Fans of NY State Parks are all geared up for the 2014 I Love My Parks Day, but this year State Parks, with help from the New York Natural Heritage Program, will also be running the 2nd annual Bioblitz. A BioBlitz is a time-limited survey of the number and types of species that live in a given area. On “I Love My Park Day,” scientific professionals and experts will take part in BioBlitzes at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Clark Reservation State Park. Over a 24-hour period, our experts will document as many species, communities and habitats as possible while focusing their efforts on rare plants, animals, and ecological communities in the parks.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, A group of students from SUNY ESF created a great video explaining the highlights of Clark Reservation State Park, I Love My Parks Day, and the 2nd annual Bioblitz
featured image is of Broom Crowberry, a species of interest at the Minnewaska bioblitz. Photo by Kimberley J. Smith, NYNHP
Spring is here and you know what that means! The birds are coming back in force and they are all looking for places to build a sturdy nest. One of the ways Grafton Lakes State Park helps our feathered friends is by providing pre-fab nest boxes. The two targeted audiences are the wood ducks and bluebirds, although other birds take advantage of the boxes as well. Wood ducks and bluebirds have each suffered population declines in the recent past, partially due to human interference. By providing these special nesting boxes, we can help bring the populations back up to snuff!
Wood ducks’ natural nesting cavities usually consist of a hollow nook in a tree, made over the years by a branch rotting away, or an old woodpecker feeding site. It also needs to be near water. Wood ducks are unique in that they are one of the only ducks equipped with strong claws on their feet enabling them to climb branches in order to build nests.
Because dead snags are seen as a danger to humans, the trees that wood ducks like to nest in are often cut down. Grafton Lakes State Park has so many bodies of water it is the perfect place to put up some nest boxes. Earlier this year we patrolled the 15 sites spread out over 5 ponds, cleaned out old nest material and refilled them with new wood shavings. If a duck chooses to use the box, the female will supplement the wood shavings with down feathers, and lay 6-10 eggs. Wood ducks have two broods each year. The chicks will hatch out in about 30 days with a full coat of down and are mobile within 2 days, jumping from the nest and waddling their way to the water. About 40% of the Grafton Lake boxes are occupied by wood duck broods each year, the rest used by owls, squirrels and other critters.
The bluebirds face a different challenge- their populations have been impacted by increasing land development. Bluebirds need nests that are high enough to deter predators and enable them to look out on an open area where plenty of bugs can be found (like the edge of a farm field or large yard). The other challenge to bluebirds is the increase of invasive species competing for the same type of nest. European starlings and house sparrows are both aggressive birds that will kill bluebird parents, chicks and eggs they find in order to claim a nest box for themselves. While starlings are not usually an issue with properly made nest boxes, the house sparrows should never be allowed to occupy a box.
The Assistant Park Naturalists at Grafton held an educational program in the beginning of April about bluebirds. Almost 20 people attended; a lot of great nest boxes were made and brought home to spruce up personal yards. These bluebird boxes will become part of the successful citizen science project that has been helping bluebird population numbers rebound since the 1970s.
Just a few days ago, the bluebird nest boxes at Grafton Lakes got their first check up. After knocking on the box to inform any birds of our presence, we checked for signs of nest building and cleaned out any bugs that had overwintered in the boxes. Bluebirds build their nests from dry grass or pine needles, and we did see both a partially constructed nest and one that was completed. Hopefully soon we will be hearing little bluebird voices in Grafton!
If you’re interested in helping these beautiful birds there are many websites that have nest box instructions and dimensions for building your own box. Just make sure your box has adequate drainage holes, ventilation and weather protection.
Put up a box this spring, grab your binoculars and settle in to see some amazing sights of nature in your own backyard!
2014 is the Year of the Salamander! New York State Parks is coordinating with the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) to raise awareness of salamanders and aid in the effort to improve global salamander conservation, education, and research efforts.
Visit PARC online to learn more about this organization and about the Year of the Salamander, and visit our Facebook page each month for a blurb about salamanders in NYS.
NYS Parks is celebrating Earth Day 2014 with the official launch of our blog, Nature Times, produced by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. While you can find all the information you need on the locations, amenities, and policies of state parks at the official NYSParks.com website, this blog will provide information on the ongoing projects, programming, recent wildlife sightings, and general subjects of interest that relate to the New York Parks system. For our first post, we’d like to look forward to the new growth that comes in the early spring.
Each year, as the snow begins to melt and it seems like warm weather is right around the corner, the spring ephemerals push their way out of the cold, muddy ground and give us the first glimpse of spring color at the end of the long, grey winter.
The spring ephemerals are a group of perennial plants that emerge in early spring for a short period of time in which they grow, reproduce, and then die back down to their roots until the next year.
Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. photo: Manfred Mielke, USDA Forest Service
Hepatica nobilis photo: Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service
Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullata. photo: Stephen M. Young, NYNHP
Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. photo: Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service
The adaptive strategy of spring ephemerals is most common in deciduous forests because it allows small plants to take advantage of the high levels of sunlight that reach the forest floor before all the trees regrow their leaves.
Click on the pictures in the photo gallery to get a closer look at a few of the spring ephemerals we can find in New York State Parks in the coming months, and as you’re watching outside for the appearance of spring flowers, don’t forget to check for new posts each week on NYS Parks Nature Times!
It’s certainly been cold this winter, but current low temperatures, combined with the recent effects of the polar vortex, may deliver unexpected benefits this spring. Foresters and scientists in New York have been fighting against the rapid expansion of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect which kills ash trees in alarming numbers. The long winter freeze may provide a much-needed advantage against these tiny invaders.
The emerald ash borer is a beetle which arrived in the United States on untreated wood pallets used for shipping from China. In Asia and Russia, the emerald ash borer is kept in check by predators and the natural resistance of ash trees which have had thousands of years to adapt defenses against this parasitic insect. American ash trees, however, have no defenses against this exotic species.
Since they were first identified in Michigan in 2002, emerald ash borers have expanded across the Northern and Eastern United States and killed over 50 million American ash trees. In 2009, these pests were first identified in New York’s Cattaraugus County, posing a new and potentially devastating threat to New York’s forests.
Emerald ash borers kill ash trees by boring underneath the bark into order to lay their eggs. Once hatched, larva feed upon the tree’s living tissue, killing it slowly over the course of 2-3 years.
In wintertime, ash borer larva shelter underneath the bark of ash trees, however, extreme cold temperatures, like we have been experiencing, can freeze the larva even underneath the bark layer and slow down the population growth of this pernicious pest. However, it takes more than just a few hours below zero in the morning to hurt EABs, but sustained sub-zero temperatures could potentially kill a significant portion of the Emerald Ash Borer population. Because EAB larvae shelter deep under the tree’s bark at the base of the trunk and even in the upper roots, where a snow layer can keep them insulated from extreme cold and the tree itself regulates their temperature, they are relatively adept at surviving in cold climates.
For example, this winter at Taughannock State Park near Cayuga Lake, the temperature was never recorded below -8°F (-22°C) and we found Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, another pernicious invasive insect, mortality to be about 88%. On the other hand, at Mine Kill State Park in the northern Catskills, temperatures got to -24°F (-31°C) and we found only about 72% mortality.
For this reason, we can expect the polar vortex to temporarily slow down the expansion of EAB, but management and surveying efforts will continue to be necessary into the future.