Testing Bantam Lake for potentially harmful cyanobacteria

A cyanobacteria, phormidium (cluster of rods, center), and a zooplankton, Bosmina longirostris (bottom)
     With help from the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, we are reviewing the species composition of the "blue-green algae" in Bantam Lake and other water bodies on the property.  We frequently use the University of New Hampshire's Center for Freshwater Biology for identifying the so-called "Dirty Dozen" species of cyanobacteria, as well as phytoplankton and zooplankton.  Our observations are reported to the Cyanoscope iNaturalist.
     Cyanobacteria are naturally occurring photosynthetic organisms that live within the top ten feet of surface water.  While these organisms are usually harmless and nearly omnipresent, high concentrations of them known as blooms concentrate the toxins they releases.  When this happens, they can cause harm to fish, aquatic plants, and amphibians, as well as terrestrial animals who swim or drink water in which there's been a bloom.  Blooms can be caused by a shift in the nutrient levels in water, like an increase in nitrogen caused by fertilizer runoff.  Blooms usually occur in warm weather.
      The Dirty Dozen are the twelve most commonly observed species of cyanobacteria in New England.  We've sampled water from Beaver Pond, Bantam River, and Litchfield Town Beach, and will sample from several other locations on Bantam Lake.  So far, we've found nine of the twelve.  They are not present in large enough quantities to be harmful, and some, like phormidium, can be indicators of clean water when in normal quantities.  By sampling at Bantam Lake, we are hoping to better understand the community of cyanobacteria present in the lake.  Shifts in the species present could tell us more about water quality and hopefully warn us before a bloom occurs.

Hunting Dragons at White Memorial

Cyrano darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), a dragonfly

Ebony jewelwing (Claopteryx maculata), a damselfly
  In preparation for an upcoming odonata-themed mini BioBlitz, we've been visiting ponds, streams, and wetlands around the property, catching and identifying as many dragonfly and damselfly species as we can.  While several species of dragonflies and damselflies are generalists and can be found near most bodies of water on the property, others have specific habitat preferences and are much more difficult to find. Dragonflies and damselflies, especially specialist species, can help us better understand different habitat types, and it's possible that they can act as indicator species.  This means that changes in their abundance or in the assemblage of species at a given habitat can warn us of changes in that habitat, such as a shift in water quality.
     Dragonflies are most active when it's sunny.  Their speed and agility makes them almost impossible to catch in flight,so we generally waited until they paused to rest on vegetation.  Damselflies are smaller and some can be difficult to see, but they are active even when it's cloudy and are much easier to catch.  Some female damselflies resembled closely related species so much that a positive ID in the field was impossible.

Male variable dancer (Argia fumipennis), a damselfly
     Aside from improving our hand-eye coordination, catching dragonflies and damselflies has also given us practice working with a dichotomous key.  Dichotomous keys work by presenting you with two statements.  You choose whichever is true for your specimen and it will direct you to the next set of two statements.  For example, to identify the variable dancer (left) you would say his eyes are on separate sides of his head rather than his eyes are connected in the middle of his head.  This statement would lead you to another question that would help you determine whether you were holding a damselfly or a clubtail, which are the only dragonflies without connected eyes.  The next statements would further weed out species of damselflies until eventually you would be left with the variable dancer.  These statements help us hone in on what the distinguishing characteristics for dragonfly and damselfly species are.  In many cases, the last few statements in the key had us examining the last two segments of the insects' tails under magnifying glasses.  Attention to detail is crucial, but so is knowing which details are important.

     We sampled at fifteen locations (see map below), and positively identified 36 species from seven different families (see the link at the end of this post). We chose locations to represent different habitat types.  The species present will vary according to habitat type and time of year, with some species reaching their peak later in the year than the species we encountered. I'm in the process of uploading our findings to Odonata Central.  I encourage other odonata enthusiasts to do the same, and to join us on Saturday, July 9th (weather permitting), for our odonata mini BioBlitz!   Sunscreen, bugspray (but not on your hands!), long pants and waterproof boots are recommended, and butterfly nets are provided.      

Map of White Memorial with dragonfly sampling sites marked with red dragonflies
For a list of the species we encountered and the habitats in which they were found, click here.

