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.

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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.”

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!!

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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

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.

Rim Rock Overlook Copy

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)

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.

The Learning Experience

Walking your dog down the road, or taking a walk along the river, you may not notice the extraordinary creatures that dwell where you are waking. Those who walk along the Riverwalk, or on the sidewalk in Jamestown are attuned to the sound of cars on the road or the sound of construction. Maybe you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and you can’t take the time to stop and look around to learn. Not many people are able to come across the opportunity to be involved in a job as exhilarating as mine is. Joining Project Wild America on this wild turtle hunt this summer has not only been a fun, exciting, and new experience, but also a learning experience. I, as well as those I work with, have been learning so much this summer. Many people overlook the wildlife that surrounds them. One may not even know what species of trees, plants, and animals subside in their yard and make a home out of it.

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We’ve been seeing Spiny softshell turtles right at the base of Warner Dam in downtown Jamestown.

One of the harder things to grasp this summer has been the plants and trees. There’s just so many of them, but it certainly is not impossible to learn what is what. For example, there’s invasive species and native species. The invasives choke out the natives and make homes for themselves where they don’t belong, they essentially take over the area that they begin growing in. One plant that seems to be all over is Honeysuckle. Poisonous to humans, but not to many of the animal species that may see it as a tasty treat. Sure some of the plants are easy to tell apart from others, such as Queen Anne’s Lace. A significant fun fact about this plant is that when it is in its most mature state, it has a small, dark purple flower right in the middle. Each plant has its own symbolic feature.

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Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Just as plants have their own features to tell them apart, birds do as well. My favorite thing that we’ve been learning this summer is the bird species. Before this project, I had never heard of a Bobolink. This is most likely because they nest and breed on Airport Hill and not many would spend their time up there just sitting around listening and watching for birds. They have a call that sounds something like R2-D2. Another interesting bird species is the Cedar Waxwing. They look something like a Cardinal, but are smaller and look different. There’s so many more species just on the riverwalk. There’s Catbirds mimicking other birds, Osprey overhead, Cardinals, Blue Herons, Green Herons and such a diversity of other species.

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Northern Cardinal

 

Learning how to successfully trap a Spiny Softshell turtle is something that we are still working on all together. These magnificent creatures that meander along with the river’s current are harder than expected to catch. So far we’ve caught a variety of other turtle species, just not our target species. At first, my fellow ambassador friends and I were pretty against getting a little wet and dirty to set a turtle trap. Now that we are all accustomed to the water, we are more eager than ever to trap one of these turtles. Everyone gets pretty audacious in their ideas to net and catch these turtles. It gets pretty lively some days. Trying to be sneaky turns into talking until the last few seconds, then “plop!” gone.

Using a seine net, on loan from DEC, to try to capture our target turtle species.

Using a seine net, on loan from DEC, to try to capture our target turtle species.

Even though there’s so much already learned, there’s so much more to learn.

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!