Laura (left) and teammates collecting water samples
Posted by Laura Esposito (U. Pittsburgh)
This last week of class has been jam-packed but fun! Visits to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie and PLE's next door neighbor, the PA State Fish Hatchery, were really interesting. A little time spent frolicking on the beach on Presque Isle was welcomed by the class after 2 1/2 weeks of research and field work. My group, team Splishy-Splashy, wrapped up our research project in the field and began to polish our paper. I'm grateful to have had the experience to work with a group and collaborate in order to design and carry out research. Since group work will probably be required at some point in our careers, I'm glad it was included in this class. On that note, this class was chockfull of invaluable experiences that will be applied in hopefully all of our careers. I wish all of my Field Techniques classmates the best, especially the graduating seniors! ¡Adios!
Tommy (right) and Stone setting up a small mammal trapping transect
Posted by Thomas Hann (U. Pittsburgh)
So it’s August 2, 2013 maybe not so special to some people but pretty special to me because... I’m Graduating! It’s been a long four years of hard work and long nights but I think it will pay off. One thing I can say already about my college education is that Pymatuning is a great place to get hands on training. I only started to come to Pymatuning my senior year but it has been one of the best experiences of my life. The training you get here and the exposure to different field techniques allows you to get an upper hand on other college graduates coming out of college. Also, you get to meet people and have a great time while learning cool stuff. The experiences and memories of Pymatuning will always have a place in my heart, and will always be one of the best times of college. Thanks for all that helped make it that way!
Crossing the lotus at the entrance to Black Jack Swamp
Posted by Emily Broich (U. Pittsburgh)
After some detective work, Bob tracked down the name of the plant we observed at Black Jack Swamp from our canoes. Spatterdock. None of us had seen anything quite like it before and google searches for “stinky wetland plants Pennsylvania” did not yield an identification. Stone thought that we may have been describing lotus root, which is widely consumed in China. Who knew? Trying to find an answer to one question sometimes leads to another answer you weren’t expecting to find. Or another question. That's been the running theme as we have been sorting through field data this week, trying to make sense of what it might be telling us.
But the pictures of lotus root just didn’t look like what we canoed through. No, these thick root like structures with raised nodes, partially disintegrating, floating on the surface had a foul smell that we couldn’t imagine someone eating. Once we had the name, it was easier to find out more information. Historically, spatterdock has in fact been used by many cultures as a food source. I suppose they may have been asking, "Can we eat this before it gets too stinky?!"
Amy (right) taking vegetation data in a bat transect
Posted by Amy Binion (IUP)
I will be leaving Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology in less than 48 hours, which is strange because this place has started to feel like home, and I will really miss it. I have really appreciated this wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge in such a practical, fun way, as well as the opportunity to meet so many outstanding people. I will be leaving with a much better understanding of what it takes to set up and conduct a study in the field from start to finish. I am so glad I got the chance to see, do, and learn about so many field techniques: small mammal trapping, point quarter method, mist netting for birds, water quality tests and Sonobat. I will also take with me a greatly expanded knowledge of bats and tree taxonomy. It was wonderful being given the license to take our group projects into our own hands. Everyone has put heart and soul into their projects, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the stellar presentations tomorrow!
The awesome ladies of PLE Field Techniques
Posted by Danilyn Schaut (Clarion U.)
I am very happy I chose PLE for my last course, even happier that it was field techniques with a great professor. I learned a lot and met a lot of cool new people. I really liked the setup of the field techniques course. We got to be more independent, it was nice not having a professor hover over you all the time. I feel like students work harder when we are able to take chances and do stuff for ourselves. We learn best through mistakes. My team (Team Mom Jeans) was a lot of fun to work with. We all got along really well and definitely had a lot of similar interests. I hope I get to stay in touch with the people I met here, everyone here is so passionate about biology and that’s awesome. Also living in the girls’ dorm wasn’t what I expected. I thought everyone was going to have their own clicks and the doors to rooms would be closed and we were only going to talk to people in our rooms, but that wasn’t the case at all. We hardly hung out in the dorms, we played sports, board games and went canoeing. Some of us had our Wednesday night shopping spree at the Salvation Army. Family day, 50% of four different colors! So of course we bought are fashion forward windbreakers! And of course we rolled into supper a half hour late with our new jackets….looking fly.
