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 a variety of magazines and wrote a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News for nearly ten years.

Tom has also written several books which focus on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. Along with writing, he also spends time photographing wildlife.


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.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Wildlife: Inside A Beaver Lodge in Winter

The lack of a deep covering of snow this season has been a benefit to some forms of wildlife, and a detriment to others. Yet for the beaver (Castor canadensis), the limited amount of snow on the ground has had little impact on this rodent’s winter routine.

Throughout the autumn, when the water around its primary lodge remains open, the beaver scours the shore near and far in search of those select woody plants on which it relies for food. These items are severed at their base and floated to the area just outside the main entrance to the family’s winter shelter and then pushed underwater as deep as possible. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Adirondack Climate Change and Temperature

There are numerous physical characteristics of the atmosphere that can be measured to provide weather insight. Unquestionably, the data most commonly collected by meteorologists and amateur weather observers, and the one most often mentioned in casual conversation is temperature. On daily weather reports, the first order of business is noting how warm or cold it currently is, has been, and probably will be over the next several days. While the presence of sun, the threat of precipitation, and the strength of the wind may also be discussed, it is temperature that seems to dominate when the topic of weather is addressed.

Likewise, in presentations and lectures on global warming, temperature is of prime concern and useful in helping to document changes in climate. In the report Climate Change in the Champlain Basin sponsored by the Nature Conservancy and written by Dr. J. Curt Stager and Mary Thill, average temperatures were noted and analyzed from areas in the Champlain Valley and in the eastern section of the Adirondacks which drains into that basin. Additionally, other well researched national and global reports support the case for global warming partially based on the change in average temperatures at various locations over a long period of time. While average temperatures are useful for describing a climate and weather trends, they do provide some room for debate and discussion.

Average temperature is calculated by simply taking the high and low reading for the day and averaging them together. For example, a normal high temperature for mid January in the Central Adirondacks is about 24 degrees, and a normal low is about 2 degrees. This yields an average temperature of 13 degrees.

Any increase in wind speed and cloud cover over the past few decades could suppress the nightly radiational cooling of the atmosphere and result in warmer minimum temperatures. Even with a slight breeze, the air does not cool as it does when perfectly calm. A thin layer of overcast can likewise limit heat loss to space and prevent the temperature from falling, as can the presence of an air mass with high humidity.

If the temperature only drops to 10 degrees on that mid January night, it would produce a daily average temperature that is 4 degrees warmer than normal, despite the same high temperature of 24 degrees.

When I first moved to the Adirondacks in the very early 70’s, I heard on several occasions that 15 nights during the month of January should be at, or below zero. That seemed to be the case until the 80’s. Over the past decade I can’t recall any year when we have had 15 nights in January with subzero mercury readings. (In noting weather records, I realize that the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s were exceptionally cold. That may have been a function of the “mini-nuclear winter” that occurred after more than 500 nuclear weapons were tested in the atmosphere during that cold war era, or the result of some natural phenomena, and perhaps that saying was only valid for that period when our climate was unusually cool.) On the other hand, I do not believe that daytime temperatures in winter, or during any other season, have risen at all over the past 40 years.

In Stager and Thill’s report, it was noted that June and September are the months that have experienced the greatest increase in average temperature for the Adirondack region. It would be interesting to note if this was the result of an increase in both daily highs and lows, or just mainly in the lows.

An increase in just the low temperatures at this critical time of the year, when the last and first frosts of the season typically occur, would have a profound impact on the length of the growing season, and affect the ability of the region to support non-native plants.
I believe that a warming trend is in progress however, I don’t think that our daily maximum temperatures are much higher. I also believe that our nightly minimums have risen noticeably. As I have stated in my other articles, I do not keep any weather records of my own, nor have I spent the time and effort analyzing available records to ferret out this information. I only speak from 40 years of personal experience noting temperatures and weather events in the Saranac Lake region.

