Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Almanack Contributor Among Literary Winners

Writers, editors, publishers, and book lovers gathered at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake on Sunday to hear the announcements of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s (ACW’s) annual Adirondack Literary Award winners. Among the authors recognized was regular Adirondack Almanack contributor Tom Kalinowski. The avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years won the Best Book of Nonfiction award for Adirondack Nature Notes: An Adirondack Almanac Sequel.

Kalinowski was one of three Almanack contributors considered for the nonfiction award, including Caperton Tissot for Adirondack Ice: A Cultural and Natural History and History of Churubusco and the Town of Clinton, Clinton County, NY by Lawrence Gooley. Gooley’s book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008.

The Adirondack Literary Awards celebrates and acknowledge books that were written by Adirondack authors or published in the region in the previous year.

The complete list of winners for 2011 includes:

Best Children’s Book: The Rock Singer by Betsey Thomas-Train, published by Shaggy Dog Press.

Best Book of Fiction: Jeffrey G. Kelly for Tailings published by Creative Bloc Press.

Best Memoir: Green Fields by Bob Cowser, publisher, UNO Press (University of New Orleans) with an honorable mention to Kristin Kimballs’ The Dirty Life.

Best Book of Nonfiction: Adirondack Nature Notes: An Adirondack Almanac Sequel by Tom Kalinowski, published by North Country Books, with an honorable mention going to the collection, Why We Are Here edited by Bob Cowser and published by Colgate University Press.

Best Book of Poetry: went for a record third time to the three Adirondack poets: Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe, Mary Sanders Shartle for their collection, Winterberry Pine: Three Poets on Adirondack Winter (30 Acre Wood Publishing). This is the third time (a record) they have won the Poetry prize.

The People’s Choice Award went to Karma in the High Peaks, a poetry collection with contributions by David Parkinson, Charles Watts, Mary Randall, Mary Anne Johnson, Judith Dow Moore, and Chuck Gibson, published by RA Press.

Judges for the Adirondack Literary Award were:

Nonfiction and memoir: Linda Cohen and Jerry McGovern

Fiction: Ellen Rocco and Joseph

Poetry: Stephanie Coyne-DeGhett and Maurice Kenny

Children’s Literature: Danielle Hoepfl and Nancy Beattie

A complete list of the books considered this year can be found online.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Keene Property Values Slide with Land

For more than a month, millions of tons of earth and millions of dollars in property value have been inching down a Keene Valley mountainside. As 82 acres of trees and homes continue to break loose, a state geologist says other Adirondack slopes could fail.

The slow-moving landslide on the side of Little Porter Mountain is unnerving residents in the town of Keene, which includes the hamlets of Keene and Keene Valley. The year-round population of 1,000 is nearly doubled in summer by wealthy seasonal residents, many who live upslope for the lofty views of the High Peaks.

Four half-million-dollar houses at the top of the slide have been affected—pried wholly from their foundations or partially destabilized—and at least one vacation home appears to be in its path below. The value of the land in motion is expected to be reduced from about $3 million to zero, while sales of similar properties are thrown into limbo. Supervisor Bill Ferebee said the town has begun to seek emergency state reimbursement to help make up anticipated losses in property tax.

Andrew Kozlowski, associate state geologist with the New York State Museum, says the slide is the largest in state history. It’s nothing like the quick tumble of trees and thin humus familiar on high Adirondack terrain. This one started as a subtle shift below 2,000 feet on a 25–35 degree slope. It was triggered by the melting of deep snowpack compounded by more than a foot of rain in April and May. The slide does not seem to pose a risk to human life, but it is reactivated when new rains slip into soil cracks that are growing wider every day. Because it’s logistically difficult to drill borings in shifting soils to measure their depth, Kozlowski can’t estimate when the mass will stop moving; he says it could be months or years.

A dirt road runs parallel to the top of the landslide. Keene residents are questioning whether mountainside building is responsible for altering drainage patterns. “Does the development help? Probably not. Was it the actual cause? Probably not,” Kozlowski said.

There were pre-existing conditions, he explained. He detected on the site signs of a landslide hundreds or thousands of years ago. At the end of the last ice age, Keene Valley was submerged by a glacial lake, and deep sand on the hillsides is evidence of 12,000-year-old beaches.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imagery collected by aerial survey can provide high-resolution digital images and help identify shifty soils, he said. Eight New York counties have collected LiDAR data but none in northern New York, which has the state’s steepest topography. Keene Supervisor Ferebee said aerial images could be useful to all towns in Essex County, and he is exploring how the county might cover the $150,000 cost.

