Tag Archives: New York State

Wildlife areas in New York State

Here be Dragons (and Damsels)!

Yes, back to the NYSDEC’s excellent Five Rivers Environmental Education Center preserve yet again, but this is something I anticipate writing frequently in this blog now that we are living once more in the Hudson Valley!

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

A 'baskettail' species of dragonfly, and - because it is perched in bushes away from water - this one is likely to be a female
A ‘baskettail’ (Epitheca) species of dragonfly, and – because it is perched in bushes away from water – this one is likely to be a female

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of spring is seeing the reappearance of odonates (a.k.a. ‘odes’)– the dragonflies and       damselflies – and even though they are only just getting started, today’s short hike (May 14) was no    disappointment.

Because dragonflies are predators and are more robust than – say – butterflies, they tend to have less human admirers, but that’s a pity because they    really  are remarkable and often spectacular.     Damselflies are   predators too,  but are typically much smaller and more delicate.

This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be
This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be

They are also very ancient creatures and fossils of very large dragonfly ancestors are found from 325 million years ago. Indeed, in those days, due to there being more oxygen in the atmosphere, dragonflies used to grow much bigger, with wingspans up to 750mm / 30 inches across.

None-the-less, in recent years far more people have started taking a lot of interest, particularly in dragonflies – often birders who are finding it to be an additional and equally enjoyable use for their binoculars. (Close-focusing binoculars are by far the best for getting a good look at timid dragonflies and butterflies without frightening them away.)

A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive
A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive

One of the challenges with getting interested in odonates is that some of them are very difficult to tell apart. Recognition of various species can literally require catching them and taking a very close look with a hand lens.  The good thing is that they can be caught and handled then safely released with no harm done, but in my case I have more than enough to carry in the form of camera gear without adding a long-handled net to the burden, so I will apologise now for not always being able to give a definitive identification for all of my ‘ode’ photographs.

Damselflies' eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies' eyes (see above) typically touch at the top of the head
Damselflies’ eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies’ eyes (see photos above of the baskettail species) typically touch at the top of the head

As the photos in this blog show, this hike turned up a beautiful dragonfly (just one species, I believe) and at least two species of damselflies.  (I should add that in both types of creature it is common for males and females to look very different, but that is not always the case.)

Apart from the positioning of the eyes (see the above photo caption) another good way to tell dragonflies from damselflies is how they hold their wings when they are not flying.  If you look at the top photo on this page, of a dragonfly, you can see that it rests with its wings straight out at right-angles to the body.  Now look at the damselfly photos, above and below this paragraph and you can see that their wings are held along the body, not sticking out to the sides.

A beautiful male 'Eastern Forktail' damselfly
A beautiful male ‘Eastern Forktail’ damselfly (Ischnura verticalis)

One thing they do all have in common is a need for water for the reproductive phase of their lives, so any water (other than the sea) can be a good location to see ‘odes’, whether it is a large pond, a small pond, a fast stream, a slow stream or even a tiny ‘seep’.

If you decide to try photographing them, be aware that they have huge eyes for a reason.

I believe this is a female but I'm not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)
I believe this is a female but I’m not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)

They have near-360-degree vision and because many birds will eat them they react instantly to fast movement, so approach very, very slowly.  Some species are easier to photograph, though, because they will habitually come back to the same twig or blade of grass as a perch, so watch where they land then move closer – at which point they will probably fly away – then move closer again and keep your fingers crossed that they do come back to the same place.  Patience will pay dividends!

If you would like to look at books on this enjoyable subject, I wholeheartedly recommend (for North America):

  1. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Dennis Paulson; Princeton Field Guides
  2. Unsurprisingly the same author does a book for the ‘West’, too
  3. Dragonflies Through Binoculars, by Sidney W. Dunkle; Oxford University Press.

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

 

Nature at Olana

It could be argued that if ever architecture looked out-of-place for its location it is at Olana, in the Hudson Valley, New York State, on the east bank of the river, on the opposite side to the town of Catskill.  It’s origins, however, are of significant artistic interest.

Frederic Edwin Curch's Persian-style mansion at Olana
Frederic Edwin Church’s Persian-style mansion at Olana

Olana is a Persian-inspired mansion that was built for Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, and perhaps best known for painting large panoramic landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets… Church’s paintings emphasise light and a romantic respect for natural detail…  [For more detail, go to Wikipedia.]

Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone

I paid two visits to the grounds (which is free on weekdays but costs just a few dollars for admission on weekends and public holidays), once in late April and again early in May.  As I was short of time on both of these occasions I limited my walks to a lap of the man-made lake     although there are several other walks available to visitors.

Hepatica
Hepatica

On both of my visits only a couple of spring ephemerals were present: Rue Anemones and Hepatica, although the latter was past it’s best on my May walk.

As for the lake itself, I have been here a few times but this was the first time I was able to see that there are some Koi carp present (either that or some very large goldfish, if that’s not the same thing!).  The other non-native that was present, but fortunately in very small quantities was the invasive reed Phragmites.

Koi Carp in the lake at Olana
Koi Carp in the lake at Olana

Much more interesting were the male Common Green Darner dragonflies that were patrolling sections of the shoreline, waiting for the arrival of females.

