Kayaking with the Crew

DSCN5442What a way to start our second-to-last week as the Project Wild America Crew! Bright & early on Tuesday morning, where was the Crew? In bed? At the Roger Tory Peterson Institute? Nope, try the middle of the Chadakoin River. You see, this week starts our theme of Bioblitz. Bioblitz is basically just us trying to identify as many species as we can in the Jamestown area. And what a better place to identify as much as we can than one of the most diverse places in Jamestown: the Chadakoin River. We dipped our kayaks into the chilly water around 8:30 a.m. at McCrea Point and started identifying from there. To make it more interesting, our crew leaders made it a competition. All eight of us crew members were challenged to each identify five to ten different species without overlapping with one another. While this may have started a few quarrels among the crew, we were still successful! I don’t have enough room to list it all, but I’ll give you the lowdown for each category.

Aquatics: Eurasion Milfoil, Curly Pondweed, Duckweed, Hornwort, and Bryozoan.

Birds: Catbirds, Eastern Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Sandpiper, Red-winged Blackbird, Blue Jay, Mallard Ducks, American Robin


Vegetation: Birdsfoot Trefoil, Cardinal Flower, Blue Vervain, Purple Loosestrife, Narrow-leaved Cattail, Japanese Knotweed, Spearmint, Royal Fern, Forget-Me-Knot, Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Blueberry, Skunk Cabbage, Mugwort, and Button Bush

Trees: Black Ash, Green Ash, Black Willow, Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Dogwood, and Silver Maple

And all of this was just along a mile stretch of the Chadakoin River. Who knows what other mysteries lie in the banks and swamps downriver. As you can see it was a busy day filled with biodiversity, competition, and lots of yakin’. And that was just day one of Bioblitz. Catch us at Chadakoin Park, McCrea Point, or Allen Park just trying to add to our species list and don’t be afraid to approach and ask questions: we’re friendly and always looking for someone to share our knowledge with!DSCN5431


We’re Hell-Bent on Saving the Hellbenders!

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute recently got two new habitants- two eastern hellbenders. These salamanders are kept in a large tank at the museum, with flat rocks to hide under. Their names are Oneka and Tweeg, and they are the coolest looking creatures I have seen. They are slimy and cute, with short little legs, and dark little eyes. They go by many different names, such as snot otters, Allegheny alligators, or mud dog. They are such interesting creatures, but many people know very little about them.

Salamanders are quite diverse in appearance, Hellbender-DSC_1216-500x331coming in many different shapes and sizes. However, the biggest salamander of all is the Hellbender. These amphibians are the largest aquatic salamander in the United States, and the third largest aquatic salamander in the world. They can grow over two feet long and look very odd with a flat head, long wrinkly body, and brown spotted skin. They typically live under large rocks or boulders in streams and rivers, and are mostly nocturnal. They eat crayfish, small fish, and tadpoles. The species of hellbenders found in New York are Eastern hellbenders, while another species, called Ozark hellbenders, are found in Missouri and Arkansas. The Ozark hellbenders are endangered, while the Eastern hellbenders is a species of concern. Hellbenders do have lungs, however, they rarely spend much time out of the water. Most of the oxygen hellbenders need is absorbed through its skin, which is part of the reason why hellbenders are becoming endangered.

A disease has been spreading that affects the ability of certain amphibians that breathe through their skin. This disease is called chytrid, a pathogenic fungus. This can hurt the hellbenders by inhibiting the amount of oxygen that can be absorbed through the skin. Another cause of the declining populations is water pollution. Hellbenders are very sensitive to polluted water, and need clean, cold, oxygen-rich freshwater to survive. The pollution can cause other diseases that damage the skin, or make them more susceptible to chytrid disease. Populations in New York have been steadily declining, with the Allegheny populations declining 40% since the 1980s. Conservation efforts are being made, with hellbenders being breed in captivity and later released. Hopefully with some help and monitoring, these slimy little creatures will make a come-back and have a large population in the coming years.

