From: www.nj.com “Community Bulletin”
The Somerset County Regional Center Partnership, utilizing a grant from the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA), has announced that the 2016 Raritan River Rain Barrel Rebate Program for homeowners in Bridgewater, Raritan, and Somerville is accepting applications for the sixth year of the program.
The Rebate Program in intended to encourage residents to purchase and install rain barrels by offering rebates up to $200. Rebates are available in the amount of $50 for rain barrels that hold 40 to 70 gallons and $100 for those that hold more than 70 gallons. Rebates are available for multiple rain barrels that meet all criteria.
Residential homeowners within the Peters Brook Watershed who purchased and installed rain barrels after July 1, 2011 remain eligible for a rebate providing documentation is available. Residents outside the Watershed but within the boundaries of the three municipalities must have purchased the rain barrel after January 1, 2014. Sufficient documentation including proof of purchase and installation is required.
Rain barrels provide homeowners with financial and ecological advantages by conserving water, easing stream erosion by reducing the volume of runoff entering to streams and rivers during storms, and reducing pollutants accumulated from impervious surfaces, particularly roofs. In established urban areas like the Regional Center, rainwater runoff from hard surfaces flows directly into streams, depositing these pollutants.
Rain barrels must have a closed design or screen top; have a system to direct excess water away from the home’s foundation; have a spigot not higher that 3″ from the bottom of the barrel; and must be made of a sturdy material and installed on a solid level base. Homeowners must pledge to maintain the rain barrel for at least two years to be eligible for the rebate.
“A rain barrel is a simple and effective way of practicing environmental responsibility,” commented Troy Fischer, Chair of the Somerset County Regional Center Partnership. “Homeowners in the Regional Center communities have a unique opportunity to recoup their investment twice, once through the rebate and multiple times through re-use of rain water.”
Rebates will be awarded on a first come, first served basis, and funding is limited. Detailed information can be found on the Regional Center Partnership’s website at www.regionalcenterpartnership.org, by calling 908-730-0270 x223 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Somerset County Park Commission is supporting the 2016 Rebate Program by including information on the web site, www.somersetcountyparks.org, and in kiosks and at special events throughout the County park system.
By Elizabeth Dabundo and Heather Fenyk
Continuing the LRWP’s 2016 Natural Assets Mapping Speaker Series, on April 19 we welcomed Devin Gargan of AECOM and Nick Tufaro from the Middlesex County Office of Planning to discuss the topics of transportation and mobility assets in the Lower Raritan Watershed. Transportation is an important dimension of the concept of sustainability, and research into the environmental impacts of how we move to and from work, school and play involves everything from vehicle emissions to green supply chain management practices. Developing transportation systems for the future in a way that minimizes environmental impacts and maximizes environmental sustainability requires close study of the reciprocal influence between the physical environment and transport infrastructures, including careful analysis of geographical location, topography, geological structure, climate, hydrology, soil, natural vegetation and animal life.
Encouraging the use of mass transit through Transit Oriented Development, and encouraging non-motorized transportation through municipal planning that includes “Complete Streets” and a commitment to connectivity of pedestrian and bicycle networks, are both ways to reduce the negative environmental impacts of vehicular travel. Of course, however, there are also significant environmental impacts associated with the installation of new rail lines and tunnels. We discussed issues of sustainability as well as the potential environmental impacts of expanding our transportation infrastructure with Mr. Gargan and Mr. Tufaro. It was an extremely informative and interesting morning!
First, Devin Gargan of AECOM spoke about a recent planning exercise conducted by the Federal Rail Administration on the future of the Northeast Corridor Rail Line. (The completed report “NEC Future: A Rail Investment Plan for the Northeast Corridor” can be accessed here: http://www.necfuture.com/). The Northeast Corridor cuts through the Lower Raritan Watershed, connecting Boston to Washington DC. It spans 457 miles, carries 2,200 daily trains, and 750,000 daily passengers.
