Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

Wildlife Spotlight: the Bee Fly

The bee fly is an adorable insect which can be seen buzzing around wildflowers in spring and summer. The one in this photo was seen near the shoreline at Harriman State Park. Bee flies are named for their round, fuzzy bodies and habit of flying from flower to flower in search of food. Unlike bees, however, these flies don’t sting! That long nose is called a proboscis, and it serves the same function as a hummingbird’s beak, allowing the bee fly to sip nectar from flowers. But as cute and harmless as the adult bee flies are, they start their lives as ferocious little larva! Bee Flies lay their eggs in the same burrows solitary bees dig for their own eggs. When the fly larvae hatch, they eat the bee’s winter cache of pollen, and then they eat the baby bees, too!

We think these guys are the cutest fly species! Photo by Paris Harper
We think these guys are the cutest fly species! Photo by Paris Harper

Predator Study At State Parks

A research study out of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) is collaborating with Fahnstock State Park and Wonder Lake State Park in Putnam County to look at predator populations as part of an ongoing study of the declining population of New England cottontails (NEC), Sylvilagus transitionalis. NEC is a rabbit native to the northeastern U.S., but studies indicate that in the past decade, the population of NEC has decreased by as much as 50%. Some populations of the cottontails are in New York State Parks, and learning more about best management practices is critical to protecting this species.

As the New England cottontail (NEC) is a declining species being considered for listing on the federal Endangered Species Act, there are a lot of ongoing efforts to create habitat for these rabbits in the Northeast. The hope is these efforts will preemptively restore populations of NEC in the region, making it unnecessary to list the species as endangered.

The two greatest contributing factors to the decline of NECs are loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus. While the two cottontail species are almost identical in appearance, the Eastern Cottontail generally outcompetes NECs for food and habitat, edging the native species out of its former range. While loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail are both factors contributing to the decline of New England Cottontail, this study looks at predation in conjunction with other management practices.

Predation accounts for almost all natural mortality in NECs. As such, increases or decreases in the predator community would have serious consequences for the cottontail population. Most management projects have focused on enhancing habitat for NECs, but this study considers whether those projects might have the unintended consequence of altering the predator communities in such a way that cottontail survival is reduced. If that’s the case, then it will be necessary to consider predator management strategies when managing habitat for NEC. Results from this study will help inform habitat managers and recover NEC populations.

The project, led by PhD student Amanda Cheeseman and Dr. Jonathan Cohen, both from SUNY-ESF, together with Scott Silver of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Putnam Highlands Audubon, uses trail cameras targeting mammal predators, in combination with visual and auditory surveys for hawks, owls, and eagles, to examine predator communities in areas where different ways of controlling and managing NEC habitat are already being practiced. The project is taking place across multiple sites in Putnam and Dutchess counties. The pictures above were taken in Fahnstock State ParkThe information from the predator study will be compared to data from radio-collared cottontails in order to get a complete picture of the predator-prey relationships in New England Cottontail habitats.

featured image is of the New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis, by Michael Merchand, NYNHP

Lost Ladybugs

The nine-spotted ladybug
The nine-spotted ladybug

Some species of ladybugs are becoming rarer in North America. Many once-common native species are being replaced by exotic ladybugs from other parts of the world. Scientists are not sure how this will affect ecosystems and important role that ladybugs play in keeping population of plant-feeding insects, like aphids, low. To learn more about ladybug biodiversity, The Lost Ladybug Project and the New York

The two-spotted ladybug
The two-spotted ladybug

Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) are asking the citizens of New York to join together in finding out what ladybugs are in New York and where the rare ladybugs are hiding.

The fun part is that ladybug species are pretty easy to identify, check out the Lost Ladybug Project’s field guide. Some ladybugs can be identified solely from photographs, so feel free to send in pictures of ladybugs that you think might be uncommon or rare.

The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University
The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Participate in the Lost Ladybug Project by taking pictures and uploading them using the online submission form, or by downloading the Lost Lady App (available for iphone and android).

NYNHP will be tracking rare 3 species of ladybugs in New York: The nine-spotted ladybug, the two-spotted ladybug, and the transverse ladybug. Thanks for your help!

featured image is the transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University. 

Blue Green Algae Alert!

