Calling All Students

Are you interested in pursuing a career in environmental biology or environmental education? Are you a junior or senior in high school, or a college student looking for an exciting summer packed with relevant experience? Please consider joining the Roger Tory Peterson Institute’s Project Wild America Youth Ambassador program. Through this program you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside RTPI biologists and staff as they investigate, monitor and improve habitat for unusual and threatened species in the City of Jamestown, as well as raise public awareness and increase community engagement.

For those interested, applications in PDF can be picked up at RTPI or found here:

PWA Crew Leader Application 2017
PWA Crew Application 2017

Completed applications can be dropped off in person or emailed to Elyse Henshaw at ehenshaw AT rtpi.org.

RTPI is very excited for what the upcoming field season has in store, and look forward to once again being immersed in water, mud and adventure alongside another great crew of students that will be doing the same as we explore and discover the natural wonders within the boundaries of our own city!

Riverwalk Poetry

“Not all is doom and gloom. We are beginning to understand the natural world and are gaining a reverence for life – all life.” -Roger Tory Peterson

That statement is especially meaningful to our group of youth ambassadors. Three and a half weeks into the project and our eyes are being opened more and more every day to the natural beauties in and around the river. We hope through our work we can change others’ perceptions of the river for the better. Art has always been such a significant force in history because of its ability to provide meaning to any spectator; with that thought in mind, Drew and I looked to spread our findings in a more creative way.

DSCN5119

The author of this blog post becoming one with nature.

Usually, after a long day of work we were given time to reflect and take notes on things that happened throughout the day. A few of us took this opportunity to write poems that summarized significant findings on the river. We started off the poems as a way to kill time and relax but when we read them to the group they enjoyed them and asked us to keep them coming. Me and my pal drew are the major poets of the group and our excellence was realized after we debuted our first poems: “Jungle Fever” and “Spiny on the Mulch.”

DSC_1207

The dense wetlands of the Chautauqua Wetlands Preserve provided the inspiration for the passage “Jungle Fever”

 

“Jungle Fever”

Off the beaten path

“Feel my wrath”

Says nature

I am mature

“Spiny!”

Where?

“Spiny!”

You’re pulling my leg

And I don’t like that.

Back in the woods

Man these branches are rude

They are slicing me up

I’d really like a tea cup

Legs look tattered

I’d rather eat cake batter

Than walk through the branches.

Avalanches.

 

DSC_1137

The Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle that inspired the passage “Spiny on the Mulch”

“Spiny on the Mulch”

Digging and laying

Baby turtles soon to come

Basking and bathing

I’ll bite your bum

Playing

Eating

Sleeping

I’ll play your drum

And if you’re not careful

I’ll bite your bum

Digging and slaying

Kamikaze turtles soon to come

Haaaaa (Kanye voice)

Basking and bathing

I’ll bite your bum

Again

 

After writing our first hit poems, Drew and I knew that this was one of our top 3 callings in life. Our rhymes weren’t always perfect but we made sure to get the meaning across. The poems can get considerably abstract at times but the lesson left behind is not one to graze over. What kind of poet would write without a few lines that make little to no sense along with some chuckle-evoking word play? Not me and Drew, I can promise you that. We try to cover every aspect of being on the riverwalk in our pieces to give the audience a realistic depiction of the river. That includes everything from the interactions with the Jamestownians to swimming in water trying to catch the Spinys.

DSCN5151

The PWA crew in action hauling in the seine net.

Drew and I certainly love a funny poem, but some topics are hard to laugh about. This week we focused on water quality. On tuesday we headed to the river with the intention of measuring the amounts of microplastics in the river. It’s important to recognize that plastic pollution is becoming more and more of a problem as microplastics flood into our waterways by the billions every day. Shopping bags, food containers, toys, and toiletries are a large portion of the plastics that cause these issues. The plastics don’t biodegrade like a banana peel would, instead they photodegrade. That means that as they break down they retain their characteristics and do not turn into their component molecules.

DSC_1324

The PWA crew spent several days testing for the presence of microbeads that inspired the passage “Plastic Seeds of Death”

“Plastic Seeds of Death”

Microplastics around

Even downtown

But I can’t see them

So what’s the deal?

