What is a BioBlitz? When I hear that word, images of scientists in white lab coats running madly about flash through my mind. Our first ever BioBlitz at Knox Farm State Park, while not so chaotic, certainly had people dashing about.
Unlike my visions, it was not a cadre of sprinting scientists in lab coats, but rather a gathering of researchers and volunteers clad in hiking boots, cargo pants and sun hats. With magnifiers and nets in hand, cameras and binoculars strung around their necks, these 32 intrepid investigators were ready to spread out. Their mission? Find and document as many living species as possible in the park – and do it in just two days
If this sounds like a hefty undertaking, it is. With 633 acres of grasslands, woods and wetlands, Knox is a large area to adequately survey in a short time. However, that is part of the fun of a BioBlitz. Since the word “blitz” is the German word for lightning, this event is about speed as well as efficiency.
These high-energy events are designed to bring together biologists, conservationists, hikers, naturalists, park goers and nature enthusiasts alike, so anyone can get involved. No expertise required… This is an opportunity to learn, explore and share all the incredible species that call our parks home. The best part is, when people spread out to tackle a larger area, the chances are better that someone will find something completely unexpected.
The stage set, so began the first ever Knox Farm State Park BioBlitz on the sunny weekend of August 22-23. Six field teams, each led by an expert, went on a search to survey targeted taxa such as birds, mammals, reptiles/amphibians, plants, invertebrates, and fungi. Guided hikes were led for each field team so participants could learn and share from other team members. BioBlitzers also had the option to tackle an assigned territory alone to help cover more of the park.
With keen eyes, the group found and documented more than 400 species! This was well above the expected number given the tight deadline. In total, our community scientists recorded 179 species of plants, 164 invertebrate species, 49 species of fungi and lichen, 39 species of birds, six species of mammals, five reptile and amphibian species, and two species of fish.
One highlight was the discovery of a new species of butterfly for the park, the Harvester. An uncommon species, the Harvester butterfly has the distinction of having the only carnivorous caterpillar in NorthAmerica, feeding on the woolly aphids of beech and alder trees, making it a great discovery indeed.
The data gathered during our BioBlitz will be incorporated in our Parks biota databases, which can be used for determining park conservation and management decisions.
For those interested in learning more about the BioBlitz, check out the Knox Farm State Park BioBlitz event page and explore all of the incredible discoveries for yourself. Don’t forget, while this BioBlitz was an organized group event, you can have your own personal BioBlitz whenever and wherever you’d like. You can even have a BioBlitz in your own backyard! This is a great way to learn about local nature and discover the incredible diversity we have in our own neighborhoods.
Remember, before surveying any land you do not own, be sure to contact the landowner for permission, and make sure to have any necessary permits needed to collect specimens. Many bioblitzes rely solely on photographic records, and having smart phone or tablet can make record-keeping easier. At Knox Farm, we used the iNaturalist app.
For those interested in learning more about Knox Farm State Park, which is located about 20 miles southeast of Buffalo in Erie county, there are year-round guided hikes are offered through the Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office. To help find your way around on your own, click HERE for a map.
See you at the next BioBlitz!
Cover Shot- BioBlitz participants practice COVID safety protocols.
Post by Matthew Nusstein, Environmental Educator – Niagara Region of New York State Parks
Learn about previous BioBlitzes at New York State Parks…
On May 3, 2014, over a hundred volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County and Clark Reservation State Park in Onondaga county for two concurrent Bioblitzes, 24-hour inventories of the park’s biodiversity. Our objectives were to search the park for as many rare species and natural communities in the … Continue reading BioBlitz results!→
1 Park 70 professional scientific volunteers 365 acres Countless plants and animals Well, maybe not countless… In fact, on May 3rd and 4th nearly 70 volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Clark Reservation State Park with one goal in mind: spend 24 hours searching for all the plants, animals, fungi, lichen, and even bacteria found … Continue reading Clark Reservation State Park Bioblitz→
Planning for a New York State Parks birding “big day” started before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world and lives. Originally, it called for a team of three to four birders to see how many species could be tallied in one day while visiting only State Parks during the height of spring migration in May.
Besides being a fun adventure, I wanted to highlight the fabulous birding opportunities for visitors to the State Parks in Western New York, and bring attention to habitat restoration projects in several parks that have enhanced the birding in the parks. The third week of May is the best time to see the most bird species in Western New York and it was perfect that my kids and wife were scheduled to be away for a trip to Boston.
While the school trip and the team approach didn’t work out due to COVID, my original target date of May 20th held up and I embarked on a solo, New York State Parks only, birding big day. Of course, this was done while wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from other Parks visitors as spelled out in these guidelines.
