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.

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

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.

 

Final Thoughts

When we first started trying to catch the Spiny Softshell turtles, we didn’t really know what to expect. It seemed like it would be easy enough, but we soon learned just how elusive these animals are. Despite our best efforts, we have yet to catch one specimen of this interesting reptile. However, we can honestly say we’ve learned a lot since our first few days in the river, and have developed a technique that seems promising. In fact, this whole experience has been an eye-opener for us, and we have come away from it with a new viewpoint on the Chadakoin and nature in general.

Final  Thoughts:

Griffin: One thing that I knew from the beginning of the project was that I would enjoy it, and I really have. We have only spent six weeks on the river but I have definitely learned a ton about the river in our backyards and the species that live in and around it. I’m excited to hopefully inspire people to take a closer look at the nature right in the middle of the city. Also, even though we were short of catching a Spiny Softshell Turtle, we have learned about them from simply observing them and trying to catch them. They’re very fast and seem to always be on alert, like they knew we were coming for them. It would have been exciting to catch one, but we did everything we could. Overall, this summer was a huge learning experience for me and I had a lot of fun as well.Spiny Male Swimming

Matt: Growing up, I always had an interest in nature, and I loved to observe wildlife. This project has helped me to develop my interest and stewardship of the environment. In order to utilize our natural resources, it is also necessary to protect them. The Chadakoin River is no exception, as it is a hidden treasure right in the middle of Jamestown. Previously, I never would have considered it to be treasure; I was under the misconception that it was highly polluted and that it only had carp in it. However, I learned that this is not true, as the river is teeming with a plethora of species. Therefore, it is important to teach people to respect it and to be good stewards, too. I am glad that I was able to be a part of this project, and I am confident that it will continue to be successful in the future.

Chadakoin Habitat

Adolf: When two of my high school teachers first showed me the application for this project, I was immediately interested. Now that there is only a few days left, I can honestly say I learned even more than I expected. Despite living in WNY for my entire life, there are some species of plants and animals present here that I had no idea existed. Even more important than learning about the huge variety of species in the area, was getting to see how unique of an environment the Chadakoin provides. At first glance, it looks like a small river that just so happens to run through Jamestown. However, once you have the opportunity to explore it, you will soon realize how much habitat it provides. Besides the rocky, faster moving part that passes by many of the residential areas in Jamestown, water from the Chadakoin allows healthy wetlands to exist near McCrea Point. It really has been fantastic to be able to learn more about the wildlife and natural beauty that can flourish so close to highly developed parts of the city.

DCIM100GOPRO

Hailey: This summer has been full of new and exciting experiences. In the beginning everything started out slow, getting used to the area and building the traps. After becoming acquainted with the Riverwalk area, and eventually the water itself, we began to really get into our main goals for the summer. Unfortunately, catching the turtles that we were expecting to catch did not happen. Overall, having this experience and being able to join RTPI on this turtle hunt has been amazing. It has opened up my eyes to a whole new world of opportunities in the science field. I now can identify plants and animals that I couldn’t before, I am also able to teach friends and family a little more about the environment the next time that we go on a hike, go camping or go on an adventure outside.

Hailey holding a snapper

Jeremy: The past six weeks have contained some of the most interesting days of my life. The natural world has always been an interest of mine. As a young lad I looked forward to our family nature walks. Discovering new trails, plants and sights instilled within me a lust for adventure. Finally, through this program, I have been provided the opportunity to be on the other side of the adventure. I, along with the other youth ambassadors and our supervisors, have been the individuals tasked with preserving this adventure. Although we might not remember many, if any at all, we learned of the many different species of plant, tree, bird and animal. We studied the health of a forest with the help of forester Jeff Brockelbank and examined the importance of repopulating different fish species in the lake. We found and studied all the varying species within the presumed unlivable Chadakoin river and learned that it is not nearly as dirty as people believe. It is difficult to express how the information and experience gained through the past few weeks is invaluable as it can be applied at any moment when out in the wild and I hope to never stop learning about the natural world around us.

Jermey & Matt with Musk Turtle

Erros: I have seen the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History’s logo before and I have faint memories of coming to the institute as child on multiple different field trips, through my school and other programs.  I think the association I made between the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History and animals, insects, birds, and nature in general is what made me spark the interest in the logo on the application and eventually deciding to pick one up. That decision in that split moment is what enabled me to get to where I am now, studying nature with all my curiosity and being paid to do something I love. I’m proud to be a part of this wild project and participate in all of the adventures we have been in. I like to be able to find myself identifying damselflies one day and then get a notification telling me to go to this spot on the river to hunt down these smart and slippery ancient dinosaurs the next day. Even though we have had little luck with getting our hands on the Spiny Softshell Turtle I am still very optimistic. I believe that we can out smart these almost fossils and do what humans have been doing for millions of years, use our immense brains to checkmate these turtles and equip ourselves with our resourceful tools to do so. We have done a lot this summer and I feel accomplished with our project, but these turtles will be our final test to see who has really learned something, and I believe will pass with flying colors.

