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.

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!

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

A Unique Opportunity

When most people think of summer work, they envision flipping burgers, scrubbing floors, or working a cash register. I was fortunate enough to get an internship at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History as a Youth Ambassador. To say the least, this summer has been very special. Not only have I furthered my knowledge of the many species present in Western New York, but I have also had the chance to do and see things that most other people don’t get to do.

Prior to the start of this project, I knew a fair amount of trees and animals, but that was about it. In many areas, my understanding was very vague. Through Project Wild America, I learned a vast number of species in an interesting, hands-on way. While meandering through the tranquil woods, one doesn’t realize the diversity of plant life. There’s the invasive honeysuckle, with its poisonous red berries, chicory, bird’s foot trefoil, and Queen Anne’s lace, to name a few. In addition, I have become familiar with some new birds. After all, that was Roger Tory Peterson’s expertise. For example, I had never heard of a cedar waxwing before. This vibrant bird is very common in New York State; now I am starting to notice more and more of them.

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This internship has had some challenges. Trekking through the treacherous Chadakoin River has proven to be quite difficult. A copious amount of hidden bricks and concrete slabs have really taken a toll on my legs, not to mention entire trees that seem to come out of nowhere from the murky depths of the river. Plus, our target species, the eastern spiny softshell turtle, has managed to evade our nets and sardine-baited hoop traps. These clever reptiles have outwitted us for the last couple weeks, and they might be one of the most elusive species I’ve ever encountered. Although, taking a swim in the river did feel quite refreshing on some of those blistering July days.

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One of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of this internship are the field trips that we have done. Who else gets paid to go kayaking? Even though our arms were exhausted, it was well worth the journey. We saw majestic great blue herons and double crested cormorants while paddling along virtually untouched sections of the outlet, surrounded by wilderness. Other field trips have included meeting a DEC forester at Harris Hill State Forest, visiting the fish hatchery at Prendergast point, exploring the stupendous Chautauqua Gorge, observing the colossal hemlocks and white pines of the Allegheny National Forest, and stopping by the iconic Kinzua Dam. My favorite excursion was to Rim Rock, which has stunning views of the Allegheny Reservoir and and plenty of boulders to climb.

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In summary, being a Youth Ambassador has really meant a lot to me. It has allowed me to augment my environmental literacy and respect, which is essential for protecting our natural resources. Furthermore, I have had experiences that I normally wouldn’t get a chance to do, like going to a fish hatchery. When it comes to staying busy during the summer, it doesn’t get much better than Project Wild America.

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 Beginnings of My Scientific Career

This project has been in full motion for several weeks now and I have to say, it has been a “Shell of a good time!” We have captured and studied much of what can be obviously caught at the Chadakoin River, especially along the Riverwalk. We have still not caught our targeted species, the legendary elusive Spiny Softshell Turtle, but we are making amazing progress with every failed attempt. It’s July 30th, my birthday, and I believe that since the beginning of the project, June 30, a month has passed, but in actuality it feels like I have learned years’ worth of information, knowledge, and experience. My birthday is passing and I have learned extensively this past year, but none of it has been as fulfilling, fun, and exciting as what I have been taught, experienced and observed during this special program.

We have gone to the Gorge outside of Mayville, the Fish Hatchery outside of Mayville, Rimrock in Allegheny National Forest, Young Forest in Harris Hill State Forest, and Hearts Content Allegheny National Forest. These field trips has taken me to new and interesting places that aren’t very far away and have exposed me to new outdoor settings where I can explore and let my curiosity take over and guide me through new adventures. I have also been taken kayaking, with this awesome program, up the Chadakoin River, from McCrea Point, to the locally famous Chautauqua Lake. I experience how it feels to be in water by myself, in basically a balanced plastic raft and a stick, and sense all of the different scenery around me from the tall maple trees and the mini pools of Lilly Pads, to the Great Blue Heron flying right over me. Not many people can feel proud to kayak up and down a river with a group of close crew members, experience all the beauty of nature, and on top of that get paid to do so.

Rim Rock Overlook Copy

At the beginning of the project we built small fish traps and big floating turtle traps. We used some PVC pipes, wire netting, and some PVC glue to put together our turtle trap, which to this day we are still working on because we had an unfortunate sinking of both our turtle traps. We made the fish traps out of two liter soda bottles and string and then we put the world famous scientific method to the test and tried to determine which color traps would work best. We listed our question, background research, hypothesis, and our dependent and independent variables. Then we went out to our backyard pond and tested it out, we found that the more clear plastic bottles caught more fish than the tinted green bottles. We too have to disinfect all of our traps before moving them to a new body of water to prevent cross contamination and the spread of disease, as part of our scientific protocol and our trapping license. As a team we have also identified a caterpillar to be a Viceroy caterpillar. We then decided to try and get it to become a butterfly. We found its favorite foods, Poplar and Aspen leaves, and in a few days it had already went into metamorphosis and created it chrysalis. Then a weekend later we finally observed the beauty of the Viceroy butterfly, which mimics the color patterns of the Monarch Butterfly to avoid being preyed on. We also were able to participate in macro invertebrate surveys where we put nets at the bottom of the river and kicked up all the insects, larvae, and other small macro invertebrates in the water into the nets. We then had to one by one hand pick out on hundred macro invertebrates to bottle up in alcohol and ship out to the DEC, where the real professional scientists will make serious decisions on how to deal with the different watersheds in New York State.