Turtle trapping 🐢

Musk turtleHey guys! It’s Lauren here, so far my favorite part of this internship was the turtle trapping! It was quite the experience, I feel that we all got closer as a group as we trucked through the mucky waters of the Chadakoin. The Stenotherus odoratos anso known as the musk turtles.  Musk turtles like to live in rivers, creeks, and other shallow bodies of water that have a muddy bottom that they can forage for there food. Which consists of insects, small fish, and even carrion that they find at the bottom. It was a little nerve racking that we could not see our feet through the water and you wonder what every little thing that touches you is but that is kind of the fun part you never know what you are going to find. You might even lose a shoe in the deep mud or just get stuck cause the mud is up past your knees. But I love getting down and dirty with the turtles and trying to see why these musk turtles are only in this small part of Chautauqua county and the only spot in western New York. So it was cool that we got to be part of the first musk turtle to be marked in New York State. They are not invasive to the area except maybe to the fishermen that catch them on there lines cause they will not second guess biting someone if they are messed with and they excrete a foul musky odor from sweat glands on the edge of their shells . These little aggressive and smelly critters can get to 3  to 5 inches and the average lifespan in captivity is 54.8 years. I have really enjoyed this and can not wait to do it again!

How Do We Catch Birds, and What Do We Do With Them?


We walk up to the mist nets, the morning air is cool and the grass is wet. The water starts to seep into my socks. As we get closer, something makes the net quiver. The group arrives and I see my first bird up close. It is a small song sparrow, its feet grabbing ahold on the fine netting. Our supervisor pulls the net around the legs and frees the bird from the net, careful not to hurt the sparrow, and careful not to let it go.

When a bird is flying overhead or when we see a photograph of a bird close up, we all

can recognize that it is a bird. I bet you would never think that someone can catch such a


Author of this post, Anna Sena, Holding a Catbird

small, fast, flying animal.  What the Roger Tory Peterson Institute is doing is setting up large mist nets, catching any bird that flies into it, and banding them. They do this to track migration habits of birds, and the dispersal of the species.




Catching Birds:

Birds are most active in the early morning, so the catching takes place from sunrise until noon to maximize the number of birds caught. The first thing we do is put up the mist nets. They are very fine nets that do not hurt the birds, they only catch the birds who get tangled up in them. The birds grab onto the net so their feet and body are tangled up. A trained professional with experience will carefully take the birds out of the net and put them in soft, white cloth bags that is calming for the birds and ease their stress.

housewren.jpgA house wren holding onto the mist net, Becky Rew

Processing the Bird:

After we catch the birds, we have to process them. This means observing the sex, weight, size, and age of the birds. To determine the sex of a species, the appearance differs from male to female.feathers The coloring of the feathers on a gold finch, for example, is more golden yellow on male birds than female birds, who are more grey and brown. We can also look at their breast and abdomen to see if they have a brooding patch, which is a bald area on females to keep eggs warm, since feathers insulate the mother’s heat. We measure the wing size and the tail feathers in millimeters. To determine the age of the birds, we look at their feathers. The wearing of them, the sizes of them, and if they have younger feathers. We also look at features like molting and fat content.  We put a band around a leg of the bird. It is loose enough to not hinder movement, but snug enough to not fall off of the bird.

Holding Birds:

There are two main ways to hold birds, the banders hold, and the photographers hold. When measuring and observing the bird, the photographers hold is used. When putting

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The Bander’s Hold

the metal band around the leg of the bird, general holding of the specimen, or releasing the bird, the banders hold is used. The photographers hold is also used in most photographs to clearly see the body and head.photo-hold

The Photographer’s Hold


Why Do We Band Birds:

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute, along with its Project Wild America Program is catching and banding birds to track population and migration. We band birds in Jamestown, and then if we capture them again at another time, we know they stay here. If another bird bander catches the same bird in another state, or even country, we know they are moving or migrating. This ultimately helps the birds and helps the people who study them by furthering our understanding of how a certain species lives.

During this entire process, the first priority is the birds. We want to cause them the least amount of stress possible, and if their health is threatened, we do what is best for the bird and we will let it go. The bird’s health is more important than getting it banded. This is an incredible experience for an aspiring environmental scientist like myself and it improves our knowledge of the nature around us.


An American Robin, Hanny Qadri 

PWA Crew’s Initial Thoughts

Lauren Garvey: These past two weeks we have done so many interesting things like band birds and trap and mark turtles. Trapping the turtles would probably have to be the most interesting so far, not just because we got to catch turtles, but also because of how much we got to learn about each other and how we all helped each other and became closer as a group. We also learned some pretty cool things. Like how to tell if a turtle is a male or a female and also how to tell how old the turtle might be. It has been a lot of fun so far learning new things and getting closer as a group.

Emma Wade: I am more than excited to be back for my second year as a Project Wild America Youth Ambassador. Also, I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who share the same interest in environmental studies as I do and we seem to have a pretty great crew this year. These past couple weeks have been filled with rainy surprises, mucky water, and lots of wildlife. From bird banding to identifying trees, and catching turtles we’ve been quite busy and entertained. I’ve learned a lot about identifying trees, how to safely band birds, and about the other crew members. It’s been fun and educational and I’m excited to see what the coming weeks bring!

