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!


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

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.

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

Image result for banders hold on birds

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

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 

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.


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.

Musk Turtle L001 (2).jpg

The “REEL” Problem

Hey guys it’s Jonah here, over the last couple of weeks I have learned so much about turtles, birds, and just nature in general. It’s crazy how beautiful the smallest things are that most people don’t see, and it’s being taken over by pollution and careless people. When a person throws a bottle or a piece of plastic on the ground and thinks it won’t affect something because it’s just a small thing, well they’re wrong. A bottle can kill animals that get trapped and that means they’re dead, so predators now have no food. One animal missing can affect an entire food chain.
I am an avid fisherman and I can tell you this, I live along the Chadakoin River in Jamestown New York and it is disgusting! People will just use it as a dump and don’t care about size regulations on keeping fish. The fishing used to be amazing here, in the river and in the lake. I remember going out with my grandpa and we would spend hours on hours reeling in bass, muskies, walleye, trout, carp, and perch. Anything in the water would be active and healthy. Now you can’t go a single place fishing without seeing 2-5 dead fish with lumps on them and just deformed. Over the last few years I have caught some decent fish, none from this area. Next time your out and see someone fishing, ask them ” catch anything?” And see what they say.
I hope this sparks some thoughts in your mind and shows a little bit more about our waters and what the issue is, and also bring back some memories on the water and conditions when you were young and how they have changed in a negative way…

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.