Corrina Parnapy, an Adirondack native transplanted to Vermont with her husband and son, is the District Manager for the largest Natural Resources Conservation District in the State of Vermont. She is the lead Aquatic Biologist/ Phycologist for Avacal Biological, and writes about the natural world for the Adirondack Almanack and other Northeast publications.
The warming temperatures and receding ice are giving way to open water and increased recreational activities. It is time once again to think about aquatic invasive species. An emerging threat to our fish populations and bird populations is the Banded Mystery Snail.
The Banded Mystery Snail (Viviparus georgianus) a non-native species to the Adirondacks was introduced in 1867 into the Hudson River. It is historically native to Florida and Georgia among other southeastern states. It has been found in many bodies of water located within New York, including Lake Champlain and Lake George. The public, officials and scientists have not taken much note of this non-native species believing that any environmental impacts would be negligible. Current data is showcasing a different picture and further research is needed. » Continue Reading.
Living in the Northeast we depend on clear roads during winter to maintain our way of life. Organizations, agencies and municipalities throughout upstate NY and VT understand that there is an impact to the environment from road salt application practices. We must find the balance that protects the environment and still allows for safe roads.
Road salt (sodium chloride) was first utilized within the U.S. on roads in NH in 1938. By 1941 a total of 5,000 tons of salt were applied to highways nationwide. Today, between 10-20 million tons of salt are applied annually. This increase in road salt application is having a negative impact on our waterways, soils, cars, and infrastructure. Lake Champlain alone has seen a 30% increase within the past 10 years in chloride levels and many bodies of water within the Adirondack Park have levels high enough to impact native aquatic organisms including fish populations. » Continue Reading.
Every year heavy rains in the Northeast cause wastewater treatment plants to reach and exceed capacity, with attendant overflows and sewage spills directly into lakes and rivers. Population growth, aging infrastructure and increased storm intensity are resulting in wastewater treatment plants legally allowing overflow of untreated sewage into waterways. This has included both raw sewage and graywater. Outdated and inadequate infrastructure (both public and private) are lending to the potential increase in toxic algal blooms and pathogens within the waters we drink from and recreate in.
When wastewater spills or is dumped into a body of water, it contains pharmaceuticals, synthetic hormones, pollutants and nutrients that can feed algal growth. There is an impact to the aquatic ecosystem from raw sewage or partially treated effluent that makes their way into our freshwater resources. » Continue Reading.
The increase in temperatures and decreasing water levels in bodies of water are setting the stage for an increase in algal growth within our waterways. Littoral (nearshore) algal blooms are already visible, and Cyanobacteria (blue-green) algal blooms have recently closed down beaches in Lake Champlain.
Algae, the base of the aquatic food web is important to our aquatic ecosystems. They provide food for many organisms and create oxygen and shelter. Algae remove nutrients directly from the water column. If excessive nutrients enter our waterways, the nearshore algae will respond by blooming. The more nutrients that enter, the more algal growth there will be. Generally 1 pound of phosphorus will grow 500 pounds of wet algae. Phosphorus is not the only nutrient needed, nitrogen and carbon are needed to cause a bloom. » Continue Reading.
Brook Trout and Lake Trout, coldwater species are found in many lakes, ponds, and streams within the Adirondacks. They require cold, well oxygenated waters that are clean, to survive. With the increasing in overall temperatures, I felt it was time to explore the impact that these rising temperatures would have on our fish populations. » Continue Reading.
After a long slumber buried deep in the protective mud beneath Adirondack lakes, the painted turtle is awake. Chrysemys picta, the eastern painted turtle, is common to many of our ponds, lakes and wetlands, preferring areas with abundant aquatic plants, ample spots for sunbathing, and sunny places with sand for nests.
Painted turtles are named for their intricate shell pattern and very distinct yellow stripes on their heads. Reaching an average length of 5 to 6 inches, they can live for more than 40 years. Being omnivorous, they feed on insects, crustaceans, fish, plants and any other food (plant or animal) they can find. Like snapping turtles, painted turtles can live in a wide range of habitats. » Continue Reading.