And the day started early…
* 4:40 a.m., Golden Hill State Park, Niagara County. While listening in the darkness for any vocalizing nocturnal birds, an Eastern Whip-poor-will sounded off like an emphatic alarm clock– “whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will!” This uncommon migrant to this region was the first great addition to my big day list. Two more heard vocalizing shortly thereafter in another part of the park to add to the excitement.
Many bird species started singing as sunrise approached and then after sunrise, I quickly realized that it was going to be a great day because there were warblers and other migrant birds all throughout the park.
I departed Golden Hill around 8:45 a.m. with 93 species, including 22 warbler species. I also realized that luck was working in my favor, as evidenced by one notable example. While scanning Lake Ontario with my spotting scope, I heard a Cerulean Warbler sing from some trees behind me. I turned away from the lake to go find this rare migrant and watched a pair of Sandhill Cranes fly by as I walked. Had I not turned when the warbler sang, I would have missed the cranes!
* Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, Four Mile Creek State Park, and Fort Niagara State Park, Niagara County, through 1 p.m. The lakeshore parks were all filled with migrant birds and it was tough to leave them even though I was well behind schedule at this point. With 109 species already, it was time to head south along the Niagara River for some species I had “staked out” in the weeks beforehand.
* 1:10 p.m. Joseph Davis State Park, Niagara County. Not only was the Pied-billed Grebe still present as I was hoping, but I found another sitting on a nest. After some quick photos to document the breeding activity of this State-listed threatened species for the New York Breeding Bird Atlas III project, I hiked the trails to find a few other likely breeding species that were present a week earlier. It’s rewarding to see that the vegetative habitat in the eastern part of the park is still in good shape after an invasive species removal and bird habitat restoration project was completed in 2013. I was involved in that project design through my employer Ecology and Environment Inc (E&E)., a WSP company, as part of grant funded project with Buffalo Audubon Society and Audubon New York.
*2 p.m. Artpark State Park, Niagara County. Even among local birders, not too many people think of Artpark as a birding destination; however, an upland grassland habitat was created on the Lewiston Plateau as part of a 2003 project involving E&E and the Village of Lewiston with funding from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund and Niagara County. This grassland has hosted Grasshopper Sparrows for years, and this year I discovered rare Clay-colored Sparrows there as well.
While I expected to get these two “staked out” species, I also picked up two nice bonus species with Black Vulture and Merlin, both seen flying from the expansive view looking toward the Niagara Gorge. My list was up to 120 species.
*2:45 to 4 p.m., Reservoir State Park and Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara County. A quick check of the Lewiston Reservoir provided an Osprey but not any hoped-for shorebird species. While Niagara Falls State Park is one of my favorite local places to go birding, I didn’t spend a lot of time there beyond picking up a few expected species in the afternoon on this warm day. Falling more behind schedule, I had to drop one of the planned stops and reluctantly passed by Buckhorn Island State Park, which is a great place to go birding. However, I felt that I had better chances of adding new species at other parks with less hiking time. I likely missed out on a few species there.
* 4:15 p.m. Beaver Island State Park, Erie County. This spring, the local birders have regularly visited the recently restored marsh habitat along the Niagara River in East River Marsh. Marsh birds have really taken to this location and I added a handful of species including Sora and Marsh Wren to my list. It’s been delightful to see such a rapid response from birds to this restored habitat. New York State Parks took on the design and construction project efforts with funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This serves as a great predecessor to some upcoming similar projects at Buckhorn Island State Park.
*5:50 p.m. Amherst State Park, Erie County. This is the park where the warmest day of the spring caught up with me through more than fatigue. I’m a regular visitor to the park in spring and fall for birding and family hikes but I’m always there in the early morning. I had never seen so many people in the park as on this visit and I knew right away that birding would be a challenge, as well as trying to maintain social distancing even though most in the park did not share that concern. I picked up two staked out species plus an obliging White-breasted Nuthatch, a common species that I was in danger of missing out on for the day.
*6:50 p.m. Woodlawn Beach State Park, Erie County. A walk on the beach on a beautiful evening with the sun starting to set over Lake Erie was picturesque but without any new shorebird or gull species that I was hoping to add. A Cooper’s Hawk seen from the parking lot kept up the streak of adding at least one new species at each park on the day.
*8 p.m. Knox Farm State Park, Erie County. The last stop was good to get Eastern Meadowlark and American Kestrel in the extensive grasslands and then the last addition for the day was a Wood Duck that I saw fly into the woods. With sunset nearly on hand, I called it a day and headed home.
And what a birding adventure it was. The final count was 138 species, which was much better than I was expecting. Other notable numbers were 185 miles by car, over 30,000 steps on foot, and 11 State Parks visited.
While I have known of the tremendous birding in these parks for many years, it was great to get out and experience so many of them in one big day. It only reinforced to me how important these parks are for providing bird habitat, and how habitat restoration projects I’ve been involved with professionally have improved bird habitat even more at several of the parks.
