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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

Wild Northern Bobwhite Released in Pine Barrens

Northern Bobwhite quail were released for the third consecutive year at the Pine Island Cranberry property as part of the multi-state male bobwhite at PIC (PIC)initiative to re-establish Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic States. Lead by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy , Pine Island Cranberry, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware, 80 wild birds (40 males and 40 females) were captured in Georgia, translocated, and released, at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. The New Jersey portion of this project has the unique role of releasing only wild quail (translocation). Other partners to the multi-state project are evaluating methods of raising captive bred and parent reared quail, however no captive bred quail will be released in New Jersey. Ultimately, the results of the NJ study will be compared to findings from the other participating states in the initiative.

“The research we are embarking on in the New Jersey Pine Barrens is pivotal to understanding the limits of translocation as a population recovery tool for Bobwhites in the northern fringe of their range. If we are to truly ‘hold the line’ for this pint-sized bird that so many have come to know and love, we must be willing to attempt the impossible, think the unimaginable, and be prepared for a moonshot in Bobwhite history,” said Project Collaborator Dr. Theron M. Terhune of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

P3260006After receiving health screenings and testing and attaching leg ID bands along with radio-signal transmitting collars to each wild bird, the quail were released in groups across the study site. This is the 3rd release of wild Bobwhite at the study site since 2015.

“We're looking forward to another great year and there are already some indications that it will be. P3270047The birds released last year that still have functioning radio collars have already joined up with this year's released birds,” said Phil Coppola, Project Research Assistant. “The translocation went smoothly and now we can just let them pair up and progress into the breeding season. There are few things more exciting than finding the first nest of the season!”

In the previous two years of the project, a total of 18 nests were confirmed by the project researchers on site, as well as, successful hatching and overwintering by the quail that were translocated to the study site.

"These Bobwhite translocations have provided valuable information on the habitat quality and forest management practices implemented thus far on Pine Island. We are looking forward to seeing what we can learn from this year's release of Northern Bobwhites to aid in future habitat management, as well as, forest health in the New Jersey Pine Barrens," said Project Researcher Kaili Stevens of the University of Delaware.

Active forest management, implemented under a State approved Forest Stewardship Plan written and directed by Pine Creek Forestry , has been the key element in creating high quality habitat conditions for the Bobwhite. Although the intent of the forestry work at the site is focused on forest and watershed health, these same forestry practices also create critically needed habitat for wildlife and have been instrumental in the translocation efforts.

PARKE QUAIL 2017“Opening those boxes and seeing the quail flush out and take flight back into the wild is a feeling that never gets old,” said John Parke, NJA Project Stewardship Director. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity. 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,” Parke added.

The success of the project at Pine Island, combined with years of habitat restoration work lead by NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in Cumberland County has, for the first time ever in New Jersey, lead to the allocation of federal funding through the USDA-NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Program specifically for quail habitat restoration. “This is a major opportunity for private landowners and farmers to be part of the recovery of this iconic species. Landowners and farmers that take advantage of this cost share program will help establish habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” said Parke.

“This has been a great chance for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again,” said Stefanie Haines of Pine Island Cranberry.

To learn how you can support the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative go to NJ Audubon's Quail webpage http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipInAction/NorthernBobwhiteRestorationInitiative.aspx

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

Clean Water Essential to US All

bald eagle on Musky(PARKE)

A magnificent sight caught my eye this morning on my drive into work. There, perched high above the mighty Musconetcong River in all its glory, a Bald Eagle, sat motionless as the light from the morning sun shone down on its regal head. I pulled over to take in the scene of this wonderful creature as it scanned the clear icy cold flowing water of the Musky for its next meal. A fish, a duck, a muskrat perhaps. They too were all there in the river unaware of the powerful predator watching their every move. Other wildlife also made itself known as I stood on the bank of the river. Tacks in the snow covering the river’s edge reveled that a mink had been here too. A group of Canada Geese swam by and flushed a Hooded Merganser that had been resting on a rock near the shore. It was one of those moments that brings it all together, when you step back and truly appreciate the world you live in. It was one of those moments when you want to be an active part of making sure that the world that you, and all these other residents, live in can only get better. Seeing animals in their natural habitat, living their lives, reinforces the ties we have with our natural surroundings and reminds us of what we all have in common for survival. This morning that tie was clearly one common, yet extremely important, element…the need for clean water.

