Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cleaning the Beach and Protecting the River (9/17/09 - 9/23/09)

This past week Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman found himself experiencing a bit of dejavu as he once again found himself on the Eastern Shore of Lake Ontario. Greg returned to the Eastern Lake Ontario sand dunes - Lakeview Wildlife Management Area, to be exact - to help with a beach cleanup organized by the Great Lakes Research Consortium. Organizers were helped by a small crowd of SUNY ESF freshmen and several volunteers from the community. The cleanup, which netted 201 pounds of trash, was part of a larger, national Beach Cleanup Day organized by the American Littoral Society. A tally was kept of the most common items collected - leading the list were plastic bottle caps and balloon string.

Lakeview beach clean-up. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

Salmon River Corridor
On the Salmon River this week I, Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff, assisted with a salmon stocking. Learning the proper techniques for releasing the fish was fascinating. Rather than setting them free in an area with slow moving water, it's best to release them in a location where the water is moving more rapidly, thus containing more oxygen. The water temperature is also crucial. Placing the fish into water that measures more than a couple degrees colder or warmer than they are used to may be a shock to their systems. One of the most interesting things I learned was how important it is to disinfect waders and other equipment after being in the water. Cleaning off the gear helps prevent the spread of non-native organisms from one body of water to another which could potentially harm living things within the system.

Preparing to stock Salmon. Photo by River Steward Liz Wolff.

River Steward Liz Wolff filling bucket with water during Salmon stocking. Photo by Ross.

Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman points out another potentially harmful entity that can be found both in Lake Ontario and the Salmon River. As we start seeing more Salmon being caught on the Salmon River, one thing to look for is the presence of sea lampreys, or the scars that these parasitic fish leave behind. Sea lampreys are native to the Atlantic Ocean, and are an undesirable addition to Lake Ontario. They were likely introduced to the lake when the Erie Canal was completed in the early 19th century, and have since spread throughout the Great Lakes.

Lamprey washed ashore at Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

Sea lampreys are parasites that feed upon many species of fish, including sport fish like salmon and trout. They feed by attaching themselves to fish and sucking out fluids. Salmon and trout are sometimes caught with lampreys attached in the Salmon River; however, often the only evidence of a lamprey's past attachment is the presence of a round scar or wound, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

Close-up of lamprey teeth. Photo by River Steward Greg Chapman.

Although lampreys continue to be a nuisance, their numbers are greatly reduced from what they were in the past. When Pacific salmon first began returning to the Salmon River Fish Hatchery following initial stocking efforts in the late 1960s, the fish averaged 14 lamprey scars apiece. Since then, several strategies have been employed to bring lamprey numbers under control, including the application of a chemical lampricide called TFM(3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol)to streams. TFM is more dense than water, and applied to tributaries of the Great Lakes and other nursery habitats of lampreys. The chemical is able to effectively reach and kill them before the young lamprey mature and migrate to the lake, where they begin feeding as adults. Today, lamprey numbers are much lower than in the past, and sport fish populations are healthier as a result.

Healthy fish populations are part of what makes the Salmon River a great place for anglers, especially during the fall. So take a trip to the river and fish for yourself or come just to see what all the excitement is about. The stewards are happy to listen to your questions and point you in the right direction!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lower Fly Zone opens! (9/10-09 -09/16/09)

Anglers at the Lower Fly Fishing Catch-and-Release Zone on the Salmon River. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

With the Lower Fly Zone opening on Tuesday September 15th, we find ourselves further into "salmon season"-type activities along the Salmon River corridor. Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff spent Tuesday at the Lower Fly, interacting with anglers and learning more about fly fishing. She saw about 45 anglers early in the morning hours, but as the afternoon progressed numbers tapered off. Some anglers landed 4 or 5 fish while those not having much luck seemed to enjoy the sunshine and a day at one of their favorite fishing spots!