Birding has been one of the best ways for me and many others to get outside during these pandemic times. A big day is at the more extreme end of the birding hobby, and not the way for someone to start into birding. Visiting your local State Park is a great place to go and start out. For the more experienced birders, the bar has been set at 138 species for a New York State Parks (only!) big day. I’ll be interested to read about the efforts of others who try a similar adventure.
Cover Photo- Baltimore Oriole at Joseph Davis State Park. All photos by Mike Morgante.
By Mike Morgante, Senior Group Leader, Ecology and Environment Inc.
“Can you imagine anything freer and more exciting than when you, swiftly as a bird, zoom down the wood-clad hillsides while country air and spruce twigs whiz by your cheeks and eyes; brain and muscles tense, ready to avoid any unknown obstacle which any moment might be thrown in your path? You are one with your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive.”
— Fridtjof Nansen – Norwegian explorer, scientist, humanitarian and advocate for cross-country skiing, 1890
The use of skis to cross winter terrain dates back millennia, with the oldest-known image of a person on skis carved about 5,000 years ago into the rock of a Norwegian island.
When winter graces the state with snow, State Parks are a great place to enjoy cross-country skiing, with many miles of ski trails for all abilities, from beginner to expert across 104 state parks and eight historic sites spanning the state.
Known in shorthand as XC (or also as Nordic) skiing, this family-friendly sport is a full-body, low-impact cardio workout as well as a wonderful way to get outdoors during winter to see how beautiful the season can be. Skiing is quiet as well, so skiers often have a chance to spot wildlife (and also get a close look at its tracks) that has not been scared off by their approach.
After a promising December start for XC skiing, this season has suffered from a dearth of snow. Perhaps a snowstorm or two is still to come before spring, or if not, this list can be held until the start of next season. Always call ahead to check on snow conditions.
This online map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is a handy tool for getting a picture of snow cover across the state when planning a ski trip.
Either way, to help decide where to go in State Parks when conditions allow, here are some staff favorites. Check each park’s website for a map of their trails:
With 24 miles of trails, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area at Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, offers some of best groomed skiing in western New York. Novices can try the 3.5-mile Christian Hollow Trail, a loop with gentle grades, or the multi-use, 3.5-mile Red House Bike Path.
Intermediate skiers can try the 3.3-mile Patterson Trail, which is a former rail bed. There are parking areas at both ends of the gently sloping trail, so a shuttle trip can be done by leaving cars at both ends.
Other more adventurous skiers can tackle the Ridge Trail for a 7.7- mile trek geared to intermediate to advanced skiers.
Ski equipment rentals are available at the park’s gift shop at the Red House Administration Building. Trail reports can be found online here.
Finger Lakes Region
The extensive trail network at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area in Springwater, Livingston County, has grooming and is about an hour’s drive south of Rochester. Be prepared to share some of the trails with fat tire bikers on occasion.
A golf course can be a great place for novices to learn and practice, since such terrain is open, free of obstructions and tends not to be very steep. Going doing hill as a beginner? Remember to hold those skis in a “V” shape to control your downhill speed as you test out the friendly terrain at Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twain State Park in Horseheads, Chemung County.
There are 12 miles of trails at Selkirk Shores State Park in Pulaski, Oswego County. A staff favorite is a beginner/intermediate three-mile loop that incorporates the Front Pond Trail, Pine Grove Trail, a section of the 52C snowmobile trail, and Red Fox Trail, before returning to the Pine Grove Trail
Verona Beach State Park, in Verona Beach, Onedia County, offers miles of trails where they might encounter wildlife like white tailed deer, squirrels, foxes, and more. The two-mile Hog’s Back Trail loop follows a natural rise along Verona Beach’s massive swamp. Keep your eyes open at the overlooks for a potential glimpse of the nest of a mated pair of bald eagles.
There are about 15 miles of trails at Gilbert Lake State Park in Laurens, Otsego County. The mile-long trail around the namesake lake is periodically groomed, as is the two-mile Ice Pond Trail to the Twin Fawns Lake Trail.
In Wyoming County, head for Letchworth State Park in Castile, and its Humphrey Nature Center and the Winter Recreation Area at Trailside Lodge. Here, there are three beginner trails, each about 1.5 miles long.
The park contains seven different parking areas to access about 15 miles of (usually ungroomed) trails. Glide through old-growth forest on the Gravel Loop and the Bishop Woods Loop. For great views of the spectacular Great Bend Gorge, check out the Chestnut Lawn Loop.
Long Island Region
There are two ungroomed trails at the Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, Suffolk County _ the 1.5-mile beginner Green Trail that goes through woods, fields and wetlands, and the 1-mile Orange Trail that offers view of Willow Pond.