DRWI mapClean fresh water is essential to all life on Earth. At New Jersey Audubon we are always working to enhance, restore and protect New Jersey's wildlife and unique natural habitats, including freshwater ecosystems. This work takes on many forms, whether its working with the agricultural community on implementing best management practices for natural resource protection; or developing and implementing forest stewardship plans; or educating the public or government officials on the importance of ecological diverse natural systems, to doing research that applies sound scientific principles and practices that focus on natural resource conservation issues associated with numerous species and their habitats.

One specific initiative that focuses on clean water that NJA has been playing a major role in for the past 3 years is working with many partners under the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). The DRWI mission is to “strategically align conservation efforts of multiple partners in places where both significant threats and opportunities for success will accelerate protection and restoration of the water quality in the Delaware Basin”.

Through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is looking to engage 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. 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.

Photo by John Parke

NJ Audubon and USDA Staff Participate in Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Winter Conference

Written by Brittany Dobrzynski*

NRCS Booth at the NOFA Winter ConferenceDuring the last weekend of January, NJ Audubon and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services staff participated in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey’s Winter Conference at Rutgers University. The conference spanned two days and offered a wide array of workshops for organic producers throughout the Garden state. Whether attendees were looking to learn more about the history of organic farming, carbon soil sequestration, small scale farm tools or soap making, there was a workshop to fit everyone’s interest.

The lounge at the Douglas Student Center was packed with additional information, vendors and book sales to provide conference participants with many references to take with them. Keynote speaker Jean Martin Fortier amped up the crowd with his secrets to making a six figure income on a one-and-a-half-acre organic vegetable farm in Quebec, ALL WITHOUT THE USE OF A TRACTOR! You could feel the love in the room as he shared his stories of traveling the world to learn his adopted techniques, and tales of the two years he and his wife spent living on the land in a tee-pee when first starting out. I was fortunate enough to follow up with Jean Martin one-on-one and received a personal pep-talk after leaving a workshop titled “Starting the Farm from Scratch” on the last session of the first day. I even got an autographed copy of his book “The Market Gardener” which I am already halfway through reading. 

IBrittany Dobrzynski details NJ Audubons' Healthy Land and Waters Grants focal areas within South Jersey was joined by a number of familiar faces throughout the day; my colleagues with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manned a table in the lounge, spreading the good word on programs offered to benefit these local organic producers. Organic champion and NRCS District Conservationist Nicole Ciccaglione attended as I joined NRCS District Conservationist John Kluthe in two sessions of panel discussions on USDA funding. These panels included representatives from the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development as well. John described NRCS’ history, originating from the Soil Conservation Service in the Dust Bowl days to today. He shared one of my favorite tales of founder Hugh Hammond Bennett’s impeccable timing appealing to Congress for continued funding for the Soil Conservation Service as a dust storm entered the windows of the Congress. While the dust settled in, covering desks and paperwork in a fine silt, they unanimously agreed to continue funding the Service. Kluthe detailed the conservation planning process that begins with identifying problems and opportunities and results in implementation of a well-formulated Conservation Plan, all with the help of experts on staff.

Farm Service Agency staff presented on the many loan programs available to producers. From business start-up costs to cold storage facilities, the Farm Service Agency has a low interest loan program for just about any materials, equipment and facilities aiding in operations on a farm.

Rural Development program staff offered details on their loans and grant services. These are available to farmers, non-profits, businesses and individuals, not just ag producers. They offer loans for things like expanding small businesses, mortgages, and expanding use of renewable energy.

Rural Development funding opportunities featured in the panel discussion New Jersey Audubon staff presented on programs available through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. In southern New Jersey, agricultural best management practices for soil and water conservation are subsidized through New Jersey Audubon’s Healthy Land and Waters Grant program. Producers farming within certain focal areas of the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer are eligible to participate. Those areas include residents in the Upper Salem Watershed, Maurice and Upper Cohansey, Greater Hammonton area and West Cape May Penninsula.

