Tag Archives: NY Natural Heritage Program

Camping Chenango Valley State Park

If I were to ask you to name the best state parks in New York just off the top of your head, parks like Letchworth or Watkins Glen are probably what leap to mind. However, there are an abundance of parks that have a lot to offer but never make the list. That’s not to downplay parks like Letchworth, by any means – they stand out for a reason. Still, there are other great parks in New York State, but they don’t make it onto people’s radar because they are overshadowed by these larger or more publicized parks. Chenango Valley is just one of these beautiful but unjustifiably underrated parks.

Outstanding Camping

New York State Parks offer visitors some of the best camping in the state. Our family has camped in many of the parks but have found few campgrounds that can compare with Chenango Valley. Chenango Valley has 182 campsites spread throughout three camping loops – Chipmunk Bluff, Sunrise, and Pine Bluff. We found some incredible wooded and private campsites that really gave the impression of being away from it all. This park is surprisingly uncrowded; we were able to get a great campsite without even having to make a reservation at the peak of summer. However, making a reservation in advance is still the best bet to insuring that you will get the site you want.

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The author’s campsite, photo by Kimberly Crawford.

People often shy away from wooded camping sites because they don’t want to deal with the mosquitoes that usually accompany the shaded sites. That isn’t usually a problem in Chenango Valley State Park. Why you might ask? This park has a large population of brown bats – but don’t let the idea of bats scare you. These little critters are actually quite helpful, eating between 600-1000 mosquitoes per hour which can help make your camping experience that much more comfortable.

Wildlife and Nature at Chenango Valley

My favorite part of getting out into nature is the opportunity to see animals, or at least evidence of their presence. This park is home to a large variety of animals. One night, as we sat around our campfire, we had the spine-tingling experience of hearing a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Everything from the rarely seen black bears to more common white-tail deer roam the woods, in and around the park. Visitors might catch a glimpse of animals such as flying squirrels, gray squirrel, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, red fox, beaver, raccoon, rabbits, and woodchucks. Although we didn’t see many animals during our time in the park, we did see evidence of beavers and met one spunky chipmunk who wanted to pose for a picture for us. Chenango Valley is also known for being an excellent park to bird watch as the trails run through a variety of habitats from woods, lakes, marsh and the river.

Things to do at Chenango Valley

Chenango Valley has a unique geological feature within the park, in the form of two kettle lakes. These lakes were formed by chunks of ice that broke away from a receding glacier. The chunks of ice sat in one place for a long time creating depressions in the earth, thus creating these small lakes. Lily Lake and Chenango Lake are both really quite lovely, with crystal clear water that is excellent for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Visitors can rent canoes and kayaks or bring their own and really enjoy the peacefulness of these pristine lakes.

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Kayaks and boats ready for a ride, photo by Kimberly Crawford.

Chenango Valley has one of the nicest swimming areas that I have found among the New York State Parks. Although the park calls it a beach, I’m not sure that title is really applicable. It is more like a pool cut into the end of the lake. The “pool” is divided into 4 sections of varying depth. This is excellent because there is a significant separation between the wading pool, perfect for the little ones, and the deep water of the diving area.

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Swimming area, photo by Kimberly Crawford

The park is full of hiking trails too. Our favorites are the trails that circumnavigate the lakes as well as a truly unique section of the park, the bog. If you camp in the Sunrise Loop, you can very easily hike to this area. When I heard bog, I immediately thought of some dark, uninviting place, but this wetland area was spectacular. I’m quite serious when I say that the bog looks like you have stepped back in time to the Jurassic period and at any moment a brachiosaur is going to come walking past. This unusual natural community seemed completely out of place, but my kids loved it and had fun “dinosaur hunting.” Of course, for your own safety and for the protection of the bog environment, you will want to make sure to stay on the trail and not go wandering off into the bog.

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Lily bog, photo by NY Natural Heritage Program

Chenango Valley also has a world-class golf course for those looking to play a round within the beautiful and idyllic scenery of the park. Some of the hiking trails do take hikers pretty close to the golf course, so beware of flying golf balls.

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Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course, photo by Kimberly Crawford

The New York State Parks offer visitors the chance to experience the most breathtaking and beautiful parts of our state. This gorgeous park is one of New York State’s hidden gems. Chenango Valley is a place where you can truly get away from it all and appreciate all the beauty that nature has to offer. A trip to this tranquil retreat is something everyone should experience.

Post written by Kimberly Crawford

Green Lakes State Park – Home to a National Natural Landmark and More!