Residents are also concerned about the future of homes on other Keene mountainsides. “There is danger of this happening elsewhere,” Kozlowski told a group of two dozen citizens who gathered at the community’s K–12 school earlier this month. “Will it happen on this scale? We don’t know.”

Real Estate and Rain

Annual rainfall in the Lake Champlain watershed is three inches greater on average than it was during the mid 20th century, when the first houses were built on the side of Little Porter Mountain, according to United States Historical Climatology Network data. A range of climate models predict the Champlain Basin could receive 4 to 6 inches more precipitation a year by the end of this century, with heavy storms becoming more frequent, according to a 2010 report by The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack and Vermont chapters.

The Little Porter slide has suddenly become an unforeseen example of something other Adirondack mountain communities must consider in a potentially wetter future.

“Throughout the Adirondacks there is going to be a lot more concern about this now,” said Martha Lee Owen, who owns vacant land on the failed slope. She is a real-estate broker whose father, Adrian Edmonds, lived at the base of Little Porter and pioneered homebuilding on Keene’s mountainsides. “He’d be just heartbroken,” she said. “It’s just terrible that it’s affected so many homeowners.”

Owen said it never occurred to her to recommend that potential buyers hire a geologist to evaluate slope stability, but she will recommend it now. She would also like to see LiDAR data collected for Essex County. “Of course it’s a huge concern to me in terms of selling properties, not just my own but selling any properties,” she said. “So far buyers aren’t asking a lot of questions, although everyone is just sort of shocked by this. You have to get used to it before you take it all in.”

Jane Bickford, a Saranac Lake resident who has a summer home beneath and — she hopes — outside the projected path of the slide, said the mountain-climbing mecca of Keene Valley is more than an investment to people who own property there. “The piece that’s important is, Can we keep living there?” she said. “The financials are pretty terrible but Keene Valley represents to people a touchstone. It’s where my kids grew up and where they are bringing their own kids up. This is where children’s values are developed. To the people who go to Keene Valley it’s not just a house. It’s a place where families get together and where bonding happens.”

Photograph courtesy of Curt Stager.

Link to video of the landslide site.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Great Blue Heron

For those people familiar with nature, the uniquely-shaped silhouette of a large bird in flight with a set of thin legs jutting well beyond its tail, and a neck that coils back into a compressed “S” creates an unmistakable image.

Additionally, the slow and methodical manner in which this lanky giant beats its sizeable wings helps make the great blue heron one of the easiest birds to recognize as it flies, even from a distance of well over a half mile.

The great blue heron is a wading bird and uses its stilt-like legs to stand and walk through aquatic areas, some of which may be covered with up to a foot of water. It is in places like these that this predator waits quietly for small fish, frogs, salamanders, and other similar size animals to stray within striking distance. Once a victim is spotted close by, the heron draws its head back, simultaneously stepping forward while thrusting its long and pointed bill directly at the target. Rather than spear its prey, the great blue heron attempts to grab hold of the potential meal and swallow it quickly before it can wriggle free.

From late spring through mid August the amount of time an adult heron spends hunting increases significantly. Not only must the adult heron satisfy its own appetite, but toward the end of May, when the 3 or 4 eggs in its nest hatch, the bird must also meet the demands of the young for a steady diet of animal protein.

For the first several weeks after the eggs hatch, one of the parents remains either in the nest or very close to it in order to protect the babies from being attacked by a forest predator, like a raccoon, or eagle. The other parent travels to a favored feeding site, such as a section of marsh, the edge of a slow moving river, or the weedy shoreline of a lake or pond. There it tries to kill enough creatures to fill its crop for transport back to its nest. Once there, the parent regurgitates chunks of the previously swallowed material into the open mouth of its babies. The constant demand for food by the developing nestlings causes the great blue heron to hunt for prey even during the night, especially when a full moon provides adequate illumination for it to see.

After the first month, the young herons become large enough to prevent a parent from spending more than a few minutes in the nest. At this stage in their development, the nestlings require so much food that both parents are forced to hunt for the majority of the day leaving their babies unattended. As the nestlings get older the parents no longer feed them from their mouth, but rather drop the catch off into the nest and let the young birds fight over it.

