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Active Projects

We are hard at work on conservation, education and research efforts in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, conducting surveys for at-risk or imperiled species, gathering information on indicator species like the Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) shown here, creating management plans for important sites, monitoring federally and state-listed birds and turtles, surveying for unrecorded odonates and lepidoptera, discovering rare plants, finding wintering raptors, and creating novel initiatives with local organizations, regional businesses, SUNY students and citizen scientists to create a better knowledge and appreciation of the natural world and the vast resources our environment has to offer.

Indigo Bunting slider-4136

Winter Raptor Surveys
Grasslands are amongst the fastest declining habitat types within the country and the bird species dependent upon those vast stretches of waist-deep grasses are disappearing at alarming rates. In effort to learn more about these imperiled species within New York State and protect existing populations, the Department of Environmental Conservation has been conducting winter raptor surveys, specifically monitoring overwintering Short Eared Owls (endangered) and Northern Harriers (threatened). The NYS DEC has also enlisted the help of many interested organizations and citizens to provide more eyes on the skies. Of those organizations, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute has assisted in monitoring winter raptor species in Chautauqua County over the past three seasons and is asking for your help this winter!

Those interested in becoming involved in the project can participate by doing any one of the following:

1. Begin to monitor a nearby field, brushy area near a stream, or marshland in the evenings (between the dates of November 30th and April 15th). Watch for raptors (short-eared owl, northern harrier, rough-legged hawk, red-tailed hawk, etc.) flying overhead or near to the ground as well as owls perching on the ground, fence posts, hay bales, in trees or backyard conifers. Upon spotting one of these birds, please enter your sighting by:

a. Filling out a Winter Raptor Daily Log Sheet (copies can be picked up from RTPI) and return the form plus an aerial map of the area surveyed (if possible) to Jacquie Walters (Bureau of Wildlife, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, 270 Michigan Ave Buffalo, NY 14203) or Elyse Henshaw (Roger Tory Peterson Institute, 311 Curtis Street, Jamestown, NY 14701; ehenshaw AT rtpi.org).


b. Entering information into eBird with as many details as possible including location, date, time, weather, number of individuals, sex, age, behavior (e.g. hunting, roosting, preening) and general condition of the bird(s).

2. Get involved in coordinated survey efforts, fill out the respective data sheets and return them to RTPI or NYS DEC. These efforts include a combination of driving and stationary surveys and occur near sunset. Survey efforts greatly depend upon weather conditions. If you wish to get involved in these survey efforts please contact Elyse Henshaw at ehenshaw@rtpi.org. Details of scheduled survey efforts will be posted to RTPI’s website or emailed to those indicating their interest in getting involved.

Please find NYS DEC’s volunteer instruction guide (.doc) and winter raptor daily log sheet (.pdf), or stop in to RTPI for a copies of each.

Stratford Point waterbird monitoring
RTPI provides fee-for-service environmental expertise and capacity to a variety of national organizations. We are currently involved in the long-term environmental clean-up effort of a historic trap and skeet shooting range on the Long Island Sound, carried out by the DuPont Corporation. Our staff monitors potential exposure of dabbling ducks and shorebirds to residual lead shot at Stratford Point, Connecticut, as part of a year-round and ongoing large remediation and coastal habitat restoration effort.

Eastern Hellbender and other herpetological research
The Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is just one amphibian that is endemic to our region but declining rapidly because of deteriorating conditions in its environment.  Many salamanders, frogs, and snakes are suffering declines that threaten the overall health of our ecosystem. RTPI President and Executive Director Twan Leenders is one of the world’s leading herpetologists who has worked intentionally for decades on some of the most critically endangered species on the planet. Twan continues this work today at RTPI and abroad, and more information on these efforts will be seen here on our website and blog in the future. See this page on the Tree Walkers International (TWI) website detailing a partnership between TWI and RTPI in the French Creek watershed. See more on last year’s autumn 2015 surveys here.