In the northern New Jersey, Audubon offers assistance by technical assistance and materials for restoration projects within the Northern Lopatcong, Lower Musconetcong and Paulinskill watersheds. Materials include, but are not limited to, seed, live stakes, whips, tree and shrub seedlings, even ball and burlap trees. The NJ Audubon programs are made possible thanks to financial support from the William Penn Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For more information on these New Jersey Audubon programs through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, please contact Brittany Dobrzynski at 609-400-3826 or Brittany.dobrzynski@njaudubon.org.

I would like to extend a big thanks to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey for putting on such a wonderful conference. It is always truly inspiring to meet with so many partner agencies from throughout the state all in one spot and makes me proud to be a member of this agricultural community. Until next year!

* Brittany Dobrzynski is Stewardship Specialist with New Jersey Audubon and is currently working through a cooperative agreement as a Natural Resources Conservation Service Partner Employee.

Photos by Nicole Ciccaglione, District Conservationist

Mannington Mills Improves Water Quality & Soil Health on Working Lands

Volunteers plant trees and shrubs between a spinach field and a wetlandDuring a cold and wintery weekend in early December 2016, over 80 volunteers put on their hats and gloves and came out to help New Jersey Audubon’s Stewardship staff plant 1,320 native trees and shrubs on a working farm in Salem County. The property is owned by Mannington Mills, a member of New Jersey Audubon’s Corporate Stewardship Council. The agricultural land that Mannington Mills owns is managed by a local farmer, who grows peppers, corn, soybeans, and spinach on site. The volunteers helped plant the bare root trees and shrubs along an irrigation pond that eventually connects with Fenwick Creek. This newly planted area will help to proVolunteers place tree guards around trees and shrubstect the waterway by filtering out runoff while providing food and cover for wildlife.

Students from the Salem County Vo-Tech School and Mannington Township School, along with staff from Mannington Mills and Chemours, came out and planted hundreds of trees and shrubs on just the first day. On the following day, the Quinton Boy Scouts, Alloway Daisy Girl Scouts, Salem County 4-H Club, and the Adventure Aquarium’s Community & Urban Science Enrichment Program (CAUSE) came out to finish planting the remaining trees and shrubs.

The project is a part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (http://www.drwi.net/), a multi-state effort designed to improve water quality and quantity throughout the watershed. In support of the DRWI, at this Volunteers plant over 1,320 trees and shrubssame site in Salem County, earlier this year warm season grasses were installed between the field and the wetlands and pollinator habitat was planted along the roadside. Like the trees and shrubs, these strips of vegetation will help protect the waterways by catching eroding soil or nutrients that may runoff from the fields.

The work done on this property is supported by Mannington Mills, the local farmer, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. Work within the Delaware River Watershed is supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Bald Eagle Saved at Quail Project Site

An injured immature Bald Eagle had luck on its side yesterday, when employees at Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) found it on the ground by chance while working to winterize cranberry bogs at their Chatsworth, NJ site.  After placing one of the worker’s jackets over the distressed bird to keep it calm, PICC staff contacted New Jersey Audubon who coincidently happened to be on site yesterday implementing work associated with PC070009the Bobwhite Quail Translocation Project.

Staff from New Jersey Audubon then transported the bird to the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Medford, NJ for evaluation and treatment.

“After an examination by our rehab hospital staff, no obvious major injuries were detected, aside from a little dried blood on its beak.  Externally, the wings, legs and body appeared to be fine and the bird was alert.” said Kathy Cantafio of Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge.  “The bird has been transferred as of this morning to Mercer County Wildlife Center in Lambertville, NJ for additional evaluation and testing.” 

PC070010In the end, one should remember that it was the unconditional caring efforts of many people that came to the aid of this injured bird.  All for nothing more than to do the right thing. The story is a great example of how collaborative efforts, getting involved and taking action can have not just a positive impact in our personal lives, but also for other species that live with us and the world we live in.