Ya see

It’s not organic

Nature can’t handle it

If we stop using them

It’ll help, kinda

But for years after you’ll find em’

If they’re in the water

They’re in us

In our food and drinks

In our blood some think

So be careful with plastic

Use a little less

In a few years I hope there’s less

 

You would think that water treatment plants should be able to rid the water of the plastics, but the particles are even too small for the treatment facilities to take care of. If the microplastics are in the water, that means that they are in the species living in the water as well as us. The impacts are not fully understood yet and the problem is growing despite the regulations that will be enforced in the next few years.

Apart from writing poems, we’ve actually learned a lot about how the plastics in the water get there, what they do, and how we can help lessen the problem. I know that I’m definitely going to be more conservative when using plastic products as well as careful about how I dispose of them. If everybody made small changes in their lives such as not using plastic shopping bags or plastic water bottles it would certainly slow down the amount entering our ecosystem everyday.

DSCN5136

One of the many sucker fish the PWA crew caught this summer,

As a conservationist, I would like to end by saying stop down by the Chadakoin and embrace the nature sometime in the near future. You will not regret spending your time down there. As a poet, though, our poems will most likely be featured in the blog on the website(unless we can manage getting our own page). I hope that someday our poems will be featured in the Roger Tory Peterson Institute itself, but that’s only possible through the uproar of our loving fans!

DSCN5182

The author hopes to see his poetry spread to a global audience.

Another Great Week with Project Wild America!

Drew: The past few days we have been focusing on microplastics. I’ve heard about them and had a general knowledge on what they are and where they came from, but I was no expert. After hours of learning more and more about the science of microplastics, I’m still not an expert, but I definitely know more.

DSC_1308

The PWA crew spent much of this week testing for microplastic pollution in the Chadakoin.

Today, I was sickened by the amount of garbage I found at Chadakoin Park. I kept an eye out for it. Casually walking through a park, I spot a lot of garbage, but when you really look out for trash, diligently, you get a better idea of the true human impact on this Earth.

DSC_1343

The PWA crew also spent time picking up garbage as part of the “Talking Trash” campaign.

We have to start looking out, not only for the other animals that inhabit this Earth, but also for future generations. Before throwing your cigarette butt out of the window of your car, think about the animals who can be harmed from its hazardous materials. Before you choose a plastic water bottle instead of a reusable mug, think about the microplasticss in the oceans. And most importantly, before you do anything, just think about the environment.

Emma: This past week we have been mainly focusing on the effects of microplastics on the environment, and it’s quite sickening. Because plastic photodegrades, it never really goes away. It continues to breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that end up in the animals habitats and eventually in their feeding grounds. As well, microplastics are small enough to escape the filters of water treatment plants and end up in our tap water that we drink everyday. Scary. Of course my first thought was to just get a real big net and scoop it all up, easy peasy, right? Wrong.

DSC_1330

The PWA crew had to use microscopes to observe the microplastics collected.

We, as humans, are not the only living beings on this planet. We share much of it with nature and take it for granted. Just go outside and look around, there is a high chance you will see trash lying around. Luckily this week we started the Talkin’ Trash campaign which basically publicizes environmental clean up. We tested it out for the first time on Wednesday and it was crazy how much data we collected in just an hour. This week has been a reality check. The most important thing to take away from this is 1. reduce plastic consumption and 2. even the smallest contribution (i.e. picking up a wrapper and putting it in the garbage) can help.

Tiffany: When most people see a bug, their first thought is to get a shoe. However, when I see a bug, my first thought is to capture it, identify it, and possibly pin it. Insects are fascinating to watch, due to their diversity, and because of their abundance, the can be observed seemingly everywhere you go. While we’ve done a lot this week, one of the things I noticed most were these tiny, alien-like creatures.

Woolly aphids look like a cute tiny white ball of fuzz floating carelessly through the sky. They look almost as if a piece of a cloud feel right out of the sky. And when you catch them, you may mistaken the fuzz on its back for a spiderweb. You may think this insect has a fascinating story of hardship and conflict with an eight-legged beast. However, in reality, this insect was born with this coat of fuzz. Even though its wool tells no tales, it still shows off its pure beauty. 