The friendly harbinger of spring has arrived. Our banded friend the Eastern Chipmunk has been making visits to our bird feeder in Schroon Lake.
Chipmunks can be very social creatures; even those found deep within the woods can still surprise you. Years ago, my husband and I were taking a much needed vacation by camping out at Clear Pond in the Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area. We had the lean to all to ourselves, or so we thought. » Continue Reading.
Although, we had some snow last night, the temperature is rising in the Adirondacks, the snow is melting, and the sap has been flowing. The natural world around us is starting to wake up; spring is finally on its way.
In Schroon Lake, we have witnessed the increased activity of the wildlife and the beginning of ripening buds on trees. We have been visited by energetic red squirrels, a vole, shrew, and many birds, flocking to our backyard feeder. Although squirrels, voles and shrews don’t hibernate, their increased activity is a sign that breeding will take place soon. » Continue Reading.
Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), part of the sunfish family, has the same general shape as other sunfish. It is an introduced, non-native species to Lake George, but is an important prey species for largemouth bass and yellow perch. Crappie taste excellent and their aggressiveness allows for a fast and furious fight for anglers. They are an indicator species meaning they are intolerant of water quality degradation including silt and turbidity, and can only be found in clean waters. Besides Lake George, they can be found in The Great Lakes, the Hudson River and are generally distributed throughout New York State; but are not very common in the Adirondacks.
Crappies are pale silvery white on the belly and sides, and dark green on top. A dark vertical bar can be seen through the eye region. They have a high compressed, diamond shape body, like other species in the sunfish family. Crappies have more than three anal spines, a short dorsal fin with 6-8 spines and a long base of the dorsal fin. They have been known to hybridize with white crappie in bodies of water where their populations overlap. » Continue Reading.
The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a multi-million dollar collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and The FUND for Lake George, is expected to better our understanding of, and help provide solutions to, the threats to Lake George water quality.
Priority concerns include road salt, storm water runoff, and invasive species. This three year study, already underway, will build a model for balancing economic growth and environmental protection. » Continue Reading.
Lampreys (petromyzontidae) are native to parts of the Adirondacks. They are among the most primitive fish in the world and can be distinguished from eels by their lack of jaws and paired fins. Most species of Lamprey have a parasitic life stage, where they will attach themselves to other fish like Lake Trout and “rasp” through the skin using their teeth and tongue. Within the Adirondacks three species can be found within Lake Champlain and some of its tributaries, these include: Silver lamprey, Sea lamprey, and the non-parasitic American Brook lamprey. Lampreys have an elongate shape with seven pairs of round gill openings. They have a single nostril that is located in front of the eyes. All species have similar life histories; in the spring, they move into streams to spawn. Adults build nests by moving pebbles on the substrate to form a depression in which to lay their eggs. » Continue Reading.
The mysterious, unique, native populations of the American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) have drastically declined in the Adirondacks from historic populations. Surprisingly, individuals can still be found in tiny creeks buried in gravel and mud or under rocks. It has been recommended that the American eel be placed on the Endangered Species list due to alterations to migration routes and loss of habitat, mainly caused by dams along the migration routes.
American eel’s are elongate and very flexible. They have no pelvic fin and their anal and dorsal fins are joined forming one fin that runs around their body. The mouth is terminal, with a projecting lower jaw.
Eels are catadromous, meaning they live most of their adult life in freshwater and return to the sea to spawn and die. American eels are among the longest-lived fish species in North America. A female American eel held in captivity was recorded to be 88 years old prior to her death. The females are larger than the males, averaging three feet long while the males generally reach 1.5 feet long. The females, which have not yet reproduced, are generally what are caught in freshwater systems. The largest eel taken in New York State was seven pounds and 14 ounces, from Cayuga Lake in 1984. At maturity a female can lay between 10-20 million eggs.
The migratory nature of eels means that they can travel thousands of miles upstream, lakes, up and around waterfalls and small dams. They can even travel overland during rainy nights, creating the myth that they come out of the water and crawl across the land. Larval eels that are located out at sea are called leptocephali, they are transparent, ribbon-shaped and are poor swimmers. At age one, the leptocephali swim to shore along the coast of the United States and transform into elvers or glass eels. During this process, they gain their coloring and shrink in size. At this time females will migrate great distances upstream to mature, while males will stay closer to the coast.
