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First Bobwhite Quail Nests of 2017 Discovered at Pine Barrens Study Site

New Jersey Audubon has been steadfastly working, with its project collaborators (Tall Timbers Research Station, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) over the past three years to study translocation as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of Bobwhite Quail back in New Jersey.  In wildlife conservation,  the term ‘Translocation’ means the capture, transport and release/introduce a species from one area to another with the ultimate goals of species population persistence and resilience at the release area.  In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite Quail was once a common species, however it is now believed to be functionally extinct in the state, thus translocation offers an option to “jump-start” the species on the road to recovery in its former home in NJ.

1st hatched quail nest of 2017Today, with researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail Translocation Study Site in Chatsworth, New Jersey Audubon has confirmed the hatching of two Bobwhite Quail nests.  

Twenty chicks were confirmed to have left the nest and were seen with adults. bobwhite quail chicks 

More exciting news came from the field today, as three more active nests (i.e. quail incubating eggs) were discovered at the study site, bringing the total nests for the season to 11.  

One of the hatchings was a milestone for the project; it marked the first double clutch of a translocated bird in New Jersey over the three-year project. 

Answer the callIt also marked the first time for the project in which a male successfully incubated the clutch to fruition. This particular nest had an unfortunate situation where the female was depredated during her second clutch egg laying – hence only 9 eggs were laid (typically Bobwhite typically lay between 12 and 16 eggs).  However the male finished out the incubation and successfully hatched 8 of the 9 eggs. 

Reproductive success is a critical component of the translocation project,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “We are very excited to confirm the successful hatching of a double clutch nest, and a male successfully incubating to completion, because it reflects the quality of habitat on site that was achieved through the management.  By performing active management on the land a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging allows for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.”

Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative 

Photos by Phil Coppola and Gylla MacGregor 

How to Correctly Distinguish Invasive Tree of Heaven from Native Sumac

Invasive plant species are an ever-present problem for land managers and conservationists. Properly managing invasive species is a task that many within the conservation world deal with on a regular basis. Being able to properly identify invasive species of plants is crucial so effective action can be taken to remove or manage the identified species. Conversely it is also very important to be able to correctly identify beneficial native plants that may look very similar to an invasive plant species. Properly distinguishing “lookalikes” ensures that native plants are not mistakenly removed or chemically treated during management projects.

One of the best examples of such lookalikes is Ainlanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) and two native sumacs to the region, Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) and Rhus glabra (smooth sumac).  At a quick glance Tree of Heaven and native sumac may seem indistinguishable, or at least confusing, but upon closer inspection there are several key characteristics to look for that will quickly distinguish the invasive Ailanthus from the native sumacs.

If you can reach the leaves or a stem of the tree and break off a leaf or small twig you will be able to decipher which plant you have encountered. Ailanthus has a very pungent aroma at a broken section of a twig or crushed leaf. Some describe it as rancid peanut butter or burnt rubber. Sumac on the other hand does not have a very pungent odor and the leaves will have an average, mild vegetative scent. 

Each plants’ leaves are also different, which can be observed on the leaflets (both 

species have compound leaves where there are numerous leaflets along one leaf stem). The leaflets of both sumacs are serrated or toothed while Ailanthus has almost entirely smooth leaflet edges (sumac on the left, ailanthus on the right in the picture to the right).


 Also, Ailanthus leaflets contain one or more glands that can be found at the base of the leaflet. These glands are not present on sumac leaves.

One last distinguishing trait of each plant can be observed in late summer or early fall and that is the seed or fruit cluster. If the tree has finished flowering and produced fruit or seed, this is a great way to quickly identify the tree, even if at a distance. Sumacs have a panicle of flowers that produces a deep red cluster of fuzzy fruits which can easily persist into winter.  Ailanthus produces samaras that hang in clusters and turn a dull orange/brown color.

Using these characteristics (barring winter months when seeds and leaves may not be present) it can be very easy, even for an average property owner to distinguish Ailanthus from our native sumacs. Don’t rush to judgment though, look closely for the key characteristics. 


