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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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!

Can You Bee-lieve That We’re Losing Our Number One Pollinators?

Pollination is essentially what makes the Earth green. Pollinators, such as the honeybee, are imperative to maintaining the ecosystems that omnivores, carnivores, and herbivores live in. Today, as the human population grows and as the food supply diminishes, pollinators of all shapes and sizes need to step up their role; however, humans aren’t allowing them to do their jobs. With pesticide use almost as high as when DDT was being spread, pollinators are struggling to do what they need to do, and humans are suffering as a result.

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Photo Courtesy of UMassAmherst

The issue that has now presented itself that humans have faced since the beginning of time deals primarily with basic necessities which included food and shelter, but in this case, mainly our food source. Now, as genetically modified organisms become increasingly more common, the question of when will someone be able to eat is no longer posed; instead, in today’s society, people’s primary concerns are about money. A professor, named Charles Pellegrino, who researches honeybees claims that “the result [of an 80 percent reduction in honeybee populations] would be widespread famine and economic collapse” meaning that without honeybees, we’d be living back in the Neolithic Revolution times. Mass extinctions are inevitable, in fact, we are causing one right now, but with honeybees near extinction, the lack of this keystone species, all seven billion of the individuals inhabiting the Earth would be gone within five years. Dr. Pellegrino justifies his point by further explaining that “without the honey bee, Rome falls”. Pellegrino is capable of making a persuasive argument by effectively utilizing an allusion in which he refers to the greatest civilization in global history falling for unknown reasons. By the time the commonwealth realizes that the lack of honey bees are causing our own extinction, it’ll be too late, just like the Roman Empire.

The food supply of the world is amongst the largest problems that the human race is facing. There’s third world countries that are currently starving and then there’s first world countries in which people have a plethora available for their consumption. The significance behind pollinators can’t be justified enough as more of them begin to die during this time period. Richard Dolesh, a notorious author, can’t stress honey bee impacts enough.

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Photo Courtesy of USDA

He claims that with “one in every three bites of food we take depending on pollinators,” it’s time to start taking this catastrophe seriously. There would be an indirect impact from the honey bee extinction on human beings; some people, such as Pellegrino, even go as far as to claim that “earth’s carrying capacity for human beings would be reduced from twelve billion to six billion” which we are far past now.

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Photo Courtesy of Little Critterz

The loss of such food won’t be immediate since most plants are capable of reproducing with other pollinators. However, native bees serve as a keystone species in which they spread pollen from one plant to the next and can even maintain the genetic diversity of such plants. It’s not all about human beings though despite most of us thinking the world was made for our own personal use. Mammals and birds alike will drastically lose biodiversity if native honey bees were to maintain this steady die-off rate that is being noticed now. Ted O’Callahan gave quite the report on bee impacts in 2008 stating that, the plants in which bees do pollinate “are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of birds and mammals” which means that not only will human populations suddenly drop, there will be less food for one quarter of the world’s most prized animals.

With the entire world struggling to make ends meet because of the lack of money that they receive, losing an extra $24 billion from the United States isn’t something that would motivate them to go out and seek more cash. The world revolves on the dollar bill and once again, if there was no more honey bees pollinating agriculture, farming businesses would take a hit. Some companies are trucking semi-loads around the country to pollinate almond orchards alone.

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Photo Courtesy of Bee Source

 The United States isn’t the only country that would end up economically collapsing as a result though.In Pre-Columbian times, before honey bees were introduced to the Americas via trade, the plants of the region had other means of pollinating which include wind pollination. The plants in Europe had adapted to always having honey bees around to do their work for them just as our North American plants have.

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Photo Courtesy of Express News

All in all, Europe uses honey bees as a means of producing higher yields in their farm goods although they don’t usually farm.

The economic value of these invertebrates can’t be stressed enough. There are some 4,000 species of wild bees in America alone which add an additional $9 billion to the U.S. economy each year. The USDA is already making an attempt to combat recent die-offs.

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Photo Courtesy of  the USDA HONEYBEES REPORT

They have invested $8 million in five states to try to establish new habitats for the substantial decline in bee populations. With an additional $3 million designated for the Midwestern states, the USDA is now starting to realize everything that honeybees do for our economy. A total of $11 million is only a fraction of the estimated $9 billion that bees generate themselves but at least it’s a start. The USDA agriculture secretary understands the full value of these seemingly insignificant critters.

