All posts by New York State Parks

Spotted Turtles on the Move For Spring!

While we must stay put this season to help protect ourselves and those we love, other creatures here in New York are making their seasonal spring migrations.

Among those are spotted turtles. These small, attractive retiles can be found throughout much of New York in the Hudson Valley, on Long Island, and in the plains of western and central New York. They generally emerge from their winter hideaways in March or early April (Gibbs et al. 2007).

Spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) are more tolerant of cold water and are one of the first aquatic turtles to become active; you might see them basking throughout winter depending on temperatures. Early spring is the best time of the year to spot these turtles. There is ample food with salamanders and frogs laying their eggs in vernal pools (Beaudry et al. 2009). They will also eat aquatic insects and other invertebrates such as slugs, worms, and snails (Gibbs et al. 2007). When looking for turtles, keep an eye out for them basking in small pools, marshes, and other wetlands on rocks, logs, and along the shoreline.

The reason these turtles are called spotted turtles is obvious when you see one – the black carapace (upper shell) and skin are covered in small, round yellow dots. This color pattern could reduce the turtle’s likelihood of capture since it resembles the floating duckweed present in many frequently used habitats. This camouflaging pattern makes it difficult to find spotted turtles when they are in the water.

Spotted turtles are thought to be declining throughout their range, and there are several threats that may be contributing to the decline. These turtles can experience high mortality from crossing roads as they move between wetlands during the spring and in search of nesting and upland summer locations.  (Beaudry et al. 2009, Ernst and Lovich 2009).

Nesting female mortality is especially bad for spotted turtle populations, since it can take 10-15 years before a female is old enough to reproduce.

Spotted turtles can live over 40 years, so once a female reaches reproductive age it has many years of egg laying ahead. Turtle eggs and juveniles have a high mortality rate, so it is important to keep these older females around to keep producing eggs, only a small fraction of which will reach adulthood.

A spotted turtle shows its distinctive yellow markings. (Photo Credit- Jesse W. Jaycox)
The bottom shell, or plastron, l of a spotted turtle. (Photo Credit- Jesse W. Jaycox)

One important habitat requirement of spotted turtles is relatively shallow, clear, and clean water with a soft, muddy bottom (Gibbs et al. 2007, Ernst and Lovich 2009). They will spend most of the spring within these wetland habitats, until females travel to find a nesting site in early June.

Spotted turtles will practice estivation, a period of dormancy during high temperatures, by retreating into the muck at the bottom of wetlands, into muskrat burrows, or under vegetation in the surrounding uplands during the warm summer months when many wetlands are drying up (Gibbs et al. 2007, Ernst and Lovich 2009, Joyal et al. 2001, Milam and Melvin 2001).

Learn about the distribution of spotted turtles at Nature Serve.

Other threats spotted turtles face are collection for the pet trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive plants, and predators (Ernst and Lovich 2009, NYSDEC 2020). Spotted turtles are a target for the commercial pet trade (CITES 2013) due to their small size and attractive coloring.

Habitat loss and invasive plants encroaching on wetland habitats can reduce the amount of suitable habitat these turtles have available to use throughout the year. They need upland buffers around wetland habitats for nesting, movement between wetlands, and summer estivation (Milam and Melvin 2001), and these habitats are frequently fragmented by development and roads.

What can you do to help protect these cryptic little turtles? If you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a spotted turtle in the wild, admire it from afar and leave it undisturbed. All native species of turtles in New York are protected and cannot be collected without a permit.

If you happen to see one crossing the road, pull over in a safe place and help it along. Make sure to move the turtle to the side of the road that it was facing, otherwise it will just turn around and cross the road again!

A researcher holds a juvenile spotted turtle. (Photo Credit- Matthew D. Schlesinger)

Cover Photo- Wikipedia Commons

Post by Ashley Ballou, Zoologist, NY Natural Heritage Program

References

https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/44388.html

https://guides.nynhp.org/spotted-turtle/

Ernst. C. H., and J. E. Lovich. 2009. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Second edition, revised and updated. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland. xii + 827 pp.

