Tag Archives: student conservation association

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!

FrogLifeCycle
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)

Peeper
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)

BullFrog
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)

SeeGreenFrog
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!

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

Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans)

Cricket
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

Trails Stewardship in the Finger Lakes

Here in the Finger Lakes, one of the best ways to access the natural beauty of the area is by taking a hike on one of the many trails that can be found within the region’s state parks. The trails (in parks such as Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Fillmore Glen) lead hikers through a variety of environments, including mature forests, meadows, lake shores, and wetlands. Of course, hikers can also enjoy the deep gorges, dramatic cascades, and waterfalls the region is famous for! Over the years, hiking has gained popularity nationwide. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, New York State has a lot to offer people looking to get outside. The Finger Lakes region of the State Park system sees several hundred thousand visitors each year, many of whom come to hike the trails. Foot traffic, weather, and time have left some of the trails in Finger Lakes state parks eroded and in need of repair. This erosion not only makes the hiking experience less enjoyable for trail users, it also leads to negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. To meet this problem head-on, the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew (FLRTC) was developed in the spring of 2017.

Crew
Some of the hard-working members of the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew, photo by State Parks

The main goal of the trail crew is to maintain safe and enjoyable hiking trails for park visitors, while protecting the natural and historic resources of the park. Currently the FLRTC consists of three Parks staff members and a diverse group of local volunteers. The Excelsior Conservation Corps also helps out with specific projects. In 2018, the trails crew will host two interns from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Parks Corps devoted to trail stewardship. This team effort has led to a tremendous amount of progress towards the Finger Lakes Park’s trail improvement goals.

Boardwalk
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

Trail work, as a rule, takes a large amount of physical effort and creative problem solving. The work done by the FLRTC is no exception. Traditional tools and building techniques are often employed. Many of the trails in need of repair are in areas that are not accessible by vehicles or equipment. As a result, many of the materials used in trail construction have to be carried in by hand; it takes a strong crew to lug in lumber, stone, and gravel. Sometimes materials have to be moved down into or across the area’s gorges. The trail crew uses high-strength zip lines to accomplish this task. This is the safest method and protects the fragile slopes and vegetation.

Zipline
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

All of this hard work pays off in the form of functional, safe and visually pleasing staircases, boardwalks, and bridges that blend with the surroundings.

 As you get out on the trails this year, take a minute to look down from the beautiful scenery. The trail you are on most likely took a lot of hard work to build and maintain – but chances are the park staff and volunteers behind the work loved every minute of it!

 Post by Zachary Ballard, State Parks

SCA Service Project at Sam’s Point Preserve

It was a beautiful Monday morning as my fellow Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members and I made the trek to the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Members were coming from as far north as Moreau Lake State Park (near the Adirondacks) and as far south as Jones Beach State Park on Long Island.  I had come to Sam’s Point before to volunteer with bird surveys, so I was thrilled to return to this spot for our service project.  We had gathered at what would be our home base for the next three days – us in a circle, cars in the background, and a spectacular view of Sam’s Point itself.  We had gathered here for the 9/11 Patriots’ Day of Remembrance and held a moment of silence to reflect on that day 16 years ago, as well as the service we would be providing for the parks.

Before we could get started, some orientation was in order, as there was a lot of information to cover.  Sam’s Point has a rare population of ridgetop dwarf pitch pine barrens, supporting wildlife such as birds, fishers (small mammals related to weasels), and porcupines.  In April 2016, a wildfire broke out in the area, and efforts are underway to study the resilience of this ecosystem.  We were able to see more of the area by hiking up to the scenic overlook as well as to the super cool ice caves!

Invasive plant removal crew_EN
Some of the invasive species removal crew

There were multiple projects being done in our three days of service.  Two crews worked on erosion control devices on the Verkeerderkill Falls Footpath. One crew worked on making water bars, trail structures that take the water off the trail. Another crew worked on building bog bridges, low wooden bridge structures that raise the trail out of the water or other sensitive area. The third crew was constructing invasive plant boot brush stations at various entrances around the park preserve.  I was part of the invasive species crew for the service project.  Our main focus was removing spotted knapweed, a purple flower that grew on the edge of the Loop Road. We had been out in the sun working hard on knapweed removal, and towards the end of the day, decided to move in the shade to work on stilt grass.

Invasives crew on the trail_EN
On the trail in Sam’s Point Area.

 

While pulling knapweed for many hours at a time, SCA members were able to have some fun.  We had started to play the game Murder on the Trail, which is where the “killer” would stick out their tongue at a person, and five minutes, later the “victim” had to die dramatically. Aaron (one of the program managers) came to check in on us and did not know we were playing this game –   he wasn’t sure what was happening when someone dropped to the ground.  Other fun things included exploring Lake Maratanza and finding baby snakes!  From the beginning of the trail at the bottom of the ridge, all the way to the top, past Sam’s Point towards Lake Maratanza, we pulled almost half a mile of knapweed. That’s a lot of knapweed!

The other teams worked hard and played hard too! The bog bridging crew installed over 170 feet of new bog bridges and the water bar crew improved almost a quarter mile of trail on one of the park preserve’s most popular trails. The boot brush crew installed three new boot brush stations to educate the public about invasive species and help stop the spread of invasive plant seeds.’

Three project photos

After three days of hard work and camping out at Sam’s Point, it was time for all of us to return to our homes in the Hudson valley.  We had done great work for the park and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to the SCA, SCA members, State Parks, and the staff of Sam’s Point. Until next time!

Post by Emily Enoch, SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps Member

Personal Experiences: Excelsior Conservation Corp

Since January, we have been members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps. We work in New York State Parks and state-owned campgrounds and improve the infrastructure (structures that we use to access and enjoy spaces – such as roads, trails, buildings, etc.) of these natural areas. One of our first experiences as members of this program took place in Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. Our project was to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) workers, and produce thunder boxes (box toilets), outhouses, and register boxes (for trailheads). We helped cut, paint, and attach all of the pieces, and then put them together in a way that would help people in the future easily assemble them in the field. Our crew enjoyed carpentry projects such as this. We did more than just improve our carpentry skills during those cold March days, we created friendships within our own crew and with the workers in Saranac Lake. To show their appreciation for our hard work, our project partner took us to the summit of White Face Mountain, the fifth tallest mountain in New York! We got to ride in an elevator made by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the group that our Corps is based on. We also explored the weather station that is situated at the summit and marvel at the gorgeous high peaks of the Adirondacks. This was a great time and was just an introduction to the adventures that would follow!

In June, our crew ventured to Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca. Our job was to rebuild steps on the Gorge Trail. When we arrived, we found a steep trail covered by asphalt and parking barriers and we had the task to remove it all. We started by prying up the heavy concrete barriers and chipping away at the asphalt. Once removed, we then had to carry it all either up or down the hill, depending on what part of the trail we were on. We estimate that we moved more than 20 tons of material over the course of about 18 days! We then began cutting wood and digging dirt to install box steps – 147 steps to be exact! These steps were made from 3 pieces of wood, continuously stacked on top of each other and filled with gravel. The new steps are safer for hikers and will slow down trail erosion allowing park visitors to enjoy the trail for many years to come!

It was a lot of hard work, but we were rewarded with thousands of thank yous from park visitors, beautiful views (Ithaca really is gorges!), and the satisfaction that comes with another completed project.

cut-with-chainsaw
All of the steps were cut by a chainsaw! , photo by Michaela Aney

These were two of the amazing projects we completed this year.

Post by Michaela Aney and Marlena Vera-Schockner, 2016 ECC members

Learn more about the Excelsior Conservation Corps.

Plover Stewards: Guardians of the Endangered Piping Plover

Twenty miles east of New York City, on Long Island, over six million people every year head to Jones Beach State Park for some fun in the sun. This popular beach also happens to be one of the most popular spots in New York State for the endangered Piping plover to nest. The Piping plover is a small, sandy colored shorebird with yellow/orange legs, and a black band strapped across its neck. After they arrive, they chow down on a diet made up of mostly invertebrates (think insects and mollusks), and make their homes at the base of the dunes. Unfortunately, due to extensive hunting in the 19th century for their feathers along with increased beach recreation post-World War II their populations have seen a steep decline. Plover stewards are tasked with reversing this downward trend and protecting these shorebirds from the bevy of visitors. Every summer, the conservation efforts begin with the construction of a “symbolic fence.”

Tire Tracks
Symbolic fencing setup. Photo by Keegan Mobley

Symbolic fence is erected all along the beach in areas where plovers nest and is a simple combination of metal posts, orange string, and orange flagging. Once the fences are built and the plovers arrive, it’s up to the plover stewards to find the nests. Unlike a songbird, piping plovers nest on the ground in round, shallow depressions called “scrapes.” To create a scrape, male plovers walk around the dunes finding locations they would like to nest, then simply scoop out the sand with their feet. They make several scrapes, so females have a variety of spots to choose as a nest. Once they choose a scrape, the plovers will line the pit with shell fragments to reinforce the ground where the eggs will be laid. Plovers will leave and return to their scrape via the same routes forming “Highways.”

Plover stewards use observable highways along with sightings of broken wing displays to determine how close they are to a nest. Plovers feign being injured to draw attention away from their nest and chicks. They lure the predator to follow them by stealthily walking out of the nest and pretending to have a broken wing. As they parade, they tempt the potentially voracious animals away from the nest, only to fly away at the last second before being captured! Even though they use sneaky tactics, the plovers still need some help. So, every year plover stewards build shelters called exclosures around the nests which keep out hungry animals. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry is conducting a study to assess the effectiveness of exclosures.  They do this by comparing predation of exclosed nests versus non- exclosed nests.

Exclosure
Installed piping plover nest exclosure. Photo by Kim Rondinella.

Come June, the exclosures become obsolete as the eggs begin to hatch. Newly hatched chicks can’t fly and are still in danger of being crushed by vehicles driving on the beach. Public vehicles are therefore not allowed on the beach during this time. At State Parks there is still a need for park vehicles to travel the beach for daily tasks, such as trash removal and maintaining the mounds of sand in front of the lifeguard chairs. Plover stewards escort the vehicles to help keep the chicks safe. It takes chicks between 28-35 days to fledge, or to learn how to fly. During this time the chick will transform from looking like a cotton ball on sticks to an almost identical version of its parents.

Least Tern
Least tern straight ahead! Photo by Kim Rondinella.

Long walks on the beach watching these plovers grow- up may sound glorious, but there are some occupational hazards to being a plover steward. During a plover survey walk it’s impossible to avoid another shorebird nesting in the dune habitat: the threatened Least tern. Unlike plovers, Least terns guard their nests viciously: dive-bombing, squawking, and even defecating on anything that comes near including a plover steward.  Yet there are strategies that a plover steward can use to happily coexist with the Least terns! These are including but not limited to walking slowly and confidently and placing a long stick in his/her backpack.

By the end of August, the plovers along with the Least terns will fly thousands of miles south for their annual migration. For many plover stewards it is hard to see these tiny shorebirds leave after months of meticulous observation. But they will be back next year!

Post by Keegan Mobley and Allison Philpott, Jones Beach State Park Plover Stewards and Student Conservation Association members