By Jean Lynch, Photos by Jean Lynch
Today marked NJ Audubon’s third Just flip ‘em!® walk on open beaches in the North Cape May area. Since we’re just a few days past Saturday’s full moon, the high and low tides have been pretty extreme, and large numbers of horseshoe crabs have been spawning.
We got on the beach around 7:15 a.m. When we looked south, we saw dozens of horseshoe crabs making their way back down to the water, and a local resident was still busy turning them over. So we headed north, where hundreds of horseshoe crabs were still stranded upside down. We quickly covered about a mile and a half of beach, walking, counting, and flipping crabs. We reached a natural ending point when we got to a beach that was already being cleared by three other residents.
In May and June of each year, especially around the times of the full moon, beachgoers on the Delaware Bay may notice large numbers of horseshoe crabs that have been flipped over on their backs as the tide goes out. Horseshoe crabs that are unable to right themselves risk death from exposure to extreme heat, from desiccation, or from predators such as gulls. By flipping the horseshoe crabs over and allowing them to walk back down to the water, a person strolling on the beach can allow a horseshoe crab to continue its life cycle. It takes about ten years for a horseshoe crab to reach maturity and be able to reproduce; very few of those eggs will ever become adult horseshoe crabs. Saving a mature horseshoe crab is a fun and easy step that beachgoers can take to contribute to conservation at the Delaware Bay.
The Just flip ‘em!® campaign was started in 1998 by Dover, Delaware-based ERDG, a non-profit wildlife conservation organization whose primary focus is the conservation of the world’s four remaining horseshoe crab species. The correct way to flip a horseshoe crab is to push it over from its side, to avoid injuring the tail. They need the tail for navigation, and the tail is the main tool that they have for turning themselves back over on their own.
The Delaware Bay is the world’s largest spawning ground for horseshoe crabs and one of the most significant stopover sites worldwide for migrating shorebirds, which rely on the horseshoe crab’s eggs to fuel them on their long migration north. Due mainly to overharvesting for bait in the 1980s through the early 2000s, Delaware Bay horseshoe crab populations have seen steep declines, and with them so have populations of migrating shorebirds. A moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting for bait has been in effect in New Jersey since 2008.
By the end of today’s walk, we had flipped 764 crabs! One of them had been tagged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and we submitted its location online. Soon we’ll find out where that crab was originally tagged and released.
If you are walking on the beach and come across an upside-down horseshoe crab, you can help too! Please follow this guidance:
1. Turn over the horseshoe crab gently by its side. Don't hold it by the tail, as this could injure the horseshoe crab. They look a little scary, but they don't bite!
2. NJ state law forbids the removal of horseshoe crabs or their parts from the beach.
3. If you see shorebirds on the beach or near the horseshoe crabs, give them plenty of room and avoid scaring them away.
And have fun giving our local Delaware Bay wildlife a hand.
Whether or not you own a one-acre or 200-acre wooded lot, you may have experienced significant forest disturbance as a result of Hurricane Sandy. While catastrophic events such as high winds, ice storms or fire are a natural part of shaping our forests, as a landowner it can be difficult to accept the post-storm forest and the urge to clean up can be overwhelming. To a degree, debris removal, removing partially fallen trees, and filling in big holes in the ground can aid in forest restoration. NJ Audubon suggests considering a combination of clean-up and “hands-off” to achieve a more natural environment that provides new wildlife habitat and encourages vegetation re-growth.
Recommendation 1: Retain Some Coarse Woody Debris
Coarse woody debris (CWD) includes fallen trees and large branches that are on the forest floor as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Some amount of CWD should be left as is in the forest as it has both wildlife and nutritive value in terms of organic matter inputs and energy/nutrient flows. CWD has habitat benefits for a wide variety of wildlife from insects to large mammals by serving as nesting, denning, foraging or cover habitat. Accordingly, CWD of various sizes (diameter and length) and at various stages of decay are an important part of the forest component and supporting a variety of wildlife.
