Another Great Week with Project Wild America!

Drew: The past few days we have been focusing on microplastics. I’ve heard about them and had a general knowledge on what they are and where they came from, but I was no expert. After hours of learning more and more about the science of microplastics, I’m still not an expert, but I definitely know more.

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The PWA crew spent much of this week testing for microplastic pollution in the Chadakoin.

Today, I was sickened by the amount of garbage I found at Chadakoin Park. I kept an eye out for it. Casually walking through a park, I spot a lot of garbage, but when you really look out for trash, diligently, you get a better idea of the true human impact on this Earth.

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The PWA crew also spent time picking up garbage as part of the “Talking Trash” campaign.

We have to start looking out, not only for the other animals that inhabit this Earth, but also for future generations. Before throwing your cigarette butt out of the window of your car, think about the animals who can be harmed from its hazardous materials. Before you choose a plastic water bottle instead of a reusable mug, think about the microplasticss in the oceans. And most importantly, before you do anything, just think about the environment.

Emma: This past week we have been mainly focusing on the effects of microplastics on the environment, and it’s quite sickening. Because plastic photodegrades, it never really goes away. It continues to breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that end up in the animals habitats and eventually in their feeding grounds. As well, microplastics are small enough to escape the filters of water treatment plants and end up in our tap water that we drink everyday. Scary. Of course my first thought was to just get a real big net and scoop it all up, easy peasy, right? Wrong.

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The PWA crew had to use microscopes to observe the microplastics collected.

We, as humans, are not the only living beings on this planet. We share much of it with nature and take it for granted. Just go outside and look around, there is a high chance you will see trash lying around. Luckily this week we started the Talkin’ Trash campaign which basically publicizes environmental clean up. We tested it out for the first time on Wednesday and it was crazy how much data we collected in just an hour. This week has been a reality check. The most important thing to take away from this is 1. reduce plastic consumption and 2. even the smallest contribution (i.e. picking up a wrapper and putting it in the garbage) can help.

Tiffany: When most people see a bug, their first thought is to get a shoe. However, when I see a bug, my first thought is to capture it, identify it, and possibly pin it. Insects are fascinating to watch, due to their diversity, and because of their abundance, the can be observed seemingly everywhere you go. While we’ve done a lot this week, one of the things I noticed most were these tiny, alien-like creatures.

Woolly aphids look like a cute tiny white ball of fuzz floating carelessly through the sky. They look almost as if a piece of a cloud feel right out of the sky. And when you catch them, you may mistaken the fuzz on its back for a spiderweb. You may think this insect has a fascinating story of hardship and conflict with an eight-legged beast. However, in reality, this insect was born with this coat of fuzz. Even though its wool tells no tales, it still shows off its pure beauty. 

Wooly Aphid (picture taken from bugguide.net)

Butterflies and moths show off their complex wing patterns and colors, while delicately gliding through the air. Walking down the trails at Chadakoin Park, I watched in awe at a small swarm of copper butterflies. Blurs of orange, brown, and black moved around in a cluster. Hesitantly, I looked up and I was surprised even more so. As I gazed at a spiny thistle plant, I saw a beautifully large black butterfly perched upon it. The thorns has no effect on its fragile body. When it opened up its wings, you could see an outline of yellow and blue. This was unmistakably the black swallowtail butterfly.

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The black swallowtail butterfly that the PWA crew found.

Like butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies have a long slender, winged body. However, unlike butterflies, dragonflies look as if they are encased in armor. instead of looking frail, they look strong and resilient. Though their wings behold alluring designs, it is their bodies that attracts on lookers. Pond hawks can exhibit a bright green or blue color, depending on their gender. When in flight, their wings are almost invisible, so all you see is smear of color across your vision as they fly by. The ebony jewel-wing is, by far, one of the prettiest damselflies I’ve ever seen. It was hard to miss as it sit on a plain, green leaf. Its black wings and blue, translucent body popped among the boring foliage. While many insects behold the ability of flight, many do not. These insects may be the hardest to spot.

