Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

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.

iMapInvasives

We’re celebrating Invasive Species Awareness Week, and so here’s some information on a cool new software that’s used to document the occurences of invasives species in New York:

iMapInvasives is an online mapping tool that collects and displays geographical data for invasive plant and animal species. Invasive species are non-native plants, animals, and pathogens that cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. In the past, early detection of invasive species has been difficult, and management typically only began well after the invasive population was well-established. iMapInvasives is a tool sophisticated enough for monitoring and management projects, but easy enough to use for a citizen scientist to upload point data on a patch of pernicious weeds growing in his or her backyard. In this way, the software broadens the scope of invasives monitoring, promotes early detection of invasive populations, and helps natural and agricultural resource managers know where to look for potentially harmful invasives.

While iMapInvasives is available to everyone who requests a login, training in the online software is available, and it’s required for anyone who wants to use the more advanced features of the program. I was able to participate in the beginner and advanced training courses for iMapInvasives, provided by the Capitol/Mohawk PRISM (Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management) in Voorheesville.

In the basic course, we learned identification techniques for some common invasive plants and insects, including Japanese Barberry, garlic mustard, Asian long-horned beetle, and hemlock wooley adelgid. We also learned how to input our data into the software and perform searches based on different parameters which might be used by project managers.

The advanced course covered agricultural pests, aquatic plants, and some additional terrestrial plants, and we learned how iMapInvasives can be used to record treatment data and to survey large areas for the presence or absence of invasive species.

I attended the training as an employee of State Parks and the Student Conservation Association, however, other attendees were from other state agencies, as well as members of Park Friends groups, gardeners, and non-profit groups such as the Sierra Club.

If you would like to get involved, go to www.NYiMapInvasives.org and:

1)      Request a login

2)      Get trained with online video training, or sign up for the course

3)      Login and begin mapping on your computer or smartphone!

Featured image is of Japanese knotweed, an invasive species in New York. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP. Post by Paris Harper

The Battle to Save our Bats

Bats are a fascinating component of many New York State Parks across the state. Although we can rarely get a good look at them, often only as fast-moving silhouettes at dusk, they form a critical component of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, acting as pollinators, seed dispersers and as predators regulating insect populations. A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in one hour.

But our bats are in grave danger. In February 2006, a new contagion was identified in New York, and has since spread to 23 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. This fungal infection which grows on the noses of bats is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and it has killed millions of bats and is one of the most pressing ecological issues of our time.

What we have learned so far about the white-nose fungus is distressingly limited. It appears that bat-to-bat transmission is the primary means of infection, particularly in bat species that form large hibernacula, roosts where hundreds of bats hibernate through the winter together. Although we still don’t understand how WNS kills bats, it is clear that the infection somehow interrupts normal hibernation behavior. Infected bats wake up far too early from their winter sleep, depleting their fat reserves and consequently starving or freezing to death in the cold.

The species which have been most affected by this affliction are the big brown bat, little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, but other New York bat species including the hoary bat, the eastern red bat and the small-footed bat are also threatened. However, even the hardest-hit species have survived in small groups, compounding the importance of protecting bat habitats.

To learn more about White Nose Syndrome and the U.S. bat situation, we recommend the following video:

Battle for Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome

This video was produced for the USDA Forest Service by Ravenswood Media. It shows how government and private agencies have come together to search for solutions to help our bat populations overcome WNS. The public can also play a role in the future of bats by providing habitat and surveying their populations. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem, plus they provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential for a sustainable natural environment.

For more information

Bat Conservation International’s White Nose Syndrome Factsheet

University of California Museum of Paleontology factsheet, Chiroptera: Life History and Ecology.

The featured photo is Myotis sodalis, the Indiana Bat. Photo by Alan Hicks, DEC. Post by Paris Harper.

Clark Reservation State Park Bioblitz

1 Park

70 professional scientific volunteers

365 acres

Countless plants and animals

Well, maybe not countless… In fact, on May 3rd and 4th nearly 70 volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Clark Reservation State Park with one goal in mind: spend 24 hours searching for all the plants, animals, fungi, lichen, and even bacteria found in the park. This type of inventory is usually called a BioBlitz. The BioBlitz at Clark Reservation also had another purpose. There was a special focus on rare and endangered species as well as classification of communities. Also on May 3rd was a concurrent BioBlitz at Minnewaska State Park, which also focused on rare and undocumented species.

One endangered species, the American hearts-tongue fern, is actually well documented at Clark. In fact, nearly 90% of the state’s population of this fern is found in two state parks: Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls. But since we already knew it was here, this plant was not the focus of our BioBlitz. We wanted to find undocumented species, and soon we hope to know if any were found! Volunteers have until the end of May to submit their data.

Biodiversity, the variety of living things found in one place, is often used as a measure of ecosystem health. Knowing what is in our park will help us make informed land management decisions and help us conserve our natural resources. That’s why the BioBlitz was so important.

It was also a lot of fun! All the scientists had a great time looking for the things they love, and we found a lot! A main focus for our BioBlitz was Glacier Lake, a rare meromictic lake formed at the end of the last ice age nearly 11,000 years ago. Today it is home to many species; such as eastern newts, painted and snapping turtles, fish (bullheads, walleye, pumpkin seeds to name a few), and birds (like osprey, wood ducks, and flycatchers).

Early Sunday morning I joined the birding team to look for our feathered friends. I wasn’t too excited about getting up at 5 in the morning on a Sunday, but it turned out to be worth it! I barely even noticed the cold rain! We saw a lot of great birds. Many of them like the cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and juncos you can see anytime, but some of them you are not so easy to spot. Early spring is one of the best times to look for warblers. Many species are only here for a few days as they pass through on their migration north. Others are here year-round, but when the leaves come out in the forests they are hard to spot. The highlight for the morning was the black-throated green warbler that came in close to check us out, and then followed us along the trail for a while singing for us! We also saw a black and white warbler, a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers and a yellow warbler.

All in all the BioBlitz was a huge success! Stay tuned for the results of the 2 Bioblitzes in July here on the NYS Parks Blog.

featured image is the Botany team at the Clark Bioblitz, by Steve Young; post by Katie Mulverhill

Salamander Migrations

Salamander migrations are annual events that happen within a very short time frame every year. Salamanders are cued to specific temperature, humidity, air pressure and light conditions which signal to them that it is safe to travel. This typically occurs on the first rainy night above 45°F in the late winter or early spring. Although the salamander migration often occurs on one big night, this year’s inconsistent weather led to a series of smaller salamander movements that were staggered across a few weeks.

Salamanders belong to the group of animals called amphibians, which all share the ability to breathe through their skin. For this reason their skin must remain damp at all times, which is why rainy conditions are necessary for any long-range movement across land.

When salamanders migrate, they are moving away from their overwintering spots in wooded upland areas to vernal pools in lowland areas and depressions. Vernal pools are temporary pools created by spring rain and snow melt that dry up by mid-summer. Predators like fish and turtles cannot live in vernal pools, and so they are a strategic habitat for salamanders to breed and lay their eggs.

Once they have arrived at the vernal pool, male salamanders perform courtship dances to attract mates. Once they have paired off, the males deposit sperm packets on the twigs and leaf litter in the pond, which the females pick up and use to fertilize their eggs, which are laid underwater in groups of 100-300. On the next warm, wet night the adults will relocate to their summer habitats – usually a cozy spot underneath a rock or log.

Salamanders are extremely vulnerable during migration events, especially when their routes require them to cross roads. Many State Parks organize volunteer groups to meet on these special nights to act as amphibian crossing-guards. A few weeks ago, some friends and I took a slow night drive on the county roads near Thacher State Park in Albany County to see if we could help any salamanders on their journey. We saw plenty of salamanders, and frogs, too!

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featured image is a spotted salamander. Photos and post by Paris Harper