The Learning Experience

Walking your dog down the road, or taking a walk along the river, you may not notice the extraordinary creatures that dwell where you are waking. Those who walk along the Riverwalk, or on the sidewalk in Jamestown are attuned to the sound of cars on the road or the sound of construction. Maybe you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and you can’t take the time to stop and look around to learn. Not many people are able to come across the opportunity to be involved in a job as exhilarating as mine is. Joining Project Wild America on this wild turtle hunt this summer has not only been a fun, exciting, and new experience, but also a learning experience. I, as well as those I work with, have been learning so much this summer. Many people overlook the wildlife that surrounds them. One may not even know what species of trees, plants, and animals subside in their yard and make a home out of it.

Spiny at Warner Dam

We’ve been seeing Spiny softshell turtles right at the base of Warner Dam in downtown Jamestown.

One of the harder things to grasp this summer has been the plants and trees. There’s just so many of them, but it certainly is not impossible to learn what is what. For example, there’s invasive species and native species. The invasives choke out the natives and make homes for themselves where they don’t belong, they essentially take over the area that they begin growing in. One plant that seems to be all over is Honeysuckle. Poisonous to humans, but not to many of the animal species that may see it as a tasty treat. Sure some of the plants are easy to tell apart from others, such as Queen Anne’s Lace. A significant fun fact about this plant is that when it is in its most mature state, it has a small, dark purple flower right in the middle. Each plant has its own symbolic feature.

Cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis) TL

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Just as plants have their own features to tell them apart, birds do as well. My favorite thing that we’ve been learning this summer is the bird species. Before this project, I had never heard of a Bobolink. This is most likely because they nest and breed on Airport Hill and not many would spend their time up there just sitting around listening and watching for birds. They have a call that sounds something like R2-D2. Another interesting bird species is the Cedar Waxwing. They look something like a Cardinal, but are smaller and look different. There’s so many more species just on the riverwalk. There’s Catbirds mimicking other birds, Osprey overhead, Cardinals, Blue Herons, Green Herons and such a diversity of other species.

Northern Cardinal TL

Northern Cardinal

 

Learning how to successfully trap a Spiny Softshell turtle is something that we are still working on all together. These magnificent creatures that meander along with the river’s current are harder than expected to catch. So far we’ve caught a variety of other turtle species, just not our target species. At first, my fellow ambassador friends and I were pretty against getting a little wet and dirty to set a turtle trap. Now that we are all accustomed to the water, we are more eager than ever to trap one of these turtles. Everyone gets pretty audacious in their ideas to net and catch these turtles. It gets pretty lively some days. Trying to be sneaky turns into talking until the last few seconds, then “plop!” gone.

Using a seine net, on loan from DEC, to try to capture our target turtle species.

Using a seine net, on loan from DEC, to try to capture our target turtle species.

Even though there’s so much already learned, there’s so much more to learn.

Youth Ambassadors First Impressions

The group met at Friendly’s Restaurant one sunny morning eager to explore the Riverwalk. It wasn’t long until we spotted the first Spiny Soft Shelled Turtle perched upon a log. It was then that we knew, this project was meant for us. Each of our eyes lit up in excitement and disbelief that these turtles lived right in the middle of our home town. As we continued along the Riverwalk we discovered more and more each turn. Finally, we discovered their main breeding ground and a nest full of eggs. It was at this point that our interests peaked. Trapping, researching, and recording data about these turtles was what we were made to do.

First Impressions:

Matt: It was very interesting to see the diversity of living organisms here in western New York. I never knew that so many different species are present here, many of which are invasive. As a result, I now have a greater appreciation for efforts to preserve the environment.

Jeremy: The first week was really enjoyable getting to know about the group and the nature in the surrounding area. Discovering the turtles for the first time, learning about the different species, and playing with our wolf spider were all both fascinating and fun. Each day I learn more and more about the trees, birds, and insects surrounding my hometown and hope to someday become proficient in that knowledge in order to share it with others.

Wolf Spider

Adolf: After just a couple of days on the Chadakoin, I was amazed that there was such a variety of wildlife, especially in such an urban environment. What surprised me the most though was the difference between the areas that have already been developed and the areas that are still mostly natural. Wherever there has been irresponsible use of the river, there is way less wildlife, as well as much more erosion of the bank. Areas that have been responsibly managed have many interesting species present, and are much more enjoyable to experience.

Heron in the Outlet

Griffin: The first week of the project has been an eye-opening experience for me. I have lived in Jamestown my entire life and until now, I wasn’t aware of the number of species in the Riverwalk area. In just a few days, we observed several turtle species, birds, dragonflies, damselflies, and various insects that I have never seen before. Most of my excitement so far comes from the female Wolf Spider we caught at McCrea point and have observed at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. I am very excited to work on this project throughout the rest of the summer.

Katydid

Erros: Joining “Project Wild America” as an ambassador has, just in the first week, given me a wealth of knowledge, valuable experience, and a  fun and exciting atmosphere for me to develop in. We have started exploring the nearby parts of the Chadakoin corridor and the Riverwalk that has been implemented so far. We have spotted and caught several different species of local wildlife, primarily at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and the Chadakoin River. Some include different species such as birds, turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, vegetation and plants. Some of our activities have included building small bottle traps, turtle traps, identifying insect species and watching the Chadakoin River and it’s turtle nests. The beginning of this project has been very interesting and I believe we will achieve our goals this summer.

Hailey: The first week on the Chadakoin  corridor was quite an experience for me. I have always lived out and away from urban areas, or well populated areas, such as Jamestown. I was never aware that a place so populated like Jamestown is was capable of housing such an environment. I never even knew that wildlife, like spiny softshell turtles wandered around, let alone nested in Jamestown. Aside from the river, meeting and getting to know the group has been an experience as well. Gaining all of this information and knowledge has intrigued my interests in wildlife and I’m excited to see what this summer has yet to come.

Observations

After our first week on the Riverwalk, we each were each given a chance to explore and research the wildlife on the Chadakoin River. From what we saw, we were able to get a pretty good idea of the overall health of the ecosystem, and how all of the different species play a part. It was definitely surprising that there was such a variety of wildlife right in the middle of the city, and that some of these species are difficult to find anywhere else. As the summer goes on, it will be interesting to learn more about the wildlife, and improve the habitat quality of the area.