After 20-50 years in freshwater the eels transform again into silver eels and move back out to the spawning area, the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean to spawn and then die. The mating behavior of the American eel has never been witnessed. The diet of eels varies by size; the smaller eels eat insects such as mayflies and caddisflies, the larger eels will eat fish and crustaceans, They are most active at night, spending their days hiding under rocks and in the mud.
Eels are considered commercially important in New York and are frequently caught by anglers. American Eels were historically caught for their skins, which were used to bind books or for their oils which were used for medicinal purposes. Today Eels may contain high levels of PCB’s and cannot be commercially sold. Throughout New York State, except the Hudson River, St. Lawrence River, Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and tributaries to these waters, you can fish for American Eel all year. The minimum length is 6 inches with a daily limit of 50.
Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.
Photo: An American Eel caught by US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Steven Smith holding an eel caught while night electrofishing for salmon in Whallon Bay, Lake Champlain. Photo courtesy USFWS.
Have you ever wondered what that slimy green/ brown stuff covering rocks or floating in the water was? What you were looking at was algae. Algae, like plants, use the sun to make energy (photosynthetic organisms), and are food for a variety of animals including fish, bugs, and birds. Algae differ from plants by not having true roots and leaves.
Also like plants, algae need light and a food source to grow. Algae loves phosphorus and nitrogen that enter the water. If these nutrients enter the water excessively, algae can bloom and become a nuisance and potential health hazard. When algae blooms it can become toxic, clog intake pipes and discourage swimming and other recreational activities. Algal blooms have been found in bodies of water throughout the Adirondacks, some of the most noted in Lake Champlain where blue/green algae or cyanobacteria can be found. These algae can form toxic blooms that can harm humans, pets and wildlife. Not all algae produces toxins, in fact most algae does not.
Lake George has been also been experiencing algal blooms. Algae there is found in the littoral zone, or near shore and is mostly green algae with very little blue/green. Generally algal blooms within Lake George are caused by lawn fertilizers washing into the lake, faulty septic systems, and storm water.
Excessive amounts of algae can also cause a dead-zone within a lake, an area of the water that has no oxygen and thus no fish. If you see an algal bloom in Lake Champlain contact the Lake Champlain Committee at (802) 658-1414 and report time of day, location and a description. Algal bloom in Lake George should be reported to the Lake George Waterkeeper.
While excessive amounts of algae are bad, it is a natural part of the aquatic environment. Algae can also be used by a trained scientist to determine if a body of water is healthy.
There are a variety of types of algae that can be seen in almost any body of water, including your fish tank. One of the more interesting types, looks like a ribbon twisting in a glass bottle. This form is often found in Lake George.
During this winter, it seems to have been snowing almost every week. Snow is piling up making driving hard and causing roofs to collapse. While the snow may be causing problems for people, it is just what the environment needs. Winters with thick snow packs mean a productive, drought free summer.
Snow falls to the ground, insulating the soil and roots of plants. When the snow melts it sinks into the ground between cracks and crevices of the bedrock replenishing the groundwater supply. The snow-melt will seep into the pore spaces between the soil particles or flow over the ground, filtering out into the streams, springs and lakes, thereby recharging the surface water. Snow is the major form of precipitation in the Adirondacks. Mild winters threaten soil productivity, plant growth and freshwater resources. » Continue Reading.
Hidden in a very limited number of Adirondack lakes is a jewel of a fish, the Frost Fish. The Frost Fish or Round Whitefish is an endangered species that is only known to exist naturally in approximately seven lakes within the Blue Line. This indicator of clean water is actually a relative of salmon, trout and char. Being of the family Salmonidae, they live in cold, deep lakes with adequate dissolved oxygen.
What makes the Round Whitefish so unique, is that they will spawn in late November, early December over gravel. They have even been known to spawn under the ice. The eggs will drift down into the cracks between the rocks to wait for the warmth of spring to hatch. Unfortunately it seems, that the deck is stacked against this important forage species. » Continue Reading.