Read Occurrences - New York Natural Heritage Program text version




Information Management Nick Conrad

New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter

11 12 14 15 16


4 5

Invasive Species Database Meg Wilkinson Natural Heritage Science Tim Howard

Botany News Steve Young

Zoology News Matt Schlesinger Staff Spotlight

Featured Staff: Jeff Corser

Project Spotlight Fun Stuff

7 13

7 10

Cool Finds ­ Shereen Brock

Ecology News What Does the Natural Heritage Ecology Team Do? ­ Greg Edinger

New York Nature Explorer Ask the Zoologist; Natural Heritage Facts; Our Staff

Letter From the Director

I'm wondering why it took 25 years to start a New York Natural Heritage Program newsletter. Yes, it's our 25th anniversary in 2010 and we've gone from a staff of 4, to 30. How we've grown! Our 5-year Strategic Plan, put together in 2006-07, took several months of special meetings with outside partners and countless staff meetings to construct. Our mission,"to facilitate the conservation of NewYork's biodiversity," is one we came to easily when we considered we are part of the NewYork State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC); we are conservation science staff of The Nature Conservancy; and we are an active member of NatureServe, the umbrella organization of a network of Natural Heritage Programs in the United States and Canada.Yes, facilitation is needed.And our partnerships are as central to our work as they are critical to our success! Our information needs to be easily understood, accessed, and used by natural resource managers and conservation practitioners both within and beyond NewYork.To do this, we work sideby-side, regularly exchanging information and ideas with partners at the DEC central office where most of our staff are housed, at the State Parks office in Albany where two of our staff are based, and at the state office of The Nature Conservancy where one staff member resides.We reach out to those of you working in all corners of the state because you have information and knowledge we need to be successful and to stay relevant.

Our work with NatureServe and projects on federal land have strengthened

our connections to national level efforts in ecological as well as broad-scale classification and mapping issues like climate change.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

The work we do across the state has brought us in close contact with many very talented wildlife, forestry, and recreation managers. Our State Lands Assessment project which began in the early 1990s had us looking for rare species and natural communities in DEC Wildlife Management Areas for six years, followed by six years devoted to State Parks, then five years on State Forests.We're seeking funding to continue our work on public land, with efforts focused in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves and acres of DEC conservation easement land that's interspersed among our two most protected landscapes in the state. Our work with NatureServe and projects on federal lands have strengthened our connections to national level efforts in ecological classification and mapping, as well as broad-scale issues like climate change.We've established strong working relationships with natural resource professionals and engineers in the NewYork State Department of Transportation, who've joined a team of land managers and users who are providing valuable input and insights to the Conservation Issues section of our online Conservation Guides ( And last but not least, we've taken on the exciting new challenge of assisting our conservation community in tracking and managing invasive species, which you will read about in this newsletter. Considering all we've accomplished together in 25 years, agreeing on a title for our newsletter, aptly named "Occurrences," was not all that hard. Our work tracking occurrences of rare species and natural communities has stood the test of time.The name signifies what we do, how we think, and how we've grown.We're busy, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised we've had little time or energy for a newsletter! Still, we're excited about sharing our discoveries and products with all our partners and friends on a more regular basis. In an effort to keep things light and fun, we've even included a bit of humor in these pages.We hope you enjoy everything you find here and, as always, I'm interested in hearing your feedback. See you again soon... DJ Evans



Our work tracking

occurrences of rare species and natural communities has stood the test of time. The name signifies what we do, how we think, and how we've grown ...

USFWS = United States Fish and Wildlife Service EPA = Environmental Protection Agency GIS = Geographic Information Systems

Alphabet Soup of Acronyms

NYS DEC or DEC = New York State Department of Environmental Conservation NYS OPRHP or OPRHP = New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation TNC = The Nature Conservancy

NYISTF = New York Invasive Species Task Force PRISM = Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management

NYDDS = New York Dragonfly and Damselfly Survey SGCN = Species of Greatest Conservation Need SUNY = State University of New York NPS = National Park Service