AECOM is working with the NEC, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, communities along the rail line and others to upgrade aging infrastructure and improve reliability, capacity, performance, and resiliency of passenger rail service on the NEC for both intercity and regional trips, while promoting environmental sustainability and economic growth. Mr. Gargan presented on three alternatives to maintain, grow, or transform NEC rail service. In January the LRWP submitted written comments to AECOM highlighting the potential environmental impacts of these alternatives to the Raritan River and the Lower Raritan Watershed. While we acknowledged the environmental benefits of reducing vehicular miles travelled through expanded rail service, we emphasized the need to involve environmental stakeholders in Tier 2 Service Development Planning for any of the alternatives.
NEC Future Alternative 3, Lower Raritan Watershed. Image: AECOM
Alternative 1 maintains the role of rail as it is today, keeping pace w/ demographic change.
Alternative 2 grows the role of rail with service to new markets and more frequent intercity and regional trains looking at connecting markets. In central NJ Alternative 2 proposes a new rail segment that begins in North Brunswick and runs parallel to the NEC all the way to Seacaucus. This new segment includes creation of a tunnel running underneath the Raritan River between New Brunswick and Highland Park through to Metuchen and Edison.
Alternative 3 builds on Alternative 2 to transform the role of rail in the region with a second spine supporting faster trips and service to new markets, including an extension through North Brunswick.
AECOM is currently conducting Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for each alternative, and plans to announce the preferred alternative in summer 2016 with Servive Development Plan exercises to being in 2017.
After Mr. Gargan’s very informative presentation, Nick Tufaro spoke about Middlesex County’s involvement with NJTransit and Together North Jersey’s “Planning Transit Friendly Places” projects. Planning Transit Friendly Places centers on Transit Oriented Development ((TOD) which, by its very nature, requires active collaboration among elected officials, transit planners, housing department professionals, private developers, philanthropic, leaders, community development financial institutions, and community advocates. Land use and transportation plays a vital role in nearly all other aspects of a community, like housing, business environment, energy and climate, and health and safety, so it is important to plan these transit friendly places to improve upon the community as a whole.
Middlesex Greenway Action Plan. Image: Middlesex County Office of Planning
Mr. Tufaro highlighted examples of Transit Oriented Development throughout the Lower Raritan Watershed, including the Middlesex Greenway Extension and Middlesex Greenway Access Plan, a large project that involves conversion of a former rail line into many miles of bicycle trails and park space for public use. Perth Amboy’s Bay City Transit District Strategy focused around the train station on Smith Street, and the Woodbridge-Rahway Regional Access to the Arts project. Other notable mobility and recreation assets projects in the Lower Raritan Watershed include the Raritan Riverwalk Trail in Perth Amboy, the Helmetta Pond Palling Trail, the Capik Nature Preserve Trail in Sayreville, and the Highland Park Meadows Trail. The LRWP is organizing field trips to several of these sites this year – please plan to join us for our first such outing – a picnic and tour of the Highland Park Meadows on June 2!
Rutgers Day is this Saturday April 30th! Stop by to spin the “Wheel of the Raritan” and to chat with the LRWP. This year we are sharing a table with Rutgers watershed management students and will be set-up in front of Blake Hall around Passion Puddle (Cook/Douglass Campus in New Brunswick).
Rutgers Day – held across all Rutgers campuses – starts at 10 am & runs until 4 pm. It is our favorite day of the year: friends, music, food, exhibits, tons of opportunities to learn new things – so much fun! Hope to see you Saturday!
Article and photos by Joe Mish
The osprey from Maine searches the clear water of the South Branch for a meal as she takes a break from her 2,500 mile journey north. The letters, DV, can be seen on the blue band attached to her right leg.
The warmth from the mid-morning sun felt good on my back as I paddled the low, clear water of the South Branch. The cloudless sky, directly above, was a darker shade of blue, its intensity pure and endless, and mesmerizing. It compelled me, as the devil’s advocate, to search for just a single speck to interrupt its perfection.
