Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

Did You Know That Allegany State Park Played A Role In Wild Turkey Restoration?

The wild turkey is native to North America, but suffered severe declines due to wide-scale forest clearing and over hunting. By the mid-1800’s, this great bird was gone from New York state and much of the northeast. However, in the mid to late 1940’s, some wild turkeys were observed along the NY and PA border from Allegany State Park to the Genesee River Valley, a sign that the habitat might be recovering and able to support them again. So, in the early 1950’s, the New York State Conservation Department (forerunner to the NYS Dept. of Conservation) began a restoration effort in the early 1950s. They started with game farm turkeys, but after a few years, this effort failed because the game farm birds were not wild enough to avoid predation and lacked the capacity to survive.

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Flock of hens in the forest in the 1950’s.

Meanwhile, a healthy breeding population of wild turkeys expanded from Pennsylvania into the Allegany State Park region of New York. Park managers then gave the Conservation Department permission to trap turkeys in the park, initiating the wild turkey trap and transfer program which began in 1958 and concluded successfully in 1974. This program allowed for more rapid expansion of the turkey population to suitable unoccupied habitats.

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Tom turkey displays his tail.

The turkeys trapped in Allegany State Park were moved to several areas in the Region and then throughout the state. In addition to the in-state trap and transfer, turkeys from the park were also sent to Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. Other trapping efforts in the region and elsewhere in New York sent birds to Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and the Canadian Province of Ontario. New York turkeys helped re-establish populations throughout the Northeast, Midwest and southeastern Canada.

New York State Conservation Department was one of the pioneers among state agencies to restore wild turkey populations in the United States. This program would not have been successful without the cooperation of Allegany State Park and to this day is recognized as one of the greatest wildlife management success stories of North America.

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2017 Monument commemorating the first wild turkey trap and transfer program, photo courtesy of Rick Miller, Olean Times Herald

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Wild Turkey Restoration exhibit in the Red House Natural History Museum, image from DEC Conservationist, October 2017, p 28.

There’s Fungus Among Us!

As part of my duties as an Invasive Species Project Steward, it has been my pleasure to join the Forest Health Specialists in their fieldwork. The Forest Health Specialists travel to priority park lands throughout the region to survey and monitor for forest pests, with an emphasis on areas previously treated for pests and on early detection of emerging threats to forest health. Although our focus in these surveys have been hemlock woolly adelgid, southern pine beetle, and spotted lanternfly (see DEC website or email invasives@parks.ny.gov for more information), we see so much more in our state’s lush woodlands. Spending time in wild spaces and amongst such biodiversity ignites a sense of curiosity that no number of office supplies can replicate. Dendrology (the study of trees and shrubs), entomology (insect study)  herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), ornithology (bird study) – with all these -ologies everywhere you turn, how can you ever pick just one to invest your energy in learning about? The more time I spent hunting for the aforementioned pests, I found myself increasingly drawn to the study of one particular organism: mushrooms. Maybe I liked how they can be beautiful and disgusting, delicious and deadly, beneficial or parasitic, and all share a space within the field of mycology. Whatever the reason, I found them fascinating and had plenty of run-ins with them.

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Chicken of the Woods found at Mills Norrie State Park.

One particularly distinct and common mushroom is chicken of the woods, scientifically named Laetiporus sulphureus. It is also called sulfur shelf because of the sulfur-yellow color of the pores, and its overlapping disk-like growth form protruding from oak, hemlock and other trees like a shelf. Each lobe is an inch thick, up to 20 inches across and can weigh up to a pound apiece! It is very common in our neck of the woods- the specimen pictured here was found at Waterson Point State Park in the Thousand Islands, though I have also seen it at Minnewaska State Park, John Boyd Thacher State Park, and Harriman State Park.

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Hoof Fungus growing on a tree at Minnewaska State Park.

Another fungus you may see protruding off a tree, often birch, is the hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius), named as such for the hoof shape and hardness of the brown-ringed cap (Roberts and Evans, 383). It has also been called tinder polypore because “amadou,” the inner fibrous flesh, was historically used as tinder to start fires and cauterize wounds (Lincoff, 457).