NYS DOT or DOT = New York State Department of Transportation

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Information Management News

By Nick Conrad

Our Information Management (IM) team works alongside Natural Heritage ecologists, botanists, and zoologists in collecting, processing, entering, managing, quality-assuring, querying, reporting, analyzing, mapping, and distributing (whew!) Natural Heritage data. In some cases, we perform these activities directly; in other cases we develop and administer the tools, applications, and procedures used by all Natural Heritage staff. We consist of both database specialists and geographic information systems (GIS) specialists and all of us have strong backgrounds in the natural sciences, environmental studies, or natural resource planning and policy. The IM team also plays a leading role in distributing Natural Heritage data to partners both within and outside New York, and in environmental reviews we conduct as part of our core work for DEC. We screen almost 2,000 project sites each year for potential impacts on rare and endangered species and communities, and we circulate regular updates of Natural Heritage GIS data to our partners at DEC,TNC, NYS OPRHP, NYS DOT, USFWS, and several other agencies in an alphabet soup of acronyms. Our data are also distributed to a wide variety of academic researchers, municipalities, planners, non-profit organizations, and sustainable forestry managers.

history and ecological requirements of a species, and identify critical areas for the protection and persistence of the target species or community at a particular site. We've produced similar models for dozens of species and natural communities in wetland species statewide. Important Area models are based on the life

the Hudson Valley, and for almost 100 aquatic and

In addition to our regular activities, we've been engaged in many special projects to increase our efficiency at data collection and processing. For example, our database experts are busy revamping our field data collection tool -- a relational database that we carry on handheld devices and with which we collect field data.We've also just recently developed new Microsoft Access databases to track our environmental review activities; to track to which projects, and for how many days, staff have been assigned (with 30 staff and 36 projects, this database approaches matrix algebra); and to manage observation data for a migratory bird study along Lake Ontario. Biotics, our primary database of rare element locations (and more!), as always takes a considerable amount of our time and attention -- it now contains over 12,000 records! We're also managing a Biodiversity Information Improvement project funded by NYS DOT. Heritage occurrences on Long Island that were mapped in the Dark Ages (before GIS) as large circles and as rectangles, are being remapped with more precise polygons.This project is also funding new Conservation Guides for Long Island species and community types, as well as GIS models that delineate conservation areas around species habitats.These Important Area models are based on the life history and ecological requirements of a species and identify critical areas for the protection and persistence of the target species or community at a particular site.We've produced similar models for dozens of species and natural communities in the HudsonValley, and for almost 100 aquatic and wetland species statewide.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Invasive Species Database News

By Meg Wilkinson

Invasive Species are in many ways the antithesis of rare species; so why is the Invasive Species Database housed at Natural Heritage? New York State is working to implement the recommendations of the New York Invasive Species Task Force (NYISTF) set forth in 2006. Much headway has been made in carrying out the recommendations of this task force, including the creation of the New York Invasive Species Council, the establishment of a New York State Invasive Species Advisory Committee, the formation of eight Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMs) and the New York Invasive Species Information website (, and the establishment of the New York State Invasive Species Research Institute ( Recommendation #5 (of 12) from the NYISTF called for the establishment of an online, GIS, invasive species database to serve the needs of the volunteers and professionals in the state who work to prevent, manage, or control invasive species. Under a contract with DEC, we have been funded to design this mapping tool, develop training materials, and provide quality control of the data and biological expertise. We started the project in 2007 and have made a lot of progress over the last two years in developing what will be a national, web-based tool to access data on invasive species locations. The database, iMapInvasives (, is being developed through a partnership between four closely related not-for-profit organizations: NY Natural Heritage Program, Florida Natural Areas Inventory (the Natural Heritage Program of FL), The Nature Conservancy, and NatureServe. Through this partnership, we are able to leverage the funding provided by DEC and create a tool that is extends beyond New York's borders ­ an extremely important and beneficial feature in the world of fast-moving invasive species.

Help combat invasive species in NY!

· Become involved with your local PRISM:

· Submit Data. If you know of invasive species datasets that should be included in iMapInvasives, contact Meg at 518-402-8983

· Attend the summer 2010 iMapInvasives Training.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

Our Invasive Species Database team will also be leading the development of a comprehensive, geographic layer of the Conservation Lands in the state, including federal, state, county, municipal and private land. We're developing this layer in collaboration with a number of partners across the state in order to ensure it meets the needs of the entire conservation community. The availability and long-term maintenance of such a layer will fulfill several important needs for invasive species work across New York. For example, all publicly accessible lands, a subset of the Conservation Lands Data Layer, will be served on iMapInvasives to assist volunteers of local sites, so that they can monitor for invasive species without concern for trespassing issues. The New York iMapInvasives website is in its first phase of testing! If all goes well, by Spring 2010 it will be fully up and running. Future issues of Occurrences will include articles on iMapInvasives and the statewide Conservation Lands Data Layer, so please stay tuned!




Natural Heritage Science

By Tim Howard

With nearly twenty scientists on staff and a plethora of projects, how do we maintain both focus and perspective? How do we all stay charged and excited about coming in for another day in the office or another day in the field? First and foremost, we have fun! But aside from the wise-cracks at staff meetings, the emails proposing hilarious names for newsletters, and the stories of getting stuck in the mud in a far corner of New York, we strive to keep our work interesting and stay current with science and technology. As the director of science for the program, I am very interested in ensuring that we do all this and more. We often get a chance to put our work in perspective through regular, informal "Lunch Forum" meetings. Here, we address current science topics, talk details about persnickety problems, share tips and tricks about how to do things more efficiently, or perhaps just sit back and enjoy a travelogue from a coworker's adventure overseas. Lunch Forums ... to be successful, we must be effective provide an opportunity for a regular exchange of ideas. But to be successful, we must be effective at converting ideas to actions. the chagrin of our fabulous database Much to the chagrin of our fabulous database experts, we are constantly improving our data collection methods, the types of data we collect, and experts, we are constantly improving our data entry efficiencies. For example, our Botanists had the location of data collection methods, the types of data certain fields in our observations database re-arranged. This "simple" task streamlined the data entry process, effectively increasing efficiency and we collect, and data entry efficiencies. providing more time for other tasks. Our Zoologists recently had a new module added to this database that can accommodate point count datasets. Using point counts allows us to back up our assertions more effectively with numbers and increase our ability to monitor the change over time. The Ecology program is similarly maturing.We are very effective at collecting detailed information related to the classification of a natural community.What is the difference between an Appalachian

at converting ideas to actions. Much to

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

oak-hickory forest and a chestnut oak forest? A medium fen and an inland poor fen? Our ecologists can provide answers with numbers and samples from the field as backup.Where are the highest quality inland poor fens in the state and how is quality changing over time? Answering these types of questions have certainly been a core function of the Ecology program since its inception, yet technological and theoretical developments in the field allow us to more and more often put numbers behind our assertions. Using quantitative measures such as those used by NatureServe's Ecological Integrity Assessment protocols allows us to do this. Plants, animals, and natural communities are inherently different enough to require different ways to survey and assess. But animals eat plants and plants and animals live in natural communities, right? We are excited to be conducting more cross-discipline projects to better understand the habitats plants and animals prefer. It is certainly an exciting time for our Natural Heritage Program. As we adopt the best parts of technology to increase our efficiency and effectiveness; the best parts of numerically based assessment methods to increase our ability to statistically assess quality and track changes over time; and the best parts of working together to better understand how plants, animals, and natural communities occur across the landscape, we are also working more closely with our partners to most effectively put our information and knowledge to work for conservation.



... technological and theoretical

developments in the field allow us to more and more often put numbers behind our assertions. Using quantitative measures such as those used by NatureServe's allows us to do this.

Ecological Integrity Assessment protocols

American Hart's-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum) is listed as Threatened by the Federal government and Threatened in New York

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Cool Finds

Compiled by Shereen Brock

Three significant natural communities documented near Buck Mountain in Washington County

Red Pine Rocky Summit

The summit of Buck Mountain was originally documented as a spruce-fir rocky summit in 1987 by former Natural Heritage ecologist Carol Reschke. However, a 2009 survey confirmed that the summit is better classified as a red pine rocky summit, a community that was newly described by Natural Heritage in 2002. Although there are a few red spruce trees present on Buck Mountain the summit is decidedly dominated by red pine. Most of the community occurs at the

Pine-northern Hardwood Forest

This forest community occurs as a nearly continuous band along the mid-slope of Buck Mountain. It too was originally surveyed and documented by Carol Reschke in 1990 and is dominated by impressively tall red pine rather than the white pine that is more typical for this community. It's possible historical fires played an important role in producing the unusual abundance of red pine on Buck Mountain.

Talus Cave Community

summit of the mountain on stateowned land with a few small, disjunct patches located on former Finch, Pruyn and Co. land that was recently purchased by The Nature Conservancy. We welcome information on other red pine dominated summits in the state.

