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.
Regardless of how cold and inclement the weather may be at the onset of April, several species of birds begin to nest in the weeks following the equinox, occasionally amid periodic bouts of snow, unrelenting north winds and freezing temperatures. In the Adirondacks, one early nester is a common denizen of fields, highway corridors, heavily used campsites, and villages throughout the Park and is among our most familiar birds.
The large size and jet black plumage of the crow makes this bird difficult to overlook, and its characteristic “cawing” call is among the most recognizable sounds in nature. » Continue Reading.
The fact that the opening day of trout season in New York coincides with April Fool’s Day does not seem to be a coincidence to many people in the Adirondacks. To any rational human, the thought of standing for hours along a partially frozen stream, fending off hypothermia and frostbite only to wait for the slightest tug on a monofilament line epitomizes foolishness. However, for many avid sportsmen, April 1st is just as sacred as the opening of big game season and regardless of how miserable the weather can be, there is a need to get out and “wet-a-line” in a favored fishing spot on this day.
The cold start to spring this year has kept ice along the shores of many streams and brooks, and in some slower moving waterways, there still exists a solid covering of ice for long stretches. Fishing for trout under these harsh conditions is an extreme challenge, yet experienced anglers are often able to snag enough brookies or browns to make a meal. » Continue Reading.
The cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is slightly smaller in overall size and has smaller hind legs and feet then the varying hare, also known as the snowshoe rabbit (Lepus americanus).
Even though both of these lagomorphs can travel a fair distance with a single hop, the cottontail’s running style is slightly choppier and less graceful when compared to the smoother and more powerful bounding of the varying hare when it needs to move fast.
Also, the cottontail has a pronounced white, rounded tail which contrasts with its gray coat of fur, and which helped earn this creature its common name. Because the tail of the snowshoe is the same color as that of its body, and is held closer to its back, this small, rear appendage is difficult to notice. » Continue Reading.
The persistent cold weather pattern that has prevented regular thaws from occurring this March has kept a covering of ice on most Adirondack waterways, including the edges of many streams and rivers. Returning waterfowl, like the black duck and mallard, are now forced to concentrate their activities to those scattered stretches of water where the current keeps ice from forming.
It is around these limited settings that a sleek and resourceful member of the weasel family lurks in an attempt to ambush one of these meaty game birds. While it is possible during the warmer months of the year to notice this shoreline demon prowling the boundary of any aquatic environment, the open waters that attract wild ducks are now a prime hunting haunt of the mink. » Continue Reading.
The date of the first day of spring varies greatly, as the starting point of this anticipated time of the year depends upon how this season is defined. For those that rely on the calendar, spring begins on Wednesday, as this is when our tilted planet is at a particular position in its orbit around the sun.
For individuals more attuned to meteorology and climatology, spring officially starts on March 1st, as this is when a change in weather patterns traditionally commences. For many back-yard naturalists and people interested in something more noticeable, the sighting of a robin marks the onset of spring. » Continue Reading.
Bright sunny weather with little wind in March, such as the type that our region experienced this past weekend, not only triggers the flow of sap in maple trees and causes a case of spring fever in every normal human, but it also prematurely awakens several creatures that pass the winter in a deep state of dormancy.
Among those forms of animal life impacted by bouts of intense sun and temperatures above freezing during the latter part of winter is the cluster fly. After the sun starts to bake the south side of homes, barns and sheds, this insect rouses from its prolonged period of torpor and exits its winter retreat in the company of dozens to hundreds of its kin. As the late afternoon temperatures cool, this bug is forced to return to some hidden nook or cranny and wait until the next spell of spring weather awakens it again. » Continue Reading.
There is a pronounced silence in our forests throughout the winter, except for the occasional sound of a flock of chickadees and the wind blowing through the canopy. Those forms of wildlife that remain active during this season of cold and snow are forced to concentrate all of their energy on finding the limited amount of food present and maintaining a suitable internal temperature, rather than on expending effort generating a noise. As winter’s grip gradually relents in early March and the problems of survival ease, one of the first voices to be heard again in both wilderness settings and residential sections of the Park is the angry chatter of the red squirrel. » Continue Reading.
There is a biological alarm clock within adult raccoons that is genetically programmed to go off during the final days of February and the first week or two of March. Despite a covering of snow on the ground that may hinder travel, these masked, ring-tailed marauders exit the comforts of their den following sunset for the next several weeks in an attempt to locate members of the opposite sex.
Late winter in the Adirondacks is when the breeding urge strikes this familiar forest dweller; and this period of activity can be quite extensive if the temperature remains in the 20’s at night, especially for males that want to engage in as many reproductive encounters as possible. » Continue Reading.
Beneath the ice that covers our many lakes during winter, there exists an arena in which fish prowl their surroundings for something to eat and attempt to avoid being eaten by a larger predator. One species, when fully grown, that never has to worry about being attacked and gulped down by another creature of the deep is the northern pike. This sizeable, torpedo-shaped beast reigns at the top of the food chain in most lakes and larger ponds scattered throughout the Park. » Continue Reading.
During winter, the possibility exists that a transient flock of birds may suddenly appear at a feeder and dominate the local seed supply for several weeks before exiting the area. The presence of a mob of gluttonous evening grosbeaks, redpolls or purple finches can quickly decimate a mass of sunflower seeds, leaving little for the regulars like chickadees, nuthatches, and an occasional blue jay or cardinal.
Yet despite the highly competitive feeding habits exhibited by the gregarious members of the finch family, there is always one irregular winter visitor that is enjoyable to have in the neighborhood for a few weeks. With a petite body shape, a stylish hint of yellow on its wings and tail, and a drawn-out, single syllable call that sounds more like an insect than a bird [audio], the pine siskin never fails to add a touch of charm to its surroundings. » Continue Reading.
The wild swings in weather over the past few weeks have wreaked havoc with backcountry skiing, reduced the number of usable snowmobile trails, and made the use of snowshoes optional at many lower elevations throughout the Park. (However, always check the current conditions before embarking on any excursion into higher terrain, or into an area impacted by lake effect snows.) The erratic weather has also caused some disappointment among those small game hunters that enjoy listening to the barking cry of a beagle as it tracks the scent of a varying hare.
The varying hare, also known as the snowshoe rabbit, is a small, yet meaty resident of softwood thickets and alder swamps that is rarely seen despite its relative abundance in such settings. Because of this animals protective coloration, its ability to sit perfectly still for hours at a time in a patch of brush, and its hunched-up, or rounded shape that creates an inconspicuous body outline, the varying hare is a challenge to see clearly, even for predators like the coyote and fox. » Continue Reading.
Several weeks ago, it was reported in the Almanack that the Adirondacks might be a potential location for mountain lion reintroduction. Over the past few decades, various types of wildlife have been restored to their former numbers in the Park, and over the past several centuries, many non-native species of flora and fauna have become established, either accidentally or on purpose in our environment.
During this present century, there will undoubtedly be a massive influx of life forms occurring throughout the region in response to the changing climate. While the mountain lion elicits much interest and emotion, its return would not have the same ecological impact as the formation of scattered patches of red oaks, white oaks, basswood, shagbark hickory, sweet birch and other trees that typify woodlands to our south. » Continue Reading.
During the final segment in the ascent of a high peak, before coming to the tree line, or on a trip through a lowland forest of spruce and fir, a very hoarse-sounding chickadee may be heard. While a novice birder or an inexperienced naturalist may assume that the individual responsible for this raspy chickadee song is the common black-capped variety with a bad head cold or a case of throat congestion, the more knowledgeable outdoorsman would recognize the voice as that of a cold-hardy resident of the far north–the boreal chickadee.
Aside from its similar call, the boreal chickadee is nearly the same size and has a color pattern that resembles its friendly, perky relative that is familiar to anyone with a feeder in his/her yard. When getting only a quick glimpse of one, seeing one in a dimly lit spot, or when its body is partially obscured by evergreen boughs, it is a challenge to distinguish between these two birds. » Continue Reading.
In the middle and lower depths of our lakes in winter, a region of 39 degree water prevails, providing a haven for those fishes that remain active throughout this season. (A noteworthy physical property of water is that it becomes most dense at 39 degrees and sinks to the bottom. As water cools further, it becomes less dense or lighter in weight and rises to the surface. As a given mass solidifies, its density decreases even further, which is why ice floats on the surface rather than sinks.) While 39 degree water causes rapid hypothermia in humans, it is within the lower range of thermal acceptability for various species of cold-blooded organisms, including a favorite of winter anglers– the yellow perch.
The yellow perch, known to most as simply a perch, is a thick-scaled fish with noticeable vertical streaks on its sides and two separate dorsal fins. The first dorsal fin is supported by sharp-pointed spines that make the perch a challenge to handle without experiencing a painful poke to the hand. The perch also has a relatively small mouth. This limits its intake of food to aquatic invertebrates, the eggs from other fishes, and very small fish, like the fry of larger fish, dace, and smaller strains of minnows and shiners. » Continue Reading.
At the start of the New Year, the saying, “Out with the old…” may seem quite appropriate to male white-tailed deer residing in wilderness regions of the Adirondacks. As the calendar year comes to an end, bucks traditionally lose their antlers, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between the sexes when a small herd is noticed standing along the side of a road, or in a forest clearing. Some bucks may be observed supporting their characteristic boney headwear well into January or February, which reflects an abnormal ratio of bucks to does in that general area.
The primary purpose of a set of antlers is to serve as a weapon when confronting a rival buck prior to and during the rutting, or mating, season. Initially, a month or more before the first doe comes into heat, bucks half-heartedly spar with one another in an attempt to establish dominance. The testosterone level in the bucks increases with the shortening length of daylight and more frequent detection of female pheromones, which alerts the bucks to the does awakening reproductive state. This causes the level and intensity of the fighting between males to increase. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to Almanack founder and editor John Warren.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.