Sunday, April 4, 2021

In Spring Comes Vernal Pools

Spotted salamander   Image: Peter Paplanus/Creative Commons

I wrote earlier about amphibians on the move for mating during warm spring nights. They are headed for vernal pools.

These vernal (spring) pools are also known as intermittent or ephemeral ponds. These pools give eggs and tadpoles the best chances for survival. These are not year-round ponds and by summer they will dry up. That means they don't allow fish to survive ther. Fish are voracious eaters of egges and tadpoles, so that's what make vernal pools ideal places for amphibians.

These pools are created by snowmelt, spring rain and rising groundwater. It is estimated that New Jersey has 3,000 to 5,000 vernal pools. NJ had more snow this winter than last, so that should benefit amphibians.

There are several near me in woods that I often walk and so I will go out some warm spring evening after rain and listen for some frog chorus singers. I might see some amphibians crossing a road. This always makes me think "Why don't they just live in the woods and avoid the dangerous spring commute?"

Luckily, my local pools are in places that will not be developed. But many vernal pools get filled in, level, and built on or near as homes and businesses move in. The amphibians won't know that until the next spring when they make that journey and can't find the pool they expected. The mating still occurs and the eggs will still be laid but the location will be less hospitable to the offspring.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Another Endangered New Jersey Year

This blog passed another birthday (or is it an anniversary?) last month. That always gets me to look at the stats and analytics to see what people are reading. 

Below are the top 20 posts from the past year's stats. (use the search bar for this site and you can find any of them). Some have been perennial favorites. Posts about the more exotic species (not necessarily threatened or endangered) are always popular. Those posts always get the most comments, mostly from people who believe they have spotted a wolf or mountain lion in NJ. I continue to say that there is no evidence that these species or others (like moose) exist in our state. That doesn't stop reported sightings. People also like to report that they have seen a less obvious species. No one reports that there were four deer on their lawn. Seeing a fisher, porcupine, coyote, beaver or maybe a fox is still a thrill to many urban and suburban residents.

  1. Is That a Mountain Lion I See Wandering New Jersey?" has more than 25,000 visits (and hopefully reads) since it was posted. 
  2. Otters in New Jersey
  3. Seeing Wolves in New Jersey 
  4. Fishers Return to New Jersey 
  5. New Jersey's Wild Cat 
  6. The Eastern Garter Snake
  7. "New Jersey's Two Venomous Snakes" has had more than 35,000 visitors 
  8. New Jersey's Watchung Mountains
  9. Have You Seen a Coywolf in New Jersey?
  10. New Jersey Furbearers
  11. Foxy New Jersey
  12. Snakes in New Jersey
  13. Nutria
  14. Busy New Jersey Beavers
  15. Invasive Species
  16. Jersey Owls
  17. New Jersey: Have You Seen Spotted Lanternflies?
  18. Carnivorous Pitcher Plants
  19. Hiking a Haunted Trail
  20. Golden Eagle Rescued and Released

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Amphibian Spring Crossings

Salamander crossing road - by inkoalseibua from Pixabay

Spring has arrived in New Jersey despite this week being quite chilly, windy. Our hibernating amphibians – the frogs, salamanders, and toads – are waiting for the warmer days and spring rains that signal to them to leave winter homes, come out and start mating.

Part of that spring ritual often includes crossing roadways and that is dangerous. It's not always a long journey. It might be a hundred yards. It might be further but crossing a busy roadway even a short distance might be life-threatening. It doesn't help that they are also not at full strength. Rainy, foggy nights and the darkness also help keep them hidden from predators like owls and raccoons.

On the first warm, rainy nights of spring amphibians start to move. From below ground come spotted salamanders, Jefferson salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers. Where are they headed? To vernal pools.  

See a list of New Jersey’s amphibian species and
listen to recorded frog and toad calls

This movement can happen as early as February if we have a mild winter and some warm, rainy days and nights, but it can also be as late as April if the ground is still partly frozen or covered with snow. 

Volunteers and the staff from Conserve Wildlife Foundation have been acting as “amphibian crossing guards” at locations in Warren and Sussex counties. 

To learn more about the Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s
amphibian crossing program, go to

Searching for amphibians crossing with kids and rescuing them from harm is a great activity and a chance to be a wildlife superhero. Here are a few guidebooks. Check in your local library too.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Right Whales in the Wrong Places

Entangled North Atlantic right whale spotted off New Jersey on October 11
Credit: Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale

At the end of last year, NOAA officials were on a search and rescue to find an entangled northern right whale that had been sighted in October near the approaches to New York Harbor.

The Gotham Whale group were on the American Princess New York-based whale watch vessel and spotted the whale 2.7 miles east of Sea Bright, N.J. 

The group's photographs allowed the New England Aquarium, who keep track of the highly endangered right whale population, to identify the whale as #4680, a 4-year-old juvenile male.

Whale #4680 had been last been reported July 7 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and at that time was not entangled in fishing gear.

The whale is the calf of Dragon, a 19-year-old female whale, who was last seen severely entangled off Nantucket with a buoy lodged in her mouth, according to the Aquarium. Dragon is not expected to have survived her entanglement.

“To have two members of the same right whale family become severely entangled in the same year highlights the entanglement threat that right whales are facing every day,” Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist with the Aquarium’s right whale team, said in a press release.

North Atlantic right whales got their name for the wrong reason. They were considered to be the "right" whales to hunted by whaling ships because they floated when they were killed. The species has never recovered to pre-whaling numbers. These whales have been protected since 1935, when the international prohibition on whaling went into effect. North Atlantic right whales have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since it was enacted in 1973, but have been experiencing a steady population decline for nearly a decade.

During the search for #4680, researchers spotted another North Atlantic right whale entangled in marine lines. It was spotted south of Nantucket on October 19, 2020, and identified as #3920 (AKA Cottontail), an 11-year-old male that was last spotted in the same general area in March of this year.

On February 28, 2021, officials confirmed that Cottontail #3920 was found dead 15 miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They collected biological samples, placed a tag on the whale to continue to track its location, and removed ropes entangling the animal. 

NOAA Fisheries the public that these majestic animals are exceedingly rare and endangered, with only 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining.

North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

More on Fishers and Their Return to New Jersey


Fisher photo by Josh More via Flickr Creative Commons

The Wild New Jersey website has excerpts from David Wheeler’s 2011 book Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State. One post is about a rare predator who has returned to New Jersey.

The excerpt is from a chapter about Charlie Kontos who was researching species who had once lived in New Jersey and were assumed to be gone (extirpated). They would include elk, fisher, and martens. Certainly, they are no elk wandering our woods, but Kontos thought that perhaps fishers or martens might still be here or might have returned since some of the forests had come back.

"Beaver, otter, black bear, and bobcat had returned to numbers near their previous levels. We need to reintroduce some of the other species we removed so long ago, Kontos thought. Cougars were fascinating – yet the public probably wasn’t ready to reintroduce such a top predator. But fishers? His academic advisors told him it could never happen. Like nature’s Don Quixote, Kontos was tilting at wildlife windmills.

But something told Kontos differently. The fisher – a tree-climbing, wolverine-like predator larger than a woodchuck – is most commonly found in the Adirondacks and Canada. Kontos felt certain it was already back in New Jersey. People just didn’t realize it yet.

He set up his first motion-trigger cameras in the remote wilds of northwestern New Jersey. The first six months produced not a single image of a fisher. Kontos was nearly ready to give up the dream when he uploaded the latest photo stills onto his laptop one morning. There it was – a clear, unambiguous photo. The fisher was back in New Jersey."

More at