Monday, November 24, 2014

NJ's Eagle Population Continued to Climb in 2014

Bald eagle, Cape May National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo credit: Don Freiday / USFW

New Jersey's eagle population continued to climb in 2014, to 156 pairs.  The number of young  broke the 200 mark, with 201 fledging from 145 known-outcome nests.

Eagles nest in all counties except Essex and Hudson.

The report also highlights the movements of eagles being tracked with satellite tags.  In their first years after leaving the nest, they are moving far and wide across the northeast, from Maine to Maryland.  The satellite-tracked eagles reveal new information about eagle habitat use, foraging and roosting locations.

For details about the continuing recovery of eagles in NJ, and the efforts of the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, see the 2014 Eagle Project Report linked from on the Division's website.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Birds of the NJ Meadowlands

A video of some of the birds found in the NJ Meadowlands of Secaucus, Lyndhurst, and Kearny. Seen are the Black-crowned Night Heron, Osprey, Great Egret, Hawks, and Swans.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Secretary Sally Jewell Discusses Urban Wildlife Refuge Program

Secretary Sally Jewell discusses Urban Wildlife Refuge Program

Urban refuges are the perfect outdoor classroom. Learn more about Secretary of Interior Jewell’s experiences with youth at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

from the USFWS YouTube channel

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hibernating Time


This week as the polar vortex dips into New Jersey and we say good bye to 60 degree days, animals may not be the only ones in our state thinking about winter hibernation.

The popular idea of hibernation is probably closer to a storybook version of fattened bears curled up in a cave than the ways that New Jersey's creatures are preparing to hibernate using a variety of physiological strategies.

After an animal finds or makes a living space (hibernaculum) that protects it from winter weather and predators, the animal's metabolism slows dramatically.

Our over-wintering bats, including the federally-endangered Indiana bats, are true hibernating mammals who regulate their metabolism to create a torpid, cold, inactive state.

That's why White Nose Syndrome is so serious of a threat. The fungus disrupts their sleep, causes them to fly and exhausts their fat reserves even if they only wake up in mid-winter for brief periods.

Also in that hibernation category are some rodents like woodchucks and chipmunks. They can maintain a constant body temperature of 38 degrees. But woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, will not be coming out of hibernation naturally as early as February 2 in order to to satisfy some news crew's need for a Groundhog Day story.

For chipmunks, their den temperatures remain mostly above freezing because burrow entrances are plugged and the burrow system extends below frost line. Body temperature drops to within a few degrees of the burrow temperature and is often around 40 F. Every few days, chipmunks elevate body temperature to over 94 F.

Timber rattlesnake - photo by Kris Schantz via

Our timber rattlesnakes in the Ridge and Valley and Highlands regions will hibernate in deep, rocky mountain crevices with a southern exposure.

In the Pinelands, lacking those rocky crevices, the rattlesnakes will hibernate in the springs and roots of cedar swamps where the water movement means it probably will never freeze.

The Northern pine snake, which also inhabit the Pinelands, will  first fully digest their last autumn meal before hibernating. (Undigested food in a reptile can lead to bacterial infection and death.) Then, they will burrow into upland sands about four feet below the surface to hibernate.

Fish and many reptiles and amphibians don't go into a true hibernation but rather into dormancy. That is a period in an organism's life cycle when growth, development, and physical activity are temporarily stopped. This minimizes metabolic activity and therefore helps an organism to conserve energy. This allows some species to survive extremely low oxygen conditions in the mud and deep water of ponds.

Aquatic frogs such as the American bullfrog typically hibernate underwater. They do not spend the winter like aquatic turtles who dig into the mud at the bottom of a pond or stream. If hibernating frogs did that, they would suffocate. Hibernating aquatic frogs require oxygen-rich water and spend a good portion of the winter just lying on top of the mud or only partially buried and may even slowly swim around from time to time.

A hibernating turtle's metabolism slows down so drastically that it can get by on the mud's poor oxygen supply.

Of course, we also have terrestrial frogs that normally hibernate on land. American toads and other frogs will burrow deep into the soil, safely below the frost line. Not all frogs are diggers. The wood frog and the spring peeper will find deep cracks and crevices in logs or rocks or, not as safely, just burrow down as far as they can in the leaf litter.

Black bears are still our number one poster species for hibernation but they are not true hibernators and may be active all year long.

Black bears begin entering their winter dens in the fall to avoid periods of food shortage and severe weather. Impregnated females typically enter dens first, during the last week in October. Males may not enter dens until December.

Unlike smaller mammals that hibernate, black bears do not drop their body temperature appreciably. They enter a state of torpor (low metabolic activity). The small amount of urine that is produced is reabsorbed by their kidneys and they don't have to wake up to urinate or defecate.

Bears are too big to allow their bodies to get really cold and they need to be able to wake up quickly in an emergency. Den sites generally include ground nests, excavation sites, brush piles, hollow trees, rock cavities and caves (which are not very plentiful in NJ) and sometimes beneath houses and other buildings. The den sites are typically small in size to retain body heat and ensure that black bears stay well insulated.

They live off of their body fat, which is metabolized to produce the calories and water that they need to survive. They generally lose between 18-20% of their body fat while in their dens and they are able to maintain their bone and muscle mass. While in torpor black bears are capable of being easily awakened if disturbed and they may leave their dens on mild winter days in search of food.

