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News from MRG
Spring is a Glorious Time
By Rod Christie
Spring is a glorious time, full of new smells, sounds, and colors that are in direct contrast to those departing months of winter. Perhaps my favorite season, it is the rapid emergence of new life that makes it so exciting. Snow and ice melt to reveal the landscape beneath and water is everywhere. Ephemeral wildflowers use the abundant sunlight to burst into bloom, birds return for their winter haunts and rush to stake out breeding territories, fish fight the current to work their way to their spawning sites, and, my favorite, the frogs begin to sing.
There are more than half a dozen frog species that call the Gorge home and most of them are never seen by the average person, but most are heard. The wood frog is the first to emerge, most likely because it spends winter buried close to the surface under a layer of leaves. It has a remarkable ability to survive the freezing and thawing of winter. Its skin turns rock hard and crusty to protect it and a special protein in its blood makes the water in the blood freeze first. This freezing process sucks the remaining water out of the body cells which are at the same time being pumped full of glucose from the frog’s liver. This combination dehydrates the cells, but the sugar keeps them from collapsing. Its heartbeat, brain activity and all bodily functions stop. When the weather thaws, so does the frog. Water flows back into its sugary cells, bringing it back to life. As the nearby pond thaws, it joins other wood frogs as they make their way to open water and begin to breed. Their raucous calls sound like a bunch of quacking ducks and they can emerge, mate and lay eggs in a matter of weeks if the weather cooperates.
Following the wood frogs are usually the spring peepers. These tiny woodland frogs also possess a type of antifreeze all-be-it not as good as the wood frogs’. They emerge to breed by the thousands and their cacophony has disturbed many a light sleeper. Eventually most breed and their calls wane, only to be followed by the snoring calls of pickerel frogs; then the “single loud, throaty ‘gunk’ or ‘boink” of green frogs, and then the trill of the Gray tree frogs (which come down from trees to breed on rainy nights in June). Then later in June and July the nights are home to the “loud low pitch, two-part drone or below” of bullfrogs. The bullfrog is an introduced species to the United States and is extremely aggressive. It will eat just about anything it can fit into its mouth, including other bullfrogs. I once saw a bullfrog try to eat a small muskrat unsuccessfully: quite a sight to behold. Beware of these guys–once they take up residence in your pond, you will slowly see all the smaller native frogs disappear as the bullfrog grows progressively larger.
Volunteer Work Day on Saturday, April 1 – Opening Day!
Opening Day at the Gorge! Trails open on April 1, and we need your help to make sure they’re ready for visitors. Winter takes its toll on the steps, trail edging and retaining walls that comprise the narrow and winding hiking paths.
Please join Mianus River Gorge staff and fellow volunteers for a Volunteer Work Day on Saturday, April 1. Two sessions are available: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Come for either or bring your lunch and stay for both!
Your help is needed to … revitalize the Deer Exclosure trail … replace and install edging along sections of the trail using cedar logs secured with wood wedges and long pins … rebuild a retaining wall on the Red trail using strong locust logs and rebar … redo a series of steps on the Blue trail … and more.
Volunteer Work Day is a chance to get out-of-doors, meet new people, and contribute to a memorable experience for all MRG visitors. Bring a friend (and work gloves if you have them)!
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 234-3455 to sign up for the morning or afternoon session (or both). THANK YOU!
MRG’s Impressive Student Researchers
Mianus River Gorge’s highly acclaimed Research & Education program continues its fruitful history of mentoring, teaching, and engaging students in meaningful applied ecology research. Students at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels learn valuable research protocols, gain hands-on field experience, and share their findings at science poster competitions, in published scientific papers, and in their masters and doctoral theses.
Most recently, high school Wildlife Technician Program (WTP) student Matt Gomes placed second in the animal/plant sciences category at the Westchester Science Competition. His project studied the interactive effects of deer, invasive plant species, and native plant recovery in the Preserve.
Additionally, Research Assistantship Program (RAP) alumna Rachel Bricklin and WTP high school student Ellen Thomas are co-authors of Foraging Birds during Migratory Stopovers in the New York Metropolitan Area: Associations with Native and Non-native Plants, in Urban Naturalist, No. 11 (2016). During her time as a RAP graduate student at MRG, Rachel mentored Ellen and studied stopover habitats for migratory birds in urban and nearby suburban sites.
Last summer’s College in Suburban Ecology intern Kyle Sanduski of SUNY Geneseo is just one of many in the program’s 10+-year history to have benefitted from the program. “I would like to thank you all for the excellent and memorable experience I had within my short 8 weeks. My expectations were far exceeded. I have further realized that my aspirations are focused on local level conservation-based NGOs.”