 

 

 

 

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Underside of Cinnabar-red Polypore at Harriman State Park.

Also in the polypore family, Polyporaceae, is the Cinnabar-red polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) pictured below. The distinct red caps are 1-5 inches wide and round, often growing on dead deciduous trees (Lincoff, 486). Another member of Polyporaceae is the violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis). They have round, overlapping caps up to 3 inches wide with a leathery texture and are brown with purple, wavy margins. They are found by the hundreds on deciduous trees, and over time will diminish them into sawdust (Lincoff, 490)!

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False Turkey-tails at John Boyd Thacher State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

False turkey-tail (Streum ostrea) is another fungus often growing on downed deciduous trees, although not a member of Polyporaceae. Its name stems from often being misidentified for the fungus turkey-tail (Trametes versicolor), which is a polypore (Lincoff, 497). The species name ostrea is Latin for “oyster,” the shape of the tan, tough and papery caps, often tinted green with algae (Roberts and Evans, 438). Research indicates that they produce laccase, an enzyme used to break down contaminants.

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Inky Cap at Mills Norrie State Park. The bottom of the cap is showing signs of the liquifying gills, or ink, within for which it gets its name.

This common inkcap, Coprinopsis atramentaria, was found at Mills Norrie State Park along the Hudson River. The name atramentaria comes from the Latin word “atramentum,” meaning ink (www.first-nature.com). The French mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois Pierre Buillard, who first described the species and named it, realized that the gills turn to a liquid with age and can be used to make ink. The cap is light gray, thin and shaped like a partially opened umbrella with a smooth white stem and can be found growing on stumps, roadsides, and gardens.

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Chanterelles growing at Schunnemunk State Park.

Keep a lookout on your woodland adventures for the highly sought-after chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), also called golden chanterelles for their yellow-orange coloration. They have smooth stems that widen at the top to a funnel-shaped cap with gills on the underside and a smooth top with wavy edges. This is one of the best-known mushrooms and is exported commercially worldwide (Roberts and Evans, 476). The ones pictured here were found at Schunnemunk State Park in the Hudson Valley.

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Puffballs at Taconic Outdoor Education Center. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

In your exploration of State Parks, you are likely to stumble upon puffballs, family Agaricaceae, growing in the leaf litter. They are round to upside-down-pear shaped, sometimes with a grainy texture and usually 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide. They are called puffballs because as they mature, a hole opens on the top of the rounded cap that enables the spores to puff out. Historically, they were used to seal wounds, start fires, and stun bees as we use smoke today. But be cautious around them, their spores are known to irritate the nose and eyes, and if breathed in excess can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs called lycoperdonosis (Roberts and Evans, 520). The puffballs pictured below were sighted at Taconic Outdoor Education Center in the Hudson Valley. The giant puffball (Calvatio Gigantea) is a particularly interesting variation that has been seen on State Parks’ land. As its name implies, they are round, smooth and typically 30 inches by 30 inches. The largest recorded, however, was up to 5 feet wide and weighed in at over 40 pounds (Roberts and Evans, 512)!

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White Spindles feeding on leaf litter at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

Then there’s the coral mushrooms, named for their resemblance to undersea coral colonies. These white spindles (Clavaria fragilis) were found growing in the leaf litter at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley. The species name fragilis pays homage to the extremely brittle nature of the fungus (Roberts and Evans, 486). It used to be called Clavaria vermicularis, white worm fungus because of its tubular white spines growing upwards in a cluster (Lincoff, 400).

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Golden Spindles at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

It’s relative, golden spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) is also a saprotroph, meaning it feeds on dead matter like leaf litter (Roberts and Evans, 494). Golden spindles also grow in unbranched needles, but as the name implies, are yellow.

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White Coral Cluster at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

This white coral (Ramariopsis kunzei) was also found growing in the leaf litter of the forest floor at Minnewaska State Park. Unlike the spindles, the fruitbodies of the white coral are branched. There is still much to be learned about this species (Roberts and Evans, 504).