Wooly Aphid (picture taken from bugguide.net)

Butterflies and moths show off their complex wing patterns and colors, while delicately gliding through the air. Walking down the trails at Chadakoin Park, I watched in awe at a small swarm of copper butterflies. Blurs of orange, brown, and black moved around in a cluster. Hesitantly, I looked up and I was surprised even more so. As I gazed at a spiny thistle plant, I saw a beautifully large black butterfly perched upon it. The thorns has no effect on its fragile body. When it opened up its wings, you could see an outline of yellow and blue. This was unmistakably the black swallowtail butterfly.

DSC_1368

The black swallowtail butterfly that the PWA crew found.

Like butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies have a long slender, winged body. However, unlike butterflies, dragonflies look as if they are encased in armor. instead of looking frail, they look strong and resilient. Though their wings behold alluring designs, it is their bodies that attracts on lookers. Pond hawks can exhibit a bright green or blue color, depending on their gender. When in flight, their wings are almost invisible, so all you see is smear of color across your vision as they fly by. The ebony jewel-wing is, by far, one of the prettiest damselflies I’ve ever seen. It was hard to miss as it sit on a plain, green leaf. Its black wings and blue, translucent body popped among the boring foliage. While many insects behold the ability of flight, many do not. These insects may be the hardest to spot.

Ebony-Jewelwing-Calopteryx-maculata-333x500

An example of an ebony jewel-wing, photographed by RTPI affiliate Sean Graesser.

Many times, they may blend in with their environment to avoid predation. These insects also don’t flash across your field of vision like flying insects do. Walking along a grassy, overgrown path, it would be easy to walk right by a praying mantis. Even though their body does not look like a piece of grass, their soft green color allows them to blend in with ease. As they check out their surroundings, they can move their head back and forth; a trait that many insects lack. These insects can look fairly intimidating, because they always look prepared for a fight. Even though they appear to be praying, these insects are no saints.They can easily kill other insects, including other mantids, and some species of spiders.

unspecified

The praying mantis that the PWA crew found (they kept it in a terrarium and will care for it for the duration of the summer).

Next time you see a bug, whether it be outdoors, or in your house, why not observe it, rather than ending its life with the flick of your hand. As you look closer, you, too, may begin to see wonder in the simple things around your backyard. 

Morgan: In the Pacific Ocean, there’s a garbage patch said to be nearly the size of Texas. Now, hearing about a “garbage patch,” one probably assumes that it’s simply an area with plastic cups, large styrofoam pieces, and other items people throw away; however, that’s not the case. Recently, the crew took samples of the water in the Chadakoin, and found tiny pieces of plastics, or microplastics, in the water. Plastic so small, that when compared to Twelve point font, one particle is smaller than even a period, and a microscope is almost required to see it.

DSC_1323

That tiny dot in the center of the picture is an example of a microbead.

 

Moral of the story, just because you can’t see the plastic, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Every piece of trash you throw away, doesn’t degrade naturally. So find a trash can, a dumpster or recycling bin, and throw that trash away properly!

Erros: Week four is just coming to an end and it has been a “Shell of a good time!”. So far the project has accomplished much and has collected a significant amount of data. We have also gotten our hands dirty, literally with our new Talkin’ Trash campaign, and have conducted research of our own. We’ve started a campaign focusing on spreading the awareness of trash and plastic pollution of the local environment and have been putting some of our efforts into helping the issue by picking up garbage as we worked all week. In addition we have set up a program through a website created by Nick Gunnar, an RTPI affiliate, to log gps locations of different pieces of trash that we pick up along our journey. This website is called Orbitist.com and it is comprised of different user made interactive maps in which you can explore numerous trails and learn about the local history as you follow the trails. Another aspect that we focused on this week was doing different types of surveys, especially bird surveys. Through these many bird surveys we conducted I feel that I have learned much about the local bird species here and have gained a new interest in these spectacular flying creatures. I love exploring and with a curious eye for birds I feel like I will find myself in places far and wide in search for their beauty in the future. This amazing project has honestly opened my eyes up to how satisfying it may be to know you’re helping the environment and has significantly aided me in gaining this constantly growing appreciation for Earth and it’s nature within.

DSC_1340

The Green Heron that the PWA crew observed while conducting bird surveys.