Ailanthus seeds

Native sumac offers a great food source and habitat when found in natural areas and NJ Audubon encourages property owners to leave it if found. Ailanthus on the other hand should be removed using appropriate techniques, see http://wiki.bugwood.org/Ailanthus_altissima for removal guidance.

 

 (Photo Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgie, bugwood.org)

 Proper plant identification is one of the many skillsets NJ Audubon staff use to ensure that we are undertaking stewardship activities and managing habitat to produce the most positive ecological results. 

 Text and all photos except Ailanthus seeds by Ryan Hasko.

Bobwhite Nest for Third Consecutive Year at NJA Pine Barren Study Site

The first quail nest of 2017 was discovered by NJA’s researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Study Site in Chatsworth, Burlington County. The nest, as well as1st 2017 nest at PI (phil Coppola) three more discovered in June, marks the third consecutive year of successful breeding by the translocated birds; further evidence of a turning tide in Bobwhite Quail recovery in New Jersey.

“We have seen a substantial decline in quail and yet, with proper habitat management, we believe we can bring them back, which is why we are bringing them in to reestablish their population,” explained John Cecil, Vice President for Stewardship, NJA.

2017 marks the third year of release of wild Bobwhite captured from Georgia and translocated to the Pine Island Quail flush at PIC (photo by John Parke)Cranberry study site in Chatsworth, NJ.  Since the spring release, the birds have been tracked via radio telemetry by researchers from the University of Delaware contracted by NJA.  One exciting element to the radio tracking this season  is that four 2016 released quail (that still have working radio collars) have been confirmed to have paired up with this year’s released birds! Additionally, one uncollared bird, which indicates an offspring from previous years, has also paired up with a 2017 released bird!

“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Answer the callStewardship Project Director - North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings and successfully nest is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management. We are excited by the progress of the project, the hard work of the project partners and collaborators and eager to see Bobwhite thrive again in New Jersey,” he added.

ANSWER THE CALL and be part of this historic reintroduction and recovery of this beloved iconic species and support the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative! Go to NJ Audubon's Bobwhite Quail webpage: https://community.njaudubon.org/pages/quail-restoration-initiative-donation-page

Photos by Phil Coppola and John Parke

Snagged – Dead Wood For Wildlife

As I mowed the lawn in my front yard a commotion of chirps and squawks filled the air above me as I passed under a “snag” tree Pileated chicks in snag (Parke)that I had purposely left standing upon the tree’s demise. As I stared up the trunk, scanning each hole and crevice for movement that would identify the producer of the loud vocalizations, two small feathery heads with long pointed beaks popped out of one of the cavities and looked down at me. “Pileated Woodpecker chicks!” I excitedly exclaimed, recognizing the white and black facial coloration, red cap and large size. With that, the adult Pileated flew in to be greeted by the two young chicks with a resounding series of calls of “feed me’'” from the hollow of the snag!

The world-renowned forest ecologist Dr. Jerry Franklin, says: "A dead tree is more alive than a live tree." Alive with wildlife that is!!  In North American over 85 species of birds, 35 of which occur in the Northeast, use cavities in snags. Additionally, snags also provide essential habitat for other species including insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Screech owl in hole of snag in Morris Couty (PARKE)A snag tree (or cavity tree or wildlife tree), is a standing dead or dying tree, that typically exhibits leafless branches, loose bark, or exposed sapwood and rot. Snags typically develop “cavities” either naturally or cavities are by wildlife. Specifically, snags often attract insects to the decaying wood, thus also attracting other wildlife (including woodpeckers) to forage on the insects and ultimately create excavation holes that can be used by them or other species for nesting, shelter, roosting, perches and forage storage areas (i.e. caches).