We encourage the public to share in our passion for wildlife, expand your conservation vision, get more involved, take action, volunteer, get familiar with conservation initiatives and issues, support our conservation efforts, become a NJ Audubon member, take advantage of our many education and conservation programs and help us make New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife!  For more information on how you can be a part of New Jersey Audubon click here.

NJ Audubon, sends a warm heart filled thank you to the great staff at Pine Island Cranberry Company and the dedicated folks at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center for their concerned efforts to come to the aid of this special NJ resident and national emblem of our great Country!

Photos by Kathy Cantafio

Snow Geese Arrive At Wattles Stewardship Center

Snow Geese in Corn Stubble in Warren CountyThe first Snow Geese of the season arrived yesterday (November 29, 2016) at the Wattles Stewardship Center in Port Murray, Warren County, NJ.  The ten radiantly white birds stood out, almost regal-like, among a flock of Canada Geese, as they grazed in the corn stubble of a recently harvested farm field along the Musconetcong River. 

For several years now Snow Geese have been descending upon Warren County’s farm fields each winter, particularly around the areas of Merrill Creek Reservoir, the Musconetcong River valley, Lopatcong Creek, and the Alpha Grasslands, thousands of snow geese flying over Wattles Center in 2013choosing to utilize the region as wintering grounds. Sometimes numbers of these geese are in the 10’s of thousands.

For some “non-birder” types, you may not know that “other” geese species, like the Snow Goose visit New Jersey.  According to the official New Jersey Bird Records Committee, eight different species of goose have been sighted in NJ.  They include: Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Brant, Barnacle Goose, Cackling Goose and Canada Goose. (To see the official accepted list of not just the goose species but all bird species in NJ see:  http://www.njbrc.net/)

But for the most part, many New Jerseyans are very familiar with only the Canada Goose since this bird can be found throughout the year in New Jersey in every possible landscape available – from backyards to urban parks and corporate lawns to coastal areas, farm fields, rivers, ponds and lakes.  Canada Geese are everywhere, in fact there are so many, that in some areas of the state they have been implicated as the cause for impaired water quality, human health concerns, airline safety issues and severe crop and natural resource damage.  Water quality however has become the biggest issue associated with high goose populations because of there droppings.  A goose can produce up to ¾ of a pound of droppings per day and depending on sizes of local flocks and waterways, environmental impacts can be quite severe, especially if concentrated in an area.  These stressors to water quality from large geese populations include increased nutrient levels and sedimentation and erosion (because of removal of vegetation at the edge of bank on water bodies due to grazing). Goose manure has also been linked to rising E. coli levels in the water, but the most notable ingredient in goose manure is phosphorous.  Excess phosphorus can lead to algae blooms and low oxygen levels in water bodies.

What is fascinating about our resident Canadian Geese is that about 40 years ago, Canada Geese were considered, more or less, only a spring and fall migrant in NJ.  Although some Canadian Geese were purposely released in areas in NJ in the early and mid 1900’s, many wildlife experts believe that with the large expanses of lawn areas created by suburban sprawl and corporate development of the post-1970’s NJ landscape and changes in weather / temperature patterns over the years is what turned NJ into perfect goose habitat and created a situation where Canada Geese became a common winter resident and then transitioned to reside, nest and thrive here year long.   Because of these changes to NJ’s landscape, many Canada Geese no longer need to undergo the risky process of migration when they can stay here year-round and have all of their life-cycle needs met with ease.  According to the most recent available records (2014) the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife has estimated that there are around 75,000 resident Canada Geese in NJ (this does not count migrants that may winter here or pass through).

blue phase snow gooseNow enter the Snow Goose, which is a medium-sized white goose with black wing tips and a pink bill, that nests in the Arctic tundra but is considered a common migrant in NJ and winters here. Snow geese although usually white in color can sometimes have dark plumage which is known as the “Blue Goose”.  This color variant in a Snow Goose creates gray-blue body feathers and a white head (sometimes white belly feathers are also exhibited).  This color phase is controlled by a single gene that makes dark colors partially dominant over white.

In the past, Snow Geese wintered on the salt marshes and farm fields of southern NJ along the Atlantic coast and Delaware Bay shores.  But over the last 20 years or so they have become increasingly common throughout the state in winter, including large flocks spending time on various inland reservoirs, freshwater lakes, agricultural fields and park or corporate lawn areas in Central and North Jersey.