Beaudry, Frederic, Phillip G. deMaynadier, and Malcolm L. Hunter Jr. 2009. Seasonally dynamic habitat use by spotted (Clemmys guttata) and Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) in Maine. Journal of Herpetology 43:636-645.

Gibbs, J.P., A.R. Breisch, P.K. Ducey, G. Johnson, J.L. Behler, and R.C. Bothner. 2007. The amphibians and reptiles of New York State. Oxford University Press, NY.

Joyal, Lisa A., Mark McCollough, and Malcolm L. Hunter Jr. 2001. Landscape ecology approaches to wetlands species conservation: A case study of two turtle species in souther Maine. Conservation Biology. 15(6): 1755-1762.

Milam, J. C., and S. M. Melvin. 2001. Density, habitat use, movements, and conservation of spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) in Massachusetts. Journal of Herpetology 35:418-427.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2020. Spotted turtle fact sheet. Available https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7150.html. (Data accessed March 2020).

Waterfalls Herald Spring’s arrival

So much has changed in recent days as all of us in New York deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, But natural cycles are still continuing to mark the arrival of spring.

One of those cycles is the freshet – a term used to describe a thaw from snow and ice melt that then feeds a surge of fresh water into rivers and streams. Too large a freshet can cause spring flooding.

While much of the snow in New York is now gone, there is still snowpack remaining in the high country from the recent storm that will feed the freshet in the coming days. And while that surge is thankfully too small to cause flooding, it does mean that is a great time to see some of the beautiful waterfalls found in New York State Parks.

Of course, such visits should be made while being mindful to maintain social distancing critical to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Use this map to locate a State Park with a waterfall.

In the eastern North America, annual freshets occur from the Canadian Taiga ranging along both sides of the Great Lakes, continuing through the heavily forested Appalachian mountain chain and St. Lawrence valley from northern Maine into barrier ranges in North Carolina and Tennessee.

In the western part of the continent, freshets occur throughout higher elevations of various west coast mountain ranges that extend southward down from Alaska as far as the northern reaches of Arizona and New Mexico.

This previous post from the NYS Parks Blog describes each waterfall in detail,,,

Fall in Love with New York State Parks’ Waterfalls

Did you know that Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States? Established in 1885 as Niagara Reservation, the breath-taking waterfalls at this park are considered some of America’s greatest natural wonders. Did you also know that the American Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, at around 100 feet tall, … Continue reading Fall in Love with New York State Parks’ Waterfalls

Of course, any visitors to State Parks should keep this COVID-19 guidance in mind:

COVID-19 UPDATE:  New York state parks, trails and grounds of historic sites are open for open air outdoor recreation. Governor Cuomo is urging all New Yorkers to stay home as much as possible. If you do plan on visiting, it should be for a healthy nature break. For the safety of all visitors and to stop the spread of COVID-19, all State Park playgrounds, athletic courts and sporting fields are CLOSED

Please limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact, and avoid activities where you may come in close contact with other people. If you arrive at a park and crowds are forming, choose a different park or trail, or return another time/day to visit. We appreciate your support and patience as we navigate this public health crisis together. Learn more about COVID-19 and its impact on NY State Parks. Visit: COVID-19 UPDATE

NEW: CAMPING UPDATE

Early Season Camping: Due to the global health crisis, all campgrounds, cabins, and cottages are CLOSED to overnight visitation through April 30. All visitors with reservations will be issued a full refund. We ask for your patience as refunds are processed.

Camping Reservations: New York State has suspended all new camping, cabin and cottage reservations for the 2020 season until further notice. We are assessing campground status on a daily basis. If you’ve made a reservation for the season beginning May 1, and we determine your campground is safe to open, your reservation will be honored. However, visitors who wish to cancel an existing reservation may do so and receive a full refund. Thank you for your patience as we work to protect the safety of our visitors and staff.