Suddenly a shadow sped across the water, momentarily stealing the sunlight. I instinctively looked up to catch a glimpse of an osprey circling above. The white head, streaked with a dark brown stripe, was instantly recognizable. The osprey proceeded downriver by making tight overlapping circles in its search for fish. It isn’t too hard to imagine some of these super intelligent predators realize a canoe is herding the fish ahead of it. When the osprey was about 150 yards downstream it tucked its wings and dove into foot deep water to come up with a large white sucker held fast in its black talons. The bird oriented the position of the fish to cut wind resistance as it flew out of sight.
Ospreys are ever present on the South Branch, typically from early spring to mid autumn. They feed primarily on live fish. I see them most often eating white suckers, a fish large enough to compensate for the energy spent to catch it.
Osprey on a riverside perch, dining on fresh fish during the 2014 NJ opening day of trout season.
Earlier this April, I noticed an osprey perched in the same location day after day. This wasn’t typical of the local ospreys that ranged far and wide in their constant search for food. I was able to get a few photos and noticed a blue band on the right leg and a silver band on the left. I reported the band to the USGS website, BandReports@usgs.gov, to find this osprey was banded in Portland, Maine, July 27th, 2011 while it was still in the nest, too young to fly.
Osprey migrate from the northeast, where they breed, to central and South America each fall, a trip of more than 2,500 miles. This bird was apparently on its way back to Maine and stopped to rest. Osprey, like other migratory birds, are very loyal to nest sites and return to the same location with great predictability.
Consider our visiting osprey will be 5 years old this July, and has 25,000 plus, frequent flyer miles on its account, you have to recoil in amazement, wonder and respect for its strength and tenacity. As osprey can live 25 to 30 years or more, the mileage really adds up.
Our Maine visitor, a female, as evidenced by her speckled décolletage, has a bright and long future and hopefully will stop along the South Branch again on her journey to and from Central America. No doubt other osprey are flying to northern breeding grounds through NJ, so the opportunity to spot a banded bird along the North and South Branch are quite good.
The reporting of banded birds is critical to wildlife research as it helps to unravel the mystery of migration, the location of breeding grounds, longevity, and other variables that impact the health and status of local and overall wildlife populations.
New Jersey is now using red bands for osprey and from Ben Wurst at conservewildlifenj.org, as per USGS; “Green anodized bands are being used in NY. Purple anodized bands in MD and VA. Red anodized bands (like ours, but with alpha code A&B 00-99) in PA (permit is expired now). Blue anodized bands in MA, ME & Ontario.”
The preponderance of osprey nests in NJ are along the Delaware River and Atlantic shoreline, its estuaries, bays and rivers, so keep an eye out for banded birds and report them to BandReports@usgs.gov . The researchers are as excited about a band report as you and will send a certificate of appreciation with relevant data about your bird. Many species of birds are banded, so don’t forget our eagles, hawks and songbirds. Opportunities abound as NJ is on a major flyway, the rivers being main exit and entrance ramps to our backyard.
*Joe sent us an update to this post, a photo of the exact location in Maine where the osprey was born. Photo courtesy of Lauren Gilpatrick at the Biodiversity Research Institute, Portland Maine.
See, http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/ospreycam/ for more details about NJ osprey project and live osprey cam.
Special thanks to Robert Somes, Kathy Clark and Ben Wurst for their enthusiastic help and support.
Robert Somes, Senior Zoologist
NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
Endangered and Nongame Species Program
NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
Endangered and Nongame Species Program,
Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager
New Jersey Osprey Project
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.
By: Heather Fenyk
Part of the fun of reading comic books when I was a kid was coming across ads for the absurd: Monster Size Monsters! X-Ray Vision Glasses! Kung-fu Sandals! (AUTHENTIC! Worn for Centuries by Oriental Fighting Masters!) But my absolute favorite adverts included invitations to “Own A Bowl Full of Happiness.” For just 49¢ plus $2.99 shipping, you could raise your own “trainable” insta-pet, the Sea Monkey.
Sea-Monkey ad from 1970’s comic book
Sea Monkeys fall into a general group of organisms including brine shrimp and “fairy shrimp” that, with the proper mix of nutrients and chemicals, can be stored in dry form and then “revived” with a dose of plain tap water.