New York’s State Parks are home to many unique natural features. Green Lakes State Park, near Syracuse, is the home of a National Natural Landmark. The Landmark found here is Round Lake, which is one of 28 such sites found in the state. A National Natural Landmark (NNL) is a natural area that has been designated by the Secretary of the Interior in recognition that the site contains significant examples of the nation’s biological and/or geological features. Round Lake is a rare meromictic lake surrounded by a forest that includes about 20 acres of diverse, old-growth forest. These two components led to Round Lake’s designation as a National Natural Landmark in 1973. The maple-basswood rich mesic forest and the meromictic lakes at Green Lakes State Park have also been recognized as being of statewide significance by the NY Natural Heritage Program (2018) in addition to Round Lake’s designation as a NNL.

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The plaque at Round Lake dedicating it as a National Natural Landmark.

You may be asking yourself, what is a meromictic lake? A meromictic lake is a lake that does not have complete mixing of the surface and bottom waters. This is due to the lake being very deep without a large surface area: Round Lake is over 163 feet deep with a diameter of about 700 feet or 36 acres (see below).  The most common type of lake mixing is a dimictic lake which mixes twice a year, once in the summer and once in the fall. To learn more about lakes and their seasons (they have them too!), please see this blog.

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This contour map was obtained by NYS DEC

Meromictic lakes remain chemically stratified throughout the year which makes it very hard for organisms to live there especially in the deepest layers of the lake. Chemical stratification refers to the layering of the water within the lake based on chemicals such as dissolved salts and oxygen. Because of this, there is no oxygen and there tends to be lots of dissolved salts in the lower layers as the salts increase the density, or weight, of the water which makes it sink to the bottom of the lake. These conditions make species diversity in a meromictic lake very low. The few fish that occur here are confined to live in the epilimnion, the top layer of water, because that is where there is enough oxygen for them. Snails, zooplankton and phytoplankton (microscopic aquatic critters and plants) are the more abundant species in these lakes.

One exception to the lack of life in the depths of a meromictic lake is the presence of several interesting types of bacteria, for example those in the other lake on the park’s property, Green Lake. Green Lake has a characteristic purple sulfur bacterium that resides in the deep waters. If you pull a water sample from that layer of water, the sample that comes up is this purple-pink color and it smells like rotten eggs. This color and smell comes from the purple sulfur bacteria that resides in the water, which has been studied by many researchers such as those at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (see picture below). Although Green Lake is also a meromictic lake, it is not included in the Natural Landmark due to the higher use and less natural surroundings than Round Lake.

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A water sample showing the purple sulfur bacteria at Green Lake. Photo by Kim Schulz, a professor at SUNY-ESF.

The other major component that makes Round Lake a National Natural Landmark is the old-growth forest that surrounds the lake. The Landmark is described as containing 20 acres of “virgin mesophytic forest”. The term “virgin forest” typically describes sites that have never been cut, which is not quite the case here, but the site is exceptional in having minimal cutting over the past few centuries and now supports trees that range from 100 to nearly 400 years old. Mesophytic is an ecological term that describes the vegetation characteristic of rich, moist, well-drained soils. NY Natural Heritage Program describes this forest as a maple-basswood rich mesic forest (2014) and maps roughly 130 acres in the park as old-growth forest – a good place to see some very old trees! There are some particularly old (and very tall) specimens of tuliptrees, bitternut hickory, sugar maple, hemlock and basswood within the Tuliptree Cathedral southwest of Round Lake. The largest tree measured there was 147 ft in 2011, one of the many tuliptrees to be found in this forest.

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Above is a picture of the Tuliptree Cathedral renamed as such following extensive surveys of the old-growth forests in 2001-2002. Photo by Diane Wheelock.

NY State Parks contain many more exceptional sites to see beyond Round Lake! To learn more about other National Natural Landmarks located within State Parks, please see these blogs on the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves and the Iona Marsh.

Post by April Brun, State Parks

Featured Photo taken by Parks Water Quality Unit looking at the western shoreline of the lake.

Resources:

New York Natural Heritage Program. March 2014. Ecological Communities of New York State.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2018. Significant Natural Community Occurrences. Biotics database. NY Natural Heritage Program Albany NY.

National Park Service. n.d. Round Lake National Natural Landmark.

Cool Finds from Afield – NY Natural Heritage Program in State Parks

Every year, the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) conducts field surveys in New York State Parks in search of rare plants and animals and high quality natural areas and features. There are always adventures as well as some surprises. Here a few highlights from 2018.

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NY Natural Heritage Program survey in parks across the state, to document rare flora, fauna and natural communities. Photo in Allegany State Park by J. Lundgren

Bear Bath

We surveyed dozens of vernal pools in Parks this season as part of a statewide project to help identify pools that are critical for critters like fingernail clams, fairy shrimp, wood frogs, spotted salamanders and others. Just as we finished our vegetation sampling in a vernal pool in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, a huge black bear wandered in and sat down! So close. We watched quietly until it wandered off, then packed up our gear to head to the next site. What a great day!

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This a huge vernal pool, filled with water in spring and mostly dry now. That dark spot in the center is the black bear that came to visit. Photo by J. Lundgren.

The Joys of Sedge-ing

Keen eyesight and a skill for noticing subtle differences in the structure and color of plant parts is required to find rare plants. Sedges, a grass-like plant, are among the tougher species to identify. A trick is to looks for the triangular stems – “sedges have edges” – as opposed to round stems of rushes and grasses. From there, botanists use plant keys to figure out the identity.

Botanist Richard Ring and our summer botany assistant Ian Laih set out to to the hilltops in Franny Reese and Storm King State Parks in search of rare sedges. Success! They documented new locations in both parks for two rare and easily overlooked sedges; black-edged sedge (Carex nigromarginata) and Reznicek’s sedge (C. reznicekii).

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A Flurry of Rare Dragonflies – Three in One Day!

The zoology team documented three species of rare dragonflies in one day at Harriman State Park: sable clubtail (Gomphus rogersi), arrowhead spiketails (Cordulegaster obliqua), and spatterdock darner (Rhionaeschna mutata)! The park’s forest habitat interlaced with streams, wetlands and ponds provides habitat for these cool critters.

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The rare sable clubtail (Gomphus rogersi) photographed and released. Photo E. White.

Piping Plovers Return to NY’s Great Lake shoreline

State Parks and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) stewards discovered a pair of nesting Piping Plovers at a park on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario and worked to keep them safe from pedestrians and dogs. Four chicks successfully hatched and entered the world. This is a really big deal, as the Great Lake plovers are federally endangered and the last successful fledging of chicks on NY lakeshores was in 1984! NYNHP had previously identified this area as among the best beach and dune habitats on Lake Ontario and has been working with State Parks to support protection of the rare species and habitats there. (Note you may be familiar with the piping plovers of the Atlantic coast which are listed as federally threatened).

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Note the colored bands which are put on the piping plovers to help identify individuals and track their movements. Photo by Alison Kocek.

Something Old and Something New

There are always many more places to survey and surprises to find. In the small Gilbert Lake State Park, while looking unsuccessfully for vernal pools, we were surprised to find a small patch of old-growth forest with large, over 120-year old ash, red oak, beech and maple. In Minnewaska State Park Preserve, NYNHP Botanist and Parks biologists surveyed the site of a proposed climbing route where a tiny rare fern, the mountain spleenwort (Asplenium montanum), was known. They confirmed and mapped an extensive population of the fern and also found a small but new location for the rare Appalachian sandwort (Mononeuria glabra). The new climbing routes can now be planned to avoid impacts to the rarities.

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Fen Finds

Park’s Finger Lakes Environmental Field Team discovered a new location for a rare Rich Sloping Fen community and assisted NYNHP ecologist with vegetation sampling. Fens are a type of wetland fed by groundwater and that tend to be less acidic than bogs which are typically rain-water fed. They often support rare plant species too and sure enough, NYNHP ecologist spotted the leaves of the state-threatened marsh lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), a new record for this plant. Park staff returned to photograph and document it when it bloomed in August.

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Salamandering

Allegany State Park in late June was the time to look for salamanders. Zoologist Ashley Ballou discovered a rare longtail salamander (Eurycea longicauda) near where they were last reported in 2009. This is a significant update of this almost 10-year old record. The park supports extensive and high-quality habitat for this and other more common amphibians like the red efts and red-backed salamander which we also saw during the surveys.

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Going Buggy

We did a lot of work on insects! The Empire State Native Pollinator survey was highlighted in a previous state parks blog Counting the Bristlesides, Sedgesitters, Leafwalkers. There are still hundreds of specimens to be identified this winter, but some new rare insect species records have been confirmed already and there is such astounding diversity and beauty!

And thanks to expertise of others, we also obtained about 30 new records for rare moths in State Parks! Rare micro-lepidoptera (the smallest moths) were found in 8 state parks by Jason Dombroskie of Cornell University. And Hugh McGuinness finalized the results of a contract with us for moth surveys at two Long Island parks last year, adding a total of 20 records for rare moth species. All of this information goes into the NYNHP Rare Species Database.

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Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP)

NY Natural Heritage Program is affiliated with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and works in close partnership with NYS Parks and NYS DEC. NYNHP conducts many kinds of surveys and studies to provide guidance and tools for conservation of native biodiversity across New York State.

