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

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

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Great Times on the Riverwalk

When I arrived at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute on the first day of the project and learned about the game-plan for the next six weeks, I felt a few different ways. I felt curious about what we would find, excited to be working on the river for a large portion of our time together, and ready to get going. During the first day, we got rolling pretty quickly as we hopped right into making two turtle traps and minnow traps out of bottles. And ever since then, it has been a major learning experience but has been very fun nonetheless.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

 

There is just so much to learn being on the Riverwalk even for a day. We noticed many different species of birds that I am still working on learning, countless macro-invertebrates, a few turtle species, some fish, and seemingly endless amounts of plant-life. I still can’t say I know all of the species, or even most for that matter, but I have certainly improved in that area from when the project began. One specific thing that surprised me the most was learning and identifying invasive species when we were at the Riverwalk. They were almost everywhere; at times you could see Japanese Knotweed wherever you looked. The invasives usually take a large toll on the environment that they live in, for example, Multiflora rose will take over the area that it grows in so almost nothing else is able to grow in the same area.

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Multiflora Rose bush

 

The fun on the Riverwalk doesn’t end at just identifying species, people enjoy their time on the river by kayaking, fishing, boating, and even swimming. We have trekked up and down the river, that forces us to swim at some points, in hopes of finding turtles. That was an experience to remember even though we didn’t catch any Spiny Softshell Turtles. Throughout the entire time, there were many citizens of Jamestown who were more than eager to share their wisdom with us about the turtles, and whether they were actually correct or not, it was still a good feeling to know that they were interested in the river flowing right through the city, seemingly undisturbed by the cars that pass all day and the tall buildings near it. As many people told us what they thought as there were people who asked us “What are y’all doing?,” “You can actually get in this water!?” and questions like that. We would go on to tell them that we’re from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and we were working on the Riverwalk and collecting information on it, especially the Spiny Softshell Turtles. It was fun to talk to people about what we were doing because they all seemed so interested in it. My advice to anyone that hasn’t walked along the Riverwalk is to simply visit if it for a few hours on a sunny day. You’ll be amazed with everything you see, dragonflies buzzing around you and turtles paddling in the water are just a couple of the jaw-dropping reasons to adore the riverwalk.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

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.

Turtle Trapping and Field Trips

It was a foggy morning, and we were going to start our first day of trapping. We prepared our venture by prepping the traps with disinfectant . Having  set the traps, we lie in wait in hopes of catching the elusive, spiny soft-shelled turtle. However, we were only able to nab six painted turtles and two cantankerous snapping turtles. Before we were able to log the discovery, time had to pass to allow the snapping turtles to get all their anger out. They sat there clamping down on one another for a few minutes, damaging the other’s shell. Luckily, Twan, the director of the institute, was there and could show us the proper method for handling these primal creatures. Carefully grabbing the turtle by the back of the shell, we were able to tentatively get a measurement without injury to ourselves. Moving on to the painted turtles, we practiced gathering information on turtles by measuring weight, the length of the carapace and plastron, and counting age using the scutes on the top of the shell. This is the same information that will be recorded when it comes to our focus species.

Hailey holding a snapper

Handling a snapper

For our first field trip, we traveled to Harris Hill State forest with forester, Jeff Brockelbank. He shared with us an in-depth look at an ecosystem. There are a multitude of each part of the system, be it trees, insects, animals, or anything else. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was that logging is as much of a necessary part of a healthy forest as growth. For younger, more preferable trees to grow, it is necessary to chop down the already grown trees that take up all of the sun, nutrients, and water.

Harris Hill with Jeff B

Our second field trip was spent in the fish hatchery and Chautauqua Gorge. At the hatchery, we viewed the many types of fish in Chautauqua lake that some of us did not even know existed. Perhaps the most interesting of these species was the spotted gar, which is a large, armored fish that looks like some kind of prehistoric animal. Also, we learned about the efforts to preserve paddlefish in the Allegheny River and in Chautauqua Lake. These are other really cool animal, which are easily identified by their huge, paddle-like snout. Paddlefish can reach six-foot long when they are fully grown, which is why the largest fish ever caught in Chautauqua Lake was a paddlefish. Getting to see all of the work that the DEC did to support fishing in the state was neat, and all of the different species that can be found in WNY.

Fish Hatchery

Fish Hatchery (1)

Although many of the youth ambassadors have lived in WNY their whole lives, many of us have never been to Chautauqua Gorge. This made it especially interesting to get to see such a beautiful place right here in Chautauqua County. When we first got there, we had to go down a steep, but very scenic path down to the gorge itself. Down in the gorge, we got to experience one of the headwaters of the Allegheny, a stream flowing with cool, clean, water. Besides seeing some really neat waterfalls and rock formations, we were able to find a number of uncommon examples of wildlife. Some of these included a Northern Water Snake, and a Ring-Necked Snake. Overall, the trip to Chautauqua Gorge is a must-see to anyone in the area who enjoys wildlife and the outdoors.

Erros-Ring neck snake

Chautauqua Gorge

The research has begun and our excitement has skyrocketed. Hopefully soon we can catch our focus species and begin banding to gather the information we need. We also look forward to other unique field trips where we can learn about the surrounding area and each part of the ecosystem.

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.

Katydid

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.

Observations

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.