Tag Archives: citizen science

Golden Opportunities at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park

Park OfficeOn February 24, 2009, two visitors to Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park were enjoying a sunny walk on Davis Road when two BIG birds flew overhead, going north.  “Golden Eagles!” exclaimed these experienced bird watchers.  Both were volunteers at the Delaware Otsego Audubon Society’s (DOAS) Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch which is known for its number of migrating Golden Eagles during the late fall.  The Golden Eagle is one of the largest raptors (birds of prey) in North America, not that common in eastern New York, but well worth keeping an eye out for.

During spring and fall migration, raptors use prominent ridges to save energy by riding updrafts that lift and/or push birds toward their destination.  On sunny days, warm air may spiral upward, creating thermals (columns of warm air) that lift birds to higher elevations.  Raptors soar and glide as much as possible, saving their own energy resources during the long journey.  In early spring, they are on their way to nesting territory.  For Golden Eagles coming through New York, that Destination is in Labrador, Quebec and Ontario, Canada.  Some Goldens stay the winter in our state, so in February it is hard to say if these were birds headed north or had been here all winter.

DOAS conducted Golden Eagle surveys at Davis Park in the spring of 2010, 2011, and 2012 with an average of 35 Goldens heading north each March.  Since then, area hawk watchers have counted raptors there when conditions seemed favorable, averaging 16 Goldens each March.  Data is collected by the Hawk Migration Association of North America and can be viewed at hawkcount.org.  (Look for DOAS-Davis State Park.)  It’s interesting to look at daily accounts to compare wind direction, wind speed, temperature and number of raptors identified, along with non-raptor sightings.

Diane_Graf photo
Wind break at sunset, Diane Graf, DOAS volunteer

Site supervisor Joe Ritton has been an enthusiastic supporter of the counting efforts at Davis Park.  He built a wind break for the team near cabins 4 and 5 in early March.  It provides shelter from the ever-present wind, and prevents spotting scopes from blowing over.  The view to the south, west and north are wonderful with the park elevation being 1971 feet.  Here’s a 360 panoramic view from a point above the wind break:

Take the virtual tour!

Golden_Eagle_1
Golden eagle in flight, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Golden_Eagle_1.jpg

Hawk watching requires patience, watching the sky until the exciting moment when a bird appears as a tiny dot in the distance and approaches, bringing many possibilities: Is it large or small? What type is it: a Buteo, Accipiter, Falcon, Harrier, Eagle, Osprey?  How many species are in a group of birds?  Is the bird an adult or is it immature?  The questions are many, and finding the answers is challenging.  Wind can keep birds far away, lighting can make colors seem to change, and birds show different shapes when seen at certain angles.  Practice is necessary to learn identification skills.  Spending time with an experienced counter at an established hawk watch is a wonderful way to learn.  Although Golden Eagles have been highlighted in this article, there will be many other species of raptors during migrations, too.  Look for Bald Eagles, Northern Goshawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Ospreys.

Aquila_chrysaetos_USFWS

Bring a chair, good binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one.  A beautiful, calm day is most appealing to the potential hawk watcher, but without wind there will be few raptors.  Good visibility is important and raptors don’t migrate in the rain, so look for snow, fog or rain in the forecast when planning whether or not to come for raptors.

Those who are interested in spending more than one day looking for raptors at the Park may wish to rent a cabin.  Barred Owls have been heard during the night as well a late in the day.  Peace and quiet prevail.

Post by Becky Gretton, DOAS member and golden eagle watch volunteer

Invasive Species Spotlight: Monitoring for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid appears as white fluffy balls on the underside of hemlock branches during the cooler months.
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid appears as white fluffy balls on the underside of hemlock branches during the cooler months.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) is a tiny, invasive insect which kills hemlock trees in a matter of 6 years. Please see the previous post on HWA for more information. The insect was introduced in Virginia in the early 1900’s, and has steadily spread since then. New York state contains all stages of HWA infestation. There are heavily infested areas like the lower Hudson Valley, which have harbored HWA for 20+ years and contain increasing numbers of declining and dead hemlocks. Moderately infested areas include the Finger Lakes, where some areas have HWA and some do not. Several HWA early detections were made in Western NY’s Allegany State Park by dedicated volunteers, trained by Park staff to survey for the insect. Allegany just has a few isolated patches of HWA, and State Parks is working to keep those patches small. So far, the Adirondacks have escaped infestation, but they are not immune.

map
This map shows the spread of HWA by township since 1987. Map from http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7250.html.

How do we know all this information? The first step in determining if HWA is present is simply to look for it. Surveying for HWA takes diligence; the insects’ most visible life stage is the egg sac, which is present in the fall and winter. A hand lens is necessary to identify the tiny adults in the summer. Primarily through grant funding and volunteers, Parks has surveyed for HWA in 20 State Parks, and that number increases every year.

Survey technique demonstration for volunteers in Allegany State Park.
Survey technique demonstration for volunteers in Allegany State Park.

After surveying, maps are created and examined and hemlock stands are prioritized for treatment. Prioritization is a rigorous process which includes collaboration with state and local experts. These experts ask questions like: Do dead/dying hemlocks pose a health and safety risk here? Is there an area of ecological significance, for example, an old growth stand or is there an insect or animal present which is dependent on hemlocks? Will the loss of hemlocks create a significant, negative change to aesthetics? Is this an area of early detection, where treatments could make a big difference?

Mark Whitmore, of Cornell University, gazing at a hemlock in serious decline at Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Mark Whitmore, of Cornell University, gazing at a hemlock in serious decline at Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

Treatment for HWA does exist. Parks has chosen our methods through regular consultation with experts, based not only on what works, but what has the least impact on the environment. Pesticides are carefully sprayed onto the bark of hemlock trees, in the spring or early fall. The pesticides are taken up rapidly through the bark and into the tree, where hemlock’s circulation system takes it throughout the tree, to all the little branches. The HWA will not survive on treated hemlocks for the next 7 years. While this is certainly not a permanent solution, it does buy us much needed time.

In conjunction with these treatments, Parks is also releasing biological control beetles. Biological control insects have an extensive approval process which can take a decade or more through the USDA. Many states have biological control review processes as well, including NY. These processes are designed to assess and evaluate the insect and its host specificity, the reproductive and cross breeding potential, and other factors. If, and only if, the insect is passes the host specificity and other tests, is it approved for release. Many biological control insects have been explored for control of HWA, one showing some promise is Laricobius nigrinus. These biological control beetles feed exclusively on HWA, and while they will not eliminate their food source, they can keep HWA populations in check so they are no longer killing hemlocks. While this is the ideal end result, it can take a decade or more before this is attained. Releasing a few hundred L. nirginus against millions of HWA means we need to buy time, through the use of pesticides, as these beetles work to increase their populations to levels where they can match HWA and keep it in balance.

Invasive insects are notoriously difficult to contain. While we may never stop the onward march of HWA, we can reduce the negative impacts of hemlock loss in specific areas through human intervention.

Sign up for an upcoming iMap Invasives training to learn how to report HWA when you spot it in State Parks’ forests.

Post and photos by Alyssa Reid.

 

 

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.