Recent rains have nourished our New Jersey swamps and freshwater marshes, transforming seeming terra firma into vernal or ephemeral ponds. These ponds – or more specifically their “fairy shrimp” inhabitants – get me out in the field looking for Sea Monkeys.
The descriptive terms for these freshwater wetland types — “vernal” and “ephemeral” — refers to their habit of appearing in spring and being short-lived or temporary. Many vernal ponds in New Jersey and elsewhere were not protected during the post-World War II building boom. But with the passage of the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Action in 1987, all freshwater wetlands – including these temporary wetlands – were finally granted protection. Fairy shrimp benefit directly from these protection measures.
A common species of fairy shrimp in our New Jersey vernal ponds is Eubranchipus vernalis. It grows between 0.5 and 1.5 inches in length, and other than its forked tail and large, stalked, compound eyes, its most obvious features are the 11 pairs of feathery appendages it uses for swimming, breathing and feeding. It collects algae, bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, and detritus on the feather-like structures and transfers that material to its mouth by other appendages. In addition, it will scavenge dead tadpoles, mollusks and amphibian eggs.
Eubranchipus vernalis. Image from www.bugguide.net
The shrimp’s reproductive strategy is fascinating. After mating, the male dies. The females are easily distinguished from males by the egg-filled brood sac on their abdomen, and the sac contains one of two types of fertilized eggs depending on the density of males in the pond. A low density of males results in thin-shelled “summer eggs,” which have a very short incubation period and hatch inside the brood sac. A high density of males results in thick-shelled “winter eggs” that eventually fall to the bottom of the pond and remain there even when the pond dries out. They will hatch the following spring, when the pond refills, and they have an amazing capacity to withstand extreme elements, including temperatures that are probably never encountered in nature: from a high of just below boiling (210 degrees) to a low extreme of -310 degrees.
The powdered thick-walled eggs of fairy shrimp are the type that my sister Julie purchased in 1978 from the back of an Archie Comic Book. It is this egg stage that enables the fairy shrimp to be distributed to other potential vernal ponds. Fairy shrimp eggs are tiny, dry granules that can be blown by the wind or picked up on the feet of animals and carried to other vernal ponds. These thick-walled, dry eggs remain viable even after 15 years, and the eggs are supposed to hatch 30 hours after being submerged in water.
Sadly, Julie’s order of Sea Monkeys never hatched. While she was perhaps permanently scarred by being duped into purchasing a package of powdered brine shrimp, I remain suckered in by the advertising and happily spend spring weekends exploring New Jersey’s vernal pools looking for my own Sea Monkeys to train.
Happy National Sea Monkey Day!
Article and photos by Joe Mish
A slow journey that began more than a million years before, ended at the tip of a mower blade spinning at 3,200 rpm. This wood turtle, listed as ‘threatened’ in New Jersey, was killed in late May, while on its way to lay eggs.
May and June have been the peak of the great turtle migration where females, laden with eggs, leave the protection of quiet places to journey far and wide to dig holes and bury their eggs. Incubation takes about 70 days, more or less, and nests are left unattended.
All species, whether aquatic, terrestrial or both, like the wood turtle, seek dry land to lay eggs. Each has a preference for where and when they dig nests, though individual variation is the rule.
A wood turtle on its way out of the river where it hibernated to lay eggs in the gravel soil near railroad tracks.
Wood turtles prefer gravel laden soil on high ground, as found along railroad tracks, roadsides and driveways.
Roadways have become the killing fields for these slow moving reptiles where large blocks of undisturbed habitat are segmented by roads. A preserved island of land may be celebrated as a conservation success but the lack of linear greenways to bridge these islands is a death knell for many small creatures as it exposes them to predation and roadkill.
Eastern box turtle pauses mid journey across a New Jersey roadway, in a false retreat that offers no protection form speeding vehicles.
Turtles are creatures of habit and maintain consistent pathways from year to year. So that eastern box turtle you saw crossing over the double yellow line last year will be crossing the road in the same place this nesting season.
