Friday, November 27, 2015

New Jersey's Wild Cat

Bobbie 2010 2.jpg
Bobcat by Bill W Ca at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Bobcats, Lynx rufus, are active all throughout the year, especially at night, and are New Jersey's only wild cat.

These medium size felines can weigh between 15-35 pounds and are identified by their small ear tufts, tan, black and white spots and stripes patterned fur. They get their common name from the short "bobbed" tail with black only at the tip.

The much larger adult mountain lions can weigh 80-200 pounds and have a long tail, no ear tufts and solid tawny fur. Don't worry, you won't encounter the mountain lion (AKA cougar, puma, panther, or catamount) on your New Jersey walks. The last ones in the state were killed in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties around 1840.

Bobcats originally were more widespread throughout the state. Now, they appear to be limited to mainly Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic and Hunterdon counties, along with some sighting in the Pinelands.

They are listed as a State Endangered species. The NJDEP uses radio telemetry and camera studies and reports by citizen scientists and physical evidence (scat, tracks and road-kill recovery) to monotor the population. They appear to be widening their range, including moving to and from bordering Pennsylvania and New York.

Still, these rather secretive animals are a rare sighting for the casual woods walker. They live in a variety of habitat types, including woodland, wetland and agricultural settings in our state. My only sighting was on a walk in a rocky, forest area in Sussex County.

A Warren County reader of this blog posted a comment on an earlier post this year and asked if what his home security camera captured was a lynx or bobcat. I replied that no "lynx" exist in NJ, but the bobcat is "Lynx rufus" scientifically and it is NJ's only wild cat species.

Though he wasn't asking a question of semantics, the "lynx" is a member of the cat family found in temperate and colder areas of the Northern Hemisphere. There are four species of lynx: the Canada lynx (which is the one people are thinking of when they use that name), the Spanish lynx, the bobcat, and the caracal.

The difference of lynx versus bobcat is mostly one of size and habitat. The lynx is sadly valued for its warm, lightweight fur. Most lynxes are grayish-brown in color, often spotted or streaked with black. They have short bodies, stumpy tails, and tufted ears.

Here is the reader's video of the visitor passing by his home which he posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Piping Plover Population Rebounds in 2015

The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ have released the 2015 Piping Plover Breeding Report. The data reveals that the population of breeding piping plovers increased 17% to 108 pairs in 2015, as compared to 2014.

Despite the increase, the population of this federally threatened, state endangered species still remains below the long-term average (118 pairs) since federal listing in 1986 and well below the peak.

“The rebound in New Jersey’s piping plover breeding population and a second consecutive year of robust chick productivity was a much needed outcome,” said Conserve Wildlife Foundation Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager Todd Pover. “We need to continue our intensive management for a number of years to sustain any recovery, but we were very pleased to have finally broken the recent cycle of low nesting success and the record low number of nesting pairs in 2014.”

The piping plover – a small sand-colored shorebird that nests in New Jersey as part of its Atlantic Coast range from North Carolina up to Eastern Canada – face a number of threats, including intensive human recreational activity on beaches where they nest, high density of predators, and a shortage of highly suitable habitat due to development and extreme habitat alteration.

Federally listed as a threatened species in 1986, piping plovers have since recovered in some areas of the breeding range. Yet piping plovers continue to struggle in New Jersey, where they are listed by the state as endangered.

“As a species dependent on natural beach habitat, piping plovers face a particularly daunting challenge along New Jersey’s heavily developed and dynamic coast,” said Conserve Wildlife Foundation Executive Director David Wheeler. “Our dedicated scientists, partners, and volunteers are working tirelessly to ensure piping plovers remain a beloved and healthy presence along the Jersey Shore and beyond.”

CWF, in close coordination with NJDFW’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, oversees piping plover conservation throughout New Jersey. Staff and volunteers help erect fence and signage to protect nesting sites, monitor breeding pairs frequently throughout the entire nesting season from March to August, and work with public and municipalities to educate them on ways to minimize impacts. Although conservation efforts on the breeding ground remain the primary focus, in recent years, CWF has also begun to work with partners all along the flyway, in particular on the winter grounds in the Bahamas, to better protect the at-risk species during its entire life-cycle.

The statewide fledgling rate, which includes data collected by partners at 19 active nesting sites throughout the state, was 1.29 fledglings per pair, down slightly from 2014 (1.36 fledglings/pair), but still one of the highest statewide levels since federal listing. Furthermore, both years were above the 1.25 fledgling rate believed necessary to maintain the range-wide Atlantic Coast population of piping plovers.

Statewide pair-nest success, the percentage of pairs that successfully hatch at least one nest, was high at 79%, well above the average since federal listing. Although population and productivity are ultimately the most important measures of recovery success, hatch success is an important metric to demonstrate the effectiveness of on-the-ground management.

Northern Monmouth County, as a region, continued to account for the largest percentage of pairs in the state (55 pairs or 51%), with Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit accounting for most of those pairs.

The region comprised of North Brigantine Natural Area and the Holgate and Little Beach Units of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge accounted for the other significant concentration of breeding pairs in the state (43 pairs or 40% of the statewide total).

Holgate had the largest jump in abundance for any individual site, doubling its breeding pairs to 24 in 2015 (up from 12 in 2014). This increase was the result of highly suitable overwash habitat created at the site by Hurricane Sandy and the high breeding success that helped spur.

Cape May County, the southernmost region of the state, consisting of Ocean City to Cape May Point, continued its long-term downward trend, accounting for just 8 pairs in 2015, compared to 11 pairs in 2014 and 43 pairs in 2004 at its peak.

