Salem River Wildlife Management Area

Suzanne and I left Cape May County well before sunrise for our bird surveys at Salem River Wildlife Management Area. We’re working at three sites with funding from a number of sources, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corporate Wetland Restoration Program, and the Wildlife Management Institute, and DuPont. Of course, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife is our main partner on these projects.

Stop 1 (or stop 2, if you count Wawa) was the former dairy site right beside the Salem River in Pilesgrove Township. Shortly after we arrived, we flushed a female turkey and her young—one of whom flew up and landed, looking confused, in a tree. There’s a big kingbird hangout up the hill, near the entrance to the large open field, and we see lots of Fowler’s toads and plenty of mammal scat, too. 193[1]

We’ve seen a lot of the major grassland birds in the large field—kestrels, grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, and more. This site already has a nice grassland component, but we’re working with NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife to expand the size of the grassland. Many grassland species require very large grassland areas to nest, and here we have an opportunity to manage more than 80 acres for grassland-dependent wildlife. Bobwhite quail should benefit from this project as well. 153[1]

Stop 2 was a former commercial tree nursery that is now part of the WMA. I love this spot because it’s so strange—creeping junipers, ornamental cherries, arborvitae, and a whole mishmash of native landscaping trees or their cultivars keep company with species they wouldn’t normally hang out with. This is one natural area where the normal plant associations do not apply, and as long as the plants in question are not invasive, that can make a site visit different and fun.

Common milkweed in flowerOf course, some of them are highly invasive, and for those ones we’re working on reining them in. We just did an enormous job removing about 15 acres of autumn olive from the fields, and now we’re following up to keep the autumn olive and honeysuckle from taking the fields right back. My favorite part of this stop this week was watching six monarch caterpillars do a number on a cluster of 14 milkweed plants. Some of the plants had been completely stripped of leaves and some leaves were just half-eaten. These were very hungry caterpillars. 168[1]

We made a couple more stops that day—to another WMA site that we are converting to native grassland, and to a large riparian buffer project on private property. All the sites look good, all will have more work done to them, and their habitat value will just keep getting better and better.

All photos taken at the Salem River Wildlife Management Area by Jean Lynch.

Posted by Jean Lynch, Stewardship Project Director, South Region