Tasty Invasives

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When you think about the concept of invasive species, eating them doesn’t come to mind. But here at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, we like to think outside of the box. These past few weeks our PWA crew has been avidly mapping the surplus of invasive species along the Chadakoin River. Walking up and down the Riverwalk, out behind the Gateway Center, and near McCrea Point we’ve taken numerous GPS coordinates. We input the data into the statewide databases, such as iMap Invasives. We’ve focused mainly on Japanese Knotweed, Multiflora Rose, Honeysuckle, Japanese Barberry, Garlic Mustard, Water Chestnut, and Tree of Heaven. These guys were introduced to the United States for different reasons, but they all share one common factor; they threaten our native species. But these invasives deserve a second chance right? A way to redeem themselves. Well, why not utilize their edible qualities? I mean it could potentially reduce their quantity. You’re probably thinking “Why would we want to eat something if it’s harmful to nature, won’t it harm our bodies?” Well, it’s highly unlikely that these guys will sprout and overtake your insides like they do the environment, but don’t quote me on that. This past Wednesday, the PWA crew taste tested some recipes that include invasive species and the verdict; invasive species can be tasty! Thanks to chef James Salamone, we discovered a productive use of invasive species.

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Salamone set up a stand outside the RTPI 3rd street location in order to draw in the locals. He made two recipes: Blackberry Knotweed Cobbler and Garlic Mustard Fried Rice. Both were equally as delicious and the tastes of the invasives were subtle.

When asked, James said he had cooked with invasive species before, but never these specific ones. It’s a neat way to truly experience these invasive species that surround us everyday. Speaking for myself, I would definitely eat them again. Plus we got a free lunch out of it. It was quite an interesting opportunity and I hope more people venture out and enjoy tasty invasives.

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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!

 

 

Returning to the Chadakoin

Passing through the center of Jamestown, the Chadakoin river has always been the focal point of the city. No matter how much the city continues to change and develop around it, the steady flow of water from Chautauqua Lake has remained constant. To help conserve this valuable natural resource, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute will soon select eight of the brightest high school students in the area to become Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors. Along with their two crew leaders (myself and Heather Zimba) they will spend the summer studying the Chadakoin River Corridor, and encouraging the people of Jamestown to enjoy and preserve the wildlife that lives here.

To help guide the Youth Ambassadors, I was selected as one of the crew leaders. I’m Adolf Zollinger, and I am a sophomore at Jamestown Community College. I am a part of the Environmental Science program, and plan on transferring to SUNY ESF to continue learning about the natural world. Besides working with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in 2015, I also worked as a field biologist for Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc.

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Last summer I assisted in turtle trapping and learned how to properly set and bait traps.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to be one of the crew members of Project Wild America. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the publication of Roger Tory Peterson’s Wild America, our intention was to continue the work of Mr. Peterson by preserving and documenting the fantastic array of wildlife that is here in Jamestown. Despite suffering from the effects of heavy industrial activity in the 1900’s, the Chadakoin River and the surrounding ecosystem have rebounded in an astonishing way. Now, the entire Chadakoin River Corridor is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including some extremely rare species that have carved out a niche for themselves within even the most urban parts of the city.

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2015 Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors

Between the Warner Dam and Buffalo Street impoundment, a population of Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled turtles has managed to survive, despite having to live in a part of the river characterized by the concrete and rubble that was left over from the factories built along the banks of the river. It really is amazing to be able to walk along the Riverwalk and to be able to see a truly unique animal thriving, despite making their homes right in the heart of the city. Many questions remain about how exactly this reptile is able to accomplish this feat, which is why one of the main goals of the PWA program is to observe and collect data about the Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled turtles.

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Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera)

To determine the overall health of the Chadakoin River ecosystem, we plan on conducting a series of surveys that will help show what wildlife is present in and around the river. One technique that specifically addresses water quality is a macroinvertabrate survey. Macroinvertebrates are the tiny animals that exist on the rocks and sediments on the riverbed. By collecting a sample of a particular part of the river, the different species that are present are identified and recorded. Some species can only survive in very clean waters, while others tolerate pollution well and can live practically anywhere. This means that having certain species in the river can indicate whether the water quality needs to be further tested for environmental contaminants.

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WAVE sampling entails capturing and identifying macroinvertebrate species. Certain invertebrates are more sensitive to pollutants that others and their presence is indicative of the surrounding environment’s health.

The Youth Ambassadors will also complete a series of bird surveys throughout Jamestown, to try and determine whether the existing habitat is enough to support healthy bird populations. As we noted last year, there are some really unique birds that have made their homes around the city. Some of these include Black-Crowned Night Herons, Bobolinks, Chimney Swifts, and even Ospreys that enjoy the rich food sources upstream of McCrea Point.

Osprey

Osprey

It is also worth noting that we intend to survey the plants that exist in the city, including any invasive species that are present. After completing training at Letchworth State Park, my fellow crew leader (and myself) will be able to show the PWA members how to enter any data regarding invasive species into a database monitored by the state.

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Yellow Iris is an emerging invasive plant in local wetlands.

