Larry Federman takes us on a tour of the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, in Catskill, NY

Episode 29: RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary and Dragonflies

Larry Federman, a musician, birder, and former education coordinator for Audubon NY, is our guest today taking us on a virtual tour of the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary in Catskill, NY. He also spends time describing the lifecycle, diet and habitat of dragonflies and damselflies that can be found there. Take a listen!

Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas

Guest: Larry Federman

Production Support: Linda Aydlett, Teresa Golden and Mary Ann Iaccino

ResourcesRamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary - Scenic Hudson ; RamsHorn-Livingston Audubon Sanctuary | Audubon New York ; About Us | Audubon ; Dragonflies - Home and Garden IPM from Cooperative Extension - University of Maine Cooperative Extension (umaine.edu) ; Dragonfly | NC State Extension (ncsu.edu) ; Dragonfly Naiad Feeds on Mosquito Larvae - Bing video


Welcome to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Our team's goal is to present science based information about gardening and all things nature in New York's Hudson Valley. Hosts Jean and Tim, along with team members, Teresa: and Linda, are Master Gardener Volunteers for New York's Columbia and Greene counties. So if you're interested in gardening or nature or nuggets of information about what's happening outside your door, settle in, enjoy the conversation. Whatever the season, we have something to say.

Musical segue

Tim: Hi, I'm Tim Kennelty.

Jean: And I'm Jean Thomas.

Tim: And welcome to another episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Today we're debuting a new format with this episode.

Jean: Instead of having an interview and several regular features, each episode will be either an interview or a set of the regular features. We're streamlining the format.

Tim: Streamlining is good, right? We really want to hear from our listeners if this is something that they like or don't like. We always want to hear from our listeners.

Jean: So always let us know we're online at the website at ccecolumbiagreene.org

Tim: What day is it Jean?

Jean: It's dragon fly day.

Tim: It is dragonfly day, how exciting! I love dragon flies.

Jean: We're talking to Larry Federman, Audubon guru, by the way, about dragon flies and the RamsHorn-Livingston Nature Preserve.

Tim: How cool! I'm sorry I missed this one. I wasn't here for this, but I can't wait to hear it, Larry's talk about dragonflies.

Jean: I think we should listen in.

Musical segue

Jean: This is Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley and today we're having a conversation with Larry Federman, on the topic of dragonflies, birds, the Ram'sHorn-Livingston Nature Sanctuary in Catskill, and whatever else happens to come up in the conversation. I always like to start with asking our guests to tell us about themselves. That way they self edit, and we hear about what's important to them. Larry, I'm going have to limit you to five minutes because you're involved in so many divergent things, I wouldn't know where to start. So Larry, tell us about yourself.

Larry: First, thank you so much for having me on this podcast series, a great way to spread the knowledge that so many people in the area have about the natural world in our area. So I got involved birding, I was a young lad growing up in Queens, New York, and my earliest recollection is going to the former World's Fair site in Flushing Queens, which was near to my home with my dad, and looking at the birds that were flying over Flushing Lake, and wondering what gives them so much freedom and why do they enjoy what they're doing. It just led to a, at this point, long life of enjoying birds and nature and outdoors. About 30 years ago, when my daughter was, at that time, about three years old, I was taking her over for swimming lessons at Hudson High School. And as we're crossing the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, she looked out and she said, "Daddy, what's that big bird?" And I looked out - it was an adult bald eagle. So up to that point, my local involvement with birds since I had left in New York City in 1973, I wasn't very involved, but I realized I have a captive audience, since I was Mr. Mom, in my daughter's young years. So I got involved in our local Audubon chapter in Northern Catskills Audubon Society. And that turned into an approximately 30 year adventure with Audubon New York, the state program of National Audubon. I ended up with the chapter becoming their president, their newsletter editor, their field trip leader, in other words, chief cook and bottle washer. And I turned my hobby of birding into a job working for National Audubon Society. And for 15 years I was the education coordinator for three sanctuaries here in the Hudson Valley, one in Greene County, that RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, and two across the river, one in Columbia County, Rheinstrom Hill Sanctuary and one in Dutchess County, Buttercup Farm Sanctuary. For these sanctuaries I created and led education programs for all ages, from young children and family groups, all the way through college-aged students. And once I left Audubon New York, I've continued to be a field guide and outdoor naturalist, outdoor educator, and I run my own walks and talks. In fact, this morning was the second into my six week series of bird walks at the RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary. Since that sanctuary a, is physically close to me, and it's just near and dear to my heart. So that's the one of the divergent things that I'm involved with. My main career - I'm a professional musician, I'm a guitarist. I like to say I shared the stage with many, many country acts in my 40 some odd year, over 40 year, career. I still play in a local country band and the shameless commerce division of Larry Federman, I'm in the country band Thunder Ridge. You can see us performing in lots of outdoor venues in the Hudson Valley. One of our favorite gigs is Music in the Park, in Catskill, their Thursday nights series. And I also play in a duo with one of my bandmates, that's a duo called Gray Matter. So now that things are hopefully getting a little bit quieter and less restrictive due to COVID, you'll see both Thunde Ridge and Gray Matter out and about and playing some more.

Teresa: You’re definitely a jack of all trades here. So Larry, I'm gonna pick out one topic for today. A mention of dragonfly sparked some interest so, let's talk about dragon flies. You're known as an expert on birds and I know you're involved with that RamsHorn Livingston Nature Sanctuary in Catskill. Is it a combination of your interest of flying things and wet places that got you interested in dragonflies?

Larry: So I love that question, a combination of flying things and wet places. When I started with Audubon, we're basically teaching about birds and, and habitats. But right around early 2005, New York State decided that we needed to do a survey on dragonflies and damselflies. It's an underrepresented group of critters in our ecosystem. And there were many scientists involved through the Conservation Department, and through a funding source, Biodiversity Research Institute, but the way that this survey was going to really work was to get an army of volunteers to do surveying. And it piqued my interest because when we study birds, the best time to watch birds is first thing in the morning, at first light up until around 10:30-11 o'clock in the morning. So I guess for job security, I said, "Well, I'll learn about dragonflies since they depend on warmth and sunlight to fly." And I jumped in wholeheartedly to learn about these critters and ended up being the statewide volunteer coordinator for the effort for the statewide Dragonfly Survey Project. We started off the first year in 2005, with approximately 300 volunteers, now and I went across the state to teach about how to, a, how to identify them, how to study them, and as importantly, how to catch them. With yeah, as I said, we started off with about 350 volunteers the first year, when we were done with the survey project in the last year, we had over 1100 volunteers across the state going to different, as you guys put it, wet places that dragonflies would frequent.

Teresa: Impressive.

Larry: So that, in a nutshell is how, what got me interested in where I took my interest in flying things, and wet places.

Jean: Let me circle back to the RamsHorn-Livingston site. We sort of hopped over that as being a wet place. You lead walks there pretty frequently. Can you give us a little history of how it came to be?

Larry: Sure, the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary is a beautifully compact sanctuary that started off in 1973 when Henry Livingston, Henry Livingston, the famous Henry Livingston from the steamboat, the Fulton's Folly days back in the ancient history of this country, so Henry Livingston donated the first 162 acres to the National Audubon Society, and this included the Ramshorn Creek, but the only access to the sanctuary was via the creek off of the Hudson River. Through subsequent acquisitions by Scenic Hudson and Audubon, the acreage of the Sanctuary has increased to its current size of over 600 acres. And we are proud to say that we're protecting the sanctuary which is the part of the largest title swamp in the Hudson River Valley.

Teresa: So what's available for the public to do there on their own? I know there's trails, but is there access to water travel like with perhaps kayaks or canoes?

Larry: Yes, on their own. We'll start with the trails. It's an eight tenths of a mile walk down an old farm road that's very easy, easily accessed, that takes you down to the Ramshorn Creek. It's a little bit interesting to try to take a canoe or kayak down because you can't drive down to the boat launch at the creek. But we have seen people with wheels mounted to their kayaks or canoes. But the easiest way to access by water is to travel about a little less than half of a mile south from Dutchman's Landing, or Catskill Point along the shore of the Hudson which is a nice shallow, shallow traverse. People sometimes panic when they think that they have to pass they have to paddle out on the Hudson River, but it's very, very shallow along the shoreline,

Jean: Larry, I'm afraid of water. Is there a sign?

Larry: Is there a sign?

Jean: If you're if you're taking your little kayak and you're going down the river looking for the spot to go over into the reserve, is there a sign?

Larry: There's one wonderful marker that will let you know you're at the Ramshorn Creek.

Jean: That's all I need.

Larry: First thing that you'll notice, on the opposite side of the river is a white former boathouse. And that was the boathouse of Henry Livingston, and it's directly across the Hudson River from the mouth of the Ramshorn Creek. The Ramshorn Creek is the first body of water, other than the Hudson, that you will encounter traveling south on the river. Oh, famous last words. You can't miss it. You truly can't miss it.

Jean: You don't know me, Larry. Alright, so there's a lot going on there. Let's let's bounce back. I'm going circular today. Where do the dragon flies come in.

Larry: As we might know or might not know, dragonflies get their start in the water. They lay their eggs in every different type of water from streams, to ponds, to lakes, to the Hudson River. There are even some dragonflies that are found in saltwater habitats. So with the RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary, we've got the habitats of a marsh, we've got a swamp habitat, so that's perfect breeding ground for dragonflies.

Jean: So they don't do caterpillars and stuff. How what is the lifecycle? What are the phases?