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An example of an ebony jewel-wing, photographed by RTPI affiliate Sean Graesser.

Many times, they may blend in with their environment to avoid predation. These insects also don’t flash across your field of vision like flying insects do. Walking along a grassy, overgrown path, it would be easy to walk right by a praying mantis. Even though their body does not look like a piece of grass, their soft green color allows them to blend in with ease. As they check out their surroundings, they can move their head back and forth; a trait that many insects lack. These insects can look fairly intimidating, because they always look prepared for a fight. Even though they appear to be praying, these insects are no saints.They can easily kill other insects, including other mantids, and some species of spiders.

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The praying mantis that the PWA crew found (they kept it in a terrarium and will care for it for the duration of the summer).

Next time you see a bug, whether it be outdoors, or in your house, why not observe it, rather than ending its life with the flick of your hand. As you look closer, you, too, may begin to see wonder in the simple things around your backyard. 

Morgan: In the Pacific Ocean, there’s a garbage patch said to be nearly the size of Texas. Now, hearing about a “garbage patch,” one probably assumes that it’s simply an area with plastic cups, large styrofoam pieces, and other items people throw away; however, that’s not the case. Recently, the crew took samples of the water in the Chadakoin, and found tiny pieces of plastics, or microplastics, in the water. Plastic so small, that when compared to Twelve point font, one particle is smaller than even a period, and a microscope is almost required to see it.

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That tiny dot in the center of the picture is an example of a microbead.

 

Moral of the story, just because you can’t see the plastic, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Every piece of trash you throw away, doesn’t degrade naturally. So find a trash can, a dumpster or recycling bin, and throw that trash away properly!

Erros: Week four is just coming to an end and it has been a “Shell of a good time!”. So far the project has accomplished much and has collected a significant amount of data. We have also gotten our hands dirty, literally with our new Talkin’ Trash campaign, and have conducted research of our own. We’ve started a campaign focusing on spreading the awareness of trash and plastic pollution of the local environment and have been putting some of our efforts into helping the issue by picking up garbage as we worked all week. In addition we have set up a program through a website created by Nick Gunnar, an RTPI affiliate, to log gps locations of different pieces of trash that we pick up along our journey. This website is called Orbitist.com and it is comprised of different user made interactive maps in which you can explore numerous trails and learn about the local history as you follow the trails. Another aspect that we focused on this week was doing different types of surveys, especially bird surveys. Through these many bird surveys we conducted I feel that I have learned much about the local bird species here and have gained a new interest in these spectacular flying creatures. I love exploring and with a curious eye for birds I feel like I will find myself in places far and wide in search for their beauty in the future. This amazing project has honestly opened my eyes up to how satisfying it may be to know you’re helping the environment and has significantly aided me in gaining this constantly growing appreciation for Earth and it’s nature within.

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The Green Heron that the PWA crew observed while conducting bird surveys.

Griffin: About three quarters of the project is done with and I couldn’t be happier with all that we’ve accomplished in the past four weeks. Bird counts, Macro invertebrate samples, micro plastic samples, dragonfly catching, and turtle trapping have taken up most of our time with some saved in between for blogging. The amount of diversity I’ve seen on the river has been astounding. From turtles basking all around to Blue Herons flapping over the Chadakoin, the sights have been nothing short of amazing. We take countless pictures and film with the GoPro but nothing will allow you to truly see the beauty unless you’re on the river. Being exposed to the biodiversity in and around the river will give you no choice but to have a deeper respect for nature. You’ll naturally start to become more aware of how you impact the environment and become much more careful in everything you do. So if you haven’t yet, I strongly encourage you to spend some time along the River Walk.