Because there is safety in numbers, a pair of great blue heron makes its nest close to the nest of other great blue herons. A colony, also known as a heronry, may contain from a dozen nests to over a hundred. The number is highly dependent on the suitability of hunting areas in the surrounding region. For example, a heronry near Lake Champlain is able to support many more pairs of herons than ones located in sections of the Park where favorable aquatic areas are scattered over much greater distances.

In order to minimize the chance of predation from climbing creatures, the great blue heron prefers to construct it stick platform as high as possible in the tallest deciduous trees at the site in which a heronry becomes established. Since a heron nest is around three feet in diameter, the mass of sticks used in its construction can become quite substantial, and the supporting limbs beneath it must be large enough to hold the weight. Additionally, the nest must be tightly woven into the framework of the twigs from the supporting limbs to prevent this structure from being torn loose during periods of high wind, such as those that accompany strong thunderstorms. In most instances, a pair of herons will refurbish the nest that they occupied the previous year if it was able to withstand the fierce gales that battered it during the preceding winter season.

It takes the nestlings almost two full months before they fledge, and even then these young birds depend on their parents for frequent meals until they can get the knack of hunting for themselves.

There are many creatures that prey on the bounty of animal life that exists in and around wetlands; however, few of these stand out against the background as does the great blue heron here in the Adirondacks.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Tom Kalinowski has written several books on nature in the Adirondacks.


Monday, June 13, 2011

The North Country Tornado of 1856

A tornado in the northeastern states, as happened recently in Massachusetts, is a comparatively rare event, but it’s by no means anything new. Many similar storms in the past have wreaked devastation in New York and New England, but few have had the incredible impact of the tornado that struck northern Franklin County on June 30, 1856.

The storm system caused chaos across the North Country, and in lower Quebec and northern Vermont as well, but the villages of Burke and Chateaugay bore the brunt of the damage when a tornado touched down, causing destruction of historic proportions.

In the 1850s, northern Franklin County was mostly a vast, wooded wilderness. The arrival of the railroad had led to accelerated growth and the development of several population centers, including Burke and Chateaugay, just five miles apart in the county’s northeast corner.

Farming and lumbering were the chief occupations, and until sections of forest were cleared, most of the farms were located near the villages and along the Old Military Turnpike (modern-day Route 11). About the only way a storm’s effect could be truly devastating was for it to strike the population centers—and that’s exactly what happened.

Not that it would have made much difference, but this storm also had an extra element of surprise—it struck shortly before mid-morning. The great majority of tornadoes strike in the late afternoon after the sun has had plenty of time to heat things up.

Farmer Lucas Wyman of Constable watched as two dark, threatening cloud systems moved towards each other, one from the southwest and one from the northwest. He described their meeting as a thunderous collision, after which the storm began devouring everything in its path. Taking a northeastern track, it flattened trees and fences as it sped ominously towards Burke.

Arriving at the village, it tore the roofs off several buildings, sending their contents high in the air to parts unknown. As the storm raged, only pieces of some homes were left standing, and all barns, less sturdily built by nature, were leveled.

At the hamlet of Thayer’s Corners, the store of Daniel Mitchell was completely destroyed. Thirty-six-year-old Jeremiah Thomas, father of two young children, had recently sold his farm and gone to work for Mitchell. Thomas became the storm’s only fatality.

The storm’s route from Burke to Chateaugay suffered near-universal destruction, with reports indicating that “… one hundred and eighty-five buildings, either unroofed, blown down, or moved from the foundations can be counted as you ride along the road.”

At Chateaugay, the twister still had more than enough energy to lay nearly the entire community to waste. One reporter stated it plainly: “The village of Chateaugay is a complete desolation. Not a building escaped injury, and a great number—we do not know how many—are completely destroyed. The scene is one which baffles description. Stores, churches, dwellings, barns, sheds, outbuildings, all present a sad spectacle —they are awfully shattered and broken to pieces.”

Perhaps as important were other losses—gardens and fruit trees destroyed; farm crops flattened; cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and chickens killed. With all fencing destroyed, any animals that did survive were left wandering the countryside.

Though only one person died, many suffered serious injuries. Dozens were struck by flying roof shingles and shards of glass. One survivor was said to have lost his scalp to airborne debris.

