Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jersey Owls

There are eighteen species of owls in North America and 8 of them can be found in the Garden State.

  1. Barn Owl
  2. Barred Owl 
  3. Eastern Screech Owl
  4. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  5. Short-eared Owl 
  6. Long-eared Owl
  7. Great horned Owl
  8. Snowy Owl

On New Jersey's endangered list is the Short-Eared Owl. The number of Short-eared Owls that overwinter in New Jersey varies from year to year. However, breeding Short-eared Owls are considered endangered. The species may no longer even nest in NJ, although at one time small numbers were known to do so.

They are considered to be a large owl, reaching a height of 16 inches /40 cm (Like other species of owls, the female is larger than the male).  They have small “ear” tufts (not actually ears) on a large, round head. Their underparts are heavily streaked and their face area has dark patches, with yellow eyes. 

You might see a Short-eared Owl in open habitats such as uncultivated fields, pastures, airports, and fresh and saltwater marshes. They are not a woodland species, but during the winter they will roost in trees.

On the state's threatened list are both the Long-Eared Owl and the Barred Owl.

Long-eared owl
The Long-eared owl is slender and about 12-15 inches.

It has distinctive long "ear" tufts similar to the Great Horned Owl but closer together. The facial disk is chestnut colored. The breast and belly are streaked and barred.

Long-eared Owls might be found in dense coniferous forests or mixed forests consisting of deciduous and evergreen trees. They roost communally with 2-20 birds living together. They hunt at night in nearby fields and meadows.

Like most owls, their preferred prey include voles and field mice, but bats, moles, rabbits and various species of birds are occasionally captured.

Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is located statewide but the greatest concentrations are in the northern and southern parts of New Jersey (Sussex, Passaic, Morris and Burlington, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May counties) where wetland habitat helps them survive. Conversely, development pressures in counties like Bergen, Essex, Union, Middlesex, Mercer, Hunterdon, Salem, Gloucester and Camden have reduced or eliminated the barred owl's habitat.

In addition to loss of habitat, barred owls can be killed by being hit by vehicles, electrocuted, poisoned. and by Great Horned Owls who prey on them and other owl species except for the Snowy Owl.

Fragmentation of forest habitat due to logging and rights-of-way for utilities has resulted in habitat that is more suitable for Great Horned Owls which puts predatory pressure on barred owls.

Its large size (20 inches tall - 25 cm), rounded head, lack of "ear" tufts, grayish-brown color with dark eyes and dark bars that run horizontal across its breast and vertically on its belly make Barred Owls easy to identify if you can find one. Females are similar in appearance but larger.

Barred Owls live in the deep forest and hide inside woodlands with a preference for coniferous or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests rather than strictly deciduous forests. Large tracts of woodlands are preferred to forests that have been highly fragmented. Within these dense stands of forest, proximity to water such as swamps, marshes, streams and lakes is preferred. At night they may be identified by their characteristic call of eight hoots that are in two groups of four: hoohoo-hoohoo followed by hoohoo-hoohoo-aw). This call has been analogized to sound like they are saying "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"

The Barred Owl is a NON MIGRANT. Barred Owls (like Great Horned Owls and Eastern Screech Owls) remain in New Jersey throughout the year. They hunt in the evening and at night. Barred Owls are highly opportunistic and eat a large variety of prey. However, research studies show that Barred Owls rely heavily on voles, mice and shrews.


A Great Horned Owl's gaze

Great Horned Owl

Barn owl

a Snowy Owl at Cape May via

Images: US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

Friday, February 27, 2015

6 Years of Endangered NJ

Late February means that spring is a possibility - although it doesn't feel that way in NJ this week. Back in February 2009, I started posting on this blog, so this is the end of year six and into our seventh blogging year.

Having volunteered in New Jersey's Wildlife Conservation Corps for a lot of years, I didn't have as much free time and there didn't seem to be as many possibilities to volunteer. I had been doing talks for the Speakers Bureau and focusing on the threatened and endangered species.

Those talks with slides made me aware of just how many people in our state did not were unaware of the program or the species that were in trouble. I decided that the blog (a re-purposing of an earlier website that was a student project involving my son) could probably reach a bigger audience than those talks both in NJ and beyond.