A small, but nonetheless interesting, talus cave community was also discovered on the former Finch, Pruyn and Co. land near Buck Mountain. Large boulders fill a gorge between two small cliffs, forming numerous cavities and providing subterranean habitat for wildlife, including a seemingly occupied porcupine den. Cold air could be felt coming out from between the boulders, and running water could be heard within the small caves. This is only the fourth occurrence of this community to be documented by our staff.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Cool Finds

New Alvar Grassland Found in Jefferson County

Alvar grassland is a distinctive natural community that forms on shallow soils over level outcrops of limestone or dolomite bedrock. It is an extremely rare natural community in New York (S1) and globally (G2). All documented occurrences of alvar grassland in NY are from a small area northwest of Watertown near Lake Ontario. This summer, during a survey of the Sandy Creek Watershed we documented a new location of this rare community. In particular places within this watershed the Galoo limestone formation occurs as hills or "plateaus" of limestone that were used historically for grazing animals. One of these hills near Butterville appears to be recovering from historical grazing. Although most of this grassland is still dominated by pasture plants, it also has a number of native species typical to alvar grasslands, including troublesome sedge, flatstem rush, bluebell bellflower, Philadelphia panic grass, upland white aster, and the moss Abietinella abietinum. Eastern red cedar is also scattered throughout. The physical features of alvar grasslands are also present, such as areas of open bedrock and deep, vertical fissures in the bedrock known as "grikes."

Recovering alvar grassland at Butterville

Fissure or "grike" in the limestone bedrock at Butterville

New Population of the State-threatened Swamp Lousewort at Catskill Marsh

This discovery occurred while our chief botanist Steve Young was helping The Nature Conservancy document vegetation before herbicide treatments were applied to a stand of the invasive Phragmites in Catskill Marsh. In all, this finding brings the total number of documented records for swamp lousewort in the state to 22!

Open limestone bedrock at Butterville

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Cool Finds

Twenty New York State Parks Surveyed by Natural Heritage staff this summer!

As part of our State Parks/Natural Heritage Partnership we updated dozens of rare species and significant natural community records, and discovered a number of new sites for rare species, including several in less visited sections of well-known parks. Botanical highlights include new locations for state-endangered Scirpus-like rush, Virginia snakeroot, and blunt-lobed grape fern; state-threatened woodland agrimony, blunt mountain mint, cattail sedge, and Davis' Sedge; and state-rare false hop sedge. Natural community work included collecting plot data to refine the classifications and mapping of sea level fen and maritime freshwater interdunal swales at Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks. Another important goal was to update the condition rank and refine boundaries of a number of forest occurrences in parks and build upon previous work at Allegany State Park, the largest park in NY. Collaboration with DEC zoologists allowed us to better assess the freshwater mussel populations in Allegany, which is home to nine mussel species, including two rare ones. Records for longtail salamander were updated for Allegany and data for new records of the rare butterfly, West Virginia white, were obtained from park employee Tom LeBlanc. We'll be adding all of our new data to our Biotics database this winter and reports for each park will be provided to OPRHP, including recommendations for protecting rare species. These recommendations are a critical part of the State Park Master Plan process, allowing Heritage an opportunity to inform land management within the state park system.

Above: Julie Lundgren in sea level fen at Napeague St. Park, Long Island. Below: Eurycea longicauda (Longtail salamander). Left: Carex davisii (Davis' sedge)

Zigzag Darner, photo taken by Denis Doucet

New Dragonfly for New York State found during work for the New York Dragonfly and Damselfly Survey

This year is the fifth and final year of field surveys for the New York Dragonfly and Damselfly Survey (NYDDS)! As part of his final survey work this fall, volunteer Kevin Hemeon documented the first record in New York for the Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis). Mr. Hemeon has been an active volunteer throughout the survey effort and has turned up many great records for Species of Greatest Conservation Need as well as other species in under-surveyed areas of the state. The Zigzag Darner was documented on September 19th near Glen Lake in Warren County. While not previously seen in New York, the Zigzag Darner is known to occur in New Hampshire, Maine, northern mid-western and western states, and just over the Canadian border. This is an excellent find as NYDDS wraps up a five-year effort!

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Ecology News

By Greg Edinger

What Does the Natural Heritage Program Ecology Team Do?

Our ecology team consists of six scientists each with expertise in plant identification, and collective experience with animals, soil, and landscape ecology. Like the plants and animals in the ecological systems we study, the activities of Natural Heritage ecologists are intertwined and related. Ecologists conduct field surveys for significant natural communities, those considered rare statewide or high quality examples of common community types.We survey natural communities by collecting observation points and sampling releve plots that focus on characterizing the vegetation patterns within an area. We use hand-held computers to record information on species presence and abundance and to navigate through our survey areas. Ecologists classify and describe natural communities and we have published these descriptions in Ecological Communities of New York State, first published in 1990 (Reschke 1990) and revised and updated in 2002 (Edinger et al. 2002). The Second Edition is planned to be finalized in June 2010. Ecologists map natural communities.We produce accurate digital maps of the natural communities we observe including wall-to-wall maps of natural communities for many of our projects that focus on public land managed for natural resources or recreation. Ecologists manage projects awarded to our program through various funding sources (e.g., state, federal, and private funding). Project managers administer project budgets, present project overviews at conferences and meetings, write periodic progress reports and final reports, and are involved in the various project activities. Projects can be small, with a one person "team" (e.g., Catskill Riparian Reference Project), or they can be large, involving several people from each of our program areas (e.g., State Lands Assessment included botany, zoology, ecology, and information management staff). Ecologists maintain databases for natural communities, including databases that track our field observations and vegetation sampling plots, statewide natural community ranking specifications and criteria, digital images, and community Conservation Guides. Most importantly, we enter records for significant natural community occurrences into our Biotics database, which currently contains 1,802 natural community records. Ecologists communicate with partners and the public on the conservation of NewYork's biodiversity.We emphasize that surveys and analyses be conducted in support of resource management planning and conservation actions. We also respond to requests for ecological information from the public and provide interpretation as needed.We answer questions on our community classification, our

For further information on our work:

· Ecological Communities of NYS (Edinger et al. 2002) · Ecological Communities of NYS (Reschke 1990)

· NY Natural Heritage Community Guides · NatureServe Explorer NatureServe?init=Ecol · NY Natural Heritage Community Field Form Instructions (Edinger et al. 2000) Biotics-FieldForms.jsp

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

Ecologists communicate with partners and the public on the conservation of New York's biodiversity. We emphasize that surveys and analyses be conducted in support of resource management planning and conservation actions. We also respond to requests for ecological information from the public and provide interpretation as needed.We answer questions on our community classification, our field data and survey methods, and provide reports and other sources of information. We take pride in our strong partnerships that facilitate effective conservation.



2009 Accomplishments in Ecology

This past fall we concluded a six-year effort to produce vegetation maps for four National Park Service (NPS) sites in New York with a grand total of 50,551 acres mapped (Saratoga National Historical Park, 12,813 acres; Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site, 2,029 acres; Gateway National Recreation Area, 35,619 acres; and Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, 88 acres). We documented a dozen significant occurrences of natural communities on NPS land through this effort, including the first floodplain forest on the Hudson north of Albany, several vernal pool complexes in two parks, a red cedar rocky summit with native prickly pear cactus, and a old-growth remnant oak-tulip tree forest.We followed stringent NPS vegetation mapping protocols that included detailed plot sampling, statistically based classification, extensive accuracy assessment, high-resolution mapping, and digital data collection.

Maritime Dunes at Fort Tilden in Gateway National Recreation Area

Botany News

By Steve Young, Rich Ring, Kim Smith

We've been unable to find full funding for our botany program since April 2009; however, a small amount of funds from the USFWS Endangered Species Program (Section 6) has allowed us to continue working on federally listed plants.This year, we're continuing our work with Don Leopold at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry on a long-term demographic study of American Hart's-tongue fern. We also have a number of other exciting team projects that involve ecology, zoology, and us, so we're managing to keep quite busy in spite of the economic downturn! One such multi-disciplinary project we've been closely involved in is helping the Tug Hill Commission and the communities in that region of the state (Western Adirondacks to East shore of Lake Ontario) identify additional places that need to be protected in the Sandy Creeks Watershed. A highlight of our fieldwork here was the discovery of four new locations for Hill's Pondweed (Potamogeton hillii). Before this summer, this species was previously known to persist

Bog Aster (Symphyotrichum boreale)

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

at only 14 locations in the state and is listed as state-Threatened. These new discoveries were made at sites with shallow, ponded waters which may dry up entirely in drought years or following other short-term hydrological changes. Our unusually wet and cool summer may have been a boon to populations of this rare plant ­ or at least to our ability to discover them. These populations and the ponds that support them will be candidates for designation as "Special Areas" in the Sandy Creeks Watershed and afforded special protection (and recognition!) by the towns in which they occur. Over the past couple of field seasons, we've also had the opportunity to explore some of the large tracts of land in the Adirondack Mountains. Our work with the Adirondack Chapter of TNC and Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve led to several new botanical discoveries, including two new locations for Rand's Goldenrod (Solidago simplex ssp. randii) and one new location for Appalachian Firmoss (Huperzia appressa). Both species were found growing on rocky outcrops and ledges near the summits of Sunrise Mountain and Clear Pond Mountain and both are within the area burned in the severe fires of 1914, which may have helped create and maintain the bare and rocky character of the sites. Our Adirondack work also involved exploring a large peatland complex northwest of Elk Lake, which included a high quality fen and a nice population of Bog Aster (Symphyotrichum boreale), a stateThreatened species. Through our partnership with OPRHP, we also conducted botanical work at 18 state parks in 2009. Highlights include discoveries of three populations of Carex species, including Cat-tail Sedge (Carex typhina), which is very rare in New York and was previously only known from six locations in the state. Another interesting find was a sizeable population of Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) in Orange County. It has been encouraging to keep finding rare plant populations in state parks since these areas are protected and provide opportunities to actively work to restore or enhance habitat for rare species on public land.