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

 

Getting Started with Project Wild America

Although I’ve lived in Jamestown for a number of years, last Tuesday was the first time I’d seen a spiny softshell turtle up close.  It was just basking in the sun with a shiny shell and body that sort of resembled a large gray pancake.  I was pretty excited to see this goofy-looking turtle in the Chadakoin over by the Gateway Center. Spiny Softshell turtles are just one unique species that lives along the Chadakoin River here in Jamestown, and this species of turtle is one of several species that will be monitored by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute’s Project Wild America program this summer.

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This is a female Spiny Softshell Turtle, one of many occupying the Chadakoin River corridor.

My name is Heather Zimba.  I’m from Jamestown and am currently studying environmental science at SUNY JCC.  I was recently fortunate to be hired as a Project Wild America crew leader along with Adolf Zollinger.  As PWA crew leader’s we will be leading a group of high school students in conducting conservation projects along the Chadakoin River this summer.

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Myself and fellow crew leader Adolf Zollinger had the opportunity to visit Letchworth State Park last week for our iMapInvasives training.

Our PWA crew will be observing and documenting the populations of various species, including the spiny softshell turtle and common musk turtle.  Some of our other projects will include: conducting water quality tests, sampling for micro-plastics in the Chadakoin and holding several educational events in the community.

Testing the Chadakoin for the presence of micro-plastics.

Testing the Chadakoin during the 2015 field season for the presence of micro-plastics.

Through our observations and surveys we are hoping to gain more knowledge about our native and invasive species along the Chadakoin.  We are planning to collect data that can be used to gauge species populations, distributions and health.  We are also planning to use macro-invertebrate surveys and water samples to test and give an indication of the water quality of the Chadakoin River.  Once we have collected this data we will communicate our results to the public and city officials to increase their awareness of the Chadakoin River’s ecosystem.

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WAVE (Water Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators) sampling requires kicking up macroinvertebrates from the streambed and collecting them in fine-meshed kick nets.

In preparation for our surveys and fieldwork, Adolf and I have been training and reviewing protocol that we will be using to conduct surveys.  Last week we reviewed Water Assessment Volunteer Evaluator (WAVE) protocol and attended an invasive species training, which included training using iMap Invasives, a database used to map out invasive species. We have also visited and selected various field sites along the Chadakoin, including McCrea Point Park, Panzarella Park, the Riverwalk, Chadakoin Park, Millrace Park, and the Levant (where the Chadakoin turns into the Cassadaga) where we will be conducting our surveys.

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iMapInvasives will be a handy tool in mapping invasive species along the Chadakoin this summer.

We have selected eight high school students from the area to participate in the PWA program.  This year’s applicants are all high achieving, well-rounded students.  I believe we are going to have a great group to work with and carry out the various projects we have planned. I am very excited to be involved with this program and I look forward to going out and studying the Spiny Softshell turtle population and various other species along the Chadakoin, and then sharing this information with the community.

The Beginnings of My Scientific Career

This project has been in full motion for several weeks now and I have to say, it has been a “Shell of a good time!” We have captured and studied much of what can be obviously caught at the Chadakoin River, especially along the Riverwalk. We have still not caught our targeted species, the legendary elusive Spiny Softshell Turtle, but we are making amazing progress with every failed attempt. It’s July 30th, my birthday, and I believe that since the beginning of the project, June 30, a month has passed, but in actuality it feels like I have learned years’ worth of information, knowledge, and experience. My birthday is passing and I have learned extensively this past year, but none of it has been as fulfilling, fun, and exciting as what I have been taught, experienced and observed during this special program.

We have gone to the Gorge outside of Mayville, the Fish Hatchery outside of Mayville, Rimrock in Allegheny National Forest, Young Forest in Harris Hill State Forest, and Hearts Content Allegheny National Forest. These field trips has taken me to new and interesting places that aren’t very far away and have exposed me to new outdoor settings where I can explore and let my curiosity take over and guide me through new adventures. I have also been taken kayaking, with this awesome program, up the Chadakoin River, from McCrea Point, to the locally famous Chautauqua Lake. I experience how it feels to be in water by myself, in basically a balanced plastic raft and a stick, and sense all of the different scenery around me from the tall maple trees and the mini pools of Lilly Pads, to the Great Blue Heron flying right over me. Not many people can feel proud to kayak up and down a river with a group of close crew members, experience all the beauty of nature, and on top of that get paid to do so.

