Finger Lakes Community College has named a new director for the Muller Field Station, a research and education facility at the south end of Honeoye Lake, and begun making plans to further enhance facilities and programming.
John Van Niel of Seneca Falls, professor of environmental conservation and coordinator of the fish and wildlife technology degree, began his duties on Sept. 1. He succeeded Professor Emeritus Bruce Gilman of Middlesex, author of “Ontario County Flora,” also known for his research into water quality trends in Canandaigua and Honeoye lakes. Gilman retired after 40 years of teaching in 2018 but stayed on as part-time director of the station through this past summer.
The late Florence Muller donated the 48-acre property to FLCC in 1999 in memory of her husband, Emil, a Swiss immigrant who sought to preserve the biodiversity of the Honeoye valley. Since then, funding from the Emil Muller Foundation and Florence M. Muller Foundation has supported education, research and improvements to property.
In addition to college activities, the station welcomes K-12 field trips and hosts open houses featuring the walleye fish hatchery and the Speaking of Nature lecture series.
“I feel like I am standing on someone else’s shoulders here. A lot of people have put a lot of hard work into this place,” Van Niel said, referring to work by Gilman and other department faculty and staff as well as trustees of the Muller foundations.
In 2019, the Florence M. Muller Foundation awarded FLCC $150,000 for a series of programming projects, including funding for field station staff positions and a conservation student internship program.
In addition, Van Niel and Alexandria Esposito of Springwater, conservation education outreach coordinator, are working with a University of Rochester expert in science education to align field station experiences with the state’s science curriculum. Muller Field Station provides what educators refer to as anchoring phenomena, or experiences that can be used to illustrate scientific concepts. For example, a visit to the fish hatchery can be the backdrop for a lesson on the health of a lake or the proper way to gather data for research.
“The idea is the learning experience should be anchored to something that gets you started and can be explored in different ways,” Van Niel said. “You have to have content to put things in context.”
This is true for K-12 visitors and college students. For the last year, Van Niel has had students working on a project to examine the stomach contents of fishers that have been caught by fur trappers to see what the animals eat. Their findings will be uploaded into a state Department of Environmental Conservation database.
Activity has continued at the field station through the pandemic – though in a more limited way. A summer intern built and installed a nest box trail for the prothonotary warbler, a songbird with yellow and blue-gray plumage that lives in wooded swamps.
Faculty brought students to the field station this fall for ecology labs and wetland mammal classes. Muller Field Station has also hosted enrichment activities for FLCC students that adhere to social distancing protocols, such as canoeing and mindfulness meditation sessions.
“We can see the beauty and value in this place just as much as the people who lived here,” Van Niel said.
Van Niel is also director of the East Hill Campus in Naples, 85 acres of upland forest adjacent to the Hi-Tor State Wildlife Management Area. Both field stations are owned and managed by the FLCC Foundation, which raises private sector support for the College and its students.
Muller Field Station internship projects
Grants from the Emil Muller Foundation have funded several FLCC internship projects at the Muller Field Station in Canadice, Ontario County. Here are some examples:
During summer 2020, three interns gathered data on behaviors of 50 species of bird related to breeding, such as gathering nest material and singing to attract a mate, for the NYS Breeding Bird Atlas: Aleah Buckalew, a 2020 environmental science graduate; John Bateman of Hilton, a current environmental studies student, and Cory Zuhlsdorf, a 2020 natural resources conservation graduate.
In addition, Courtney Renner, a 2020 environmental studies graduate, built a nest box trail for the prothonotary warbler.
Fall interns, Laura Kieliszak, Nathan Skellie, and Raina Becker, worked on several projects, including creating trap pits, which are shallow sandboxes that capture animal footprints. Kieliszak, of Rochester, is a current student majoring in natural resources conservation. Skellie, of Newark, is a current fish and wildlife technology student, and Becker, of Rochester, is studying environmental science.