Tag Archives: Wildlife

Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is one of the methods scientists use to keep track of wildlife in New York’s parks. To set a trap, researchers place a hidden camera in a location where an animal is likely to pass by, and sometimes they even leave bait to make the trap extra enticing. The bait in all these photographs is road-killed deer salvaged under permit for this purpose. At NYS Parks, we use infrared-sensing cameras. When an animal passes in front of the camera, the infrared-sensor is activated and the camera snaps a pic. Later, the researcher comes back to the camera to find out what he or she “captured” on film. In this way, researchers can observe and survey wildlife without frightening them or interfering with their natural behavior. It’s also one of the best ways to find out if certain rare, nocturnal, or particularly shy animals are living in our parks, such as bobcats, which are rarely sighted in the daytime.

This trap at Harriman State Park (Rockland and Orange Counties) was set up where golden eagles had been sighted in winter, 2013. We were thrilled to discover that we captured not only the golden eagle, but a coyote and bobcat as well! The observations of the golden eagle from this camera are being contributed to a database kept by the Appalachian Eagles Project, an effort to survey wintering golden eagles.

These next pictures were taken by the Taconic Outdoor Education Center at Fahnstock State Park for the purpose of better understanding the diversity of wildlife and their behavior. For example, we were surprised to capture an image of a great horned owl in our camera trap, as this species is not known to scavenge for meals. Other animals featured in these photos are turkey vultures, red tail hawk, crows, coyote, bobcat and bald eagle.

Wildlife Spotlight: Pine Grosbeak

The Pine Grosbeak is one of the largest members of the finch family, and a rare winter visitor to New York. This bird species generally breeds between Alaska and Newfoundland, and south in the western mountains to California and Arizona. They winter further south, in the Dakotas, New York, and also Eurasia. These birds use their short, curved beaks to eat seeds, buds, and berries from trees such as Mountain Ash, cedar, and Juniper. Look for Pine Grosbeaks in scattered forests where these kinds of trees are plentiful. Pine Grosbeak’s tame and slow-moving behavior has earned them an unusual name in Newfoundland, where they are called “mopes.”

Post by Paris Harper, photos by Lilly Schelling.

Hellbenders: salamanders in peril

As the largest salamander in the Western hemisphere, you wouldn’t think that hellbenders could easily slip under the radar. However, these well-camouflaged, aquatic creatures are rarely seen, and due to loss of suitable habitat, they are being seen with increasing rarity.

In New York, hellbender salamanders live exclusively in the Susquehanna and Allegheny river drainages, including their associated tributaries. Numbers are declining in both of these ranges, particularly in the former, where hellbenders are all but extirpated. A “hellbender head-start program” has focused on the Allegany Region, where earlier this year a number of captive-raised hellbenders were released into the park’s streams. The captive-rearing program has been a collaboration between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Bronx Zoo, the Buffalo Zoo, the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, and the Seneca Nation of Indians. More information on that project can be found here.

Check out this cool video featuring awesome hellbender action produced by Freshwaters Illustrated, an organization which produces educational media about the life, study and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

featured image is hellbender habitat in Allgany State Park, by Andrea M. Chaloux. Post by Paris Harper

Wildlife Spotlight: the Bee Fly

The bee fly is an adorable insect which can be seen buzzing around wildflowers in spring and summer. The one in this photo was seen near the shoreline at Harriman State Park. Bee flies are named for their round, fuzzy bodies and habit of flying from flower to flower in search of food. Unlike bees, however, these flies don’t sting! That long nose is called a proboscis, and it serves the same function as a hummingbird’s beak, allowing the bee fly to sip nectar from flowers. But as cute and harmless as the adult bee flies are, they start their lives as ferocious little larva! Bee Flies lay their eggs in the same burrows solitary bees dig for their own eggs. When the fly larvae hatch, they eat the bee’s winter cache of pollen, and then they eat the baby bees, too!

We think these guys are the cutest fly species! Photo by Paris Harper
We think these guys are the cutest fly species! Photo by Paris Harper

Predator Study At State Parks

A research study out of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) is collaborating with Fahnstock State Park and Wonder Lake State Park in Putnam County to look at predator populations as part of an ongoing study of the declining population of New England cottontails (NEC), Sylvilagus transitionalis. NEC is a rabbit native to the northeastern U.S., but studies indicate that in the past decade, the population of NEC has decreased by as much as 50%. Some populations of the cottontails are in New York State Parks, and learning more about best management practices is critical to protecting this species.

As the New England cottontail (NEC) is a declining species being considered for listing on the federal Endangered Species Act, there are a lot of ongoing efforts to create habitat for these rabbits in the Northeast. The hope is these efforts will preemptively restore populations of NEC in the region, making it unnecessary to list the species as endangered.

The two greatest contributing factors to the decline of NECs are loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus. While the two cottontail species are almost identical in appearance, the Eastern Cottontail generally outcompetes NECs for food and habitat, edging the native species out of its former range. While loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail are both factors contributing to the decline of New England Cottontail, this study looks at predation in conjunction with other management practices.

Predation accounts for almost all natural mortality in NECs. As such, increases or decreases in the predator community would have serious consequences for the cottontail population. Most management projects have focused on enhancing habitat for NECs, but this study considers whether those projects might have the unintended consequence of altering the predator communities in such a way that cottontail survival is reduced. If that’s the case, then it will be necessary to consider predator management strategies when managing habitat for NEC. Results from this study will help inform habitat managers and recover NEC populations.

The project, led by PhD student Amanda Cheeseman and Dr. Jonathan Cohen, both from SUNY-ESF, together with Scott Silver of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Putnam Highlands Audubon, uses trail cameras targeting mammal predators, in combination with visual and auditory surveys for hawks, owls, and eagles, to examine predator communities in areas where different ways of controlling and managing NEC habitat are already being practiced. The project is taking place across multiple sites in Putnam and Dutchess counties. The pictures above were taken in Fahnstock State ParkThe information from the predator study will be compared to data from radio-collared cottontails in order to get a complete picture of the predator-prey relationships in New England Cottontail habitats.

featured image is of the New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis, by Michael Merchand, NYNHP