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!

Success on the Chadakoin!

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Griffin: There’s only a little more than three weeks left in the project and it feels like it just started yesterday. From mapping invasives to swimming in the Chadakoin we’ve always been working hard to better understand our local environment. Not only have we worked to learn but we also try to focus on teaching the community about what we do; the 3rd Street location that we now work out of is perfect because we can take advantage of the amount of people downtown every day that ask questions and stop by. I was very surprised by the amount of people that seem genuinely interested in what we’re doing because that’s a good sign for the future of our local ecosystem. If people care about something they will ensure its well-being. I can’t count all of the conversations I’ve had with community members about the turtles they’ve seen and ideas on how to trap them more efficiently. Also, after coming up dry last year, we caught our first Spiny Softshell by the Warner Dam. We were all very shocked to have finally caught one but it was definitely overdue. I can tell that we’re off to a strong start this year and certainly have a busy yet exciting three weeks coming up.

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Morgan: Red winged black birds, salamanders, teasel, unicorn clubtail dragonflies, woodchucks, and Wooly aphids are just a few of the things I have encountered in my three weeks as part of Project Wild America. I’ve taken shelter under a tree in the middle of a downpour and volunteered to swim in water over my head at Warner Dam just to cool off (and of course hopefully catch a Spiny) on an +85℉ day. I have even unknowingly ventured through a thick jungle like area that just happened to consist of skunk cabbage and poison ivy. The crew and I have identified, tagged and tracked more invasive species than socks we go through each day, and that’s really saying something. Each day I gain knowledge of things I never knew existed here in New York State, and put what I know about other topics to the test. At the end of the day, it is a guarantee that I will have walked 4+ miles and be far past exhaustion, ready to jump into the AC, head home and sleep for possibly years. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity and experience with people who share just as much passion I do, for anything, because even the hot and rainy, long and Spiny “turtleless” days are well worth it.

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Emma: These past couple weeks have flown by and we’ve accomplished a multitude of things, all while dodging bugs and less than favorable weather. We’ve continued to map the surplus of invasive species all along the Chadakoin River, while taking the GPS coordinates and putting them into the statewide databases. The most common ones we have come across include multiflora rose, honeysuckle, tree of heaven and Japanese knotweed. As part of New York Invasive Species Awareness Week, we had the chance to taste some invasives, which included knotweed and garlic mustard. Chef James Salamone cooked us up some recipes at the RTPI 3rd Street location . They were pretty tasty and quite interesting to try!  Also, the PWA crew went around the city and placed purple flagging tape on the ash trees to symbolize the threat of the emerald ash borer. Many people came up to us and asked us what we were doing, so it was a good way to gain public knowledge of the issue. We’ve had a couple of bird watching sessions, seeing unique birds such as the cedar waxwing and, most importantly, we’ve finally caught a spiny soft-shell turtle. This little guy came at the right time though because, at least for me, continuously picking up turtleless nets was becoming quite discouraging. Needless to say these past three weeks have been filled to the brim with experience, excitement, exploring, and lots of wet socks. I am so excited for what the next three weeks bring but I really hope they slow down a bit, I’m not ready to stop searching for turtles yet.

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Tiffany:

The ability of flight allows for unrestricted freedom. It’s quite fascinating. This may be why I love spotting new birds during Project Wild America. In the small town of Jamestown, you’d never expect to see so many species of birds flying right over your head. No one fathoms the idea that that senseless bird chatter is not coming from one species. Rather it is coming from perhaps 4 of 5 different species. I never realized that there is well over 20 different species of birds around Chautauqua County. Usually, I would only notice some common robins or crows or some plain brown sparrows. Now, I’m discovering species I did not even know existed, let alone live right in my own town. For instance, during this project is the first time I ever saw a mockingbird. I mean, sure. I knew what a mockingbird was. I’ve heard the term constantly throughout my life. Heck, it’s even in that nursery rhyme. However, I never gave this bird any thought. However, when I saw it at first, I had no clue what kind of bird it was. At first I thought it may be a type of  tiny raptor due to its call and its unmistakable wing pattern. In flight, its wings are all grey with one big white splotch towards the middle, almost as if it quickly flew through side by side waterfalls of white paint. When one of the leaders told me what the bird actually was, I was thoroughly shocked, but pleasantly surprised. While walking along during this project, everyone’s head may be looking down to keep their eyes out of the sun, or perhaps to spot some turtles. But if you’re looking for me, look for the girl with binoculars covering her eyes and her neck craned up, hoping to catch a glimpse of nature’s greatest wonder.