Liz learned a lot on Tuesday. For example, she saw first-hand just how crucial it is to take time reviving a fish before releasing it back into the river. When an angler fights a fish on his or her line the fish can become extremely fatigued which can sometimes cause a fish to die after being released. Holding the fish in moving water, so the water can enter the fish's mouth and over the fish's gills, increases the chance that the fish will survive after being released. Properly revived fish may perhaps give other anglers opportunities to challenge the fish in the future.

New England Aster along the Salmon River. Photo by Salmon River Steward Liz Wolff.

For myself, Salmon River Steward Greg Greg Chapman, the start of salmon season means a continued adjustment, as I strive to balance my full-time schoolwork with my now part-time job. Seeing the river on the weekends gives me something to look forward to, as it forces me to get back outdoors at a time when many other responsibilities are competing for my time. This past weekend featured some beautiful weather, and it felt great to see so many sections of the river that I have not visited in quite a while.

A view of Trout Brook, a tributary of the Salmon River. Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman.

After a strong Labor Day weekend, less fish were to be had in general along the river. Perhaps because of this, most locations on the river were much quieter than I expected. It's not unusual at these times to speak with anglers who are just as happy to be outdoors and on the river, even if the fishing action is slow. The middle section of the river did experienced a higher volume of anglers though we didn't see anyone land any fish.

Beaver lodge near Altmar North along the Salmon River. Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman.

I saw some surprising sites along the river this past weekend. Perhaps most unexpected was a new beaver lodge along the shore at Altmar North, with the beginnings of a dam constructed nearby. Although the lodge is relatively far from the several nearby access points, it is in an area that will be heavily traversed as salmon season truly gets underway in the weeks ahead. It should be interesting to see how it survives the crowds.

Baldfaced hornet nest at Trestle North. Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman.

I also saw an unusual number of baldfaced hornet nests along the north shore of Trestle Pool. Three separate nests were spotted, one being somewhat low to the ground near the old trestle crossing, a popular viewing area for people just arriving at the river. It's probably not a bad idea to keep an eye out for nests such as these along the river; thankfully, baldfaced hornets are not known to be extremely aggressive. However, they will protect their nest if it is disturbed or if people get too close. They are best to be avoided!

As the season gets into full-swing, there is no doubt that more and more people will be coming to the salmon river to try their luck at landing a trophy salmon. Stewards are available to answer any questions you may have about the natural resource; if you see us, say hi!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer draws to a close... (9/03/09 - 9/09/09)

The nights are cooler, the days are shorter, and the leaves are just starting to show their fall colors. Although the seasons have not yet officially changed, the passing of Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the summer Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Steward season.

A fallen leaf in bold fall color...a sign of the changing seasons along the Salmon River. Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman.

For some Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewards, the time has come to head back to school and concentrate on their studies. Salmon River Stewards Jim Katz and Emily Freeman and Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards Paul Dawson and Stacy Furgal worked their last days recently, and we wish them luck in their educational endeavors!

For some of us, this means a change of scenery as we switch from working at the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes to new responsibilities along the Salmon River corridor as Pacific salmon spawning season gets underway.

Eastern Lake Ontario Dune-turned-River Steward Liz Wolff experienced her first day working on the Salmon River on Saturday. This past weekend was a white water release, and she was able to speak with a lot of kayakers and rafters from all over the state. A large group of 60 people were rafting down the river with a rafting outfitter from Letchworth State Park. She had the chance to listen in on some safety tips about rafting on the river which were really fascinating. Later in the day she talked with some anglers at Black Hole and Long Bridge, two popular fishing access sites in the village of Pulaski. Not many had luck catching fish but that will most likely change in the weeks to come when salmon season truly gets under way.

A view of the Salmon River near Compactor Pool. Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman.

For myself, Eastern Lake Ontario Dune-turned Salmon River Steward Greg Chapman, returning to the river feels like a homecoming. I worked as a Salmon River Steward last summer, fall and into the winter steelhead season.