The power of the storm yielded the usual stories of extreme occurrences. Entire sections of forest were flattened. A stone schoolhouse, one of the more solid buildings, was demolished. A lumber yard was completely devoid of lumber, all of which had been lifted high in the air and strewn across nearby fields.

A railroad handcar, weighing about a ton, was destroyed when it was carried aloft and dropped into the nearby woods. The tornado’s power was such that rubble from Mitchell’s Store at Thayer’s Corners was later found ten miles east in the town of Clinton.

In the days following the catastrophe, a traveler from Springfield, Massachusetts (coincidentally the site of recent tornadic destruction in 2011) rode the train across northern New York. After encountering the Chateaugay area, his report on the damage was published in the Springfield Daily Journal, including the following excerpts.

“The railroad track for some thirty or forty miles lies directly in the path of the tornado, and I never saw such a scene of destruction before. … it is in fact quite impossible to picture the scene on paper as it really appears. The villages of Chateaugay and Burke have sustained such serious damage that long years will come and go before its traces can be effaced.

“… Acres of forest trees are upturned, broken, twisted, and shattered; fences are torn to pieces, and the fencing timber scattered miles away from whence it was taken; piles of lumber, with which that section abounds, are nowhere to be found; barns are entirely blown to pieces; dwelling houses blown down, unroofed, and shattered. The eye rests on nothing else but such sights as these for miles and miles.”

The storm system caused considerable damage elsewhere, but the extent of destruction along the eight-mile path through the towns of Burke and Chateaugay was of near-biblical proportions. In the final tally, 364 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Few North Country disasters can compare in scope and intensity with the tornado of 1856. For decades into the future it was used as a reference point for comparing other tragic events.

Photo Top: Tornado headlines, 1856.

Photo Middle: St. Lawrence County opportunistic ad after a tornado, 1914.

Photo Bottom: Hammond Insurance ad for routine needs, 1935.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Young Wildlife: If You Care, Leave It There

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding New Yorkers to keep their distance and not to disturb newborn fawns or other young wildlife as many animals are in the peak season for giving birth or hatching young.

Finding a fawn deer lying by itself is fairly common. Many people assume that young wildlife found alone are abandoned, helpless and need assistance for their survival. In nearly all cases this is a mistake, and typically human interaction does more damage than good. If you see a fawn or other newborn wildlife, enjoy your encounter, but for the sake of their well being, it is important to keep it brief and maintain some distance. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two New Exhibits at Adirondack Museum

Two new exhibits have opened at the Adirondack Museum: “The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” and “Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts.”

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was the classic artist of Adirondack sport. “The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” features paintings and prints depicting life in the Adirondack woods – images of hunters, sportsmen, guides, and settlers that include a wealth of historical detail. An ardent sportsman and lover of the outdoors, Tait lived in the region for extended periods of time near Chateaugay, Raquette and Long lakes.

His images of animals and sporting adventures were among the best known in 19th-century America thanks to Currier & Ives, whose lithographs of Tait paintings helped popularize the Adirondacks as a sportsman’s paradise.

Chief Curator, Laura Rice called the exhibit, “a rare opportunity to see some of Tait’s most important works, including a few from private collections which are rarely, if ever, on exhibit.”

“Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts” focuses on the work of one of the nation’s most recognized amateur wildlife photographers in the first decades of the 20th century. Roberts’ Adirondack wildlife photographs represent an important breakthrough in science and the technology of photography. He developed a thorough knowledge of Adirondack
wildlife and their habits, and deer jacking inspired him to consider night photography. A feature article in the New York Times, August 26, 1928, described Roberts’ as “hunting with a camera in the Adirondacks.”

The “Night Vision” exhibit features approximately 35 original large-format photographs of Adirondack wildlife. Roberts’ cameras, equipment, colored lithographic prints, hand-colored transparencies, published works, and his many awards will also be exhibited. His work has been published in Audubon Magazine, Country Life, Modern Photography, and The National Geographic
Magazine.

The museum is open through October 17, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week, including holidays. There will be an early closing on August 12, and adjusted hours on August 13; the museum will be closed on September 9. Visit www.adirondackmuseum.org for more information. All paid admissions are valid for a second visit within a one-week period.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New State Museum Study on Wolves, Coyotes, Dogs

A State Museum scientist has co-authored a new research article, representing the most detailed genomic study of its kind, which shows that wolves and coyotes in the eastern United States are hybrids between gray wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.

