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 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!

Downy Woodpecker

Although New York is home to 11 different woodpecker species, the one most commonly encountered is the Downy Woodpecker. Although it also enjoys foraging for foods in open woodlands and meadows, it is unique in that it frequently visits bird feeders as well. It is small compared to most other woodpeckers, so it is able to access food that is difficult for their larger relatives to reach. They also frequently flock with other birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches.

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A fantastic picture of a Downy Woodpecker taken in the “Meet Your Neighbors” style photographed by Twan Leenders.

The Downy Woodpecker’s most distinctive feature is its small size, as the maximum length for any individual is less than 7 inches! Combine this with their light weight (usually under 1 oz) and they are able to feed in unique situations. Often, they will perch on weeds such as goldenrod and consume the larvae that are embedded in galls on the plant. Basically, a gall is an part of the plant that has grown around an egg placed by an insect, which provides food and shelter for the developing larvae. Besides perching on weeds, Downy Woodpeckers are also known to visit suet feeders, black oil sunflower feeders, peanut feeders, and even hummingbird feeders.


The same Downy Woodpecker looking curious. Photographed by Twan Leenders.

Downy Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, and excavate cavities that with entrance holes only 1-1.15 inches wide. They only nest in dead trees, or parts of living trees that have died. Sometimes, they will choose to excavate a portion of the tree that has already been weakened by a fungal infection. Once the cavity has been created (a process which usually takes between 1 and 3 weeks) the inside is lined with wood chips.


Here is a Downy Woodpecker foraging for food. Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

Having a variety of food sources and nesting sites means that the Downy Woodpecker is fairly adaptable. This means that their populations have remained stable, and they are not facing any serious conservation issues at this point. This is good news, especially to Western New Yorkers who love seeing them visit feeders throughout the year!

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.


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.”


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




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.




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




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



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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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


Eastern Cottontail

Arguably the cutest animal featured in RTPI’s Meet Your Neighbor project is the Eastern Cottontail. Although very common in our area, it’s always great to see these little guys standing watchfully on the edge of fields. Despite their cute appearance, they actually fill an important role in the ecosystem as a food source for our larger predators. Combine this with a life span that is usually less than three years, and one can realize that these mammals have to struggle to survive and maintain their large population.

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An adorable Eastern Cottentail bunny photographed in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style by Twan Leenders.

As the name suggests, the Eastern Cottontail is present across the Eastern United States. The fur is mostly brown and grey, with a reddish patch around the shoulders. Both the fur around the nose and on the underside of the body is a lighter color. Of course, the underside of the tail is distinctly puffy and white. During the winter, the fur becomes more gray than brown, but otherwise remains similar to the summer coat.


An Eastern Cottentail in some brush that would be a common habitat for this species. Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

The preferred habitat of the Eastern Cottontail are the borders between fields and woodlands. Here, they have access to a good food source, as well as cover from potential predation. Besides fields and woodlands, these rabbits also can make their homes in wetlands, thickets, and meadows. Eastern Cottontails eat a variety of plants, including grasses, clovers, fruits, vegetables, bark, and twigs.


It’s a rough life being a rabbit. Eastern Cottentail and Red Fox photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

The way that Eastern Cottontail populations are able to survive despite their high mortality rate is by having a high reproductive rate. Female Cottontails can have up to four litters of young each year, and each litter may have as many as nine babies! The babies leave the nest within seven weeks, and are able to mate within three months. This extremely high reproductive rate makes up for the fact that only about 15% of the young actually survive their first year.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!”


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.


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.


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.*

White Trillium

One of New York’s most distinctive and beautiful wildflowers is the White Trillium. Also known as the Large-Flowered Trillium, these beautiful flowers are a delight to see when walking along a streambank on a warm spring day. Along with other trilliums, the White Trillium can be identified by having three large leaves, three flower petals, and three sepals. However, this gorgeous flower also has a number of characteristics that make it an unique member of the woodlands of Western New York.

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A beautiful example of White Trillium photographed in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style by Twan Leenders.

As mentioned above, size is usually the trait that is first noticed when observing a specimen of White Trillium. The petals are bright white early after blossoming, but may turn pink-ish as the flower ages. Like all trilliums, there are three petals on each flower, and only one flower per plant. There are also three large sepals, each of which sits between the petals. The stigmas and stamens also follow this pattern of triplets, with six stamens and three stigmas being present.


Although the White Trillium is not featured, this is a panel drawn by Roger Tory Peterson showcasing the variety among Trilliums and other wildflowers.

The leaves of the White Trillium are large, being up to six inches long and five inches across. Each plant has three leaves, arranged in a whorl around the stem. These broad leaves sometimes may be the only identifiable part of the plant, as it takes several years for the plant to develop enough to devote energy to grow a flower. Before the plant is mature enough for a flower, the leaves will still be present, producing enough sugars to store for future use. This is one of the reasons why White Trillium should not be disturbed in its habitat, as its reproductive cycle takes a significant amount of time.


Another gorgeous White Trillium, photographed by Elyse Henshaw.

These flowers are found in deciduous forests with rich soil, as well as in swamps and along shaded riverbanks. My first encounter with this species was in an exemplary habitat for White Trillium, on a streambank in a rich woodland with the ideal amount of sunlight. With all of the conditions being suitable for this flower, there were actually around a dozen specimens of this species in a small area. This is a good example of how native plants like the White Trillium can actually succeed when the environmental conditions allow them to compete with invasive species.

The Legend of the Spiny


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.



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.


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.



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!



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.


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.


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).


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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