Tag: Endangered Species

Issues affecting Bobcats in New Jersey

Article and drawing by Maya Fenyk, age 13

Hello! I am Lynx Rufus, but you can call me Blossom the Bobcat. I am New Jersey’s only native wildcat, and have been on New Jersey’s endangered species list since 1991. Sightings of me in the Lower Raritan Watershed and throughout the state are increasing, but are still rare.

You might think “Oh, bobcats must survive just fine. They are at the top of the food chain. They have no predators.” I am sorry to say, that’s just not true. Some of my predators are mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, owls, wolves and humans. I can’t say I blame them as I also prefer a carnivorous diet. My prey includes rabbits, rats, squirrels, ground-nesting birds, turkeys and even small or sick deer. But predator threats are not my biggest concern.

My species used to be abundant and flourishing in the coniferous and mixed forests of New Jersey until humans started deforesting our homes. Clearing land for retail, corporate and housing developments has a huge impact on my survival. And disruption of our habitat by pipelines has huge impacts on us and other endangered, threatened and special concern species. Other issues that affect me are hunting and being hit by cars. Getting hit by cars, development and pipeline installation are linked. Fragmentation of my habitat makes it hard for me to find shelter from the weather, cover for hunting and raising my babies, and forces me and my family to cross roads to find our dinner and safe spaces to hide. Please slow down through forested areas! When humans ruin my home, push me onto their roads, and drive too fast through the woods it really gets my angry purring going.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s Bobcat Recovery and The Nature Conservancy’s Bobcat Alley are both doing a great job restoring bobcats in New Jersey, but plans for pipelines and proposals to reduce protections under the state’s Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and the federal Clean Water Act put our population recovery into question.

I must head to my den to check on my kittens, but I want to let you humans know how important it is to keep track of the numbers of my species. To report a bobcat or other endangered species sighting, please contact NJDEP. Thanks! And I say that with a final meow!

NJDEP confirms bald eagle nest in Monroe

Article by Joe Sapia

On Tuesday, I was talking to Kathy Clark, a biologist who has long been involved with the bald eagle restoration project for the state Department of Environmental Protection, and she surprised me with a question:

Do you know about the bald eagle nest at Route 33 and Applegarth Road?

Wow, no, I did not.

“It’s probably been there for two years,” said Clark, who works for the Endangered and Nongame Species Program in DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.

But the state only found out about it in time to monitor the nest this year. And it fledged one chick! The nest is to appear in the state’s 2017 report, which will be out around the beginning of next year. Apparently, the nest will be listed as the “Upper Millstone” nest because of the Millstone River corridor in that area.

From 1970 to the early 1980s, New Jersey had only one confirmed nest — in the Delaware Bay area. In 2016, New Jersey had 172 nests. Of the 172, 150 had eggs, producing 216 fledglings.

The comeback of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” is attributable to the 1972 United States banning of DDT pesticide, which worked itself into the food chain and resulted in fragile eagle eggs. Also, in New Jersey, the DEP has done a considerable job with managing an eagles comeback.

Since the comeback era of eagles, Monroe has never had a confirmed nest. So, this is a rather big discovery – one proving there is a lot to save in Monroe environmentally and specifically in terms of open space. Otherwise, the nearest confirmed bald eagle nests to Monroe, based on the 2016 report, are in the areas of Cheesequake State Park/Old Bridge, East Brunswick/New Brunswick, Princeton, the Six Flags Great Adventure area, and Fort Dix. The state also believes there is a nest at the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area. Another nest is likely in the Old Bridge area, but the state lost track of that nesting pair in 2015.

Despite the comeback of the bald eagle, it remains in New Jersey an “endangered” breeder – that is, in immediate jeopardy as a breeder – and “threatened” in general – that is, in danger of becoming “endangered” if conditions deteriorate.

The Monroe nest will really be a test to see what the township and its residents are made of environmentally. I have not seen the nest, but know the property it is on. It is private property that looms for development. And the nest is incredibly close to existing development and we have seen how the Route 33-Applegarth Road intersection is developing.

As Clark noted, “It’s quite built-up.”

It is unknown why the eagles picked this spot, one that is not on a body of water, for example, for its preying on fish.

Clark said the eagles look for: “Is there a foraging area? Is there a tree that will support a nest in the long run?”

Or a utility tower, even.

The nests are huge, perhaps 4 or 5 feet in diameter, 2 to 4 feet deep – with the birds adding onto the nest each year. The largest documented eagle nest was 9-1/2 feet in diameter, 20 feet deep, weighing about 6,000 pounds, according to the National Eagle Center.

This nest is relatively close to Cranbury Lake, Hightstown Lake, Etra Lake, Perrineville Lake, and Jamesburg Lake, so there are bodies of water around.

