Digging Deeper

Panama Rocks has been a hotspot for tourism for hundreds of years. The magnificent rocks and cliffs dominate the forest, and they offer great adventure. They offer the thrill of wandering into a dark cave, not knowing what is around the corner. They offer the feeling of accomplishment when you have climbed up or down to new heights or depths. They offer the feeling of being on top of the world whilst looking down from the top of a cliff. Tourists come and go, and they take the wonderful memories of these rocks with them. But, it is easy to get caught up in all of the excitement without paying attention to the smaller details. Project Wild America wandered into Panama Rocks last Friday. We were not only looking at the rocks. We were looking for something smaller, yet just as important… the inhabitants of the forest.

Panama Rocks offers more than just rocks. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that it is teeming with life. We only had to roll back a few logs before we found a large Slimy Salamander. About 6 inches in length, it slithered right into our hands, making everything sticky along the way. We placed it in a nice habitat box, where it would be staying for the weekend. Along with the Slimy, we found an Eastern Newt, dozens of Red Back Salamanders, countless American Toads, and giant Millipedes. Aside from this, we identified so many species of plants that we lost track. My personal favorite is the Wild Blueberry Bush, for obvious reasons.

This experience truly taught me to look deeper into life and inspect things thoroughly. Our attention can be taken easily by eye grabbing entities. And while they may be amazing, we would be missing out if we didn’t look any closer to find the smaller wonders in life.

 

 

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The Wonders of Wetlands

Last week, the PWA crew had our first adventure in wetlands along the Chadakoin river. When I first entered the mucky area, I thought it was nothing special. When looking at it from the outside, they just look like overgrown, muddy forests. However, wetlands are truly a hidden wonder in our community.

Wetlands contain many plants and animals, some of which are only or mostly found in wetlands. You can find skunk cabbage, silver maple trees, arrow leaf plants, and many types of ferns. All of these plants contribute to the stability of wetlands. You can also see many kinds woodpeckers and birds making nests in the trees. These wetlands provide important homes to wildlife as well as food for other species.

Another important fact about wetlands is the soil. This special saturated soil, known as hydric soil, has many minerals and benefits. As the plants in the wetlands die, they fall into the soil and decompose very slowly, causing the soil to take on a dark, rich color. The soil is very thick, and provides a great environment for growth. Because of the special quality of the soil, wetlands also provide flood and drought control. The soil acts as a sponge that traps and releases water. This helps to prevent erosion and helps to control water heights.

Wetlands are truly special places in our community, with important properties to help our river and environment. While they may seem like muddy, gross areas, the species in and around wetlands provide significant benefits to our environment.

The Unknown in Our Community

Throughout the weeks of Project Wild America, the crew members are introduced to many new and exciting things in the community. Many of these plants and animals have always been here, but not many people know their official names and purposes. Here are a few of these species!

Sarah Quadt: PWA has broadened my horizons and sparked my awareness of so many species around me that I would have never known about otherwise. Two species that have stuck out to me the most are the invasive Purple Loosestrife, and its native lookalike, the Blue Vervain. Previously, I simply thought of these plants as “pretty flowers”. I had no idea that the Purple Loosestrife was actually harming our local environment, and did not attempt to distinguish at all between the two plants. Both are aesthetically pleasing to look at, but that does not mean they are good! That was an important realization for me. I also enjoyed learning how to distinguish between invasive and native lookalikes, and continue to keep an eye out for differences that set the species apart. I love being conscious of the difference between invasive and native. I now know how important it is to distinguish between the two when examining species in our environment.

Abbi WarnerThroughout this program, I’ve noticed so many different things. It surprises me on how much I’ve taken in already. But most of all I didn’t notice how many dragonflies were around in the Jamestown Western NY area. My favorite dragonfly are pawn tawks. The vibrant blue-green color is just so beautiful you would think they’re from the tropics. While we were catching them we took videos of how fast their wings flutter and it amazed by that in slow-mo the wing speed was still really fast.

Jasmine Buffone: Through the PWA youth ambassadors program I have learned many new things. Mainly I’ve been noticing the invasive species that are in Jamestown. Such as honeysuckle which I see at many public parks and other places. I feel that it is important to recognize these invasive plants that disrupt our environment; furthermore, contributing to finding solutions to these problems could help our community grow and flourish.