NJ Voters Approve Ballot Question on Preservation

New Jersey voters voted YES this week on Ballot Question 2, amending the state constitution to set aside a larger percentage of the corporate business tax (from 4 to 6%) for preservation. This does not mean an increase in the corporate or other taxes, just a reallocation of how the collected taxes are dispensed. 
The question was approved by an overwhelming 65 percent of Garden State voters. According to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, this is the fourteenth time in 52 years that voters have approved efforts to preserve New Jersey's clean water, productive farmland, parks, natural lands and historic sites.

Being the nation's most densely populated state, makes saving land for all of our communities even more critical. For example, with rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms, protecting lands that mitigate flooding all the more urgent.  

New Jersey is considered to be the first state projected to be fully "built out" - with all land either preserved or developed. Preserving and adding what we can to parks, farmlands,  and forests, and investing in open spaces can help protect and expand a healthy environment for current and future generations.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

North American Bird Species Threatened By Climate Change

The shift north of species     image credit: National Audubon Society via

I heard David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, on NPR talk about a new seven-year study the organization has done that warns that the migratory routes and habitats of more than half of the birds in North America are now or soon will be threatened by climate change.

I still hear arguments against climate change forecasts that are sometimes labeled as "alarmist" but Yarnold says that "... there are forecasts that are far more extreme than this report. If anything, this report is conservative. At every step of the way, we took great care to not overstate data or conclusions. Nothing would make us happier than to be wrong about the fate of many of these birds."

The study, "314 Species on the Brink," look at the entire continent, but you can look close up at New Jersey.  The bald eagle, a species that in New Jersey has finally been brought "back from the brink" of being extirpated and endangered, could see its current range decrease by nearly 75 percent in the next 65 years.

One NJ species is the American kestrel.
Photo: Nathan Rupert/Flickr Creative Common via

"This colorful little falcon is in serious trouble in some parts of the continent. Yet populations are stable or increasing elsewhere. With the American Kestrel and so many other geographically widespread species, it is essential to engage management and conservation on a region-by-region basis. The Audubon model forecasts overall winter gains and summer losses for the species, but the bigger story is substantial northward movement of suitable climate space at both times of year. The decline of nesting American Kestrels in the northeastern U.S., well along already, seems likely to proceed, perhaps to the point of regional extirpation in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states."

The common loon, an iconic bird in Minnesota and Maine, may no longer be able to breed in the lower 48 states as soon as 2080, according to the report.

Oriole photo credit: Universal Images Group /Getty Images via

The story highlighted Baltimore orioles, a species that is so beloved in Maryland that their major league baseball team bears its name. These orioles are migrating birds and by 2080, there may not be any orioles left in Maryland because they could be forced to nest well north of the state.

In talking about the pace at which this change is happening, Yarnold says:
The report looked at North American birds. It's not likely that birds are going to migrate from Central and South America to replace them. But, remember, what we're talking about are changes at a pace and a scale that we've never seen before. These are the kinds of changes to habitat that have taken tens of thousands of years in the past. And what worries me is that these are the kinds of changes that my 9-month-old grandson could see in his lifetime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Course offered for those interested in wildlife rehabilitation

Were you that kid who brought home the bird that couldn't fly and the injured wild animal? Then maybe you are the adult who would be interested in a program from the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife.

If you are interested in wildlife rehabilitation, and especially interested in becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, then you will want to attend a Wildlife Rehabilitation Training Course.

The next offering of the course will be at Mercer County Community College on November 3-7, 2014.

This course is an alternative route to meet a portion of New Jersey State permitting requirements for wildlife rehabilitators. Successful completion of the course will count for 40 hours toward the 200-hour New Jersey apprenticeship permitting requirement.

This course is available to anyone wishing to gain knowledge about native New Jersey wildlife.

An injured baby raccoon is treated at the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge.
During spring and summer it is not uncommon for people to cross paths with young, seemingly orphaned or injured wild animals. What would you do? Should you feed it? Was it abandoned? Should you take it home? Is it hurt? Is it sick? Does it have a disease you should be worried about contracting?

The course includes wildlife rehabilitation history, licensing requirements and regulations, mammal, bird and reptile species identification and anatomy, proper handling, care and nutrition, medical procedures, and much more.

The cost of the course is $499 and registration information can be obtained from Mercer County Community College by calling 609-570-3311.

This announcement can be found at on the Division 's website.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Eastern Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis Wooster.jpg
"Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis Wooster" Eastern Garter Snake
Wilson44691     Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Eastern Garter snake is not endangered but, like most snakes, it is misunderstood and often misidentified. It is commonly seen throughout New Jersey and can be mistaken for the Eastern Ribbon snake.

You are likely to encounter this snake inside or underneath logs, wood piles and mulch piles, although they may also be found on a lawn, hunting or basking themselves in the sun.

The Garter snake is quite harmless and there is no reason to remove or harm them. If the snake feels threatened, it will emit an unpleasant odor in hopes that the predator moves away.

If a predator grabs its tail, the tail will break off and the broken portion will continue to move around as the snake escapes from the predator. The tail section can grow back.

Garter snakes eat insects, salamanders, small frogs, earthworms and will hunt day and night.

Though most snake species lay eggs, the Garter snake will give birth to 30-50 live young.