By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks.

Tender Care For A Most Egg-cellent Collection

How do you clean an egg more than a century old? Very, very carefully…

That was the challenge facing conservator Heidi Miksch at the State Park’s Historic Preservation Division at Peebles Island State Park. She had just gotten a case of bird eggs that had been collected in the late 19th century by the children of famous Hudson River School landscape painter Frederic Church.

While growing up in the family home at Olana in Columbia County, Church’s four children were part of the then-popular hobby of bird egg collecting, also known as oology or “birdnesting.” The children managed to collect and fill a large case with hundreds of specimens in wooden trays, each in a small labeled box lined with cotton.

The case had been stored ever since at what is now the Olana State Historic Site, where staffers intend to display part of the collection for the first time ever this spring in an exhibit on connections between art and the environment.

The mansion at Olana State Historic Site, where landscape painter Frederic Church and his wife, Isabel, , raised their four children who took up the popular Victorian-era hobby of egg collecting.

But many of the eggs were blackened with decades of dust and grime, and had to be cleaned before being displayed. So Miksch, who has conserved objects from a stuffed black bear to a piece of the Parthenon, researched a bit, and came up with her technique _ using conservation-grade cotton swabs, a dab of water, and gently rubbing. An average-sized egg takes about 20 minutes to clean, and the case contains eight trays, each with 36 boxes with most boxes containing one or more eggs. Miksch uses water, and not a cleaning solution, for fear of degrading the delicate eggshells.


Curator Heidi Miksch shows how she cleans bird eggs more than 100 years old.

Click through the slideshow as conservator Heidi Miksch (wearing the blue sweater) shows the Church childrens’ egg collection.


“The Church children collected many different kinds of eggs,” said Miksch. “I have even found a flamingo egg in there.” (For the record, a flamingo egg is white and oval in shape, appearing much like an oversized chicken egg.)

In the early 20th century, conservation concerns over the impact of bird egg collecting began to mount, and the practice later was limited in the U.S. under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

But when Church’s children – Frederic, Theodore, Louis, and Isabel – were growing up in the Hudson Valley during the 1870s and 1880s, egg collecting was seen as a good way for children to learn about nature while also engaging in healthy outdoor exercise.

To preserve a collected egg, a tiny hole would be drilled into it, and the contents would be aspirated out of the hole, and then the egg would be rinsed out to prevent rot and decay. Or two holes could be drilled and then the contents would be blown out. The empty egg was then carefully stored.

Egg collecting was not just a hobby for children. Cultured gentlemen of the era, particularly in England, amassed large collections and ranged over many nations in pursuit of rare or unusual eggs. One of the world’s richest men at the time, English financier Baron Rothschild, had a collection of nearly 12,000 bird eggs, which now resides in the British Museum of Natural History.

Egg collecting was at its zenith from about 1885 through the 1920s, with children being the vast majority of collectors, according to a 2005 research paper by Lloyd Kiff, past director and curator with the California-based Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology.

Collectors of the day would trade eggs among themselves. There also were commercial egg sellers, who would offer eggs for sale in catalogs, just like dealers in stamps or coins.

Examples of egg collector catalogs. (Photo Credit- The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology)

An American collector, William Brewster, who in the 1880s was the chair of the American Ornithologists’ Union Committee on Bird Protection, collected thousands of eggs that are now held in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

But the hobby began dying out as conservation principles and legal restrictions took hold, and by the 1940s the practice was all but gone. Today, it is illegal to collect bird eggs in the U.S. without a permit issued for research purposes.

The practice is also outlawed in England, although a few fanatical collectors persist despite legal sanctions.

Kiff’s study estimates that there about 80 major egg collections in the U.S., composed of about a half million egg sets, representing some two million individual eggs. These collections have demonstrated significant scientific value in subsequent years, supporting the discovery that exposure to the pesticide DDT was causing eggshell thinning in birds like bald eagles, Peregrine falcons, and pelicans.