Griffin: About three quarters of the project is done with and I couldn’t be happier with all that we’ve accomplished in the past four weeks. Bird counts, Macro invertebrate samples, micro plastic samples, dragonfly catching, and turtle trapping have taken up most of our time with some saved in between for blogging. The amount of diversity I’ve seen on the river has been astounding. From turtles basking all around to Blue Herons flapping over the Chadakoin, the sights have been nothing short of amazing. We take countless pictures and film with the GoPro but nothing will allow you to truly see the beauty unless you’re on the river. Being exposed to the biodiversity in and around the river will give you no choice but to have a deeper respect for nature. You’ll naturally start to become more aware of how you impact the environment and become much more careful in everything you do. So if you haven’t yet, I strongly encourage you to spend some time along the River Walk.

DSC_1296

The PWA crew busy at Saturday’s public event on the Riverwalk.

 

Chief Spiny

*this story, although based off of a real experience of trapping Spiny Softshell Turtles, is meant to be fictional and comical. Chief Spiny is not a real turtle, and should not be treated as such.*

Every Tuesday through Saturday this summer, I wake up, take a shower, eat some breakfast, and mentally prepare myself for another chess match with the Spiny Soft Shell. For a few weeks, I continued to get played like a fiddle by the Spinies, time and time again. They emasculated me. They made me feel like a chump. They made me look like a coward.

DSCN5240

Drew (the author of this blog) experiencing the roller coaster of emotions that is turtle trapping.

My fellow workers and I had given up hope of catching a spiny. These guys were too quick and clever for us to handle. Sure, humans could build wonders, and invent some seemingly impossible inventions, but we all knew that Spinies were the superior species.

DSCN5191

The part of the Chadakoin where the turtles spent the most time was also the least accessible.

We spotted a few Spinies basking in the sun down by the Warner Dam. Even though in the backs of our minds, we all knew the chances were next to none to catch one. We set out a seine net, sent a few brave warriors with hand nets to spook some spinies into the net, and prayed for a capture. My friend and colleague, Tony Clavell, bless his soul, was severely injured on the job. He tripped and sliced his hand on a rock, and it looked like a murder scene. Although I cannot prove it, I’m certain a Spiny tripped Tony purposely.

DSC_1265

At this point, the author becomes delusional. Studies have shown that Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled turtles do not trip people into rivers.

I was scared to keep swimming with the hand nets. I knew the Spinies were circling me, plotting something very sinister. But, I knew I had to keep going. Not for me, but for everyone who has been hurt by a Spiny before. If I died, I was a martyr, and I was okay with that.

DSC_1262

Despite the author’s claims, Spiny Soft-shelled turtles are completely harmless to humans, and are a valuable part of the ecosystem.

Soon enough, however, I returned back to the seine net, uninjured. We looked inside and saw some sticks and leaves and trash, but of course, no spinies. I was not surprised. They have outsmarted me all summer. Why would this time be any different? One cannot even get lucky and catch a Spiny. They’re just that good.

DSC_1148

The author is correct in one regard: Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtles are extremely difficult to catch.

As I sat on the hood of a car, and contemplated if it was even worth trying to catch a Spiny anymore, I heard someone say, “We caught a turtle!” I was speechless for a moment, but then I realized I must have heard that incorrectly. Sure enough, though, somebody else shouted “Oh my Gosh! We caught a turtle!”

DSCN5251

Finally, the PWA crew had successfully caught a Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle!

Awesome. We caught a painted turtle, I thought. That’s pretty cool. Or maybe a snapping turtle. That’d be nice. I approached the seine net, as everyone else surrounded it, and there it was. A Spiny Soft Shell Turtle, in the flesh. Everyone was in a state of euphoria, taking turns holding the little guy in between measurements. As for myself, I felt victorious. I had finally won.

DSCN5260

The crew carefully took measurements of the turtle they caught.

In the midst of all this excitement, I noticed something. This Spiny was definitely acting aggressive. But, I thought to myself, “Is he aggressive enough?” I knew Spinies were impossible to catch. You can’t even get lucky. Why did this Spiny get caught in the seine net, when it has never worked before? That’s when I realized something astonishing. This Spiny got himself caught intentionally.

DSC_1284

The crew was certainly excited to have captured a Spiny Soft-Shelled turtle! The author’s hallucinations regarding a “Chief Spiny” may be a result of hormonal imbalances following the event.