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Photo Courtesy of the Future Economy Group

Tom Vilsack claims that “American agricultural production relies on having a healthy honeybee population” and that the Conservation Reserve Program is doing all they can do to restore populations. It’ll take quite some time to increase the bee community back to its prime of 6 million hives, but reversing the declining trends is just one way to bring the bee population back up to its full value.

Riverwalk Poetry

“Not all is doom and gloom. We are beginning to understand the natural world and are gaining a reverence for life – all life.” -Roger Tory Peterson

That statement is especially meaningful to our group of youth ambassadors. Three and a half weeks into the project and our eyes are being opened more and more every day to the natural beauties in and around the river. We hope through our work we can change others’ perceptions of the river for the better. Art has always been such a significant force in history because of its ability to provide meaning to any spectator; with that thought in mind, Drew and I looked to spread our findings in a more creative way.

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The author of this blog post becoming one with nature.

Usually, after a long day of work we were given time to reflect and take notes on things that happened throughout the day. A few of us took this opportunity to write poems that summarized significant findings on the river. We started off the poems as a way to kill time and relax but when we read them to the group they enjoyed them and asked us to keep them coming. Me and my pal drew are the major poets of the group and our excellence was realized after we debuted our first poems: “Jungle Fever” and “Spiny on the Mulch.”

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The dense wetlands of the Chautauqua Wetlands Preserve provided the inspiration for the passage “Jungle Fever”

 

“Jungle Fever”

Off the beaten path

“Feel my wrath”

Says nature

I am mature

“Spiny!”

Where?

“Spiny!”

You’re pulling my leg

And I don’t like that.

Back in the woods

Man these branches are rude

They are slicing me up

I’d really like a tea cup

Legs look tattered

I’d rather eat cake batter

Than walk through the branches.

Avalanches.

 

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The Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle that inspired the passage “Spiny on the Mulch”

“Spiny on the Mulch”

Digging and laying

Baby turtles soon to come

Basking and bathing

I’ll bite your bum

Playing

Eating

Sleeping

I’ll play your drum

And if you’re not careful

I’ll bite your bum

Digging and slaying

Kamikaze turtles soon to come

Haaaaa (Kanye voice)

Basking and bathing

I’ll bite your bum

Again

 

After writing our first hit poems, Drew and I knew that this was one of our top 3 callings in life. Our rhymes weren’t always perfect but we made sure to get the meaning across. The poems can get considerably abstract at times but the lesson left behind is not one to graze over. What kind of poet would write without a few lines that make little to no sense along with some chuckle-evoking word play? Not me and Drew, I can promise you that. We try to cover every aspect of being on the riverwalk in our pieces to give the audience a realistic depiction of the river. That includes everything from the interactions with the Jamestownians to swimming in water trying to catch the Spinys.

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The PWA crew in action hauling in the seine net.

Drew and I certainly love a funny poem, but some topics are hard to laugh about. This week we focused on water quality. On tuesday we headed to the river with the intention of measuring the amounts of microplastics in the river. It’s important to recognize that plastic pollution is becoming more and more of a problem as microplastics flood into our waterways by the billions every day. Shopping bags, food containers, toys, and toiletries are a large portion of the plastics that cause these issues. The plastics don’t biodegrade like a banana peel would, instead they photodegrade. That means that as they break down they retain their characteristics and do not turn into their component molecules.

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The PWA crew spent several days testing for the presence of microbeads that inspired the passage “Plastic Seeds of Death”

“Plastic Seeds of Death”

Microplastics around

Even downtown

But I can’t see them

So what’s the deal?

Ya see

It’s not organic

Nature can’t handle it

If we stop using them

It’ll help, kinda

But for years after you’ll find em’

If they’re in the water

They’re in us

In our food and drinks

In our blood some think

So be careful with plastic

Use a little less

In a few years I hope there’s less

 

You would think that water treatment plants should be able to rid the water of the plastics, but the particles are even too small for the treatment facilities to take care of. If the microplastics are in the water, that means that they are in the species living in the water as well as us. The impacts are not fully understood yet and the problem is growing despite the regulations that will be enforced in the next few years.

