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Autumn Field Surveys

Posted on Oct 12, 2015

While the field season never completely ends, projects shift and our attention will soon be focused on other seasonally appropriate surveys during the upcoming cooler months. As the temperatures continue to drop as well as the leaves, our stream work surveying for the elusive Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is winding down. This week we got out to take more samples and carry out more rock lift surveys. So far we have found that the stream we have been working in has a good number of Mudpuppies (Necturus maculosus) and has a lot of interesting macroinvertebrates, all of which indicate good water quality.

Twan in the Stream

Twan investigates the stream’s edge for suitable cover rocks for hellbenders and mudpuppies.

While we haven’t physically seen any hellbenders in the particular stretch we have been surveying, we are still hopeful that they may be within the upper French Creek watershed. To sample the area further, eDNA (environmental DNA) was taken by our friend and working partner Robin Foster, PhD candidate at the University of Buffalo, and will soon be processed to determine if any hellbender genetic material exists in the waterway.


This stream yielded a variety of macroinvertebrates that are particularly sensitive to low levels of pollutants. The fact that we found species such as water pennies, stoneflies and mayflies indicate good water quality within this particular stream. Clean waters are essential for these little creatures as well as our species of interest, the Eastern Hellbender.

Regardless of whether we find hellbenders or not, we have learned a lot this summer about the hellbender, working with Robin and NYS DEC, and even more about our area. It seems every time we take the time to explore an area and take a closer look, we find more and more hidden gems, species that many don’t know exist in our corner of the state.

Macroinvertebrate surveys

Tina, Robin and I take a closer look at the macroinvertebrates sampled from the stream and have eDNA samples ready and waiting to be taken back to the lab for further processing.

It’s been an incredible experience to assist in many of the great projects taking place in Western New York surrounding hellbender preservation. While we had a number of questions going in to the summer, it seems we are wrapping things up with even more questions. There is an abundance of species and habitats that we still know so little about but are worth researching so that we can determine how to best manage for and conserve them. As we wrap up our summer projects, we look to shift our focus to winter raptor and invasive forest pest surveys; however, there is a great deal of excitement as planning for next year will soon begin as well and the potential to investigate our questions further and learn more is tremendous. Needless to say, keep watch for what we are working on as we have lots of exciting projects and programs soon to come!

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician