The Layers of Nature

Prior to this internship, I had already thought I knew all there was to know about a balanced ecosystem. My knowledge of a healthy environment stopped at plants and animals. After all, that is all you need, right? Now, having spent the summer working with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, I have learned of the many varying levels beyond my previous generalization.

Our first great learning experience took place in Harris Hill State forest with forester Jeff Brockelbank. He shared with us his extensive knowledge of the woods with a focus on the essentials for a young forest to thrive. Initially I was under the impression that all a tree needs to grow is sunlight, water, and nutrients. I was correct! However, it becomes much more complicated than that. Some species require more or less of each. While others compete with the other foliage and wildlife in order to secure their monopoly of the sun. Furthermore, I had always believed that chopping down trees only had negative effects. I was shocked to discover that chopping down a tree was in fact one of the more helpful methods of allowing newer, more suitable trees to grow and it provided a perfect environment for doing so by preventing deer and other wildlife from gnawing away at the new trees.

Harris Hill with Jeff B

The second most interesting aspect that I never would have considered was that of the macroinvertebrates. We spent a day collecting the insects and other small beings of the Chadakoin. I always considered insects to have just two purposes, to act as food for other species, and to annoy humans. Nevertheless, collecting these creepy crawlies was essential to determine the health of the river. It is a common belief that the Chadakoin river is dirty and polluted; fortunately, such a belief could not be more incorrect. The Caddisfly is an insect known to thrive only in the healthiest of water bodies. Each time we picked up our nets, we were left with hundreds of these larvae. We caught so many it became difficult to find anything else of interest when searching through our buckets. The Caddisfly is just another example of how complex an ecosystem can be, and how each species plays an important role, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Macro-bucket

These are just two examples of the intricacies of nature. In my time here I have learned of many more. Sometimes, it is difficult to spot just how important one species, climate change, or human interaction can be to an entire ecosystem. However, it can be assured that each will have an effect.

Birds of a Feather

As you walk, bike, or jog on the paved paths lining the outskirts of the Chadakoin River, your ears become quaintly attuned to beautiful songs from a wide array of bird species. Cedar Waxwings fill the air with their high, thin, whistles in pursuit of flying insects putting on a display of dazzling aeronautics. The Belted Kingfisher’s piercing rattle is often heard as it patrols up and down the Chadakoin River.

A Cedar Waxwing takes a break from catching flying insects

A Cedar Waxwing takes a break from catching flying insects

From Cliff Swallows nesting on the side of the bridge and sub-tropical Yellow Warblers flitting about tree canopies, to the Green Heron’s balance beam act on the breakwall looking for its next meal, there is a surprise around every bend.

A Green Heron perched on the breakwall looking for lunch

A Green Heron walks on the breakwall looking for lunch

A Green Heron catches a fish at McCrea Point

A Green Heron catches a fish at McCrea Point

Mallards have long been adapted to the presence of people in that they open their beaks, beginning to squawk, waddling their way to the shoreline before plunging into the water. As a result of their adaptation, I had the pleasure of watching fuzzy mallard ducklings being escorted by their mother in places such as McCrea Point and Panzarella Park.

Mallard Ducklings follow their mom down the Chadakoin River

Mallard Ducklings follow their mom down the Chadakoin River

It’s entertaining watching them venture off on their own as mom springs out of the water, chasing after them!

Mallard Ducklings enjoy the sunshine on the Chadakoin River

Mallard Ducklings enjoy the sunshine on the Chadakoin River

The bright red plumage of the male Northern Cardinal is hard to miss along with the Song Sparrows singing their hearts out amidst the morning fog.

Ospreys are also common sights soaring over the river searching for fish. Have your eyes on the skies for these fish eating raptors and the Broad-winged Hawk which hunts small animals.

An Osprey stares down as it searches for fish

An Osprey stares downward with its bright yellow eyes

The Chadakoin River is filled with many different species throughout the seasons, so don’t hesitate to grab those binoculars and go bird watching!