Apart from writing poems, we’ve actually learned a lot about how the plastics in the water get there, what they do, and how we can help lessen the problem. I know that I’m definitely going to be more conservative when using plastic products as well as careful about how I dispose of them. If everybody made small changes in their lives such as not using plastic shopping bags or plastic water bottles it would certainly slow down the amount entering our ecosystem everyday.

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One of the many sucker fish the PWA crew caught this summer,

As a conservationist, I would like to end by saying stop down by the Chadakoin and embrace the nature sometime in the near future. You will not regret spending your time down there. As a poet, though, our poems will most likely be featured in the blog on the website(unless we can manage getting our own page). I hope that someday our poems will be featured in the Roger Tory Peterson Institute itself, but that’s only possible through the uproar of our loving fans!

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The author hopes to see his poetry spread to a global audience.

Another Great Week with Project Wild America!

Drew: The past few days we have been focusing on microplastics. I’ve heard about them and had a general knowledge on what they are and where they came from, but I was no expert. After hours of learning more and more about the science of microplastics, I’m still not an expert, but I definitely know more.

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The PWA crew spent much of this week testing for microplastic pollution in the Chadakoin.

Today, I was sickened by the amount of garbage I found at Chadakoin Park. I kept an eye out for it. Casually walking through a park, I spot a lot of garbage, but when you really look out for trash, diligently, you get a better idea of the true human impact on this Earth.

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The PWA crew also spent time picking up garbage as part of the “Talking Trash” campaign.

We have to start looking out, not only for the other animals that inhabit this Earth, but also for future generations. Before throwing your cigarette butt out of the window of your car, think about the animals who can be harmed from its hazardous materials. Before you choose a plastic water bottle instead of a reusable mug, think about the microplasticss in the oceans. And most importantly, before you do anything, just think about the environment.

Emma: This past week we have been mainly focusing on the effects of microplastics on the environment, and it’s quite sickening. Because plastic photodegrades, it never really goes away. It continues to breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that end up in the animals habitats and eventually in their feeding grounds. As well, microplastics are small enough to escape the filters of water treatment plants and end up in our tap water that we drink everyday. Scary. Of course my first thought was to just get a real big net and scoop it all up, easy peasy, right? Wrong.

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The PWA crew had to use microscopes to observe the microplastics collected.

We, as humans, are not the only living beings on this planet. We share much of it with nature and take it for granted. Just go outside and look around, there is a high chance you will see trash lying around. Luckily this week we started the Talkin’ Trash campaign which basically publicizes environmental clean up. We tested it out for the first time on Wednesday and it was crazy how much data we collected in just an hour. This week has been a reality check. The most important thing to take away from this is 1. reduce plastic consumption and 2. even the smallest contribution (i.e. picking up a wrapper and putting it in the garbage) can help.

Tiffany: When most people see a bug, their first thought is to get a shoe. However, when I see a bug, my first thought is to capture it, identify it, and possibly pin it. Insects are fascinating to watch, due to their diversity, and because of their abundance, the can be observed seemingly everywhere you go. While we’ve done a lot this week, one of the things I noticed most were these tiny, alien-like creatures.

Woolly aphids look like a cute tiny white ball of fuzz floating carelessly through the sky. They look almost as if a piece of a cloud feel right out of the sky. And when you catch them, you may mistaken the fuzz on its back for a spiderweb. You may think this insect has a fascinating story of hardship and conflict with an eight-legged beast. However, in reality, this insect was born with this coat of fuzz. Even though its wool tells no tales, it still shows off its pure beauty. 

Wooly Aphid (picture taken from bugguide.net)

Butterflies and moths show off their complex wing patterns and colors, while delicately gliding through the air. Walking down the trails at Chadakoin Park, I watched in awe at a small swarm of copper butterflies. Blurs of orange, brown, and black moved around in a cluster. Hesitantly, I looked up and I was surprised even more so. As I gazed at a spiny thistle plant, I saw a beautifully large black butterfly perched upon it. The thorns has no effect on its fragile body. When it opened up its wings, you could see an outline of yellow and blue. This was unmistakably the black swallowtail butterfly.

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The black swallowtail butterfly that the PWA crew found.