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Tony:

Up until yesterday, July 13th, I had lost all hope in capturing the illusory Spiny Softshell turtle. While trying to capture them, I managed to slice my finger wide open and blood began to stream down my fingers into the foamy waters of the Chadakoin. At that moment, as the first drop of blood made contact with the current, I began to hope that the day, and the puncture wound in my finger, wouldn’t have been for nothing. We pulled the net out and no one noticed that we had a Spiny in the net. It wasn’t until we had packed it up and put it away that one of us realized we had a turtle! This was the first turtle in Project Wild America history. Besides the Spiny, we have done countless other activities to further acquaint ourselves with the environment. From mapping invasive species to capturing dragonflies to then pin, I have learned a lot these past two weeks. I can’t wait for more to come and to expand my knowledge in the natural studies field.

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Drew:

Have you ever looked a spiny in the eye? That was a sight I had only dreamed about, up until yesterday. After another day of swimming in the Chadakoin, getting sliced and diced by rocks, and getting seemingly embarrassed by the spinies, we all walked back to put the seine net away, forever. It was a demoralizing defeat. The spinies had humiliated us again. But, as I was taking off my wet shoes, I heard cries of victory. That was an unfamiliar noise. At least to us. To the spinies, they were living in a state of perpetual triumph.

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I walked over to the seine net, skeptic about what my colleagues claimed they found. Sure enough he was there. A small, male spiny soft shell turtle. He was aggressive. He was fierce. But, in the end, he was conquered.
Catching the spiny has been a highlight over our past few weeks, but we have done a lot more. From marking ash trees to mapping invasive species to conducting bird surveys, we have been very busy. At the end of every day, even if I’m soaked and dirty, I’m happy with what we have accomplished. I look forward for the second half of this program to see what else we are able to achieve.

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Mike:

Over the last couple of weeks we have had pretty good luck catching and surveying the local wildlife. Whether it was dragonflies, frogs, fish, and even turtles, our nets would almost always come up with something. The only creature that would successfully evade our nets would be the spiny softshell turtle.  During the last couple of weeks we had tried and failed to catch spiny softshell turtles using hoop traps and a very bulky, smelly, and awkward seine net.  We didn’t catch any spiny softshells but we found out a whole new meaning of getting wet.  Through trial and error we perfected our turtle trapping skills and finally caught a spiny softshell turtle at Warner Dam yesterday.  All the wrong moves and strategies from before were improved to ultimately create a success. Also, by fine tuning our strategy we learned more about the art of catching, not just in turtles but in other wild life as well. We now have caught more dragon flies, frogs and fish than ever before all thanks to experience. In the words of Colin Powell “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.”

Erros, Griffin, and Adolf with our first Spiny

Erros, Griffin, and Adolf with our first Spiny

Erros: Finally redemption! We’ve come very far since first learning the back trails at RTPI, as Griffin, Adolf, and I officially became young turtle trappers, to finally getting our first measurements of the ever elusive Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle. Aside from the recent major success with catching Myrtle the turtle (the name we gave it) we also have accomplished much more since our First Thoughts group blog post. We have done several bird surveys and we not only logged many bird sightings, but I personally have learned much from the surveys. I have become quite familiar with many of the common local birds such as cowbirds, starlings, killdeer, crows, cedar waxwings, robins, and grackles; I have even learned a few of their bird calls. Another major goal of ours that we are finally starting to fulfill is to collect data, and map all of the local variety of invasive plants, shrubs, and trees. We have undoubted logged over a hundred different sightings of invasive plants all along the river and around the city. I certainly have added to my knowledge of plants, but now have a keen eye for the local invasive plant species such as Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Tree of Heaven, Japanese Knotweed, and Norway Maple. We even went out and marked over seventy Ash trees all over the city, with purple tape, to show how many important trees we could be losing due to the spread of the invasive emerald ash-borer. Also we invested in plywood that we placed down in a few different spots on the back fields of Chadakoin park. This is in hopes of attracting snakes to take shelter there and record the different species we find. As part of Invasive Species Awareness Week we also had a local chef use some of the local invasive plant species here and cook platters for the public to taste test outside of our 3rd street location. We had some insightful encounters with the people of the community and many of them enjoyed the Blackberry Japanese Knotweed Cobbler and the Garlic Mustard Fried Rice. Project Wild America has been busy educating and serving the local community and we will continue full steam ahead. From leaving empty handed after each turtle catchin’ attempt last summer to catchin’ a Spiny just a few weeks into the project, I would say we have made a serious come up!

 

 

First Thoughts

Griffin: After last year I was content with what we accomplished as a group, but there’s always room for improvement. This year we are only one week in and it seems as if we are on track to expand on last year’s successes. No matter what we are doing, whether it be mapping invasive species or swimming neck-deep in the Chadakoin, the group consistently tackles every task with teamwork and positivity. As I look at the other crew members along with myself, it is clear that we all genuinely enjoy working with the river and everything nature has to offer. Lastly, I know that we will do great things this year and finally catch ourselves a Spiny Softshell Turtle.