While students work on a project of their choosing, the projects all align with MRG’s ongoing efforts to preserve and protect the watershed. The students are mentored by MRG scientists Rod Christie, Chris Nagy, and Budd Veverka on projects that study white-tailed deer, coyotes, and other wildlife; restore native plant diversity within the Gorge; and contribute to the sustainability, resiliency, and health of the vital wetlands system.
We’re proud of our students, of course, but MRG’s scientists get high praise and recognition, too. Dr. Chris Nagy was tapped to serve as a thesis defense committee member by Dr. Russell Burke, Professor, Chair of Biology, Donald E. Axinn Distinguished Professor in Ecology and Conservation, Hofstra University.
At its 51st annual meeting, Federated Conservationists of Westchester County (FCWC) presented Mianus River Gorge with multiple proclamations and awards in recognition of its Research & Education Program.
A newly recruited class of high school WTP students will be with us until they graduate in 2020. We will welcome four CISE summer interns in early June, and begin work with a new RAP graduate student in March. MRG is always impressed with the quality of the students, and looks forward to training the next generation of scientists, critical thinkers, and conservation-minded citizens.
Capturing Wildlife … On Camera!
Mianus River Gorge is engaged in numerous ongoing wildlife monitoring studies (such as fisher, bobcat, and red fox); an annual deer census; the renowned Gotham Coyote Project; and most recently a black bear project!
Each of these projects employs camera traps (motion-activated cameras placed on trees that photograph passing wildlife) to capture and record the presence of wildlife in a specific location and observe its behavior. The camera trap has revolutionized wildlife research and conservation, enabling scientists around the world to collect photographic evidence of rarely seen species at relatively little cost and extremely minimal disturbance to the animals.
In our part of the world, effective wildlife monitoring studies enable wildlife biologists to share and aggregate data, develop best practices, and, ultimately, address fundamental questions about how wildlife adapts (or fails to adapt) to urbanization.
As a leader in the field of wildlife biology and camera trap research, MRG continues to expand its monitoring and research–both in the Gorge and across the region–and partner with academic institutions and other conservation organizations. To continue and grow these projects and research studies, the need for more cameras is paramount.
We need your help to purchase at least 10 wildlife cameras and their accompanying accessories (rechargeable batteries, memory card, security box and lock). Each complete package costs $500. Please consider donating a wildlife camera or contributing to MRG’s camera fund. Your donation of $500, $250, $100 or $50 will help us increase the size of our camera trap array and capture images of the fascinating animals that inhabit the region, the Gorge, and your backyard!
Click here to donate to MRG’s Camera Fund (please let us know your donation is for the camera fund by clicking on “Add special instructions” and writing “Camera Fund”)
What We’re Working on this Winter …
What We’re Working on this Winter …
Executive Director Rod Christie’s always thinking about land conservation and protection in and around the Mianus River Watershed. He is excited about the restoration project we’re calling Lockwood Pond II. The Lockwood Pond II project focuses on the wetlands that comprise the headwaters of Piping Brook, a tributary of the Mianus River and an important corridor for wildlife. The Piping Brook corridor is now protected in perpetuity by Mianus River Gorge, part of the Gorge’s land acquisition of the 73-acre Levene property.
Currently, this portion is categorized as a compromised wetland, choked with every type of invasive plant and vine imaginable: porcelain berry, allanthus, phragmites, Japansese bittersweet, multi-flora rose, mugwort, and many more. Rod is currently working with wetlands experts to design a restoration plan to restore Lockwood Pond II at the headwaters of the Piping Brook corridor.
Because Lockwood Pond II is so severely compromised, we will have to remove invasive species and discarded / abandoned construction materials (rip rap, boulders, cinder blocks) from this former potential housing site. Every effort will be made to protect any surviving native plants.
MRG will replant the wetland with hardy, native herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees, such as spice bush, sedge, rushes, etc. The plantings component of the Lockwood Pond II project also will serve as a model for designing and implementing an effective and attractive wetlands restoration.
MRG has an opportunity to link this project with other collaborative efforts to preserve and protect the watershed; create riparian corridors for migrating birds, butterflies and other pollinators; and better educate private landowners about responsible stewardship.
Speaking of butterflies and pollinators, MRG Wildlife & Habitat Consultations are underway. Rod, along with Director of Land Manager & Research Chris Nagy and Staff Biologist & Preserve Manager Budd Veverka, has been visiting property owners who want to know more about the natural history of their properties, which native plant species to plant to attract wildlife, and how to control unwanted invasive species.