All photos by NYNHP for use by permission only.

Frogs and Pollywogs in NYS Parks

It’s time – hop in the car or on your bike and head to a State Park near you! While you’re there, be sure your ears are open and your eyes are peeled for some awesome amphibian friends! It’s a good opportunity to find out which of the 11 frog species found in New York State are living in our State Parks.

Frogs are amphibians, meaning they live on both land and under water. When females lay eggs, it typically occurs in a nearby pond. The jelly-like egg masses hatch into tadpoles (pollywogs) with round bodies and long finlike tails. Tadpoles develop gills so they can breathe underwater just like fish do! Through a lifecycle process known as metamorphosis, the tadpole begins to develop legs, bulging eyes and air-breathing lungs. All the while the long slender tail starts to shrink and eventually disappears. This frog can now survive on land, breathing in the fresh summer air!

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Frog life cycle, accessed from https://pixabay.com/en/frog-tadpole-%C5%BEabka-758072/.

Frogs spend most of their time underground, hanging out in trees, or in the water. On warm summer nights they will emerge from hiding and head to nearby ponds, lakeshores and wetlands. When trying to identify frog species remember to consider the following: coloration, patterns, skin texture (moist or dry), presence or absence of webbing between the toes, and more. If you can’t see your amphibian friends, but you can hear them, take this time to record its unique call and try to identify it when you get home!

Here are just a few of the frog species found in our State Parks:

Northern Spring Peeper (Pseudacris c. crucifer)

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Spring peeper, accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spring_Peeper_-_Pseudacris_crucifer,_Waterways_Farm,_Lovettsville,_Virginia.jpg.

The tiny spring peeper can range from a rusty brown to a greenish-gray with a distinct dark X or cross on its back. Its skin is smooth and the belly is cream-colored. This species is also known for hanging out in trees, with its unwebbed toes and sticky pads. Spring Peepers breed earlier in the season than other frog species. If you’ve ever spent an evening camping or sitting by the water, you’ve probably heard their infamous “PEEP” or call.

American Bull Frog (Rana catesbeiana)

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American Bull Frog, accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Bullfrog_(Rana_catesbeiana)_(8741684912).jpg.

The bull frog is the largest frog in North America, reaching lengths of 6 to 8 inches. It’s a brownish-green color with dark colored bands or blotches on its hind legs. Unlike the treefrogs, the bull frog has webbed hind feet. They’re often found near permanent waters with lots of vegetation. This species size and carnivorous diet allows it to munch on creatures such as snakes, bats, ducklings and other frogs! Behind the bull frog’s eyes are eardrums known as tympanic membranes. The size of these membranes can be used to determine if the frog is a male (it’s larger than the eye) or a female (the membrane is the same size as the eye). Look for this species between mid-March and mid-July. They may startle you with their really load “croak”.

Green Frog (Rana clamitans)

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Do you see the Green Frog? Photo by NYNHP.

This is one of the most common frogs across NY State. It is similar to but smaller than a bullfrog. Like the bullfrog, the green frog is brownish-green with bright green on its face and spends most of its time in and near ponds and wetlands. The adults are 3-4 inches long and breed from May to August. Their regular call goes “boing” like the sound of a plucked rubber band or banjo sting. They also have an alarm call, a loud squeak, that you will hear if you scare them into the water. Move slowly towards the edge of the pond to look for these critters and be ready when they squeak and leap into the water!

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The green frog’s face is smaller and not as wide and rounded as the Bullfrog. Photo by NYNHP.

Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans)

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A rare northern cricket frog, photo accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northern_Cricket_Frog_-_Acris_crepitans,_Meadowwood_Farm_SRMA,_Mason_Neck,_Virginia.jpg.

The northern cricket frog is the smallest and most rare frog species in NY. It is listed as endangered in the State of NY. Adults reach about 1 inch in length, but despite their size, can jump about 5 to 6 feet. Eastern cricket frogs are brown to dull green in coloration with a triangular marking between the eyes. These frogs love shallow ponds with lots of floating vegetation. It has an unusual call, described as two pebbles being clicked together repeatedly. View the northern cricket frog conservation guide created by the New York Natural Heritage Program.

Other awesome frog species found in New York:

Gray Treefrog

Western Chorus Frog

Mink Frog

Wood Frog

Northern Leopard Frog

Southern Leopard Frog

Pickerel Frog

More links with frog/toad calls

NatureBits.org

Calls of Frogs and Toads of the Northeast

Post By Falon Neske- SCA and State Parks

Resources

Bullfrogs

Frogs and Toads of New York State

Featured image, gray tree frog, State Parks

Counting the Bristlesides, Sedgesitters, Leafwalkers

It’s National Pollinator Week! Scientists have been busy looking to see what pollinators live in State Parks. Here’s a first look at some of the early results.