The study sponsored by the Nature Conservancy was a great step in the right direction, however, much more needs to be done. It takes countless hours of sifting through volumes of weather records and analyzing them in numerous ways in order to gain better insight into this extraordinarily complex problem. I wish those individuals that want to explore this issue the very best in trying to secure funding for their research, as valid scientific investigations, rather than undocumented ramblings, are desperately needed to determine what may happen to nature here in the Adirondacks.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Adirondack Climate Change: Rainfall Trends

A significant part of climate is precipitation, and fundamental to any discussion on the impact that global warming is having on a region’s climate would have to include possible changes to the rain and snowfall patterns. While unusually prolonged periods of precipitation can turn a backcountry camping trip into a nightmare, discourage golfers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts, and frustrate anyone trying to put a new roof on his/her home, or a coat of stain on the deck, too much rainfall, especially concentrated over a short span of time, can wreak havoc with the environment. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Will Climate Change Mean More Wind?

Global warming has been the topic of numerous articles, lectures and books over the past decade, and while some of these works focus on its causes and on possible ways to slow this impending climate shift, others discuss the consequences of an altered weather pattern on the environment. While I have only limited insight into this extraordinarily complex phenomenon, I do have some opinions with regards to the potential impact that a more thermally energized atmosphere would have on the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Diapause: Adirondack Insect Winter Inactivity

The unseasonably mild conditions that our region has experienced during the start of winter has been unusual, but is not unprecedented. In the past, there have been numerous bouts of warm weather and limited snowfalls that have produced similar periods when the ground became bare and the temperatures frequently rose above freezing.

Individuals that lived in the area during 1980 might recall that snow had to be trucked onto the Nordic ski trails because of a near total absence of snow during that January. And in February of 1981, the December and January snowpack completely melted, and the ground started to thaw because of a month long period of record-breaking mild weather.

Most of the invertebrates that populate this climatic zone are well suited to deal with such intense thaws by experiencing a type of dormancy known as diapause.

In summer, when temperatures are ideal and there is an abundance of food, the countless species of bugs that exist in our northern region continually eat and then reproduce by the hundreds if not by the thousands. But as environmental conditions begin to deteriorate, most species prepare for that time when their sources of food eventually vanish and when temperatures cause the transition of water into ice.

For many insects, winter is passed in a protected location either as an egg, or in the pupa stage of their life cycle. During this inactive state, overall life processes are significantly reduced as new body tissues slowly develop. For many other bugs, winter is spent as a larvae, nymph or adult in a sheltered spot where there is some protection from the weather and those predators that remain active during this bleak time of year. For these invertebrates, life slows to a near stop, which allows for their survival on the limited reserves of stored food within their small body.

As a bug enters this dormant state of diapause, its delicate chemical balance changes to allow the moisture within its cells to remain as a liquid regardless of how cold its surrounds becomes. Also, its internal clock is set to awaken the organism at some preprogrammed time in spring, rather than simply when weather conditions become favorable. Photoperiodism, or a response to the decreasing amount of daylight, is the primary trigger that brings about the onset of diapause. For this reason, the vast numbers of various bugs disappear at certain times in summer, or early autumn, regardless of how warm the weather continues to be, and they remain absent from the landscape until a specific time in spring.

Even though few, if any of their natural enemies may be present during a mid-winter thaw, food sources are seldom present, which would make a period of activity at this time of year a waste of energy for them. Also, while the weather may be quite pleasant for a day or two, the temperatures can quickly plunge following the passage of a strong cold front. This would suddenly engulf any primitive, cold-blooded organism in a frigid air mass, eventually leading to its death.

If a bug entered a traditional state of torpor (dormancy regulated by weather conditions), it would tend to remain active well into the autumn just as long as temperatures stay mild, and it would end whenever unseasonably warm conditions developed during a major winter thaw. While most Adirondack bugs use diapause to maintain their winterized body state until spring arrives, some insects do not. During thaws, it is not uncommon to see a few small moths flitting around a light during the evening, or note a mosquito or fly buzzing around an outdoor wood shed or garage. These insects have evolved a state of winter dormancy that can take advantage of such mild periods in winter to carry out small segments of their life cycle when predators are totally absent.

Many people maintain that the best time to hike is during periods of unseasonably mild weather in the latter part of autumn, or in early spring before the bugs emerge. Even snowshoeing or skiing when the temperatures rise into the low to mid 40’s can be great if the sun is out and the winds are calm as there are never any insects to pester you. This is because the internal clock, regulated by diapause in the bodies of our abundant hordes of insects is indicating to them that it is still winter, and hatching from an egg or pupa casing, or emerging from a larval or nymph retreat is not allowed yet. These creatures have to wait until the more official start of the warm weather season four months from now before they can return to an active existence here in the Adirondacks.


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