Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tipulidae: The Cute Faced Crane Fly

crane flyAn email chirped in my inbox; “Check out the cute face on this insect we found.” I opened the attachment (yes, from a reliable source). My colleague Professor Peter Hope had taken a spectacular photograph through his microscope. The larva in question had fallen into a pit trap set by our first-year Saint Michael’s College students in Camp Johnson in Colchester.

The ‘face’ seemed to have two very circular black eyes, a downturned smile, and a wild cartoonish hairstyle sprouting from lobes radiating in five directions. My esteemed colleague, a gifted botanist, had photographed the rear end of a crane fly larva. In fairness, any reasonable person might have made this mistake, especially because the front of the insect doesn’t look like a front, its head pulled so far back into the body as to be invisible. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Great Gray Owls in Northern New York

2017 Great Gray Owl Larry Master PhotoIn most winters great gray owls remain in their great north woods home in Canada, the mountains of the western U.S., northern Europe, and Siberia. But every four years or so, apparently motivated by a shortage of food (primarily voles), many of these owls will move southward in search of food.

In northeastern North America, the owls usually stay just north of the border, apparently finding suitable vole populations in southern Quebec and Ontario, but a handful of individuals will sometimes move further south into northern New York and New England. This is one such winter with a number of great gray owls being reported in southern Quebec, two reports from central Maine, and reports of several great gray owls in northern New York. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Adirondack Researchers Explore Birch Syrup Production

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has posted the results of a project exploring opportunities for regional maple sugarmakers to produce birch syrup.

Four sugarhouses participated in the 2015-2016 birch syrup project; one each in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Jefferson counties.

Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center Maple Program transported the sap collected from 61 paper birch trees there 20 miles to the Uihlein Forest sugarhouse for processing. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 13, 2017

20th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count Feb 17th

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is taking place February 17 to 20 in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches — anywhere you find birds.

Bird watchers count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at birdcount.org. All the data contribute to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes over the past 20 years.

Varying weather conditions so far this winter are producing a few trends that GBBC participants can watch for during the count. eBird reports show many more waterfowl and kingfishers remaining further north than usual because they are finding open water. If that changes, these birds could move southward. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Adirondack Wildlife: The Disappearing 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.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Adirondack Wildlife: American Mink

minkIf the river otter is the most aquatic member of the mustelid family, and weasels represent the terrestrial branch of the clan, the American mink is the adept middle child, taking advantage of its adaptations both in the water and on land to make a living.

Like both otters and weasels, mink have long, sleek bodies, the sharp teeth of a predator, and small – but keen – ears and eyes. Their fur – long a fashion staple – is a combination of oily guard hairs, which afford some water-repellency, and an undercoat that grows thick in winter to provide warmth. It’s a common makeup in winter-active mammals – and a bit like us humans wearing a waterproof Gore-Tex shell over layers of insulating polypro or wool. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Adirondack Tree Bark in Winter

It’s winter. Hardwood trees are bare. But that doesn’t mean the woods are bereft of interest. Winter, when sunlight slants in, is the time when bark comes into its own. Pause to take in the aged-brass bark of a yellow birch, or the hand-sized bark plates on a big white pine.

Bark is beautiful. And practical. A protective tissue, a defense against insects, fungi, fire, and deer, it has a lot in common with human skin. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Adirondack Wildlife: Raccoons in Winter

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.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Rarely Seen Gull Boosts Tupper Lake’s Birding Reputation

Ross's gull in flight in Tupper Lake in Jan 2017 by Larry MasterOn a recent Tuesday afternoon, some carpenters working at Jack Delehanty’s home in Tupper Lake put out on the ice some entrails and egg skeins from walleyes they had caught. The next day Jack noticed an unfamiliar bird picking at the walleye eggs. Jack consulted with his sister, Alex, and their mother, Charlcie Delehanty, a longtime birder, and they were also puzzled. Alex then sent me pictures and video they had taken to see if I could identify the bird. That night, I realized it was a first-year Ross’s gull, an incredibly rare vagrant from the Arctic.

Thanks to the internet, my news of the Ross’s gull reached the birding community within hours, and hundreds of birders from all over the country and Canada soon flocked to Tupper Lake (and Jack’s home!) to see the bird, which has been hanging out much of the time near the Tupper Lake boat launch and the causeway near the bridge over the Raquette River.  This bird has provided a small but significant economic boost to the Tupper Lake community as hundreds of visiting birders have bought food and gas and occasionally spent the night.  A similar appearance of this species in Newburyport, Massachusetts attracted thousands of birders from around the country. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

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.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blue Jays in Winter

“Jay, jay, jay!” Every morning last winter I awoke to the loud cries of a flock of 17 blue jays dancing around my feeder. They gorged on sunflower seeds and suet, scaring away smaller birds, then left, only to return in the afternoon. I ended up buying a second feeder for the smaller birds, which was more difficult (though not impossible) for the jays to feed from.

This boisterous group was a foraging flock. Like many species of birds, blue jays change their behavior from summer, when breeding birds live in pairs, to winter, when they often gather in groups. In summer, blue jays feed and raise their young mostly on insects, while in winter, they shift to fruits, nuts, and seeds. As biologist Bernd Heinrich explained in his book Winter World, these food sources are widely dispersed, but occur in large clumps that groups of birds can detect more easily by combining their scouting efforts. Another advantage of winter flocks is that many eyes are better for detecting predators. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Seminar Set For Warrensburg

hemlock woody adelgidOn Thursday, February 9th, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County will host a seminar on the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.

Mark Whitmore of Cornell University one of the foremost authorities on the wooly adelgid will give a one-and-a-half-hour presentation starting at 10 am at the Cooperative Extension Education Center. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Inside An Adirondack Beaver Lodge in Winter

The lack of a deep covering of snow can be a benefit to some forms of wildlife, and a detriment to others. Yet for the beaver (Castor canadensis), a limited amount of snow on the ground has 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.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Arthropods Among Us

Not to alarm you, but you’re surrounded.

There, buzzing stupidly into the slats of your venetian blinds, is a house fly. Nearby, nestled in a crevice of the window-frame, a ladybug waits out the winter. In a corner overhead, a spindly house spider sits motionless in its haphazard web. Underfoot, bristly little carpet beetle larvae nibble at the fibers of an old rug. And that’s to say nothing of the dust mites, which are too small to see and too numerous to count. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Drought, Maple Trees, And Adirondack Maple Syrup

sugar mapleGiven that maple producers have to boil down roughly 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, you would think that dry weather might improve things. Obviously if drought could get rid of a bunch of water for free, the sap would become concentrated and you wouldn’t need to boil as much. Heck, in an extremely dry year maybe we could just drill into a maple and have granular sugar come dribbling out.

If only it worked that way. In general, a shortage of water during the growing season hampers the production of sugar and leads to lower sap sugar concentrations the following spring. Green plants have a magic formula for turning sunlight into sugar, and it calls for a few simple ingredients: water, carbon dioxide, sunlight and chlorophyll. If one item is missing, the transformation won’t work. I’m told most spells fail for want of a newt’s eye or some such, but if a thing as basic and usually commonplace as water is in short supply, the miracle of photosynthesis slows to a snail’s pace (which is likely used for some other spell). » Continue Reading.


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