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service “The best snags for cavity-nesters are those with hard sapwood (between bark) and decayed heartwood (inner core) making them hard on the outside and soft in the middle. double-crested cormorants perched in snags in Merrill Creek ReservoirThe hard sapwood provides protection from predators and insulation against weather, while the softened heartwood allows easy excavation deep into the snag. Many birds avoid very soft snags for nesting because extremely soft wood can be wet or crumbly.” Some ways to recognize a tree that is on its way to becoming a snag include: sap runs, dead main limbs, excessive fungi on the bark, splits in the trunk, large fissures or hollows, and large areas of decaying bark.  All trees of all sizes in forests of various age-classes can be potential snags and each tree species and the location of the snag in the landscape will have different uses for different wildlife. But generally, the value of a snag tree increases as its size increases. Snags that are around shorelines or even in water features, (i.e. lakes, ponds streams, rivers), add important woody debris to aquatic habitat as well as provide unobstructed views for perching and foraging . 

Snags are an important natural habitat component to wildlife and can be a “one-stop” shop for the survival of certain species. A snag tree can remain standing in place for many years and although snags have many wildlife benefits, it is important to consider the location of a snag when considering leaving it where it is standing.   As the snag tree decays it  could pose a Raccoon in snaghazard to life and property if it fell. Snags should not be retained in high activity public places.

Through forest stewardship planning and implementation, snags/den trees, and other coarse woody debris for wildlife habitat can be incorporated into forest property management. As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), and through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is seeking out landowners and farmers in the Highlands Region and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region (especially along the Delaware Bayshore) of the State for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forest stewardship, as well as farmland, conservation practices.  These conservation practices when implemented can help provide critical habitat for wildlife, as well as, contribute to improving water quality in the region.  Additionally, depending on your property’s location within those regions, you may be eligible for additional funding or free restoration related materials, especially for riparian and wetland restorations. For more information on the NJ Audubon Delaware River Watershed Initiative related funding opportunities contact John Parke (john.parke@njaudubon.org) for the Highlands Region and Kristen Meistrell ( kristen.meistrell@njaudubon.org)  in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region (southern NJ).

All photos by John Parke

References
DeGraaf, R. 1978. New life from dead trees. Natl. Wild. 16(4):28-31

Scott, V. E., K. E. Evans, D. R. Patton and C. P. Stone. 1977. Cavity-nesting birds of North American forest. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture., Forest Service. Agric. Handbook No. 553. 510 pp.

Proactive Forestry to Counter Loss of Ash Trees

Forests in New Jersey have experienced the negative impacts of pathogens, pests, and diseases over the years, many of which target EAB holes in Ashspecific species or genus of trees. One pest that has arrived over the last three years in New Jersey is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). First identified in Somerset county in 2014, it has now spread to over ten counties throughout the state. EAB is an invasive insect that carries out its life cycle solely in ash trees, ultimately killing the tree within four to five years. One of the most recently documented occurrences of EAB was identified by New Jersey Audubon staff in the spring of 2017 at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren county.

This occurrence only helps to remind land managers of the inevitable: EAB is here and will continue to have significant impacts on our forested landscapes. Realizing the potential for widespread loss of ash stands on its own properties as well as others, NJ Audubon staff have begun utilizing forestry practices to proactively prepare for the impending forest changes.

merrill creek forestry cutNJ Audubon currently utilizes forestry practices on a variety of its lands to mimic now-limited natural disturbances (i.e. fire, beaver impact, storm damage, flooding), which creates a mosaic of different sized and aged forest stands over time. These variations in species, age composition, and size classes helps create the necessary diversity and structure to support a multitude of wildlife that utilize various stages of a forest’s life-cycle.

Recently, NJ Audubon staff completed forestry work on a forest stand at the Wattles Stewardship Center property and two stands at Merrill Creek Reservoir. Both sites were prepped by mowing existing woody invasive plant species throughout the stands. Future herbicide treatments of invasive plant regrowth will promote the successful reestablishment of native vegetation.

After completion of invasive plant species control, harvesting of ash trees was completed at Merrill Creek, which was already confirmed to be in the beginning stages of an EAB infestation. Select walnut trees were also harvested to open the canopy and because of their allelopathic characteristic. This is a trait where a plant can release biochemicals into the soil which hinders growth or germination of other plants; including desirable species. Ash and walnut were also selected against at the Wattles site, although no timber was harvested. At the Wattles Stewardship Center, the IMG_1051technique of girdling was used to kill unwanted walnuts and most ash were left with the expectation of die-off within 5-7 years.