At the Connetquot River State Park Preservein Oakdale, Suffolk County, there are many miles of marked hiking trails that can be skied. There is no grooming, and trails range from one to eight miles in length. The preserve includes an historic former sportsmen’s club and a newly-restored 18th century gristmill.
About six miles of ungroomed trails, ranging from intermediate to advance, are found at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, Suffolk County. Take the Field 4 Trail to ski through woods before reaching overlooks for Sunken Meadow Creek and Long Island Sound. No skiing is allowed on the golf course.
At Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, Erie County, explore the Outer Loop Trail that begins at the Red Barn Parking Lot. A 2.7-mile trail suitable for beginners, it meanders through open pastures and fields, with some short legs through forests and views of farmlands and valleys.
Explore trails at Evangola State Park in Irving, Chautauqua County, to capture views of Lake Erie. The trail network covers about five miles, with the Rim Trail running along the edge of the lake.
At Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, Schoharie County, start at the park office for the moderate, three-mile Long Path/Bluebird Trail Loop, which offers sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley and the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir. Snowshoes and a small assortment of XC skis are free to borrow from the Park Office with a small deposit.
The moderate/intermediate Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park in Grafton, Rensselaer County is a two-mile loop around the pond, where you can often see signs of beaver activity. The trail has some roots and rocks, so be mindful of snow cover. The park office rents snowshoes, but not skis.
Skiers have been going to Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, Albany County, for years because of its extensive trail network. Try out the lesser-used North Zone of the park, and its Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail, a three-mile intermediate loop through fields and forests. Use the Carrick Road parking area.
Beginners can practice on groomed trails that run for a total of three miles through the camping loops and around the lake at Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau, Saratoga County. There is skiing on ungroomed trails through the rest of the park.
While there are no marked or groomed trails for skiing at James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, the park’s golf course and many small, undulating hills there are a great place for beginners to practice climbing, turning, slowing and (maybe a little) falling.
Skiers could spend days touring the 25 miles of carriage roads at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville, Westchester County. Some favorites are the beginners’ 1.15-mile Brothers Path/Swan Lake Carriage Road, with views of the lake; the Thirteen Bridges/Gory Brook Carriage Roads, which along 2.5 miles of intermediate terrain offer view of the Pocantico River and waterfalls; and the intermediate Rockwood Hall Middle, Lower and Foundation Loop Carriage Roads, that go past the Hudson River.
There are 12 miles of trails at Fahnestock Winter Park in Carmel, Putnam County. Equipment rentals are available at the lodge, which also marks the start of the popular Lake Trail. Weather permitting, trails are also groomed on the lake. The trail will take you by a beaver lodge, over the dam built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and past many small islands.
Cross-country skiing at Old Croton AqueductState Historic Park in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County can be as near as one’s own backyard, as most of the ungroomed 26-mile trail is bordered by homes. As the park is level, the area is great for those who are new to the sport.
The Aqueduct is crossed by many streets, and the best cross-country skiing is found in the sections with the fewest road crossings. Top on the list is the section from Gory Brook Road in Sleepy Hollow to Country Club Lane in Scarborough, about two and a half miles of level trail through the woods. This section connects to Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Those who like hills should enter Rockefeller Preserve just north of the Weir chamber and follow the Peggy’s Way trail south for some gentle hills before returning to the Aqueduct.
Another popular area is at the northernmost section by the Croton Dam. Here the trail clings to the sides of a steep gorge through which runs the Croton River. The Gorge is a park of its own, operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation and called the Croton Unique Area. Only two lightly-traveled roads cross the 2.5 miles of wooded Aqueduct trail as it heads south to Croton.
Curiously the most densely-populated area through which the trail runs also features a fine area for skiing. This section, likewise of about 2.5 miles, has two road crossings, but almost all of it runs through the woods, with unparalleled winter views of the Hudson River and Palisades.
There are stunning clifftop views from trails at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Kerhonkson, Ulster County. Being free of rocks, roots and other obstructions, the 16-mile network of carriage trails are wide and “skiable” even with only a few inches of snow.
Thousand Island Region
At Robert Moses State Park in Massena, St. Lawrence County, there are more than five miles of trails through the woods and along the St. Lawrence River in NY. The Nicandri Nature Center offers ski and snowshoe loans for all ages as well as ski instruction.
In the western Adirondacks, Higley Flow State Park in Colton, St. Lawrence County, has the popular 1.3-mile Overlook Trail that passes through a pine and spruce forest. This trail connects with the Backcountry Trail (1.9 miles) and the Warm Brook trail (1.6 miles) for those wishing to challenge themselves further.
This is just a sampling of the ski trails at State Parks. So, when snow is on the ground, grab your skis, and get out there!
Cover Photo: Skiers at Saratoga Spa State Park. All photos by State Parks.
By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks
Read this history of cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks.