Tag Archives: Schodack Island State Park

Schodack Blinds

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And back in early 2016, Schodack Island State Park Manager John Lowe was musing with Capital Region Audubon Society President John Loz about potential partnership projects. Moreau Lake State Park’s nifty bird blind initiative came immediately to mind.

Designated both a state Bird Conservation Area (BCA) and an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA), Schodack Island is a bird-watchers mecca waiting to happen. Many birds of conservation concern – bald eagles, great blue herons, cerulean warblers, to name only a few – nest on site. The waterfowl assemblages are impressive. But, aside from two interpretive signs near the parking lot, the Park offered limited amenities or functional improvements to engage the public with its remarkable wildlife resource. As the poet Gertrude Stein might have said, there was “no there there.”

But it takes a village, and in fall 2016, Park Manager Lowe cobbled together a motley assortment of local Audubon operatives, Schodack “friends”, along with community members and rank volunteers to work alongside his very capable Park Operations professionals in constructing three bird watching blinds at strategic spots along the trails at Schodack Island State Park.

SISP River blind in progress
Bird blind in progress, note the nice view of the river beyond the blind. Photo by Audubon Society of the Capital District.

To be honest, the 6’ x 8’ wooden blinds were something that Park Manager Lowe’s handy Park Operations staff could have hammered together themselves in one day, and “done it good”. Lowe wisely summoned the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to make sure to give the community real ownership in his initiative. It worked!

Schodack Island State Park’s bird blinds serve several critical customer service needs: the rich viewsheds framed by intelligent placement of the blinds within the Park’s varied landscape draw serious photographers and bird-watchers, casual visitors can enjoy “close encounters of the bird kind” without disturbing wildlife, and also benefit from helpful interpretive signage in each blind.

Visitors are encouraged to enter their own bird sightings in the shelter register to help build the park’s developing scientific record. And the many joggers, dog-walkers and hikers who frequent the trails daily will welcome these arresting destinations within the park’s long and rather placeless linear trail system, 13 miles total with few rewards. So now, there’s a “there” there!

Realizing the park’s tremendous potential for developing bird tourism, Park Manager Lowe has been working closely with the Friends of Schodack Island State Park and the Audubon Society of the Capital Region to articulate a long-range vision which maximizes both the public accessibility to and the protection of the Park’s extraordinary avifauna, including planning to embark on a fourth bird-watching blind this spring.

The Audubon Society of the Capital Region mustered three more volunteer crews in spring 2017 to help stain the bird blind exteriors. And in summer 2017, the Audubon Society won a grant to oversee the design, fabrication, and installation of informative interpretive panels for each of the blinds. You might call it a model collaborative project. Or just a diligent Park Manager making sure that all the players get in game.

Under the leadership of former State Parks Deputy Commissioner Al Caccese, Audubon New York, the state-wide affiliate of the National Audubon Society, began an outreach initiative in 2009 which Al lovingly dubbed “Audubon in the Parks” to advance bird conservation in New York’s State Parks. At the time, Al was the Executive Director of Audubon New York, so the partnership made perfect sense. Through its 27 local chapters, Audubon New York has provided a wide variety of programs and services at over 50 state park facilities throughout New York, particularly targeting those designated as BCAs or IBAs.

For example, the Audubon Society of the Capital Region, Audubon New York’s Albany affiliate, has waged war with invasives, sponsored lectures, set up bluebird boxes, conducted bird walks and/or participated at festivals at every state park or historic site within its purview: Schoharie Crossing, Thacher and Thompsons Lake, Schodack Island, Peebles Island, Saratoga Spa and Grafton Lakes. The Audubon in the Parks partnership has done much to advance the mission and goals of State Parks, while forwarding the Audubon agenda.

We thank the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Excellent craftsmanship
An example of the excellent craftsmanship that went into the building of the bird blinds, photo by Audubon Society of the Capital District.

A Conservation Cornerstone Celebrates 20 Years

This year, the New York State Bird Conservation Area (BCA) Program celebrates its 20th anniversary. Since 1997, the BCA Program has been promoting the conservation of birds and their habitats on designated state-owned lands and waters in New York State. There is no other program like it in the United States. The BCA Program is modeled after Audubon’s Important Bird Area (IBA) Program but is backed by legislation.  Sites are considered for BCA designation if they meet criteria relating to high concentrations of birds, bird diversity, or the presence of at-risk species. Recognizing a site as a BCA brings awareness to the needs of birds on state-owned lands and encourages management that benefits the bird populations. While the BCA Program focuses on birds, the program also benefits other species that share the same habitats.

Cerulean Warbler.
A rare cerulean warbler, photo by Charlie Trampani.

Audubon has partnered with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) on the BCA Program since its beginning, and has held up the BCA Program as a model for other states to protect birds. This fall, Audubon was delighted to join State Parks in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the program, in conjunction with the designation of the 60th BCA in Ganondagan State Park.

Ganondagan photo
Dedication of the Bird Conservation Area at Ganondagan State Historic Site, photo by Laura McCarthy, Audubon NY.

In recent years, Audubon’s partnership with State Parks has expanded to include Audubon in the Parks initiative, which is a partnership with Audubon New York, State Parks and its Regional Commissions, Audubon Chapters, and friends groups to advance bird conservation in State Parks, specifically focusing on BCAs and IBAs. Through Audubon in the Parks, Audubon assists with the implementation of BCA management recommendations, conducts bird monitoring, and helps with other strategies and research activities that benefit priority birds and habitats. In addition, Audubon advocates for funds to ensure that habitats are preserved and managed in a way that benefits priority birds and further connect people to these unique places.

BirdersFilmoreGlenStatePark_JillianLiner
Audubon New York staff and members bird watching in Fillmore Glen State Park, photo by Jillian Liner, Audubon NY.

Through Audubon in the Parks, Audubon has been active in more than 50 State Parks across the state, including 20 BCAs. This successful initiative continues to grow through projects like the one recently completed at Schodack Island State Park, which has been designated as a BCA because of nesting Cerulean Warblers and wintering Bald Eagles. Led by the Audubon Society of the Capital Region, this BCA project included building bird blinds for visitors to view birds without disturbing them and removing invasive species within the park. The chapter continues to foster a community connection to the park and importance of this BCA by hosting eagle walks and other events such as the recent Schodack Island Raptor Fest.

Birdblind AIP ASCR
Members of Audubon Society of the Capital District constructing a bird blind at Schodack Island State Park, photo by Laura McCarthy, Audubon NY

Audubon congratulates New York State on the BCA program and looks forward to continuing the strong partnership with State Parks to make New York a better place for birds and people.

More about BCA’s

Map of Bird Conservation Areas

Post by: Jillian Liner, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon New York

The 3 Season Paddler: Safety Tips for Extending Your Boating Season

The tang of a slightly warm breeze rattled the yellow leaves of the cottonwoods under a dome of grey clouds welcoming an intrepid group of fall paddlers chasing the last vestiges of summer at Schodack Island State Park on the Hudson River near Albany.

“We weren’t planning to go out on to the Hudson River for this trip, but were headed to the kayak launch at Schodack Creek on the eastern side of the island,” Ro Woodard recalled. “It has tidal waters like the Hudson and snakes through the phragmites reeds and cattails swamp under the mighty bridges of the CSX Railroad and NYS Thruway.  It was exciting to think, as I drove over the Thruway bridge and looked down to the creek, that I would be soon seeing the secrets of the marsh from a water’s eye view rather than a bird’s eye view.”

Warm fall and winter days might tease paddlers into heading for their favorite open water, but the warm air temperatures can deceptively mask the dangers of the cold water surrounding our boats as we paddle. NYS OPRHP would like to remind paddlers and sportsmen who venture out on the water between November 1 and May 1 that everyone in boats less than 21 feet in length  (this includes motor boats, too) MUST WEAR a US Coast Guard approved life jacket while underway.  OPRHP also recommends that everyone wear a life jacket if the water temperature is less than 70o F.

All boaters (and, yes, paddlers are boaters) should be aware of the possibility of a sudden unexpected swamping, capsize, or a fall overboard into the cold water. At the onset of a sudden cold water immersion there is an initial uncontrollable gasp reflex leading to hyperventilation and increased heart rate and blood pressure which can result in immediate drowning. Go to Cold Water Boot Camp to see what this reaction looks like.  A life jacket may save your life by keeping your head above water and your body floating you while you get your breathing in control.  Next you should attempt self-rescue by getting back in or on your boat.  You have about 10 -20 minutes depending on the temperature of the water before your muscles and nerves cool down and stop functioning;   even good swimmers can’t control their movements and ultimately experience swimming failure.   Again, the life jacket can make all the difference because it will float you.   This is a sobering message for those going out for what they hope to be a fine day on the water.  Remember to wear your life jacket, because it can make all the difference.

Late season paddlers should dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature with either a wet suit or dry suit under your life jacket.  Bring along safety equipment to help with rescue in case of a capsize: pump, rescue bag, sling, paddle float, whistle, visual distress signals, and a VHF radio or cell phone is a waterproof bag.  Also take a course to learn how to use the equipment and how to rescue a paddler who is in the water, empty the water from their boat and get them back inside before you head out for your cold season paddling trip. It is important to have essential skills and equipment, which we hope we never have to use, with you when you kayak and canoe.  The American Canoe Association has a variety of courses for all level of paddlers.

Always paddle with a group if possible and be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return.  Take a boating safety course and refrain from the use of alcohol when paddling.  Boating safety courses can be found at http://nysparks.com/recreation/boating/boating-safety-class.aspx  and a free online paddle sport safety course at www.paddlecourse.com.

Click on an image above to enlarge it and read the caption.

The properly dressed and equipped group enjoyed a pleasant afternoon sweeping upstream on the incoming tide, sharing summer paddling stories and watching the sky hoping for a glimpse of one of the many eagles which inhabit the shores of the Park.  They passed under the bridges to the sound of a honking horn.  The honking must have come from a sharp-eye paddler who was crossing the bridge in his or her car and spotted us paddling. After encountering a tree across the narrowing creek, they turned around to head south just as the tide was turning and the current carried them back to the launch ramp. No eagles on this trip, but a flock of crows soared over head as we finished our day.

The fabulous fall padding season has wound down. The air temperatures are dropping and so is the water temperature.  Though lots of us summer paddlers put away our kayaks and canoes until spring, many hearty paddlers continue to enjoy the late fall paddling until ice forces them off the water. If that paddler is you, remember to wear your life jacket, let someone know when and where you are paddling, dress to stay warm, bring your safety equipment, don’t drink alcohol while out on the water, and paddle with a group if possible.   The rest of you, we’ll see you in the spring!

Post and photos by Ro Woodard, Marine Services Bureau, OPRHP.