With the forestry work completed, NJ Audubon staff recognized that future regeneration, if left to naturally occur, would be a high percentage of ash and walnut returning from an existing seed bank. To ensure forest regeneration of more diverse species, NJA staff, Merrill Creek staff, and the New Jersey Youth Corps planted over 4,000 seedlings between both sites which were nj youth corp tree planting at Merril Creek Resprovided by The New Jersey Tree Foundation. This reforestation effort with NJ Youth Corp is also part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which works to maintain or improve water quality through the implementation of best management practices and other natural resource protection measures.

Each site was planted with a mixture of oak, pine, black gum, and black cherry trees. To further ensure the successful reestablishment of the young forest, low voltage electric fence was installed around each work area to discourage deer browse until the trees and other vegetation has fully established.

With the use of successful forestry practices, thoughtful foresight, and unique partnerships, NJ Audubon has successfully continued its work to improve the health and management of our forests. Through science-based, responsible land management we can all continue to enhance and strengthen the habitats throughout New Jersey.

Text by Ryan Hasko.  Photos by Ryan Hasko and John Parke

Tour of Hortulus Farm & Garden Connects People with Nature

“Inspiration” was the word of the day as NJ Audubon lead a special outing with friends and members to the much celebrated Hortulus Farm and Garden. clip_image001Set amongst the diverse habitat and rolling hills of Bucks County, PA, Hortulus Farm and Garden is a Master Gardener and horticulture enthusiast’s dream! This 100-acre historic 18th Century farmstead, located just across the Delaware River from Lambertville, NJ, offered a unique experience of floral discovery that provided the stimulus to engage with nature!

The group was accompanied by the owners and designers of Hortulus Garden, world-famous garden designer Renny Reynolds and noted garden writer and author Jack Staub. Together, Renny and Jack, provided background on the property, its preservation and how various plant species were selected to complement the native plants and habitats. Renny and Jack’s eye and talent for horticulture are revealed and dramatically on display as their plantings mix with the native meadows, woodlands ponds and streams that are intertwined among twenty separate formal gardens, creating a bucolic landscape with dramatic vistas.

“What many people do not realize is that horticulture is so much more than a branch of agriculture and goes beyond the gardening, plant propagation and landscaping,” said John Parke, NJA Project Stewardship Director. “Horticulture is a great way to empower people to become stewards of the land because it clip_image002connects people with the world around them.”

Although several species of birds were encountered during the tour of Hortulus, the group was more focused on the diverse, interesting and unique vegetation and habitat and how it played into the landscape and delighted one’s senses. Amongst the fragrant aroma of magnolia trees in bloom and the magnificent striking plots of perennials, such as blue-bells, wood anemone, and violets, the group was also educated on the planning and upkeep practices performed at Hortulus that are also used by NJA in habitat restorations and natural resource planning. Important aspects include considering light regimes, soil types, position on the landscape, water considerations and companion vegetation when planning for species selection, essential factors to implementing stewardship maintenance options and to promote plant resiliency. clip_image003

Considered the father of modern horticulture, Liberty Hyde Bailey once said, “A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” Hortulus Farm & Garden and the hard and diligent work of Renny Reynolds and Jack Staub clip_image004personifies Bailey’s quote. Hortulus Farm & Garden is a must see!

NJ Audubon would again like to express our sincere thanks to Renny and Jack for taking the time to let us tour the gardens and making the day so relaxing, educational and extremely enjoyable!

Bird species encountered during the tour: Wood Thrush, Red-tail Hawk, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher,  Eastern Wood Peewee, Yellow Warbler, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Mallard, Canada Goose.

All photos by Erica Parke and John Parke

Keeping Common Species Common

When thinking of what is “common”, it suggests things that one perceives as being familiar or ordinary or perhaps even not special common yellowthroat in treament area(PARKE)in any kind of way. Sometimes these things that are considered common are taken for granted or overlooked because of their perceived abundance. Sometimes even how they are named implies that they occur frequently and are “seen all the time”. Take for instance, birds species, such as the Common Yellowthroat, the Common Nighthawk and the Common Grackle. All species that if you check their conservation status, as designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are listed as species of “Least Concern” and common because of their current population status. However, the same report also indicates steady declines in all 3 species since 1966 as corroborated by the North American Breeding Bird Survey (i.e., Common Yellowthroat populations have declined cumulatively since 1966 in the US by 38%, Common Grackle have declined 58% and Common Nighthawk 61%).