Mowing tall grass during nesting season is a more insidious cause of death for turtles and grassland nesting birds. Many farmers and landowners alter their mowing schedule to prevent killing fawns and game birds; turtles and grassland nesting birds are coincidental beneficiaries.
State conservation organizations advocate mowing early in the season and then not again until August, late July at the earliest.
A driver may possibly avoid killing a turtle on a paved road as it is somewhat visible, while a turtle in tall grass is a foregone conclusion when a mower runs through a field. The fractured shell of the wood turtle pictured, was found on a path mowed through an overgrown pasture near the South Branch.
Females may travel half a mile from wet areas to lay eggs, so please be careful. As the wood turtle is considered, “threatened “, and known to populate our area, special caution should be taken. May 29, 2015, a female wood turtle was observed digging a nest within inches of a long paved private drive, in hard packed gravel. This would be the last place you’d ever expect a turtle to dig, as you would be hard pressed with a pick and shovel to penetrate that ground. The hole was about 5 inches deep and 4 inches wide.
An awareness of turtles and their nest sites are a prerequisite to protecting them. As the eggs are laid in a small hole, covered and left unattended, you’d never know you were endangering a nest. Many eggs don’t hatch or are destroyed by predators. Then imagine an inch long hatchling trying to traverse a quarter mile through fields and open ground in an effort to reach water, bog or swamp. Survivors are few and far between.
…you will find collapsed leathery egg shells scattered about; though they won’t look like egg shells. Imagine an egg shell make of cloth and inwardly collapsed to appear as a scrap of white material.
With poor odds for survival, it begs at least awareness on our part to, “first, do no harm”, and avoid destroying nests or mulching hatchlings and adults with a mower.
Turtles remain in their essential form that traces back to prehistoric times. Their evolution is an unrivaled success, even more astounding when their slow lumbering movements and low reproduction rate are considered.
Some interesting anatomical features reveal the secrets hidden behind the shell. See how the spinal cord is integral to the carapace or top shell in this painted turtle. The box turtle shell shows the spine as well as the clavicle. The thin plates that line the outer surface of the shell are attached much like a fingernail.
The easiest way to find a turtle nest is to look for the open holes in late summer and early fall. Either the nests were naturally opened by emerging turtlettes or dug out by raiding predators. In either case you will find collapsed leathery egg shells scattered about; though they won’t look like egg shells. Imagine an egg shell make of cloth and inwardly collapsed to appear as a scrap of white material. Last year I found 6 nests, one, just outside my back door. I had never seen a nest before but once I knew what to look for, they seemed to be everywhere.
The Unami, one of the three matrilineal clans of the Lenape indians, who lived in central New Jersey, were known as the Turtle Clan. Treating the turtle with respect, keeps the clan of the turtle alive and well in the land it has known since the last glaciers receded and the land emerged from the sea. Consider, the turtle had arrived at it final evolutionary form long before humans. As new to the neighborhood, we might look to the turtle for guidance as we would a centenarian, to seek advice on how to live a long life in alignment and peace with our ever changing environment.
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, hiswordpress blog. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.
The LRWP is excited to be a part of “Citizen Science Monitoring for Pathogen Indicators in the NY-NJ Harbor” – a grant secured by NY-NJ Baykeeper to monitor local waters for pathogens in Raritan Bay. Funding for training and sample analysis is provided by the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program. Volunteers are needed for summer monitoring, with training to start in May.
Volunteer civic scientists from the LRWP and Bayshore Regional Watershed Council will help the NY-NJ Baykeeper collect water samples this summer at sites along the shores of Raritan Bay & Sandy Hook Bay. The LRWP and Raritan Riverkeeper will coordinate sampling at the three sites in Perth Amboy identified in this map. Bayshore Regional will cover the remaining sites. Training will start in May and will involve field, lab and data management procedures. We will follow strict quality assurance and quality control procedures approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Our goals with this project are to generate high quality, credible data on the health of our waterways, suitable for a wide variety of users. This information can help government agencies and the public make decisions about water quality improvements, habitat restoration, and recreational use. Volunteer monitors will gain important science skills and experiences while strengthening their connection with, and care of, local resources.
