Almanack Contributor Guest Contributor

Guest Essayist

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with a biding interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor John Warren at adkalmanack@gmail.com.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blue Jays in Winter

“Jay, jay, jay!” Every morning last winter I awoke to the loud cries of a flock of 17 blue jays dancing around my feeder. They gorged on sunflower seeds and suet, scaring away smaller birds, then left, only to return in the afternoon. I ended up buying a second feeder for the smaller birds, which was more difficult (though not impossible) for the jays to feed from.

This boisterous group was a foraging flock. Like many species of birds, blue jays change their behavior from summer, when breeding birds live in pairs, to winter, when they often gather in groups. In summer, blue jays feed and raise » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Arthropods Among Us

Not to alarm you, but you’re surrounded.

There, buzzing stupidly into the slats of your venetian blinds, is a house fly. Nearby, nestled in a crevice of the window-frame, a ladybug waits out the winter. In a corner overhead, a spindly house spider sits motionless in its haphazard web. Underfoot, bristly little carpet beetle larvae nibble at the fibers of an old rug. And that’s to say nothing of the dust mites, which are too small to see and too numerous to count.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Questions About Winter Bird Feeding

Back in September, I put out the bird feeder. I try not to do it too early because, well . . . bears. My feathered friends emptied it in hours. A couple of refills later and I decided I couldn’t afford to put out the buffet that early. The weather was warm; natural feed had to be available.

The birds, ever optimistic, still dropped by. I started writing dialogue for them:


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Trees of Christmas

christmas treeYou picked it out, maybe cut it down, brought it home, watered it, and decorated it. But do you know what species of tree that is surrounded by presents in your living room?

If you purchased your Christmas tree rather than cutting it out of the woods, chances are it’s either a balsam fir (Abies balsamea) or a fraser fir (Abies fraseri) – these are the two species most commonly grown on Christmas tree farms in northern New England. Balsam fir is found naturally everywhere, from Alberta to Pennsylvania, and has the largest range of any North American fir species. It’s perhaps best known for its aroma » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Outside Story: Carpenter Ants

carpenter-antMention carpenter ants, and Declan McCabe, chair of the biology department at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, thinks about the time he got a lungful of formic acid. He had taken a class into the field to survey insects. He saw a huge ant and sucked it up into his aspirator. Yes, a straw-like aspirator is an important tool for entomologists, who clearly aren’t worried about getting too close to their work. He successfully captured the ant and then took a breath. His lungs burned. That big ant had used the classic ant defense of spraying formic acid.

Mention carpenter ants, and Rachel Maccini, of the University » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Glacier-Carved Rocks: New England’s Ice Age Past

potholeWhen I’m hiking, I like to watch for rock basins, sometimes as small as cupped hands, that appear along summits and ridgelines. These are “thin places.” When filled with water, these tiny quivering pools offer both an ephemeral now and a deep plunge into time.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Invasive Species: House Sparrows in Winter

house sparrowHouse sparrows – those little brown and gray birds that flash mob the bird feeder – are common and easy to see. They’re quarrelsome, noisy, and when they’re on the ground, they move in vigorous hops that remind me of popcorn popping out of a pan.

They’re also an invasive species, scavengers that have hitched their wagons to humans, and at least on this continent, are having a very successful ride. Our farms, lawns, and grocery store parking lots provide all kinds of year-round foraging for these birds, and our structures provide them shelter. From gutter pipes to the bulb rims of traffic lights, house sparrows know » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On The Color of Cranberries

cranberriesAs a kid fidgeting at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table, I often wondered, what’s the point of cranberries? She had a live-in Irish cook who insisted on serving whole cranberries suspended in a kind of gelatinous inverted bog. If I ventured to eat a berry I experienced the power of my gag reflex.

How times change! The humble American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, in my opinion, is worthy of a downright homage. I am a fan. Yes, cranberries are tart, sour, and even bitter, but that makes them both good food and strong medicine. The Wampanoag called them ibimi, meaning sour or bitter berries. They crushed them into » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tamarack: Our Only Native Deciduous Conifer

tamarackTamarack is a tree with a number of aliases – hackmatack, eastern larch, or if you’re from Northern Maine and feeling contrary, juniper. Whatever you call it, this scraggly tree, easy to overlook for most of the year, lights up the November forest. Weeks after leaf season has passed us by, the tamarack turns brilliant yellow and then orange, blazing like a torch amid the evergreens and fading, broad-leaf browns.

It’s an oddball tree, the only deciduous conifer native to our region, and I’ve often wondered how it manages to make a living. Deciduous trees are big spenders, investing in foliage that they use quickly and » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Black Bear Encounters: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear

black bear dec

The black bear is one of the most fascinating wildlife species in the Adirondacks. Residents and visitors are constantly introducing human food and garbage into the home of the black bear. Wild, non-habituated bears forage for foods such as berries, nuts, insects, and grasses.

These bears will not normally show an interest in our food unless they are first introduced to it through our careless behavior. If they cannot easily get to our food they will look elsewhere. When we store food and garbage poorly, bears are attracted to this easily accessible food rather than the natural foods they must work to acquire.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Growing and Buying Heirloom Apples

heirloom applesAs Eve so famously discovered, apples are alluring. These brightly colored orbs tempt us with crisp flesh and juicy sweetness. It’s no wonder that apples have spread throughout the temperate regions of the world.

The mother of all apples, malus sieversii, which originated in the rugged mountains of Central Asia, has given rise to thousands of varieties over time, bearing names ranging from regal to whimsical, including Maiden’s Blush, Blue Pearmain, Bellefleur, Duchess of Oldenburg, and Seek No Further. Apples first arrived in the Americas in the 1600s, and by the early nineteenth century were being grown to make everything from cider, sauce and pies to apple » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

How Raccoons Prepare For Winter

racoon washingAlmost every time I checked the game camera last summer – whether it was stationed near the compost, pointed into the field, or hidden at the edge of the woods – I found photos of one of our region’s most outwardly endearing creatures: the raccoon. With their black masks under perfect white eyebrows, their petite black noses, fuzzy ears, and fetchingly striped bushy tails, raccoons are certainly charming to look at. But that soft and cuddly exterior belies a fierce and highly intelligent disposition.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

How Do Birds Know When To Migrate?

Phoebe w/ seed headsOn the north end of my home is a nest site favored by eastern phoebes. Every year a pair shows up, sets up house, and raises a family. They arrive early in the spring, and I spend the long days of spring and summer watching them. At some point, the nest empties out, and then I know that summer will soon end and the phoebes will be on their way.

But exactly when they will be on their way is hard to predict. Fall’s migration tends to be a more open-ended process compared to spring’s, when the urgency to reproduce drives birds to arrive in the » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Ecological Impact Of The Current Drought

wood frogScenes from the West’s five-year drought are striking – the cracked mud at the bottom of a dry reservoir, forests in flames. Wonder what a drought would look like in the Northern Forest? Just look out the window.

This is the first time that any part of New Hampshire has been in an “extreme drought” since the federal government began publishing a drought index in 2000, said Mary Lemcke-Stampone, the state’s climatologist. “Using state records, you have to go back to the early ‘80s to get the extreme dryness we’ve been seeing in southeastern New Hampshire.”


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Adirondack Wildlife: Fall Peepers?

spring peeperWe like to think that everything in nature has its own particular time and place. But nature is fond of throwing us curves. As a naturalist, a common question I’m asked during foliage season is, “why are spring peepers calling in my woods at this time of year?”

Even ardent students of nature can be stumped by the plaintive, autumnal notes of peepers; sounds that we easily recognize in the spring can seem alien when they appear out of context. Jim Andrews, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Rubenstein School at the University of Vermont, and Vermont’s go-to expert on all things herpetological, described how autumn » Continue Reading.


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