Keep An Eye Out For HWA

The winter is a great time to visit State Parks in New York. Even in these colder months, opportunities for recreation are abundant and each year State Parks welcomes cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and hikers, who enthusiastically explore the many miles of trail that are open and maintained for winter activities.

Many recreationists are as eager to hit the trails in the winter as in the warmer months, but most are likely not aware that by enjoying their favorite winter past-time, they are also able to aid State Parks Biologists and staff in detecting an insidious invasive pest.

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), is a non-native, invasive aphid-like insect that infests Eastern Hemlocks throughout New York State, and across most of the eastern US. The insect attacks the tree by attaching to the underside of the branch at the base of the needles, and feeding on the sap. The tree will respond by shutting down resources to the damaged areas. Eventually, as the infestation spreads, the tree dies – the insects having essentially sucked the life out of it.

Currently, work is being done throughout NY State to try to slow the spread of this pest. However, in order to combat HWA, researchers first need to know where it has (and hasn’t) been found. This creates an opportunity for concerned and conservation-minded citizens to provide a great service to the parks they love, and to help to protect the natural beauty that they cherish.

Hemlocks, one of many coniferous (cone-bearing) species throughout New York State, can best be identified by their needles, which are flat, generally a little more than an inch long, and have two white lines running parallel on the underside. The winter months are the best time of year to check these trees for HWA. The insects, which lay eggs in the fall, coat the egg sacks with a white, woolly protective layer, which allows the developing young to survive the winter. This white “wool” also makes the egg sacks very visible throughout the winter months (mainly December-March), and allows observers, with little to no formal training, to detect the presence of HWA in hemlocks.

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HWA egg sacks on an Eastern Hemlock branch. Note the two white lines on the underside of the needles. Photo by Alyssa Reid, NYS Parks.

Checking for HWA is easy – simply flip a hemlock branch over, and scan the base of the needles for the presence of white, woolly, round egg-sacks. While some larger hemlocks have branches that are un-reachable, many of the smaller trees have overhanging branches that can easily be reached without leaving the trail. Take note of where you are, and anything that looks suspicious (many smart phones will even allow you to save your location), and let Parks staff know where you found HWA before you head home for the day.

So, as you head out on the trail this season, consider pausing from time-to-time to inspect a nearby hemlock branch or two. NY State’s hemlocks need our help, and you can play an important role in conservation, while enjoying the outdoors!

For more information, or to find out how to volunteer and learn more about HWA and invasive forest pests, contacts NYS Parks Invasive Species Staff: 845-256-0579.

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HWA surveys are an important way to help out, while exploring New York’s winter wonderland. Photo by Alyssa Reid, State Parks

Post by Sarah Travalio, State Parks

Wildlife Spotlight: Furbearer frenzy: The Mink

Scientific name: Mustela vison

Small predator furbearers are some of the most fun, and most uncommon, animals to see in the wild. And mink are some of the most secretive in this group! Minks are in the weasel family and can grow to about the size of a housecat. Unlike weasels however, mink do not change color in winter. Mink are generally dark furred, with a distinctive white patch on their chins. Mink seem to be more common in the southern tier of New York State, so keep an eye out for these adorable buggers on your hikes in that area.

Mink were traditionally prized and trapped for their soft, glossy coats. Mink coats were a status symbol in the early 20th century, with most coats made from wild-caught mink. However, the 1950s through the 1970s saw a large increase in the production of farmed mink, especially from Europe, which reduced the burden on the wild populations. Today, trapping licenses for mink are available through the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the season is open when the population can withstand normal trapping pressures. DEC reports that the mink population is stable and able to sustain the trapping that still exists.

Mink are excellent swimmers, and they can also climb trees. Their clawed and webbed feet make them versatile predators. They are opportunistic predators, meaning they prey on crayfish, frogs, lizards, eggs, earthworms- pretty much anything they can find! They prefer wetland, or stream habitats, and will actually use existing burrows for their dens. They prefer muskrat holes, and some individuals have even been reported to evict (and eat) a resident muskrat to use a preferred hole.

Don’t forget to report mink and any other furbearers you see to DEC, to help with annual population data collection on these seldom seen species:

Email: wildlife@dec.ny.gov

Online: Upstate NY

Long Island

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Post by Keleigh Reynolds, State Parks

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American mink, By Mink_in_the_park.jpg qmnonic derivative work Mariomassone (Mink_in_the_park.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.jpg

State Parks Encourages New Yorkers to Celebrate the New Year Outdoors with First Day Hikes at State Parks and Historic Sites on January 1, 2017

This New Year’s Day, many New York state parks and historic sites are inviting the public to celebrate 2017 in the outdoors with a First Day Hike.  The guided hikes are part of the sixth annual First Day Hikes program taking place throughout the nation, giving people of all ages an opportunity to connect with nature and experience the guided walks with family and friends.

Here in New York, fifty hikes are being hosted, nine more than the previous year, at 44 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and destinations within the park.  State park staff and volunteers will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location.  This past year’s program welcomed more than 2,860 people who hiked a total of 6,897 miles.

The start of the new year is the perfect time to leave the hectic holiday pace behind and embrace the outdoors with a walk or hike in New York’s breathtaking scenic settings.  First Day Hikes are a family-friendly tradition that offer a fresh seasonal perspective of the state’s natural treasures and vast opportunities open year-round at State Parks.

Among the many programs being offered this year are a seal walk, winter woodlands, a walking history tour, a snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, canal artifacts, nature detectives and more.  New entries for 2017 include the Jones Beach boardwalk, Gilbert Lake’s wilderness trail, Green Lakes’ hike around the lakes, Seneca Lake and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, exploring Grafton’s lakes and following along the Old Croton Aqueduct.

If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  Many hikes will be offering refreshments.  A listing and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are available at nysparks.com.

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Winter Greens

Winter is here! It is still a great time to get outside to enjoy nature. Here are some evergreen plants you can see in State Parks while hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing this season. These plants are all native to NY state. Though popular for decorating, you should only pick them from your own lands or look for decorating greens at your local nursery or Christmas tree farm. Please don’t pick the plants in state parks or on other public lands so that others may enjoy seeing them in the wilds. A number of the plants below are designated as exploitably vulnerable (http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7135.html) to prevent their over harvesting.

American holly (Ilex opaca) is most common in our Long Island parks and also planted in many landscapes. Its red berries provide good food for wintering birds and the sharp spines on the leaves protect the leaves from being eaten by deer or rabbits.

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This photo of holly was taken in the dunes of Long Island – that is sand, not snow! Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.

Several plants go by the common name of Wintergreen. This one is Gaultheria procumbens. Its thick waxy leaves stay green all winter and also contain wintergreen oil, like the smell of Canada mints or gum.

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Wintergreen.  Photo by Jubilee Fiest.

Clubmosses (lycopods) look like little small Christmas trees or candles on the forest floor. Some types grow along long runners that were popular for garlands. Today, this plant is on the protected list to prevent over harvesting.

You may have read about this one in our November blog. The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) that is found in boggy places in parks. And the less common look-alike below is snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) – oddly more closely related to the Wintergreen above than the cranberry plant. Look hard and you can see the white berry.

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Cranberry. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP
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Snowberry. Photo by J. Lundgren

A few of our ferns are wintergreen too like the common polypody or rock-cap fern (Polypodium virginianum). As its name suggests, it grows on rocks, often in large patches.

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Rock-cap fern.  Photo by NYNHP

Here one that is easy to learn – the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Each leaflet looks like a little boot or stocking!

And what do Santa’s reindeer eat? Reindeer moss of course! This is actually not a moss, but a large group of gray-green lichens that are common in our forests and mountain tops and even more abundant in the tundra of Canada and northern countries where caribou and reindeer live. Shown here with wintergreen and clubmoss.