Elliott Safford: I believe that the different activities you participate in, and the way you take part and react during your time being involved with them, will affect the type of person you will be and the values you will uphold.20170628_124614 Each of the different programs I have been involved with have made an impact on the way I think and see things in their own ways.

I’ve often been a pretty cautious person, very unsure, and afraid to take any chances. I’m quickly learning that Project Wild America will be my chance to change that.20170629_140515 I have already been able to go outside my comfort zone while having loads of fun, and I’ve gotten a little more confident and willing to dive into a new situation. All this in just under two weeks! Through all of our adventures with bird banding, dragonfly and damselfly catching and marking, and turtle trapping, I’ve learned a lot, and grown as a person at the same time. So far, I’d have to say that I’m loving my summer job!

Hanny Qadri: It has been a little over a week here at RTPI’s Project Wild America and I have been doing stuff I’ve never thought I’d ever be doing. This very small amount of time has been so eye opening. Prior to starting this internship I was ignorant to the insane amounts of life here in Jamestown and took it for granted. Now I know for sure that Jamestown is prosperous and full of life from first hand experiences, you just have to look for it. This perspective of science is definitely new to me so I still have a lot to learn but I look forward to it. I am enjoying the community involvement and look forward to being pushed further out of my comfort zone.

 Makenna Graham: These first weeks with Project Wild America have been exciting and new. We’ve done so many interesting projects and studies, such as bird banding and turtle trapping, while also visiting different parks around town and looking at different species of plants and trees. My favorite day so far was our bird banding day. I love birds, and seeing them up close was amazing! I was able to hold several types of birds, such as Catbirds, Robins, and Sparrows. These birds were documented and then safety set free, which was so interesting to see. I’ve started to become familiar with certain bird calls, and can identify several species of birds in our community. This program has given me several amazing experiences, and it’s only been two weeks. I can’t wait to see what else

Jonah Rizzuto: This first couple weeks working has been very fun and educational. I am learning many new things about plants and animals and also learning about animals I never knew existed. I would have to say that the best part of my experience so far would be the turtle trapping. The first time going into the water I was a little nervous and curious to be honest. I even lost my shoe in the mud, haha! But the second time going in I was fine. I kinda had an idea of what I was getting my feet into!! It’s fun working in a small group and really getting to know each other and accomplish things together.

Shania Nuse: From the start I knew I would be in love with this Project Wild America summer program and I love it more and more each day! Through both rainy and sunny days I enjoy getting the hands on experience and learning new things each and every day. So far we’ve learned how to band birds and the different approaches to it, catching and marking dragonflies and damselflies, and just recently catching and marking turtles. What’s even more wonderful is that through this program we can learn and take our newly found knowledge and give back to the community which is really exciting to me. I am very excited to be apart of this summer program this year and being with such amazing people!

Anna Sena: I LOVE THIS JOB! I love being outside everyday. I love learning new species. I love learning more about the environment. I love teaching other people. All of these things I do in the Project Wild America Program. My future plans involve Environmental Science and this program is a great head start on that career. Bird banding was

Marking a White Tail Skimmer

incredible and the experience will stay with me for a long time. Dragonfly catching was so fun and exciting; a couple of us even stayed for at least half an hour to catch a super fast White Tail Skimmer because we wanted it so bad! The only grueling thing that has happened to us this couple of weeks is walking through the muck in the Chadakoin

Showing off the turtles

River. I admit, the first time we went in the water I cried a little bit because it is a fear of mine to be in that situation. I did conquer my fear and the next day I was better. The experience was worth it because of the turtles we caught. At the McCrea point opening the public loved the adorable turtles we caught. So, in conclusion, I have nothing negative to say!


Welcome Our New Crew Leaders

Please join us in welcoming this year’s Project Wild America Youth Ambassador Crew Leaders, Morgan Motherwell and Becky Rew! Morgan participated in PWA last year as a crew member and has completed her first year at the Rochester Institute of Technology where she is studying Environmental Science. Becky joins us from Jamestown Community College, where she studied Environmental Science as well. Becky will be transferring to SUNY ESF this fall to pursue Conservation Biology. Both of these wonderful young ladies will be leading our crew through a busy summer season, exploring Jamestown’s wild side and connecting the community to the life that lives in their backyards!