Because eagle nests are so fragile – this one with the added development pressure around it – I am not giving out the exact location. One, there is no need to get close to the nest – think of it as the eagle’s bedroom, a private place. Two, knowing the nest is in the general area, people should have ample views of eagles flying over the area – and there are various wide-open views in the nest area. Plus, I suspect the sightings people are reporting – at Thompson Park, at the Monroe Library, around the Route 33-Applegarth Road area, one even on road-kill in downtown Jamesburg several days ago – are these birds. Three, there are severe federal penalties regarding human interaction with eagles. (It is illegal in general to even own an eagle feather.)

Mature eagles, about 30 inches in height, with a wingspan of almost 7 feet, are easy to spot – huge brown birds with white heads and white tail-feathers. But it takes eagles years to reach maturity, so they do not get the adult colors until they are 4- or 5-years-old.

What can we do?

One, if you know the location of the nest, do not publicize it.

Two, if you know the location of the nest, stay away from it – as in hundreds of feet away. Photo opportunities are better with flying eagles than nesting eagles.

Three, move road-kill off roadways. If the eagle decides to take advantage of road-kill, at least it will not get hit by a vehicle if the road-kill is off the roadway.

Four, think environmentally. Monroe’s new obsession with a magazine-photograph lawn around a McMansion on what was woods or farmland only a few years ago is ridiculous.

Five, put pressure on developers and government officials to go green.

Too bad the Township Council cut the open-space tax rate. It went from bringing in at estimated $1.8 million annually, down to an estimated $900,000. Had it stayed where it was, all that extra money would have come in, without a hike in taxes, for open space purchases.

As for the Monroe eagles, let them soar!

See https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle/id

See https://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/protect/index.html

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Meet Simon, the LRW’s Short-Nosed Sturgeon!

Drawing and article by Maya Fenyk (age 13)

Short-Nosed Sturgeon

Hi! I’m Acipenser Brevirostrum, but you can call me Simon the Sturgeon. I am here to tell you about the many challenges I face as a two year old, juvenile short nosed sturgeon in the Raritan River. To start, I’d like to say how glad I am to be a sturgeon in 2017, even though my species has been federally endangered since 1973. Being a sturgeon living 120-150 years ago was even worse. Between the years 1870 and 1900, sturgeon were hunted for meat, but especially prized for their eggs for caviar.

We were nearly driven to extinction! Sturgeon are still feeling the effects 120 years later. Our population is only 12,000 in the waters New York and New Jersey, which truth be told is not a lot as female sturgeons lay 40,000 to 200,000 eggs per year. Caviar and hunting weren’t the only obstacle we have had to swim around to be able to survive. Another issue we face is river pollution. As bottom feeders we have a subterminal snout, we use our snout to vacuum our food from the substrate into our protractile mouth. This means that we pick up a lot of pollutants off of the substrate that isn’t food. We deserve to at least eat our meals of crustaceans, clams, mussels, snails, marine worms, flounder and plant matter, without having to guzzle down chemicals for dessert!

My species is considered a living fossil. We have been around for longer than 12,000 years and have retained a lot of primitive features that were common way back then, like our subterminal mouth and our barbels, a whisker like sensory organ. We have been in this area for longer than humans have, we have survived the caviar craze, and even industrial dumping that was common in Raritan for decades. That dumping residue along with the new stuff that has made its way to the Raritan (like expired medication, fertilizers and pesticides). These can turn into Endocrine System Disruptors (E.S.D) which damage our bodies and can either kill us or make us very sick. A lot of the pollutants also contain cadmium, arsenic are heavy metals that are extremely toxic.

Some ways you can help us live our natural life span of 35-70 years is by making sure to protect us from non-point source pollution. (That’s the pollution that is in stormwater runoff like pesticides, fertilizers, road salts and motor oil). You can make sure that streams have adequate buffers of plants and streams, and cleaning up our habitat will help. Also please let the NJDEP know if you see us. We are brown- gray fish with a yellow underbelly with a short rounded snout, heterocercal tail and a subterminal mouth, that is 18-22 inches long. Now I have to be going I see some yummy algae floating by. Though it isn’t fast food, but it sure moves pretty quick. Simon the sturgeon splashes out!

Species of the Watershed – American Bittern

By Maya Fenyk (age 12), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor


M. Fenyk - American Bittern drawing

American Bittern, by Maya Fenyk (age 12)

Hi! I am Botaurus Lentiginosis but you can call me Anthony, the American Bittern. I live in thick marshy areas that are dense with vegetation, such as wetlands or freshwater marshes. Unfortunately humans have destroyed and drained most of my natural habitat. This act alone almost diminished my population to 0 throughout the first half of the 20th century. Sadly my species faces even more threats to our survival, such as hunting. Even now in the 21st century where we have a lot of environmentalists looking out for us, there still aren’t enough protective measures in place to take us off the Endangered Species list. We are a shy bird, hard to research, and the amount of American Bitterns in New Jersey is still unknown. Scientists aren’t even sure if our population is increasing or decreasing!