The exact amount of retained woody debris is difficult to quantify and not well understood. In natural landscapes, CWD may be clumped or randomly distributed, typical of forests impacted by a range of events from isolated disease to catastrophic disturbances such as wind throw. Leaving a small amount of CWD in each storm impacted area would be a good way to mimic the natural presentation of CWD in the forest.
Recommendation 2: Retain Some Brush Piles
Where CWD would be individual logs and large branches lying on the forest floor, brush piles would be areas of smaller branches and storm debris that are piled or clumped together. Brush piles are important wildlife habitat providing nesting and cover, particularly to small mammals and birds. In a natural forest environment “brush piles” may be the result of variable sized branches fallen from trees. Like CWD, they may be randomly distributed about the forest. Creating small brush piles creates microhabitat that is not only important to wildlife, but provides some level of protection for new vegetation.
Recommendation 3: Retention of Pit and Mound topography
A hallmark of old, natural forests is the presence of pit and mound topography. This type of typography is the result of uprooted trees, creating both a pit where the root system formerly was, and a mound where the root system is now exposed. Similar to CWD, important wildlife habitat can be created as a result of uprooted trees. The pit, depending on soil conditions, may retain water, creating a vernal pool, ideal for amphibians and macroinvertebrates. Additionally, the mounds are important sites for tree regeneration. Small seedlings may begin to appear on the mound and, given the elevation off the forest floor, these seedlings are somewhat protected from predation thus allowing this new age class of trees to develop in the forest. Rather than cutting all trees such that the root mass falls back, pit and mound topography can be retained in combination with retention of CWD.
Recommendation 4: Replanting with Compatible Native Species
Looking to the benefit of a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Sandy, we now have an opportunity to create some diversity of age classes in the forest. A diverse age class is important not only for overall forest health, but provides a more heterogeneous habitat that can support a wider diversity of wildlife dependent on trees of different densities and sizes. A forest with this structure also encourages growth of native saplings. Perhaps consider increasing forest diversity with compatible native vegetation of various sizes to assist in forest restoration. If planting in small canopy gaps (two or three trees in size) tree species that are at least tolerant of partial shade should be used. Soil and moisture conditions are also important when evaluating what species are appropriate to replant. For example, in small gaps with moist soils, black gum and swamp white oak might be good choices, while hickory and white oak could be planted in drier locations. For larger openings where more light is available, tulip poplar, red oak, black or pin oak might be added into the mix. In addition understory vegetation, such as maple-leaf viburnum, spice bush or witch-hazel may be nice additions to the forest. Plantings can be done in conjunction with retention of CWD, brush piles and pit and mound topography to help provide some level of protection from browse.
Recommendation 5: Maintaining Important Ecological Components
Some of the trees that Sandy affected the most in NJ forests were coniferous, many of which served an important role for a variety of wildlife. In southern New Jersey, pockets of the already rare Atlantic White Cedar (AWC) were toppled during the storm. AWC is considered a globally rare forest type that harbors some very particular wildlife. Ensuring that these forests regenerate with cedar, and not other species such as red maple, will be critical to the continued existence of the animals and insects that depend on AWC for some part of their life cycle. In the hardwood dominated forests of northern New Jersey, hundreds of acres of evergreens were affected by the storm. While the evergreens here only compromise a small percentage of the overall forest, they do provide an element of diversity that would otherwise be lacking. Many of the affected trees are within plantations of non-indigenous species that were established during the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps. While some might argue that a species such as Norway spruce is not native to New Jersey, and is therefore no great loss because it wasn’t supposed to be here, it is important to remember that these evergreens still provide critical habitat for some wildlife species. For example, Norway spruce stands many be the last stronghold for red squirrel populations in north jersey, and many owls prefer nesting in spruce in lieu of nearby hardwoods. Given the fact that for a variety of reasons we continue to see declines in the presence of native conifers that have historically been part of the northern NJ forests, it is extremely important that we work to restore some of these losses. In the case of some non-native plantations blown over in the storm, we are presented with an opportunity to restore them with an evergreen species that is better suited to our area and still maintain that diversity.
