Almanack Contributor Tom Kalinowski

Tom Kalinowski

Tom Kalinowski is an avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years. He has written numerous articles on natural history for Adirondack Life, The Conservationist, and Adirondack Explorer magazines and a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News. In addition, Tom’s books, An Adirondack Almanac, and his most recent work entitled Adirondack Nature Notes, focuses on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. He also spends time photographing wildlife. Tom’s pictures have appeared in various publications across the New York State.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Adirondack Amphibians: The Spotted Salamander

The recent series of rain events that has occurred over the past several weeks has elevated the level of streams and rivers, reduced the threat of wildfires, and brought trail conditions back to a more typical spring muddy state.

This wet period has also helped greatly in rejuvenating vernal pools that are critical breeding areas and nurseries for many forest dwelling amphibians and has created the damp soil conditions essential to these wet-skinned animals. Among these moisture loving vertebrates that commonly occurs in stands of mature forests throughout the Adirondacks is a sizeable dark colored creature known as the spotted salamander. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Adirondack Birding: The Winter Wren

Spending time outdoors in the Adirondacks during spring is a rewarding experience, as the sounds that emanate from our forests, especially in the early morning, are sure to delight. While the musical calls produced by most birds are relatively short and composed of only a handful of notes, there are a few songs that are considerably longer and more complex.

The lengthiest and most intricate song that commonly graces our woodlands is one heard in patches of mixed forests where dense clusters of undergrowth or ground debris exist on the forest floor. This fast tempo melody is quite loud, yet comes from one of the smallest birds to nest in the Adirondacks – the winter wren. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring Visitors: Ladybug Beetles

Among the many groups of insects that exist on our planet, the most abundant, diverse and ecologically successful are the beetles. And while many of these hard-shelled bugs are viewed as ugly and unwanted by humans, the ladybug beetle is considered to be one of the most attractive and environmentally friendly creatures in nature.

With a conspicuous dome-shaped, orange shell marked with black spots, the ladybug is difficult to mistake for any other invertebrate. Like all insects, there are numerous species of ladybugs that reside in our region, and the subtle differences in the color and pattern of its markings is the common means of distinguishing among the members of this insect group. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Adirondack Insects: Ants

Prior to the start of black fly season, and continuing for several weeks after the swarms of those tiny, biting demons have faded, there is another insect onslaught that impacts numerous people throughout the Adirondacks. Shortly after the soil has thawed in spring, ants begin to invade the living space of humans, especially kitchens and dining areas where bits of food are readily available.

Since there are so many types and species of ants in the North Country, it is impossible to say what kind of ant is appearing around countertops, near pantry closets, in garbage containers, and under tables where morsels of edibles lie undisturbed on the floor. However, it is easy to state that numerous ants readily welcome themselves indoors, as long as there is something worthwhile for them to collect and transport back to their colony. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Adirondack Wildlife: The Porcupine and Salt

Over the next several weeks, the buds on hardwood trees and shrubs will open and the forests will again be cloaked in green, providing our many herbivores with a welcome change in their diet. While many plant eaters are able to subsist on woody buds and cellulose laden layers of inner bark throughout winter, leafy matter provides far greater levels of nourishment. The porcupine, a common denizen of the deep Northwood’s forest, is among our region’s first order consumers to ingest greens when they emerge in spring.

In winter, the porcupine settles into a routine of eating only the bark and needles of a very few species of trees in the area around its den. The stomach and small intestine of this rodent contain strains of microorganisms that act on this ultra-high fiber material in order to derive the energy needed to remain alive in this climate. Yet the limited amount of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, in such plant tissues makes this type of food less than ideal for maintaining a healthy diet. Despite ingesting large volumes of woody matter each night in winter, the porcupine often loses weight continuously as this bleak season progresses. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Adirondack Wildlife: The Belted Kingfisher

The early break up of ice on ponds, lakes and marshes, along with a very healthy flow of water in streams and rivers, has made conditions far better for fishing this April than in recent years. Humans, however, are not the only creatures that prowl the banks of remote streams, or visit the shores of backcountry ponds, in an attempt to snag a small brook trout. Throughout the Adirondacks, there are numerous forms of life that are well adapted for catching fish, and among the most colorful and noisy is the belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon).

With its large head, long, thick bill, jagged crest, and white band around its neck, the kingfisher provides a silhouette that is easily recognized. However, it is not the unique appearance of this stout bird that initially draws attention to its presence. Most anglers and individuals that simply spend time outdoors commonly become aware that a kingfisher is in the immediate area by noting its distinct rattling call. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Your Easter Chocolate: Cottontail Rabbit or Varying Hare?

The mild weather that the Adirondacks has experienced over the past 10 to 12 months has benefited numerous forms of wildlife better suited for an existence in a temperate climate rather than a taiga biome. Yet, the inability of many creatures to travel long distances prevents them from quickly overspreading the Park when a lengthy warm period becomes firmly established.