Several birds were present, though I didn’t get good photos of as many as I usually manage.

The ones not photographed included:

  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Blue Jay
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Song Sparrow
A male Baltimore Oriole
A male Baltimore Oriole

I certainly expected to see more species of migrating warblers passing through but             disappointingly that didn’t happen.

The two species that did surrender to my lens were the      ubiquitous America Robin and the spectacular Baltimore Oriole.

My bird ‘stalking’ usually gets more prolific results!

Last but by no means least, the humble Inch Worm!
Corrected caption:  NOT an Inch Worm but likely a Noctuid moth caterpillar!

While I was there, though, what I took to be an ‘inch worm’ dangling in the sunshine caught my eye.  Most Americans undoubtedly have seen inch worms but after I got home from this walk I looked it up and was staggered to find the claim that there are, in fact, over 1400 different species of inch worm in North America!  To check further, I sent the above photo to someone vastly more knowledgeable than I about entomology and their response was that this was not even an inch worm – a fact     given away by the number of pairs of ‘sucker’ legs!  Instead, this is likely to be the caterpillar of a ‘Noctuid’ species of moth, and there are hundreds of different species of those, too!  My thanks to ‘Ask An Entomologist’ – on Twitter @BugQuestions – for this information.

For those people interested in Mr. Church, his home and his artwork, guided tours of the house are available on certain days. For details go to: www.olana.org/plan-your-visit/

Over the delightfully-named Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the town of Catskill, one can also visit the home of Thomas Cole – a famous English-born artist – which is now a National Historic Site. More info at: www.thomascole.org/visit-main/

 

Kaaterskill Falls – Early May (Page 1)

[Go to Page 2]

We had never been to the famous Kaaterskill waterfalls before, but at least we knew three key things about them:

  • The upper part of the Falls is high – 264 feet is the stated drop, and that’s roughly the same height as a 27-storey building;
  • The walk up to the Falls, from Route 23A west of Palenville, was said to be a steep and rather difficult walk;
  • Over the years, quite a few people have been killed by climbing to the very top of the falls then slipping and falling off.
The upper section of Bastion Falls, just yards above Route 23A
The upper section of Bastion Falls, just yards above Route 23A

The actual path leaves the road just below a second, much smaller pair of waterfalls called Bastion Falls, and these are photogenic in their own right.

The sections of steps, on the steepest bits of the path, had been washed out by rain or melt-water and were a bit of a nuisance.
The sections of steps, on the steepest bits of the path, had been washed out by rain or melt-water and were a bit of a nuisance.

Sure enough, parts of the path did prove to be a bit steep, with rough bits that require small-scale ‘boulder hopping’, or stepping over tree roots.  Indeed, two sections had man-made sections of staircase but so soon after the end of winter these were in poor condition and need some repair work to stop them from being more of a hindrance than a help.

One of the nice advantages of being laden down with cameras, lenses and a very large tripod, in circumstances like this, is that it is easy to pretend one is pausing to check-out the view and perhaps line up a photograph. But not me… I wasn’t just taking a breather; honest!  {:-)

From what we saw during our hike to the main Falls, I’m going to guess that early spring or late fall will be equally great times of year to visit Kaaterskill:  Not too much          foliage on the trees, together with nice colours.  Certainly our spring-day walk was beautiful in this respect – the bright greens of tree buds opening and glorious sunshine that wasn’t too hot for comfort.

The two-tier Kaaterskill Falls, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State
The two-tier Kaaterskill Falls, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State

Before our hike, I had recently bought the book ‘Hiking Waterfalls In New York’, by Randi and Nic Minetor, and it warns that a lot of people visit Kaaterskill even on weekdays.  We were there on a Saturday so it could be no surprise that there were indeed quite a lot of people coming and going at the Falls.

I got one of my cameras set up on my tripod at the viewpoint I wanted to use but rather understandably I then had to wait more than an hour and a half before I could get some shots without any people in view.  The wait was no problem:  The sun was just nicely warm and the mosquitos are all apparently still on vacation, snowbirding down in Florida; there certainly weren’t any there to spoil our day, even though they’ll undoubtedly hatch out from last year’s eggs and re-emerge, to bzzzz and be nasty again before too long.

EWr-7D2-150502-001_KaaterskillFallsSign©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-Reserved

So did anything spoil the day?  Yes, sadly it did.  I had no idea that so many people had difficulty with reading!  The number who ignored the warning signs and climbed up to the top of the falls – despite fair warnings about the number that have been killed doing so – was saddening.

While we were there, one young woman even played hula-hoops near the lip of the falls, with a hoop she had apparently carried all the way up there for that very purpose… Astonishing.

If individuals feel an absolute need to put Darwin’s “survival” theory to the test, perhaps they could at least choose to do so in places  where other people won’t have to risk life and limb to recover what’s left.  (Incidentally, back home in the Lake District National Park, in England, I was a member of two different mountain rescue teams in my younger years, so this is a subject that is dear to my heart.)