This evidence formed the basis of a $140 million federal government settlement with DDT manufacturers in 2001, which Kiff described as the most important ecological use of any bird-related specimens.


“By now, hundreds of eggshell-based studies of (DDT) have appeared in all major regions of the world, and the present ban on DDT use in all but a handful of countries is a direct result of this research.” – Lloyd Kiff

History, Present Status, and Future Prospects of Avian Eggshell Collections in North America, The American Ornithologists’ Union (2005)

He suggests that eggshell collections may also be useful in the future for the study of ongoing climate change and its impacts on birds.

This comes as expertise in this field is fading away, Kiff wrote, adding “The body of traditional oological knowledge may vanish, except on the browned pages of extinct journals, and existing egg collections may gradually become objects of greater interests to historians than to biologists.”

If you would like to see the eggs collected by the Church children displayed in the home where they grew up, visit Olana between May 9 and Nov. 1 for the exhibition entitled “Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment.”

This exhibition features Martin Johnson Heade’s 19th-century series of hummingbird and habitat paintings – The Gems of Brazil – and their relationship to Hudson River School landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Church.

Co-organized by the Olana State Historic Site and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, as well as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, this exhibition will also feature work by contemporary artists including Nick Cave, Mark Dion, Jeffrey Gibson, Paula Hayes, Patrick Jacobs, Maya Lin, Dana Sherwood, Rachel Sussman, and Vik Muniz.

And finally … here is a look at that flamingo egg.

Cover Shot- Close-up of part of the Church children’s egg collection. (All photos and videos by NYS Parks unless otherwise noted)

Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks


Resources

History, Present Status, and Future Prospects of Avian Eggshell Collections in North America, 2005, Kiff, Lloyd L., American Ornithological Society.

The Code of Nomenclature and Check-list of North American Birds

Ornithologists and Oologist, Semiannual, January 1889 – Victorian-era instructions on collecting and preserving. Explains collector practices of the time period.

Fragile Beginnings: Bird Egg Collection – Blog post on collection decisions made at Wesleyan University

University of WisconsinSearchable online database for egg identification

Helping Hands Restore the Past

All eyes in the class were on Amanda Trienens as she applied a mild acidic solution onto a piece of discolored old stonework. “Cleaning can really make for a ‘wow’ factor,” she said, as the solution lifted away years of grime.

Six men and three women were with her in the basement of the S.T.E.A.M Garden – a maker space and learning lab on Central Avenue in Albany – attending a certificate course that explores techniques for cleaning and restoration of historic masonry.

A consultant on restoration projects including the U.S. Supreme Court, the original World Trade Center site in New York City, and inventor Thomas Edison’s original stucco garage in West Orange, N.J., Trienens was a visiting expert in class that night.   She is founder and principal conservator at Columbia County-based consulting firm Cultural Heritage Conservation LLC.

Amanda Trienens shows the use of a laxtex-based cleaner. One of the many bits of advice she gave her students: “Knowing when not to clean.”
Various types of masonry and stone to be cleaned, including brickwork, bluestone and limestone.

Her experience and instruction were part of the Traditional Trades Program, which is currently running in the Capital Region as a partnership with New York State Parks, Hudson Valley Community College’s Workforce Development Institute and the Historic Albany Foundation.

Aimed at training more people to better handle restoration projects in older buildings, the program was developed in 2017 by two staff at Parks: Elizabeth Martin, an architect with the Capital Program, and Dan McEneny, a program coordinator at the Division for Historic Preservation.  

Through partnerships, the program offers courses to the general public in rehabilitation of historic wooden windows, preservation carpentry and woodworking, and historic plaster repair, with future offerings in roofing repair, and weatherization of historic properties.  In addition, last year Martin oversaw the offering of the masonry course for staff at the Palisades Park Region, a new expansion of the program.    

