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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Black- Crowned Night-Heron

Black-Crowned Night-Heron

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Black-Crowned Night-Heron photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

Here we have a foraging Black-Crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), a long-legged wader of marshes, ponds, and wetlands, enjoying fresh, salt or brackish waters. They can be found across North America and are actually the most widespread heron in the world!  These spectacular herons have been spotted along the Chadakoin River here in Jamestown.

The Black-Crowned Night-Heron often spends its days perched on tree limbs or concealed among foliage and branches. During the evening and night the black-crowned night-heron forages in water, on mudflats, and on land.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are opportunists feeders that eat many kinds of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine animals. Their diet includes leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, clams, mussels, fish, amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles, rodents, birds, and eggs. They also eat carrion, plant materials, and even garbage from landfills.

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Black-Crowned Night-Heron Foraging For Food! photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

The Black-Crowned Night-Heron is a small stocky bird compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They have thick necks, large, flat heads, and heavy, pointed bills.  The black-crowned night-heron has broad rounded wings and short legs, which in flight, barely reach the end of the tail.  During flight the black-crowned night-heron folds its head back against its shoulders almost making its neck disappear from view.

In the light of day adults are striking.  Adults are light-gray to white colored with red eyes and a neatly defined black back, black crown and all black bill.  Young immature black crowned night herons are brown with large white spots on the wings, blurry streaks on their underside, and have yellow-and-black bills.

These are social birds that tend to roost and nest in groups, although they typically forage on their own. The Black-Crowned Night-Heron will even nest in groups that include other species, like great blue and green herons, egrets, and ibises.

Interestingly, breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will raise any chick that is placed in its nest. The herons apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents.  Another interesting behavior of black-crowned night heron’s is that the young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month, but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old.  They move through the vegetation on foot, joining up in foraging flocks at night.

Northern Brown Snake

This time of year, the lawns and gardens of Jamestown are buzzing with activity as people scramble to get their homes looking great for the summer season. At nighttime, after even the most die-hard gardeners have called it a day, something else takes over the job of protecting our gardens: the Northern Brown snake.

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A fine example of a Northern Brown snake, photographed by Twan Leenders

As the name suggests, the Northern Brown snake is a small brown snake that can be found in a variety of habitats across New York State. Although the majority of the snake is a shade of brown/grey, there is a lighter colored stripe that runs down the length of the snake’s back. On either side of the stripe are a series of black spots that also run the entire length of the body. The belly of the snake is lighter colored, usually a shade of white/pink.

The Northern Brown snake eats a variety of small animals, such as snails, slugs, earthworms, and beetles. Its jaws and mouth are even specialized to pull snails out of their shells so that they can be eaten. This makes these snakes a valuable addition to a garden ecosystem.

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Showing off the powerful jaw needed to pull snails out of their shells! Another moment photographed by Elyse Henshaw.

The prey of the Northern Brown snake generally live underground, and come out at night to feed. This means that the Northern Brown snake must also be active at night, and be able to find its prey below ground. To solve this problem, these reptiles have evolved to have a very powerful sense of smell, which is actually used more heavily than their sense of sight! Their eyesight is decent for daytime movement, but the use of a special organ in the roof of the snake’s mouth enhances their smell and allows them to pursue their prey even in low-light conditions. 

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Although its looking at the camera, this snake has already processed a lot of information about the environment through its sense of smell. Photograph by Elyse Henshaw

Although the majority of snakes lay eggs, the Northern Brown snake gives birth to live young. The eggs are still present, but they continue to develop inside the body of the mother until they are ready to hatch. In New York, both water snakes and garter snakes also give birth to live young. The Northern Brown snake is also similar to its relatives in that it is non venomous, and is an excellent swimmer.

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Remember to thank the Northern Brown snake for keeping your garden pest-free! Photograph by Elyse Henshaw.

Returning to the Chadakoin

Passing through the center of Jamestown, the Chadakoin river has always been the focal point of the city. No matter how much the city continues to change and develop around it, the steady flow of water from Chautauqua Lake has remained constant. To help conserve this valuable natural resource, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute will soon select eight of the brightest high school students in the area to become Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors. Along with their two crew leaders (myself and Heather Zimba) they will spend the summer studying the Chadakoin River Corridor, and encouraging the people of Jamestown to enjoy and preserve the wildlife that lives here.

