Thursday, December 17, 2015

Frost Flowers: The Frozen Beauty Of Nature

image003These are one of the stranger ice formations found in the woods; crystallofolia are delicate ice formations that form from water emitted along a stem during a hard freeze in late fall/early winter. From Latin crystallus for ice and folium for leaf these are commonly called “frost flowers” or “feather frost”.

A typical example looks like a small puff-ball of cotton candy, a few inches across, made up of clusters of thin, curved ice filaments.   The petals of frost flowers are very delicate and will break when touched. They usually melt or sublimate when exposed to sunlight and are usually visible in the early morning or in shaded areas. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Slime Mold: Aliens in the Landscape

Slime MOldImagine if you ventured out on a rainy afternoon and found a bright yellow slime-blob slithering across your perennial gardens, one that had not been there the previous day.

Let’s say this amoeba-like thing was growing larger by the minute as it dissolved and consumed organic matter it encountered on its way through your yard. You might look around for Steve McQueen and the rest of the cast of the 1958 classic horror film “The Blob,” right? Just before you called 911. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Under Water December Is Peak Leaf Season

Leaves In Stream - John Warren PhotoBy December, foliage season is long over for us humans, but it’s peak season under the water. Last month, fallen leaves accumulated in our streams and rivers, starting a process that’s critical for the nourishment of everything from caddisflies on up the food chain to eagles and even people. In fact, most of the Northeast stream food supply originates in the form of fallen leaves.

The bright yellow and red piles that accumulate on river rocks and fallen branches are not nearly ready for consumption by discerning invertebrates. The witch’s brew of natural chemical compounds that discourages insects from eating green leaves on trees, can be just as repellent to creatures that scavenge freshly fallen leaves under water. First, cold water must leach out those chemicals. Imagine the process as soaking and re-soaking a teabag. During this period, the leaves are also colonized by microscopic organisms. For a hungry invertebrate, the cleansed layered leaves, covered in fungi, bacteria, and algae, make a sandwich Dagwood could be proud. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When Mushrooms Attack: The Fungus Among Us

Oyster MushroomsThe oyster mushroom: delicious, frequently spotted on veggie pizzas, and predatory. That’s right. The hyphae of many fungi, including the oyster mushroom, attack and paralyze prey. Then, as R. Greg Thorn of Western University enthusiastically described, the fungi “grow down their throats and digest them from the inside.”

Oyster mushrooms live in the trunks of dead or dying hardwoods. A couple different species grow in the Northeast, each preferring different tree species. Pleurotus ostreatus, the oyster mushroom that you find in the grocery store, is the least picky about where it grows, and it puts out its fruiting bodies from spring to fall.

Because they live on dead trees, these fungi have limited access to nitrogen. Dead wood has plenty of cellulose and lignin, but very little nitrogen-containing protein. So, like carnivorous plants (which are actually omnivorous, despite the label), oyster mushrooms have evolved a bag of tricks to supplement their diet by attracting and consuming nitrogen-rich prey. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Adirondack Wild Turkeys Were Once A Rare Sight

Male_north_american_turkeyThe wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is one of two species of turkeys in the world. The other is a denizen of Central America and as such is of little importance to us here in the Adirondacks. No, we are concerned with our own native bird, the one of such character and pride that Ben Franklin thought it should be the symbol of our country.

When Europeans first descended upon the eastern shores of North America, turkeys ruled the roost, so to speak. Millions of them populated the woodlands, providing food for man and beast alike. But, as is the habit of mankind, forests were cut and turkeys were eaten. As early as 1672 keen observers of nature were already remarking that turkey populations were not what they once had been. In 1844, the last wild turkey in New York was reported in the extreme southwestern part of the state; after that, they were gone. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Clarkie: The Life of a Northeastern Black Bear

Black Bear and CubsLast week, a black bear in a blaze orange collar showed up in our yard. Two cubs followed close behind. The sow paused to observe the house, then led her cubs up across our field and down into a small stand of apple trees beside the road. There the family feasted on piles of old apples lying in the grass. They appeared to take a methodical approach, working their way from one tree to the next.

Inside our house, the scene was not nearly as calm. There were rushed attempts at photography, foiled by warped window glass. There was my two-year-old son, precariously balanced on the back of a chair by the window, shrieking “BEAR” and occasionally, “SHOES” – his way of demanding to go outside. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Will Adirondack Trout Survive A Warming Climate?

Scientist Spencer Bruce, right, collects brook trout for his statewide genetic study. Photo by Mike Lynch.Sitting beside a small stream in the southwestern Adirondacks, Spencer Bruce clipped a tiny brook-trout fin and placed it in a small container. The fin is one of more than a thousand he has collected in recent years from waters in New York State for a genetic study.