“New York has been undergoing a boom in the restoration of historic properties and needs more skilled craftspeople who know how to perform this kind of specialized work,” said McEneny. 

“Billions of economic development dollars are being spent in New York, particularly upstate, on preservation projects, and this translates into local jobs in construction, new markets for local businesses, and bolsters the revitalization of villages, towns and cities,” he said. 

The growing need for these skilled workers was identified in the 2015-2020 NYS Historic Preservation Plan, after community stakeholders told planners that finding such workers was becoming more difficult. 

“There are many opportunities in the historic trades right now,” said Jude Cleary, the HVCC instructor running the historic masonry course. “These opportunities are only going to increase as we employ restoration programs on existing buildings for environmental reasons as well as historical reasons.”

A manager with Louis C. Allegrone Inc., a third-generation masonry company from Lenox, Mass., Cleary has worked on restoration projects including the grand staircase at the Empire State Plaza, the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, the Tower of Victory at the Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park.

Jude Cleary, (right) the instructor with Hudson Valley Community College, works with Amanda Trienens during her demonstration as student Dave Publow watches.

At the course, Albany resident Kenneth Arrington said he hoped this training could lead him to a new job.

He had worked as an operating engineer for heavy equipment and as a building maintenance mechanic before recently losing his position. Officials at his local unemployment insurance office had told him about the Historic Trades Program.

For Tony Mariano, a retired pharmacist who lives in Albany’s Center Square neighborhood, the course is a way to fuel his passion to care for his historic home, and to help his neighbors do the same. “I found out about this after my wife saw an ad on Facebook,” said Mariano, who has taught himself plumbing and electrical work.

“I would say that I am a skills collector,” said Dave Publow, a South Troy resident and former bicycle mechanic who is gutting and restoring a former commercial building in that neighborhood for potential use as a print studio and incubator space.

Dave Publow tries his hand at cleaning a section of stonework.

Publow has already taken the carpentry and window restoration courses through the Historic Trades Program. “I really wanted to leap into this with both feet,” he said.

As Susan Sfarra applied cleaning solution to a piece of stonework, she said her neighbors in Schenectady’s Historic Stockade District encouraged her to take the course.

“Many of us in the Stockade are worried about a lack of qualified workers,” said Sfarra, who owns a brick home dating to 1838, and who also is the daughter and granddaughter to bricklayers and masons.

“My plan is to take all the courses. When you own an older home, it is a privilege, and you really are a caretaker,” she said.

The Historic Trades Program will help preserve more historic homes and neighborhoods, said Historic Albany Foundation Executive Director Pamela Howard.

“Historic Albany Foundation has been pleased to be a partner in the Historic Preservation Trades Program with HVCC since the beginning.  Having skilled and trained preservation trades people is critical to the preservation of our historic homes and neighborhoods,” she said. “In addition, introducing a new professional audience to our Architectural Parts Warehouse is critical for both incoming and outgoing salvaged items to keep them from the landfills and getting them back into local homes.”


Learn More

Find more courses in the Historic Trades Program in the Albany region here.

Courses on historic window restoration are also being held this month in the Buffalo region, sponsored by State Parks and First Niagara.

Read Hudson Valley Community College’s announcement on the Historic Trades Program.


Cover Shot: Kenneth Arrington (left), and Tony Mariano, watch with another other student as Amanda Trienens demonstrates a cleaning technique. (All photos-NYS Parks)

By Brian Nearing, Parks Deputy Public Information Officer

You Gotta Have Friends (Groups) … And Parks Does!

There are 90 years of history separating Bob Emerson and Dave DeMarco, but a common cause uniting them.

Emerson is the executive director at Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site on Lake Erie, where a not-for-profit association was formed in 1927 to protect the then-decaying 18th century fort, making the organization the oldest “friends” group in the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

DeMarco is the president of Parks’ newest volunteer group – The Friends of Peebles Island State Park – that just formed in 2017 to help at a park in the Capital Region with its own Colonial-era military history.

