Tag Archives: Bear Mountain State Park

Efforts to Control Invasive Species in Parks Gain a Four-Footed Team Member

One sniff at a time, an energetic Labrador retriever named Dia is changing the way we combat invasive species in New York State Parks.

Along with her handler Joshua Beese, this invasives-fighting team from the nonprofit New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is on the hunt for Scotch broom, a threat to the native ecosystems in Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Dia uses her powerful sense of smell to help find small and sparsely distributed invasive species that might be missed by human searchers. Since November 2018, her incredible nose has been specially trained to sniff out the invasive plant Scotch broom.

Joshua Beese with Dia. Photo by nynjtc.org

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius)is one of the most destructive invasives on the Pacific Coast, where it has had costly implications for agricultural industries. When it began showing up in New York’s parks, land managers became concerned. Scotch broom forms dense clusters that can displace native plant species and reduce biodiversity that is essential for a healthy ecosystem.

The Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (LHPRISM), which works to minimize the harm caused by invasives, ranks Scotch broom as a tier 2 priority invasive species. That means it is present in such low numbers in the Lower Hudson Valley that with proper action it could be completely eradicated from the area before the population becomes established.

Scotch broom plant in flower on May 2015 at Harriman State Park. Photo by Shelby Timm, nynjtc.org.

The New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Team and the Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force (ISF) Crew of AmeriCorps members, volunteers, and interns have collaborated over the past several years in a bid to eradicate Scotch broom in the region. The ISF Crew has been finding and removing Scotch broom in state parks since 2014, when 37 separate populations were recorded at Bear Mountain and Harriman.

A Scotch broom infestation at Harriman State Park in 2014. Photo by Jennifer Breen, nynjtc.org
After the Scotch broom removal . Photo by Jennifer Breen, nynjtc.org

While a few locations no longer have any plants, other locations are harder to manage. It becomes challenging to find the few remaining individuals among all the other vegetation, which means this destructive plant could still propagate. That’s where Dia comes in!

“Dia first comes into the field with her nose up, smelling what’s in the air, working to detect the Scotch broom scent,” explains handler Beese. “She’s using what are called scent cones; she works her way into a cone and uses that cone to help her narrow down the source.”

Once in a cone, she will search until she gets to the source and put her nose to the ground to sniff out smaller plants that may be tiny and low to the ground. She alerts Beese that she’s found the species by standing or sitting. “The most important thing is that she’s committed to an area where she’s detected the plant until I come and reward her,” Beese says. “Then we can mark it and remove it.”

Dia’s reward: Her ball on a rope with a game of tug and fetch. See Dia in action by following her on Instagram @diasavestheforest.

Dia on the hunt for invasives. Photo by Arden Blumenthal, nynjtc.org

Utilizing their exceptional sense of smell, dogs have been commonly used for search and rescue, as well as weapons and narcotics detection. These tracking and detection skills are now being used to protect our wild spaces. In 2010, the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management published a study that concluded trained dogs could smell and detect twice the number of invasive plants that humans could observe with their eyes.

Although other groups have used dogs for short projects to detect of invasive species, the Trail Conference’s Conservation Dog Program is the first permanent program of its kind in the Northeast.

This is Dia’s first season in the field; she has already been on more than 20 surveying trips. In several instances, the Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force Crew had been to a site and completely removed every plant they were able to find—and then Dia found a few more.

Trail Conference Conservation Corps members removing Scotch broom plants in 2016. The flags indicate where plants have been removed. Photo by Matt Simonelli, nynjtc.org

Dia came to the Trail Conference from a farm in Wisconsin that breeds dogs for hunting competitions. She was selected for the program by Beese, an experienced search and rescue dog handler, who is assisted by volunteer Arden Blumenthal. He has trained Dia with the mentorship of Aimee Hurt from Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana, an organization that has been working with dogs on conservation projects for more than 20 years.

In a metropolitan region highly prone to invasive infestations, early detection when populations are small is a key component of successful invasive species management. Not only does Dia make search-and-destroy efforts more thorough within infestations, she is also able to find stray plants outside the known boundaries where people had focused their searches. Dia helps make sure the area is really cleared to reduce the potential for reinfestation or further spread. With better search efficiency, it should be possible to declare New York State parks Scotch broom-free in the near future. 

Crew from New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Team removing a Scotch broom plant. Phot by Linda Rohleder, nynjtc.org

Up next for Dia is slender false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), an invasive grass that can outcompete existing vegetation, including threatened and endangered species, and harm wildlife populations by altering food sources. Slender false brome has recently been found in Letchworth State Park, and this location will serve as a training ground for Dia.

***UPDATE: Dia and her team recently went to Letchworth State Park, where they did find the invasive slender false brome in areas where surveyors had missed it.