Larry: Interestingly, dragonflies and damselflies have what's called incomplete metamorphosis. So you just gave away the one difference between dragons and butterflies. Butterflies have a four stage life cycle that includes the caterpillar. Dragonflies goes from egg to larva and then straight from larvae, they turn to adults. And I've always had issue with calling an incomplete metamorphosis. When we think of it's incomplete and it never reaches adult stage. They do reach adult stage. So I've challenged the Odonatologists, the dragonfly scientists, to come up with a better phrase than incomplete metamorphosis. Where the sanctuary comes in, in addition to being the breeding ground where the eggs are laid, when the eggs hatch, and the larvae have been wandering around, usually at the bottom of the water body, as, and I'd like to add, as they an apex predator their top of the food chain as larvae, as well as adults. But when the larvae are ready to make their transformation, they need to climb out of the water onto some sort of vegetation, be it a cat tail, be it some kind of a marsh grass, and at that point, they will do their transformation. Their back splits open and their body pulls out. It's really what science fiction movies are made of. So with the marsh habitat, and the swamp, it's the perfect, perfect way for these to transform from their initial egg to becoming an adult.

Teresa: So our dragonflies an important link in the ecosystem, and are they at risk from global warming? And I guess I should ask that ever present question of, what do they eat?

Larry: Dragonflies and damselflies more so dragonflies than damsels, are our friends. They eat the things that like to bite us. They eat any of the flying annoying insects, they eat mosquitoes, they eat gnats, blackflies. They're very important to have an ecosystem, not that there are any links in the ecosystem that aren't important. But these guys are indeed at the top of the food chain. And the only risk that we can think of that global warming could pose for them, is through major storm events. If there's a storm after eggs have been laid, or if there are larvae in a stream, if there are super flooding events, these critters can get washed away from where they need to be where they need to emerge and be part of that landscape.

Jean: And what do they eat, besides just mosquitoes and gnats and stuff like that? They don't eat any vegetables?

Larry: In fact, as adults, they eat anything that flies, as larvae when they're down in the water, they'll eat tadpoles, they'll eat small fish. If any of your listeners were interested in a really really cool video, they should Google, and I guess it's a verb these days, look up a video on dragonfly larvae feeding, and they'll see a remarkable system. We've all seen videos of of iguanas or other lizards with their super, super fast tongue reaching out to grab their prey. Dragonfly larvae have a similar mechanism in with a hair trigger, a split second, they reach out underwater, while in the water, and grab their prey.

Jean: I have lots of dragonflies at my house now. I just really grossed out what they're doing. But it's probably because I'm surrounded by lots of water sources. They come in all kinds of colors and sizes. Sometimes I watch whole swarms of them in the evening dancing in the light of the setting sun. Those aren't all technically dragonflies, are they? Are some damselflies?

Larry: The ones that you see, usually it's later in the day - we call it a feeding swarm. And those guys up higher above your house, above your yard, those are going to be all dragonflies. And they're usually mixed species. You'll see the different species at different elevations going for different flying insects. The damselflies tend to fly slower than dragonflies, and usually stay closer to the ground. And the beauty of dragonflies, well, there are lots of myths, and lots of legends. There's the spiritual aspect of dragonflies. They are a symbol of reincarnation or rebirth. The history of that goes goes back to when people didn't quite understand where they came from. They might have known that there were these little critters swimming around in their pond. Then all of a sudden their little critters are gone but the dragonflies are now around. So there is the the rebirth aspect of it. Dragonflies have nicknames. As I said before with damselflies, I grew up calling them darning needles, because one of the old wives tales, if we can say old wives tales, in this politically correct era, people thought that when you slept, dragonflies would sew your mouth (your lips) together, which of course, they don't do. And I can't I can't stress enough how beneficial these are to have around. They do not bite people, as incredibly scary to some people. Their long, skinny, abdomen, the long skinny body part might appear, they do not have a stinger at the end of it. The end of the abdomen is used in mating. So one should not be afraid thinking that if a dragonfly lands on me, it's going to sting me or bite me. In doing our surveys, I would show people how what the dragonfly mouth looks like because we when you survey them, you have to catch them and you catch them with a a typical insect butterfly net. And they're very resilient. One can swing a net very quickly and you have to swing quickly to catch them because they can fly at speeds up to 30 miles an hour. So once we have them in hand, we can we can show them several different features about them. And I've shown how you can hold the dragonfly on the top of your hand, if it's curious, it will try to take a nibble off your skin, and for most of us, their nibble will not break the skin.

Teresa: Well now we're thoroughly in love with these little guys, not only because they've inspired artists with their beauty. Thanks, Larry for sharing with us. I must warn you though, we'll be asking you to come back to have more conversations with us about nature in our Hudson Valley.

Jean: Thank you, Larry.

Larry: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, and I would love to come back and talk about some more of the wonderful world of nature in the Valley.

Musical segue

That concludes another episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. We'd like to thank Sandra Linnell and Devin Connolly from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene counties for production support. And a special thank you to our listeners for joining us on this episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. You can find links to any of the topics mentioned in this episode at our website at CCEcolumbiagreene.org. Comments and suggestions for future topics may be directed to us at ColumbiagreeneMGV@cornell.edu or on the CCE Master Gardener Volunteers of Columbia and Greene County's Facebook page. For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene counties, visit our website at CCE Columbia green.org or visit us in Hudson or in Acra. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides equal programming and employment opportunities.

Last updated August 14, 2022