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, 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.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

An Abundance of Caution: Wild Food and Risk

solanum nigrum“I’ve got a botanical question for you,” my friend said as he came into my classroom the other day. “Is black nightshade edible?” He’d found some growing near his chicken coop. “I took the tiniest bite,” he said. “I’m not sure if I felt funny because of what I ate, or because I was nervous.”

I told him that black nightshade is edible, if what he had was actually black nightshade (note: there is also an unrelated plant called deadly nightshade, which is toxic). I asked him to describe the plant, and after some discussion, he asked if I had ever eaten it. I never had. “Why not?” he » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tobacco Hornworms: Big, Green, and in the Garden

tobacco-hornwormThe big, meaty green caterpillars that many of us have been fighting to eradicate from our gardens this summer make plenty of people squirm. In part it’s because they are among the largest caterpillars in the region, sometimes reaching close to three inches in length, with reddish horns on their ends that look like stingers (but aren’t). They also have voracious appetites and a preference for consuming our tomato, potato, eggplant and pepper plants.

Despite their alien appearance, tobacco hornworms are native insects that contribute to local food chains and eventually transform into beautiful Carolina sphinx moths. These large-bodied moths have five-inch, coffee-colored wings that enable » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Underground Dirt On Tree Roots

tos tree rootsYou can pretty much count on a tree to stay in one place, at least in the real world. Not so in fiction. Remember the walking, talking Ents in the Lord of the Rings movies? Or Groot, the tree-like alien in the science fiction film Guardians of the Galaxy?

Roots anchor a tree, of course, allowing it to stand up to much of what nature can throw at it; they also provide life-giving nutrients. Tree roots are a marvel of evolution: part of a whole-tree plumbing system that makes the one in your house seem primitive.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Non-Biting Midges In The Adirondacks

male midge tosClouds of tiny insects, rising and falling hypnotically along lake shores, contribute to the ambiance of warm summer evenings. My recent bike ride was interrupted by a lungful of this ambiance.

If you find yourself in a similar predicament, you might wonder what these miniscule flies were doing before being swallowed, where they came from, whether they bite, and whether we need these interrupters of peaceful lakeside jaunts. We’ll get to these questions, but first, let me say that as an ecologist, I find these insects to be among the most fascinating and important freshwater invertebrates.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Birdsong: Singing a Different Tune

chickadee tosBirdsong has always fascinated humans. Besides waking some of us up a wee bit too early in the morning, it has inspired musical compositions and immortal poetry. It has produced lush descriptions, like those of the early 1900s field guide author F. Schuyler Mathews, who wrote of the wood thrush’s song: “It is like the harmonious tinkling of crystal wine-glasses, combined with the vox angelica stop of the cathedral organ.”

Simon Pease Cheney, Mathews’ contemporary, wrote in Woods Notes Wild, that “one is oblivious to all else, and ready to believe that the little song is not of earth but a wandering strain from the skies.”


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Elise Tillinghast: A Squirrel As My Co-Pilot

squirrel TOSThe first red squirrel appeared at about 50 mph. It climbed up over my headrest and landed in my lap. I don’t recall the next few seconds very clearly, but according to my 5-year-old daughter Lucy, I yelled something along the lines of, “oo squirrel. oo oo. squirrel squirrel.”

What I do remember is concentrating on finding a safe place to pull over, and my surprise that the squirrel remained in my lap for the duration. It had a warm, soft weight. Puppy-like. I brought the car to a stop by some woods and pushed the button to the passenger side window. The squirrel came out of » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Good News For Wild Bees?

honeybees the outside storyThe honey bee is an introduced species in North America. It’s only been here about 400 years, brought by English colonists who found none after stumbling ashore and then promptly put in an order with their backers back home.

The honey bee, more properly known as the European honey bee, took to its new home, spreading across the continent faster than its keepers. Thomas Jefferson, an astute observer of nature if there ever was one, wrote that Native Americans called them “the white man’s fly.”

