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)

Turtle Trapping and Field Trips

It was a foggy morning, and we were going to start our first day of trapping. We prepared our venture by prepping the traps with disinfectant . Having  set the traps, we lie in wait in hopes of catching the elusive, spiny soft-shelled turtle. However, we were only able to nab six painted turtles and two cantankerous snapping turtles. Before we were able to log the discovery, time had to pass to allow the snapping turtles to get all their anger out. They sat there clamping down on one another for a few minutes, damaging the other’s shell. Luckily, Twan, the director of the institute, was there and could show us the proper method for handling these primal creatures. Carefully grabbing the turtle by the back of the shell, we were able to tentatively get a measurement without injury to ourselves. Moving on to the painted turtles, we practiced gathering information on turtles by measuring weight, the length of the carapace and plastron, and counting age using the scutes on the top of the shell. This is the same information that will be recorded when it comes to our focus species.

Hailey holding a snapper

Handling a snapper

For our first field trip, we traveled to Harris Hill State forest with forester, Jeff Brockelbank. He shared with us an in-depth look at an ecosystem. There are a multitude of each part of the system, be it trees, insects, animals, or anything else. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was that logging is as much of a necessary part of a healthy forest as growth. For younger, more preferable trees to grow, it is necessary to chop down the already grown trees that take up all of the sun, nutrients, and water.

Harris Hill with Jeff B

Our second field trip was spent in the fish hatchery and Chautauqua Gorge. At the hatchery, we viewed the many types of fish in Chautauqua lake that some of us did not even know existed. Perhaps the most interesting of these species was the spotted gar, which is a large, armored fish that looks like some kind of prehistoric animal. Also, we learned about the efforts to preserve paddlefish in the Allegheny River and in Chautauqua Lake. These are other really cool animal, which are easily identified by their huge, paddle-like snout. Paddlefish can reach six-foot long when they are fully grown, which is why the largest fish ever caught in Chautauqua Lake was a paddlefish. Getting to see all of the work that the DEC did to support fishing in the state was neat, and all of the different species that can be found in WNY.

Fish Hatchery

Fish Hatchery (1)

Although many of the youth ambassadors have lived in WNY their whole lives, many of us have never been to Chautauqua Gorge. This made it especially interesting to get to see such a beautiful place right here in Chautauqua County. When we first got there, we had to go down a steep, but very scenic path down to the gorge itself. Down in the gorge, we got to experience one of the headwaters of the Allegheny, a stream flowing with cool, clean, water. Besides seeing some really neat waterfalls and rock formations, we were able to find a number of uncommon examples of wildlife. Some of these included a Northern Water Snake, and a Ring-Necked Snake. Overall, the trip to Chautauqua Gorge is a must-see to anyone in the area who enjoys wildlife and the outdoors.

Erros-Ring neck snake

Chautauqua Gorge

The research has begun and our excitement has skyrocketed. Hopefully soon we can catch our focus species and begin banding to gather the information we need. We also look forward to other unique field trips where we can learn about the surrounding area and each part of the ecosystem.

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.

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.

Katydid

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.