For more information, including a link to the report, visit on the CWF website.

For information on Beach Nesting Bird Management in New Jersey, visit on the Division's website.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raising Crane(s)

Whooping cranes learning their fall migration route from an ultralight aircraft
piloted by a human wearing a crane suit.
An episode of the Radiolab podcast that I listened to recently is titled "Raising Crane." It is about scientists who create a "childhood" for a flock of whooping cranes in order to save them from extinction.

It is one of those wildlife stories that sounds like a great project. But the report also raises some questions about what it takes to get a species back to being wild.

Whooping crane at Patokah River National Wildlife Refuge
in Indiana on its migration south. Steve Gifford/USFWS/flickrCC-BY-2.0.

Less than a hundred years ago, there were just 16 whooping cranes left, and only 4 breeding females. Now scientists are trying to teach these cranes how to survive in the wild. The caveat is that they have to do it without the cranes knowing they are interacting with humans.

That means chicks are raised by puppet-wielding researcher/mothers wearing white cloth suits. They will be led across the country by ultralight planes with crane-suited human pilots substituting for adult cranes.

And it works. There are now somewhere around 500 whooping cranes in the wild.

The podcast also examines a mysterious behavior that has crane researchers worried, and a theory on what might be causing it.

Operation Migration website and YouTube channel

Monday, November 16, 2015

Whale Migration at the Jersey Shore

A humpback whale feeding on bunker fish off  Monmouth County
Tyson Trish/staff photographer

Whales do pass New Jersey on their migrations and during fall beach walkers and boaters get some great views.

Recent reports include a humpback just a few hundred feet from the Bay Head shoreline and off Chadwick beach. Humpbacks are adding bulk for winter which they spend in Silver Bank Sanctuary, a shallow water area off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

Southern waters are where they mate, birth and nurse their calves.

We will see them again when they follow the food north in April.

Pods of the bait fish, menhaden, and striped bass and bluefish often coincide with the fall migration of  marine mammals, so whales and bottlenose dolphins and seals are more common at the shore.

Bob Schoelkopf, founder and director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine said the humpback whales are the primary whale species that have been spotted by numerous boaters because they come closest to the shore, using it to pin the bait up so they can eat it.

Boaters are always warned to stay clear of whales and dolphins. At 80,000 pounds, a humpback can do real damage to boats. They can eat upwards to 3,000 pounds a fish per day.

The warning is also a legal one because humpbacks are an endangered species that are safeguarded by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act while they pass through our waters. Boats must stay at least 200 feet from them.

You won't see them near shore, but boaters may spot right whales and minke whales further out and they move south to waters off Georgia and Florida. Right whales are the most endangered whale species in the world.

Do any whales remain of the NJ coast through winter? Yes, the mackerel-loving and also endangered fin whales. No slackers about size, they are next to blue whales, the second largest whales growing up to 80 feet.

The only visitors who will actually come up onto the shore - but stay away from them too - are the one fur-bearing species coming south to NJ to visit for the holidays. That is the harbor seal. They are spotted onshore sunning, maybe on a dredge pipe on the Manasquan River or resting on the beach at Seaside Heights.

More at

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Racing Extinction

Film director Louie Psihoyos has gone undercover again, this time to bring attention to an overlooked crisis threatening the planet. He is best known for his Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove, in which he covertly captured the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.

His new film, Racing Extinction will be aired on the Discovery Channel in 220 countries and territories in December.

He infiltrates black markets in China, revealing shocking images of thousands of dead animals for sale — manta rays, whale sharks, and piles of shark fins. the film's targets are overfishing, wildlife poaching, and a climate warmed by carbon emissions.

As frightening as the film's message is, Psihoyos says there's reason to be hopeful.

"When we started The Cove, they were killing 23,000 dolphins a year.Now they're killing less than 6,000. Change can happen, and it can happen almost overnight."

Read an interview with the director:

Official film website:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Have You Seen a Coywolf in New Jersey?

A "coywolf"                                  Photo: via nj,com

If you have heard that New Jersey has coywolves living here, it's true.  But the name coywolf is a new one tagged onto the hybrid animal that is the eastern coyote. The species is not a "coy" (as in shy) wolf, but a hybrid that is mostly coyote. Researchers say they exist in the millions throughout the Northeast, including in NJ.

This cross between a coyote and a wolf used to be considered an eastern coyote, but recent research shows the hybrid name is a more accurate descriptor. Eastern wolves interbred with western coyotes when deforestation and hunting threatened their population. Though coyotes in any form were once unknown in our state, they have spread statewide in the past decade. Their DNA is 65% coyote, 10% dog and 25% wolf, the Economist reported.

The coywolf is about twice the size of a coyote, with larger jaws and bigger muscles that allow it to kill larger prey, such as deer. But coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food, rodents and other small mammals including squirrels and pets.

As with other coyotes, the coywolf has adapted very well to suburban and urban environments. (It is estimated that at least 20 live in New York City.) Urban/suburban habitats offer easy access to trash and easy hunting in areas without underbrush and cover (such as parks, trails and lawns) so that the coywolf needs only half the territory it would require in the countryside. Railway corridors make travel fast and easy. They tend to be more nocturnal in populated areas.

There is some debate in the science community as to whether the coywolf actually has evolved into a distinct species, but the name has traction. has called them "New Jersey's apex predator" and  they were tagged as the new "superpredators" by Field and Stream magazine.