Friday, October 24, 2008

Kemp's ridley turtle found stranded

BARNSTABLE — The first cold-stunned Kemp's ridley turtle of the stranding season was rescued in local waters yesterday, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The eight-pound turtle, which is about four years old, was found by two people walking along Sandy Neck Beach at around 2 p.m. yesterday, sanctuary director Robert Prescott said. The marine reptile was being taken to the New England Aquarium for rehabilitation last night, he said.

The turtle had an old boat propeller wound on its left front flipper, which likely weakened the animal, Prescott said. The turtle was driven to shore by high winds and the dropping water temperature, he added.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded, so their body temperatureis regulated by their environment. Late every fall, some wash up on shore when they become hypothermic after a sudden temperature drop, or if they have failed to migrate south before winter conditions arrive here. "This is the time of year" for local turtle strandings, Prescott said.

Kemp's ridley turtles are on the federal endangered species list, and no one but an authorized agent can handle them under federal law. Prescott asked that people call the sanctuary at 508-349-2615 if they see a distressed turtle.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Graduate student partners with National Geographic on turtle study

by Cindy Weiss - October 20, 2008

In an era of high-tech science, a biology graduate student is using an advanced instrument and decidedly low-tech adaptations to yield new data and excite youngsters about a creature that antedates technology, the turtle.

Tobias Landberg, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, is collecting data from turtles that swim and surface along Connecticut’s waterways. He spent this past summer working with National Geographic on a project using the “Crittercam,” a $10,000 video camera that is attached to the back of snapping turtles to track their travels.

Although Landberg’s doctoral research focuses on a different species – salamanders – he wrote his master’s thesis on turtles at the University of Massachusetts before coming to UConn to study for his Ph.D. When National Geographic was looking for a turtle expert to work on the project, they turned to UConn and Landberg was a natural choice.

Landberg has long been interested in how turtles breathe when moving. But the Crittercam can capture more – where they go, how long they stay, when and where they surface. And it does it all without human intervention, once the camera is attached.

“Sort of like old school naturalists,” says Landberg, “we’re observing individuals of the species to see what they do.”

The project was launched during the summer on the Connecticut River by National Geographic, with the help of Landberg, Riverfront Recapture, and 10 teenagers from Hartford public schools, who were recruited by the “Our Piece of the Pie” organization for summer career-building work.

The high school students got hands-on field experience in biology and the excitement of scientific discovery. For their first specimen, they trapped the Godzilla of snapping turtles, a 39-pound creature that was missing its lower jaw.

How does a snapping turtle reach that size when it’s missing a mandible? Landberg and the students set to work to find out. They attached the Crittercam with duct tape to a papier-mache-type rig that would hold the camera on the turtle’s back for about two hours and then dissolve, sending the camera back to the surface for data collection.

“Nature provided the question, and we had the apparatus to answer it,” Landberg says.

“Jawless,” as they named the turtle, deployed around the bottom of Wethersfield Cove for two hours before being recaptured. The next day it took only 20 minutes for the paper rig to dissolve and the camera to bob up. The camera was sent to Washington, D.C., where National Geographic recovered the footage, which Landberg is still studying.

eanwhile, another Crittercam was attached to a smaller, 24-pounder on Shenipsit Lake near Rockville, to provide another set of data.

Landberg says he became involved in the Crittercam project because of its outreach potential.

“This is probably my favorite part of the whole business – teaching people what science really is, solving problems,” he says.

But it is also generating some very interesting data, he says.

“I’m really interested in what the future of this technology is going to allow us to do – outreach combined with long-term ecological data collection,” he adds.

Landberg, who has been a Schwenk Mentoring Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and has mentored eight UConn undergraduates, is now supervising an independent study on the turtle data by another undergraduate.

Landberg dropped out of high school at the age of 17, and tried his hand at carpentry, painting, general contracting, and restoring old houses. He also traveled, and a trip to Costa Rica revived his early interest in biology. He earned his GED high school equivalency and later a master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts before coming to UConn.

His hands-on construction skills have served him well. In earlier experiments in the lab, he created masks to learn more about how turtles breathe.

Turtles at rest can breathe by moving a shoulder girdle in and out of the shell and moving their limbs. But Landberg wanted to know how they breathe when they are in motion.