Rand's Goldenrod (Solidago simplex ssp. randii)

Zoology News

By Matt Schlesinger, Erin White, Andrea Chaloux

It has been a busy but rewarding year for our Zoology program. We track 434 animal species and are responsible for keeping their conservation status ranks (S-ranks) up to date. This year we completed the re-ranking of 47 birds using NatureServe's Rank Calculator. Our analysis was based in large part on New York's Second Breeding Bird Atlas, which was completed in 2005

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

and published in 2008. The first Atlas was completed in 1985. The availability of two atlases allowed us to glean lots of information about short-term trends and current status. For instance, the Red-headed Woodpecker was found in 76% fewer atlas blocks than in the first atlas; its rank changed from S4 to S2 and this bird will now be tracked in our database. Another species, the Black Vulture, is new to the state since the 1980s, but was already found in 100 blocks; we calculated its rank as S3. And some species came off our tracking list: The Clay-colored Sparrow was previously ranked S2 and tracked; however, new data resulted in a rank of S3S4, and the species will no longer be tracked. In addition to our core program of work, our program has been fortunate to be funded for several projects by State Wildlife Grants. Three of these projects are coming to an end in 2010, and this winter you can find us huddled by our computers, cocoa in hand, analyzing data and writing reports. A little more detail about each of these projects follows. The New York Dragonfly and Damselfly Survey (NYDDS) will be concluding a five-year survey of all odonate species in March 2010. Through the efforts of staff, contractors, and over 300 registered volunteers, we have greatly expanded our knowledge of the distribution of New York's 194 odonate species. We visited over 2,000 locations statewide to survey for adult odonates and documented five species in New York that had never been confirmed here before: Double-ringed Pennant (Celithemis verna) found by Virginia and Charles Brown, Horned Clubtail (Arigomphus cornutus) found by Jan Trybula and Adam Simmons, Broad-tailed Shadowdragon (Neurocordulia michaeli) found by Jeff Corser and Kevin Hemeon, Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) found by Annette Olivera, and Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis) found by Kevin Hemeon. A detailed report of all findings is being prepared and will be available to the public in 2010 on the NYDDS website ( We have also been conducting a status assessment of rare tiger beetles in New York. Tiger beetles are ground beetles that get their fierce name from their predatory nature. Several species live in ecosystems that are subject to a great deal of human disturbance: sand and cobble bars along rivers, lake and ocean beaches, and pine barrens. Our status assessment has focused on nine of the rarest taxa, several of which have not been seen in the state in many years. For some species we have documented new locations and expanded known occurrences.We are also funding a SUNY student to conduct a mark-recapture study of the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle (Cicindela marginipennis) in western NY. The final State Wildlife Grants project finishing this coming March is the High-priority Reptile and Amphibian Survey.We've done four years of survey work for 16 species of reptiles and amphibians listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in New York.We found new locations of several species and extended the known statewide range of at least one species, Coal Skink (Eumeces anthracinus). We're preparing a report for DEC that will contain a summary of all findings and provide recommendations for standardized survey protocols for these and 6 additional reptile and amphibian species listed as SGCN in New York.



We have also been

conducting a status assessment of rare tiger beetles in New York. Tiger beetles are ground beetles name from their

that get their fierce predatory nature.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010



Staff Spotlight


When Jeff volunteered to be our first staff member to be featured in Occurrences he requested the article be formatted in a way he could share

some of the highlights of his work. Here, in our first-ever article to focus on average week he had in the field this past summer. Enjoy!

a member of our Natural Heritage team, Jeff takes us through a better-thanLooking toward the High Peaks from the top of Boreas Mountain.

