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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Adirondack Wildlife: Fisher Families In Fall

TOS_Fisher_kitsAlong with the crisp mornings and crimson colors that signal summer’s slide into fall, there are changes occurring in the forests that go mostly unnoticed.  Among them is the dispersal of fisher kits from their mother’s territory into their own.

Little is known about the process of fisher families breaking apart, except that it generally starts in late summer or early autumn and unfolds gradually.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Challenges Of Identifying Mushrooms

Russula mushroomsWhen you stumble across something purple in the forest, it’s hard not to stop in your tracks. At least it was for me on a recent hike, when I came across three purple mushrooms. They stood about four inches tall, with saucer tops that were nearly black in the center and ringed in a rich eggplant-purple.

I was captivated. I was also clueless, as I had no idea what I was looking at. I have long regarded mushrooms the way I do yellow-colored warblers and ferns – far too many and too confusing to distinguish one from another.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Secret To Bird Migration: It Takes Guts

TOS_HummerAs an avid birdwatcher for more than 30 years, I’ve long been familiar with the big picture of songbird migration. Tiny blackpoll warblers, for instance, fly 1,500 miles from southern New England to the Caribbean in a single two- or three-day flight across open water with nowhere to land if they get tired.

The even tinier ruby-throated hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico in a similar way. But until recently I haven’t spent much time wondering how these little birds do it. Don’t their flight muscles get tired? How do they replenish their energy reserves in the air?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Halloween Natural History: Witch’s Brooms

TOS_Witches_broomHarry Potter rode one during the Quidditch matches at Hogwarts. The Wicked Witch of the West zipped around on one in the Wizard of Oz.

We’re talking, of course, about witch’s brooms. No one knows exactly why witches were associated with with flying brooms. But the trope is remarkably persistent. The witch is the perennial favorite in Halloween costume popularity rankings, and she always carries a broom, generally a twiggy bundle with a handle that doesn’t look like it would do much for a floor.

But there’s another type of witch’s broom. This one grows on trees, or, more specifically, from the tree. It’s a tightly-packed mass of shoots, a deformity caused by organisms that have » Continue Reading.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cyanobacteria: A Primordial Lake Monster

TOS_Blue_Green_AlgaeIt came from the lake. It is a life form nearly as old as life itself. Living peacefully in the depths for eons, it is awakened by humankind’s abuse of the environment. It strikes out with toxins that attack nerves or the liver. Attempts to kill it only make it more toxic.

It sounds like the plot of a 1950s horror movie. But this horror plays out in lakes and ponds across New York, Vermont and New Hampshire on hot, sunny days each summer. This year, a September heat wave extended the season of blue-green algae blooms past Labor Day at Lake Champlain. In the second week of September there were blooms in Missisquoi Bay, a northern, » Continue Reading.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Upcoming Meteor Showers In The Adirondack Night Sky

TOS_Shooting_StarsWe call them shooting stars, and they never fail to make us catch our breath in surprise and wonder. But they’re not stars at all. Those bright, brief streaks across the night sky are meteors. And, clear skies permitting, the next month brings two excellent chances to see them.

Meteors are debris left by disintegrating comets. Comets are mostly rock and ice, and once they enter the inner solar system, their orbits may bring them close enough to the sun to heat up, causing the ice to melt and vaporize. Particles of rock fall away from the nucleus of the comet when this happens. When the earth collides with the trail of this debris, the particles » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Understanding Zebra Mussel Impacts On Lake Champlain

TOS_Zebra_MusselInvasive species have earned their bad reputations. English sparrows compete with native birds from Newfoundland to South America. Australian brown tree snakes are well on their way to exterminating every last bird from the forests of Guam. And I don’t think anyone can fully predict how Columbia’s rivers will change in response to drug lord Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippopotamus population.

While our climate protects us from rampaging hippos, the Northeast has plenty of exotic species in its waterways, including some that cause serious damage. Zebra mussels are possibly the most familiar of these.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Swallowtails Have Many Disguises

TOS_Black_SwallowtailIt was the dotted, orangey-yellow and black stripes that stood out, drawing my son’s gaze to the edge of the sandbox. A small caterpillar clung to the goutweed, munching away on the green leaves. At first we thought it was a monarch caterpillar, but the stripes weren’t quite right. Out came the field guide, where we discovered our caterpillar to be a future black swallowtail butterfly. After that first discovery, we suddenly noticed more caterpillars, both in that patch of goutweed and on the greens of the carrots in our late-summer garden.

The black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is one of more than 500 swallowtails flitting about throughout the world.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Snakes and Toads Provide Garden Pest Control

TOS_Toad_houseEncountering a snake in the garden causes many people to shriek or even panic. Yet snakes and another often unloved creature, the American toad, are among the most effective forms of pest control.

If you tolerate these herpetological visitors – or better yet, encourage their presence – you’ll be less likely to share your garden with ravenous bugs, or bottles of pesticide.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wild Foods: Cattails

TOS_CattailsLast winter I spent three months exploring East Africa, traveling through ten different countries and covering over 8,077 miles. I was continuously impressed with how much local guides knew about their surroundings, in particular the human uses of various plants. In some instances we could not walk more than ten feet without stopping to learn about another plant and all the ways it could save your life.

This experience made me curious about plants in my own backyard. A quick skim of foraging articles on the Internet revealed that cattails, with their various edible parts, are often referred to as “nature’s supermarket.” I was thrilled to learn that I had a 40-acre produce section » Continue Reading.

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