The most important goal of Project Wild America is to communicate what we find to the community, and to showcase the amazing natural resources that are here in the city. To accomplish this, our Youth Ambassadors will be working with a number of local organizations to complete a series of educational outreach events throughout the summer. Whether it is organizing an invasive species pull, or helping elementary students plant trees, the PWA Youth Ambassadors will have a busy summer getting involved in their communities.

 

Great Times on the Riverwalk

When I arrived at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute on the first day of the project and learned about the game-plan for the next six weeks, I felt a few different ways. I felt curious about what we would find, excited to be working on the river for a large portion of our time together, and ready to get going. During the first day, we got rolling pretty quickly as we hopped right into making two turtle traps and minnow traps out of bottles. And ever since then, it has been a major learning experience but has been very fun nonetheless.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

 

There is just so much to learn being on the Riverwalk even for a day. We noticed many different species of birds that I am still working on learning, countless macro-invertebrates, a few turtle species, some fish, and seemingly endless amounts of plant-life. I still can’t say I know all of the species, or even most for that matter, but I have certainly improved in that area from when the project began. One specific thing that surprised me the most was learning and identifying invasive species when we were at the Riverwalk. They were almost everywhere; at times you could see Japanese Knotweed wherever you looked. The invasives usually take a large toll on the environment that they live in, for example, Multiflora rose will take over the area that it grows in so almost nothing else is able to grow in the same area.

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Multiflora Rose bush

 

The fun on the Riverwalk doesn’t end at just identifying species, people enjoy their time on the river by kayaking, fishing, boating, and even swimming. We have trekked up and down the river, that forces us to swim at some points, in hopes of finding turtles. That was an experience to remember even though we didn’t catch any Spiny Softshell Turtles. Throughout the entire time, there were many citizens of Jamestown who were more than eager to share their wisdom with us about the turtles, and whether they were actually correct or not, it was still a good feeling to know that they were interested in the river flowing right through the city, seemingly undisturbed by the cars that pass all day and the tall buildings near it. As many people told us what they thought as there were people who asked us “What are y’all doing?,” “You can actually get in this water!?” and questions like that. We would go on to tell them that we’re from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and we were working on the Riverwalk and collecting information on it, especially the Spiny Softshell Turtles. It was fun to talk to people about what we were doing because they all seemed so interested in it. My advice to anyone that hasn’t walked along the Riverwalk is to simply visit if it for a few hours on a sunny day. You’ll be amazed with everything you see, dragonflies buzzing around you and turtles paddling in the water are just a couple of the jaw-dropping reasons to adore the riverwalk.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

The Learning Experience

Walking your dog down the road, or taking a walk along the river, you may not notice the extraordinary creatures that dwell where you are waking. Those who walk along the Riverwalk, or on the sidewalk in Jamestown are attuned to the sound of cars on the road or the sound of construction. Maybe you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and you can’t take the time to stop and look around to learn. Not many people are able to come across the opportunity to be involved in a job as exhilarating as mine is. Joining Project Wild America on this wild turtle hunt this summer has not only been a fun, exciting, and new experience, but also a learning experience. I, as well as those I work with, have been learning so much this summer. Many people overlook the wildlife that surrounds them. One may not even know what species of trees, plants, and animals subside in their yard and make a home out of it.

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We’ve been seeing Spiny softshell turtles right at the base of Warner Dam in downtown Jamestown.

One of the harder things to grasp this summer has been the plants and trees. There’s just so many of them, but it certainly is not impossible to learn what is what. For example, there’s invasive species and native species. The invasives choke out the natives and make homes for themselves where they don’t belong, they essentially take over the area that they begin growing in. One plant that seems to be all over is Honeysuckle. Poisonous to humans, but not to many of the animal species that may see it as a tasty treat. Sure some of the plants are easy to tell apart from others, such as Queen Anne’s Lace. A significant fun fact about this plant is that when it is in its most mature state, it has a small, dark purple flower right in the middle. Each plant has its own symbolic feature.

Cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis) TL

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Just as plants have their own features to tell them apart, birds do as well. My favorite thing that we’ve been learning this summer is the bird species. Before this project, I had never heard of a Bobolink. This is most likely because they nest and breed on Airport Hill and not many would spend their time up there just sitting around listening and watching for birds. They have a call that sounds something like R2-D2. Another interesting bird species is the Cedar Waxwing. They look something like a Cardinal, but are smaller and look different. There’s so many more species just on the riverwalk. There’s Catbirds mimicking other birds, Osprey overhead, Cardinals, Blue Herons, Green Herons and such a diversity of other species.

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Northern Cardinal

 

Learning how to successfully trap a Spiny Softshell turtle is something that we are still working on all together. These magnificent creatures that meander along with the river’s current are harder than expected to catch. So far we’ve caught a variety of other turtle species, just not our target species. At first, my fellow ambassador friends and I were pretty against getting a little wet and dirty to set a turtle trap. Now that we are all accustomed to the water, we are more eager than ever to trap one of these turtles. Everyone gets pretty audacious in their ideas to net and catch these turtles. It gets pretty lively some days. Trying to be sneaky turns into talking until the last few seconds, then “plop!” gone.

Using a seine net, on loan from DEC, to try to capture our target turtle species.

Using a seine net, on loan from DEC, to try to capture our target turtle species.

Even though there’s so much already learned, there’s so much more to learn.