New Jersey Audubon’s Stewardship staff have been working to restore maritime forest in Cape May Point State Park since 2011, and much of the success can be attributed to the hard work of dedicated volunteers. On a cold, rainy Saturday in April, a group of volunteers joined NJ Audubon staff and state park staff in removing garlic mustard and other non-native invasive plants from the Seagrove Avenue restoration site. The group’s hard work, which resulted in a dump truck full of invasive plants, is critical to the restoration of this unique ecosystem.
The Cape May Peninsula is known around the world for its migratory bird concentrations while also providing habitat for many rare species, including the state endangered Cope’s Gray treefrog. Maritime forests found on the peninsula are unique plant communities comprising of coastal dune woodlands and forested uplands, which provide vital resources for the Peninsula’s migrant and resident wildlife. In Cape May, many of these forests have become degraded due to invasive plants that threaten biodiversity and ecosystem structure. For this restoration project, NJ Audubon and Cape May Point State Park aim to improve ecosystem health by removing invasive plants while preserving mature trees and encouraging new native growth. A combination of hand weeding, forestry mowing, and herbicide application has been implemented, a strategy that has shown to be effective in combating invasive plants. This integration of techniques has already shown great success, including regeneration of native black cherry, sassafras, and aster.
For this particular volunteer event, the team focused on hand pulling garlic mustard, a widespread invasive plant that produces abundant seeds in its second year. This plant is also known to change the composition of the soil by interfering with mycorrhizal fungi, or fungi of the root zone, which help many plants uptake essential minerals. These characteristics help garlic mustard out-compete native species, leading to limited plant diversity on the forest floor. Pulling these plants before they go to seed can help decrease garlic mustard and increase native regeneration, biodiversity, and resources for many wildlife species.
Although this is a long-term project that requires careful monitoring and diligence, the positive results seen each year are a testament to the hard work performed by our dedicated volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering for NJ Audubon on this project, please contact Kristen Meistrell at (609) 861-1608 ext. 29 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This project has been made possible through funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Atlantic City Electric, and the William Penn Foundation.
--Written by Jean Lynch, photos by Jean Lynch
Moore's Beach is a classic Delaware Bayshore site-a mile and a half long access road, flanked by salt marsh, leads you to a narrow beach with almost a mile of shoreline. This site is used by native wildlife such as diamondback terrapins, horseshoe crabs, shorebirds, raptors, and laughing gulls; in fact, it used to be one of the Bayshore's most heavily used shorebird stopover sites during spring migration. The land is owned by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and is officially part of Heislerville Wildlife Management Area.
Despite its historical condition, the site is marred by tons of rubble from years ago, a legacy of a community defending itself against storm surges and rising seas. When the land was acquired by the state, the homes and the majority of the infrastructure were removed. Years later the beach still retains a large amount of rubble, including cinder blocks, drain pipes, stone, brick, asphalt, pilings, and other debris. Not only does the debris detract from the experience of visiting Moore’s Beach, but it is also suspected of interfering with the natural dynamics of sand dispersion on the beach, creating obstacles to horseshoe crab movement. Hurricane Sandy eroded the beach further, reducing the amount of quality available nesting and foraging habitat for crabs and birds. The mile and a half-long access road has also become degraded over time, with potholes visible from satellite photos.
View this as the past. For more than a year, NJ Audubon and several partners have been developing the plan to improve this habitat for horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird foraging, and to improve visitor access. Now, thanks in part to attention and resources brought in response to Hurricane Sandy, restoration of the beach is underway.
As of this writing, the road is being patched to allow heavy equipment to reach the beach. Once the road has been adequately prepared, equipment will be brought onto the beach to conduct large-scale rubble removal. We hope to have the rubble removal completed by the end of April, in time for this year’s shorebird migration! Work not completed by that time, including sand replenishment, will be undertaken after the migration and bird breeding season are over. Other improvements we are striving for include interpretive signs, a viewing platform, parking and other enhancements for visitors and wildlife.
