Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘roads’

Be Terrapin Aware!

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
Public urged to use caution while driving in shore areas this summer

By: Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

A adult female northern diamondback terrapin searches for a suitable nest site along Great Bay Blvd. Photo by Ben Wurst

An adult female northern diamondback terrapin searches for a suitable nest site along Great Bay Blvd. Photo by Ben Wurst

Each year in late May and early June the annual nesting season for northern diamondback terrapins begins. This unique species of turtle is the only one to inhabit our coastal estuaries year round. They live exclusively in brackish water.

During this time of year, adult females emerge from the protection of their aquatic habitat to find suitable areas to lay eggs. They seek nesting areas with a sandy gravel type substrate that’s above the high tide line.

Throughout their range along the coast, terrapins face a variety of threats to their survival. Terrapin nesting habitat has been lost due to commercial and residential development, shoreline hardening and flooding which poses a greater threat to these limited nesting areas. Loss of terrapin nesting habitat along marsh systems put terrapins at greater risk of mortality as a result of increased time searching for adequate nesting areas (Winters 2013). Terrapins will utilize roadsides for nesting which increases the threat of being hit by motor vehicles. Roads are essential to our daily life but they often are barriers to wildlife, especially small critters like terrapins. Studies have shown that adult females have become less abundant and smaller from road mortality. (Avissar, 2006).

You can help terrapins several ways during the nesting season. Driving more cautiously from now until mid-July is a simple way to be more aware of terrapins crossing the roads. Nesting peaks during the full and new moon cycles and they’re more active during the high tide (less distance to travel on land to nest sites). We ask drivers in coastal areas to “Be Terrapin Aware” while driving in these areas. If you find a terrapin crossing the road use these steps to help it cross safely:

  • Stay safe. Never put yourself at risk! Make sure that you do not endanger yourself, or others, by walking into traffic.
  • When safe to do so, pull your car over and onto the shoulder, if possible. Turn on your hazard signals.
  • When safe to enter the roadway, approach the turtle and pick it up by grabbing its shell with both hands between its front and hind legs. HOLD ON – Terrapins have strong legs!
  • It is important that you move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. They are not always headed directly towards water. They will turn around if you put them in the wrong direction, so work with their instincts.
  • Place the terrapin off the road onto the soft shoulder (dirt or grass).
  • If you have a GPS or a smartphone then record your location and submit your sighting on our website.
  • Please do not move a terrapin long distances to “somewhere safe!” They have very small home ranges and moving them will only hurt them.

Rescuing a live terrapin (or any other turtle) from the road is a rewarding experience. It’s a great way to engage future generations in caring for our terrapins.

You can also help terrapins during the nesting season by supporting our new “Turtle Gardens” project. CWF, in partnership with the Marine Academy of Technology of Environmental Sciencewill develop and implement an educational initiative to promote terrapin nesting habitat enhancement. These “Turtle Gardens” will raise awareness of the benefit of living shorelines to terrapins and other coastal wildlife, as it relates to sea level rise and coastal flooding within the Barnegat Bay Watershed. Turtle Gardens for terrapins are patches of sandy nesting habitat above the high water line that are less susceptible to flooding. They also reduce the risk of road mortality. We will be having informational training sessions for those that would like to volunteer for monitoring Turtle Gardens or have property that would support a Turtle Garden. Information on these sessions will be announced in mid-June.

In addition, we will also be looking for terrapin sighting information with Project Terrapin in Berkeley and Lacey Townships in Ocean County as part of an initiative to fill in data gaps for this species on the mainland. If you see terrapins in these locations please report your sightings online.

Learn more:


Ben Wurst is the Habitat Program Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and Stephanie Egger is a Wildlife Biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Morning After Migration

Friday, March 15th, 2013


by MacKenzie Hall, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator


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

Following Monday’s all-night amphibian foray – and the prolonged terror/adrenaline rush of playing real-life Frogger – I drove home through a rainy sunrise on Tuesday.  According to a weather app on my phone, the rain would keep falling all day and end (wouldn’t you know) right around sunset.  “You gotta be kidding me,” I think is what I slurred.