To help guide the Youth Ambassadors, I was selected as one of the crew leaders. I’m Adolf Zollinger, and I am a sophomore at Jamestown Community College. I am a part of the Environmental Science program, and plan on transferring to SUNY ESF to continue learning about the natural world. Besides working with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in 2015, I also worked as a field biologist for Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc.

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Last summer I assisted in turtle trapping and learned how to properly set and bait traps.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to be one of the crew members of Project Wild America. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the publication of Roger Tory Peterson’s Wild America, our intention was to continue the work of Mr. Peterson by preserving and documenting the fantastic array of wildlife that is here in Jamestown. Despite suffering from the effects of heavy industrial activity in the 1900’s, the Chadakoin River and the surrounding ecosystem have rebounded in an astonishing way. Now, the entire Chadakoin River Corridor is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including some extremely rare species that have carved out a niche for themselves within even the most urban parts of the city.

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2015 Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors

Between the Warner Dam and Buffalo Street impoundment, a population of Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled turtles has managed to survive, despite having to live in a part of the river characterized by the concrete and rubble that was left over from the factories built along the banks of the river. It really is amazing to be able to walk along the Riverwalk and to be able to see a truly unique animal thriving, despite making their homes right in the heart of the city. Many questions remain about how exactly this reptile is able to accomplish this feat, which is why one of the main goals of the PWA program is to observe and collect data about the Eastern Spiny Soft-Shelled turtles.

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Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera)

To determine the overall health of the Chadakoin River ecosystem, we plan on conducting a series of surveys that will help show what wildlife is present in and around the river. One technique that specifically addresses water quality is a macroinvertabrate survey. Macroinvertebrates are the tiny animals that exist on the rocks and sediments on the riverbed. By collecting a sample of a particular part of the river, the different species that are present are identified and recorded. Some species can only survive in very clean waters, while others tolerate pollution well and can live practically anywhere. This means that having certain species in the river can indicate whether the water quality needs to be further tested for environmental contaminants.

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WAVE sampling entails capturing and identifying macroinvertebrate species. Certain invertebrates are more sensitive to pollutants that others and their presence is indicative of the surrounding environment’s health.

The Youth Ambassadors will also complete a series of bird surveys throughout Jamestown, to try and determine whether the existing habitat is enough to support healthy bird populations. As we noted last year, there are some really unique birds that have made their homes around the city. Some of these include Black-Crowned Night Herons, Bobolinks, Chimney Swifts, and even Ospreys that enjoy the rich food sources upstream of McCrea Point.

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Osprey

It is also worth noting that we intend to survey the plants that exist in the city, including any invasive species that are present. After completing training at Letchworth State Park, my fellow crew leader (and myself) will be able to show the PWA members how to enter any data regarding invasive species into a database monitored by the state.

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Yellow Iris is an emerging invasive plant in local wetlands.

The most important goal of Project Wild America is to communicate what we find to the community, and to showcase the amazing natural resources that are here in the city. To accomplish this, our Youth Ambassadors will be working with a number of local organizations to complete a series of educational outreach events throughout the summer. Whether it is organizing an invasive species pull, or helping elementary students plant trees, the PWA Youth Ambassadors will have a busy summer getting involved in their communities.

 

Great Times on the Riverwalk

When I arrived at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute on the first day of the project and learned about the game-plan for the next six weeks, I felt a few different ways. I felt curious about what we would find, excited to be working on the river for a large portion of our time together, and ready to get going. During the first day, we got rolling pretty quickly as we hopped right into making two turtle traps and minnow traps out of bottles. And ever since then, it has been a major learning experience but has been very fun nonetheless.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

 

There is just so much to learn being on the Riverwalk even for a day. We noticed many different species of birds that I am still working on learning, countless macro-invertebrates, a few turtle species, some fish, and seemingly endless amounts of plant-life. I still can’t say I know all of the species, or even most for that matter, but I have certainly improved in that area from when the project began. One specific thing that surprised me the most was learning and identifying invasive species when we were at the Riverwalk. They were almost everywhere; at times you could see Japanese Knotweed wherever you looked. The invasives usually take a large toll on the environment that they live in, for example, Multiflora rose will take over the area that it grows in so almost nothing else is able to grow in the same area.