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Lion’s Mane from Minnewaska State Park.

A much shyer mushroom, despite the name, is lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus). It is also called bearded tooth, as it grows downward from trees or logs in a cluster of white spindles up to 3 inches long. Similar to human teeth, it yellows as it ages. In Asia it is called monkey head and is used to strengthen the immune system, available as a pill for stomach ulcers or as a tonic drink in a can (Roberts and Evans, 468). The cluster shown here was found at Minnewaska State Park.

Mushrooms like moisture and cool temperatures, so now is the time to seek them out. I am sure you will have no trouble finding them, and although they can be very tricky to identify, perhaps you may recognize some of the species featured here on the many trails located at our State Parks. Happy Mushroom hunting, but remember not to disturb them, as they are a much-needed member of the ecosystem.

Post by Sara Mitsinikos, SCA intern

References

“Coprinopsis Atramentaria (Bull.) Redhead, Vilgalys & Moncalvo – Common Inkcap.” Coprinopsis Atramentaria, Common Inkcap Mushroom, First Nature.

Lincoff, Gary H. National Audubon Society: Field Guide to Mushrooms. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Roberts, Peter, and Shelley Evans. The Book of Fungi: a Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World. University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Cool Finds from Afield – NY Natural Heritage Program in State Parks

Every year, the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) conducts field surveys in New York State Parks in search of rare plants and animals and high quality natural areas and features. There are always adventures as well as some surprises. Here a few highlights from 2018.

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NY Natural Heritage Program survey in parks across the state, to document rare flora, fauna and natural communities. Photo in Allegany State Park by J. Lundgren

Bear Bath

We surveyed dozens of vernal pools in Parks this season as part of a statewide project to help identify pools that are critical for critters like fingernail clams, fairy shrimp, wood frogs, spotted salamanders and others. Just as we finished our vegetation sampling in a vernal pool in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, a huge black bear wandered in and sat down! So close. We watched quietly until it wandered off, then packed up our gear to head to the next site. What a great day!

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This a huge vernal pool, filled with water in spring and mostly dry now. That dark spot in the center is the black bear that came to visit. Photo by J. Lundgren.

The Joys of Sedge-ing

Keen eyesight and a skill for noticing subtle differences in the structure and color of plant parts is required to find rare plants. Sedges, a grass-like plant, are among the tougher species to identify. A trick is to looks for the triangular stems – “sedges have edges” – as opposed to round stems of rushes and grasses. From there, botanists use plant keys to figure out the identity.

Botanist Richard Ring and our summer botany assistant Ian Laih set out to to the hilltops in Franny Reese and Storm King State Parks in search of rare sedges. Success! They documented new locations in both parks for two rare and easily overlooked sedges; black-edged sedge (Carex nigromarginata) and Reznicek’s sedge (C. reznicekii).

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A Flurry of Rare Dragonflies – Three in One Day!

The zoology team documented three species of rare dragonflies in one day at Harriman State Park: sable clubtail (Gomphus rogersi), arrowhead spiketails (Cordulegaster obliqua), and spatterdock darner (Rhionaeschna mutata)! The park’s forest habitat interlaced with streams, wetlands and ponds provides habitat for these cool critters.

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The rare sable clubtail (Gomphus rogersi) photographed and released. Photo E. White.

Piping Plovers Return to NY’s Great Lake shoreline

State Parks and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) stewards discovered a pair of nesting Piping Plovers at a park on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario and worked to keep them safe from pedestrians and dogs. Four chicks successfully hatched and entered the world. This is a really big deal, as the Great Lake plovers are federally endangered and the last successful fledging of chicks on NY lakeshores was in 1984! NYNHP had previously identified this area as among the best beach and dune habitats on Lake Ontario and has been working with State Parks to support protection of the rare species and habitats there. (Note you may be familiar with the piping plovers of the Atlantic coast which are listed as federally threatened).

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Note the colored bands which are put on the piping plovers to help identify individuals and track their movements. Photo by Alison Kocek.