Warm nighttime rain is the simple cue for mass movement, like what we had before dawn that day.  But nature is seldom that simple, so the task of monitoring an amphibian migration can get hairy.  The warm, soaking daytime rain would get the attention of those slumbering frogs and salamanders. Even if it stopped before dark, the wet ground and road would entice some of them to move.  Maybe a lot of them?  And right at the time when nighttime traffic would be heaviest on the roads.

So we sided with caution and rallied the teams to hit the streets at dusk.  I went back to Byram to lead a group of volunteers there while others covered different hot-spots. 

The rain did end early – earlier than expected even – and by nightfall our team was spreading out over a damp road.  It was a relief to see that a migration was happening anyway, albeit at a slower pace.  And the cars were filing through our setup (cones and signs, buffered by police) in threes and fours…99 vehicles in the first hour!  Basically, there was a car for every salamander that dared to cross the white line.

We did our best to stay ahead of the traffic.  By 11:00 pm the temperature was dropping, the road was drying, traffic was slowing, and so were the amphibians.  We paced the road below a starry sky with Orion front and center.  We had tallied another 175 spotted salamanders, 41 Jefferson’s salamanders, and 52 spring peepers.  Despite the heavy car flow early on, more than 85% of those animals made it to the safe side of the road – and eventually to their breeding pool below – with a little help from some friends.

The ingress migration to the pools is probably close to half-over across much of NJ, so we’ll be out few more times yet! 


THANKS to all the dedicated people who have helped so far.  It’s a diverse group of heroes, from long-time amphibian crossers like George Cevera and Carl Bernzweig, to new volunteers like Karen Ruzycki.  We have help from local partners like Margaret McGarrity of Byram Township, and engineering students from NJIT who want to help design solutions to the roadkill problem.  A couple reporters came out this week to cover the story and ended up shuttling amphibians, too.  We thank the Sussex County Division of Engineering for issuing us the permit to assemble on their road.  Thanks also to the Byram Police Department for their willingness to provide traffic control and their respect for our project, which I’m sure seems a little unusual.   And that’s just at one location.  Great job, everyone!

Morning After Migration

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013


by MacKenzie Hall, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator


The past week has been like a wild trip through biomes and time zones.  A half-foot of wet snow buried NJ on Friday, but it didn’t stand a chance against a  sunny weekend above 50˚F and the valiant arrival of Daylight Savings Time.  Bam!  Spring.  Suddenly birds were singing, crocuses were blooming, and salamanders were stretching their hamstrings for the journey ahead.

Throughout the day on Monday (March 11) a long wall of rain crept eastward across the US.  It couldn’t possibly miss NJ, and the temperature would hold around 50˚F overnight – excellent predictors for a migration.  The question was when the rain would hit and whether a rainfall starting very early in the morning would trigger many amphibians to move.  There seem to be almost unlimited permutations for how the important factors of ground thaw, temperature, rainfall, date, and time of night can converge, and after almost 10 years with the Amphibian Crossing Project I still learn new and surprising things. 


Snapshot of a Jefferson salamander being helped across the road.

Snapshot of a Jefferson salamander being helped across the road.

A handful of us chose to wait out the rain at one of our big road-crossing sites in Byram (Sussex Co.).  At least 3 hours before the rain even started, someone noticed a salamander crossing the dry road.  We spread out to cover more ground and kept counting.  By the time the first raindrops hit we had already tallied (and ferried) 190 salamanders and 20 frogs across the asphalt threshold dividing their forest habitat from the breeding pool below.  We were all pretty surprised and excited by what we were seeing.

The rain came around 2:30 am, and in the 4 hours before dawn the road was swimming with frogs and salamanders.  We did our best to keep up with the count, and the rescue, especially as vehicle traffic picked up toward dawn.  Eight cars per hour around 3:00 am, then 10 cars per hour, then 26.  By 6:15 it was hard for the last of us – Bob Hamilton and I – to keep our feet on the pavement as the vehicle count crested 100 per hour.  We also started to lose the battle against roadkill – as many animals were getting hit as we could save.  Luckily it was just a short period, and at dawn the migration would pause.   Our totals for that night:  1,119 salamanders and frogs, 954 of which made it to their destination!

