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

Conflict Over Snowmobile Access Threatens Bike Trail

If Warren County permits snowmobiles to use the Warren County Bikeway where it traverses land owned by the Magic Forest theme park, the trail could be barricaded, severing the trail link between Lake George and Glens Falls. That, at any rate, is one option available to Magic Forest’s owner, Jack Gillette, said Gillette’s attorney, Mike Stafford.

Whereas Warren County owns outright or by easement most of the 17-mile trail, Magic Forest owns the 350 feet of trail over the park’s land, Gillette said. » Continue Reading.


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.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Adirondack Invasive Species Training Offered

Participants in the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program’s 10th annual aquatic invasive plant training program will learn aquatic plant identification tips and survey techniques for both native and aquatic invasive plants.

The training is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP by June 17 to hsmith@tnc.org and provide your name, contact info, training location and lake of interest.

Sessions are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

June 28, Darrin Fresh Water Institute, Bolton Landing
or
June 30, Wanakena Ranger School on Cranberry Lake » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Adirondack Museum Offers Locals Free Admission

The Adirondack Museum is introducing two new programs for year-round Adirondack Park residents. The Adirondack Museum invites year-round residents of the Adirondack Park to visit free of charge every Sunday, and on all open days in October. Proof of residency such as a driver’s license, passport, or voter registration card is required.

The Adirondack Museum has also introduced a new “Friends and Neighbors” Adirondack Park Resident Membership Program. Year-round Park residents can now enjoy all the museum has to offer every day of the season through a very special program that makes museum membership more affordable than ever before – half the regular price at the Individual, Companion, and Family levels. Call the membership office for more information: (518) 352-7311 ext. 112 or email mbashaw@adkmuseum.org.

Two new exhibits will open at the Adirondack Museum on May 27: “The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” and “Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts.”

The museum is open 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., 7 days a week, including holidays, through October 17, 2011. There will be an early closing on August 12, and adjusted hours on August 13; the museum will close for the day on September 9. Please visit www.adirondackmuseum.org for details.

Photo: The Museum’s “Living with Wilderness” exhibit, photograph by Richard Walker.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eating Local Workshops in Plattsburgh, Canton

Eating locally grown and raised foods is becoming increasing popular in the North Country. To help locavores shop for local products, plan meals, and prepare local vegetable dishes, the Cornell University Cooperative Extension associations of Northern New York have set the dates for the Northern New York Eating Local Yet? summer workshops.

A series of three hands-on classes will be held in Sackets Harbor at The Farm House Kitchen, in Canton at the First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, and in Plattsburgh at the CV-TEC Culinary Kitchen. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

DEC Environmental Summer Camp Openings

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) four summer environmental education camps provide kids with opportunities to explore forests, swamps, lakes and fields and go fishing, hiking, canoeing, swimming, star gazing and meeting professionals in environmental fields.

DEC’s unique residential camp program currently has openings for youth ages 12 to 14. Each of the camps focuses on conservation education by immersing campers in outdoor activities and hands-on learning that teach the wise use of natural resources. Highly qualified staff ensure that campers enjoy their week-long outdoor adventure and help them develop outdoor skills such as hiking, fishing and canoeing that can last a lifetime. For those who are interested, hunter safety training is available from certified Sportsman Education instructors, with prior permission from parents/guardians.

All four camps — Colby and Pack Forest in the Adirondacks, DeBruce in the Catskills and Rushford in Western New York — have openings for some weeks during the seven weeks of camp, which run from July 3 through August 20. Campers arrive on Sunday afternoon and are picked up Saturday morning. A week at one of these exceptional camps costs just $350 per week. Local organizations such as civic groups, garden and sportsmen clubs can also sponsor a camper. Applications are still being accepted and registration will continue until all spaces are filled.

Full information, including registration forms, available weeks and detailed program descriptions is available online or by writing to NYSDEC Camps, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4500. You may also e-mail the camps at edcamps@gw.dec.state.ny.us, sign up for DEC’s camps listserve at or call 518-402-8014.

Photo: Campfire at Camp Colby. Courtesy DEC.


Friday, June 10, 2011

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights

On Friday afternoons Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers a collection of the week’s top weblinks. You can find all our weekly web round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 5,200 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Adirondack Events This Weekend (June 10)

Visit the Almanack on Fridays for links to what’s happening this weekend around the Adirondacks.

The Almanack also provides weekly backcountry conditions and hunting and fishing reports for those headed into the woods or onto the waters this weekend.

Region-wide Events This Weekend

Around & About in Lake George This Weekend

Lake Placid Region Events This Weekend

Old Forge Area Events This Weekend


Friday, June 10, 2011

Shakespeare Co Launches Preservation Effort

Adirondack Shakespeare Company (ADK Shakes) is returning to the Adirondack region for its second full Summer Festival Season. The company plans to follow last summer’s presentations of As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth with an all-new expanded season featuring ADK Shakes’ daring and adrenaline-fueled RAW performance style which strips the Bard down to the bare bones.

This year, the company will present A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice, along with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield and Theseus and the Minotaur, an original children’s production by Sean Adams.

In addition to their full season, ADK Shakes has taken on a new challenge. The company is determined to revitalize the outdoor amphitheater at Scaroon Manor Day-Use Facility (formerly Taylor’s Point). This historic landmark was once a vibrant destination for locals as well as tourists looking to take in professional theatre amidst the beauty of the Adirondack Mountains. ADK Shakes’ Artistic Board has made it their mission to get the outdoor amphitheater on New York’s list of historic sites.

“One of the reasons we are looking to establish a Shakespeare company in the Adirondacks is to save this amazing outdoor amphitheater,” says Artistic Director Tara Bradway. The company’s plans to raise awareness during the course of the season include public presentations and petitions in the Adirondack region.

The Adirondack region tour of The Complete Works will begin July 4th, while the Mainstage Season opens July 21st and will run through August 7th. Performances of the children’s show Theseus and the Minotaur are set to run from July 27th through August 6th. Performances will take place primarily at the Boathouse Theater in Schroon Lake Village, as well as the Little Theater on the Farm in Fort Edward and LARAC Gallery in Glen Falls. Weather permitting, the final weekend of performances will be held at the outdoor amphitheater at Scaroon Manor.

This event is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Program, administered locally by the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council. For more information, a full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.adkshakes.org. Email inquiries may be sent to info@adkshakes.org.

Illustration: Postcard of the historic Sacroon Manor outdoor amphitheater, Schroon Lake, NY.


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