Sparrow monitoring at Jamestown Airport
RTPI staff documented confirmed breeding of Henslow’s Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows at the Chautauqua County/Jamestown Airport (KJHW) during the summer of 2013. Both species are listed as New York endangered species with the Henslow’s Sparrow classified as ‘threatened’ and the Grasshopper Sparrow classified as ‘special concern’. Working with airport officials, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation and the local birding community data and information was collected all summer while protecting certain areas of the airport from mowing whenever possible. Botanical studies to determine habitat selection and site usage were undertaken as well. In 2014, RTPI staff worked with student interns from SUNY’s Jamestown Community College to continue this conservation effort conducting both point count surveys for bird life and vegetation surveys. We continued some of this work in 2015 and 2016 while monitoring for the species with conservation staff and intern Alex Shipherd. None were detected in Jamestown during the previous two seasons, though Grasshopper Sparrows were sighted at the Chautauqua County/Dunkirk Airport (KDKK) further northwest in Chautauqua County and a pair likely nested there. We plan to make a concerted effort to survey even more extensively for the species in Chautauqua County in 2017, doing our best as conservationists and advocates to make these various habitats all the more favorable for the birds.

Odonate and Lepidoptera surveys throughout the region
RTPI is in the beginning stages of collecting dragonflies and damselflies as well as butterflies and moths from across the region. Our staff seeks to better understand the distribution of species, especially any that are state-listed or of conservation priority, and their abundance to use as indicators of the health of key habitats. RTPI has already discovered previously unrecorded species in Chautauqua County including the Delta-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster diastatops), Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) and more.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds
RTPI is proud to be a partner in the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds‘ (AAfCW) fifth season with Audubon Connecticut. AAfCW is an active conservation, education and outreach project that provides stewardship and survey efforts by volunteers and staff working to help the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) in an innovative joint initiative on Connecticut’s beaches, islands, and other coastal areas to monitor imperiled waterbirds.

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz – March through mid-June
RTPI Conservation & Outreach Coordinator Scott Kruitbosch is a member of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group and the statewide Connecticut coordinator for the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz. The Blitz runs from March through mid-June across the continent and focused in Connecticut from mid-March through April. This effort to save the one of the fastest declining once-common landbirds in North America needs your help. You can see more about the species in this two-page informational document about the Rusty Blackbird and on the Rusty Blackbird International Working Group’s website, including dates for the Blitz in your state. Please report all of your Rusty Blackbird sightings to eBird, even outside of your local Blitz period – and thank you!

Spiny Softshell Turtles in downtown Jamestown
In the summer of 2013 we discovered a population of New York state ‘special concern’ Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtles (Apalone spinifera) in the Chadakoin River in and around Jamestown. In this urban environment the species faces difficulties ranging from increased levels of predation to lack of a suitable nesting substrate. RTPI staff confirmed successful breeding in September 2013 and we are expanding the scope of observations of the species and their biology throughout the city and region while working with community leaders, local businesses and interested citizens in educating residents and protecting the area.


In 2014 student interns from SUNY’s Jamestown Community College and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry assisted with this exciting research in hopes of fostering a better home for these unique creatures. Our conservation staff is continued this work in 2015 with the help of Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors. If you have any sightings in 2016 please submit them to us by emailing turtles@rtpi.org, and we will update you all with more of our upcoming work soon.

Natural History Atlas
In 2001 RTPI published a Natural History Atlas to the Chautauqua-Allegheny Region, culminating several years of environmental education work through a matching grant from the Annenberg Rural Challenge. We have put the complete original Atlas online and available for free download at the above link  through support from the Center for the Study of Art, Architecture, History & Nature (C-SAAHN) Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. We are currently updating the Atlas fully with fresh data, information, photos, videos and accounts that we will publish digitally. In 2014 and beyond our staff will be repeatedly visiting every single site and many additional locations, all of which you will be able to find on the Natural History Atlas page.