Biodiversity of Columbia County

Before you can understand the story, you need to know who the characters are. Hence, we have been trying to document the diversity of various organisms in the County.  The pages below provide links to the various materials we’ve prepared so far. In some cases, these are nothing but lists; in other cases, we have also provided ID materials and additional information about patterns in biodiversity. Even these lists can, however, be useful – when one is beginning to explore a particular group of organisms in your backyard, it can be very helpful to know your realm of possibilities. Each page also lists the published and internet resources that we regularly turn to when befuddled.

These pages are not meant to be all-inclusive. For example, our own bird work has been slight, and so we refer you instead to the Alan Devoe Bird Club, who has been much more active than we have. Likewise, those hoping for lists of mushrooms, ichneumon wasps, slugs and an endless variety of other creatures will need to create their own lists (which we would gladly post here with due credit).

Plants.  (herbaceous and woody plants, including ferns but not mosses or lichens). This includes Claudia’s summary and update of Rogers McVaugh’s classic work. This is quite a complete and richly annotated list of wild and semi-wild plants; it currently includes about 1500 species. Claudia is updating this regularly and welcomes comments and contributions. Also included here are identification materials for grasses, legumes, and trees in winter.

Butterflies. We have been surveying butterflies in the County for most of the past decade, and our species total currently stands at about 86, including species seen by others but yet by us. Aside from the list, there are some identifications tips for some of our more confusing species (heck, Conrad can never remember the underwing of a Broken Dash, so now he knows where to find his notes). Also presented are some initial ideas on regional patterns in openland butterflies.

Moths. Thanks largely to our technician, Dylan Cipkowski, this list is rapidly expanding and currently exceeds 500 species. This page has pictures of many species arrayed against their natural habitat - the illuminated bed sheet.

Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonates).  This link includes an annotated list of the species we have found in ponds, swamps, creeks, rivers, and the grill of our car. Our tally is just at 100 species. This is Otter’s domain and anyone wishing to have a crash course on odonate capture and identification may first have to pay an ice-cream cone consulting fee.

Ground Beetles. Generally speaking, these are the beetles that scurry away when you turn over a rock or log in the woods. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and are quite picky about the places they choose to live. As a result, they are useful indicator species. They have also been credited with the control of pests and weeds in some agricultural situations. We are pushing two hundred species and are actively working on identification materials to help all frustrated rock flippers.

Ants. For those of you who thought there were three kinds of ants: Big Black, Small Black, and Small Red, we present our running list, largely the work of former technician Kyle Bradford, of about 70 ant species, including the dreaded (by centipedes) Vampire Ant and the beautifully sculptured Myrmica clan. This is Kyle’s domain, when not hunched over his microscope, he can often be found prowling the woods armed with his pooter (an aspirator used to collect the smallest of the small).

Native Bees. Few people realize that, aside from the non-native (but very sweet) Honey Bee, there are more than 400 species of native bee in New York State. We’ve tallied around 125 species. Many people are working on this group; this link leads to our own modest list which is primarily the work of Program alumni Martin Holdrege and Sarah Powell.

Fish. We are not fish biologists although we have periodically bothered fish populations in and around Hawthorne Valley. The list here was compiled for us by Bob Daniels, former NYS ichthyologist. Included is a brief photographic guide we made to some of our more common stream fish.

Mammals. We have not been actively trapping mammals in the County, but we do note down interesting road kills, occasionally deploy game cameras, and record other incidental observations. Our partial list and maps are based primarily on literature research, spiced with unpublished or obscure records.