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Reindeer moss. Photo by Steven Young, NYNYP

Do you know your evergreen trees? What has long soft needles in clusters of 5? Or sharp needles with a strong odor? Or flat needles that are soft to the touch? All of these trees provide important shelter and food for wildlife during the winter and add to the beauty of the winter landscape.

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This one is the white pine (Pinus strobus) with its long soft needles. Photo by Jubilee Feist
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Spruce (Picea sp.) has short, very sharp needles. Photo by J. Lundgren
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Hemlock (Tsuga candensis) has short and soft flat needles, you can see the difference in this and the stiff spruce branches above. Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and yew (Taxus) also have flat needles but both lack the white stripe on the underside of the hemlock leaf. Photo by J. Lundgren
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An inviting path through a grove of hemlocks. Photo by J. Lundgren

So get out and enjoy the greens of winter!

Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program

The Christmas Bird Count. And You Can Too!

In 1900, Frank Chapman, editor of Bird Lore (forerunner of Audubon magazine), whimsically urged people to go out and count birds on Christmas Day. The foray was intended as a civil alternative to the then-traditional “side hunt”, where teams vied to shoot the greatest number of furred and feathered creatures possible on Christmas Day. Anything that moved was fair game, the winning team commended in sportsmen’s magazines.

Happy holidays.

But Chapman’s folly caught on!

So here we are.

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CBC counts in New York State often include American robins, photo by David Johnson

Driven if only by tradition, birding field parties will be scouring 1,500 National Audubon Society-sanctioned count “circles” from Canada to South America during the official 3-week Christmas Bird Count period (always 12/14 – 01/05). Participants tally the number of birds of each species they see or hear during each circle’s designated 24-hour timeframe. NY State has 69 official count circles, each managed by a “compiler” who sets the count date, musters field parties and  compiles all of the data collected by the birders in the circle.

Count circles are 15 miles in diameter, too big for a single field party to adequately census in one day, so compilers typically divide circles into smaller territories which a car-load of wide-eyed “bird dogs” can cover in a day’s time. On the appointed date, the eager field parties trudge through likely birding hot-spots within their assigned territory, often on public lands such as state parks and other conservation properties. They conduct windshield surveys en route, beginning at midnight to count owls, and ending hours later as the cold, hungry, and exhausted teams meet at a compilation pizza party.

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Sightings of Dark-eyed juncos are common during the CBC, photo by David Johnson

What do you find on a Christmas Bird Count?  In some locations, not much – like in Prudhoe Bay in 1994 only 1 species of bird, a Common Raven was spotted in the darkness of a winter’s mid-day. In contrast, 425 bird species were found in one circle in the Andes in 2007. In New York State, you can expect anywhere from 40 to 80 different species and numbering up to many thousands of birds, depending on the locale of your circle and recent weather patterns. That’s the beguiling thing about birding…you just never know.

If you are interested in joining a field party or submitting free-lance data, you can contact the nearest compiler. See if your location falls within a count circle by going to christmasbirdcount.org. Click on the “join the Christmas Bird Count” box on the right, then click the highlighted phrase “A map view of circles” on the next page.  Then type in your locale at the “find a location” box and scroll to find the nearest circle. A yellow bird icon represents the center of a count circle. Click on the icon to reveal compiler contact info.

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Great-blue herons can be seen near open water, photo by David Johnson

Openings may be scarce, as established teams tend to stick together year after year. Having the same teams patrol the same routes at pretty much the same time of day, year after year makes for reliable data. Joining a field party is very regimented field work, and, yes, it is work.

But good data like this helps us see changes in our environment and is the lifeblood of sound wildlife and natural resource management. Long-term studies like this are rare and with over 116 years of observations, CBC data has become a gold mine for professionals studying winter bird distribution and abundance and broader topics like climate change.

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A retired NYS DEC Environmental Educator, Craig D. Thompson has served as President of the Audubon Society of the Capital Region and Vice Chair the Audubon Council of New York State.

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Canada geese at Rudd Pond, Taconic State Park, photo by State Parks

 

The New York State Parks Blog

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