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At the beginning of the project we built small fish traps and big floating turtle traps. We used some PVC pipes, wire netting, and some PVC glue to put together our turtle trap, which to this day we are still working on because we had an unfortunate sinking of both our turtle traps. We made the fish traps out of two liter soda bottles and string and then we put the world famous scientific method to the test and tried to determine which color traps would work best. We listed our question, background research, hypothesis, and our dependent and independent variables. Then we went out to our backyard pond and tested it out, we found that the more clear plastic bottles caught more fish than the tinted green bottles. We too have to disinfect all of our traps before moving them to a new body of water to prevent cross contamination and the spread of disease, as part of our scientific protocol and our trapping license. As a team we have also identified a caterpillar to be a Viceroy caterpillar. We then decided to try and get it to become a butterfly. We found its favorite foods, Poplar and Aspen leaves, and in a few days it had already went into metamorphosis and created it chrysalis. Then a weekend later we finally observed the beauty of the Viceroy butterfly, which mimics the color patterns of the Monarch Butterfly to avoid being preyed on. We also were able to participate in macro invertebrate surveys where we put nets at the bottom of the river and kicked up all the insects, larvae, and other small macro invertebrates in the water into the nets. We then had to one by one hand pick out on hundred macro invertebrates to bottle up in alcohol and ship out to the DEC, where the real professional scientists will make serious decisions on how to deal with the different watersheds in New York State.

I feel so blessed to call this work and learn a plethora of new and curiosity sparking knowledge as I help capture turtles for a summer job. All my friends either work at a small business, a café, or at the world not-renowned McDonalds. I laugh when they tell me about their miserable, trash taking out and burger flipping jobs, as they continue to mock and joke about me and my job. They laugh at me for posting pictures of animals on social media, but I laugh at them when they tell me about how they have to work until midnight or how they can’t “hangout tonight” because they have to wake up at six o’clock in the morning. It’s also funny when they sit there and argue competitively over who makes the most money or who works the most hours, while I show them a picture of my several hundred dollar check that I made by catching dragonflies and taking pictures of them.

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I feel proud to be a part of this project and what it stands for, as I actually acquire some valuable wisdom and experience and help push the environmental sciences forward, even if it is a miniscule amount. I have had tons of amusement during this project and have created strong bonds to the people I work with and have started friendships that otherwise I would never have had. I learned the responsibility of having a real job that expects something from you every day and challenges you to keep learning and demands serious commitment. We have had to trek through the heavily mosquito infested forests and through the long muddy trails that make you feel like your sinking with every step you take. We have had to swim in the myth driven “dirty, radioactive river” and push turtles downstream, as we completely bash our shins on concrete chunks or old partially taken apart bicycle frames. I come home every day with a new bug bite and a different bleeding scratch on my leg than the day previous, from the fields of barb wire we go through, or actually just Multi-Floral Rose, and then put on a brand spanking new bandage on the cut I deem worthy of covering.

It has been a joyful summer with much to be happy about. I have learned extensively about the environment, conservation biology and its procedures, surveys, and protocols. It has been a pleasure to work with people at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History and my crew members. I can’t actually put in words how much I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this project and learn all this new and amazing knowledge on the science of the outdoors. I feel happy and lucky to have found the projects application and filled it out to see where it would take me. I never thought it would take me to where I am now, but I am thankful that I did. I will continue to follow a career in the sciences and hopefully continue to work with nature and the environment to further better understand what we are all blessed and inherited with, the Earth. – Erros Quiñones (Turtle Trapper #1)