Anna Burt: Over the course of this last week I have encountered many invasive species that I have never noticed before. One of the invasives that stuck out the most was Phragmites. This plant is named using its scientific name, that’s why it sounds a little silly. Never before had I noticed these tall grasses growing along the side of the road. I always just saw them as tall weeds, nothing special. After a week of being taught about invasives I could point Phragmites out in a heartbeat.

Makenna Graham: Along the  Chadakoin Riverwalk, you can usually see many types of wildlife. My favorite to spot is the Spiny Softshell Turtle. I never knew they were in this area before, but since this program, I always notice them. We have a small population of these turtles in our area, and PWA is trying to keep an eye on them. These turtles are peculiar little creatures that you can usually see laying on rocks on sunny days. They have flat, oval shaped shells and pointed faces. Ever since I learned about them, I always make it a point to search along the riverbank for them when I am near the river.

Leanna Stratton: One thing that I have learned through this program that I didn’t know before was about the sycamore tree. The sycamore tree has camouflage for the trunk and that makes it very easy to identify. You can see them all around Jamestown like down by the Chinese restaurant across from Friendly’s. Sycamores branch out all over and make a kind of arch in some places. They can grow 75 to 90 feet and arch out 50 to 70 feet sometimes. They are a very unique tree and I love to look around when I’m driving and try to spot them.

 

 

The Invasive Water Chestnut

First introduced to North America in the 1870’s, water chestnut can be found in ponds, lakes, and rivers. This invasive plant has been found in forty-three counties in New York, including Warren, Allegany, and even at our local Jamestown Audubon’s “Big Pond”. In fact, me and the rest of the Project Wild America Youth Ambassador crew got to go to the Audubon to look for and pull water chestnuts. Seeing this invasive plant up close and getting to learn about it showed us how much a species like this could disrupt an ecosystems balance.

Their pond “Big Pond” is exactly like how the name sounds it would be. So it’s very important to manage and keep these chestnuts under control because this plant can multiply very rapidly. They can spread by the rosette and fruits detaching from the stem and floating to another area on currents. They can also spread by clinging on to floating objects and recreational watercraft. Water Chestnuts form thick mats of vegetation that can be very difficult for boats to get through; In addition, the vegetation shade out native aquatic plants that provide food and shelter to organisms in their habitats.

Common ways to manage this species is to hand-pull them, use harvesting machines, or chemical methods. Some ways I learned that help control this invasive water chestnut effectively are to clean, drain, and dry your watercraft equipment before and after each use. Overall, thoroughly clean your equipment to help prevent water chestnuts from spreading to other lakes or rivers.

What Are Invasives?

Before Invasive Week:

Jasmine Buffone: Invasive species, they often interrupt the biodiversity of an ecosystem. Although, they are apart of populations that surround almost every community. Certain invasives can be deceiving and hard to identify, some of them even have look-alike species. Many in Jamestown originate from places that are very far from New York. To name a few, Japanese knotweed, mugwort, and honeysuckle. These species will continue to flourish and thrive by taking over space and nutrients that other non-invasives need to survive.

Abbi Warner: Invasive species can be animals, plants, fungi, and insects that aren’t p1native to an environment. They usually try to push out the native species; having the natives die off. We usually look at them as pests, or terrible. But they do give a bigger and more competition to the native species, which can be a good thing but also a bad. One of the most known invasive species in Western New York is the Japanese Beetle. In my opinion, there’s nothing good about these insects. More invasives are Curly Pondweed, Zebra Mussels, and Honeysuckle.

Makenna Graham: Invasives are a species that is non-native to the area. These species take over the area they are in, driving out the native species. Because of this, the stability of a habitat can be impacted as some animals can lose their main food source, or can be driven out due to competition. The overall equilibrium of the environment is greatly impacted by invasives. Some main invasives in our area are Japanese Knotweed, Honeysuckle, Norwegian Maple, European Starling, and Multiflora Rose.

Sarah Quadt: Invasive species are any type of living being that is not native to a particular area. They can disrupt entire ecosystems, as these ecosystems may not have factors within it to control the invasive population. Due to having no limiting factors, the invasives can easily take over and drive other species out or trigger die-offs within multiple populations. they can also do the opposite, causing growth in populations. Biodiversity is typically always threatened when these foreign invaders are introduced 1402879245_9c832c7132_z[1]to the area, and this is a huge problem. It is common to introduce another species to control the invasive population or attempt to decrease it through other means. The Zebra Mussel is an invasive species flourishing in Chautauqua Lake, and it causes many problems within our lake ecosystem. It is important to keep an eye out for invasive species in our area!

Anna Burt: Invasive species are any animal or plant that is not native to a certain area. The invasive species try to push out the native species and “take control” of a certain area. Some examples of invasive species are Giant Hogweed, Zebra Muscles, and Honeysuckle.

Leanna Stratton: Invasives are the term when a plant or animal is in a non-native place. They normally make competition for the native harder and some completely overrule the area. Some examples of invasives are Honeysuckle, Muck wood, and Zebra Muscles. Sometimes invasives can help the population thrive and other times and can be very harmful to the area. Altogether invasives should be watched and monitored closely.

After Invasive Week:

Jasmine Buffone: Now, in conclusion, I have learned that there are many invasive species in Jamestown. Also, there are active programs going on to keep these plants under control. For example the hand-pulling of water chestnuts at the Audubon. These solutions help to manage the invasive species all around us.

Abbi WarnerAfter having a week dedicated to invasive species, I’ve learned that they really aren’t good for the environment at all. Once invasives are planted in the area its super hard to get rid of them. From this, we create programs to either get rid of or control the species.

Makenna Graham: This week focusing on invasive species was very interesting. I learned that there are many invasives in our community that greatly impact native species. You can find these invasive species all throughout our community, which is not a good sign. By mapping and documenting these species, we help to prevent the spread and introduction of these species to other communities.

Sarah Quadt: Invasive week was truly eye opening for me. Previously, I knew the basics about invasives; the textbook definition, what they do to our environment, and could name a few examples. Now, I find that wherever I go, I am looking to see if I can spot any. I have gained so much insight pertaining to our environment, and am noticing new species in places like my own backyard!

Leanna Stratton: This week we learned about invasives and why they are harmful to the environment  if they are not native here.  The invasive that we focused on a lot this week was water chestnut. Water chestnuts are a invasive species that can take over and dominate ponds and rivers and cause harm like boats not being able to through harbors. Learning about invasive plants in water and out can be very helpful because people can learn and help the environment with us!!

Anna Burt: This past week I have learned all about invasive species. There are so many in our area that I have never heard of or recognized as invasive. Some of the species we have found in this area are Canary Reed Grass, Honey Suckle (lots of it!), Multiflora Rose, Phragmites, Japanese Knot Weed, and Purple Loose Strife. These invasive species sometimes grow in large areas that interfere with the native plants growing in that area. These species are marked and closely monitored to insure that they don’t spread.

 

The Hidden Wonders at McCrea Point Park

Four years ago I started rowing at the boat club right next to McCrea Point Park. During my first year the park was only a big field of grass with tall weIMG_4460eds covering the banks near the water. I remember the park crawling with wild life my first year on the rowing team. Then a couple years later the city started construction on the park to make it prettier and attract more people. As the park underwent construction the park lost some of its wild life, but soon after the park was finished the life came back to it.

I have noticed this past year how much wildlife we have at McCrea Point. During the end of my rowing season I started to notice all the turtles that lived in the Chadakoin River. As we would row down the river there would be tons of turtles laying out on the logs basking in the sun. Most of them were Painted or Musk turtles, but we also saw some Spiny Soft IMG_4461Shell turtles. Just last week the crew of PWA caught and marked the second musk turtle in the state of New York.

Dragonflies and Damselflies are also abundant at McCrea Point Park. Some species of dragonflies the PWA found and identified were the Eastern Pondhawk, Unicorn Clubtail, Blue Dasher, Widow Skimmer, Amber Wing, Halloween Pennant, and 12 Spotted Skimmer. I always saw these dragon flies while I was out rowing but I never payed much attention to them. Now when I see them I’m in awe because IMG_4427of how beautiful they are up close.

All the different types of dragonflies and the three main species of turtles we have in the Chadakoin are just some of the wonders we have right here at McCrea Point Park. Its been amazing to watch the change in the park throughout the years and see how beautiful it has become. I encourage everyone to go there and just sit oIMG_4417n the rocks near the water or go kayaking down the Chadakoin to see all the beautiful wildlife there is in Jamestown NY.

 

A Flash to the Past

When I was younger around age 6 I spent a ton of time outside at my grandparents house in Youngsville, PA. Their house was right next to the Brokenstraw Creek. They had a pavilion in the back and a flower garden, which is where is spent blowing bubbles and playing with my grandmothers 7 cats. I remember being outside and hearing a bird chirp, at the time I didn’t know what bird it was so I asked my grandfather. He said it was a Black-capped chickadee. I was amazed on how he knew the bird without seeing it.

Being here at Project Wild America I’ve learned many different bird calls. We went to Chadakoin park on Thursday the 28th attempting to trap turtles and banding birds. While we were there I heard Black-capped chickadee call. Black-capped chickadees are found in deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen forests, especially near forest edges. They are commonly found near willows and cottonwoods which is basically the mabird2ny paths throughout the park. While hearing the chirp I had a flashback to my grandparents backyard, remembering what my grandfather said. I surprised myself by knowing it instantly.

The rest of that day at my grandparents house consisted of watching the cats practice their hunting skills on the birds. Sad to say for the cats needed to work on their hunting skills a little bit more. But for my sake I was entertained and astonished by the nature around me.

Another Successful Year

In honor of RTPI’s Wild America Wednesday, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate another successful year of RTPI’s Project Wild America (PWA) Youth Ambassadors Program! Beginning in 2015, PWA began with a small group of ambitious students ready to roll up their sleeves and get dirty as they got acquainted with the Chadakoin River and the surrounding urban ecosystem within the City of Jamestown. Fast-forward to 2017, our crew has grown as have as our projects. We hope you enjoy this selection of photos from the summer season as well as the report for this year’s program.

From the first day, our students could tell they were in for a fun summer! To help our students get to know one another, we split them into teams and had them compete in a relay race, testing their knowledge and agility! Here Makenna races towards the “pond” to capture a fish.

 

The theme of our first week focused on learning about Roger Tory Peterson and the birds that inspired him. Here our students practice their birding skills in Willard Park, where Roger spent time as a young boy.

 

During our first week, and weeks after we conducted bird banding with PWA students.

 

Alex Shipherd, SUNY Fredonia biology student and past PWA crew leader, removes a Chestnut-sided warbler from a mist net. Alex assisted in all bird banding operations throughout the summer.

 

Alex, with the help of Tiffany Donaldson past PWA crew member, place the warbler in a holding bag to keep it calm before it receives its band.

 

At the end of each banding day our students assisted Alex in taking nets down.

 

Our students took part in leading many educational programs throughout the summer, reaching hundreds of people within the community and inspiring them to become better stewards of our unique environment.

 

PWA Youth Ambassadors engaged visitors at this years inaugural McCrea Point Park Festival.

 

They also joined they Mayor and city officials in the official re-opening of the park since its renovations.

 

At the festival, students showed off our very first captured Musk turtle marked for study.

 

After the festival, our students focused on invasive species, biodiversity and lots more turtle trapping.

 

Students pull and check turtle traps.

 

PWA students even got to do a little kayaking to explore the upper parts of the Chadakoin River/Chautauqua Lake Outlet and record as many species as possible.

 

While PWA tabled different events, they often surveyed the public to get their input on different environmental topics. Here, our crew leader Becky Rew asked visitors to RTPI’s Wild America Festival about biodiversity.

 

PWA students also helped raise awareness of the Eastern Hellbender by dressing up as SAM (Slimy And Misunderstood) the hellbender.

 

Our students put in a lot of hard work at the Wild America Festival!

 

As the last week came to a close, PWA students focused on water quality and sampled for microplastics and various macroinvertebrates.

 

After taking samples in the field, our students took to the lab to test their samples.

 

Here our students process a water sample in search of small plastic particles.

 

The samples were further processed and our students learned how harmful plastics can be!

 

After six weeks of hard work, the 2017 PWA Youth Ambassador program came to a close and our students gave a final presentation to community members about what they had found.

For more information, check out our report here and to read more about our adventures and findings visit www.projectwildamerica.org!

Winging It- At Night!

Our theme last week for PWA was, “Creatures of the Night,” therefore, we worked in the evenings instead of during the day, anywhere from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. PWA spent the week learning about and surveying different nocturnal animals which are home to Jamestown. We met two specialists during the week in order to learn about bats and moths. Wednesday, we walked the streets of Jamestown near the Prendergast Library and behind Chadakoin Park to look for bats, using a device designed to translate the high-pitched sounds a bat makes into something we can hear. Even in the dark, we were able to spot plenty of bats flying over and around where we were walking! DSC_0787Later in the week, we attended a presentation at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute about moths. There was an indoor presentation which lasted about an hour with time for questions. After that, we all went out in the dark to check on the moth sheets our presenter and his team had set out earlier to attract the moths! We identified the species that we caught, learning all sorts of interesting facts about the moths around Chautauqua County. Both of these activities were also open to the public and it was a fun adventure working with everyone who attended!

During both presentations, we received a lot of new information; both of our presenters were very knowledgeable and passionate about their field of interest. In our time spent studying bats, we were able to learn about some very unique characteristics they have. 20170728_134655Bats are the only mammals which are able to fly, and their skeletal structures are far more similar to our own than that of a bird. There are bats which feed on insects, on fruit, or on liquid, such as nectar or even blood. Vampire bats, however, do not feed on human blood, more often feeding on the blood of cattle. They inject an anticoagulant which numbs the spot they bite and keeps the blood from clotting, so that they may lap up as much blood as they need. We do not have any of them in our area though. A single insect-eating bat will consume millions of insects a night, and can fly many miles from their home. Nectar-drinking bats have extremely long tongues to help them drink nectar from flowers, and some have tongues longer than their bodies! Many bats use echolocation to find prey and navigate, but some use enhanced hearing or sight to find their way around and to hunt. Bats will usually either make their homes in trees or caves, and many will move into attics or barns, but they are mostly harmless.

Moths are food to insect-eating bats, and they have many different and interesting defense mechanisms. The mechanism I found most interesting was that some moths are able to mess with bats’ echolocation by making high-pitched sounds of their own, interfering with their ability to locate their prey. Other moths use camouflage. Some trying to blend in with their surroundings, some masquerading as other insects, and still others just trying to use the coloring on their wings to look scary.20170728_134717 I was never very interested in moths or bats, but now that I know how much there is to learn about them, I’d like to know more!

Unfortunately, it is getting harder to observe bats when their populations are rapidly declining. Bats in North America are being affected by a disease known as White Nose Syndrome. This disease has a very high death rate. It tends to strike while bats are hibernating, causing them to use more energy in their sleep. They have to carefully ration energy during hibernation, and if they use too much too quickly, it can kill them. The disease, which is caused by a fungus, also causes white lesions to form on the bats’ ears and noses, which is where the name came from. White Nose Syndrome is present all over North America.
For moths, there are many collections of moth specimens from different areas for researchers to study and reference, but sadly, in our area, we have just around 39 samples, comparing to hundreds from other areas in New York. The Roger Tory Peterson Institute plans to help gather more samples to bulk up our collection. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up and discover the biodiversity that we have right here in Jamestown, NY.

The Turtles are Smarter than they look.

Last week was reptile and amphibian week. After everyone witnessing my somewhat germanic fear of snakes I began to think that maybe this week’s theme wasn’t for me. But after we went “turtle trappin” the table turned. I never thought I’d think of turtles as cute animals. After catching three, holding one for the first time, and playing with them at McCrea Point they might be some of the cutest animals. We named the three turtles Crush, Squirt, and Lewis… each one having their own personality. Crush and Squirt where Painted turtles while Lewis was a Musk turtle. We spent so much time with these little guys before we had let them go and I had realized that these little reptiles aren’t just cute but extremely smart, smarter than one would think.

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While we were showing everyone the turtles at the McCrea Point opening, we would let the turtles walk around in the grass. Almost every time they were on their own, they would attempt to begin their journey back to where we caught them. They knew exactly where the water was even though it was out of their sight. We would even try turning them around to confuse them and they would flip back around and continue to their same path. It was honestly very impressive, so impressive in fact that at one point they seemed to just be showing off.

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