A strong flyer and swimmer, Snow Geese are also strong “long-distance” walkers.  At home in the tundra, Snow Goose goslings have been known to walk up to 50 miles with their parents to look for more suitable rearing areas within the first three weeks of hatching!  In the arctic it is mostly the Snow Goose goslings that have a plethora of predators to contend with, from raptors, gulls and jaegers to bears, wolves and arctic foxes.  Here on their NJ wintering grounds its foxes, coyotes and eagles that are the main predatory concerns for the adults.  However Snow Geese have a defense in which they call out to the rest of the flock when a predator is sighted, whereupon the entire flock takes flight causing a “whiteout” of sorts to confuse the predator from concentrating on attacking a single individual.

Thousands of Snow geese next to Musconetcong River, Warren County, NJ 2008Snow Geese are voracious eaters, with females being noted to forage up to eighteen hours a day.  They are vegetarians that eat grasses, rushes, sedges, forbs, small shrubs and even small willows. Studies show that a Snow Goose will eat almost any part of a plant including its seeds, stems, leaves, tubers and roots.  They do this either by grazing the tops of new growth, shearing off plants flush to the ground or ripping the entire plant from the ground.  They are also known to eat grains, berries and young stems of farm crops (such as winter wheat) in winter and during migration.  As one would expect, with this high fiber diet of plant material, food passes through a Snow Goose’s system in only about an hour or two.  According to research this equates to a Snow Goose generating six to fifteen droppings per hour.  The same study indicates that its defecation rate increases when a Snow Goose is searching for roots with its bill because it inevitably swallows mud.

Because of their insatiable appetite in many areas of the arctic, the increased numbers of snow geese now surpass the ability of the arctic grass/sedge habitat there to support them.  As the more productive forage areas are overgrazed and ruined, snow geese move on to find new areas that most likely are less productive and more prone to being destroyed. This habitat destruction impacts not only the Snow Goose, but other bird and wildlife species that depend on that type of vegetation for breeding, foraging and nesting. Also by overgrazing and removing the ground cover from the arctic soils, the soil is then more exposed and prone to evaporation.  Thus with less moisture in the arctic soils, salinization (salt build-up) takes place in the soil.  With increased salt build up in the arctic soils, scientists have documented numerous native arctic plants not growing back to these areas destroyed by Snow Geese overgrazing.

Thousands of snow geese land in a farm field adjacent to the Musconetcong RiverWhen you consider that Snow Goose numbers have grown quickly since the mid-twentieth century on their nesting grounds (in some cases by a factor of 25), and that they now have caused serious vegetation destruction to their historical nesting grounds (over grazing and denuded soils) causing them to expand their range in search of new suitable breeding/foraging areas and that they learned to exploit human-created food sources along their migration and wintering areas, is it possible that like its cousin, the Canada Goose, it too will ultimately take up permanent residence in the Garden State?  Only time will tell.

Native Tall Warm-Season Grass Field planted at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Lopatcong Creek WatershedA common solution to help deter geese from congregating in and around water bodies is habitat modification.  By reducing low open areas such as lawns and/or maintaining or installing trees, shrubs or tall grasses (such as native warm-season grass) along water bodies, geese are more likely to avoid these areas because the taller vegetation can conceal predators and encumber a goose’s ability to fly for a quick escape.  Not only does maintaining a dense vegetative buffer between a goose's “food” source (i.e. a lawn, crop fields, etc.) and a water body (an escape route) effectively help reduce and/or eliminate large flocks of geese from gathering around water bodies, these buffer areas provide habitat for many other native species of wildlife, as well as, provide water quality benefits by absorbing excess nutrient run-off and help control soil erosion and sedimentation.   NJ Audubon is currently working in the NJ Highlands Region as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) to help improve water quality, while also seeking balance for habitat needs for numerous wildlife species.  Through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forestry/agricultural Best Management Practices, as well as distribute free native plant materials (trees, grass, etc.), especially for riparian and wetland restorations. 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 Creek and the Upper Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment, this includes impairment linked to geese.  For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org

