriorate. Thus, a Threatened species is one that is already vulnerable as a result of small population size, restricted range, narrow habitat affinities, significant population decline, etc.
  • Special Concern
    Applies to species that warrant special attention because of inherent vulnerability to environmental deterioration or habitat modification that would result in their becoming Threatened. This category would also be applied to species that meet the forgoing criteria and for which there is little understanding of their current population status in the state.
  • Secure/Stable
    Applies to species that appear to be secure in New Jersey and not in danger of falling into any of the preceding three categories in the near future.
  • Undetermined/Unknown
    Applies to a species that cannot be assigned a status of endangered, threatened, special concern or secure/stable because not enough information exists on which to base a judgment.
  • Not Applicable
    Applies to species that do not occur in New Jersey, including occasional non-breeding strays and transient breeders that fail to persist.

CWF’s Online Field Guide Expands

Monday, January 25th, 2016

By Michael Davenport, GIS Program Manager

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ’s online field guide, a one-of-a-kind free reference focused on New Jersey’s wildlife, has recently expanded to include 23 additional species. As a result of recent status reviews by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program for reptiles, amphibians, and butterflies, additional species within the state will be receiving an imperiled status of either Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern. Six reptile species are being added as well as four amphibians and thirteen butterfly species.


The Baltimore checkerspot, a species recently added to CWF’s on-line field guide. Photo courtesy of Eric C. Reuter.

Later this week, two additional blog entries will be posted regarding the status review process and the new listings. The posts will be: “Species Status Review process” (WEDNESDAY); and “How you can help fill-in data gaps” (FRIDAY).

The list of “new” species is below and each species name links to its field guide entry on our website:




Science in the Mangroves

Sunday, January 24th, 2016
Update from Brazil: “We are Going to Have to Science the ‘Heck’ Out of This”

by Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC

larger view of brazil


We came to Brazil to conduct a rigorous scientific study of the wintering population of shorebirds in a place where the land and sea act against any rigorous protocol. It would be easier to just go out and count birds and identify their habitats and prey, but our charge is more difficult.


The survey wraps around satellite imagery, strange unintelligible wavelength data coming from satellites hovering over the earth that can be transformed into brilliant and useful maps in the right hands. Those hands belong to Professor Rick Lathrop and his post doc Dan Merchant. Rick leads the Center for Remote Sensing at Rutgers and he and I have collaborated on projects ranging from municipal habitat conservation planning to Arctic red knot habitat mapping. He has created one of the most alarming maps that every person from New Jersey should know about.


The mapping of Reentrancias Maranhenses, an internationally recognized site of ecological importance is especially tricky. Our research platform is a 50-foot boat and we will be out of cell and internet contact for much of the time. Our method of collecting data for the mapping was devised by the whole team, but especially with the help Professor David Santos of the University of Maranhao, my colleague Dr. Joe Smith and Humphrey Sitters of the International Wader Study Group.

Our 50-foot catamaran

Our 50-foot catamaran

It focuses on collecting bird and habitat information using randomly selected survey points. In other words, we will try to pick places at random to survey so that when we combine them we will have a sample that represents the entire area, not just the places we surveyed. It’s like trying to figure how many different kinds of chocolates are in a valentine. If you take them all from one side then you might have sampled the chocolate covered cherry section leading to believe they are all one kind. But if you choose chocolates at random than you will find the box includes other kinds,  caramel or fruit or nutty chocolates. This is making me hungry, but you get the point.


The area  of our box we is very large, bigger than New Jersey, and it grows and shrinks every day with the tides. So, sampling is tricky business because a sample at low tide, when the tide is out exposing vast areas of intertidal mud and sand flat, is very different than when the tide is high. So we will be classifying habitat, or stratifying it, so we  can focus on limited survey time to get the best sample.


Once collected we can start making maps.  All data will be geo referenced – or located precisely  with GPS units – so it can be accurately mapped. With this, we will train the satellite maps to outline the habitat best for shorebirds.


All this while exploring areas that have received little scientific scrutiny and under tropical conditions, almost daily rain, a persistent 20 mph wind and summer heat.  Add parasites, mosquitoes and diseases like malaria and one can see this a rugged undertaking.


Our crew is up to it.  Besides those mentioned above Mark Peck from Royal Ontario Museum, Danielle Paluto from the Brazilian CEMAVE (a counterpart to our USFWS), Steve Gates a veteran of expedition on other SA trips, shorebird expert Dr. Mandy Dey, Stephanie Feigin from Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and the author round out a dream team of bird study in difficult places.

Our crew banding shorebirds in Brazil in 2014.

Our crew banding shorebirds in Brazil in 2014.


Learn more:


Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.



CWF Biologists Travel to Brazil to Study Red Knots

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016
On our Expedition to Study Shorebirds along the Northern Coast of Brazil

By: Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC

Ana Paula with Red Knot

Ana Paula with Red Knot

The largest mangrove forest in the world covers the Brazilian coastline at the equator near the mouth of the Amazon river. The forest extends out into the Atlantic in long peninsulas tipped by wind swept and mostly inaccessible beaches. The forest, beaches and their long intertidal mud and sandy low tide flats support the largest wintering population of shorebirds in the hemisphere, perhaps the world. The red knot, a listed species in both North and South America, also uses this remote tropical coast.

Boat Trip Route

Boat Trip Route






With scientists from the U.S., Canada, England and Brazil, we will attempt a large scale mapping of this important habitat using state-of-the-art satellite mapping. We will do this from a 50-foot catamaran and two zodiacs hopping from one mangrove estuary to another and conducting bird surveys targeting key areas over a 150 mile-section of the coast. We will be the first to survey some areas. Our goal is to figure out the main threats to both bird and habitat.



To understand the importance of this area one has to think about it like a shorebird. Although born in the Arctic they actually spend only a few months there. They spend a few months moving from their nesting area to their wintering area. They spend the rest of their lives, the majority of their year in the wintering area. A threat to the wintering area would be grave.


Most of our survey zone is part of the Reentrancias Maranhenses, a protected area of the state of Maranhao, Brazil. Our catamaran captained by William Thomas will leave from a small town near the city of Sao Luis, Brazil. From there we will sail along the coastline moving in and out of the mangrove islands to survey shorebirds, habitat and marine invertebrates. We will “geo reference” all data, or take detailed coordinates so the data can be reproduced on satellite mapping.

Satellite Map

Satellite Map


Satellite maps aren’t really maps as most people understand — pictures or drawings of a section of the earth — they are digital files of remotely sensed data, they are only wavelengths of light that must be interpreted to represent actual habitat. We will train the satellite data so that each habitat will be represented by a combination of spectral data — colors in sense.

Environmental disturbance. Photo by Mark Peck.

Environmental disturbance. Photo by Mark Peck.

Once completed, we can relate the habitat maps with information on birds, their prey and equally important, the threats to the birds and prey. For example, shrimp farming is growing in this area. Entrepreneurs are stripping the intertidal zone of mangrove forest, diking the area and then growing shrimp. Once the area accumulates too much waste and chemicals, they abandon the site and move on to damage another mangrove forest. We will determine which areas are of importance to the birds and potential targets for shrimp farmers. But there is more: oil spills, disturbance from tourists, water pollution are among many.


Over the next three weeks, we will be reporting on our work on this blog.

Log of Red Knot DbY7 with geolocator.

Log of Red Knot DbY7 with geolocator.


Learn more:


Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.

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