While Federal, and then state listed, Endangered and threatened species typically receive the most attention and focus when it comes to conservation efforts, “common” species do factor into conservation objectives and management. Perceived abundance of these “common” species and the idea that “generalist” species can always adapt, does not guarantee invulnerability from significant population declines over time.

Many factors contribute to species population declines, and yet the loss and degradation of suitable habitat continues to be a primary and driving factor. There is hope though as landscape level conservation and stewardship practices can make a difference and help to halt if not reverse these declines. Keeping common species common in areas where they are abundant through active stewardship serves as a preventative measure to retain those species at levels that allow for sustainability and suitable ecological function of a habitat.

gray cat bird(PARKE)For instance, a “common” bird in NJ that arrives each spring, breeds and spends the summer is the Gray Catbird. According to a 2013 report by the Partners in Flight Science Committee, the Gray Catbird is the 2nd most abundant bird breeding in the NJ (American Robins are #1). Additionally, NJ has the 3rd highest density of breeding Gray Catbirds in the US and Canada combined (24.56 birds per breeding bird survey route). Compared to all other species breeding in NJ, Gray Catbirds have the highest percent of their overall (global) population in the State. (Partners in Flight estimates that 620,000 individuals make NJ their home in the spring, which represents 2.3% of the overall (global) population). While that number seems low, it is the bird that has the highest percent of its breeding population in NJ, as compared to all other breeding bird species in NJ (Prairie Warblers are 2nd at 1.5%, American Robins only 0.3% - robins have the largest estimated population of any North American bird species and are broadly distributed across the continent).

Although Gray Catbirds are typically considered a generalist when it comes to their spring and summer habitats, they do favor dense tangles of shrubs, vines, and thickets of young trees, indicative of early successional young forest landscapes. Thus, specific habitat management for other young forest habitat species, such as the Golden-winged Warbler, American Woodcock, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and others, ultimately have a positive impact on Gray Catbird by providing suitable breeding habitat to maintain and/or improve their population.

As indicated by the Partners in Flight (PIF) Landbird Conservation Plan (2016) and the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture, the Northeast does have many stressors that have now resulted in a majority of forest lacking structural and age-class diversity which are required for the survival of many species, including some of the more “common” ones (see also New Jersey Forests 2013) . To revive a dynamic forest landscape and create a mosaic of forest types that supports suites of species (rare and common) requires a long-term process of active management and stewardship. Without action that will help to prevent further declines, more species ultimately will be listed or simply lost, and as indicated by PIF, “their recovery will come at a greater cost to society.”

As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), and through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is seeking more landowners and farmers in the Highlands Region and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region of the State for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forestry/agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs).  These BMPs when implemented can help provide critical habitat for these species, as well as, contribute to improving water quality in the region.  Additionally, depending on your property’s location within those regions, you may be eligible for additional funding or free restoration related materials, especially for riparian and wetland restorations. For more information on the NJA DRWI related funding opportunities contact John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org in the Highlands Region and Kristen Meistrell at kristen.meistrell@njaudubon.org in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region.

All photos by John Parke

FIGHTN’ FEMELSCHLAGERS ENCOUNTER LITTLE EGRET AND MORE AT WSB

littleegret(PARKE)

The NJA Stewardship Department World Series of Birding team, The Fightn’ Femelschlagers, had a great day out in South Jersey participating in the 34th Annual World Series of Birding racking up 114 species of birds!  Bald Eagle, Whip-poor Will, Savannah Sparrow, Prothonotary Warbler, American Widgeon, and Black Skimmer were just some of the species we came across on our trek though different habitat types searching for birds. The highlight by far was a Little Egret encountered at Heislerville Wildlife Management Area in Cumberland County. According to information on the National Audubon website,Little Egret is an Old World counterpart to our Snowy Egret and was formerly only an accidental visitor to North America, with only one record before 1980. Since 1980 it has been recorded several times along our Atlantic Coast during the warmer months. These strays probably make the crossing from West Africa to the Caribbean, and then migrate north on our side of the Atlantic.

shorebirds in cumberland countyThe birding was great, but we also encountered other species of wildlife throughout the day, such as Eastern Box Turtle, Fowlers Toad, and Muskrat, which just goes to show how important it is to remember that it’s not just about the birds when we think conservation. Habitat restoration and stewardship of those lands are important for a variety of species. What makes the NJ Stewardship Department so unique in how we get significant meaningful conservation work done is, although our work is grounded in science, the professional staff at the Stewardship Department consider other factors then just a single target species or resource concern. Meaning, impacts for other species and numerous ecological resources, as well as social, cultural and economic factors are looked at and planned for to make a project, and the resource, we are focusing on a sustainable project with lasting results.

The World Series of Birding (WSB) is an important fundraiser for the NJ Audubon Stewardship Department, raising funds vital to support our Department’s cormorant rookeryconservation work on behalf of declining wildlife species and habitat in NJ.  Please note that your pledge/donation to our team goes directly to funding our Department’s work here at NJ Audubon, specifically for conservation projects in NJ such as, but not limited to: the Bobwhite Quail reintroduction project in the Pinelands, conservation innovation projects with agricultural producers, sustainable forestry projects throughout the State, native grassland restoration projects, bog turtle habitat restoration projects, snake fungal disease survey projects, Ruffed Grouse restoration and population recovery projects, vegetation management projects for early successional species, water quality and habitat improvement projects in the Highlands and Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer regions, invasive species control projects, the S.A.V.E.™ program and working with NJ farmers and rural landowners to create and restore habitat that also benefits the agricultural community.

On behalf of the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department, we thank all of you that supported our team and our work!!

teamfemelschag2017The NJA Stewardship Department Team would also like to thank our team sponsors, Hudson Farm, Ernst Conservation Seeds, South Jersey Gas, Ingenuity Sun Media and Eagle Optics for their generous support for our work to restore, enhance and maintain critical wildlife habitat and our natural heritage!

So what is a Femelschlag?  “Femelschlag”, is a German term for a forest management practice that is designed to emulate natural disturbance patterns and encourage tree species diversity in multiple-age classes, thereby enhancing ecosystem services and complexity. (A lot of our sustainable forestry work for various rare species involves this management practice here in NJ)  #Femelschlag

All photos by John Parke and Dale Rosselet

Pastures Can Provide Habitat for Grassland Birds!

Grasslands in the eastern United States rank as one of the country’s most endangered ecosystems. Populations of many grassland birds eastern meadowlark at WSGWMA(parke)in North America have declined significantly during the last 30 years. Although population trends of many groups of breeding birds vary across geographic regions, the declining trend for grassland birds is consistent across much of North America, including the Northeast.

Since remaining grasslands in NJ are almost entirely embedded within agricultural landscapes, they are also one of the only habitats in New Jersey, that face an almost immediate threat of disappearing from the State.  This is primarily due to the fluctuating market demand for commodity crops thereby hay land and pasture are, in some years, converted to row crops (corn, soybean, etc.).  As expected, wildlife dependent upon grassland habitat has declined dramatically. In New Jersey, this is readily evident from severe population declines experienced by savannah sparrow at RC field(PARKE)grassland birds who make up 25 percent of the state’s endangered bird species, 55 percent of its threatened birds, and 16 percent of its birds listed as special concern.

Pastures can serve as habitat for these birds and possibly stabilize or even increase their declining populations, while still meeting farm needs for profitability, forage quality, and overall productivity. To achieve all these goals, producers with livestock will need to modify some activities, learn how active pastures provide a surrogate habitat for long-gone native grasslands, and work birds into their overall pasture plans.

