Monday, December 5, 2016

Invasive Species: House Sparrows in Winter

house sparrowHouse sparrows – those little brown and gray birds that flash mob the bird feeder – are common and easy to see. They’re quarrelsome, noisy, and when they’re on the ground, they move in vigorous hops that remind me of popcorn popping out of a pan.

They’re also an invasive species, scavengers that have hitched their wagons to humans, and at least on this continent, are having a very successful ride. Our farms, lawns, and grocery store parking lots provide all kinds of year-round foraging for these birds, and our structures provide them shelter. From gutter pipes to the bulb rims of traffic lights, house sparrows know how to make themselves at home in human-dominated settings, regardless of whether humans want them there. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Rock: A Historic Adirondack Landmark (Conclusion)

p2a1941inripleysIn January 1936, Dr. Charles Leete, a chief proponent of local history and a strong voice for protecting South Colton’s Sunday Rock from destruction, died. It was more than appropriate that he had been deeply involved in preserving the rock. Leete’s ancestors built much of the machinery used in area sawmills that processed the timber provided by the lumberjacks who were famously linked to Sunday Rock’s legend.

As famous as the big rock was regionally, it attained immortality of a sort in 1941 when Robert Ripley included it in his world-famous newspaper feature, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” A drawing of the landmark was accompanied by a full paragraph relating the legend of Sunday Rock. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Red-Backed Salamanders Go Underground

There are several types of migration that occur in nature. While this term generally brings to mind the long distance flight of birds and a few species of bats, it can also refer to the seasonal movements of numerous creatures that abandon their summer domains on the surface for an environment below the frost line.

As cold air becomes more intense, and nightly temperatures more regularly drop into the teens causing water in the uppermost layer of soil to freeze, most cold-blooded organisms that reside there, particularly the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) must start to migrate down in order to prevent freezing to death. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pining For That Evergreen Smell

balsamSpeaking as a guy who can hide his own Easter eggs and still not find them, I marvel how Father Christmas, who is at least several years older than I, still manages to keep track of all those kids and their presents. Lucky for us that the most enduring memories are associated with smell. If it was not for the fragrant evergreen wreaths, trees and garlands (and possibly a hint of reindeer dung), Santa probably would have long ago forgotten his holiday duties.

Of all the memorable aromas of the holiday season, nothing evokes its spirit quite like the smell of fresh-cut pine, spruce or fir. Although most American households which observe Christmas have switched to artificial trees, about eleven million families still bring home a real tree. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tractor: Smarter (and Larger) than the Average Bear

My two previous Adirondack Almanack articles about black bears combined with Pete Nelson’s last Lost Brook Dispatch about a black bear named Tractor, started me thinking about my own harrowing bear experiences in the Adirondacks.

Unfortunately, none of my encounters was as exciting as being yanked out of an outhouse, or reminiscent of the black knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Nevertheless, one such encounter with a monster of a bear is interesting enough worth sharing. Given the bear’s large size and craftiness, it might even be the legendary Tractor. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Water Scorpions: Underwater Assassins

brown water scorpionRecently, my daughter participated in Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem solving competition devoted to ingenuity and team work. As an entomologist, I was thrilled to learn that the program calls its highest award the Ranatra fusca. Not only was the award named for an insect, but an aquatic insect, and a particularly fascinating one to boot.

Ranatra fusca is the Latin name for a water scorpion, a creature little known to the general public but familiar to those of us who wield nets in ponds. This insect bears only a passing resemblance to real scorpions (which are arachnids, not insects). It does sport what looks like a prominent tail (more about that later), but lacks any sort of stinger. It can, however, be quite lethal… if you happen to be an aquatic insect, tadpole, or even a small fish. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Black Bears Attack, Or Do They?

My recent article here at the Adirondack Almanack about a man attacked on the toilet by a black bear appeared to elicit several comments suggesting that carrying firearms is a viable protective measure for possible bear attacks in the Adirondacks. It was never my intention to insinuate this; I just thought it was an amusing backcountry-related story.