Like butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies have a long slender, winged body. However, unlike butterflies, dragonflies look as if they are encased in armor. instead of looking frail, they look strong and resilient. Though their wings behold alluring designs, it is their bodies that attracts on lookers. Pond hawks can exhibit a bright green or blue color, depending on their gender. When in flight, their wings are almost invisible, so all you see is smear of color across your vision as they fly by. The ebony jewel-wing is, by far, one of the prettiest damselflies I’ve ever seen. It was hard to miss as it sit on a plain, green leaf. Its black wings and blue, translucent body popped among the boring foliage. While many insects behold the ability of flight, many do not. These insects may be the hardest to spot.

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An example of an ebony jewel-wing, photographed by RTPI affiliate Sean Graesser.

Many times, they may blend in with their environment to avoid predation. These insects also don’t flash across your field of vision like flying insects do. Walking along a grassy, overgrown path, it would be easy to walk right by a praying mantis. Even though their body does not look like a piece of grass, their soft green color allows them to blend in with ease. As they check out their surroundings, they can move their head back and forth; a trait that many insects lack. These insects can look fairly intimidating, because they always look prepared for a fight. Even though they appear to be praying, these insects are no saints.They can easily kill other insects, including other mantids, and some species of spiders.

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The praying mantis that the PWA crew found (they kept it in a terrarium and will care for it for the duration of the summer).

Next time you see a bug, whether it be outdoors, or in your house, why not observe it, rather than ending its life with the flick of your hand. As you look closer, you, too, may begin to see wonder in the simple things around your backyard. 

Morgan: In the Pacific Ocean, there’s a garbage patch said to be nearly the size of Texas. Now, hearing about a “garbage patch,” one probably assumes that it’s simply an area with plastic cups, large styrofoam pieces, and other items people throw away; however, that’s not the case. Recently, the crew took samples of the water in the Chadakoin, and found tiny pieces of plastics, or microplastics, in the water. Plastic so small, that when compared to Twelve point font, one particle is smaller than even a period, and a microscope is almost required to see it.

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That tiny dot in the center of the picture is an example of a microbead.

 

Moral of the story, just because you can’t see the plastic, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Every piece of trash you throw away, doesn’t degrade naturally. So find a trash can, a dumpster or recycling bin, and throw that trash away properly!

Erros: Week four is just coming to an end and it has been a “Shell of a good time!”. So far the project has accomplished much and has collected a significant amount of data. We have also gotten our hands dirty, literally with our new Talkin’ Trash campaign, and have conducted research of our own. We’ve started a campaign focusing on spreading the awareness of trash and plastic pollution of the local environment and have been putting some of our efforts into helping the issue by picking up garbage as we worked all week. In addition we have set up a program through a website created by Nick Gunnar, an RTPI affiliate, to log gps locations of different pieces of trash that we pick up along our journey. This website is called Orbitist.com and it is comprised of different user made interactive maps in which you can explore numerous trails and learn about the local history as you follow the trails. Another aspect that we focused on this week was doing different types of surveys, especially bird surveys. Through these many bird surveys we conducted I feel that I have learned much about the local bird species here and have gained a new interest in these spectacular flying creatures. I love exploring and with a curious eye for birds I feel like I will find myself in places far and wide in search for their beauty in the future. This amazing project has honestly opened my eyes up to how satisfying it may be to know you’re helping the environment and has significantly aided me in gaining this constantly growing appreciation for Earth and it’s nature within.

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The Green Heron that the PWA crew observed while conducting bird surveys.

Griffin: About three quarters of the project is done with and I couldn’t be happier with all that we’ve accomplished in the past four weeks. Bird counts, Macro invertebrate samples, micro plastic samples, dragonfly catching, and turtle trapping have taken up most of our time with some saved in between for blogging. The amount of diversity I’ve seen on the river has been astounding. From turtles basking all around to Blue Herons flapping over the Chadakoin, the sights have been nothing short of amazing. We take countless pictures and film with the GoPro but nothing will allow you to truly see the beauty unless you’re on the river. Being exposed to the biodiversity in and around the river will give you no choice but to have a deeper respect for nature. You’ll naturally start to become more aware of how you impact the environment and become much more careful in everything you do. So if you haven’t yet, I strongly encourage you to spend some time along the River Walk.