Living in Jamestown all my life, I’ve heard stories about Chief Spiny. I envisioned it as a large, clever, quick, and very, very evil creature. It was the leader of all Spinies, and they worshipped her like a Goddess. She is the one who sends troops of Spinies to do her bidding. She is the reason for Tony getting injured. Almost anything bad that happens in Jamestown, I believe you can trace back to Chief Spiny.

Spiny Turtle

The debate regarding the existence of “Chief Spiny” continues to this day.

This small Spiny we caught was sent from the Chief herself. I think it was some sort of spy, sent to learn about our ways. We indulged it, though, giving it all the information it needed. We were too busy celebrating ourselves, that we failed to see what was right in front of our eyes.

We sent the Spiny back into the water, letting it freely report back to Chief Spiny. Now, I am frightened. Chief Spiny has all the information it needs to unleash chaos on the human race. Spiny Soft Shells are mankind’s greatest threat, and we just gave it a huge advantage, as if it wasn’t large enough. Chief Spiny was the most evil and powerful creature on this planet, and we just made it so much stronger. I ask all of you to prepare for a very dark time.

*this story, although based off of a real experience of trapping Spiny Softshell Turtles, is meant to be fictional and comical. Chief Spiny is not a real turtle, and should not be treated as such.*

The Legend of the Spiny

DSCN5238

The PWA crew setting up the seine net, unaware that this time would be different.

It was Wednesday July 13th, just after 10:00 in the morning. Although it was early, the temperature was already surpassing 85℉, and the water temperature was climbing as well. Thunderstorms were in the forecast for later in the afternoon, making the mission from the day even more urgent. As each crew member trekked down the Riverwalk to Warner Dam, the sun hid behind clouds and song sparrows called. Even though the sun was nearly hidden, turtles could be seen basking on the edges of the dam. And not just any turtles, but Spiny Softshell Turtles.

DSC_1268

The Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle that we caught!

You see, these turtles are the Nessie of Jamestown, New York. They are a legend, and Spiny Softshell turtles capture the attention of all those around them when they are out of the water. Stories of these creatures are shared continuously, between crew members, and those who often visit this little area of New York. They cause one to enter a state of awe and amazement, fascination and wonder; just as Nessie and the legend of the Loch Ness Monster capture the attention of those whom have heard the stories of her presence. Nessie and these spiny turtles share similar characteristics too, considering they are both nearly impossible to catch. But on this hot and cloudy day, the impossible became possible.

DSCN5228

Griffin, Erros, and Morgan sweeping the turtles out from Warner Dam.

As the crew approached Warner Dam, the spinies sensed our presence and slid back into the rushing waters in front of the dam. Not long after though, the crew entered the water, creating a barrier with the seine net that the turtles could not pass, while others began to swim towards to dam. The water was surprisingly deep, well over the head of even the tallest member, as this was the first time that the crew had tried this approach. As time went on, the net crew stood firmly in place, ready for the turtles to make their way downstream, while the others swam, nets in hand, trying to spook the turtles toward the net. After checking every crevice possible, each swimmer made their way back to the seine net where they helped to lift it out of the water, finding that their feeble attempt had failed.

DSCN5231

Mike, Drew, and Heather had to cross the flow of the dam to sweep out the turtles from the other side.

Again a portion of the crew was sent towards the dam swimming, while the others waited holding the net. After a few cut hands and fingers on the sharp rocks and only one sighting of a turtle head, the large net was checked again, finding nothing but garbage from the water, causing everyone to hang their heads in disappointment after another fruitless mission.

DSCN5244

The PWA crew after discovering that there was a Spiny Soft-Shelled Turtle in the seine net!

Upon second glance however, among the garbage and tangles of the net, a small creature was uncovered. At first one member of the crew simply said, “wait, there’s a turtle…” then another came to take a look, and they both began exclaiming that it was not only a turtle, but the turtle they have been searching for: the Spiny Softshell Turtle. It may not have been Nessie that they caught, but it was indeed, a spectacular find. Everyone remained motionless, as they stood in their places in a state of disbelief, until the realization and excitement took over. Soon everyone was shouting and jumping, scrambling to call our advisor to share the news. Because unlike Nessie, this capture was proof that this species is thriving here in Jamestown, New York. After nearly a year and a half of struggles, the first Spiny was caught in the Chadakoin River. The news quickly spread, as the seemingly impossible mission was indeed possible.

DSC_1289

After measurements were taken and everyone held the turtle he was released safely back into the Chadakoin.

Now a new type of energy fills each crew member, leader and everyone at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. The first up close viewing, the first touch, and the first data of a Spiny Softshell Turtle has lead to even greater goals, and the entire crew can’t wait to get another Spiny in their net. Even though this small male may have been a little aggressive, after nearly taking off a few fingers, Myrtle, the crew’s first spiny turtle, and the path to capturing it has been long and treacherous, it has replenished the spirit and hope of everyone here.  

Until we meet again, Spiny.

Spiny Turtle   me and the spiny

Success on the Chadakoin!

DSC_1287

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.

DSC_1191.JPG

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.

DSC_1238

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.

DSC_1205

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.

DSC_1193

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.

DSC_1262

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.

DSC_1252

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.

DSCN5203

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!

 

 

Creatures of the Creek

It was about 10am. My team and I were getting ready for our first real day of work. While coating ourselves with sunscreen and bugspray, we almost missed something sitting the ground right in front of us. It was a spiny soft shell turtle nesting on the mulch next to the parking lot of the Riverwalk. The leaders said an event like this was unusual. Nonetheless, it was pretty exciting to see the species our main focus is on first thing on our first day of work. Later on, we found holes with small, white eggshell fragments in and around them. This turned out to be a key nesting site for the spiny soft shell turtle.

image

image

This sighting made everyone even more excited to start working. In hopes to catch these turtles, as well as other species, we set up a large net taking up about half of the river. It takes about 5 or 6 people to hold this net because the stream current makes it considerably heavy. While this is up, 3 people went way upstream to try and scare the creatures into the net downstream. We did this in 3 different locations. As we kept moving from location to location, the water seemed to keep getting deeper and deeper. I never realized how deep the Chadakoin actually was. Of course, I was in the last group, which means my group and I had the deepest waters to trudge through. It was so deep, in fact, that I had to swim in some parts. Surprisingly, the river was actually quite warm, so it wasn’t completely unbearable. By getting in the river, we saw a plethora of wildlife including (but not limited to) crayfish, minnows, large fish, turtles, frogs, and many species of bird. My advice to you: If you ever find yourself swimming in the Chadakoin, watch for shopping carts at the bottom…they hurt when you trip over them….. And people might get mad at you for chasing away the ducks, but you don’t want these birds to get trapped in your net (They said that happened last year and it wasn’t pretty).

Photo Jul 07, 10 15 46 AM

This river is one of our main focuses during Project Wild America. In the early 1900’s, this water was became a dumping site for many industries. Despite this, the river has made much of a recovery, and continues to recover everyday. However, today, this gorgeous river is mostly hidden by the many buildings of Jamestown. The sound of the rushing water is drowned out by the sounds of traffic. Many people of Jamestown drive by the river everyday, without giving it a second thought. The people of Jamestown may think it’s dirty due to its brownish appearance. However, what many people don’t know is that this color is mostly from algae, which many species eat to survive. The abundance of wildlife here shows the river’s speedy recovery, despite its unintentional destruction from the early public.

Photo Jul 07, 10 42 28 AM

If everyone took some time out of their busy lives and went to locations like McCrea Point, the Riverwalk, or Chadakoin Park, they may be surprised with what they find. Perhaps you may catch crayfish in the stream, or birdwatch along the edge, or maybe you’re just going for a stroll. If you do this instead of watching a rerun of a television show, you won’t be disappointed. There are many spots along the Chadakoin you could visit including locations in Cassadaga and Falconer. There is also so many species of plants, animals, and reptiles found along this stretch of water. Chances are, you’re going to find something that interests you. Just find a convenient location for you and explore!!

Photo Jul 07, 10 16 24 AM

First Thoughts

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

DSCN5044

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

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

IMG_4246

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

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

DSCN5088

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

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

DSCN5061

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

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

DSCN5149

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

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

DSCN5120

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

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

DSCN5124

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

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

DSCN5055

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

Getting Started with Project Wild America

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

Spiny Softshell adult female

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.

Crew_Leaders_At_Letchworth

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.

WAVE Training (2)

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.

iMapInvasives Screenshot

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.

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.

DSCN4683

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.

DSC_0834

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.