Dr. Roland Kays, the Museum’s curator of mammals, was one of 15 other national and international scientists who collaborated on the study that used unprecedented genetic technology, developed from the dog genome, to survey the global genetic diversity in dogs, wolves and coyotes. The study used over 48,000 genetic markers, making it the most detailed genomic study of any wild vertebrate species. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Adirondack Reptiles: Garter Snakes

When weeding in the garden, collecting firewood around a lean-to, or stepping over rocks along a river, it is not uncommon to encounter a garter snake as summer weather become the norm in the Adirondacks.

In northern New York there are two species of garter snakes, the eastern or common garter snake, and the ribbon snake. Both are approximately a foot and a half to two feet in length and have the same prominent yellow strip running down the entire length of their back from the base of their head. Both snakes also have an additional yellowish strip extending along their sides, the edges of which may not be as sharply defined as the one on their back. Both species can also vary in color, and some individuals also possess a more checkered or mosaic pattern to their coloration. Additionally, the brightness of their colors may depend on whether an individual will soon be shedding its outer covering of scales or has recently acquired a new layer of this transparent coating.

Like other snakes, the garter snake must shed its protective outer layer of scales in order for its body to expand in size. Just prior to shedding, the scales become translucent, which makes their color duller. In the days immediately after the new layer of scales has formed, the snake appears to be brighter in color.

While there are subtle differences between these two species in physical structure and in certain markings, the similarities between them are far more numerous. This creates a challenge in making a positive identification, especially as one quickly slithers into a crack between two rocks, into a dense pile of brush or under pieces of debris on the forest floor.
Both the eastern garter snake and the ribbon snake prefer to reside near a body of water. However, the eastern garter snake is more likely to be encountered away from such wetland settings, as it is better able to survive in dry places than the ribbon snake.

It is the ability of the garter snake to function in a cold climate that allows this reptile to flourish within the Adirondacks. While the garter snake prefers its surroundings to range between 80 and 90 degrees during the day when it is active, it can continue to be active for a considerable period even when the ground and air remain in the low 50’s. Should the air drop into the low 40’s, or upper 30’s, the garter snake attempts to locate a spot where the temperature of the ground is significantly higher. Places in which the sun is or was beating down on the ground to create a thermal oasis, or where a mound of rotting organic material is generating some warmth of its own are likely to attract a garter snake until the weather warms again.

Like other reptiles, the garter snake has difficulty digesting the food that is in its system when its body cools below a certain level. In order for it to derive the nourishment from the items that it has consumed, its body must be at a temperature of about fifty degrees. While this may not seem to be too cool, it is lower than what most snakes are able to tolerate during the summer season.

Along with its cold-hardiness, the ability of the garter snake to grab a multitude of small creatures that happen to stray in front of it, and pull them down into its throat also contributes to this snake’s ecological success in the Adirondacks. The garter snake is known to strike at and then swallow animals ranging in size from earthworms and small salamanders to medium size toads, young mice and voles, and the eggs of birds that make their nests on the ground.

While many people are repulsed by the sight of a snake, especially if it happens to be close to their feet, these reptiles play an important role in our environment. Garter snakes are one of the few predators of toads in our region, and they help to limit the population of numerous other small creatures. Garter snakes, in turn, are preyed upon by various animals, such as hawks, raccoons and fox. Garter snakes pose no threat to humans and should always be left alone, unless you are one of those very few individuals that wishes to pick one up an examine it to see if you can determine if it is an eastern garter, or ribbon snake.

Tom Kalinowski has written several books on nature in the Adirondacks.

Photo: Common garter snake, courtesy Wikipedia.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Astronomy: The June Night Sky With The Naked Eye

Here are some naked eye objects for the month of June. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your naked eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com [pdf – if you get an error, hit reload]. The map shows what is in the sky in June at 11 pm (for early June; 10 pm for late June).

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

Scorpius
Messier Object 7 (M7) is an open star cluster near the stinger of Scorpius is a small, hazy patch known since antiquity. Visible enough that the Greek astronomer Ptolemy cataloged it. M6 an open star cluster is nearby to the north of M7 and is a little smaller and fainter. M6 is also known as the Butterfly Cluster.