Not much can be done by the ordinary citizen to help bring back our population. I would ask, though, that you don’t hunt my species, and if you see me report the sighting to an environmental agency pronto. I also have a favor to ask of the big development companies. Stop developing on wetlands and other habitats of animals! The act of developing on our homes alone severely destroys our species and others alike. But it’s not just for my sake I am saying this, wetlands are a natural barrier between water and other habitats (of animals and humans). And wetlands decrease flooding risk, which could potentially save lives.

If you saw my species regularly, which I doubt since our feathers camouflage us into the reeds of our marshy habitat, you would say we are kind of cute. We are a stocky medium-sized wading bird that is striped white and brown on our heads, neck and upper part of our body for the rest we are light brown. But watch out, even though we are shy and prefer the flight response instead of fight if we are corned we will use our yellow spear-like bill! At each stage of our life cycle we are pretty cute too. We hatch at about 24 days and stay in the nest for 2 weeks but even after we fledge we remain dependent on our mom for food and shelter for another two weeks.

Humans, don’t worry. Even though I have a spear-like bill I won’t eat you. But still, don’t approach me. My species eats small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and insects. And even though I am the Lower Raritan Watershed’s resident American Bittern, my species can be found from Canada to Mexico! Thank you for reading about me today – and please make a pledge that you won’t damage my habitat further, right? Now excuse me I hear a great horned owl – I must hide! Kok-Kok-Kok. (that’s the sound of my call).

Death in the Tall Grass

Article and photos by Joe Mish

death of a wood turtle

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.

turtle-wood-turtle en route to lay eggs

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.

wood turtle nest

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 on highway

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.eggsmldsc_image 2 eggsmlturtleggsds pic 1

…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.

paintedturtleshell smllturtleshell turtleshell-2

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.



Meet Maya – the Green Floater Mussel!

by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor

Hello! I’m Maya, a green floater mussel (less commonly known as Lasmigona subviridis). I live in the Lower Raritan Watershed of New Jersey, but my relatives can be found as far south as the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina, and as far north as the Lawrence River Basin in New York. I am two years old, no longer a baby glochida relying on a host fish for food and safety. Now that I’m a juvenile I bury under the sediment at the bottom of the Raritan River for protection. My favorite foods are plankton and little bits of plant matter that drift through my filter.

Life cycle of the freshwater mussel

Green Floater Mussel Life Cycle (Image: Texas Parks & Wildlife)

I bet you are wondering what I look like. Well, I have a trapezoid bivalve and my outer shell is yellow and brown with many green streaks. My nacre (the inside, or lining of my shell) is white or blue and iridescent. I am also very small, just a little more than an inch now, but when I’m a grown up I’ll be almost 5 inches! It will take me another four years to get that big, and I can’t wait! Then I will be able to float around the Raritan River looking for food. Some of my relatives have lived until they were 100. If I’m lucky to live that long, I’ll be able to explore a lot of the River in my lifetime!

Green Floater Mussel

Green Floater Mussel (Image: New Jersey Conservation Foundation)


Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons why I might not live to be 3 years old let alone 100. I might be eaten by predators like raccoons, muskrats, bears, otters, heron, waterfowl, turtles or sturgeon. Or my species might go extinct for human-caused reasons. You careless humans are using my home as a trash can, dumping waste right into my river! You have also built a lot of dams, which had led to the removal of some of the host fish our baby glochida rely on to survive until we are juveniles.

Another huge issue is the introduction of foreign species like the Asian clam to our neighborhood. These non-native species compete with us for the same limited food supply and sometimes we don’t get enough to eat. Another problem I’m facing now as a juvenile is the erosion of the sediment on the bottom of the river. This sediment is supposed to be a cozy blanket of protection for me and friends, keeping us hidden from predators as we grow into adults. But erosion makes the silt move, threatening to reveal my hiding place. This erosion happens from things like building and farming, and the use of road salt on the roads in the winter. My corner of the Raritan River also has a history of people dumping not just sewage but toxic industrial waste. Yuck!

Unfortunately, a lot of the river habitat in the United States has been used as a trash can for centuries. Although the 1972 Clean Water Act has made a huge difference in reducing point source pollution, the erosion of sediment in my habitat contimues primarily because of non-point source (NPS) pollution. EVERYONE can do things to help stop NPS, and I would REALLY appreciate your help keeping me safe.

Some of the things you can do to help me survive include:

-Keep debris (litter, pet waste, leaves) out of street gutters and storm drains

-NEVER dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints or other household chemicals in storm drains or down the sink

-Eat less meat! Animal manure, and the impacts of agriculture (water, fertilizer and pesticide use) associated with animal feed, really does a number on aquatic ecosystems

-Landscape with native plants and plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticide

-Leave lawn clippings on your lawn

-Stabilize erosion-prone areas

-Use less water when showering, washing dishes or clothes, or brushing your teeth

-Drive less! Automobiles release a lot of pollution, which increases acid rain that ends up in my River

-Clean up after your pets!

Nice talking to you, but I have to hide quick! I just spotted a hungry sturgeon heading my way!

If you want to know more about me and how to protect my habitat check out this video by Maya and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership:

Click here to read more from the “Voices in the Watershed blog” series.