We need volunteers (YOU!!!) to help. Do you have time this summer to collect water samples so we can learn about our River? Do you want to gain a new perspective on the Raritan and have a lot of fun? Do you want to take your environmental stewardship to a new level?
To volunteer please e-mail Heather hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org
(This opportunity is an especially good resume builder – perfect for college students!)
By Elizabeth Dabundo, LRWP Green Infrastructure & Planning Intern
In the first of the LRWP’s Natural Asset Mapping speaker series we hosted two wonderful speakers, JeanMarie Hartman and Jessica Jahre, on the topics of the importance of riparian areas and floodplains.
Wetlands of the Lower Raritan Watershed, Map by Jeanine Kopec-Zanghi
Rutgers Professor JeanMarie Hartman, Director of the Hartman Lab of Watershed Systems Studies, spoke on the importance of preserving riparian areas around streams as “buffer zones” for stream and habitat protection. She explained that the best type of “green infrastructure” for flood protection is the kind that doesn’t have to be engineered or installed – it is the natural “infrastructure” already found in forests and wetlands. It is best to keep a 300-foot buffer zone around streams in order to keep the stream itself, its inhabitants, and the surrounding watershed healthy. Professor Hartman explained these conclusions as almost common sense, but provided findings from an ongoing study of watershed management in Lower Raritan Watershed streams (Bound Brook and Lawrence Brook) that demonstrate a positive relationship between forest and wetland cover and biological water quality.
The study measured the presence of three groups of macroinvertebrates (aquatic animals) in the streams to determine stream health. Certain macroinvertebrates are more or less sensitive to environmental pollutants, and they can be grouped thusly:
-Pollution Intolerant (mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies)
-Pollution Sensitive (dragonflies, damselflies)
-Pollution Tolerant (aquatic worms, midge larvae)
The presence of more pollution intolerant or pollution sensitive macros in a stream signifies that the stream and its waters are unimpaired, since they cannot live within polluted waters. These are often found in shaded streams with low levels of fine sediments, which not surprisingly are often streams with significant riparian buffers.
Next, Jessica Jahre of Princeton Hydro spoke on the importance of healthy floodplains. Floodplains are the areas surrounding streams and rivers that flood periodically, relating to risk. We often hear of 100-year or 500-year floods, but recently, we have seen more frequent and more intense flooding in the Lower Raritan Watershed. Floodplains are expanding, and more people are being put at risk for residing in or near the floodplain. Ms. Jahre explained that a healthy floodplain is integral for mitigating flood risk and damage in our communities, and she explained how she works with flood claims data to identify the areas most at risk.
It is important for a floodplain to be healthy in order to not only reduce instances of flooding, but also to improve water quality, recharge aquifers, and create wildlife habitat. It is often the case that floodplains have to be enhanced from current degraded conditions. This process includes reforesting or naturalizing (removal of development) floodplains, reconnecting the stream to the floodplain, lowering the floodplain through re-grading, or hydrologic restoration (eliminating abandoned agricultural ditches, removing dams). The problem we face in New Jersey and in many other densely populated areas is that development often comes right up to or is centered around rivers or streams, which only become more prone to flooding as the floodplain becomes more impaired through development and deforestation. In order to minimize future risks from flooding, we must enhance and improve our floodplains statewide.
Susan Edmunds identifying riparian areas of interest
Thank you to our wonderful speakers and attendees. Next up in the speaker series are presentations on Lower Raritan Watershed recreational assets and neighborhood, cultural, and historic assets. Please join us on March 15 from 9:30am-12:00pm at the Middlesex County Administration Building, 75 Bayard Street, New Brunswick.
Speaker themes for 2016 include natural resource assets, cultural and historic assets, transportation and mobility assets, seeing brownfields as community assets for restoration, and economic assets, innovation, & regional planning. We are very excited for the opportunity to have state and regional experts on these topics join us for these presentations, and we hope you will join us as well! Please see our events page for more information.
by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor
Hello! I am Myosis Sodalis, but you can call me Clementine the Indiana Bat. I am an endangered species, which means that I am likely to become extinct. Because of my endangered status, my habitat is considered “critical.” This means that special efforts are supposed to be taken to protect the important characteristics of where I live. I live in caves and roosts throughout the central part of the United States and the East Coast, including parts of New Jersey and the Lower Raritan Watershed.