Final Thoughts

When we first started trying to catch the Spiny Softshell turtles, we didn’t really know what to expect. It seemed like it would be easy enough, but we soon learned just how elusive these animals are. Despite our best efforts, we have yet to catch one specimen of this interesting reptile. However, we can honestly say we’ve learned a lot since our first few days in the river, and have developed a technique that seems promising. In fact, this whole experience has been an eye-opener for us, and we have come away from it with a new viewpoint on the Chadakoin and nature in general.

Final  Thoughts:

Griffin: One thing that I knew from the beginning of the project was that I would enjoy it, and I really have. We have only spent six weeks on the river but I have definitely learned a ton about the river in our backyards and the species that live in and around it. I’m excited to hopefully inspire people to take a closer look at the nature right in the middle of the city. Also, even though we were short of catching a Spiny Softshell Turtle, we have learned about them from simply observing them and trying to catch them. They’re very fast and seem to always be on alert, like they knew we were coming for them. It would have been exciting to catch one, but we did everything we could. Overall, this summer was a huge learning experience for me and I had a lot of fun as well.Spiny Male Swimming

Matt: Growing up, I always had an interest in nature, and I loved to observe wildlife. This project has helped me to develop my interest and stewardship of the environment. In order to utilize our natural resources, it is also necessary to protect them. The Chadakoin River is no exception, as it is a hidden treasure right in the middle of Jamestown. Previously, I never would have considered it to be treasure; I was under the misconception that it was highly polluted and that it only had carp in it. However, I learned that this is not true, as the river is teeming with a plethora of species. Therefore, it is important to teach people to respect it and to be good stewards, too. I am glad that I was able to be a part of this project, and I am confident that it will continue to be successful in the future.

Chadakoin Habitat

Adolf: When two of my high school teachers first showed me the application for this project, I was immediately interested. Now that there is only a few days left, I can honestly say I learned even more than I expected. Despite living in WNY for my entire life, there are some species of plants and animals present here that I had no idea existed. Even more important than learning about the huge variety of species in the area, was getting to see how unique of an environment the Chadakoin provides. At first glance, it looks like a small river that just so happens to run through Jamestown. However, once you have the opportunity to explore it, you will soon realize how much habitat it provides. Besides the rocky, faster moving part that passes by many of the residential areas in Jamestown, water from the Chadakoin allows healthy wetlands to exist near McCrea Point. It really has been fantastic to be able to learn more about the wildlife and natural beauty that can flourish so close to highly developed parts of the city.

DCIM100GOPRO

Hailey: This summer has been full of new and exciting experiences. In the beginning everything started out slow, getting used to the area and building the traps. After becoming acquainted with the Riverwalk area, and eventually the water itself, we began to really get into our main goals for the summer. Unfortunately, catching the turtles that we were expecting to catch did not happen. Overall, having this experience and being able to join RTPI on this turtle hunt has been amazing. It has opened up my eyes to a whole new world of opportunities in the science field. I now can identify plants and animals that I couldn’t before, I am also able to teach friends and family a little more about the environment the next time that we go on a hike, go camping or go on an adventure outside.

Hailey holding a snapper

Jeremy: The past six weeks have contained some of the most interesting days of my life. The natural world has always been an interest of mine. As a young lad I looked forward to our family nature walks. Discovering new trails, plants and sights instilled within me a lust for adventure. Finally, through this program, I have been provided the opportunity to be on the other side of the adventure. I, along with the other youth ambassadors and our supervisors, have been the individuals tasked with preserving this adventure. Although we might not remember many, if any at all, we learned of the many different species of plant, tree, bird and animal. We studied the health of a forest with the help of forester Jeff Brockelbank and examined the importance of repopulating different fish species in the lake. We found and studied all the varying species within the presumed unlivable Chadakoin river and learned that it is not nearly as dirty as people believe. It is difficult to express how the information and experience gained through the past few weeks is invaluable as it can be applied at any moment when out in the wild and I hope to never stop learning about the natural world around us.

Jermey & Matt with Musk Turtle

Erros: I have seen the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History’s logo before and I have faint memories of coming to the institute as child on multiple different field trips, through my school and other programs.  I think the association I made between the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History and animals, insects, birds, and nature in general is what made me spark the interest in the logo on the application and eventually deciding to pick one up. That decision in that split moment is what enabled me to get to where I am now, studying nature with all my curiosity and being paid to do something I love. I’m proud to be a part of this wild project and participate in all of the adventures we have been in. I like to be able to find myself identifying damselflies one day and then get a notification telling me to go to this spot on the river to hunt down these smart and slippery ancient dinosaurs the next day. Even though we have had little luck with getting our hands on the Spiny Softshell Turtle I am still very optimistic. I believe that we can out smart these almost fossils and do what humans have been doing for millions of years, use our immense brains to checkmate these turtles and equip ourselves with our resourceful tools to do so. We have done a lot this summer and I feel accomplished with our project, but these turtles will be our final test to see who has really learned something, and I believe will pass with flying colors.