Sagittarius
M8 is an open star cluster and nebula complex, also known as the Lagoon Nebula. Visible to the naked eye as a small hazy patch. Bright enough that it is visible even in suburbia. It may look small with the naked eye, but it is actually quite large nearly two moon diameters across.
Not sure if any of the other objects are visible to the naked eye, although Sagittarius is a beautiful sight as it lays in the Milky Way.

Aquila
The Great Rift is a non-luminous dust cloud that can be seen splitting the Milky Way in two separate streams. It stretches from Aquila to the constellation Cygnus although it is more prominent in the constellation Aquila.

Hercules
Messier Object 13 (known as M13) is a globular cluster. It will have a small hazy glow to it.

Virgo
Saturn is in Virgo, it will be the orange “star” you see directly next to the star Porrima. They are very close at the moment and if you are looking in Virgo you can’t miss it’s orange glow. Don’t get Saturn confused with the star Arcturus in the constellation Boötes (pronounced boh-‘oh-tees).

Cygnus
North America Nebula (NGC7000) – The unaided eye sees only a wedge-shaped star-cloud which may be quite dim, or not visible at all. In dark skies it should pop out a bit. Located near the star Deneb. M39 an open cluster patch of stars northeast of the star Deneb. The Northern Coalsack spans across the sky between the stars Deneb, Sadir, and Gienah in the northeastern portion of Cygnus. If you don’t know which stars of Sadir and Gienah just find Deneb with the map and look to the east northeast.

Ursa Major
Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.

Photo: The North America Nebula in a Wikipedia photo that reveals how its appearance can change dramatically using different combinations of visible and infrared observations by telescope.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Almanack’s New Astronomy Contributor

Please join me in welcoming our newest contributor to the Adirondack Almanack, amateur astronomer Michael Rector. Like many folks, I’m terrible at discerning the objects in the night sky so I asked Michael to help teach us what to look for, and how to identify what we see in the heavens above. He writes about astronomy on his own blog Adirondack Astronomy and will be contributing here occasionally about all things astronomy.

Michael told me “The field of astronomy is extremely interesting, and one great thing is you don’t need to understand physics or the highly detailed science behind astronomy to enjoy the night sky with your naked eye, binoculars or with a telescope.” Although he now lives in Clinton County, Micheal has fond memories of spending time at Great Sacandaga and West Canada Lake where the skies are dark and the Milky Way is bright.

Michael is interested in getting together with other star-gazers around the region. If you are interested in getting together for an occasional star party feel free to contact him at adirondackastronomer@gmail.com.

Michael Rector joins the Almanack‘s other regular natural history contributors Tom Kalinowski and Corrina Parnapy, and occasional contributor Larry Master.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Nesting Black-Capped Chickadee

June is the peak of the nesting season in the Adirondacks, and among the many birds currently involved in the process of producing offspring is the black-capped chickadee. Known to everyone that maintains a feeder in winter, this friendly and perky songster enters into its breeding season in mid spring as nesting territories gradually become established, and the winter flock dissolves. As a general rule, the dominant male and female in the flock pair up and lay claim to the most favorable area within the immediate surroundings.

These birds tend to be the oldest members of the flock and likely paired with each other during the previous year. The next ranking male and female in the flock’s well established hierarchy are also likely to form a mating bond and take control of much of the remaining area used by the flock for their winter territory. Any remaining pairs of birds that have survived the winter may either attempt to establish a breeding territory in whatever unoccupied parcels of forest remain in the immediate vicinity, or they may relocate to other areas that were avoided in winter because of limited food resources in these places.

With the approach of the nesting season, chickadees begin to incorporate much greater quantities of animal matter into their diet. Even though there may still be seeds available at feeders, these birds start to concentrate more of their time searching for small bugs which are rich in both protein and fats. Egg development within the female requires high amounts of these two nutrients, especially protein. And while the males do not need the same high levels of protein as the females, they still gather these nitrogen enriched morsels of invertebrate matter and offer them to their mate to help her with her intake of vital nutrients.

After each pair has settled on a particular parcel of forest, they then begin to search for a nest site. Like the woodpeckers, the chickadee constructs its nest in a wooden cavity. Typically, a dead, partially rotted poplar or white birch stub that is roughly 4 inches in diameter is favored. The soft, almost spongy interior of these standing columns allows the chickadee to chip away and pull out fragments of wood from the inside of the very upper section of the stub. The male and female both work intermittently during the day for nearly a week until they have completed a nearly 8 inch deep chamber that will serve to shelter their eggs, and then their nestlings. Because such trees are never very high, chickadee cavities tend to be within 15 feet of the ground, with some being built at eye level.