Something Old and Something New

There are always many more places to survey and surprises to find. In the small Gilbert Lake State Park, while looking unsuccessfully for vernal pools, we were surprised to find a small patch of old-growth forest with large, over 120-year old ash, red oak, beech and maple. In Minnewaska State Park Preserve, NYNHP Botanist and Parks biologists surveyed the site of a proposed climbing route where a tiny rare fern, the mountain spleenwort (Asplenium montanum), was known. They confirmed and mapped an extensive population of the fern and also found a small but new location for the rare Appalachian sandwort (Mononeuria glabra). The new climbing routes can now be planned to avoid impacts to the rarities.

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Fen Finds

Park’s Finger Lakes Environmental Field Team discovered a new location for a rare Rich Sloping Fen community and assisted NYNHP ecologist with vegetation sampling. Fens are a type of wetland fed by groundwater and that tend to be less acidic than bogs which are typically rain-water fed. They often support rare plant species too and sure enough, NYNHP ecologist spotted the leaves of the state-threatened marsh lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), a new record for this plant. Park staff returned to photograph and document it when it bloomed in August.

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Salamandering

Allegany State Park in late June was the time to look for salamanders. Zoologist Ashley Ballou discovered a rare longtail salamander (Eurycea longicauda) near where they were last reported in 2009. This is a significant update of this almost 10-year old record. The park supports extensive and high-quality habitat for this and other more common amphibians like the red efts and red-backed salamander which we also saw during the surveys.

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Going Buggy

We did a lot of work on insects! The Empire State Native Pollinator survey was highlighted in a previous state parks blog Counting the Bristlesides, Sedgesitters, Leafwalkers. There are still hundreds of specimens to be identified this winter, but some new rare insect species records have been confirmed already and there is such astounding diversity and beauty!

And thanks to expertise of others, we also obtained about 30 new records for rare moths in State Parks! Rare micro-lepidoptera (the smallest moths) were found in 8 state parks by Jason Dombroskie of Cornell University. And Hugh McGuinness finalized the results of a contract with us for moth surveys at two Long Island parks last year, adding a total of 20 records for rare moth species. All of this information goes into the NYNHP Rare Species Database.

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Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP)

NY Natural Heritage Program is affiliated with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and works in close partnership with NYS Parks and NYS DEC. NYNHP conducts many kinds of surveys and studies to provide guidance and tools for conservation of native biodiversity across New York State.

All photos by NYNHP for use by permission only.

The Ghost Plant: A Closer Look At The Spookiest Plant In The Forest

What’s black and white and spooky all over? The ghost plant! More commonly known as Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) since it is said to resemble a Native American peace pipe, it is also known as corpse plant, death plant, and ghost flower. This unusual looking plant is often mistaken as a fungus because it is mostly white and doesn’t have any chlorophyll… but it is really a flowering plant and is actually part of the same Family (Ericaceae) that includes blueberries, cranberries, azaleas, and Rhododendrons. Weird, right?

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Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation

You’ll often find Indian pipes in dark and spooooky environments. Since it doesn’t have any chlorophyll it doesn’t need light to photosynthesize its own food. Instead, the food source for this plant is a lot more sinister, for it is actually a parasite! Specifically, Indian pipes are parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship with trees (epiparasitism), meaning both the fungi and trees both benefit from each other. The tree gathers sunlight and use it to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars and other carbohydrates. The fungi harvest minerals in the soil. The tree and fungi then exchange these resources in a process that resembles a harmonious story of cooperation and mutual benefit. It is then exploited by the Indian pipe.

What happens is the tree obtains its energy (sugars and other carbohydrates) from photosynthesis and the fungus obtain some of those sugars directly from the tree roots. So how does the Indian pipe get its energy from the fungus? Some menacing tom-foolery, that’s how! The Indian pipe actually tricks the fungus into thinking it is forming a mycorrhizal relationship, but in fact the Indian pipe is parasitizing the fungus! The Indian pipe essentially gets a free ride and doesn’t have to produce its own energy or absorb its own minerals. Typically, when a parasite exploit a host the host fights back, but for some reason the fungus and tree goes along with the Indian pipe’s menacing ploy.