Before I find myself liable for any incidents involving bears and firearms, it may be instructive to examine black bear behavior and the possibility of suffering from a fatal attack in the Adirondacks. I certainly do not want to be responsible for the backcountry becoming a new “wild west,” with everyone packing heat, and eager to use it at a moment’s notice.
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tamarack: Our Only Native Deciduous Conifer

tamarackTamarack is a tree with a number of aliases – hackmatack, eastern larch, or if you’re from Northern Maine and feeling contrary, juniper. Whatever you call it, this scraggly tree, easy to overlook for most of the year, lights up the November forest. Weeks after leaf season has passed us by, the tamarack turns brilliant yellow and then orange, blazing like a torch amid the evergreens and fading, broad-leaf browns.

It’s an oddball tree, the only deciduous conifer native to our region, and I’ve often wondered how it manages to make a living. Deciduous trees are big spenders, investing in foliage that they use quickly and discard. This approach may seem wasteful, but in certain scenarios it’s a good strategy. Big leaves enable a tree to collect and bank a lot of carbon dioxide all summer; the tree then drops the leaves and takes the winter off. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Photo: Supermoon

super-moonThis past Sunday saw the emergence of the biggest super moon in 68 years, bathing the world in ghostly silver light. Hopefully you captured some worthy images this past weekend; it’ll be another eighteen years before the moon comes this close again.


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Devil’s Kitchen: Warren County’s Nightmare for Drivers

devilskitchenThe colorful name Devil’s Kitchen has been used in numerous book titles, restaurant names, and for hiking destinations in at least seven states. Close to home in upstate New York, we have a Catskill version, described here as “quite possibly the most hellacious [bicycle] climb in New York State.” The same area, with cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and slippery slopes, has seen many hiker deaths as well.

But there’s another Devil’s Kitchen farther north, located about midway on Route 9 between Chestertown and Warrensburg. Despite lacking the cliffs and stunning landscapes featured at other identically named places, deaths have occurred at the Adirondack site—which today exists in name only. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 14, 2016

It’s A Shell Game For Turtles

turtleYears ago, I stopped when I saw a turtle attempting to cross a high-traffic road. When I picked it up, I noticed its intricately sculpted shell. The top, or carapace, was covered with layers of bony scales, called scutes, which formed small pyramids circled by concentric growth rings. Finely spaced ridges radiated from each apex. The unusual shell and orange skin helped me identify it as a wood turtle, a species being considered for federal listing as endangered because populations have declined in most northeastern states. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Photo: The Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpeckerThe pileated woodpecker is one of the more striking characters of New York’s woodlands. Ubiquitous across the state, its bright red crest and propensity for vocalization make it hard to miss.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Using Common Sense With Adirondack Black Bears

Black Bear NYS Museum Camera TrapThere I was, cruising the VIC’s Sucker Brook Trail in search of spring wildflowers (translation: staring at the ground as I walked along), when to my left I heard a rustle of vegetation. “Ruffed grouse,” I thought, and turned my head, anticipating the explosion of wings as the bird made a hasty retreat towards the treetops. What I saw, however, was no ruffed grouse. It was black, it was furry, and it was galloping away from me a high speed.

My next thought was “someone’s black lab is loose.” Then it dawned on me: this was no lab, it was a bear. A small bear, probably a yearling, but a bear nonetheless. What I saw was the typical view I have of bears in the Adirondacks: the south end of the animal as it’s headed north. If I’m lucky, I’ll see the face before the animal turns tail. And this is how bears are – they fear people. Many people fear bears as well, but unlike the bear, people really have little reason to be afraid of these normally placid animals. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Avoid Caves and Mines to Protect Bat Populations

220px-Little_Brown_Bat_with_White_Nose_Syndrome_(Greeley_Mine,_cropped)The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has urged outdoor adventurers to suspend exploration of cave and mine sites that may serve as homes for bat hibernations.

Human disturbances are harmful to the State’s bat population since the arrival of the disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 90 percent of bats at most hibernation sites in New York. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Master Gardener Training to Begin in Warren County

MG'sApplications for the January 2017 Master Gardener Training Program are now being accepted at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Warren County.

After enrolling in the course, participants are given a binder of information that supplements weekly presentations by Cornell University faculty, Cooperative Extension staff, and local experts on a wide range of garden topics.

The topics include basic botany; entomology; soil health; home lawn care; vegetable, fruit and flower gardening; composting; organic gardening, and other practical and interesting subject matter. » Continue Reading.


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