In places where a dead and partially rotted stub can not be found, or in spots where the potential nest sites are deemed unacceptable because of some threat, like the close presence of a red squirrel nest, the chickadee resorts to placing its nest in a cavity that already exists. Sometimes a pair of chickadees may settle into a chamber excavated by a woodpecker. The pair is also known to use a nest box when a rotted stub can not be found. Since chickadees strongly prefer to take up residence in a cavity that they excavate themselves, some people attempt to attract these birds to a nest box by packing it with small wood chips, like those produced by a sharp chain saw.

After the chamber is completed, the cavity is then lined with a layer of soft material, like hair, downy feathers or strands of moss. The female then begins the process of laying eggs, and like most other birds, she deposits a single egg in the nest each morning until the clutch is completed.

Then follows the process of incubation which lasts nearly two weeks. Next is the very challenging chore of trying to keep the nestlings well fed. Like a female that is developing eggs, the nestlings require a diet composed of spiders, insects, millipedes and other bugs.
During the summer, people are encouraged to take down their feeders, or stop placing seeds out in them. Maintaining a feed in summer serves to attract raccoons, bears and other unwanted wildlife visitors. While it may seem cruel to completely cut the birds off from their regular source of food, these creatures no longer rely on such items for their nourishment. This is the time when bugs become the food of choice for most birds during their nesting season here in the Adirondacks.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wildlife: Red Foxes Are Denning

As leaves erupt from their buds on hardwood trees, which cloak the Adirondack terrain again in green, red fox pups venture from their dens and begin to experience our vast, lush spring landscape.

In this northern climate, the red fox breeds during the very end of January through the first few weeks of February. As a result, the females give birth to their annual litter toward the very end of March, or during early April.

In the weeks prior to giving birth, each pair of red fox establishes a den that serves to shelter their pups from the bouts of inclement weather that often occurs in spring. A den also protects these helpless infants from being attacked and killed by other predatory creatures, such as coyotes, bears and various birds of prey. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Environmental Historian at the Chapman Museum

This Wednesday, May 25, at 7 pm, noted environmental historian John Cumbler will present a talk entitled Mills, Water Power Dams and the Transformation of the Environment at the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls. The lecture is the first in a series of programs, funded in part by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, which expand on the themes of the Chapman’s current exhibit, Harnessing the Hudson: Waterwheels & Turbines, a history of waterpower on the upper Hudson River. The program is free and open to the public.

John T. Cumbler, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, has taught at the Univ. of Louisville since 1975, specializing in United States Environmental History and Economic History. Professor Cumbler is the author of numerous books including: Northeast and Midwest United States: An Environmental History (2005) and Reasonable Use: The People, The Environment, And The State, New England 1790-1930 (2001). In his talk he will explore the impact of industrialization on rivers and the history of how people have responded to that degradation.

The Chapman Historical Museum is located at 348 Glen Street, Glens Falls. The exhibit Harnessing the Hudson will be on view through September 25th. Public hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday, noon to 4 pm. For more information call (518) 793-2826 or visit www.chapmanmuseum.org.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

APA Honors Clarence Petty

The Adirondack Park Agency celebrated Arbor Day 2011 with a tree planting in honor of Clarence Petty. Petty was one of the first employees at the Adirondack Park Agency following a long career with the NYS Conservation Department. He served on the Pomeroy Commission (Inter-Legislative Committee on Natural Resources) and the Temporary Study Commission on the Adirondacks.

Mr. Petty had a profound impact on the Adirondack Park and is considered one of the most influential environmentalists of the 20th century. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Audubon Society’s Adirondack Birdathon

They say it is the most fun you can have outside with your clothes on. And, no it is not bushwhacking through an Adirondack wilderness. It is the Birdathon, the National Audubon Society’s largest annual fundraising event and the globe’s biggest birding competition. It is happening soon and it may be taking place in some parts of the Adirondacks.

The Birdathon is a 24-hour long marathon competition to find as many bird species as possible within a given region. Species can be identified by sight and/or sound and you are free to bird for as many or as few hours within the 24-hour duration as you desire. Most people participate in teams but if you are of the anti-social persuasion then it is perfectly fine to go solo. » Continue Reading.


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