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Griffin and Tony in action de-contaminating the seine net.

Tony: At first glance the Chadakoin River is a vile body of water but upon careful investigation, it is thriving. Most people in the area are completely opposed to the idea of ever swimming in the river. I, like many others, would’ve never imagined swimming in the Chadakoin River. This first week of Project Wild America, I have been in the river 3 days. I saw my very first spiny softshell turtle on my second day of work by the Riverwalk. It was quite the sight since it was preparing to lay its eggs in the mulch around a tree. I can’t wait to be able to capture a spiny softshell and accomplish what last year’s group could not.

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First day on the Riverwalk, we observed this Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle digging a nest in the mulch.

Drew P: The last question I was asked in my interview was “You’re not going to have any problem getting into the water and getting dirty, right?” I didn’t know that I was going to be getting dirty so soon, though, as I was swimming in the Chadakoin with a net in my right hand looking for turtles on my second day. Crazy. Most people in Jamestown would probably think I would have many fatal diseases if I told them that I did that. We saw a Spiny Softshell Turtle early that day, digging in the mulch, prompting my colleague, Griffin Noon, to write an extraordinary piece, “Spiny on the Mulch.” (which will be posted as a blog soon).

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Tony and Drew mapping out some invasive varieties of cat-tails.

Tiffany: Prior to the start of this project, I was not aware of the thriving ecosystem that was right here in Jamestown. I’ve only been a member for about a week, but I have already seen a plethora of species that I did not know lived here. For instance, I never knew the spiny soft shell turtle lived right next to Jamestown’s River Walk. My first sighting of this creature was only a few days ago. I wouldn’t even consider this job “work”. Everything we do, I seem to enjoy. The 7 or so hours we spend out on the field go by so fast. I remember in different settings (such as school) the same amount of time would seem to drag on. This is how I know where my passion lies, and I cannot wait to see what else Project Wild America has in store for me!

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We used these hoop traps to catch several painted turtles in the Chautauqua Lake outlet.

Emma: The second day working with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute for Project Wild America, the elusive spiny soft-shell turtle made an appearance. Of course, before starting with RTPI, I heard many disgruntled stories of missed opportunities of catching such a species. Therefore it was quite shocking when we saw one the first day in the field. Speaking for myself, this slight glimpse into the secrets of the Chadakoin River and the life of the spinys excited me even more for the opportunities this summer holds. Though turtle catching is not the main goal of Project Wild America, it is a big one and I cannot wait to see what other opportunities the Chadakoin and surrounding wildlife have to offer.

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Emma holding one of the many sucker fish we caught on the Chadakoin.

Morgan: At the end of my first week as a part of the Project Wild America Youth Ambassador Program, it was evident to me that humans and our communities have had and continue to have a major impact on the world around us. Garbage is dumped along tree lines, plastic bags are found in caught on rocks in the Chadakoin River, where factories once were dominant. Never once would I have thought that in the middle of a bustling city, that there would be such plentiful life. Nevertheless, hundreds of species of trees grow without bounds, insects fly continuously through the air, and spiny soft shelled turtles, although not always seen, are thriving in this little part of New York State.

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The PWA crew setting up the seine net in an effort to catch the elusive spiny soft-shelled turtles

Mike: Our first couple days at the Chadakoin started out wet, which is a good indication of how the rest of the summer will go. Not only did we walk the river but we attempted to catch turtles the second day as well. Whether it was setting up traps at McCrea point or holding a seine net within the city to, we have already gained an abundance of knowledge and experience about the river.

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Here, we have set up the seine net and are waiting for the other half of the crew to drive the turtles into the net.

Erros: Although we have much to improve upon this upcoming season, I believe last year was very successful. This year though, we will be focusing more on keeping the project more organized and producing more presentable results. Getting around to the different spots that we frequently visited last year definitely brings back great memories and has built much excitement in me. This year we have decided to jump right in with our plans, literally, by getting our feet wet and hands dirty and getting our first feel for the season of our local environment. I have always been curious of nature and can’t wait to not only become more educated on it and do my own research, but also help educate our local community. There’s nothing like spending the hot day in the water turtle trappin’ and I am very grateful to the people of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute for the chance to learn from them, work for them, and help the community through them.

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Elyse and Erros examining a red-spotted newt found in the JCC Woodlot

Getting Started with Project Wild America

Although I’ve lived in Jamestown for a number of years, last Tuesday was the first time I’d seen a spiny softshell turtle up close.  It was just basking in the sun with a shiny shell and body that sort of resembled a large gray pancake.  I was pretty excited to see this goofy-looking turtle in the Chadakoin over by the Gateway Center. Spiny Softshell turtles are just one unique species that lives along the Chadakoin River here in Jamestown, and this species of turtle is one of several species that will be monitored by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute’s Project Wild America program this summer.

