Summer at Duck Pond, White Memorial Foundation

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

West Nile Virus Continues Killing Bird Species Commonly Observed At White Memorial

West Nile Virus was first documented in Connecticut and North America in 1999.  The mosquito-borne disease has spread throughout the continent, meanwhile killing millions of birds as it spread.  American Crow, Common Raven, and Blue Jay were the first birds observed dying in Connecticut.  Fortunately, these populations were able to recover since then, but many other bird species have not faired as well, including Purple Finch and Tufted Titmouse.  A brief article that outlines the major findings of this paper can be found here.  

The original publication is an important examination of how emerging infectious diseases are impacting and will continue to impact many bird species.  This lesson is not a new one for us in Connecticut.  We've observed how White Nose Syndrome has severely decimated several bat species that were regarded to as common a decade ago.  We are learning about new pathogens that are spreading around the world and could have devistating impacts to very important species we conserve.    Our best course of action for the long-term conservation of our natural resources is to prevent the introduction of these pathogens and pests from entering the continent.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hartford Courant Article "Resurgent Bobcats Prompt State To Study Habitat, Population"

Bobcat at Apple Hill
By Leo Kulinski, Jr.

Bobcats are frequently observed on the White Memorial Foundation property.  Volunteers who help with our Winter Track Monitoring Program have documented bobcat tracks in many of the critical habitats on the property.  Bobcat tracks are often observed walking along juxtaposed upland and wetland habitats, but they are observed in many other habitats.  Bobcats can predate larger mammals but often will kill small mammals, songbirds, and wild turkeys.  They are often observed scavenging white-tailed deer carcasses that die in the winter from car collisions.  A new project in Connecticut is exploring the current population size and habitat associations in the state.  The article below was published in the Hartford Courant on September 25, 2015.

Resurgent Bobcats Prompt State To Study Habitat, Population

Friday, October 9, 2015

Six New Snail Species Recorded in Bantam Lake

The wetland habitats across the White Memorial Foundation are home to a vast array of plants and animals. Some, such as sunfish and red-winged blackbirds, are quite noticeable and attract a great deal of attention.  There are other less noticeable groups of species, however, that play a very important role in wetland ecosystems.  One of these groups are freshwater snails.

The large Chinese Mystery Snail was introduced from Asia as
a source of food.  It is now established across North America,
and can be found in the Bantam Lake watershed.

The slow-moving, dull-colored snails can be easily overlooked, but they play a vital role in wetland ecosystems.  They eat algae, plankton, and decaying plant and animal material, recycling nutrients back into the animal community.  Snails, in turn, are eaten by turtles, fish and birds, providing them with an important source of food.  Snails are also intermediate hosts for parasitic flukes, a type of flatworm that can infect both people and wild animals. (In the Northeastern US, snails serve as intermediate hosts to Swimmer's itch and Lung fluke.  There are many more that affect people in the tropics, including schistosomiasis, which is  the second most socioeconomically devastating parasitic disease after malaria.)

Because snails are so easily overlooked, we know relatively little about their distribution in the State.  Eileen Jokinen, a former University of Connecticut researcher, conducted a statewide snail survey in the late 1970s.  However, snails can easily move from one waterbody to another by attaching to boats or animals.  With so much boating and wildlife activity on the property, we thought, it was only a matter of time before new snail species moved into the Bantam Lake watershed, making Jokinen's inventory obsolete.  To get more recent data on our snail species, we decided to join Laura Saucier, a CT DEEP wildlife biologist, in collecting and identifying some local snails.

A bladder snail (Physella sp.) This is one of two snails that
both Eileen Jokinen and ourselves found in Bantam Lake.

As soon as we started collecting snails, we knew that things had changed since Jokinen's work several decades ago.  Jokinen had collected five snail species from Bantam Lake.  On our first day collecting at the Litchfield Town Beach, we collected six species.  Out of these six, only two were recorded by Jokinen. 

Over several visits, we recorded six new species for the Bantam Lake watershed.  One of these, the banded mystery snail (Viviparus georgianus) had previously been found in only two lakes in Connecticut, East Twin Lake and Lake Waramaug.

Banded Mystery Snail
(Viviparus georgianus)
There are several features we look for in identifying snails.  One of these features is an operculum.  An operculum is a hard disc-like trapdoor structure that protects the snail when it retreats into its shell.  The operculum is visible in the picture of the Banded Mystery Snail above (the brownish structure in the lower part of the shell's opening, or aperture).  However, the Bladder snail in the top picture has no operculum. 

Another feature we look at is the aperture, or opening, of the shell.  In some snail families, the opening is on the right side of the shell.  This is called a dextral aperture, and can be seen in the Banded Mystery Snail above.  When the opening is on the left side of the shell, as in the Bladder snail, it is referred to as "sinistral".

Shell shape can vary between types of snails.  The Planorbidae family, for example, has a shell shaped like a ram's horn, while most other snails have a cone-shaped shell.

Marsh Ramshorn
 (Planorbella trivolvis)

We also decided to sample several other ponds on the property in addition to Bantam Lake.  We found several species of snails in Ongley Pond, Heron Pond, Plunge Pool, and Beaver Pond.

The Pointed Campeloma (Campeloma decisum) was very common in
Bantam Lake, Ongley Pond, and Beaver Pond.  However, Jokinen had
no record of this species in Bantam Lake when she conducted her survey.
Even though we only spent a couple days collecting aquatic snails, we more than doubled the previous number of known snail species on the property.  Imagine what we could learn if we invested several weeks into this process!  On top of the aquatic snails we were collecting, we also have terrestrial snails and marsh-dwelling snails that we know very little about.  There is so much we don't know about these common but unassuming creatures.