The team has also installed wildlife cameras on some properties so owners might catch a glimpse of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and other wildlife passing through their yards. With recent snowfall, there are an abundance of tracks providing more evidence of more elusive animal species.
A team of MRG scientists is available to visit your property to answer your questions or concerns and offer advice on a variety of topics including: plant and animal identification; wildlife management; natural history; invasive species; woodland, field and pond management solutions; and more. Click here for more information.
At the same time, Dr. Chris Nagy has been interviewing area high school students for MRG’s award-winning Wildlife Technician Program (WTP). WPT students start in their sophomore year and work with MRG staff on a relevant project in applied ecology research that benefits both the Gorge and the student by enhancing his or her academic experience.
Chris also has been busy deploying wildlife camera traps throughout the region as the Gotham Coyote Project (GCP) expands into Long Island. He and his students have been sorting through thousands of photographs and uploading them into a collective data base. GCP plans to make the data available to students and researchers from around the world to help them answer new questions and discover new knowledge.
Of course the cameras capture images of bobcats, fishers, foxes, and, we anticipate in the spring, black bears.
Speaking of black bears, Budd Veverka is leading a cohort of regional organizations in a study that, through the use of remote camera traps and public reports, will document spring bear activity, the overall occurrence of different individuals, and potentially trace individual bear movements between areas. This information will help us map areas most likely to be corridors for black bear movement and where potential interactions and conflict could be greatest. This information will be used to educate people about how to safely co-exist with black bears, allowing for positive interactions and limiting conflict.
Budd and Assistant Steward Catherine Ferreri really spend a lot of time outdoors, regardless of inclement weather. They are constantly clearing fallen trees, mending deer exclosures, preparing new trail markers, and monitoring the Preserve’s deer herd. They are eagerly looking forward to April 1 when the trails open again and they can recruit a volunteer trail crew, “Friends of the Trails.” Volunteer trail work days also are scheduled for April 1, 2017, and November 4, 2017, so please plan on joining us on those days.
Finally, we have been planning a series of public walks for throughout the year, including the popular Wildflower Walk, Source to Sound Watershed Tour, and Owl Walks. Other unique walks, similar to last year’s fascinating Hidden Habitats of the Southern Preserve walk, are scheduled for late September and early December (further details and calendar of events to follow in February). We look forward to having you join us on one or all of MRG’s walks!
Your donation to Mianus River Gorge helps us fulfill our mission to preserve, protect and promote appreciation of the natural heritage of the Mianus River watershed through land acquisition and conservation, scientific research and public education throughout the region. To donate, please click here or send your check to 167 Mianus River Rd., Bedford, NY 10506. Thank you!
The Dorr Foundation Funds GCP
The Gotham Coyote Project (GCP) is an ongoing effort to study the ecology, population growth, and range expansion of eastern coyotes (Canis latrans) in New York City. Thanks to a grant from the Dorr Foundation, GCP is able to expand its outreach and education efforts to engage more partners, students, and citizen scientists in efforts to better understand this resilient species and why they’re important to the ecosystem.
With the extirpation of wolves in the Northeast U.S., coyotes have largely taken on the role of top predator where they occur. When the GCP began, there were very few coyotes in the Bronx, and there were no confirmed breeding sites. Coyotes are now found in all large wooded parks in the Bronx, are crossing into Queens and Manhattan more than ever before, and are poised to colonize Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. The results from studying this event will help scientists and managers understand how coyotes are changing urban ecosystems as they expand their range into new wildlife and human communities. Knowledge of how humans relate to or value wildlife and biological communities is vital to aligning society with both the ethics and pragmatism of sustainability, resiliency, and conservation.
With an increase in coyote sightings in urban/suburban areas, negative interactions between humans and coyotes may increase. Education on coyote ecology, how to minimize risk, and best practices regarding coexistence can minimize the already low risks to people and pets.
An important objective of expanding the Gotham Coyote Project is to engage high school and undergraduate students in hands-on research to foster positive attitudes towards scientific career pathways and scientific research. Engaging students in scientific study requires educators to connect learning with real-life experiences. Through our roster of partner-affiliated high school research programs, the Gotham Coyote Project gives NYC-area students direct experience in the full research process: deploying cameras, collecting and managing data, analysis, and presentation of results.
The Dorr Foundation grant also enabled GCP to purchase two wildlife cameras to survey coyotes and other wildlife. Cameras have become increasingly valuable in MRG’s participation in black bear and fisher studies, monitoring red fox and white-tailed deer populations, and in our Wildlife & Habitat Consultations.
We still need more wildlife cameras! Please consider buying or contributing to the purchase of a camera and its accompanying accessories (rechargeable batteries, memory card, security box, and lock). Your donation of $500 buys one complete package. Of course a donation of any amount you choose is welcome, too!
