Tag Archives: lake champlain

Snow Geese at Point au Roche State Park

snow-geese-at-point-au-roche-photograph-by-larry-master
Snow Geese at Point au Roche, photograph by Larry Master

The most abundant species of waterfowl in the world, snow geese or snows (Chen caerulescens), breed in the high arctic and spend winters in the eastern U.S., primarily along the Mississippi river and Atlantic coastal states. In our area, during both their fall and spring migration, snow geese tend to linger in the Adirondacks for a month or more, often times in huge flocks of thousands of birds. You are apt to hear them before sighting them. They sound like a huge throng of baying hounds moving slowly but steadily into your range of hearing, and then you may spot them flying way overhead. If they are close enough, you immediately recognize their snow white bodies and jet black wingtips. You can see them on Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, and the large lakes and marshes in the Finger Lakes region. Point au Roche State Park is a great place to see them up close in the fall as the birds linger on Lake Champlain.

Strong, graceful fliers, snows come down to land by performing a falling leaf maneuver—all of a sudden they seem to lose their balance and start tumbling out of the sky. To watch a large flock of them tumble out of the blue can be pretty amusing. They rank as one of the noisiest birds, barking continually as they fly and vocalizing even as they feed.

You might notice a dark goose or two. Snow geese occur in white or blue colormorphs or forms which ornithologists considered different species until DNA evidence in 1983 confirmed them as one.  They tend to mate with their respective colormorphs and they also segregate somewhat geographically, with most blues breeding and wintering in the middle of the continent and most whites in the east.

Snows feed almost exclusively on plants, preferably in wet areas such as marshes, lakes, impoundments, and waterlogged soil.  They eat everything from stems to leaves to rhizomes and tubers, and have a decided weakness for agricultural fields, which they work for waste grains and seeds.  Their primary method of feeding involves grubbing for rhizomes, tubers and roots by pulling the entire stem of the plant from the soil, with the result that a large flocks can entirely denude an area of vegetation.

Snow geese mate for life and develop strong family bonds, with young birds staying with their parents until their second or third year. Snow geese populations in North America have increased exponentially and in some regions by as much as nine percent a year, which most ornithologists and wildlife managers consider unsustainable.  Essentially victims of their own success, snow geese degrade the habitat in their nesting colonies by eliminating most plant matter and leaving only exposed peat or bare mineral soil, a situation that not only puts pressures on them but also on other species, such as semi-palmated sandpipers and red-necked phalaropes.  But for now, this boom in the population makes for good chances to see snow geese. So get out and enjoy these beautiful birds.  Enjoy the show.

Post by John Thaxton, Northern New York Audubon

Follow these links to learn more about snow geese, snow geese sounds, and a PBS special on snow geese at Point au Roche State Park.

Painted Turtles of Point Au Roche State Park in Clinton County, New York

Lower pond site at Point au Roche Park where all 4 turtle hoop traps are set. (Danielle Garneau)
Lower pond site at Point au Roche Park where all 4 turtle hoop traps are set. (Danielle Garneau)

Point Au Roche State Park is a beautiful and diverse park with a lot to offer visitors. By visitors we’re talking both the reptile and human kinds.  Not only does the park offer spectacular views of Lake Champlain for park visitors, it also provides great habitat for painted turtles!

Beginning in September 2012, two SUNY Plattsburgh students and Professor Danielle Garneau began their first field experience handling painted turtles. The goal of the project was to compare sex ratio and age structure of turtle populations in both urban, as well as rural ponds in Clinton County, New York. This research is part of the Ecological Research as Education Network’s (EREN) on-going TurtlePop project that is a collaboration among numerous colleges across the country.

Participants perform the same experimental protocol to determine if a greater number of adult males exist within urban turtle populations, and if this is a nationwide trend. The decline in young females is thought to result from their high rate of road kill when laying eggs at roadsides. An additional cause of death for urban painted turtles is an increase in the abundance of mesopredators (e.g., skunks, raccoons, opossum, foxes) who raid nests for eggs. Since starting, the TurtlePop project has offered field research experiences to many SUNY Plattsburgh students.

