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

What’s in a Name? – Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls State Park, in Ithaca, NY, is part of the historical territory of the Cayuga Nation, one of six nations that form the Iroquois Confederacy. In the period of European colonization of the Americas, the Iroquois controlled an expansive territory that included New York, Pennsylvania, and part of southeastern Canada.

There are two commonly repeated sources for the name of Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state of New York

Territory of the 5 Iroquois Nation, approx. 1650
Territory of the 5 Iroquois Nation, approx. 1650. This image is in the public domain.

and a highlight of Taughannock Falls State Park. Both are explained in a travelogue from 1872 by Lewis Halsey, The Falls of Taughannock.

The first is a translation by William H. Bogart, who claims that Taughannock means “the great fall in the woods.” However, Bogart combines his understanding of Iroquoian root words with roots from the Algonquian language, a group with lived south of Iroquois territory.

George Copway, 1850. This image is in the public domain.
George Copway, 1850. This image is in the public domain.

Haley also cites George Copway–a well-known Christian-educated Ojibwe man who produced many writings in the late 19th century– as positing his own translation as, “the crevice which rises to the tops of the trees.”

The most exciting, if least plausible, origin story for the falls’ name comes from David Henry Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister born in Canjoharie, NY in 1813. Hamilton wrote that Taughannock was a chief’s title in the Delaware Nation.

The Delaware tribe lived in the region of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers at the time of European colonization. Being so close to Iroquois territory, the Delaware were frequent victims of Iroquois raids, in which Iroquois warriors captured members of other tribes and adopted them into their own families in order to increase their numbers. According to Hamilton, a young Taughannock–a chief–was captured, but too strong-willed to be adopted into the Cayuga tribe. The chief gathered a group of followers and camped near the falls, only to be defeated in a dramatic last stand. The story ends with his body being tossed over the falls.

We can’t be sure how these writers came to their conclusions, and so we can’t ever be sure how the name Taughannock attached itself to falls or what this word really means. In the end, Taughannock remains as mysterious and beautiful as the falls themselves.

Source: Halsey. 1872. The Falls of Taughannock. New York: Cutter, Tower & Co., Printers and Stationers.

featured image from Taughannock Falls State Park, by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.

Grassland Conservation at Green Lakes State Park

The NYS Bird Conservation Area Program (BCA) deems certain areas as especially worth protecting due to their importance as a habitat for one or more species. In general, a site is nominated because of its importance to large numbers of waterfowl, pelagic seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds, migratory birds, or because of high species diversity, importance to species at risk, or its importance as a bird research site. The Green Lakes BCA is located within Green Lakes State Park. Green Lakes is about 5 miles East of Syracuse and is bordered on the north by portions of the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. The park offers an eighteen hole golf course, camping, biking, hiking, swimming, and cross-country skiing.

Bobolink, photo by NYS Parks
Bobolink, photo by NYS Parks

The Green lakes BCA is an important habitat for migratory bird species and it is a diverse species concentration site, meaning that many different kinds of birds use this habitat to nest, feed, and shelter. In particular, this BCA is unique because it contains significant tracts of both mature forest and grassland habitat, providing habitat for an unusually diverse suite of bird species. Grassland habitat, and the birds that depend on that habitat, have been declining throughout the northeastern U.S. The grasslands within Green lakes BCA represent the largest concentration of grassland habitat in the New York State Park system. This makes it a perfect shelter for grassland-breeding species including Northern Harrier (threatened), Bobolink, and Grasshopper Sparrow (special concern). In addition, the BCA contains a relatively large tract of interior forest, including old-growth forest, which provides important breeding habitat for mature forest birds, such as Ovenbird, eastern wood-pewee and wood thrush. Finally, the meromictic lakes, from which the BCA takes its name, provide stopover and foraging sites for many birds dependent upon open water, including Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Wood Duck.

The Green Lakes BCA is also in need of conservation. In the western portion of the Green Lakes State Park, the BCA’s important grassland habitat is currently undergoing succession, with shrubs and trees gradually becoming established within these fields. The majority of these woody plants are non-native invasive species. Continued establishment of woody plants will eliminate habitat for grassland-dependent bird species, many of which are state-listed. For this reason, NYS Parks has developed a grassland management plan to protect and conserve this important bird habitat.

The management plan calls for:

  • Removal of woody vegetation from critical fields, and maintaining these fields as grassland bird habitat through regular mowing (every two to three years).
  • Selective removal of hedgerows, which fragment the grasslands and provide travel corridors for nest predators such as raccoons
  • Removal of invasive species, such as Pale Swallow-wort. These non-native species have the potential to significantly transform the current habitat within the BCA, and reduce habitat quality for a wide range of birds.
  • Reducing the deer population. The deer population within the BCA is currently impacting the survival and regeneration of native vegetation, particularly within forested habitats.

For more information:

New York State Breeding Bird Atlas 2000, Maps and Species Lists 

OPRHP 2010, Green Lakes State Park Master Plan 

NYS Parks Bird Conservation Areas

The featured photo is the Green Lakes Bird Conservation Area at Green Lakes State Park. Photo by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.

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)

The official blog for New York State Parks & Historic Sites

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