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This is a female Spiny Softshell Turtle, one of many occupying the Chadakoin River corridor.

My name is Heather Zimba.  I’m from Jamestown and am currently studying environmental science at SUNY JCC.  I was recently fortunate to be hired as a Project Wild America crew leader along with Adolf Zollinger.  As PWA crew leader’s we will be leading a group of high school students in conducting conservation projects along the Chadakoin River this summer.

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Myself and fellow crew leader Adolf Zollinger had the opportunity to visit Letchworth State Park last week for our iMapInvasives training.

Our PWA crew will be observing and documenting the populations of various species, including the spiny softshell turtle and common musk turtle.  Some of our other projects will include: conducting water quality tests, sampling for micro-plastics in the Chadakoin and holding several educational events in the community.

Testing the Chadakoin for the presence of micro-plastics.

Testing the Chadakoin during the 2015 field season for the presence of micro-plastics.

Through our observations and surveys we are hoping to gain more knowledge about our native and invasive species along the Chadakoin.  We are planning to collect data that can be used to gauge species populations, distributions and health.  We are also planning to use macro-invertebrate surveys and water samples to test and give an indication of the water quality of the Chadakoin River.  Once we have collected this data we will communicate our results to the public and city officials to increase their awareness of the Chadakoin River’s ecosystem.

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WAVE (Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators) sampling requires kicking up macroinvertebrates from the streambed and collecting them in fine-meshed kick nets.

In preparation for our surveys and fieldwork, Adolf and I have been training and reviewing protocol that we will be using to conduct surveys.  Last week we reviewed Water Assessment Volunteer Evaluator (WAVE) protocol and attended an invasive species training, which included training using iMap Invasives, a database used to map out invasive species. We have also visited and selected various field sites along the Chadakoin, including McCrea Point Park, Panzarella Park, the Riverwalk, Chadakoin Park, Millrace Park, and the Levant (where the Chadakoin turns into the Cassadaga) where we will be conducting our surveys.

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iMapInvasives will be a handy tool in mapping invasive species along the Chadakoin this summer.

We have selected eight high school students from the area to participate in the PWA program.  This year’s applicants are all high achieving, well-rounded students.  I believe we are going to have a great group to work with and carry out the various projects we have planned. I am very excited to be involved with this program and I look forward to going out and studying the Spiny Softshell turtle population and various other species along the Chadakoin, and then sharing this information with the community.

Birds of a Feather

As you walk, bike, or jog on the paved paths lining the outskirts of the Chadakoin River, your ears become quaintly attuned to beautiful songs from a wide array of bird species. Cedar Waxwings fill the air with their high, thin, whistles in pursuit of flying insects putting on a display of dazzling aeronautics. The Belted Kingfisher’s piercing rattle is often heard as it patrols up and down the Chadakoin River.

A Cedar Waxwing takes a break from catching flying insects

A Cedar Waxwing takes a break from catching flying insects

From Cliff Swallows nesting on the side of the bridge and sub-tropical Yellow Warblers flitting about tree canopies, to the Green Heron’s balance beam act on the breakwall looking for its next meal, there is a surprise around every bend.

A Green Heron perched on the breakwall looking for lunch

A Green Heron walks on the breakwall looking for lunch

A Green Heron catches a fish at McCrea Point

A Green Heron catches a fish at McCrea Point

Mallards have long been adapted to the presence of people in that they open their beaks, beginning to squawk, waddling their way to the shoreline before plunging into the water. As a result of their adaptation, I had the pleasure of watching fuzzy mallard ducklings being escorted by their mother in places such as McCrea Point and Panzarella Park.

Mallard Ducklings follow their mom down the Chadakoin River

Mallard Ducklings follow their mom down the Chadakoin River

It’s entertaining watching them venture off on their own as mom springs out of the water, chasing after them!

Mallard Ducklings enjoy the sunshine on the Chadakoin River

Mallard Ducklings enjoy the sunshine on the Chadakoin River

The bright red plumage of the male Northern Cardinal is hard to miss along with the Song Sparrows singing their hearts out amidst the morning fog.

Ospreys are also common sights soaring over the river searching for fish. Have your eyes on the skies for these fish eating raptors and the Broad-winged Hawk which hunts small animals.

An Osprey stares down as it searches for fish

An Osprey stares downward with its bright yellow eyes

The Chadakoin River is filled with many different species throughout the seasons, so don’t hesitate to grab those binoculars and go bird watching!

Youth Ambassadors First Impressions

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

First Impressions:

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

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

Wolf Spider

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

Heron in the Outlet

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

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

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

Observations

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