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This is actually a fly! The bare-cheeked bumblefly is a very rare Syrphid in NY that mimics bumblebees and lives in old forests.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

In 2017 a cadre of NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) biologists working under a long-standing agreement with State Parks began testing out sampling methods for a multi-year statewide Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS) under the auspices of the Governor’s NYS Pollinator Protection Plan jointly administered by Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets.

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The eastern calligrapher (Toxomerus geminatus) is a very common species in State Parks all over the state.  Photo by Lindsay Dombroskie, accessed from iNaturalist.

The goal of the ESNPS is to determine the rarity of a wide array of native insect pollinators in non-agricultural habitats. NYNHP Zoologists honed in on the most important and vulnerable pollinating groups in the state, representing a wide variety of native insect pollinators such as bumble bees, mining bees, bee flies, longhorn beetles and flower moths.

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Captured by a spider, a fate that befalls some flower-visiting flies.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

Between June 8 – October 3, 2017 on fair weather days, two biologists used sets of small painted bowls containing soapy water to trap pollinators (the insects mistake the color for a flower) in four different habitat types within each Park (see photo). The biologists also used insect nets to hand- capture pollinators (see photo), spending the better part of one day obtaining a snapshot of the Park’s pollinator community. The collections are the only way to document and identify most of the species.

 

Over the past winter the biologists then separated out the flies (Dipterans) from the bees and pinned these specimens so that they could be identified by fly specialists at SUNY Cobleskill (see photo). They focused on flies in one notable family, the Syrphidae – or Syrphids, known as the hover flies or flower flies.  Most of the remaining captured pollinators like the bees will be identified by experts at Cornell University as the project continues.

 

Preliminary results are in for the hover flies or flower flies that SUNY Cobleskill experts helped to identify. There are many different species or types of these flies and not anything like the plain black housefly. Some go by interesting names like Bristlesides, Sedgesitters and Leafwalkers. Many hover flies are mimics of stinging Hymenoptera (see photo) and known to be second only to bees in their pollinating prowess. This is because the adult flies feed on pollen and nectar to power their energy- intensive flight. In doing so, they help to pollinate a wide range of trees, shrubs and wildflowers in every conceivable habitat. At the same time, their larvae (the young stage) are predators of harmful insects such as aphids and adelgids. Many play an important role in aiding decomposition in aquatic and forest environments; in effect breaking down leaves, logs and other debris which then releases nutrients and builds soil.  In other words, Hover flies are very important to the health of our native ecosystems.

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Look closely for the hover fly on a leaf at Goosepond Mountain State Park on September 28, 2017.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

A brand new hover fly field guide focusing specifically on northeastern North America will be published later in 2018 by a team of Canadian researchers. This will allow anybody with an interest to pursue these fascinating and colorful insects who will challenge your notions of what a fly is!

A few fun facts we learned about hover flies in State Parks:

  • Total number of Parks sampled: 22 (in all Regions)
  • Total number of different Syrphid (fly) pollinators: 50 species
  • State Parks with the highest diversity of hover flies (at least 7 different species plus more than 15 individual flies): Minnewaska, Thacher, Sunken Meadow, Letchworth, Taconic, and Allegany
  • Number of new species never before seen in the State, or were thought to be no longer in NYS: 5
  • Two out of every three individuals captured (67%) was a calligrapher (Toxomerus), small black and yellow flies whose larvae eat aphids (see photo)
  • Number of Parks with a species that mimic hornets (the rare eastern hornet fly (Spilomyia longicornis)): 3: Allegany, Knox Farm, Sunken Meadow
  • Number of Syrphid species whose larvae eat adelgids (adelgids are a small insect that can cause severe tree damage): 2 (in the genus Heringia) at Gilbert Lake, Grafton, Moreau Lake
  • Number of non-native, introduced species detected: 2. The common compost fly (Syritta pipiens), and common drone fly (Eristalis tenax)
  • Over half of the State Parks had at least one Syrphid species that lives predominantly in older forests.

Authored by Jeff Corser, Zoologist with NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP).

NY Natural Heritage Program is affiliated with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and works in close partnership with NYS Parks and NYS DEC. The Empire State Native Pollinator Project is only one of many kinds of surveys and studies that the program conducts to provide guidance and tools for conservation of native biodiversity across New York State.

All photos by NYNHP for use by permission only