A Week in the Life of a Natural Heritage Zoologist

By Jeff Corser

The first week of June proved to be exceptional, with nearly every day yielding rare species. On June 1, a classic riffle/run stretch of the Rondout Creek south of Kingston held an abundance of exuviae (shed skins) from emerging Gomphid dragonflies, including two tracked species, the Rapids Clubtail (Gomphus quadricolor) and the Spine-crowned Clubtail (Gomphus abbreviatus) (the latter awaiting confirmation). These species are found in trout streams and they are indicators of clean water conditions.

On June 2 it was on to Boreas Mountain, where Bicknell's Thrushes (Catharus bicknelli) were coaxed Appalachian Tiger Beetle along from the cool, damp shadows of the mountain spruce-fir forest that blankets this remote area of tributary of Sacandaga Reservoir. Adirondack High Peaks. In collaboration with the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the Elk Lake Preserve provided access to this remote peak and allowed us to add another mountain to the impressive list of Adirondack peaks occupied by this iconic neotropical. By the third of June, things continued to heat up, this time on the southern fringe of the Adirondacks in the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest. A few miles upstream, before a wide creek empties into the Sacandaga Reservoir, lies a series of cobble bars, prime habitat for the Appalachian Tiger Beetle (Cicindela ancocisconensis, ranked S2 or "Imperiled" in New York). A new population of this elusive beetle was found on this stretch of creek. This exciting discovery is both a new county (Hamilton) record and a new watershed record for this species in New York. This amazing week climaxed on June 4 with several rare finds at the southern extent of Lake Champlain in Washington County. Here, the lake is more like a brown, muddy river where emergent cattail marshes fringe the shoreline and mountain peaks rise up in every direction.The marshes held breeding Least Bitterns (Ixobrychus exilis), Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), and Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), but maybe the most rewarding find was a healthy population of Midland Clubtails (Gomphus fraternus).This occurrence extends the range of this little-known dragonfly significantly to the northeast in New York, and because the territorial animals were also landing on a tiny sand beach on the Vermont side, the specimen also represented a new record for the state of Vermont.

Favored cobbly habitat of the

Appalachian Tiger Beetle.

Beach habitat of Midland Clubtails along southern Lake Champlain.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010




New York Nature Explorer

An Online Gateway to Biodiversity Information

Natural Heritage Programs are often asked what animals and plants are found in a certain county, town, or watershed, or at a specific location. Or where in the state a certain plant or animal can be found (including species with intriguing names like American dragonhead and ebony boghaunter, or funny names like hairy-necked tiger beetle). DEC maintains many databases recording documented locations of plants, animals, and unique habitats, and now the answers to these questions can be found with New York Nature Explorer, a new interactive online tool on the website of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at This gateway to information on the distribution and status of New York's biodiversity is intended for landowners, land managers, citizens, municipal officials, planners, consultants, project developers, researchers, students, and anyone else interested in the natural history of New York State. We proposed to create Nature Explorer in 2006 and we worked with DEC and NatureServe to obtain funding through the Environmental Protection Agency's Exchange Network grant program. Over the course of a year, the application was designed and developed by a team composed our staff, DEC staff, and DEC's contractors, Windsor Solutions. Nature Explorer was officially launched in October of 2009. Our Information Resources Coordinator, Nick Conrad, led our participation in the project. Both he and Database Manager Shelley Cooke contributed many design, data, and database elements, and devoted a large amount of time to reviewing and testing. In the course of the year of development, the scope of the application was expanded from providing just Natural Heritage data to also providing data from other DEC species distribution databases. Now, in addition to accessing data about rare animals, rare plants, and significant natural communities from our databases, users have access to information about birds from the 2nd New York State Breeding Bird Atlas (2000-2005) and reptiles and amphibians from the state Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project (19901999). DEC plans to add more groups to Nature Explorer over time. Species and habitat information is accessed via drop down menus and keyword searches. Users may choose a county, town, or watershed from a list, or they can draw or mark their own location on a map.They'll then receive a list of the animals, plants, and significant natural communities that have been found at the location they've specified and a map displaying boundaries of the natural communities. Boundaries representing

New York Nature Explorer: County Results Page - Map shows ecological communities and generalized species locations.

New York Nature Explorer: County Results Page - Report lists communities and species.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010

locations of rare species can also be viewed, but these have been generalized due to the policies that restrict access to these data. Species lists for a selected county, town or site include information on the conservation status, legal protection status, and date of the most recent observation of a species or natural community type. Users can also search Nature Explorer for a particular animal, plant, or natural community type, and then get a list and map of the counties, towns, or watersheds where it has been found. Results can be filtered and sorted based on several criteria and the lists and maps generated can be converted to .pdf files or downloaded as spreadsheets. Several links to other information on the Web will take the users to more information about the species or community type, such as DEC Endangered Species Fact Sheets, Natural Heritage Conservation Guides, and NatureServe Explorer. We hope you enjoy using New York Nature Explorer and we're interested in hearing your feedback!