He attached the masks to the mouths of box turtles, using surgical adhesive that stuck to their tough skin without hurting them, then had them walk on a treadmill and measured their breathing.

He filmed their exercise routines and was surprised to learn that they took small breaths very rapidly and that their breathing had no relationship to what their feet were doing.

Landberg’s Ph.D. research, funded by a National Science Foundation doctoral dissertation grant, is on the effects of the environment on salamander development. But he’s still fascinated by turtles.

“The natural behavior of these animals in the wild is still a mystery,” he says.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Bright fall colors: Top 10 walks
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Eagle

Thursday, October 09
Flaming fall colors — crimson, red, yellow, scarlet, bronze, orange — bright sunshine and invigorating, cool breezes, make a stroll in the woods all the more alluring in these final weeks of the early fall.

No need to go for a long drive: There are scores of walks and hikes anywhere in the Berkshires. Here's my subjective list of the top-10 fall-foliage treks, arranged in increasing order of difficulty.

  • Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield. This is the easiest walk on the list and one of the most scenic. The 262-acre Massachusetts Audubon Society reservation sits near a quiet residential area five minutes from Park Square.

The Housatonic River runs by swamps, marshland, open fields and forested areas. The marsh has an observation deck to look for waterfowl: red-winged blackbirds and kingfishers on the tree branches over the water, Canada geese and mallard ducks.

Sightings of nesting turtles, muskrat and beaver are a good bet, especially early or late in the day. Naturalists report seeing deer drinking from the pond. Coyote and red fox are known to be in the woods, but are rarely seen in daylight.

  • Benedict Pond, Beartown State Forest, Great Barrington and Monterey. A level trail around the pond offers glimpses of salamanders and a beaver lodge still under construction. Azalea and mountain laurel flourish along this easy walk.

  • Field Farm, Williamstown. Four different hiking cross 296 acres. The North Trail passes through a cow pasture, with stunning views of Mount Greylock to the east. You'll enter a cluster of sugar maples, ideal for impressive foliage.

  • Roaring Brook Road, Woods Pond and Housatonic River, Lee and Lenox. The pond and riverfront scenic views, under a deep canopy of trees on the edge of October Mountain State Forest, make this easy walk one of the county's most rewarding.

Start at the bottom of Housatonic Street in Lenox Dale, park near the footbridge across the Housatonic, and take the dirt road, bearing left, following the shoreline. There's a modest climb along the way. Continue to the beginning of Roaring Brook Road's paved portion, where you'll see houses on the hillside.

  • Monument Mountain, Great Barrington. These trails are popular with hikers, 20,000 a year on the 503-acre property. Three miles of trails wind through a white pine and oak forest with mountain laurel, hemlock, maple and birch. The white cliffs are composed of pure quartzite hundreds of millions of years old. Hawks and vultures are spotted from the summit.

Hikers have a choice of a strong, steep route, the Hickey Trail or a longer, more gradual one, the Indian Monument Trail.

  • Finerty Pond Trail, October Mountain State Forest, Becket and Washington. The route to the pond lies entirely along the Appalachian Trail. This moderate hike is especially colorful, passing ash, maple, hemlock, beech, red spruce and balsam fir trees and many rare wildflowers. Here are marshlands and abandoned beaver ponds and plenty of wildlife.

n Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox. For a hike to the summit of Lenox Mountain, choose either the Overbrook Trail along a mountain stream, deep into a Northern hardwood forest, or the more challenging, rocky Trail of the Ledges. Either way, the reward is a stunning view west over Richmond toward New York state, and north toward Pittsfield.

The sanctuary, maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, includes 1,450 acres and 10 more trails circling beaver ponds, along cattail marshes and ravines filled with fresh mountain streams and waterfalls. There are boardwalks and benches along the way. The best times to look for beavers are shortly after dawn or shortly before dusk. The beavers are used to humans and are likely to greet hikers with a slap of the tail and a dive under water.

  • Tyringham Cobble. Another Trustees of Reservation property, 206 acres of pastures, woodlands and a moderately steep hike up the Cobble, where the path intersects with the Appalachian Trail.