Bee colonies thrived in hollow trees as well as in hollow logs called “bee gums” (later bee hives) kept by beekeepers. Thrived, » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Killdeer: The Pasture Plover

I always do a second take when I see a killdeer skittering across a northern New Hampshire lawn, more than 100 miles from any ocean. These lanky birds look and move like they belong at the shore, running along the edges of waves. Despite their shorebird appearance, killdeer are present throughout our region – in yards, fields, parking lots, and even atop gravel rooftops.

“They’re one of our plovers, which you do usually see along the shore,” said Rebecca Suomala, a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Audubon. “They just have a different niche.”


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fishing: Doing Catch And Release Right

fish catch and releaseTo be good at catching fish these days you have to be good at letting fish go. Releasing fish unharmed turns out to be a good way to share a limited resource, and depending on what you hook, it also may be required by fishing regulations. Yet releasing fish successfully can be tricky. There’s nothing more demoralizing than watching a released fish turn sideways and drift downstream.

Scientists have been studying release techniques since the 1950s, when the catch and release ethic first took hold in this country. Over the years, every imaginable variable affecting fish survival has been studied, including stress from air exposure, exhaustion, bait » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wood Nymphs In The Garden

the outsider wood nymphBy mid-July, the oregano in my herb garden has grown tall and tatty, and I want nothing more than to cut it back into a tidy mound. But I don’t. Doing so would deprive the flurry of common wood nymph butterflies that swarm the plants every year. The messiness is a small price to pay for the sight of them flitting around en masse.

I have learned to expect their arrival, having witnessed it every summer, since I planted gardens around my home six years ago. At first, just one or two appear, but within days there are dozens. Soon, the oregano’s purple flowers are covered in butterflies. But this brief visit is a only » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Myths About Solar Power And The Adirondacks

us solar pv instalationsSolarize Tri-Lakes is a group of volunteers raising awareness about the benefits of installing solar or photovoltaic electricity (PV).

With solar technology changing so rapidly, it can be difficult to tell the difference between truth and common misconceptions. Here is our attempt to debunk some of these myths.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Herping: The Sounds Of Amphibians

toad cropIts that time of the year when kids dart to ponds with nets in hand, searching for amphibians. Frogs, toads, newts and salamanders are among us! In early spring some species use vernal pools as breeding and incubating grounds.

A vernal pool is a temporary body of water that resembles a large puddle. There are obligate indicator (dependent) species and facultative (use only for part of the life cycle) species. The obligate indicator species are wood frogs, eastern spade-foot toads (Scaphiopus holbrooki), and the Jefferson/ blue spotted complex salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonium x laterale). The facultative species are most of the other frogs/toads, a few reptiles, as well » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Adirondack Wildlife: Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

the outsider hummingbirdZzz-zzzt. Sitting on my deck on a summer afternoon, I’m often distracted by a hummingbird whizzing by. The tiny bundle of energy hovers in front of a row of jewelweed, probing each pendulous orange flower with its long beak, then backs up and darts to the next. My dozing cat raises his head and observes the hummingbird as it zips by, heading for the cardinal flower. “Don’t you even think it,” I admonish him.

This bee-like creature is a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only species of hummingbird found in our region. Iridescent green with a white breast, it is named for the male’s scarlet throat (the female » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How Do Cowbirds Get To Be Cowbirds

TOS cowbirdsUnlike the majority of birds, brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) do not start life surrounded by their own kind. The females do not build nests, but instead add their eggs to the clutches of other birds—usually one per nest, but sometimes several. Host birds generally do not recognize the dumped egg and will tend to it and the hatchling as one of their own. This means that all baby cowbirds spend the first weeks of their lives in the company of warblers or cardinals or any one of the many species whose nests are parasitized.

So why don’t they end up singing like cardinals? Or eating like warblers? Why » Continue Reading.


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