Lists generated by New York Nature Explorer can: · Help provide a better understanding of the diversity of life in the state and locally

· Serve as a resource to better inform land use biodiversity conservation

decisions, natural resource management, and

· Offer an initial indication of possible rare and

protected animals and plants for those involved in the planning or permitting of a project or action.


Ask the Zoologist

Q: Where does the Hellbender, the Americas' largest salamander, get its name? A: In 1802, famed herpetologist Samuel Hellb was wading through the Allegheny River when he was sucked under a rock and eaten. His colleague, Joseph Fence Lizard, grabbed and slew the beast that ate Dr. Hellb; this specimen now resides at the New York State Museum, displayed with Dr. Hellb's partially digested snake stick and gaiters. The "Hellb-Ender" was named in his honor (the hyphen was removed in 1941 to save punctuation for the war effort). The Hellbender's ability to digest herpetological survey equipment is what separates it from its slightly smaller and gentler cousin, the Heckbender. Q: What's a four-letter word for "wading bird?" A: This newsletter does not print four-letter words. Q: What's going on with New York's bats? A: Several species of New York's bats have declined precipitously in the last few years. Recent research has determined that they have been afflicted with a terrible disease. When their hibernacula are too near highways or, you know, like, really windy places, ambient "white noise" wakes them up, interferes with their echolocation, and SMACK! they fly into trees and die. The affliction is thus named "White Noise Syndrome." Scientists are confused because white noise often helps people sleep, so why not bats? In the meantime, managers are working furiously to soundproof caves by carpeting the stalagmites. Q: Why do birds...suddenly appear...every time... you are near? A: Just like me...they long to be...close to you. Q: What's the rarest animal in New York? A: That would have to be the White-tailed deerf. In all my years as a Zoologist, I've only seen the White-tailed deerf show up on a survey report one time. In fact, it was my survey report ­ apparently I saw one on the side of the Thruway, eating grass. It must have been pretty large for me to have seen it from my vehicle at 70 m.p.h., so it's surprising there aren't more reports of this rare species. Clearly we need more research on the White-tailed deerf. Despite my poor memory, if I typed it into our database, you can be sure I saw one. I am an excellent typust and never make misteaks.

Occurrences :: New York Natural Heritage Program Newsletter ­ Winter/Spring 2010




New York Natural Heritage Program Staff List

DJ Evans, Director Fiona McKinney, Finance Manager/Grants Specialist Shereen Brock, Program Assistant Dr.Timothy Howard, Director of Science Greg Edinger, Chief Ecologist Aissa Feldmann, Ecologist Bud Sechler, Ecologist Elizabeth Spencer, Ecologist Laurie Lyons-Swift, Ecologist Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist Dr. Matthew Schlesinger, Chief Zoologist Jeff Corser, Zoologist Hollie Shaw, Zoology Data Supervisor Erin White, Zoologist Andrea Chaloux,Assistant Zoologist II Alina Leder, Zoology Data Specialist Kelly Perkins,Assistant Zoologist II Stephen Young, Chief Botanist Richard Ring, Botanist Nancy Davis-Ricci,Assistant Botanist II Kim Smith, State Parks Botanist Meg Wilkinson, Invasive Species Database Program Coordinator Brent Kinal, Invasive Species GIS Specialist Nick Conrad, Information Resources Coordinator Heidi Krahling, GIS analyst John Schmid, GIS Specialist Shelley Cooke, Database Manager Ray Novak, Database Manager Tara Salerno, Environmental Review Specialist Jean Pietrusiak, Information Services Dave Marston, Database Assistant

We kindly thank Mary Evans for her generous donation of time and talent to this newsletter.

Fun Facts

· As of December 10, 2009 our Biotics database contained: ­ 4,635 animal records representing 292 species ­ 5,936 plant records representing 605 species community types

­ 1,803 community records representing 165 natural · In 2009, we have entered 321 new locations and updated 1,414 other records with new data. · The county in New York with the most records in our database is Suffolk County with 2,609 total records (630 of these are historical records).

· The county with the fewest records in our database is Fulton County with 15 total records (four of these are historical records).

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Occurrences - New York Natural Heritage Program

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