Our partners include the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, owners of the site, and LJ Niles Associates LLC. Larry Niles and Dianne Daly deserve special recognition for their key leadership roles on the project. Funding in support of the project has been provided by the DuPont Clear into the Future Program, the State of New Jersey Natural Resource Damages Fund, the Dodge Recovery Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.
Readers should be aware that access to Moore’s Beach is normally restricted from early May to early June to protect migrating shorebirds.
As Spring arrives the fields and woodlands begin to wake-up and burst with the emergence of plant life to color the landscape and welcome in the wildlife from the long cold winter. And with the arrival of the new buds, shoots and flowers comes opportunity for us humans to embrace the outdoors and our primal roots and forage!
NJ Audubon believes in the concept of foraging because it is an excellent way to engage the public and educate them about the importance of natural resource protection, habitat and agriculture. Knowing where your food comes from, linking the food to the land, creates better education opportunities for the public to recognize how conservation efforts protect soil, water, wildlife and other natural resources
Where our food comes from and how it is grown (be it on a farm or in nature) has a profound effect on our landscapes, our health, our wildlife and the communities where we live. And how we steward and manage our lands and understand the connections these plants have on an ecosystem is the key to a meaningful, healthy, and enjoyable existence.
However, not all plants may be suitable to forage. Just because it appears in an edible wild plant book, cookbook or website or are being offered for sale for consumption does not always make that plant fair game to forage. Obviously plants that appear in Federal and State Endangered or Threatened species list should not be foraged, but what about other native plants that serve ecological niches in ecosystems. Some of these plants might seem “abundant” in a particular preserve or area that has not yet been disturbed by man but those plants also fill very special functions on the landscape that have direct impact on other species and help maintain ecological balance in the landscape. In particular, I refer to certain native plants called Spring ephemerals.
Spring ephemerals are found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, usually close to the ground in woodlands and floodplains. Examples of spring ephemerals in the Northeast include: Trout lily (Erythronium americanum), Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), Cut-leaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum), and various trilliums (Trillium spp.) to name a few.
Spring ephemerals have a unique growing strategy. They begin to show them themselves above ground during a very small window where the trees do not yet have leaves and they can receiver maximum sunlight. In this short timeframe of a few weeks out of the entire year, the spring ephemeral must grow, leaf-out, flower, be pollinated, produce seeds and die back. By May or June when the trees and shrubs overhead have fully leafed-out and block access to the sunlight the Spring ephemerals have retreated underground until they emerge again the following year.
Spring ephemerals serve many ecological purposes including providing vital early spring food sources for many beneficial insects, when food sources are limited. This is of particular importance to various essential pollinators such as bees, bee flies and butterflies. According to the National Academy of Sciences, close to 75% of the flowering plants on earth rely to some degree on pollinators in order to set seed or fruit. From these plants comes one-third of humankind's food and even greater proportion of the food for much of our wildlife. When you consider how limited early spring food sources are in the landscape for these pollinators, one may re-think foraging for a spring ephemeral, no matter if it just taking a few or many.
Another function spring ephemerals serve is being the main subject of a process called myrmecochory. Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants. Spring ephemeral seeds have fatty external appendages called eliaosomes. These elaiosomes attract ants that will carry the seeds back to their nests to feed their young. However once the eliaosmes are eaten the remaining seeds have now been transported to another location to start to germinate to grow another generation of spring ephemeral.
Reports have show that a single ant colony may collect as many as a thousand seeds over a season. However, although many seeds are collected and transported, the transportation of the seed on average in not that far, only on average of about 6 feet. Because offspring remain so local (unlike plants dispersed by wind, larger animals, birds), removal of plants from an area is major threat to the survival of spring ephemerals because once these plants are gone from the forest, it is rare that they return because the seed source is removed
Spring ephemerals are declining in many areas due to development (urbanization and sprawl) climate change, spread of invasive species and deer browse.