As a lifelong New Jerseyean, I tire of the Jersey jokes and like to share some of the many good things in the state. Now, you could say that writing about things that are threatened and endangered in NJ doesn't show our best side. But the blog is really about all the efforts to protect those species. Every state and every country on the planet has endangered species, but not all of those places are making a good effort to prevent and protect them.

When I look at the stats for popular posts here, I continue to see that people in and out of NJ like to read about Wolves in New Jersey (Wolves are popular, but does NJ actually have any?) and people want to know about the two venomous snakes that we do have living here. It's great to write about successful species comebacks - like the bald eagle and to inform people about species that aren't endangered and that we would like to keep that way like the bees.

Over the years, I have broadened the scope of the blog to include some history, like NJ's whaling history,
and things to do (like hiking) or the original people of our area, the Lenape.

I write about some of our state's best features and places. I love the Pinelands that may be called the Barrens but are not barren. They may even harbor a Jersey Devil, or at least a legend of one.

You may not think of hiking trails as being endangered, but the land they cross often is threatened by development.

Thanks for reading. Please explore the tags and archives and spread the word about what New Jersey does and needs to do to protect its precious things.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Don't Waste Our Open Space

On the one year anniversary of its Illegal Dumping Initiative, NJDEP is conducting a survey to understand people's perception of illegal dumping issues on State lands. The data collected from this survey will be used to understand the effectiveness of outreach efforts and their impact on the public since the beginning of the "Don't Waste Our Open Space" campaign last year.

Please complete the survey on the SurveyMonkey website:

Public lands all over New Jersey are being used as dumping grounds. Litter, garbage bags, tires, televisions, electronic waste, appliances, yard waste, and construction debris are being dumped and threatening our local environment, animals and public. This dumping detracts from the natural beauty of our public lands; it decreases property value, and costs the citizens of New Jersey tax dollars to cleanup.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Frozen Great Falls at Paterson

We are all hoping for some thaw in March - in like a lamb and out like an even gentler lamb would be nice - but the past week we were looking at frozen ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers and even the the Great falls of the Passaic River at Paterson.

Niagara Falls may have gotten more attention with its northern ice, but here in New Jersey the Great Falls have been freezing from the record cold.

Here is some video from Air 11 from WPIX.

The Great Falls of Paterson became a National Natural Landmark in 1967. The National Natural Landmarks Program encourages and supports the conservation of sites that illustrate the nation's geological and biological history, and to strengthen the public's appreciation of America's natural heritage.

The Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is one of the newest units within the National Park Service. On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Act as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act.

A part of the city of Paterson was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1976. National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.

The Great Falls raceway and power systems became a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1977.
The Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Program recognizes historically significant local, national, and international civil engineering projects, structures and sites.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bald Eagle Rescue

Two bald eagles interlocked, injured and hanging from a tree in Tuckerton, NJ.
Photo by Ben Wurst.

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program received a report on February 18th that two adult eagles were injured and hanging from a tree in Tuckerton. With some help from an AC Electric company truck with a cherry picker on it, Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager went up to try to free the birds.

One eagle was alive but the other had unfortunately died. The survivor was banded and recorded as a female that was came from a nest near Merrill Creek reservoir in 2008.

Probably, the two had fought over territory and fell from the air into tree branches. The dead eagle had a "death grip" on the surviving eagle. Without help, they both were likely to have died in the tree.

The bird was taken to Mercer County Wildlife Center to be checked. Sadly, its leg that was in the grip of the other eagle was badly injured and the bird showed signs of frostbite damage due to not being able to move and fly. After 5 days, the bird was euthanized at Tri-State Bird Rescue because the fracture and frostbite made her unlikely to survive in the wild and eagles in general do not like being in captivity.

 Helmet-Cam video of Ben working to save the eagle.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Native Flora and New Jersey's Biodiversity in Danger

New Jersey State Bird and Flower.
Eastern Goldfinch / Carduelis tristis
Meadow Violet / Viola sororia

Flora is the plant life occurring in a particular region or time, generally the naturally occurring or indigenous—native plant life. The corresponding term for animal life is fauna. Flora, fauna and other forms of life such as fungi are collectively referred to as biota.

New Jersey's 4th graders learn that our state tree is the Northern Red Oak. Did you know that? Did you know that there are 17 species of oaks in New Jersey? Five are rare or endangered.