Algae is usually just a fact of life when visiting natural bodies of water, whether it be the ocean, a lake, or a swimming beach at one of our New York State Parks. Unhealthy ponds can sometimes be choked with thick layers of goopy green algae but, for the most part, algae are a harmless and valuable part of a healthy ecosystem.

Some algae, however, produce toxins that are dangerous for people and animals. Blue-green algae (BGA) is one of these. BGA isn’t really an algae at all. It is a little organism called a cyanobacteria which which is naturally present in low numbers in our freshwater ecosystems.

Blue Green Algae leaves a scummy layer on the shoreline
Blue Green Algae leaves a scummy layer on the shoreline

Like algae and other plants, these bacteria create energy using photosynthesis, but unlike plants, some species of cyanobacteria produce harmful toxins. In bodies of water with unnaturally high levels of nutrients, usually caused by fertilizers, stormwater runoff, or faulty septic systems, BGA can discolor the water and form a visible scum across the water’s surface. This is called an algal bloom.

Blue-green algae can be blue-green or green-brown in color, often resembling pea-soup. Unlike non-toxic algae, which is stringy or hairy in texture, blue-green algae is slick and slimy, appearing as spilled paint on the water’s surface. BGA is often accompanied by a musky odor. However, BGA can vary in appearance, and so all suspected BGA blooms should be avoided.

BGA leaves swimming areas unsafe for humans and animals
BGA leaves swimming areas unsafe for humans and animals

Unfortunately, many BGA incidents have directly affected dogs. Swimming in BGA-affected waters is risky for humans and pets, but dogs are more likely to jump into slimy and foul-smelling water, and then lick the algae off their fur. Contact with BGA can cause rashes and swelling, and ingestion can lead to difficulty breathing, stomach pain, nausea, and in severe cases, convulsions. Ingesting BGA can be fatal for dogs, and so if you suspect your pet has come into contact with BGA, wash her off with clean water immediately.

The best way to prevent BGA blooms is to prevent nutrient runoff into water bodies. Monitoring is being conducted around the state by state park staff and by private citizens.

If you see a suspected BGA bloom, be sure to keep children, pets and livestock away from the water. If you’re in a State Park, notify a lifeguard or any park staff immediately, or contact the Environmental Management Bureau’s Water Quality Unit (Water.Quality@parks.ny.gov; (518) 474-0409). Otherwise, contact your regional DEC office (http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/50230.html) or the Division of Water (518-402-8179)

Be A Good Egg!

Audubon New York, the state’s largest bird conservation organization has teamed up with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to launch the 2014 “Be a Good Egg” campaign: A community engagement initiative to protect threatened and endangered beach-nesting birds. The goal of the Be a Good Egg project is to help people learn more about birds like Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers that nest and rest on the beaches of New York and New Jersey every spring and summer.

Piping Plover Chick, photo by Patrick Comins
Piping Plover Chick, photo by Patrick Comins

Between April and August every year, thousands of birds nest on the bare sand of New York beaches and inlets, including 30% of the Atlantic Coast Piping Plover population and many other migratory shorebirds that rest and refuel on the New York and New Jersey coastlines on journeys as long as 9,000 miles.

These hardy little birds are threatened by predators, extreme weather conditions, and humans. When a person or dog walks through a nesting area, the adults run or fly off in fear. During the nesting season, this exposes the eggs or chicks to fatally high temperatures and drastically increases the risk of predation. The survival and recovery of these species is dependent upon being able to nest and raise their young in an undisturbed environment.

An Oystercatcher chick, photo by New York Audubon.
An Oystercatcher chick, photo by New York Audubon.

Audubon New York, State Parks, and other partners are reaching out to visitors at New York beaches and asking them to pledge to “be a good egg” and share the beach with our native birds. As part of this project, volunteers are helping us reach out to people at beaches where Audubon is working with the local community to protect hundreds of nesting and migrating birds. To date, nearly 2,000 beach-goers have signed the “Be a Good Egg” pledge. Volunteers are an important part of this campaign and more are needed to help outreach events and shorebird surveys. To take the pledge, and to get more information about Be A Good Egg, including dates of the outreach events, visit www.goodeggnjny.org

The featured image is a nesting Least Tern. Photo by New York Audubon.