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)

Benthic Barriers in Rudd Pond

No one likes to hop into the water on a hot day and find a slimy, tangled forest of plants. In many state parks, aquatic invasives plants encroach on public swimming areas, ruining recreational areas as well as habitat for native species in the same lakes and ponds. At Rudd Pond in Taconic State Park in Columbia County, a simple management strategy may prove to be an effective way to protect a swim area against unpleasant and unwelcome weeds.

Eurasian watermilfoil and water chestnut grow densely along the shoreline of Rudd Pond.
Eurasian watermilfoil and water chestnut grow densely along the shoreline of Rudd Pond.

Rudd Pond, at the southern end of Taconic State Park, is a popular swimming and fishing area, supporting populations of panfish, largemouth bass, and chain pickerel. Unfortunately, the pond also supports thriving populations of aquatic invasive species including water chestnut, curly pondweed, and Eurasian watermilfoil.

Benthic barriers are porous mats that are placed on the bottom of a lake or pond. They restrict sunlight from reaching the lake bottom in the areas where they are installed. The absence of sunlight restricts the growth of aquatic plants.

The benthic barrier mats were placed all around the swimming area.
The benthic barrier mats were placed all around the swimming area.

The benthic mats are used to create a buffer zone to prevent aquatic invasive species from threatening the utility of the public swimming area. An aquatic weed harvester is used to cut the plants below the surface in the main part of the pond. However, harvesters do leave behind fragments of plants that can regrow. There is no single perfect solution to managing aquatic invasives, but the use of several management strategies continues to show improvement at Rudd Pond.

The mats were assembled on land, and then the water quality unit placed them in the water
The mats were assembled on land, and then the water quality unit placed them in the water. Some park staff donned SCUBA suits to position the deeper mats!

Check out the NYS Parks poster on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species

Featured image is of curly-leafed pondwater underwater adjacent to the Rudd Pond swimming area. Photos and post by Paris Harper.

95 Years of Environmental Education

This August, the Regional Nature Museums at Harriman State Park, Orange County, will be celebrating 95 years of environmental education. Instituted in 1919 by Benjamin “Uncle Bennie” Babbit Talbot Hyde, the nature program at Harriman is one of the longest-running in the country. Currently, the Regional Nature Museums consists of four facilities at Tiorati, Twin Lakes, Kanawake, and Stahahe, supported by the Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center at Bear Mountain State Park.

Celebrate 95 of nature education at Kanawake Museum at 10am on August 8th. This free event will feature programs and games run by the museum staff, including storytelling, animal demonstrations, museum tours, local history, and much more!

For more information, see the NYS Parks events calendar

The official blog for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

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