There were many anglers catching Chinook salmon, which confirmed a report of a small run of fish that day. Although I saw very few paddlers and rafters taking advantage of the whitewater release, those I spoke with reported having no trouble sharing the river with the many anglers present.

A Chinook salmon caught on a streamer in the lower stretch of the Salmon River. Photo by Mary Penney, Steward Coordinator for New York Sea Grant.

Of course, Labor Day weekend, especially one as pleasant as we had this year, also brings many people to enjoy the beach at the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes, some for perhaps the last time this season. Leaving SPB on Monday was slow-going, as I took time to say goodbye to many of the regular visitors that I've gotten to know this past summer.

Monarch butterfly on goldenrod at Sandy Pond Beach. Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman.

As her days drew to a close at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area, Liz took some time to do some end of the year maintenance including picking up litter and fixing the snow fencing in places where it was pushed down. Many families came out to enjoy the Labor Day weekend and say farewell to the beach area as summer turns to fall.

Pebbles in the water at Lakeview Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Dune Steward Liz Wolff.

Spiderwebs on cedar at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Dune Steward Liz Wolff.

We have all enjoyed our conversations with you, and hope that we will meet up with you again. For those of you that are looking for more adventures, we encourage you to venture out to the Salmon River corridor.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Watch that Dune Grow! (8/27/09 - 9/2/09)

Recently, you may have noticed your local Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward snapping photos of the sand dunes. Over the past few weeks, the stewards took part in the ongoing photo-monitoring project at El Dorado Nature Preserve/Black Pond Wildlife Management Area, Southwick Beach State Park, Sandy Island Beach State Park, and Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area. The photo-monitoring project is meant to document dune changes over time. Every 2-3 years a new photo is taken from the same photo-monitoring sites. The GPS coordinates have been recorded for each of the photo-monitoring sites. GPS coordinates paired with images of the photo-monitoring sites from previous years, help us locate each of the sites.

Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area in August 1997 and 2009. Notice the increase in vegetation has COMPLETELY covered the walkover in places. Photos by>.

Why is it important to monitor dune changes?
Over time, the dunes may appear to be different due to natural factors and human impacts. Having a documented example of how the dunes look from year-to-year helps to identify problem areas along the dune area, and even where dune blowouts beginning to develop. A dune blowout usually starts as a small path where the vegetation has died off, either naturally, or because of human or animal foot traffic. Over time, that small path is eroded away and becomes a gaping hole void of vegetation. If we can notice an area with the potential for a dune blowout the stewards can try to take measures to slow the process such as installing snow fencing or taking part in a dune grass planting.

Dune cherry patch on at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area in August 2003 & 2009. Left photo by, right photo by Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward, Liz Wolff. Dune Cherry is a rare plant in New York State.

Watching the progress of growing vegetation is another reason for a double-take. The Eastern Lake Ontario sand dunes are home to a number of rare and endangered plant species. The photo monitoring project allows land managers to observe growth and declines of plant species in specific locations. For example sand cherry has been seen in a couple of the photo monitoring images (where it was absent before) over recent years.

Dune blowout at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area in August 2003 and 2005. Top photo by, bottom photo by Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward, Liz Wolff. Black Pond WMA is host to some of the highest dunes along the eastern Shore of Lake Ontario.

Along the 17-mile stretch of Eastern Lake Ontario beaches, the dune are thousands of years old. They are remnants of glacial action, way before our time. Exposed sand will continue to migrate inland by wind and wave action unless it is stopped by a barrier. Vegetation on the dunes acts as a natural barrier to keep sand along the shore rather than in the wetlands. As a means of public education, Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards can use the photo-monitoring project to illustrate to visitors that small actions can create a ripple-effect that can negatively or positively impact the dune ecosystem over time. When visiting the dunes please remember how fragile they are. Please use protective dune walkovers and designated walkways when visiting the Eastern Lake Ontario to minimize negative impacts to the area. You can positively influence the area by not only removing your trash, but trash that has been left by others. If we practice admiring them from a distance now, these sand dunes will be around to admire for years to come!