Conservation dogs can learn to detect up to three new species each year, meaning Dia’s incredible talents will continue to develop. “In three or four years,” Beese says, “we’ll be pushing forward the science on what can be done with invasive species detection using dogs.”

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Conservation Dog team, from left, Arden Blumenthal, Dia, and Joshua Beese. Photo by Heather Darley, nynjtc.org

Post by Linda Rohleder, Director of Land Stewardship, New York – New Jersey Trail Conference and Coordinator, Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM)

Marsh Madness: Restoration of Iona Marsh from Invasive Phragmites

Iona Island, located along an elbow of the Hudson River in Bear Mountain State Park, is technically an archipelago of three islands connected by marshlands. Iona has had many owners in its storied history, prior to being bought by New York State in the 1960s. The Island was host to Native American tribes for thousands of years, who took advantage of the plentiful shellfish along its shores. In the last few hundred years, it has been the site of an unsuccessful vineyard, a hotel and weekend destination for NYC residents, a U.S. Navy arsenal, and a partially built park recreation area. The eastern side of the island past the railroad tracks has been closed to the public since the 1980s, but a small portion of the island consisting of the five remaining Navy buildings is used for storage for the Palisades Interstate Park system. The rest of the island has returned to a more natural state of woods, meadows, and rocky outcroppings and serves as a sanctuary for wintering bald eagles.  The island achieved National Natural Landmark status in 1974, and was designated a NYS Bird Conservation Area and Audubon Important Bird Area shortly thereafter.

A key natural feature at Iona is the extensive marshlands, 153 acres in all, flanking its western side.  Part of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve (HRNERR), this brackish tidal marsh (marshes with water that has different concentrations of salt depending on the tides) teams with life including fish, waterfowl, waterbirds, plants, and crustaceans. In recent times, the rich biodiversity of the marsh, including a number of state rare species, has been threatened by Phragmites australis, or as it is more widely known, common reed.

Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a plant that was likely brought to the US from Europe and Asia in the 1800s through ship ballast or the water taken in by ships to allow them to balance on long voyages. Commonly referred to as just Phragmites, this non-native plant is invasive in the U.S., displacing and crowding out native plant species, such as cattails, rushes, asters, and many others. In turn, the presence of this species has undermined the complex web of marsh dependent organisms.

The non-native Phragmites is identifiable by its tall stature, dark blue-green leaves, and tendency to form dense stands, with little to no possibility for native species to grow in the areas that they occupy. A native species of phragmites (Phragmites americanus) occurs in NY as well, but this smaller plant with reddish stems grows with less density so it does not crowd out other flora.

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Iona Island Marsh in 2008 before treatment. Phragmites dominate the background.

The phragmites problem at Iona Marsh began in the early 1960s, when the first small colony appeared near a pipe draining into the marsh. Over the next 40 years, phragmites steadily expanded until it covered nearly 80 percent of the marsh area. Researchers tracking these changes noted a concurrent decline in marsh specialist birds and specialized brackish marsh plants, including state rarities.  In an effort to reverse these trends, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, while partnering with Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Highlands Environmental Research Institute, started a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) funded management program in 2008 focused on a 10-acre test area. The goal was to reduce the invasive phragmites, and make room for native plants to once again occupy the area. If the program was successful in this small area (1/15th of the marsh), it could be expanded to additional marshlands.

A multi-faceted control and monitoring program has been developed and implemented and the results have been dramatic. More than 90% of the phragmites was eliminated within one year and nearly 97% by the third year. Researchers saw the return of huge meadows of annual native marsh plants, including some state-threatened species, followed by perennial cattail stands. Marsh specialist birds such as Virginia rail, least bittern (State-threatened), and marsh wren followed soon thereafter.  Based on this success, the project was expanded to an adjacent 32-acre area of the marsh known as Ring Meadow. Both areas now have less than five percent Phragmites cover, an overall success on the journey to reestablish native vegetation.

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Map of the Iona Island Marsh Treatment Areas

While complete eradication of the Phragmites may be impossible to achieve, success can be maintained through continued monitoring and spot treating remaining and new patches.  Bird and vegetation surveys are conducted annually, as are measurements of sediment build-up on the marsh surface, as it relates to sea level rise.  The goal remains to restore the native plant communities in the marsh to promote biodiversity. A healthy, native marsh community will lead to increased productivity and habitats for fish, birds, and mammals – many of them specially adapted to the brackish conditions at Iona.  With continued management, the long-term outlook is positive for this Hudson River jewel, one of only four large brackish marshes on the Hudson.

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Ring Meadow in 2016. Cattail and blooming Rose Mallow have regrown where phragmites once were.