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Indian pipe flowers, photo by Staben, accessed from Wikicommons

After months, and sometimes years, of gathering its nutrients from the fungus into its root system, the Indian pipe, almost rather suddenly, develops above ground. White stalks and then flowers are produced, which are then pollinated by insects. Once pollinated the Indian pipe releases tens of thousands of extremely tiny seeds, which hardly have the food storage capacity to start a new plant. Those seeds are dispersed long distances by wind and settles to the ground. Once there, the seeds actually don’t start growing right away. In fact, the seeds chemically mimic a tree’s root systems and wait for certain types of mycorrhizal fungus to come along. The fungus then attaches to the seed as it would to a tree, but then is forced into providing nutrients the tiny seeds needs to grow! So essentially, from seedling to growth to pollination to seed dispersal, the Indian pipe does almost absolutely nothing itself!

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Dried Indian pipe flowers, photo by Ryan Hodnett, accessed from Wikicommons

Due to its fascinating nature, the Indian pipe has been immortalized by many poets and storytellers in their works, including Emily Dickinson, whose favorite flower was the Indian pipe. She drafted the poem “‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe-” in 1879:

Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –
Not any voice imply it here –
Or intimate it there –
A spirit – how doth it accost –
What function hath the Air?
This limitless Hyperbole
Each one of us shall be –
‘Tis Drama – if Hypothesis
It be not Tragedy –

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks

A Spider Sampler

Few creatures are as iconic in the public imagination as the spider. From the ancient Greek myth of Arachne, the Akan folktale character Anansi, or the titular hero of Charlotte’s Web, these stealthy, silk-spinning predators have a long history of popping up in our shared myths and stories.

However, despite their cultural prominence, these awesome hunters are often unfairly feared and misunderstood. Spiders play an important role in balancing our ecosystems, such as by consuming pests that may destroy crops or carry disease. Fortunately, there’s no better way to learn about our fascinating eight-legged friends than by getting out to our state park system and seeing them first hand!

Spiders belong to the class Arachnida, which encompasses other joint-legged invertebrates such as scorpions, ticks, mites and harvestmen – some 100,000 species all in all!

In New York’s seasonal northern climate, spiders typically live about a year. They typically survive the winter as eggs and develop into adulthood during the summer. All spiders produce silk – thin, strong protein strands produced in the abdomen. Although best-known as the raw material for spider webs, not all spiders use their silk to catch prey – they may also use it to cover egg sacs, create waterproof retreats or to produce draglines to help them travel long distances on the breeze.

There are about 40,000 identified spider species worldwide. Here, we’re going to focus on just a handful of the more common species you might find in New York state – and imagine what they might say if they could speak for themselves.

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Marbled Orb Weaver (Araneus marmoreus)

As a Marbled Orbweaver, I tend to get around. We’re found all over the continent grasses – basically anywhere in the woods or near streams or other running water. So when people ask me where I’m from, I tend to be at a loss – North America, I guess? When I look in the mirror I don’t see just another Araneus –  I see me.” – Jose, Marbled Orbweaver, Brooklyn.

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Shamrock spider, Araneus trifolium

“I wake up early every day to at what’s left of yesterday’s web and build a brand new one in its place. Some people call me a perfectionist – I think I just see the value of a job well-done, even if you don’t always get noticed for it. Personally, I think it’s more satisfying to find meaning in the work you do – which you can control – rather than on being recognized, which you can’t.” Mike, Shamrock Spider, Utica.

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Yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia

“It can be lonely being a Garden Spider sometimes. I’m diurnal, so I like to be out during the day, unlike my nocturnal orb weaving cousins. But I just try to keep my head down, refreshing that web glue every day and eating my lunch out in the sunshine.” – Shereen, Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Niagara Falls.

Learn more about New York Spiders:

Borror, Donald J. and Richard E. White, A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998

BASF Spider Identification Guide

NY State Dept. of Conservation  Common Spiders of NY Brochure

Post by Ben Mattison, State Parks