So just to recap… PLE is awesome! Everyone needs to experience it!
John Luke paddling through Black Jack Swamp
Posted by John Luke Dougherty (U. Pittsburgh)
“The journey is more important than the destination.” Nothing makes my skin crawl more than the cliché little sayings about life such as that one. Unfortunately, that is the exact phrase that stuck in my mind after the afternoon adventure of Emily, Ben, Tom, Bob, Priya, and myself in search of Black Jack Swamp.
The valley that now contains Pymatuning Lake was carved out by the recession of the glaciers from their southern-most point. Before the reservoir was dammed, this area was covered by a gigantic, and ecologically rich, swamp. The last remnant of that swamp is called Black Jack Swamp, a place that is expected to hold species extirpated from the rest of the state of Pennsylvania.
When Dr. T told us about Black Jack Swamp I was intrigued for a minute then quickly put it in the back of my mind as another tidbit of information to recall at a later date. This course of action, however, was not enough for Bob and Tom (Dad and Mom). As I walked up to them at the end of the class day, I could almost see the cogs of their minds working up a scheme to visit the swamp. I was easily roped into their plan, knowing that my relaxing night of reading was going by the wayside. I hoped to find a poison sumac tree in the swamp, a plant quite rare to our beautiful state.
After recruiting three others, Priya, Ben, and Emily, the ideas flew back and forth between the group until the framework of a plan was drawn up. We decided to strap canoes onto our vehicles and venture to a boat launch closer to the swamp. From there we would paddle to the swamp where we could theoretically ditch the canoes and explore on foot.
We found the boat launch with little difficulty, but finding a place to enter the swamp was a challenge. We rowed for what seemed like forever through lotus and disembarked our canoes in the forest bordering the swamp. Because we decided not to stop for waders, most of us wore only flip-flops. We drudged into pools of standing water and further into the forest, not finding what we came looking for. Instead we found two beer bottles and a few cool fungi. We decided to turn back and look for a water entrance into the swamp.
Back in the water, we faced dense nets of floating vegetation. We identified the inlet (or outlet) for the swamp, but we couldn’t reach it through the foul smelling weeds. My arms burned as we paddled at a sloth’s pace through them. Our group decided to call off the expedition, since the sun was setting and our stomachs grumbled from hunger.
Normally, I would have been disappointed from the lack of exploration of the swamp. Although we didn’t get to explore the swamp as much as we liked, we all had an enlightening time pursuing our goal. Tom found interesting pieces of driftwood, we learned how to traverse backwater barefoot, we named our own island of vegetation, we saw bald eagles and a crane, Emily taught me about ospreys, and we all experienced Covered Bridge Pizza. Our experience today supported that earlier cliché that the life isn’t so much about destinations. Even though it hurts me to support that sappy notion, I can agree that in this case, the journey was well worth it.
Saprophytic colonizer of silvatic CWD
Posted by Michael Robertson (Clarion U.)
These last three weeks have been amazing! From an academic stand point I have set the bar high for myself, and have continued to strive towards my goal. I have committed to my fungal research to really see what I was capable of, and have somewhat impressed myself. After setting up our eight observation plots, four in Tryon-Weber Woods, and four in Wallace Woods I have identified multiple fungal species. However, I think my favorite is the Old Man of the Woods, S. floccopus, it’s just a neat looking polypore! Besides improving on my fungal identification skills, I have also had the chance to get involved with the research some of my other teammates have been working on. Such as sorting through leaf letter, trying to identify the invertebrate community that feeds on the fungi I like so much, or surveying the enemy of my enemy and looking at the amphibians which eat the hungry invertebrates! While I’m enjoying the project I am also having my eyes opened to the difficulties of developing, implementing, and managing a research project. Learning the lesson that just because it works on paper, does not mean it works in the field. Sometimes you have to change your thought process around, and find path B to still answer question A. These are challenges that I’m glad I faced, because these obstacles only make me push myself, and ultimately make me a better environmental biologist. After four years of text books and test taking, this field course has made it all come full circle. The goal of becoming more confident in the field has been achieved. Score!