Rebecca (Becky) Rew is on the left and Morgan Motherwell on the right.

Calling All Students

Are you interested in pursuing a career in environmental biology or environmental education? Are you a junior or senior in high school, or a college student looking for an exciting summer packed with relevant experience? Please consider joining the Roger Tory Peterson Institute’s Project Wild America Youth Ambassador program. Through this program you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside RTPI biologists and staff as they investigate, monitor and improve habitat for unusual and threatened species in the City of Jamestown, as well as raise public awareness and increase community engagement.

For those interested, applications in PDF can be picked up at RTPI or found here:

PWA Crew Leader Application 2017
PWA Crew Application 2017

Completed applications can be dropped off in person or emailed to Elyse Henshaw at ehenshaw AT rtpi.org.

RTPI is very excited for what the upcoming field season has in store, and look forward to once again being immersed in water, mud and adventure alongside another great crew of students that will be doing the same as we explore and discover the natural wonders within the boundaries of our own city!

Downy Woodpecker

Although New York is home to 11 different woodpecker species, the one most commonly encountered is the Downy Woodpecker. Although it also enjoys foraging for foods in open woodlands and meadows, it is unique in that it frequently visits bird feeders as well. It is small compared to most other woodpeckers, so it is able to access food that is difficult for their larger relatives to reach. They also frequently flock with other birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches.

Downy Woodpecker-9550

A fantastic picture of a Downy Woodpecker taken in the “Meet Your Neighbors” style photographed by Twan Leenders.

The Downy Woodpecker’s most distinctive feature is its small size, as the maximum length for any individual is less than 7 inches! Combine this with their light weight (usually under 1 oz) and they are able to feed in unique situations. Often, they will perch on weeds such as goldenrod and consume the larvae that are embedded in galls on the plant. Basically, a gall is an part of the plant that has grown around an egg placed by an insect, which provides food and shelter for the developing larvae. Besides perching on weeds, Downy Woodpeckers are also known to visit suet feeders, black oil sunflower feeders, peanut feeders, and even hummingbird feeders.


The same Downy Woodpecker looking curious. Photographed by Twan Leenders.

Downy Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, and excavate cavities that with entrance holes only 1-1.15 inches wide. They only nest in dead trees, or parts of living trees that have died. Sometimes, they will choose to excavate a portion of the tree that has already been weakened by a fungal infection. Once the cavity has been created (a process which usually takes between 1 and 3 weeks) the inside is lined with wood chips.


Here is a Downy Woodpecker foraging for food. Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

Having a variety of food sources and nesting sites means that the Downy Woodpecker is fairly adaptable. This means that their populations have remained stable, and they are not facing any serious conservation issues at this point. This is good news, especially to Western New Yorkers who love seeing them visit feeders throughout the year!

Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtle (Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus)

Sternotherus odoratus-0412b-DONE

This “Meet Your Neighbours” photograph of the Common Musk Turtle was taken by Twan Leenders

The Common Musk Turtle is also commonly referred to as the “stinkpot”, because it can produce a fluid in the glands beneath the top of its shell that gives off a pungent musky odor. When a musk turtle is captured or disturbed the turtle releases the musk odor to deter would-be predators and occasionally kids who want to keep this adorable turtle as a pet.

Common musk turtles are small turtles, usually 5-12 cm in length, with dark brown or black shells that may be streaked or mottled, with light spots along the edges of the shell. The head of the common musk turtle typically has two distinct parallel yellow stripes that extend from the nose to the neck. This species can be differentiated from the similar mud turtles by their relatively small plastron (bottom of shell), which has one weak hinge and exposed areas of skin. Musk turtle can also blend well into their surroundings by allowing green algae to accumulate on their shell.

Common Musk Turtle we caught in one of our hoop traps.

The common musk turtles can be found throughout the eastern U.S. in a variety of aquatic habitats. They are most common in shallow water-bodies with low currents, abundant aquatic vegetation, and soft organic bottoms. Although Musk Turtles are primarily nocturnal and they are often seen foraging in shallow water in the evening, they can sometimes be spotted during the day. They are omnivorous (e.g., seeds, insects, snails, tadpoles, algae) and will occasionally scavenge on fish carrion.

Surprisingly, common musk turtles have been seen climbing trees. The common musk turtle has been known to climb trees overhanging waterways and slanting boles as high as 6 or more feet above the surface of the water. If a turtle ever falls on your head or drops into your watercraft while you are out kayaking or canoeing, it probably will be this or one of the other musk turtles.