Click here to donate, or send your check to Gotham Coyote Project, Mianus River Gorge, 167 Mianus River Road, Bedford, NY 10506. THANK YOU!
Winter Trail Rest Dec. 1 to Apr. 1
Ever since 1986 the preserve has been closed to hikers for its winter trail rest to prevent the Gorge from being loved to death. We all know the damage caused by uncontrolled visitation in some of our state and national parks. Overuse of wild land is the result of irresponsible management.
We have more visitors using a shorter trail than do neighboring preserves. Our trails cross steep hillsides with fragile soils and so are exceptionally vulnerable to overuse.
It is the responsibility of all of us, stewards and visitors alike, to protect this unique and fragile wilderness island. Our mission is to preserve the integrity of the Gorge for scientists, students, and hikers of tomorrow. Please help us by cooperating with our stewardship guidelines today.
Winter walking is available at many nearby parks and preserves. Butler Sanctuary, Westmoreland Sanctuary and Ward Pound Ridge Reservation are within a few miles of here. Please do call us at (914) 234-3455 if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you in the spring. Thank you very much for your understanding and cooperation.
Mianus River Gorge to continue its “Source to Sound” initiative
Westchester Community Foundation funds Mianus River Gorge to continue its “Source to Sound” initiative
Thanks to a grant from the Westchester Community Foundation, MRG will continue its work in wetlands assessment and evaluation, moving into the lower from the upper watershed. MRG scientists will map the remaining wetland resources using GIS technology and, through intensive field work, identify the most critical wetlands to determine whether they are functioning effectively.
In the 2016 phase of the study, MRG identified a particularly damaged wetland in dire need of restoration. With funding from Westchester Community Foundation (WCF), MRG’s Source to Sound Phase II initiative will include a major restoration project that we anticipate will enable the wetland to regain its functionality and health.
The compromised wetland, called Lockwood Pond, is choked with every type of invasive plant and vine imaginable: porcelain berry, allanthus, phragmites, Japansese bittersweet, multi-flora rose, mugwort, and many more. MRG plans to restore Lockwood Pond at the headwaters of the Piping Brook corridor while simultaneously serving as a model for wetland restoration best practices.
Following a carefully designed restoration plan and protecting any surviving native plants, MRG must “start from scratch” by completely removing invasive species and discarded / abandoned construction materials (rip rap, boulders, cinder blocks) from this former potential housing site.
We will replant the wetland with hardy, native herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees, such as spicebush, sedge, rushes, etc., and demonstrate the benefits of designing and implementing effective wetlands remediation solutions where needed throughout the Mianus River watershed.
MRG has an opportunity to link this project with other collaborative efforts to preserve and protect the watershed; create riparian corridors for migrating butterflies and pollinators; better educate local municipalities and private landowners about responsible stewardship; improve applicants’ wetland mitigation strategies, and legally protect certain wetlands in perpetuity.
Mianus River Gorge is most grateful for the support of this prestigious foundation.
Westchester Community Foundation’s (WCF) mission is to develop and manage philanthropic resources, and to distribute them in a way that is responsive to donor interests and community needs. The Foundation actively promotes charitable giving on behalf of the area’s nonprofit organizations. WCF is a division of The New York Community Trust, one of the largest community foundations in the country, with assets of approximately $2.6 billion. For more information, visit www.wcf-ny.org.
Remember to Donate Before December 31
Making a gift to Mianus River Gorge this holiday season can be a gratifying experience that also will help us fulfill our mission in the coming year. Whether you choose to make a cash gift, a gift of securities, or join The Anable Society by indicating a bequest or giving a major gift for land acquisition, you will benefit if you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return. For more information, see the “Get Involved” tab on the Home Page. THANK YOU!
South Lockwood Walking Tour
South Lockwood Walking Tour
Over forty people braved a chilly start to Sunday morning to join MRG Executive Director Rod Christie on a walking tour of some of the Gorge’s protected properties. We walked along a high ridge to observe a beautiful wetlands system below, which is the Gorge’s newest land acquisition that added over 4 acres to the Preserve.
Rod pointed out evidence of the creatures that inhabit the Preserve, from Pileated Woodpeckers to bobcats. We observed spectacular rock outcroppings, beautiful mosses and ferns, and some of us even saw a Bald Eagle.
The South Lockwood walking tour concludes the schedule of 2016 MRG events. We eagerly anticipate next year’s calendar (available in February) and the re-opening of the Preserve trails on April 1. Thank you for your support in 2016, and we look forward to seeing you on a walk in the spring!