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.

Adolf with Net

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.

PWA Crew & Leaders

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.

Excavating Female

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.

 

The Layers of Nature

Prior to this internship, I had already thought I knew all there was to know about a balanced ecosystem. My knowledge of a healthy environment stopped at plants and animals. After all, that is all you need, right? Now, having spent the summer working with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, I have learned of the many varying levels beyond my previous generalization.

Our first great learning experience took place in Harris Hill State forest with forester Jeff Brockelbank. He shared with us his extensive knowledge of the woods with a focus on the essentials for a young forest to thrive. Initially I was under the impression that all a tree needs to grow is sunlight, water, and nutrients. I was correct! However, it becomes much more complicated than that. Some species require more or less of each. While others compete with the other foliage and wildlife in order to secure their monopoly of the sun. Furthermore, I had always believed that chopping down trees only had negative effects. I was shocked to discover that chopping down a tree was in fact one of the more helpful methods of allowing newer, more suitable trees to grow and it provided a perfect environment for doing so by preventing deer and other wildlife from gnawing away at the new trees.

Harris Hill with Jeff B

The second most interesting aspect that I never would have considered was that of the macroinvertebrates. We spent a day collecting the insects and other small beings of the Chadakoin. I always considered insects to have just two purposes, to act as food for other species, and to annoy humans. Nevertheless, collecting these creepy crawlies was essential to determine the health of the river. It is a common belief that the Chadakoin river is dirty and polluted; fortunately, such a belief could not be more incorrect. The Caddisfly is an insect known to thrive only in the healthiest of water bodies. Each time we picked up our nets, we were left with hundreds of these larvae. We caught so many it became difficult to find anything else of interest when searching through our buckets. The Caddisfly is just another example of how complex an ecosystem can be, and how each species plays an important role, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Macro-bucket

These are just two examples of the intricacies of nature. In my time here I have learned of many more. Sometimes, it is difficult to spot just how important one species, climate change, or human interaction can be to an entire ecosystem. However, it can be assured that each will have an effect.