I feel so blessed to call this work and learn a plethora of new and curiosity sparking knowledge as I help capture turtles for a summer job. All my friends either work at a small business, a café, or at the world not-renowned McDonalds. I laugh when they tell me about their miserable, trash taking out and burger flipping jobs, as they continue to mock and joke about me and my job. They laugh at me for posting pictures of animals on social media, but I laugh at them when they tell me about how they have to work until midnight or how they can’t “hangout tonight” because they have to wake up at six o’clock in the morning. It’s also funny when they sit there and argue competitively over who makes the most money or who works the most hours, while I show them a picture of my several hundred dollar check that I made by catching dragonflies and taking pictures of them.

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I feel proud to be a part of this project and what it stands for, as I actually acquire some valuable wisdom and experience and help push the environmental sciences forward, even if it is a miniscule amount. I have had tons of amusement during this project and have created strong bonds to the people I work with and have started friendships that otherwise I would never have had. I learned the responsibility of having a real job that expects something from you every day and challenges you to keep learning and demands serious commitment. We have had to trek through the heavily mosquito infested forests and through the long muddy trails that make you feel like your sinking with every step you take. We have had to swim in the myth driven “dirty, radioactive river” and push turtles downstream, as we completely bash our shins on concrete chunks or old partially taken apart bicycle frames. I come home every day with a new bug bite and a different bleeding scratch on my leg than the day previous, from the fields of barb wire we go through, or actually just Multi-Floral Rose, and then put on a brand spanking new bandage on the cut I deem worthy of covering.

It has been a joyful summer with much to be happy about. I have learned extensively about the environment, conservation biology and its procedures, surveys, and protocols. It has been a pleasure to work with people at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History and my crew members. I can’t actually put in words how much I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this project and learn all this new and amazing knowledge on the science of the outdoors. I feel happy and lucky to have found the projects application and filled it out to see where it would take me. I never thought it would take me to where I am now, but I am thankful that I did. I will continue to follow a career in the sciences and hopefully continue to work with nature and the environment to further better understand what we are all blessed and inherited with, the Earth. – Erros Quiñones (Turtle Trapper #1)

New Techniques

We arrived at McCrea Point one sunny Tuesday morning, starting off our week of work, anxious to get on the water. Our excitement only grew when the kayaks came rolling in from Evergreen Outfitters. Paddling along the river there was so many things to see and learn. New plants, animals and so on. The experience itself was an enjoyable and relaxing one. It was tranquil, quiet. On our journey down the river, we spotted blue herons and some painted turtles.

Kayaking the Outlet

Before entering the water, we had to first learn the technique of paddling, how to correctly hold a paddle, and how to sit correctly in the kayak. Learning that, we headed into the water. Along the way, we goofed off and splashed one another, joked around and had fun. Just a normal day in the office for us. Out of this, we got the experience to kayak and very tired arms.

Crew with Kayaks

Even after out excitement with the kayaks, even more was to come. Our viceroy caterpillar had formed a chrysalis in the previous week. When we headed to the institute the next day, we had found that it had come out and formed into a beautiful butterfly that looks something like a monarch, but not quite. After discovering this, we set the butterfly free into the the butterfly garden at RTPI.

Erros with Viceroy

It was nice to take a break for a couple days, but it was time to get back to trapping turtles. Having just acquired a new thirty-five foot net from the DEC, we were confident that we would catch some spiny soft shell turtles. However, we were unaccustomed to such a hefty net. Consequently, there were some struggles, along with trial and error. The best way to use such a large net is to have two or three people holding, while everyone else pushes turtles downstream toward the net. They lift the net simultaneously, and anything in the net is now trapped.

Practicing with the Seine net

Unfortunately, the elusive turtles managed to evade our trap. Nonetheless, we did not come up empty-handed. We were happy to catch a carp, some over-sized shiners, and a peculiar fish called a sucker. Our technique had worked to some point. Yes we managed to catch other critters, but not our spiny softshells. As elusive as these creatures are, we are still in high hopes of catching them before our last week is in the books.

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.

Spiny at Warner Dam

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.

Northern Cardinal TL

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.

Nature Taking Over

It was three summers ago when I was first introduced to the Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera). I was in the back of Twan Leenders’ (RTPI President) car along with a couple of my Jamestown Community College professors with eyes peering through binoculars, attempting to get a better look. Having seen these turtles in more “remote” locations along Conewango Creek and the Allegheny River, I never expected these turtles to be in such an urban center. Growing up my perception of the river, like most others, was that the Chadakoin was too developed and too dirty to support life such as these incredibly odd creatures. However, I was pleasantly surprised that day, and have been more and more surprised each day I have spent on the river since then.

Excavating Female

As I now walk the Riverwalk with our Youth Ambassadors, I am taken back at how nature is staking its claim within the city and poking through cement walls, abandoned buildings, old train tracks and more. Where nature gets its hold, it takes over what was originally its’ own. Amazingly enough, I have noticed that nature not only takes over man-made structures, but also takes over man as well.

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While we have worked along the river over the past couple of weeks we have been immersed in nature’s beauty and uniqueness surrounding the Chadakoin River corridor. It’s been a joy to see each of our students gain a deep interest and understanding of the habitats and species within the area we are studying. I think nature has begun to take our students over and I am excited to see what they learn from it as we continue our work together.