The Mighty Bryozoan

While walking along the Chadakoin River I have observed some interesting inhabitants. From a spiny soft shell turtle basking on a rock, to a vacant bicycle fighting a current, it’s truly amazing what you can find in the swift water. But the most crazy and interesting creature I found in the Chadakoin so far is the bryozoan.


A Magnificent Bryozoan photographed by Twan Leenders in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style.

If you ever peered into the water and seen a large gelatin mass floating at the surface or clinging to a fallen tree, don’t be alarmed. It’s not some foreign species from another planet, but a large native colony of little animals called bryozoan. With over 5000 species in world, these little creatures love to live in a group, and in fact complete a perfect job by working together. Bryozoan or Bryozoans (Plural) act as a filter. Each individual bryozoan takes in an average of 8.8 ml of water per day while cleaning and eating the harmful microbes that swim by. For this reason bryozoans are greatly needed in an ecosystem. Almost all bryozoans are colonized and are made up of tiny singular bryozoans (otherwise known as a zooid). Less than a millimeter long, each zooid works to maintain the colony, each having a specific job. While some feed and digest microbes (known as autozooids) others reproduce and lay eggs, to continue to grow the colony (Hetrozooids). What’s also interesting is that each zooid in a colony are merged together via the zooid skin (or the zoooeicum). This makes it impossible for the zooid to move around on its own but once combined they act as one organism. Sort of like the human body in were all organs (that have different purposes) are linked together to the nervous system, in order to complete a common function. That function being to keep the body alive. So is the same job of the many zooids in a bryozoan.


The 2015 PWA crew had a memorable encounter with a bryozoan as well!

While observing the Chautauqua Lake via kayak and the Chadakoin while turtle trapping I have found many stratoblasts or (clusters) of bryozoan. In the lake I was able to observe many bryozoans from a fallen tree at the opening of the Chautauqua outlet.  This fallen tree was the bryozoan’s best friend as it hugged and encompassed almost the entire tree, and it was almost as if they both had a symbiotic relationship with each other. The tree fed and gave shelter to the bryozoan and the bryozoan protected the tree. Sort of like the relationship between a sea anemone and a clown fish. The next time the PWA crew visited the Chadakoin, (while trying to catch spiny softshell turtles) I also found several other stratoblasts of bryozoan at the Warner dam. Though smaller in size than the other stratoblasts found at the outlet, these bryozoans spread out over a wide surface area at the bottom of the stony concrete of the dam, and had more of a star shaped pattern in between its slimy gelatin gaps.

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Another example of a magnificent bryozoan. Photographed by the Adirondack Watershed Institute.

Surprisingly in both locations each bryozoan holds the same function of filtration. Cleaning the water in this way is greatly needed in an ecosystem. When filtered water is present life flourishes, and as the water becomes filthy life diminishes. Also it has been a known fact that both the Chautauqua Lake and the Chadakoin River have seen pollution in their days and still time to time experience a sudden onset of garbage. This problem has grown drastically as it has become a big eyesore and has even found its way into drinking water. But even though things might seem the darkest for the river system now, things aren’t as bad as they once were. Before factories were regulated, chemicals were dumped into the river. This resulted in a sudden decrease in life. It wasn’t until regulations were placed that life began to flourish again. Once bryozoans started making a home in the river we knew it was safe again to enter the water. Now the greatest pollution comes from the Warner dam. This is because a slew of garbage is trapped at the beginning of the dam, bringing with it a foamy scum that pours out of the bottom. Fortunately this is where the bryozoans love to hang out, and if there’s a filter at the beginning of the polluted source, the rest of the river won’t be as contaminated. All the harmful chemicals and microbes that are produced by the garbage will now be eaten and filtered out by our little friends, turning dirty water clean again.

A magnificent bryozoan that Mike found in the Chadakoin River.

It’s true what they say that big things come in small packages. This is true for the mighty bryozoan, for such a little organism can play such a big role in a large ecosystem. Though it may look funny and feel even weirder these little organisms are our friends, and the more of these friends we have around the safer our lives will be. For not only do bryozoans clean our water but may even produce a chemical compound to fight against cancerous cells. If scientists can find the secrets to this chemical the future will be definitely brighter, for a cure for cancer might be found. If you want to thank these little creatures or even survey them, go to your local lake, stream, or river. Look around fallen trees or submerged rocks and you will be sure to find a friendly stratoblast. I am sure you will be amazed at the structure and features that the bryozoan hold. Furthermore, enjoy the water the bryozoans worked hard to clean!