Bald Eagle of Blackjack Swamp
Posted by Bob Frankeny (U. Pittsburgh)
Yesterday was a rough one for me. We spent the whole day in the lab identifying invertebrates. I don’t think I was meant to sit over a microscope breathing in ethyl alcohol staring at bugs. Ben seriously outpaced me, for every one invertebrate I identified, he would ID five. I left the lab with a headache, a runny nose and a little dizzy. Necessary, and interesting, but not fun.
So, how does a naturalist wind down after a day in the lab? Why he grabs a few friends and a couple of canoes, drives over to a boat launch and paddle into a swamp, of course. Black Jack Swamp is the last remaining remnant of the swamps that covered the area now called Pymatuning Reservoir. It is on the northwestern corner of the lake, close to the Ohio border. It is a highly productive area of backwaters and coves, some of which connect to the lake. When we first paddled over to it from the Wilson boat launch we skirted a few of the coves thinking they were just small backwaters. We eventually took to the shore for a small hike. As soon as we left the boats we hit the swamp. The shore was simply a rise in the land that masked the swamp behind. The section we were in was a series of these rises surrounded by swampy water.
The biological diversity was immediately visible. The rises were covered with many large beech, oak and maple trees, with a few birch thrown in. Most of the swampy areas were filled with stunted maple trees, at least from where I could see. The rises were park-like, similar to Tryon Weber Woods. With very little undergrowth. However we saw several types of fungi, including what I think was a yellow staghorn fungus or possibly a coral fungus. There was lots of deer sign and tons of spiders, predominantly orb-weaver spiders. On our way out, we grabbed a few wild blueberries and jumped into the boats.
We found a nice bay that leads way back into the swamp from the lake using Google Earth on my phone. On the approach to the bay we came upon a couple of bald eagles. More on them later. We followed the bay as far as we could before the lotus plants stopped our progress. On the way we passed a beaver lodge, and saw the brightest red flower that I ever saw. I looked it up and found out it was a cardinal flower. As we got deeper into the lotus, we came across a wonderfully smelling plant floating in the water. Between the smell of the mystery plant and the encroaching lotus we decided it was time to make a speedy retreat. Which brings me back to the highlight of the trip, the eagles. When we first saw the eagles, they were flying away from us. One of them roosted in a tree near the shore of the lake. Coming out of the bay brought us within 50 yards of the tree he was roosted in. Ben was able to snap the picture you see above. I will definitely go back for more, maybe in the spring when there is less lotus.
Posted by Evan Scheuer (U. Pittsburgh)
Today we went on a field trip an hour north to Presque Isle; a tourist destination of more than 4 million people a year. As this was my first trip to Erie, I was blown away by the multitude of people and the vastness of the lake. Upon arrival we toured a visitor center/research facility and learned about gobies and their affect on the environment in a non-native habitat. The seemingly most beneficial information came in the internship possibilities for the surrounding area. I still have time to get some real world experience before entering the real world, so it was exciting knowing you could apply for such pertinent positions in different companies at such an amazing location. Satisfying our scientific palate, we continued to a river for a picnic and finally the ocean [editor's note: I loved the fact that you said ocean here, so I left it in...] where we skipped stones, swam, and enjoyed the sun. We also got to see the lighthouse which is just such an amazing experience everyone needs to visit in their life time. It was sad to see Presque Isle fade from the rear-view, but the promise of chicken enchiladas and volleyball made coming back to PLE irresistible. It’s also where I should sleep tonight.
Toad in hand.
Posted by Kelly Saquin (U. Pittsburgh)
It was the second day of our amphibian sampling and Dani and i were a little skeptical. The preliminary sampling of this site was not very promising and when we set our transects we only found toads. But, we set out with confidence we would find some frogs and salamanders. In the 400 meter length of the Wallace Woods stream we sampled, only 5 toads were found. Five small American toads in 400 meters. Due to the sandy soil composition we did not expect much, but we did expect a little more than this. After discussing this for awhile we concluded that there are most likely a variety of factors that make this stream a non ideal habitat. As mentioned before, the soil composition is mainly sand. Another reason is that this stream floods a lot during hard rains. This would make it difficult for a semi-aquatic amphibian to set up camp, not knowing when the place will flood. I am very interested to see what the other groups who sampled Wallace Woods found. We were constrained by the 3 meters from the bank so there could be terrestrial salamanders living deeper in the woods.