Their groups bookend a statewide array of 76 such local organizations filled by everyday people who provide critical support and stewardship in partnership with State Parks. More people are deciding to help out at their favorite park, as more than 20 such groups have formed during the last two decades.


Use this map to find a Friends Group at a State Park near you…


Understanding the value of Friends groups, the state helps by offering up grants for key projects. Last year, the budget for such grants could be doubled to $1 million..

While such groups are mostly volunteers, like Peebles, there are some organizations with paid staff that raise funds and manage budgets for operations and renovations, like the Old Fort Niagara Association.

No matter the size, these volunteer groups have a large impact, accounting for more than $17 million in fundraising to benefit their respective parks in 2018, according to a recent report released by the advocacy group Parks & Trails New York. That was on top of nearly 132,000 hours of work by more than 5,100 volunteers that was valued at more than $3 million.

It doesn’t take a big checkbook to make a big difference. The majority of such groups do it all on $10,000 a year or less, according to the Parks & Trails report. The Old Fort Niagara Association, which has a full-time paid staff of more than a dozen people to run the historic fortress, also has historically had one of the largest budgets at more than $5 million annually.

“We are kind of unique here at Old Fort Niagara, in that we came into existence when this was still an Army base, before State Parks took it over. So, we were used to running this site,” said Emerson, who has overseen the historic site and its French-era fortresses as the facility’s executive director for 22 years.

DeMarco, a Waterford resident and retired administrator for SUNY Central, had been visiting Peebles Island State Park for years, bringing his kids there when they were young.

“Some years ago, I started leading an informal group of volunteers, who helped with trails and cleanups,” he said. “About four years ago, I was asked by the park manager to consider forming an official friends group. So that is what we did.”

DeMarco started with about a dozen members, and now that is up to about 45 people who volunteer their time to help maintain some five miles of trails in the 190-acre park, located on an island in the Hudson River that has a historic former bleach works.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental army encamped at Van Schaick and Peebles Islands with the intent to engage the British army heading south from Montreal. Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko designed earthwork fortifications on Peebles Island that still exist.

“Our members can also function as ambassadors to the parks, for when people come in. We can greet them, and tell them a bit about the park and its history,” said DeMarco. Members also help out on First Day Hikes on Jan. 1 and “I Love My Park Day” in the spring, and sponsor wildlife and naturalist programs at the park’s visitors center.

“I think our location here at Peebles is one of our advantages. We are easy to reach for a lot of people,” he said.

See Friends Group members at Peebles Island State Park involved with activities like First Day Hikes and trail maintenance.

At Old Fort Niagara, the not-for-profit association has more than 700 members, making it the largest such friends group in State Parks. Members were part of more than 32,000 hours of volunteer labor at the site last year, said Emerson.

The group is responsible for running programs at the fort, as well as overseeing research efforts and a collection of historic objects related to the site. It handles a food concession, a gift shop, and the hiring of up to 60 seasonal workers to run the operation during the primary tourist season.


Volunteers perform a range of roles at Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site.


Emerson has advice for those thinking about forming a friends group for their park. “First, have a relationship with your park manager and the regional manager,” he said. “Keep it up. Reach out to your local tourism promotion agency, too.”

DeMarco said he learned the “identifying your active core” of volunteers is a key step to setting up a friends group. Parks staff helped in the paperwork requirements, which include incorporation as a not-for-profit organization, and filing of appropriate paperwork with the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service

“You then need to identify your purpose,” Demarco said. “Finally, collaborate with Parks & Trails New York. They have all the resources that you will need to help get you started.”


Cover Shot- Members of The Friends of Peebles Island State Park roll up their sleeves during some trail maintenance there. (Photo Credit- Dave DeMarco)

All photos courtesy of The Friends of Peebles Island State Park and Old Fort Niagara Association.


By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Learn more about how to start your own Friends Group.

Read about what Friends Groups have done in other parks across the U.S.

Explore the Parks & Trails New York webpage on Friends groups.