Clementine, the Indiana Bat (drawing by Maya Fenyk)
Some people are scared of me (and of bats in general), but they shouldn’t be. Bats do a lot of work for humans! We are great at pest control, pollination and spreading seeds. Farmers especially appreciate what we do. And if you think about how many pesky mosquitos we eat every night you will start to appreciate us, too! Even though we help out in so many ways there are a lot of issues that make it hard for me and my friends to survive and to do our important jobs. There are lots of threats to our survival – like development near caves and old mines (the places that we stay during hibernation), deforestation of our summer roosts, the use of pesticides, and White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is really scary – it is a fungus that grows on our bodies that leads to starvation and to our freezing to death. Did you know that there are things that YOU can do to help protect me and my habitat? There are things you can do that will make it so that my friends and I can survive and continue to do the pest removal and farming work that helps you humans out!
Before I tell you how you can help out, you should first know a few things about me, like where I live and what I look like. I’m a relatively small bat, only 3.5 inches long. But I have a ginormous wingspan of 10.5 inches! I have black eyes, big ears, a pink nose and very short toe hairs. I also have very strong ridged calcar (the cartilage between my wing joints). I really like to find secret and protected areas to stay with the rest of my maternity colony during the winter months. The maternity colonies – in abandoned mines or caves – are wonderful happy places. I have a lot of friends there. I’m a mommy bat, and the other mommy bats and I work together to keep our babies safe and fed. Unfortunately, over the years a lot of development near caves and old mines has made it really hard for me and my friends to meet together in the large mines or caves that allow us to share the protections of maternity colonies. This means that I often have to find isolated caves to live in, and when I go out to hunt food I have to leave my babies alone without my friends to help me watch over them. As a result my babies end up as easy prey for predators including snakes, owls and raccoons. Development has also affected our summer habitat.
When my kids become juveniles they need time outside of the cave to mature and to learn to hunt bugs and to live on their own. But deforestation and removal of our trees has led to fewer and fewer places for us to safely spend our summers. I do have one favorite summer home on the banks of the Raritan River in New Brunswick – I know that there are protections in place there that keep municipal maintenance crews out of my home during the crucial summer months. Thanks to attention to state laws no one comes in to bother me and my kids!
Indiana Bat Habitat in New Brunswick, NJ (image: Heather Fenyk)
Even though we might not have humans coming directly into our summer homes we still have to deal with poisoned food. That’s right – the White Nose Syndrome I told you about is most directly linked to eating bugs that are sick from pesticides that you humans put on your fields and lawns. WNS creates a fungus that makes my hair fall out, and that covers my nose and makes it hard to eat. And when my hair falls out I might freeze during the winter! Other ways that WNS is spread is by coming into contact with gear that humans carry from cave to cave when they explore our homes.
There are things that you can do to help protect me. These include protecting my habitat, including my winter and summer roosts. My summer roost is in the inside of a dead oak so it is very important that you don’t cut down dead trees unless they are diseased. Not only could that decomposing tree in your backyard be MY home, it is also important to the health of the soil to have the decomposing plant matter enrich the soil. And keep my summer roost clean! But only clean-up during winter months (November through March) so you don’t disturb me while I’m roosting. Please respect my winter roost, too. My pups are experiencing their first hibernacula in our winter roost – a cave. My pups are trying to conserve energy for when it becomes warmer and are very vulnerable if I have to go out to hunt for bugs to feed them. You should know not to come into my cave, and if you do at least clean your gear before you do because WNS can be spread from cave to cave on the gear of humans.