Interested in seeing Iona Marsh for yourself? While public canoeing and kayaking are not allowed in the marsh itself to protect this unique place, through collaboration with the State Parks, NYS DEC offers free public canoe programs each summer.  Not a fan of getting on the water? Iona Island is accessible by road. There is a parking lot approximately ½ mile onto the island, right before the railroad tracks (the boundary of the public accessible areas), where you can park and view the marsh. Lucky visitors may spot waterfowl, muskrats, frogs, turtles, wetland birds, deer, or even bald eagles!

Photo credit:   PIPC Archives

Dr. Ed McGowan,  2017 Annual Report Iona Island Marsh

Post by Jesse Predmore, SCA

Edited by: Dr. Ed McGowan & Chris O’Sullivan

Featured image: lulun & kame accessed from Flickr

Trails Accessible To All

Early October is such a great time for families to get out and enjoy our parks: October skies are generally clear, colorful fall foliage enhances any scenic vista, and the cool fall days encourages all of us to explore the outdoors. State Parks has accessible trails (trails for people with diverse abilities) that all family members can enjoy autumn’s beauty.   If you are looking for an accessible trail to explore this fall, check out one of these trails!

The newest state park in Western New York (WNY) was created with a focus on providing access to the Buffalo waterfront and recreational opportunities for the whole community. In just four years, Buffalo Harbor State Park has become a popular destination with universally accessible shelters, docks, nautical-themed playground, and accessible van parking. The paved multi-use trail with shaded sitting areas and lighting, connects visitors with a beautiful view of Lake Erie and the path along the newly rehabilitated break wall provides one of the best views of the city. Buffalo Harbor is also a stop on the Shoreline Trail and the gateway to the Empire State Trail, the 750 mile trail that connects WNY to New York City along the Erie Canal.

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You never know who you will meet along the trail. At Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, visitors chat with a War of 1812 reenactor along the trail.

Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail tells the story of Sackets Harbor and the pivotal role it played during the War of 1812 through ten interpretive panels along the three-quarter mile loop trail.  Additional panels highlight other historical aspects of the site including the 1860s Sackets Harbor Navy Yard and the importance of historic preservation. This accessible trail offers views of the 1860s Navy Yard structures, the 1913 War of 1812 Centennial 100-maple tree grove, the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps decorative stonewall, abundant birdlife, and unsurpassed views of Black River Bay on the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The three-quarter mile trail was listed as a National Recreation Trail in 2015.

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High atop Bear Mountain, along a 0.4-mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a popular trail enables everyone the opportunity to hike along the AT, that famous trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.  From the trail, visitors can see the Hudson Valley and if it is clear, the Catskill Mountains.

Observation deck sunset
Allegany State Park Red House Wetland Interpretive Trail at sunset.

Allegany State Park’s Red House Wetland interpretive trail, constructed in the fall of 2016, brings visitors right into the heart of a diverse and constantly-changing scrub-shrub wetland located near Red House Lake. With the construction of America Disability Act -compliant boardwalks and crushed stone trails, this overlooked and all but impassable wetland habitat has become a popular destination accessible to all. A large observation deck, wildlife blind, and earthen viewing mound frame beautiful landscape views and offer an up-close look at the plants and animals inhabiting this essential ecosystem. Visitor experience is enhanced by a year-round schedule of educational programs and a collection of interpretive features that emphasize important aspects of wetland biodiversity, ecosystem benefits, stewardship values, and more. Everyone is welcome to visit Red House wetland and experience a landscape that can change practically overnight…you never know what you’ll see!

If you are looking to explore the shore, then check out either the boardwalk and the bike path at Jones Beach State Park.  An entry to the five-mile bike path is on the east side of the park’s East Bathhouse parking lot.  The path travels along Zach Bay, where you can pause to watch the boats in the bay, look for migrating birds, and listen to chirping crickets.  If you are looking for an ocean view, then head over to the Jones Beach Boardwalk, a two-mile boardwalk on the beach.  There are two entrances to the boardwalk one in Field 1, the other in Field 6.

Before you head out, check out our trail tips.

State Park offer safe and enjoyable places to explore and discover New York’s great outdoors throughout the year. venture out and experience the vast network of trails across the state in every season. Don’t miss out on one of the best times to visit. Enjoy State Parks trails this fall.

Additional Resources

Accessibility in New York State Parks

Trails Day 2011 044
Bear Mountain State Park Accessible Trail

The Folklore of the Woolly Bear

Finding a banded woolly bear caterpillar during a walk in the woods leaves no doubt that autumn is upon us.  These familiar black and reddish-brown caterpillars are larval Isabella moths.