Several common pasture management practices that are incompatible with grassland bird conservation include:

  • Mowing or clipping pastures during the peak breeding season (early-May through early July).
  • Overgrazed pastures are similarly unfavorable for most grassland bird species by eliminating the taller grass structure these birds require.
  • Stocking rates, the number of animals, in the pasture must be closely managed to protect from overgrazing and to ensure that sufficient grass cover is available during the breeding period.

P4190075Pasture management goals can be compatible with grassland bird habitat goals, and, if planned carefully, can help improve soil health and water quality.

Several key aspects to grassland bird conservation in pastures includes the size of pasture, use of rotational grazing, the stocking density, and by maintaining a variety of perennial grasses along with minimizing woody vegetation.

NJ Audubon staff started grassland bird surveys last week in conjunction with a William Penn Foundation funded, sustainable grazing project that includes the Musconetcong Watershed Association and North Jersey RC&D and a private livestock producer (Cotton Cattle Company of Asbury, NJ). Many State Threatened species as well as State Species of Special Concern have been detected on the surveys, including Grasshopper Sparrow, grasshopper sparrow at RC field (PARKE)Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark and Field Sparrow.

NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners and producers for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, including pasture management. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org or your local USDA-NRCS Service center.

To support NJA Stewardship work on habitat restoration, species recovery and natural resource protection throughout NJ, including work associated with riparian restorations, you can donate to their team participating in the 2017 World Series of Birding at: http://worldseriesofbirding.org/teampage.asp?fundid=1067#.WN-8j9LDHIU

All photos by John Parke taken at 2017 pasture study sites

References

  • KNOPF, F. L. 1994. Avian assemblages on altered grasslands. Studies in Avian Biology 15:247–257.
  • PETERJOHN, B. G., AND J. R. SAUER. 1999. Population status of North American grassland birds from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, 1966–1996. Studies in Avian Biology 19:27–44.
  • JAMES, F. C., D. A. WIEDENFIELD, AND C. E. MCCULLOCH. 1992. Trends in breeding populations of warblers: Declines in the southern highlands and increases in the lowlands. Pages 43–56 in Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Landbirds (J. M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, Eds.). Smithsonian Institution Press,Washington, D.C.
  • HERKERT, J. R. 1995. An analysis of Midwestern breeding bird population trends: 1966–1993. American Midland Naturalist 134:41–50.
  • SAUER, J. R., J. E. HINES, G. GOUGH, I. THOMAS, AND B. J. PETERJOHN. 1997. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, version 96.1. [Online.] Pautuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland. Available at http://www.mbr.nbs. gov/bbs/bbs.html.
  • BOLLINGER, E. K., AND T. A. GAVIN. 1992. Eastern Bobolink populations: Ecology and conservation in an agricultural landscape. Pages 497–506 in Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Landbirds (J. M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, Eds.). Smithsonian Institution Press,Washington, D.C.
  • ASKINS, R. A. 1993. Population trends in grassland, shrubland, and forest birds in eastern North America. Current Ornithology 11:1–34.
  • http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/tandespp.htm
  • Ochterski, J., 2005, Enhancing Pastures for Grassland Bird Habitat, Cornell Cooperative extension of Schuyler County, NJ

DRWI Riparian Buffer Restorations Instrumental in Clean Water in Highlands Region

As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) New Jersey Audubon (NJA) supplied, and provided labor to install,Wood Turtle sussex county(PARKE) over 1,900 native trees and shrubs to five different riparian restoration projects in the NJ Highlands Region. Used in the restoration were 12 different native species that have exceptional habitat value, including, arrowwood viburnum, pin oak, silky dogwood, willows, American sycamore and buttonbush. These five restoration projects in total accounted for over 1 mile of stream bank stabilization and buffer areas to two major water courses in the region, the Paulin’s Kill River and the Musconetcong River. Ultimately the plantings will benefit water quality, soil health and floodplain function, as well as significantly enhance habitats for bird species, trout and other aquatic species, as well as threatened and endangered species, including the Wood Turtle and Brook Snaketail dragonfly.

With funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for the DRWI, NJA aligns conservation efforts of multiple partners to accelerate protection and restoration efforts of the water quality in the Delaware Basin. The five restoration sites that received the NJA plant materials for buffers were properties that other conservation organizations, agencies, contractors and fishing clubs were the lead organization in implementing the projects as part of the DRWI. These entities included, the Wallkill Watershed Management Group, Musconetcong Watershed Association, North Jersey RC&D, Trout Unlimited, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Trout Scapes River Restoration LLC, Warren County Rod & Gun Club and the Musconetcong Trout Club.

“Conservation is a collaborate effort,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for NJA. “Projects of this size and scope are possible because of a multitude of partners working together for a common goal – conservation of New Jersey’s natural resources. Buffer plantings along water courses such as these are instrumental to water quality, biodiversity, and ecological health of freshwater systems and the ecosystem services they provide to a community.”

One of the many benefits of a vegetated buffer is the filtration of sediment. By filtering sediment from runoff, the buffer is removing pollutants that bind to soil. buffer planting at Warren county Rod and gun on musky (Parke)The vegetation in the buffer removes these pollutants from runoff through plant uptake and by helping bacterial degradation of the contaminants. An example of this is, excess phosphorus from fertilizer binds to soil and is normally found in the top few inches of the soil, which can be susceptible to erosion. Trapping and filtering out these sediments from runoff in the buffer vegetation is a very effective way to reduce pollution entering the water body. The minimum width needed for an effective riparian buffer depends on the purpose you want the buffer to serve. However, the general rule for buffer width is, “wider is better”.

“It was very important to significantly increase the riparian buffer at these farms to prevent chicken manure which is used to fertilize the adjacent crops, as well as any herbicides sprayed on the crops, from entering these important water bodies that supply drinking water and provide critical habitat to trout and other species,” said Brian Cowden, NJ Trout Unlimited Conservation Chair and Co-Owner Trout Scapes River Restoration.

Although buffer plantings are essential to the protection of water, with the demand for land for other uses, the importance of buffers are sometimes forgotten and in some cases buffers are reduced significantly to accommodate other land use activities. Compounding the problem of buffer use on the landscape is that for the average landowner or farmer finding the money, time and most especially the labor, to restore buffer areas correctly.

NJYC buffer on Musky (Parke)To address the labor and time issue with correctly installing buffer plantings, NJA secured additional funding in 2016 to contract the NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg to be an “on-call” work force to perform river bank and wetland restoration and other stewardship activities associated with the DRWI. The NJ Youth Corps is a year-round program that helps young adults (ages 16-25) earn a high school diploma while developing employment skills through community service projects. For projects associated with NJ Audubon, the Corps participants have been trained through the Waders in the Water program, which students receive classroom instruction on developing work skills in ecological restoration projects and environmental science. Specifically, through NJA’s outreach and conservation planning in the region, NJA provides the Corps with Service Learning projects in support of the DRWI which increases the pace of project implementation in the field, and the projects also provide Corps njyc-live stakes (Muckle)members with valuable employment skills associated with their training.

When asked her thoughts about the work performed by NJ Youth Corps at the five restoration projects in the Highlands region, NJ Youth Corp student, Ciara Ecchevaria (17) said, “This was awesome.  I didn't think it was possible for me to participate in something like this.  I would love to do this for a career!'

Although water is an essential resource and we obviously need it to survive, unfortunately its availability and quality are often taken for granted. By engaging our youth in opportunities regarding water and science and having them become more informed can help create a future generation of stewards.

"I realized and learned from participating in the restoration work that there's a lot of things in this world that we don't see and we can do more to help the community.....but doing small things can help the world out a lot more than we think,” said NJ Youth Corp student Austin Tigar (17) about participating in the riparian restoration work at the Paulin’s Kill and the Musconetcong Rivers. “It was fun and it made me feel better to make something in this world a little better."

 NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, as well as distribute more free native plant materials. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands region (the Lower Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Upper Paulin's kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org.

To support NJA Stewardship Department’s work for overall habitat restoration, species recovery and natural resource protection throughout NJ, including work associated with riparian restorations, you can donate to their team participating in the 2017 World Series of Birding at: http://worldseriesofbirding.org/teampage.asp?fundid=1067#.WN-8j9LDHIU

All photos by John Parke & Mike Muckle