Because of their fragile beauty, spring ephemerals are also tempting to being picked for their flowers. Disturbance to these plants, especially digging them out, can severely disturb or kill the slow-growing rootstocks of the ones that remain on the landscape.
So leave these plants and enjoy their fragile beauty in nature where they belong. If you need to pick, then be responsible and choose some lovely but robust invasive plants or noxious weeds which are not as connected to the underlying landscape ecosystem and which are aggressively prolific. Remember, sustainable management of natural resources is essential to make food systems sustainable.
On April 9th, 2012 New Jersey Audubon (NJA) became the first organization in the State of New Jersey to become Forest Stewardship Council certified. Now under supervision of the Rainforest Alliance, NJA can provide FSC certification to qualifying NJ landowners. Lands certified under the Forest Stewardship Council are held to a higher standard of land management. NJA has already certified 13,000 forested acres in New Jersey, including both public and private landowners. For more on FSC qualifications and specifics you can refer to an earlier blog post by Stewardship Project Coordinator Jeremy Caggiano. (http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipProgam/StewardshipBlog/tabid/2006/entryid/68/New-Jersey-Audubon-Earns-Forest-Stewardship-Council-FSC-Group-Certificate.aspx)
In order for us to become FSC certified, the Rainforest Alliance had to perform an extensive five day assessment of all enrolled properties. After a successful completion of that first assessment in 2012, NJA was awarded an FSC Group Certificate. On January 16th, 2013 we underwent our second annual FSC audit. Over the course of one day, the NJA forestry staff was questioned about both past and future forest management activities to ensure cooperation with all FSC guidelines.
The Rainforest Alliance dispatched an auditor from coastal Maine and we convened at the historic Green Pond office on the Newark Watershed. Being from rural Maine, he had a few remarks about the six lane highways and strip malls he had to endure along the journey from Newark International Airport. However, once he arrived at Green Pond, a 250 year old stone house tucked into tall pines and situated on an expansive wetland, he felt more at home.
One of the main goals of the meeting was to prove we were in compliance with a few minor non-conformities that were addressed at last year’s audit. These minor non-conformities are instances where NJA has not met or adequately documented a standard required by the Forest Stewardship Council. These items need to be addressed and corrected within one year to uphold our FSC group certificate. One non-conformity was the illegal trespass in the form of unauthorized vehicle use on some properties, which we addressed by erecting more signage and gates along access points and woods roads. Another required us to carefully map out power line easements, which pass through FSC certified properties but are excluded from the certification. One interesting non-conformity that was addressed was the fact the several of our properties include pine and spruce plantations, some of which are made up of non-native species, like Norway spruce. The Forest Stewardship Council does not allow management of exotic species under their certificate, but in some locations the native trees are suffering due to pests and climate change. Through discussions we were able to work out a compromise in which we may attempt to re-establish alternate species that is adapted to a warmer climate and can provide similar habitat for wildlife. In places where the native evergreens are dying back, such as Eastern hemlock, this strategy may protect critical habitat. All of our non-conformities from 2012 were addressed and have come back into compliance. No new non-conformities were found this year.
After we wrapped up in the office, we headed out to the field to visit a few of our Forest Stewardship Council certified properties in the area. First we visited a Newark Watershed location in Oak Ridge where a large swath of evergreen plantation had been blown down in Hurricane Sandy. Here we discussed our plan to attempt to salvage the fallen timber, which will reduce the fire hazard as well as allow regeneration of a new forest. We also visited NJA’s Janet Van Gelder Wildlife Sanctuary, a proposed location for an evergreen planting to attempt to reforest an area where Eastern Hemlocks are dying back.
The second audit was completed with great success and was an excellent accomplishment for New Jersey Audubon’s ecological forestry project. All the non-conformances from 2012 were corrected and no new infractions on FSC requirements were found. We will continue to maintain the ecological integrity of New Jersey’s forestlands through stewardship and certification. Those interested in certification are encouraged to contact New Jersey Audubon at Wattles Stewardship Center in Port Murray at (908) 837 – 9570.
