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

The Ongoing Struggle

When the project first started in June, we took on the task of making two turtle traps with PVC pipes and metal wire-netting. To keep it simple, that has been the easy part. Both of our traps were failures as they sunk to the bottom of the river and we are currently fixing them and making them completely air tight in hopes of finally catching a Spiny Softshell Turtle. In the mean time, we have also been using hoop traps that have caught every turtle besides the ones that we actually want. One thing that we have all learned is how evasive the Spiny Softshell Turtles are. We have tried nearly everything, from trotting through the entire Riverwalk to throwing nets on them, and have had no luck.

One attempt the crew has tried has been using a small seine net and dip nets to scoop up a turtle.

One attempt the crew has tried has been using a small seine net and dip nets to scoop up a turtle.

The turtles will swiftly slide into the water as soon as they notices you, and it seems as if their senses are extremely keen. They have proven themselves very elusive and the sought after turtle have slowly begun frustrating the crew. We have narrowed down the popular basking locations that we have encountered on the Chadakoin River to a handful of specific points along the river. We have chosen these points to set up several ring traps that are partially submerged under water to hopefully snag us some turtles. We have had no luck catching the Spiny Softshell Turtles with these traps, as they have also proven to be very smart and don’t fall for the simple trap. We have even spotted a small male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming around a ring trap multiple times as it observes it, but doesn’t actually go in it, demonstrating some form of caution when approaching alien objects in the water.

Hoops nets have been deployed.

Baited hoops traps have been deployed as well in attempt to lure these wily turtles in.


Even though we haven’t caught one of the turtles yet, we are still very optimistic. One reason for our high hopes is that we just received a 35×4 foot net that we are going to use to block off a part of the Chadakoin, forcing the turtles into either our traps or our nets if all goes as planned. We are excited to go out tomorrow and use our net to hopefully catch our first Spiny Softshell Turtles and we will definitely keep the blog updated on this topic!

Taking a Closer Look

For a lot of people, Thursday mornings start the same way. Wake up, shower, grab some McDonald’s, and head to work. For me though, this Thursday was special: my fellow Youth Ambassadors and our supervisors were starting the day off by setting some turtle traps. Although the Chadakoin River flows only a few yards from the busy streets of Jamestown, its like entering a completely different world. One minute, I was finishing off a breakfast sandwich, and the next minute I was waist-deep in the cool water of the Chadakoin helping set up the nets that will help us learn more about these interesting animals. This is the kind of experience that can be found right in the center of the city, and anybody can enjoy.

Adolf with Net

Within the river itself, it was surprising what kinds of wildlife can be found by just taking a second look. After we finished setting up the traps, our group did just that: we walked downstream from the North Main St. bridge to see what we could find. If you just glance at the River from the road, you would just see some piles of old bricks dumped into the river after the roads were paved over with asphalt. Take a few steps closer, and you might notice that someone dropped an old ball into the water, carried by the current and deposited on top of the brick pile. Its not until you actually get in the water that you realize that the “ball” is actually a freshwater bryozoan, an incredible animal that helps filter the water.

Magnificent bryozoan

It is discoveries like that that make visiting the Chadakoin so interesting. To find such a unique animal among old debris was an amazing moment, and I’m sure that rest of our group was just as impressed as I was that wildlife such as that can be found in an urban environment.

However, finding small animals in the rubble is still just scratching the surface of the life that flourishes in the river. After exploring the river for a while, we then learned how to take a macro-invertebrate survey. Basically, this consists of stirring up the river-bed and collecting the organisms than live on and under the rocks.

It was fascinating to see how many of the little guys could be found right where we had been walking without even thinking about what was under our feet. Within about 15 minutes, we had collected 100 specimens, which can then be preserved and sent to a biologist for further study.

The purpose behind the macro-invertebrate survey is to get an idea of the water quality of the river. Certain species can only survive in water with very little pollution, so by finding and identifying these you can determine that the river is healthy. Finding some of these indicator species, as well as the presence of freshwater bryozoans and soft-shelled turtles, is definitely a good sign that the Chadakoin is capable of supporting a variety of life.

Spiny softshell turtle

Although the day started out like any other, it turned out to have more eye-opening moments than any day yet visiting the Chadakoin. Although we didn’t end up catching any turtles, it was awesome to see that such much bio-diversity can be found by just taking a closer look at the waterway running through Jamestown.

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.


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.


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.