Our “scouts” all across northern & central NJ had similar reports.  A big migration had happened before dawn, and there was some roadkill as evidence.  But you can listen for a happier kind of evidence – the honking and peeping of those who made it to their pool.  The harbingers of spring are arriving.

Amphibians on the March – in February!

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012


by MacKenzie Hall, Biologist

Jefferson salamander - Bob Hamilton

A Jefferson salamander gets an early start on spring (Feb 24). Photo by Bob Hamilton

After the wimpy winter (which I quite enjoyed), we knew the amphibian migration could start a little earlier than normal this season.  The ground has been thawed since mid-February across most of NJ, leaving only a reasonably warm nighttime rain to propel frogs and salamanders into their annual breeding frenzy.

And in an oddly symbiotic way, their frenzy becomes ours as well.  This year, the Amphibian Crossing Project covers 6 road rescue sites in Warren, Sussex, and Passaic Counties – more than we’ve ever done before – and includes monitoring at a number of amphibian road-crossings in the Sourland Mountains region.  More than 130 trained volunteers are part of the migration survey, which aims to 1) help amphibians survive the dangerous cross-road journey to their breeding pools, and 2) collect data to find out which sites are most important and which populations are most threatened by traffic.  With all the new sites, new helpers, and big plans for the data we collect this year (stay tuned…), a lot is riding on the weather.  We and our scouts have been out in every little nighttime rainfall over the past month that’s been anywhere near 40 degrees.

Gene & Ginger

New volunteers Gene & Ginger Martel show that they're ready for migration! Photo by Ginger Martel

My first salamander of the season came out of the woods at 2:00 am on February 24th at a crossing in southern Sussex County, as light rain turned to snow in 37 degree air.  Aside from the three bulky humans watching him labor across the road, this Jefferson salamander had a quiet and uneventful trip.  No cars passed through; the only thing coming down on his cool skin was the occasional snowflake.  If you’re a slow, small amphibian, a middle-of-the-night migration is the way to go.  Your chance of survival is slim in the earlier evening’s traffic.

The nights of February 24th, 29th, and March 2nd were also rainy and just warm enough to draw some eager amphibians to the surface.   Jefferson salamanders are famously cold-hardy and have made a big push to their pools.  Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, and even a few spring peepers have taken advantage of the early thaw as well.  Peak migration is still ahead of us in northern NJ, though, so we’ll continue watching the weather and waiting for our next night out in the rain.

Spotted female

A large female spotted salamander, heavy with eggs, gets help crossing a Hunterdon County road (Feb 29). Photo by MacKenzie Hall

Red Bat Surprise

Monday, December 19th, 2011

by MacKenzie Hall, Biologist

An eastern red bat found on the roadside. Photo by Gretchen Fowles

I’m starting to see that red bats are rule-breakers.  They’re considered forest bats but are happy almost anywhere there are trees, making them common and widespread across North America.  Unlike most other NJ bats, they don’t summer in attics or barns or under bark; rather they hang in the tree canopy at the mercy of wind, rain, heat, and cold.  They start flying earlier in the evening than other bats, and their females have more young (litters of 3 are common while litters of 5 are not unheard of…most other NJ bats give birth to just one pup per year).

But an unexpected winter sighting makes me awe even more at this colorful little creature.  On December 2nd, I was out on a county road in Byram (Sussex) with fellow biologists to plan a culvert project for amphibians.  It was a chilly morning – about 45 degrees at 10:00 am – cold enough that I wished I hadn’t left my hat in the car but not quite cold enough to go back for it.  On the road shoulder, on its belly, was a red bat.  Huh!  Red bats are migratory and most head south for the winter.  Sometimes they stay as far north as coastal NY and NJ, but a sighting this far inland was surprising.  (more…)