A paradise for bird watchers, the Cobble is a promontory on a plateau; there's a glacial remnant near the eastern slope. The year-round aviary includes red-tailed hawk, ruffled grouse, pileated woodpecker, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird and a dozen other species.

The summit is nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, and the entire area is home to coyote (rarely seen but easily heard at night), red fox, white-tailed deer and porcupine.

  • Pine Cobble Trail, Williamstown. This especially well-traveled, moderate hike heads through a hardwood forest filled with red maple, white oak, ash and hickory trees, to the summit of Pine Cobble (1,893 feet), where there's a rocky quartzite limestone promontory on the southern edge of East Mountain and a great view of the Hoosac Valley, the Taconic range and Vermont's Green Mountains.

The path is well-maintained by the Wiliams Outing Club.

  • Gorge Trail and Felton Lake, October Mountain State Forest, Lee. The most challenging hike on the list, the steep trail follows a waterfall one mile upstream to a mountain lake.

Coyote, deer and bear tracks are visible around the lake, near the mysterious secret remains of the former Scout Camp for the United Nations (at the site of the William Whitney estate).

Any walk or hike (and there are many more options) leads to a bracing, healthy outing through the colors of autumn, and it's all free.

If you go ...

1. Canoe Meadows:

The entrance is on Holmes Road, Pittsfield, just north and east of Pomeroy Avenue.

Walk: 1.2 miles, 30-45 minutes.

2. Benedict Pond:

From Route 7 south, take Monument Valley Road, just south of Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington. Make a left on Stony Brook Road and follow 2.8 miles to Benedict Pond Road. A left turn leads to the parking area. Walk: 1.5-mile loop, 1 hour.

3. Field Farm:

In Williamstown, turn onto Route 43 westbound from the intersection at Route 7, then take a hard right on Sloan Road, just over a mile to the entrance. Take a right on the driveway to the parking area. Elevation gain: 100 feet. Walk: 2.5-mile loop trail, 2 hours or less.

4. Roaring Brook Road: From Route 7 south, take a left onto Housatonic Street in Lenox and follow it into Lenox Dale. Walk: 4 miles round trip, 100-120 minutes.

5. Monument Mountain: The ample parking area on the west side of Route 7 is 3 miles south of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and 3 miles north of the Route 7-23 intersection (Belcher Square) in Great Barrington. Walk: moderate 2.5-mile loop, 2-3 hours.

6. Finerty Pond Trail: From Route 20 east of Lee, make a diagonal left on Becket Road. A small Appalachian Trail sign and parking area are about two miles uphill, but sharp eyes are needed to find it. Walk: 3.2 miles, 3 hours.

7. Pleasant Valley Sanctuary: Start at West Dugway Road, off the west side of Route 7-20 in Lenox (follow the easily visible signs to West Mountain Road and the sanctuary parking area). Open Tuesday through Sunday. There's a modest admission fee for non-MAS members. Walk: 3 miles, 2 hours. Sanctuary periphery hike: 2.1-mile loop, flat to rolling terrain.

8. Tyringham Cobble: Take Tyringham Road, off Route 102 just west of the MassPike interchange; it's a gorgeous 4-mile ride to the center of the village; a right turn on Jerusalem Road is followed immediately by the parking area on the right. Walk: moderate 2-mile loop, 2 hours or less.

9. Pine Cobble: From the Route 2 and 7 intersection in Williamstown, head east, make a left on Cole Ave.(less than a mile), then a right on North Hoosic Road, 0.4 mile to Pine Cobble Road. A left turn leads immediately to the parking area. Walk: 3.2 miles, 3 hours.

10. Gorge Trail and Felton Lodge, October Mountain: The trailhead is marked along Roaring Brook Road, which is accessible from New Lenox Road in Lenox or from Lenox Dale. Walk: 4.5 miles, 3-4 hours.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Summer Saving America’s Turtles

October 10, 2008

"A Summer Saving America’s Turtles"
Jared Nourse ‘11 and "The voice of the mountain: a history of Mount Greylock" Leah Katzelnick '10 Noon time.

The Log, Spring Street, Williamstown, 413-597-2346, Environmental Studies Log Lunch. Vegetarian meal prepared by student cooks: $4. Reservations required.
email: szepk (@)