Please clean up my habitat! (Image: Heather Fenyk)
Other ways you can help save my species is to stop using pesticides in your garden, stop cutting down trees and leave the wild as it should be. It’s great to meet you – please look for me at twilight when I’m out hunting bugs. The Lower Raritan Watershed is an especially good place to find me during the summers – it is the middle ground for my long range from Michigan to North Carolina. And if you see me or any of my friends please contact the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership to let them know. They are working to document Indiana Bat sightings to help to protect our habitat. Now please excuse me. I must go prepare to move for it is the time of year where we are readying our juveniles to head to our summer roost. Clementine the Indiana Bat signing off!
Articles and Photos by Joe Mish
A cooper’s hawk flies off after landing in a holly tree where it jumped from branch to branch in an effort to flush a hiding songbird into the open.
Midwinter is a great time to catch a glimpse of local wildlife, especially hawks, as these large birds stand in dramatic contrast to the gray-brown leafless trees in which they perch.
The most common hawk in our region is the red-tailed hawk. Comparatively large, the adults are recognized by the bright russet colored tail. This is the only hawk whose tail is not banded or bordered by a contrasting color. The young birds have barred tail feathers, alternating russet and white, with no distinct borders.
Easy to spot at highway speeds, the light breast and faded red tail stand out like a beacon when perched in trees along the roadway. Locally, I often see these hawks atop telephone poles near pastures and flood plains where they scan the open area for small mammals and ducks. Some red tails specialize in killing gray squirrels, a worthy meal for such a large bird whose energy expenditure in the winter would hardly be covered with mice or voles.
During a winter freeze when most of the river is solid ice, there are always open sections where ducks concentrate in the water and on the ice. A red tail will make an easy meal, especially of the smaller wood duck, flushing it into the air or catching it as it naps on the ice.
Last winter I watched an eagle feeding on a wood duck, speculation was the eagle took the duck from a red tail as eagles are notorious for stealing game from ospreys and hawks.
Muskrats are also high on the midwinter menu as the males often travel during the day over ice and snow as they seek food and females to breed.
A hawk requires a large nest and now is the time to scan the treetops and high tension towers for these stick built structures. One local hawk has adapted to a giant oak in someone’s backyard bordering a cluster of recently constructed homes. I have seen several local nests situated high in sycamore trees along the river. Hawk nests are relatively flat and large, not to be confused with squirrel nests which are numerous and quite round, generally built at a lower level, among thinner branches. Red tails will also use ledges as a base for their nests.
The ultimate adaptation belongs to the red tail known as, Pale Male, whose life is well documented in film, media and print as he has mated and bred several generations of hawks among the skyscrapers in mid Manhattan. His age is estimated at 24 years. Here is one site dedicated to Pale Male.
Marsh hawks share the sky with red tails and characteristically conduct ground hugging flights across overgrown fields, flood plains and grasslands and have an ability to hover in place. These hawks are slightly smaller than a red tail with dark brown coloration and a boldly banded tail. The key to identifying a marsh hawk is the bright white rump patch. These hawks are common, though not often seen and are known to migrate while red tails remain as full time residents.
Aside from red tails, the most often seen hawks are the coopers and sharp-shinned hawks. The coopers being slightly larger than the sharp shinned. Both hawks feed on songbirds and small rodents. As each is similarly marked, identification is always controversial. More often than not, someone will submit a photo of a hawk to a website asking if it is a coopers or sharp-shinned and the replies are often split, each summarizing why they made their choice. I see the larger coopers preferring doves and rabbits while the sharp shinned has left piles of bluebird, indigo bunting and flicker feathers about the yard.
Lastly, look for the diminutive sparrow hawk, now known as the kestrel, typically perched on telephone poles and wires along open fields. This bird is about the size of a large dove, feeds on insects and small rodents. Kestrels are known for hovering before they dive on their prey and this stationary flight is a good identifying characteristic. The males are brilliantly marked with blue, shades of russet, black and white. At first glance a perched kestrel will appear as a songbird so be sure to give a second look. They are considered threatened in New Jersey and a nest box program and monitoring effort is having a positive effect on their recovery. The birds are easily baited and trapped for tagging and data collection.
This is the winter of the hawk and hardly a commute is possible without being evaluated by a feathered predator. They can see you, can you see them?
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.