Tag Archives: Wildlife

Outdoor Activities in State Parks: Hunting

Among the many recreational outdoor activities available in our state parks, hunting is one that many may overlook. Hunting is a long-standing tradition in our nation, both as a necessity and an opportunity to be connected with the outdoors. Hunting is a safe and economically important activity; providing an excellent source of food and promoting family traditions while nurturing an understanding and respect for the environment and the complexity in which it functions. Today, an individual looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities must first complete a hunter safety course, and obtain a hunting license.  The hunter safety course will provide instruction on firearm/ bow safety and planning a hunt, by providing information about the biology of the game species in New York State.

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A hunter with her dog, photo by Bellamy Reynolds

During this fall season many New York residents and out-of-staters will venture out into the woods and wetlands to take part in the multiple hunting seasons that New York State has to offer. Among the vast huntable acreage across the state are properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Parks. In State Parks alone there are about 80 parks, 3 historic sites, 3 golf courses and 50 boat launches that provide opportunities to hunt an array of wildlife from small game, waterfowl to big game species like bear and deer.

Being a hunter – what does it take?

Let’s take a step back and investigate what is involved in becoming a hunter. Besides the hunter safety course and a New York State Hunting license, the hunter must understand the biology of the animal and how that animal interacts with its habitat. Hunters have to be keen observers in order to be successful. Let’s learn about some of the signs a hunter looks for when pursuing whitetail deer.

Deer Path: Deer tend to travel through the forest in a path of least resistance – clear of downed trees and shrubs. Over time these paths become visible as the deer travel them regularly, just like a hiking trail.

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A deer path, from, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADeer_Path.JPG

Tree Rubs: Male deer, or “bucks”, will make rubs on small trees with their antlers to mark their territory, deposit scent and declare their presence to other deer. A hunter must look for rubs in the woods and learn how to tell the difference between and old rub and a new rub. This can be done by closely looking at the tree. A new rub will have the presence of shavings or sawdust on top of the leaf litter that are scraped off when the buck makes a rub. Additionally a new rub will be contrastingly much lighter in color compared to an old rub that is weathered and darker.

Scat: Where deer eat, they poop! A hunter will look for fresh scat (poop) as evidence of recent activity. Fresh scat will be on top of the leaf litter – whereas old scat will be noticeably under leaves and sticks.

Sounds: Deer make a variety of sounds including a soft bleat, grunting, stomping with their hooves, and blowing air. The varying sounds and body language have different meanings. For example a deer may stomp their hooves and blow air out their nose when they smell or see a person in the woods. Observing how deer interact with each other and the sight and scent of humans helps a hunter better understand deer behavior.

A hunter should look for signs of deer well before the hunting season begins to learn the habits of the animal he/she is hunting. Equally important is practice, practice, practice! To be proficient with a firearm or bow a hunter must hone their skills year round. Hunting isn’t easy, it takes practice, time and a lot of patience to be successful. There are many hunter safety education courses available through DEC including the popular “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) series. Take a look for yourself.

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Learn more:

Department of Environmental Conservation Sportsman Education

Post by Lilly Schelling, State Parks

Kayak Adventures in the Niagara Region

Is kayaking on your bucket list?  Have you ever wanted to try it?  Paddle sports are on the rise according to paddle sport statistics and kayaking is the most popular form of paddling.  Kayaking allows you to experience new things and have your own unique experience with nature. Being only a few inches off the water and a few feet away from wildlife, you gain a new connection and understanding of the natural world around you. Kayaking is a recreational activity that is fun for all ages.

Here at the Niagara Region Interpretative Programs Office, we share our love of this paddle sport and pass our knowledge on to park patrons through free Smartstart paddling orientation kayak programs during the summer season. Our adventures lead us to paddle in the following waterways within New York State Parks:

The Lagoon at Beaver Island State Park

Calm waters of the lagoon make this a perfect location for first time kayakers, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Calm waters of the lagoon make this a perfect location for first time kayakers, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Gallagher Beach on Lake Erie at Buffalo Harbor State Park, the newest state park

Winds and other traffic add an element of difficulty, making this a great option for non-first timers! photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Winds and other traffic add an element of difficulty, making this a great option for non-first timers! photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Woods Creek at Buckhorn Island State Park 

A prime example of managed Niagara River Wetlands, and a great opportunity for wildlife viewing, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
A prime example of Niagara River wetlands, part of ongoing restoration efforts and a great opportunity for wildlife viewing, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

East branch of Twelve Mile Creek at Wilson Tuscarora State Park

Paddle from Tuscarora Bay past cattails into the marsh area, great for bird watching, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Paddle from Tuscarora Bay past cattails into the marsh, great for bird watching, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

And the west branch of Twelve Mile Creek at Wilson Tuscarora State Park

Share this waterway with local boat traffic as the creek will take you into Lake Ontario, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Share this waterway with local boat traffic as the creek leads into Lake Ontario, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Beaver Island State Park Kayak Experience

Escape the daily grind, leave the phones and tablets behind and join us for a kayak lesson.  Learn about kayaks, paddles, apparel and how to be safe on the water.

We’ll start our journey by launching off the EZ Dock Launcher, where you just put your kayak (which we supply) down on the rollers and roll off into the water.

Dock Launcher at Beaver Island State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Dock Launcher at Beaver Island State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

As soon as you’re floating on the water, chances are you will float right into a patch of fragrant water lilies, which are scattered all throughout the lagoon.

Along with the aquatic plants, there is an abundance of wildlife.  You can witness Great Blue Herons wading in the shallow waters or flying overhead, while common terns are diving next to you trying to catch their next meal!

In the lagoon, we have an Osprey nesting platform.  From our kayaks below we have had the pleasure of seeing the parent birds keeping watch over their chicks.

Swimming right below our kayaks is a diverse group of aquatic life such as fish and turtles, while flying around us are dragonflies and damselflies.

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Our evening kayak classes are often accompanied by the ever telling song of the bull frog, singing along with the cicadas which are heard all throughout the park on any given summer day.

Getting out on the water with us can give you a chance to see all of this; but also give you a new understanding of kayaking as a sport, learn more efficient ways of paddling, and a few tricks of the trade. So what are you waiting for? Find a kayak class near you and see where your next adventure will take you.  We are here. Where are you?

Sunset on the Niagara River, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Sunset on the Niagara River, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Post by Tina Spencer and Kelly Sieman, OPRHP, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, Park Naturalists

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.”

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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!

Learn more about piping plovers in New York:

USFWS (THE REAL) PLOVERS OF NEW YORK

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

Rebirth After Fire

Text and photos by Lindsey Feinberg, Student Conservation Association Intern at Sam’s Point  Please ask permission to use photos.

Located within Minnewaska State Park Preserve is Sam’s Point, an area of unique ecological significance encompassing roughly 5,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains of southern New York. Toward the end of April, during a particularly dry and windy week, a fire broke out along the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail and engulfed over 2,000 acres of pitch pine and oak woodlands. While this may seem like a devastating event, one of the factors that make the globally rare dwarf pine ridge ecological community of Sam’s Point so unique is that it is a fire dependent ecosystem.

Since progressing into the deep summer months, Sam’s Point has experienced an explosion of new growth. Toward the end of the fire there was an extended period of cold rainy weather that continued for a week after the fire was out. Soon afterward , bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) fiddleheads began springing forth through the burned earth and painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) flowered near the Ice Caves trail in an area of low intensity burn. A number of pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule)  also popped up along the Loop Road and the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail.

Sam’s Point was fully closed until Memorial Day Weekend, when it was reopened to limited capacity with only the Loop Road and Ice Caves Trail available to the public. Park staff members were positioned at the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail with a table of educational materials in order to encourage park patrons to obey the closures and help them understand the importance of staying out of affected areas. The main concern is the potential for rapid spread of non-native invasive plant species by seeds hitchhiking in the boots and backpacks of visitors. Without competition from established plants and with the increased availability of nutrients that follows fire, invasive species have the potential to quickly establish.

Fortunately, the closures seem to be working and few invasive plants and many native species have been seen in those areas. Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata) have been quick to return, along with chokeberries (Photinia melanocarpa), serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), wild raisin (Viburnum nudum) and sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), which have repopulated the understory in a carpet of vibrant green. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), a small, showy rhododendron that is threatened in New York State, has been proliferating in high numbers in some of the wetter areas of Sam’s Point. Even bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), a wildflower more typical of cool, moist woodlands and uncommon in southern New York, is coming back near the Indian Rock Trail.

Many of the pitch pine trees that were blackened and scorched, all of which looked ostensibly dead, have exhibited new growth occurring at the base, epicormically (along the trunk), and from the top of the tree. Walking along the loop road, hints of long bristly shoots resembling bright green porcupines are apparent on a number of blackened trees. The majority of pitch pine stumps that were cut for fire control purposes have also begun re-sprouting.

New Shoots on Pitch Pine
Pitch pine is not the only tree sending out new shoots—scrub oaks, birches, red maples, and aspens are also exhibiting basal sprouting on burned trees. Quaking aspen seedlings have shot up in areas along the loop road, exhibiting strange early growth patterns of large, red tinted leaves. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg

Equally important for the ecology and continuance of the globally rare dwarf pine ridge community  is the successful germination of pine seeds. As pitch pines get older, they lose their ability to re-sprout. Many older pitch pines will experience a wave of mortality even after new shoots appear. Possible reasons for this subsequent mortality of pitch pines is that a burned tree tends to be more stressed, and may not as resilient to any new factors that can further increase stress, such as insect predation and extreme weather events. Additionally, new shoots probably won’t distribute evenly on each tree, and this added weight on a weakened tree can cause branches to break or the entire tree to topple over. But there is still hope. The closed, charred pine cones opened soon after the fire ended, their russet innards contrasting brightly against the blackened landscape. The seeds were dispersed and fell to the ground. In order to germinate, pitch pine seeds need to be exposed to mineral soil. This is usually achieved when a fire burns through the upper duff (dead leaves and other plant material) and organic soil layers, which are more likely to burn when the fire is allowed to continue for long enough and reach a hot enough temperature. Until recently, the park staff at Sam’s Point had been unable to find any seedlings despite nearly half of the acreage on Sam’s Point being burned.

Pitch Pine Cones
Newly opened pitch pine cones along the Indian Rock Trail. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg

But how do you monitor 2000 acres for seedlings? You don’t. Instead, you look at a sample. One of the first post-fire initiatives by Parks’ Sam’s Point research staff was to establish 20 randomly placed research plots in order to document forest regeneration and the recovery of this natural area over time. Returning to the plots and recording information on the plants and soil helps us to understand and learn more about this ecosystem. In addition, we established photopoints in four of the research plots. Since May 7th, we have been photographing four plots from the same location on a biweekly basis. Photopoints are a great supplement to research documenting change over time, as it provides a way to visually understand what changes are taking place.

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Sampling is scheduled to begin sometime in August, but one of the most exciting aspects of establishing randomly placed plots is discovering unique areas that might otherwise go unnoticed. During our fieldwork we found several areas of pitch pines averaging only 4 feet tall. Upon further examination, we discovered that the soil was extremely shallow in those spots, as little as 2 inches over solid bedrock. In July, none of Sam’s Point staff had seen any new seedlings during their regular duties around the park, but after checking in on the sections with low soil depth we were able to find a good number of seedlings. And soon after, seedlings were found in some of the wetland pockets as well. All good news for the recovery.

Pitch Pine Seedling
A pitch pine (PInus rigida) seedling finally appears, several months after the fire. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg

Sam’s Point has a number of unique, highly acidic wetlands too. While the larger pockets were relatively untouched by the fire, the smaller outflows were more vulnerable, especially in areas of extremely shallow soil. However, the wet areas that were burned along High Point Carriage Road and some other narrow strips of wetland have begun exhibiting their wetland qualities once again. Sphagnum moss, a characteristic moss genus found in bogs, has returned in some of these areas, while tiny sundews (Drosera spp.) can be seen on both the newly grown moss and the saturated but still blackened soil.

Animal activity was apparent almost immediately. The prairie warblers’ ascending trill could be heard throughout the spring in all areas of the preserve. Insect and pollinator activity has been high, especially with the return and subsequent blooms of milkweeds and meadowsweet. Park staff also noticed a number of ruffed grouse, which like forest openings. The remains of chewed up pine cones littering the forest floor are evidence of red squirrels. Eastern towhee activity was also high in the period immediately after the fire. Towhees are a species of bird that feed on pitch pine seeds as they are released from their cones. Amphibians could be spotted burrowing into the moist ground in order to keep cool.

During a fire and the initial period afterward, it is easy to focus on the destruction and negative impacts. However, it’s important to remember that fire is a vital ecological process in many environments, especially for the health and longevity of pine barren communities. The Sam’s Point Fire offers great opportunities for discovery. Researchers from the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership, Mohonk Preserve, The Nature Conservancy and nearby colleges like SUNY New Paltz met to discuss research needs and interests to inform management and increase our knowledge about this exceptional place and ecosystem. It’s exciting to see what the future holds for Sam’s Point.