Studying the genetic makeup of fish may provide clues to how resilient a population is to climate change and other environmental problems. In the Adirondack Park, several cold-water species of fish are thought to be at risk from climate change. Besides brook trout, they include lake trout and round whitefish. Other aquatic species, including amphibians and loons, also could be at risk. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Adirondack Wildlife: Fisher Families In Fall

TOS_Fisher_kitsAlong with the crisp mornings and crimson colors that signal summer’s slide into fall, there are changes occurring in the forests that go mostly unnoticed.  Among them is the dispersal of fisher kits from their mother’s territory into their own.

Little is known about the process of fisher families breaking apart, except that it generally starts in late summer or early autumn and unfolds gradually. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Vasectomy Day Advocates: ‘Get Whacked for Wildlife’

Get_Whacked_For_Wildlife_shirt_RM_Model_FPWC_1-scrIn honor of Friday’s World Vasectomy Day, the Center for Biological Diversity is encouraging men to “get whacked for wildlife” to highlight the pressure human population growth puts on wildlife and the role men can play in preventing unplanned pregnancies.

Men who pledge to get a vasectomy for World Vasectomy Day can get a free “Get Whacked for Wildlife” t-shirt featuring a polar bear carrying a pair of scissors on the front and text on the back that reads: “With more than 7 billion people, we’re crowding wildlife off the planet. Vasectomies help.” The Center is also planning to cover the costs for 20 vasectomies at two New York City clinics as part of World Vasectomy Day. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Challenges Of Identifying Mushrooms

Russula mushroomsWhen you stumble across something purple in the forest, it’s hard not to stop in your tracks. At least it was for me on a recent hike, when I came across three purple mushrooms. They stood about four inches tall, with saucer tops that were nearly black in the center and ringed in a rich eggplant-purple.

I was captivated. I was also clueless, as I had no idea what I was looking at. I have long regarded mushrooms the way I do yellow-colored warblers and ferns – far too many and too confusing to distinguish one from another. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lichens: More Than Meets The Eye

A lichen covered treeWe all know correlation does not equal causation, and that it’s unfair to convict someone based on circumstantial evidence. But when every appearance points to a culprit, it’s hard to resist jumping to conclusions, which by the way is my favorite athletic endeavor. After all, the kid out in your yard holding a baseball bat might not be responsible for the ball that just smashed through your window.

A landscape tree has a rough life, by definition beset with hardships not faced by its forest-dwelling peers. When chronic stress catches up to one and it declines and dies, I often hear from the homeowner about beetles, pillbugs, mushrooms or what-not (mostly what-not) found near the crime scene that must be to blame. It’s understandable – it’s like the kid with the bat. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Understanding Extreme Space Weather

Space WeatherA severe solar storm could disrupt the nation’s power grid for months, potentially leading to widespread blackouts. Resulting damage and disruption for such an event could cost more than $1 trillion, with a full recovery time taking months to years, according to the National Academy of Sciences. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Adirondack Winters: Understanding Hibernation

7-year-old mother Black Bear with cubs in a den under a fallen tree - courtesy North American Black Bear CenterOffhand I can’t think of much to say in defense of envy, greed and gluttony, but sloth is different. The lives of some creatures depend on sleeping for half the year, and I don’t mean adolescents. Survival strategies of bats, woodchucks and other animals include long periods of sloth. Ironically, sloths don’t hibernate.

If hibernation is loosely defined as a period of inactivity and lowered metabolism in warm-blooded animals (endotherms) in winter, then many of us in northern latitudes do it. Of course there’s more to it than that. Turns out that among biologists, the exact definition has been a matter of debate in the past. » Continue Reading.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Fall Garden Tips: Use Those Leaves!

MapleLeavesCornellUHILeaves. Some folks love them, some folks hate them; I think it mostly depends on how much room you have for them. Folks who live in towns or cities with small yards and large, mature shade trees can feel overwhelmed with all the leaves. But the rest of us with a little more space really cannot complain as those leaves are a wonderful resource!

While I waited for the young trees I planted around our house to grow I used to gather those bags of leaves along the city curbs. Now my trees are finally large enough that I have plenty. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Secret To Bird Migration: It Takes Guts

TOS_HummerAs an avid birdwatcher for more than 30 years, I’ve long been familiar with the big picture of songbird migration. Tiny blackpoll warblers, for instance, fly 1,500 miles from southern New England to the Caribbean in a single two- or three-day flight across open water with nowhere to land if they get tired.

The even tinier ruby-throated hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico in a similar way. But until recently I haven’t spent much time wondering how these little birds do it. Don’t their flight muscles get tired? How do they replenish their energy reserves in the air? » Continue Reading.


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