The woolly bears that we see in the fall are the second generation of woolly bears for the year; the first generation hatched out in May.  This second generation of woolly bears emerged back in August.  Since then , they have eaten leaves from a variety of plants from grasses to clover to trees and sunflowers.  Once the cold weather hits, the woolly bear finds a sheltered spot like rotted log, or under a rock, or in a pile of leaves, to overwinter. When the temperatures drop below freezing, woolly bears also freeze.  Fortunately woolly bears have a cryoprotectant, a natural sugar-based antifreeze which protects the caterpillar’s tissues from being damaged when it freezes.  In spring, woolly bears emerge from their sheltered spot, eat a few more leaves then make their cocoons and undergo metamorphosis to become an Isabella moth.

Moth
By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Folklore has it that woolly bears predict the severity of the upcoming winter based on the proportion of black and reddish brown banding on the caterpillar’s body.  A thin reddish brown band means we are in for a tough winter.

But is this folklore true?  Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (1928-1960) traveled to Bear Mountain State Park in 1948 to find out.  On a single day, he gathered as many woolly bears as he could find, compared the reddish brown segment to the black segment, then reported his findings and a winter weather prediction to a reporter at the New York Herald Tribune.  Dr. Curran continued his study for eight more years and was never able to conclude whether the woolly bear was able to predict the winter.

More recently scientists have found that the size of the reddish-brown band increases as caterpillar matures and that wet weather increases the size of the black bands.

While woolly bears may not be an accurate forecaster of the upcoming winter, they are still a delight to see during a visit to a park.  Perhaps you’ll see one curled in a ball or looking for the next leaf to eat.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

 

Sammi’s Story

Up close observations of bald eagles are rare and usually reserved for biologists and dedicated naturalists, however if you have been to Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park over the last 30 years, then you have probably had an intimate encounter with Samantha, our impressive resident bald eagle. Affectionately known as Sammi, she has been greeting visitors since 1985.

Her story began in southeastern Alaska in the early spring of 1984. In the nest, her mother laid two eggs several days apart. Both parents took turns keeping the eggs warm and hunting for food. About thirty-five days later, Sammi and her sibling hatched from the eggs. Mom and Dad hunted continuously to feed their very hungry baby eaglets and themselves. The eaglets grew bigger and stronger and soon they would be getting ready to learn to fly, also known as fledging.

Meanwhile, Research Scientist and Endangered Species Unit Leader Peter Nye and a team of biologists from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Endangered Species Unit had traveled to southeastern Alaska. As part of New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Project, they collected nestling bald eagles from 1976 through 1989, restoring New York State’s declining eagle population, which had been decimated by hunting, habitat destruction and widespread use of the pesticide DDT. On July 17, 1984, Mr. Nye climbed up Sammi’s tree and collected her and her sibling. They were put into crates and transported, along with 30 other young eagles, back to New York State.

Sammi and about half of the eagles were transported to a site in the Adirondacks, while the others went to a site in Albany County. The young eagles were raised to independence through a process called hacking. Living in artificial nests, called hacking towers, they were fed by hidden human hands, until fully feathered, when they were released to learn to fly and hunt from the towers. Sammi was released on August 31, 1984. She fledged from the tower on September 2 and returned to it on September 7. She left the hacking area entirely on September 20. DEC personnel last had contact with her on November 2 on Sacandaga Reservoir, near Northville, NY. Winter was coming, so Sammi migrated south.

Unfortunately for Sammi, she would barely get to know the usual rewards for migrating south, warmer weather and open water for fishing. She was found injured on the ground on December 27 in Woodleaf, North Carolina by a private citizen. She was taken to Dr. Brown of the Carolina Raptor Rehabilitation Clinic, where it was discovered that she had been shot with a .22 caliber firearm, which broke one metacarpal in her right wing. Dr. Brown and his staff spent an extensive amount of time and effort trying to rehabilitate her, but to no avail. Even with surgically placed pins and replacement of dead bone, the damage was irreversible. She was returned to New York on April 17, 1985, where Dr. Edward Becker surgically removed the right wing at the wrist joint.

Samantha was transported to Trailside Museums and Zoo on May 10, 1985 on a permanent loan as an educational specimen. She is a very proud and feisty bird, keeping the zookeepers on their toes whenever they have to enter her enclosure. She keeps her feathers very well groomed and always seems to maintain an aura of majesty. It is difficult not to utter an ‘ooh’ or an ‘ah’ when coming upon her. She can be very vocal, delighting and sometimes startling passersby with her piercing call. While we know that Sammi would much rather have spent the last 30 years living her life in the wild, she remains an excellent ambassador of her magnificent species, providing daily lessons on power, grace and hope. The Bald Eagle Restoration Project was an astounding success. There are now more than 170 pairs of bald eagles nesting in New York State.

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Photos courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

Sources:

Post by Chris O’Sullivan, Environmental Educator at Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park.