Painted turtle basking on a log with VHF transmitter glued to carapace (top of shell) at the golf course site (urban). Transmitters are used to track animal locations and note movement behavior, nest site selection, and overwintering spots. Note the shedding of scutes (keratin layers) on the top of the turtle shell, which occurs in the middle of summer as turtles grow. Days later this transmitter device fell off the turtle and was relocated along the pond shore. (Danielle Garneau)
Painted turtle basking on a log with VHF transmitter glued to carapace (top of shell) at the golf course site (urban). Transmitters are used to track animal locations and note movement behavior, nest site selection, and overwintering spots. Note the shedding of scutes (keratin layers) on the top of the turtle shell, which occurs in the middle of summer as turtles grow. Days later this transmitter device fell off the turtle and was relocated along the pond shore. (Danielle Garneau)

About a year into the project, as participants grew ever more curious, a radio-telemetry dimension was added by placing a VHF transmitter on the top of turtle’s shells in order to monitor their movement around a gold course pond complex (urban site) in the city of Plattsburgh. Findings suggest that city turtles do not tend to wander far from the shores of their pond and commonly used basking sites (e.g., downed trees, rocks).

In the summer of 2015, with the help of Point Au Roche State Park Naturalist and SUNY Plattsburgh Ecology alumnus Gillian Dreier-Lawrence, park visitors and college students had the opportunity to participate in and contribute to this growing collaborative research effort at Point Au Roche State Park. We are learning that Point Au Roche State Park has high turtle abundance; approximately 33 individuals were caught over three months of trapping in the lower ponds. Plans to further investigate the turtle population at Point Au Roche are in the works, as the  large number of turtles found indicate that  the population size at the park is likely quite large, only 11 marked turtles have been recaptured so far!

Post by Danielle Garneau, Associate Professor at SUNY Plattsburgh

Useful websites:

http://www.nysparks.com/parks/30/details.aspx

https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Point-au-Roche-State-Park-116729181851239/timeline/

http://erenweb.org/new-page/turtle-pop-project/

https://www.facebook.com/#!/ErenTurtlePop?fref=ts

Note: All photos were taken by Danielle Garneau and permissions are granted to use in press.

Invasive Mussels & Snails of Lake Champlain

In my two months as a New York State Parks Boat Steward on Lake Champlain I have already collected two aquatic invasive species: the banded mystery snail and the zebra mussel. I encountered the banded mystery snail at two different boat launch sites by the shore of Lake Champlain near Point Au Roche State Park. The zebra mussels are often found attached to rocks, driftwood, and recreational equipment that has been in the water for some duration.

The banded mystery snail is native to the southern United States and its introduction to this region can be traced back to 1867 when an amateur biologist released 200 of the snails into the Hudson River. This event was followed by subsequent introductions from aquariums owners. The snails can grow to be 1.75 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, with anywhere from one to four red bands on the shell. This species also lives in very high densities. Scientists are still studying the ecological effects of banded mystery snail invasion on natural communities. However, the presence of the species has been shown to decrease the survival rates of large mouth bass eggs in ponds and in the lab, which may eventually lead to a decline in fish populations in Lake Champlain.

The zebra mussel is an aggressive species that has spread very quickly since its first introduction to North America from Russia in 1989. By the mid-1990’s the species had become established in Lake Champlain. It is a D-shaped mollusk that is less than 2 inches long and has a distinctive brown zebra pattern on the shell. It poses great threats to native environments because it lives in dense populations of up to 750,000 specimens per square meter. Zebra mussels will attach themselves to any hard surface including native mussels, plants, man-made objects (such as piers and boat motors), and will even adapt to live on soft sediment. They are able to attach to objects by spinning a mass of tiny fibers called byssal threads that allow them to cling to any surface. Their larvae (veligers) are microscopic and float near the surface of the water which makes them easily transportable by boats or any recreational watercraft. Zebra mussels are strong competitors. One way that they outcompete native species is by grazing on large volumes of phytoplankton, thereby reducing the food resources available for native mussel species. They also take up large amounts of space on the lake substrate that is needed for fish spawning. Additionally, they cause drastic economic damage each year by  clogging pipes and pumps at wastewater treatment facilities and damaging municipal drinking water systems, hydroelectric power plants and irrigation systems.

ariana inspection
Ariana London completing a boater/angler survey about aquatic invasive species at the Great Chazy River Boat Launch (north of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain). Photo by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.

While it is possible that Lake Champlain may never be free of the zebra mussels and the banded mystery snail, we can still ensure that these species do not spread to ponds, lakes and streams that are not yet infested. I feel incredibly honored to be part of the effort to stop the spread of the aquatic invasive species by educating people on what they can do to help.