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Multiflora Rose bush

 

The fun on the Riverwalk doesn’t end at just identifying species, people enjoy their time on the river by kayaking, fishing, boating, and even swimming. We have trekked up and down the river, that forces us to swim at some points, in hopes of finding turtles. That was an experience to remember even though we didn’t catch any Spiny Softshell Turtles. Throughout the entire time, there were many citizens of Jamestown who were more than eager to share their wisdom with us about the turtles, and whether they were actually correct or not, it was still a good feeling to know that they were interested in the river flowing right through the city, seemingly undisturbed by the cars that pass all day and the tall buildings near it. As many people told us what they thought as there were people who asked us “What are y’all doing?,” “You can actually get in this water!?” and questions like that. We would go on to tell them that we’re from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and we were working on the Riverwalk and collecting information on it, especially the Spiny Softshell Turtles. It was fun to talk to people about what we were doing because they all seemed so interested in it. My advice to anyone that hasn’t walked along the Riverwalk is to simply visit if it for a few hours on a sunny day. You’ll be amazed with everything you see, dragonflies buzzing around you and turtles paddling in the water are just a couple of the jaw-dropping reasons to adore the riverwalk.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

New Techniques

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

Kayaking the Outlet

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

Crew with Kayaks

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

Erros with Viceroy

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

Practicing with the Seine net

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

Youth Ambassadors First Impressions

The group met at Friendly’s Restaurant one sunny morning eager to explore the Riverwalk. It wasn’t long until we spotted the first Spiny Soft Shelled Turtle perched upon a log. It was then that we knew, this project was meant for us. Each of our eyes lit up in excitement and disbelief that these turtles lived right in the middle of our home town. As we continued along the Riverwalk we discovered more and more each turn. Finally, we discovered their main breeding ground and a nest full of eggs. It was at this point that our interests peaked. Trapping, researching, and recording data about these turtles was what we were made to do.

First Impressions:

Matt: It was very interesting to see the diversity of living organisms here in western New York. I never knew that so many different species are present here, many of which are invasive. As a result, I now have a greater appreciation for efforts to preserve the environment.

Jeremy: The first week was really enjoyable getting to know about the group and the nature in the surrounding area. Discovering the turtles for the first time, learning about the different species, and playing with our wolf spider were all both fascinating and fun. Each day I learn more and more about the trees, birds, and insects surrounding my hometown and hope to someday become proficient in that knowledge in order to share it with others.

Wolf Spider

Adolf: After just a couple of days on the Chadakoin, I was amazed that there was such a variety of wildlife, especially in such an urban environment. What surprised me the most though was the difference between the areas that have already been developed and the areas that are still mostly natural. Wherever there has been irresponsible use of the river, there is way less wildlife, as well as much more erosion of the bank. Areas that have been responsibly managed have many interesting species present, and are much more enjoyable to experience.

Heron in the Outlet

Griffin: The first week of the project has been an eye-opening experience for me. I have lived in Jamestown my entire life and until now, I wasn’t aware of the number of species in the Riverwalk area. In just a few days, we observed several turtle species, birds, dragonflies, damselflies, and various insects that I have never seen before. Most of my excitement so far comes from the female Wolf Spider we caught at McCrea point and have observed at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. I am very excited to work on this project throughout the rest of the summer.

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Erros: Joining “Project Wild America” as an ambassador has, just in the first week, given me a wealth of knowledge, valuable experience, and a  fun and exciting atmosphere for me to develop in. We have started exploring the nearby parts of the Chadakoin corridor and the Riverwalk that has been implemented so far. We have spotted and caught several different species of local wildlife, primarily at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and the Chadakoin River. Some include different species such as birds, turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, vegetation and plants. Some of our activities have included building small bottle traps, turtle traps, identifying insect species and watching the Chadakoin River and it’s turtle nests. The beginning of this project has been very interesting and I believe we will achieve our goals this summer.

Hailey: The first week on the Chadakoin  corridor was quite an experience for me. I have always lived out and away from urban areas, or well populated areas, such as Jamestown. I was never aware that a place so populated like Jamestown is was capable of housing such an environment. I never even knew that wildlife, like spiny softshell turtles wandered around, let alone nested in Jamestown. Aside from the river, meeting and getting to know the group has been an experience as well. Gaining all of this information and knowledge has intrigued my interests in wildlife and I’m excited to see what this summer has yet to come.

Observations

After our first week on the Riverwalk, we each were each given a chance to explore and research the wildlife on the Chadakoin River. From what we saw, we were able to get a pretty good idea of the overall health of the ecosystem, and how all of the different species play a part. It was definitely surprising that there was such a variety of wildlife right in the middle of the city, and that some of these species are difficult to find anywhere else. As the summer goes on, it will be interesting to learn more about the wildlife, and improve the habitat quality of the area.