By: Liz O’Rourke and Lisa Dunne – New Jersey Audubon Forestry Technicians
As the days get longer and the warmer temperatures begin to appear, so do the many familiar sounds of spring, which include the songs of returning migrant birds from their wintering grounds. With some birds traveling thousands of tiresome miles to reach their destination, it is important to provide these species with a welcoming haven to rest and rejuvenate themselves. It is equally important to provide these species with quality living areas, habitat or homes that they expect to find after their long journeys. When creating and providing homes and habitat superior quality, detail and perfection should be your standards.
These are the standards that the Trump Organization demands throughout its projects and as a recent member of New Jersey Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), these are the standards they are implementing for their habitat restoration project at the Trump National Golf Club located in Bedminster, NJ.
Trump National has been working diligently over the winter months to removal non-native invasive vegetation from the property to prepare for native vegetation seeding and plantings this spring. By establishing these habitat meadows around the course, consisting of native wildflowers and warm-season grasses, as well as planting native trees and shrubs around wetland and other riparian zones on the property, the course’s value to migratory birds and pollinators will be significantly enhanced. "It's pretty exciting to see the variety of migrants already coming through the property", said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. "Ring-necked Ducks and Hooded Merganser have already arrived and are using the on-site water features."
Trump staff, with assistance from NJ Audubon and the USFWS, have placed numerous bird nesting boxes on site in anticipation of the spring migrants. Turning a negative into a positive many of the downed trees felled on site from hurricane Sandy, in particular red cedar, were salvaged by Trump staff and utilized for posts for the kestrel nest boxes that have been placed on site.
The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America and it has recently been placed on NJ's Threatened Species list." said Parke. "One of the main reasons for its decline is the lack of habitat and scarcity of nest sites. Being a secondary cavity nester, it does not excavate its own nest cavity, the kestrel requires a hole in a tree, like an abandoned woodpecker hole." added Parke. "However, this little falcon will readily utilize man-made nest boxes. So with the nest boxes in place overlooking the open areas of the course, as well as the grassland restoration areas, I guess you can say that the American Kestrel will now also experience luxury living at a Trump property."
Photos by John Parke and B. Dalton
Chatsworth, Burlington County, NJ – Pine Island Cranberry Co. (PICC), a leader in cranberry production in NJ, has joined NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), which is a unique group of 18 New Jersey companies united behind a common goal of environmental sustainability and responsibility in NJ. By becoming a member of the Council, PICC has the distinction to be the first agricultural production company member in the Council's five year existence. Not only does PICC bring an agricultural perspective to the Council, but its membership also brings with it the largest stewardship project to date in the Council. Specifically, a 14,000-acre project site involving large scale forest stewardship work in the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands. This project is also the first forest stewardship project to be part of the Council membership.
A 122-year-old family owned cranberry business, Pine Island Cranberry has been managing and performing sustainable forestry practices for several years under a State approved Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP). The FSP emphasizes long-term active forest management on a landscape scale, while enhancing a wide range of forest resources, wildlife habitat, and ecosystem services. The plan, which was developed by NJ State Approved Forester Bob Williams of Land Dimensions Engineering in Glassboro NJ, utilizes a variety of forestry prescriptions and techniques, including prescribed burning, to control invasive vegetation and stimulate native plant growth. The forest stewardship work being conducted at PICC promotes forest regeneration, health, and vigor, while also providing critical habitat for various wildlife species and unique plants.
“We are truly excited to welcome Pine Island Cranberry Company into the Corporate Stewardship Council!" said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. "The work Pine Island Cranberry Company is doing through forest stewardship is exemplary. We commend Pine Island for being a model business that understands that the management of natural resources makes both economic and ecological sense. Thus, they are providing quality forest and farm products which help support the NJ economy, while protecting the future of New Jersey’s critical habitat and farmland. Meaningful and sustainable conservation is difficult to achieve without the knowledge and experience of people, like Bill Haines of Pine Island and his forester Bob Williams, who live and work on the land.” Parke added.
