Just as we have to say goodbye to the resplendent colors of fall, the last flowering plants of the year put on a final show of color before we resign ourselves to a season of white snow, gray skies, and cold winds.
Witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is a generally inconspicuous understory species, often overshadowed by the birches and maples of New York’s forests, but when the trees lose their leaves every year, it gives this common shrub and opportunity to take the spotlight.
In early fall, witch-hazel plants begin to disperse their seeds, which have been ripening over the course of the entire year. At this time, the fruits of the plant open up to reveal two glossy black seeds which are explosively ejected away from the plant—this unusual behavior earns it the colloquial name, snapping hazel.
After the seeds have been dispersed, witch-hazel flowers bloom in preparation next year’s fruit. In New York, you’ll see the spidery yellow blooms beginning in mid- to late October and early November. Regional variations in colors range from greenish gold to red, but yellow is the most common color, especially in the Hudson Highlands region.
Featured image is a witch-hazel blossom. Photo citation: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org. Post by Paris Harper
As the largest salamander in the Western hemisphere, you wouldn’t think that hellbenders could easily slip under the radar. However, these well-camouflaged, aquatic creatures are rarely seen, and due to loss of suitable habitat, they are being seen with increasing rarity.
In New York, hellbender salamanders live exclusively in the Susquehanna and Allegheny river drainages, including their associated tributaries. Numbers are declining in both of these ranges, particularly in the former, where hellbenders are all but extirpated. A “hellbender head-start program” has focused on the Allegany Region, where earlier this year a number of captive-raised hellbenders were released into the park’s streams. The captive-rearing program has been a collaboration between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Bronx Zoo, the Buffalo Zoo, the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, and the Seneca Nation of Indians. More information on that project can be found here.
Check out this cool video featuring awesome hellbender action produced by Freshwaters Illustrated, an organization which produces educational media about the life, study and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.
featured image is hellbender habitat in Allgany State Park, by Andrea M. Chaloux. Post by Paris Harper
On Saturday, September 27th, 2014, Bear Mountain State Park celebrated biodiversity with an Endangered Species Parade. Volunteers created their own homemade costumes, puppets, and signs representing New York’s native endangered wildlife. Costumes included a Karner Blue Butterfly, Indiana Bat, and Canada Lynx, to name just a few. After a ride on the merry-go-round, over 60 parade marchers engaged visitors throughout the park and raised awareness about endangered species.
This event was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon this year. Rather than dwelling on extinction, the parade was a fun way to celebrate the biodiversity still present here in New York. Following the parade, families visiting Trailside Museums and Zoo played an interactive game in which they learned about specific endangered animals and conservation issues affecting their habitats. There was also a special museum exhibit about the passenger pigeon and art on exhibit from local students. This event was made possible by the generous efforts of many dedicated volunteers.
The featured photo is a parade volunteer dressed as a Canada lynx, by Karen Parashkevov. Post by Renee LaMonica.
Besides cleaning up our parks, invasive species removal teams sometimes get the opportunity to enjoy the truly lovely flora of New York State Parks. The following pictures are from Invasive Species Awareness Week, where a team cleared out wild parsnip from bird habitat in Thacher State Park.
Wild parnsip (Pastinaca sativa) is a member of the carrot family, but unlike their tasty orange relatives Wild parsnips can bite back! Wild parsnip contains chemicals called furanocoumarins, which, when exposed to sunlight on skin, can cause phytophotodermatitis, a toxic skin reaction. The chemicals prevent the skin from protecting itself from ultraviolet rays, resulting in the worst sunburn of your life.
The removal of wild parsnip from the field benefits grassland birds, like the bobolink, and also promotes the growth of native plants like milkweed. Milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) have been used culturally as food, fiber, and medicine. In addition to being the only plant that monarch caterpillars can live and feed on, milkweed species are attractive to many other insects, including the large milkweed bug, common milkweed bug, red milkweed beetle, blue milkweed beetle, and all sorts of bees. Certain predators, like yellow jackets and crab spider, make a point of targeting flies and bees that visit the flowers. Native birds enjoy snacking on these insects, too!
The featured image is of milkweed blossoms at Thacher State Park, by Melissa Plemons. Post by Paris Harper.
The discovery of a new species is always a big deal, especially when it’s been living right under the noses of over 8 million residents of New York City and the surrounding counties. A new species of leopard frog, still unnamed, was first identified by Jeremy A. Fienberg of Rutgers University in 2009 on Staten Island, and DNA tests confirmed his discovery in 2012.
It’s no mystery how this mystery frog escaped our notice for so long. There are over a dozen leopard frog species that range between Canada and Central America, and until Fienberg recognized their distinctly different vocalizations, all the leopard frogs of NY were presumed to be either northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens), or southern leopard frogs (R. sphenocephala).
New York State Parks is collaborating with the NY Natural Heritage Program on a regional study aimed at defining the range of the newly described species in comparison to the northern and southern leopard frog. The study’s objectives are to define the distribution, habitat use, and conservation status of the three species from Rhode Island through Virginia by matching calling surveys with follow-up surveys to catch, photograph, and get tissue samples from frogs. In New York, efforts are focusing on the Hudson Valley and Long Island, where State Parks contain some large wetlands that may be suitable as leopard frog habitat.
As part of this project, Natural Heritage biologists Kelly Perkins, Rich Ring, and Matt Schlesinger, and Parks biologist Jesse Jaycox, conducted surveys and habitat assessments for leopard frogs at wetlands in state parks. These surveys were conducted at Goose Pond Mountain, Tallman Mountain, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Taconic State Parks. Despite spending long evenings in the parks at night, when frogs are most active, no leopard frogs were found. However, these wetlands are home to many other types of frogs, including Green Frogs (R. clamitans), spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), wood frogs (R. sylvatica), and pickerel frogs (R. Palustris).
For now, this new species remains a cryptic member of New York’s natural wildlife. Hopefully, we’ll get to know it better in the future.
The featured image is the unnamed species of leopard frog, by Matt Schlesinger. Post by Matt Schlesinger and Paris Harper.
Update: The newly discovered leopard frog species has been named the Atlantic coast leopard frog, Rana kauffeldi.