A very long lens was used to capture the light and movement in this shot of a tiny section of the upper falls (from the same viewpoint as the distant shot of the Falls, above)
A very long lens was used to capture the light and movement in this shot of a tiny section of the upper falls (from the same viewpoint as the distant shot of the Falls, above)

Right!  Now back to the good things about Kaaterskill Falls, and the main one of these is that it is a very beautiful location.  No wonder that members of the famed Hudson River School of artists made the place famous in the 19th Century.  Thomas Cole allegedly led the way, 190 years ago, in 1825.

Anyway, here’s a tip:  After you have visited the Falls, don’t be in too much of a rush to get back down the hill to your car.  Take time to enjoy the real beauty and wildlife of the little gorge that the creek tumbles through, because it is indeed beautiful.  To read about this aspect of the walk, click on Page Two.

The Amphibians Awake

On the same walk as my blogs for ‘Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Wannabees‘, and ‘A Mixed Bag of Birds at Fiver Rivers‘, I photographed the pond life that’s started to flourish once more since the winter ice melted away.

Snapping Turtle on the move... Slowly!
Snapping Turtle on the move… slowly!

 

A Snapping Turtle that appears to need a bigger log to haul-out onto.
A Snapping Turtle that appears to need a bigger log to haul-out onto.

 

Eastern Painted Turtles
Eastern Painted Turtles

 

Juvenile Eastern Painted Turtle plus fish and a Water Strider (lower right)
Juvenile Eastern Painted Turtle plus fish and a Water Strider (lower right)

 

A bullfrog tadpole resting in shallow water (after over-wintering under the ice)
A bullfrog tadpole resting in shallow water (after over-wintering under the ice)

 

The dorsolateral folds (i.e. raised lines down either side of its back) show this to be a one-year-old Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)
The dorsolateral folds (i.e. raised lines down either side of its back) show this to be a one-year-old Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)

 

A Mixed Bag of Birds at Five Rivers

On the same walk I wrote about in ‘Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Wannabees‘, I grabbed a few photos of birds that conveniuently appeared nearby.  I don’t think there’s anything that needs adding in terms of a ‘story’ here, so this is just a small selection of the resultant images:

Nesting territory dispute - Canada Geese
Nesting territory dispute – Canada Geese

 

Northern Roughwing Swallow (Stelgidopterix serripennis)
Northern Roughwing Swallow (Stelgidopterix serripennis)

 

Territorial dispute - Canada Geese
Tree Swallows (Tachicineta bicolor) staking their claim to a nestbox

 

An American Robin, nothing much like the Eurasian Robin from which, presumably, a homesick immigrant gave this ginger-breasted species of thrush its hand-me-down name.
An American Robin, nothing much like the Eurasian Robin from which – presumably – a homesick immigrant gave this ginger-breasted species of thrush its hand-me-down name.

 

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

 

 

The Financial Link between Hunting & Fishing and Sustainable Wildlife Populations in the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System

The case for this apparently very successful approach is outlined in a press release dated March 5, 2014, as follows:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe today announced the agency will expand hunting and fishing opportunities throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, opening up new hunting programs on six refuges and expanding existing hunting and fishing programs on another 20 refuges. The rule also modifies existing refuge-specific regulations for more than 75 additional refuges and wetland management districts.

The Service manages its hunting and fishing programs on refuges to ensure sustainable wildlife populations, while offering traditional wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands.

“For more than a century, hunters and anglers have been the backbone of conservation in this country and a driving force behind the expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “By providing more hunting and fishing opportunities on refuges, we are supporting a great recreational heritage passed down from generation to generation, creating economic growth in local communities and helping to ensure that conservation stays strong in America.”

Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service can permit hunting and fishing where they are compatible with the refuge’s purpose and mission. Hunting, within specified limits, is permitted on more than 335 wildlife refuges. Fishing is permitted on more than 271 wildlife refuges.

“Hunting and fishing are time-honored ways to enjoy the outdoors and teach people to value nature,” said Director Ashe. “Our National Wildlife Refuge System has millions of acres of public land and water to provide quality hunting and fishing experiences. We hope these expanded hunting and fishing programs will allow more Americans to experience this connection with nature.”

Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities on national wildlife refuges help stimulate the economy and generate funding for wildlife conservation. Banking on Nature, a Service report released in November, showed refuges pumped $2.4 billion into the economy. Across the country, refuges returned an average $4.87 in total economic output for every $1 appropriated in Fiscal Year 2011.

Other wildlife-dependent recreation on national wildlife refuges includes wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation.

###

The press release also contains a list of the refuges affected by the above policy change, one of which — Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge — is here in New York.

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Survey – Your Help is Requested

Scott Kruitbosch, the Conservation & Outreach Coordinator at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, NY, is asking for help monitoring Rusty Blackbirds during the Spring Migration.

Learn more in this blog entry:    http://rtpi.org/rusty-blackbird-spring-migration-blitz/

Soott asks:  “Please help find Rusty Blackbirds — one of the fastest declining species on the continent — wherever you are during the blitz.    Feel free to email me if you have any other questions and good luck finding them.”

His e-mail address is: skruitbosch@rtpi.org

You might also like to visit the website of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.