Summer Employees and Volunteers

White Memorial's summer wildlife field technician, summer intern, and volunteers are participating in a variety of wildlife-related projects throughout the property.

Andrea Petrullo
I found a dead thing!
(Woodland jumping mouse) 
     I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2015, after studying natural resources with a concentration in fisheries and wildlife conservation.  I spent a summer working as a teaching assistant  for UConn's South African field ecology class, where I also worked as a field technician collecting jackal scat for dietary analysis.  After graduation, I worked as a volunteer field technician on Great Gull Island monitoring a colony of common terns. Before coming to White Memorial, I worked for three months in southwestern Louisiana on a noninvasive genetic study of coyotes to find possible instances of coyote/red wolf hybridization.  I'm very excited to be here at White Memorial, and look forward to the variety of work experience I'll get here.

Molly Mullen

Molly checking reptile boards
   Molly is going into her senior year at Yale University, majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.  After spending a summer in Costa Rica doing fieldwork on the impact of traffic noise on birds, she wanted to explore possible career options doing fieldwork and working with wildlife.  She is interning here at White Memorial through the Yale Alumni Community Service Fellowship.  So far, she is most interested in our bat projects, the bat acoustic survey we conduct on behalf of the DEEP and the emergence count from the barn next to the museum.

Kiely Quijano

 Kiely is an eighteen-year-old sophomore at the University of Rhode Island, majoring conservation biology. She hopes to study abroad in Tanzania, and is interested in working for the National Park Service after she graduates.

Matt Squires

Matt collecting samples from our
southern pine beetle trap
     Matt is a senior at Unity College in Maine, majoring in fisheries and wildlife management.  He is volunteering here to fulfill an internship requirement.  He is interested in working with bears, and hopes that the data collection skills associated with this internship will help in his future career.

Christian "Snail Guy" Wiles-Lafayette

     Christian is a senior at Marist College majoring in environmental science.  In addition to helping out on our many wildlife projects, Christian is working on an independent research project on freshwater snails, testing water quality to determine possible factors affecting them.  He plans to become a male model or a trophy husband after graduating from college.

Kyle Farrell
Pictured above: not Kyle
(he didn't send me a picture)
     Kyle is a junior at the University of Connecticut majoring in environmental science.  He grew up near White Memorial, and is coming here to get more field experience before graduating.  He aspires to be the first volunteer this summer to get Lyme.

Shannon Smith
Pictured above: not Shannon
(She didn't send me a picture)
 Shannon is a student at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.  A Litchfield native, Shannon is doing a research project on freshwater plants in Bantam Lake and several other nearby lakes.

Maggie Loery

Maggie trying to identify a
damselfly she caught
  Maggie is a student at Grinnell, and has been volunteering at White Memorial every summer for several years.  She's planning to be a biology major with a concentration in environmental science.

High School Students

Rachelle Talbot
Surprise bobcat!
     Rachelle is going into her senior year at Wamogo Regional High School.  She started volunteering at White Memorial the summer after her freshman year as part of Wamogo's Supervised Agricultural Experience.  Rachelle would like to teach an ag class in natural resources someday, though her mom says she should be a tattoo artist.

Ireland Kennedy

Ireland catching dragonflies to ID them
    Ireland is a student at Wamogo in the agricultural program.  She comes to White Memorial as part of Wamogo's Supervised Agricultural Experience.  She's been coming here for three years.

Emma Sonnati

Emma holding up the first
dragonfly she caught
   Emma is going into her sophomore year at Wamogo.  She's volunteering here for her Supervised Agricultural Experience.  She is interested in nature and conservation and wants to be a marine biologist.

Masen Williamson
Masen catching cerceris wasps to collect
their prey as part of our emerald ash borer
monitoring project
     Masen is going into the tenth grade at Nonnewaug High School.  He is volunteering at White Memorial because he is interested in conservation and is thinking about making a career out of it.

Ben Vermilyea
Ben collecting pollinators
for our native pollinator
     Ben is a junior at Litchfield High School. He worked on a year-long research project at White Memorial last year, trying to determine whether or not invasive earthworm activity was impacting water quality.  Ben presented his findings to the Natural Resources Conservation Academy, and he was awarded the first place scholarship.  He has returned this year to continue getting fieldwork experience working on a variety of projects.  For more information on his project last year, check out this blog post.