All photos by John Parke

Sources:

Fleming, R, Eng, P., Fraser, H. 2001, The Impact of Waterfowl on Water Quality, University of Guelph
Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada

NJDFW 2014-2015 Migratory Bird Season Information and Population report

Unckless, R., Makarewicz, J. 207, The Impact of Nutrient Loading from Canada Geese (Branta
canadensis) on Water Quality, a Mesocosm Approach
, Hydrobiologia (2007) 586:393–401
DOI 10.1007/s10750-007-0712-8

USFWS, US Waterfowl Population Status Report 2016

NJA Wattles Center and Old Farm Preserve Receive Recognition from National Geographic

The New Jersey Audubon Wattles Stewardship Center and the NJA Old Farm Preserve, (both located in Warren County),PB140024 have received recognition by National Geographic as Geotourism destination areas under the Scenic, Wild Delaware River Geotourism Program. The program, lead by National Geographic and the National Parks Conservation Association, identifies places throughout the Delaware River Watershed for their valuable contribution to Geotourism.  Geotourism is a kind of travel that sustains and enhances the unique geographic character of a region by involving a community, benefiting local residents economically, conserving resources, respecting local traditions and culture and supporting integrity of place. All destination areas under the program, approved by National Geographic for the Delaware River Region, are selected because of their commitment to aesthetics, culture, environment, heritage and the well-being of the regions’ residents.

“We are very happy that two of our properties are now part of National Geographic’s Geotourism Program,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of NJA. “The program is a good way to not only inform people of the importance of the region, but hopefully it will help get folks out to experience the beauty of the Delaware River Watershed and also recognize that they too can help protect this magnificent land and the natural resources it provides.”

P8080316Since 2013, NJ Audubon and other groups have been working in the region to protect, enhance and restore areas for water quality and habitat improvements under the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). The initiative and associated funding was provided by the William Penn Foundation in an effort to bring attention to the significance of the Delaware River Watershed.  The Delaware River Watershed covers more than 13,500-square miles spanning New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Although it comprises only four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S., about five percent of our nation’s population—more than 15 million people—rely on the Delaware River watershed for drinking water. Additionally, the watershed supports an array of water-related economic enterprises valued at $25 billion per year, as well as significant habitat.  However, poorly planned development, deforestation, agricultural and stormwater runoff severely threaten the health of the watershed.

For more information on the Scenic, Wild Delaware River Geotourism Program go to DelawareRiver.NatGeotourism.com

If you are a farmer or rural landowner in the Lower Musconetcong River, Upper Paulin’s Kill River and Lopatcong River Sub-Watersheds in the Highlands Region of the Delaware River Watershed contact John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org for more information about the DRWI and to see if you are eligible to receive funds or technical assistance.  For farmers and rural landowners in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer region of southern NJ please contact Kristen Meistrell at kristen.meistrell@njaudubon.org for DRWI program eligibility and technical assistance.

Photos by John Parke 

 

NJ Bobwhite Quail Translocation Project Gets Exposure on National Level

University of Delaware graduate research students, Kaili Stevens (MS research assistant) and Philip Coppola (Ph.D. research assistant), who are working with NJ Audubon at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail translocation study site, recently presented project overviews and related studies associated with the project at two national conferences.

In October 2016, Kaili presented information on the study: “Winter Survival and Habitat Selection of Translocated Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic” at The Wildlife Society’s 23rd Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. This study, in relation to the overall translocation project initiative, will help identify the viability of translocating bobwhite into northern managed pine systems versus managed agricultural areas, as well as, aid in identifying the effect of pine management on wintering (Oct-March) northern bobwhite survival and habitat use.

LLA_Poster_FINALIn November, Kaili and Phil will be both presenting at the 2016 Longleaf Alliance Biannual Regional Conference in Savannah, Georgia on “Evaluating the Efficacy of Using Translocation to Recover Bobwhite Populations in the New Jersey Pine Barrens”.  

Congratulations to Kaili and Phil, and to our project partners, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company and the NJDFW.

For more information on the overall Bobwhite Quail translocation project and how you can help support the project click here