Additionally, the wilderness forests of the Adirondacks limit the influx of those species that thrive in the lowlands composed primarily of agricultural fields and small suburban communities. Perhaps the status of the cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is one of the best examples of this type of natural exclusion, as this small game creature is abundant everywhere in the eastern U.S. except for settings well within the Blue Line. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Natural History: The Ecology of Adirondack Fires

There are several natural disasters that can alter the ecological make-up of an area. Wide spread tree disease, severe winds and intense ice storms can all seriously damage or destroy the dominant members of a forest community. However, the most catastrophic force of nature is fire, as a major blaze can significantly impact more than just the composition of trees that cover a given location.

Unlike other natural calamities, fire can wipe out most of the plants that root in an area. In an ice storm, or a major wind event, it is primarily the older and taller trees that are subject to the greatest devastation. Seedlings, saplings, the various shrubs that form the understory and the array of herbaceous plants that grow on the forest floor often benefit from the increase in sunlight that result when the canopy has been drastically thinned or eliminated. During an intense fire, however, the entire plant community can be obliterated. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Adirondack Wildlife: The Star-Nosed Mole

For many Adirondack residents, the onset of mud season brings about the annual problem of water in the basement. Run-off from melting snow and rain, unable to percolate into the still frozen soil, pools on the ground and eventually drains to the lowest spot available. The foundation of older homes may collect some of this water, as do surface tunnels created by small creatures like moles and voles.

While spring flooding can be a serious survival issue for some subterranean mammals, it is not believed to be of any major concern to the star-nosed mole, one of the least physically attractive forms of wildlife in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Adirondack Wildlife: The Wood Duck

Strong and frequent southerly breezes, a disappearing snow pack at low elevations and the presence of large stretches of open water along streams, in the backwater of rivers and in marshes prompt the return of numerous forms of waterfowl to the Adirondacks.

Even though mid March is early for the arrival of some migrants from their wintering grounds, when the opportunity arises to reconnect with the area used for breeding, these flat-billed, webbed-footed birds take advantage of the favorable conditions and fly north. Included with these returning birds is one of the most colorful and handsome species of waterfowl in North America – the wood duck. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Honey Bee Numbers Drop: Native Bees Rejoice?

In recent weeks, there have been several news reports concerning the large scale devastation of honey bee colonies this past winter throughout the Northeast. While these losses are described as catastrophic by those that rely on these insects for the production of certain agricultural crops, other individuals note that the honey bee has only a minimal impact on the Adirondack environment, and a few may profess that a serious decline in honey bee numbers could have a positive effect on some of the native species of bees that reside within the Park. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adirondack Wildlife in Winter: The Raccoon

All mammals experience difficulty sleeping when it becomes too warm. Because of an insulating layer of fat and an exceptionally thick, dense coat of fur, this temperature is far lower for members of our wildlife community in winter than during summer. From Thanksgiving through early April, several successive nights with the air hovering around the freezing point is warm enough to cause the raccoon to stir from its prolonged winter slumber and emerge from its den. If the wind is light and there is no precipitation falling, this familiar nocturnal marauder begins to explore the surrounding area for anything edible. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tom Kalinowski Worries About Low Snowpack

The mild temperatures and limited snowfall that the Adirondacks have experienced this winter season have failed to establish the usual snowpack that blankets the region by this time of year. While a substantial covering of snow provides numerous recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, it also serves as an essential fresh water reserve to supply the many brooks, streams and rivers across the Park with water when spring arrives during March and April.

With the first few thaws of late winter and early spring, much of the water produced from melting snow flows over the surface of the still frozen ground. This water quickly moves down hillsides and creates small, seasonal water courses on the forest floor. As these tiny tributaries merge and empty into larger, more permanent streams, the level of the water increases, along with the strength of the current. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Disappearing Adirondack Spruce Grouse

The spattering of sizable tracts of boreal forests that remain in the Adirondacks serve as home to several species of birds that have evolved the ability to survive in northern taiga woodlands. Among the feathered creatures that are well adapted for a life in lowland stands of conifers is the spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), a dark colored bird viewed by some as being as much a symbol of the Great Northwood’s as the moose.

As its name implies, the spruce grouse inhabits those softwood forests dominated mainly by spruce; yet not all spruce forests serve as home to this northern bird. High elevation forests that cover the upper slopes of our tallest peaks are not as suitable as lowland locations despite the similar presence of spruce and balsam fir. Because higher altitudes are more frequently buffeted by strong winds, the microclimate that exists there is more adverse than the one that characterizes sheltered, lowland settings. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Adirondack Wild Turkey in Winter

There are only a few dozen species of birds capable of surviving the rigors of an Adirondack winter, and of these, the wild turkey is one that is more closely associated with the warmer and less snowy regions to our south than the boreal woodlands to the north.

While the turkey is traditionally viewed as one the most successful inhabitants of open, temperate forests, the cold-hardy nature of this bird and its resourceful and adaptable traits permit it to survive throughout the Park, even during winters when intense cold and deep snows are the rule for lengthy periods of time.

With its large, round body and small head, the wild turkey possesses a shape well designed for retaining heat. Despite the lack of feathers on its head, the turkey is able to hold its head close enough to its body for much of the day to reduce heat loss from the limited amount of exposed skin that occurs on its face and over its skull. A dense covering of plumage over the core of its body, along with a layer of fat, helps this bird effectively conserve body heat. » Continue Reading.


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