Remember to clean, drain and dry your watercraft after use. To reduce the risk of spreading invasive mussels and snails in their veliger stage, boaters may opt to wash their watercraft and flush the engine with hot water. Research indicates that zebra mussels in the veliger stage cannot withstand water warmer than 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and adults will experience mortality at temperatures greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For a list of hot water, high pressure boat washing station in the North Country/Adirondack Park area, click here.

Post by Ariana London, OPRHP Thousand Island Region Boat Steward.

Sources:

http://www.nps.gov/isro/planyourvisit/upload/ZMBoaters.pdf

http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/lakes/docs/ans/lp_zeeb-factsheet.pdf

http://www.adkwatershed.org/invasive-species/invasive-species-information/zebra-quagga-mussel

https://adkwatershed.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/banded-mystery-snail-vs-chinese-mystery-snail/

http://www.lcbp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LCB_Invasive_Species_Guide.pdf

http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=1047

Staff Spotlight: What it means to be a “Boat Steward”

On a Monday in mid-May the 12 members of the 2015 NYS Parks Boat Steward Program piled into two minivans in the parking lot at Hamlin Beach State Park. The vans were packed to the gills with supplies, including snacks for the road, uniforms, plant rakes, 5-gallon buckets, and  folding tables. Strict instructions were given to avoid opening the trunk without someone standing by to catch any overnight bags or coolers that may tumble out. To a bystander, our situation likely seemed akin to a scene from the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation film – only we weren’t leaving for a vacation. We were bound for a multi-day training at Paul Smith’s College, where watercraft inspection began in New York State more than 15 years ago.

Watercraft inspection has become an increasingly popular way to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) via overland transport.  During the training, Boat Stewards learn how to educate the public on AIS, conduct voluntary watercraft inspections remove and dispose of any plant or animal matter, and collect data about the boaters that they interact with.  This data helps us to understand how and where AIS are being transported, which regions of the state require enhanced outreach, and where boat washing stations would be most efficiently utilized.

mock inspect
Stewards conducted mock watercraft inspections for AIS at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack Park. Returning stewards from the Paul Smith’s program took on various “boater personalities” to help the new stewards prepare for any type of situation that could arise at the boat launch.
ais hands on
Paul Lord (SUNY Oneonta) held a hands-on invasive plant and animal identification session, which was an invaluable piece of the training for the stewards. After they had time to become familiar with the specimens, stewards were given a quiz!

Fast forward to five weeks later, the stewards are trained and on-site at 21 launches across the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.

The following images were taken in the field during routine site visits.

Above left: Zebra mussels attached to a stick near the boat launch at Point Au Roche State Park on Lake Champlain. Can you imagine how many of these mussels could cover the bottom of a boat?! Banded mystery snails were also found at this location. Zebra mussels and banded mystery snails are just two of 50 known invasive species in the lake.

Above right: Melyssa Smith (OPRHP Water Quality Unit) and Ariana London (OPRHP Boat Steward) practice throwing the plant rake from a boat launch on the Great Chazy River. It is still a bit early in the season for significant plant growth; however AIS Eurasian watermilfoil and a native Elodea have been collected at this site thus far.

s poweres
“So far, the two main aquatic invasive species that I have found are curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil. I keep some samples on my table to show to boaters and park visitors who come by to learn about them. I also throw my rake into the water every morning to gather new specimens. I have been learning to identify many different types of aquatic life!” – Sarah Powers, Salmon River and Lake Ontario steward.

Above left: Tara inspects a motor boat that is preparing to launch. “For me, being a Boat Steward is about patience, passion and perseverance.” –Tara Camp, St. Lawrence River steward.

Above right: A curly-leaf pondweed specimen on the boat launch at Westcott Beach State Park. Notice how the leaves resemble lasagna noodles.

If you encounter a Boat Steward this summer, be sure to ask them how you, a New York State Park visitor, can help halt the spread of aquatic invasive species by adopting a few simple practices when launching or retrieving your watercraft.

And always remember to:

  • Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, livewells, and any water-holding compartments
  • Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found
  • Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body

For more information about the NYS Parks Boat Steward Program, please call (518) 402-5587.

Post and photos by Megan Phillips, OPRHP Water Quality Unit.