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The PWA crew busy at Saturday’s public event on the Riverwalk.

 

Bluet Damselflies

You’ve likely seen this friendly blue damselfly fluttering around shorelines, resting on grasses, or even on your boat, kayak or fishing rod.

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A Male Slender Bluet Damselfly photographed in the Meet Your Neighbours style by Twan Leenders.

Among the many species of damselflies, there is a category called Bluets that covers many of the species in which the male is at least partially colored blue. All of the members are gorgeous, with bodies colored a variety of shades of blues, greens, and turquoises. They also have some interesting striping patterns, with the location and size of darker stripes being a good way to distinguish different species.

Damselflies can be easily mistaken for dragonflies. One major distinguish difference is that the damselflies hold their wings tucked upright tight against their body, while dragonflies hold their hind-wings straight out from their bodies like airplane wings. Another difference between dragonflies and damselflies is the location of their eyes. Dragonflies have eyes that touch and are located at the top of the head, while damselflies have eyes that are well separated.

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A female Slender Bluet, photographed in the Meet Your Neighbours style by Twan Leenders. Note that the damselfly is holding its wings together while at rest.

Female Damselflies lay their eggs in submerged vegetation and when the eggs hatch the young nymph damselflies are fully formed.   Damselfly nymphs come in varying shades of green or tan and possess finlike gills.   These nymphs spend the winter underwater, where they molt (shed their skin) roughly one dozen times while growing. When nymphs are approximately 1 inch long, they emerge from the water and break out of their skin one last time and become adults.   Adults typically live less than two weeks, spending their final days feeding and breeding.

Here we have a pair of Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) damselflies in a “wheel”, a male and female joined together for mating. They are perched at a pond in this case but they can also fly this way. The male will likely remain with her until she lays the eggs.

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A pair of Familiar Bluet Damselflies mating. Photographed by Twan Leenders.

Bluet damselflies don’t sting or bite humans, but they are formidable predators of other insects. The nymphs hide in underwater vegetation and ambush the larvae of insects such as mosquitoes and mayflies.   The damselflies large eyes and ability to fly in any direction make adult damselflies excellent aerial hunters. Damselflies typically prey on mosquitoes, small moths, flies, and mayflies. What’s more the presence of damselflies at freshwater sites usually indicates clean water, abundant native vegetation, and other aspects of a healthy ecosystem.

It is prime time to spot the bluet damselflies, which are out in great numbers during the months of June and July. So get out there to any local bodies of water to see what you can find!

Eastern Cottontail

Arguably the cutest animal featured in RTPI’s Meet Your Neighbor project is the Eastern Cottontail. Although very common in our area, it’s always great to see these little guys standing watchfully on the edge of fields. Despite their cute appearance, they actually fill an important role in the ecosystem as a food source for our larger predators. Combine this with a life span that is usually less than three years, and one can realize that these mammals have to struggle to survive and maintain their large population.

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An adorable Eastern Cottentail bunny photographed in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style by Twan Leenders.

As the name suggests, the Eastern Cottontail is present across the Eastern United States. The fur is mostly brown and grey, with a reddish patch around the shoulders. Both the fur around the nose and on the underside of the body is a lighter color. Of course, the underside of the tail is distinctly puffy and white. During the winter, the fur becomes more gray than brown, but otherwise remains similar to the summer coat.

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An Eastern Cottentail in some brush that would be a common habitat for this species. Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

The preferred habitat of the Eastern Cottontail are the borders between fields and woodlands. Here, they have access to a good food source, as well as cover from potential predation. Besides fields and woodlands, these rabbits also can make their homes in wetlands, thickets, and meadows. Eastern Cottontails eat a variety of plants, including grasses, clovers, fruits, vegetables, bark, and twigs.

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It’s a rough life being a rabbit. Eastern Cottentail and Red Fox photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

The way that Eastern Cottontail populations are able to survive despite their high mortality rate is by having a high reproductive rate. Female Cottontails can have up to four litters of young each year, and each litter may have as many as nine babies! The babies leave the nest within seven weeks, and are able to mate within three months. This extremely high reproductive rate makes up for the fact that only about 15% of the young actually survive their first year.