Our state wildflower is the Blue Woodland Violet or Viola sororia, which is a sure sign of spring. We have 30 native violets and 6 are unique violet species that are rare or endangered. The Cut-leaf Coast Violet no longer exists in the wild in New Jersey.

It might not surprise you that New Jersey is losing its native flora, but the situation is probably more critical than you would suspect.

Wild Blue Lupine
One example is the Wild Blue Lupine, Lupinus perennis, which was once common here but now only exist in four or five locations.

A lack of wildfires, alien weed invasions and deer over-browsing are causing increasing decline of many species.

Of course, the web in nature is always connected. The Wild Blue Lupine and the Yellow Wild Indigo are the only two plant species on which the female Frosted Elfin butterfly will deposit her eggs. Since her caterpillars only eat these two plants, it is no surprise that the Frosted Elfin butterfly is also critically endangered in our state.

One-third of our roughly 2,600 native plant species are designated as endangered or of special concern by the state's Natural Heritage Program.

You can download a list of all 822 rare plants at

Monday, February 16, 2015

Green Eggs and Sand Curriculum Workshop

During the full and new moon events in May and June, thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to spawn, primarily in Delaware Bay. It is also during this time when migrating shorebirds descend upon the beaches to rest and feed on the horseshoe crab eggs before continuing onto their breeding grounds. This interaction between horseshoe crab, shorebird and humans is what lays the groundwork for the Green Eggs & Sand (GE&S) workshop.

A Green Eggs and Sand Curriculum workshop will be held May 29-31 at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor (Cape May County). 

The workshop will delve into the ecological connections between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds, human connections to horseshoe crabs, and the challenges encountered in managing this resource via presentations, field trips and hands-on activities. Workshop participants will receive the award-winning, Green Eggs & Sand curriculum pack, recently updated with current information and new activities.

The GE&S workshop is a three-day workshop focuses on promoting understanding the issues, the science and the management of the horseshoe crab/shorebird controversy. 

Workshop participants learn from top researchers and natural managers in the field, as well as get to participate in a horseshoe crab count. 

Educators and natural resource managers from Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey developed the curriculum, and designed it for use with middle and high school students. It is broken down into four modules that introduce students to the lives of horseshoe crabs, their extraordinary history, ecological niche, interrelationships with other species and the challenges of managing horseshoe crabs. 

At the end of the workshop participants take home the activity rich GE&S curriculum package and video that has been correlated to the national-learning standards in science, social studies, math and language arts. 

Workshop FAQs (pdf, 43b)

For further information please contact Karen Byrne at 609-748-4347 or via e-mail at

For more information visit 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Proposed Energy Pipelines in New Jersey

Today's news reports that the Congress gave final approval to the Keystone XL pipeline bill, and that President Obama will now have a veto showdown. But you may not be aware - and it certainly doesn't get as much media attention - that New Jersey has at least 5 of its own proposals for the construction of new pipelines.

These are pipelines that will transport gas and oil from supply sources and cross NJ to deliver fuel to distribution and export points. Pipelines that cross state lines must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

  1. One is the PennEast pipeline for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale "fracking" region of Pennsylvania to a location north of Trenton. That would send it across some preserved lands and watersheds in Hunterdon and Mercer counties, which sends up environmental red flags.
  2. Another proposed project is the Diamond East pipeline which would run on a parallel route a few miles to the east.
  3. The Pilgrim Oil pipeline would bring shale oil (produced in North Dakota) from Albany, N.Y., to Linden, NJ and would cross Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex and Union counties. 
  4.  The NJ Natural Gas pipeline is proposed to run through Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
  5. The South Jersey Gas pipeline would be in the Pine Barrens of Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
According to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, for the PennEast, two potential routes are being considered which could cross "as many as 66 preserved parcels totaling nearly 4,500 acres... and would  cross the Delaware River, a federally-designated Wild & Scenic river, impacting the critically important water resources of the Delaware River Basin and the New Jersey Highlands. [It] would impact farms protected with federal farmland preservation funds, and other agricultural lands that have benefitted from U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for farm conservation practices."

If these issues concern you, you can contact your U.S. Senators and Congressmen and ask them to change federal policy to require comprehensive planning for energy and infrastructure. To find your Congressman, go to To contact Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, go to
For more information about PennEast, go to