“Pine Island Cranberry is proud to join the NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council. Our pride in growing high-quality, nutritious cranberries is matched by our love and respect for the land and our people. We are honored to be affiliated with an organization that shares our core values.” said Bill Haines, Jr., owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Company. For more information about Pine Island Cranberry Company please visit http://www.picranberry.com/
South Branch Wildlife Management Area, Somerset/Hunterdon Counties, N.J. – Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) initiated its first habitat restoration project as part of the company’s participation in NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), at the South Branch Wildlife Management Area. Volunteering to remove and recycle nearly a mile of old wire, 18 transformers and 40 utility poles left on site by the former owner, JCP&L provided this key improvement to the critical habitat at this 422-acre site that has been undergoing large scale restoration efforts over the last four years.
Identified as one of the most important in the region for protecting nesting populations of threatened and endangered grassland birds, the South Branch Wildlife Management Area has become a model site for how both wildlife and agriculture can coexist. Working with a local farmer, a unique partnership between the Hunterdon County Department of Parks and Recreation, the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, and New Jersey Audubon was formed in 2006 with a goal of managing the site for grassland habitat and grassland dependent species. Consequently, portions of this site have since been transformed from scrubby invasive plant habitat to native grasses that provide critical habitat for a number of rare species including Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Savannah Sparrows.
"Grassland birds require large, open treeless areas of grass and sedge meadow. One issue at the South Branch WMA site was that the old utility wires and poles remaining on site were attracting Brown-headed Cowbirds." said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. "Cowbirds were a big concern in that they are nest parasites, laying eggs in other birds’ nests for the hosts to raise as their own. The wires and poles at the South Branch WMA were used by cowbirds as vantage points to observe the activity of host birds and identify locations of the nests of these rare grassland species. Grassland birds typically require large contiguous areas of grassland with few trees or perch sites for species such as cowbirds and hawks. One of the keys to discouraging cowbird parasitism or controlling populations of Brown-headed Cowbirds, is to remove perch sites, especially within or surrounding the grassland habitat. This is exactly what JCP&L has done and it has improved the habitat value at the South Branch WMA immensely! Over the next several breeding seasons we expect to see many more grassland birds successfully raise young. New Jersey Audubon and the other partners involved in the project cannot thank JCP&L enough for this work and their commitment to help steward this habitat." added Parke.
A few utility poles were strategically left standing to allow for nest boxes to be attached to them. JCP&L assisted with the installation of the nest boxes specific for other grassland dependent birds that are also state listed species, specifically American Kestrel and Barn Owl. Both species are cavity nesters and require large expanses of open grassland to forage, which South Branch WMA provides.
“The South Branch Wildlife Management Area provides a much needed grassland habitat and is a model for how partnerships can help protect the environment,” said JCP&L President, Don Lynch. “Removing the poles, wires and transformers will help ensure that the birds have a natural habitat. We are proud to support the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Corporate Stewardship Council and its partners in their efforts in restoring the site and look forward to partnering in other projects.”
You read on the Stewardship Blog, about looking at nature differently - now visit our sanctuaries and tell us what you see. Post your photos to our Flickr page. Report your bird observations in NJ eBird too. Winter snows and upcoming spring growth offer excellent opportunities to see a wide variety of wildlife at New Jersey Audubon's wildlife sanctuaries. Visitors such as yourself are critical to helping us record the various species found on site, from grey squirrels to bobcats, to mink such as the one here, found at our Wattles Stewardship Center on Januray 12, 2013. Visit our sanctuaries page, pick a spot and take a hike. This time of year animals can not only be identified by visual encounters, but by their tracks. Here are some links to get you started. Click on each below and be routed to the site.
NJ Audubon Sanctuaries
Animal Track Identification
Photo by John Parke