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.”

Ecological Change in Lake Minnewaska

Small changes to lake ecosystems can mean big changes for plants and wildlife that make their homes there. Even though Lake Minnewaska (Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Ulster/Sullivan counties) looks the same from above the surface, life in the water has undergone major change in the past several decades. Lake Minnewaska is a unique “sky lake” ecosystem. Historically, Lake Minnewaska has been acidic acidic. No, it wouldn’t burn you to touch it, but it was too harsh for fish to live in. Studies show that Lake Minnewaska was oligotrophic as recently as the 1990s, meaning that nutrient levels were low and the phytoplankton that form algae were absent. The lake was home to other types of creatures, though, including a mat of sphagnum moss which grew up to 20 meters underwater and carpeted 60% of the lake, possible because of the high clarity of the water. The sphagnum moss sheltered two species of salamander which, because of the lack of predators, made use of the habitat and behaved in ways that no one had ever seen elsewhere (Bahret 1996).

Since the ‘90s, however, the lake has gradually become less acidic and phytoplankton more prolific, moving the lake towards mesotrophic status. The primary factor in the trophic shift is the introduction of the non-native bait fish species, the Golden Shiner, which was first observed in Lake Minnewaska in 2008. The Golden Shiner eats zooplankton, which are the primary consumers of phytoplankton, leading an increase in microscopic plant life in the lake. Because of these changes, sphagnum moss no longer grows in Lake Minnewaska, and as these trends continue, we can expect further reductions in water clarity, and more plant and fish species to take up residence in the lake. NYS Parks’ Environmental Management Bureau – Water Quality Unit continues to monitor Lake Minnewaska as an ongoing part of a statewide lake monitoring program.

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References

Bahret, R. 19996. Ecology of lake dwelling Eurycea bislineata in the Shawangunk Mountains, New York. Journal of Herpetology 30:399-401.

Townley, Lauren. Investigation of trophic changes in Lake Minnewaska, a pristine sky lake in Ulster County, New York. Poster, Northeast Association of Environmental Biologists Conference. Online, accessed 8/25/2014.

Ice Volcanoes

Ice volcanoes erupt at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay
Ice volcanoes erupt at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay
Trekking towards Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay
Trekking towards Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay

The turn to chillier temperatures reminds us all that there’s so much to look forward to in the wintertime at New York State Parks. One of our favorite winter phenomena are the ice volcanoes that form along the eastern end of Lake Erie shoreline. During cold weather, waves splash against the shore where the spray and slush form cone-shaped ice sculptures. In the middle of the cone is an open vent. As long as Lake Erie has open water, the waves roll under the ice volcanoes and are channeled through the vents. Water explodes into the sky as much as 30 feet high, increasing the height of the ice cone. When Lake Erie freezes over the ice volcano vents freeze shut and they become “inactive ice volcanoes.” At Evangola State Park, naturalists lead school and public groups to see the amazing ice volcanoes and ice sculptures that are a rare phenomenon found only on a few of the Great Lakes.

featured image is of park patrons in an ice cave, another unusual ice formation along the Lake Erie shoreline at Evangola State Park, photos and post by Dave McQuay.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) is one of few insects active during the winter months, and so now is the perfect time to be on the lookout for this tiny invader. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) is an invasive insect native to Japan. We think it was introduced in the mid-1900s when Japanese ornamental plants became very popular in American gardens. This tiny insect is specific to evergreen hemlock trees (Tsuga spp.), attaching to new branchlets and feeding on the hemlocks starchy liquids. This continuous feeding weakens the trees and can kill it over the course of about six years. HWA has caused the death of millions of hemlocks along the Appalachians, and gray, ghostly forests are moving ever northward into New York.

HWA egg sacs are the most visible form of the insect, seen from October-May, a time when most insect predators are not active. Egg sacs are found on the underside of hemlock branches and look like small, white, fuzzy blobs, like the tip of a cotton swab.

HWA reproduces twice a year, allowing for exponential population growth in a short period of time. NYS Parks is taking an active role in managing new infestations of HWA. Chemical insecticides, applied very specifically to individual hemlocks, are the best method of control. In addition, NYS Parks has released predatory insects as biological controls in several state parks, with the hope they will one day keep HWA populations in check. Parks just hosted two HWA volunteer training events in Western NY to help us determine presence/absence areas.

Now is the perfect time to be on the lookout for HWA. For more information, or to report sightings in NYS Parks, contact  invasives@parks.ny.gov

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