The event features field trips to boreal birding hot spots, informative lectures, and workshops. Field trips include: an all-day Birding Across the Adirondacks trip on Friday, plus a selection of half-day field trips on Saturday and Sunday (Birding by Ear at the VIC, Beginner Birder Workshop at the VIC, Bloomingdale Bog, Intervale Lowlands, Little Clear Pond for loons, Madawaska Flow, Spring Pond Bog, and Whiteface Mountain). » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘Boreal Forest’
In the weeks surrounding the emergence of leaves on the shrubs and trees in the Adirondacks a rich variety of sounds, unlike that which is heard during any other time of the year, occurs in our forests. Some participants in this natural symphony bellow out a perky series of melodious notes, like the winter wren and red-eyed vireo, while others such as the robin and white-throated sparrow have a more stately quality to their voice.
A few, like the ovenbird and chestnut-sided warbler, contribute an intense and serious refrain to the mix, and then there is the soulful music of the hermit thrush, which frequently opts to perform solo after most of the other voices have subsided for the evening. » Continue Reading.
It’s happened again. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has eliminated a permit condition for advance studies to assure no harm comes to sensitive wildlife from new development on four mountain summits.
The entire project – a new Emergency Communication system for Essex County – could have still gone forward and been completed by next winter according to New York State Police – even with the permit condition in place. It’s remarkable how little pressure is required to cause APA to abandon its statutory purpose to protect delicate biological and physical resources of the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.
Without intervention, the state’s spruce-grouse population could vanish by 2020, according to a recovery plan released today by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The spruce grouse is perhaps the best-known icon and a perfect representative of boreal habitats in New York,” said Michale Glennon, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program, in a DEC news release. » Continue Reading.
During our time at Lost Brook Tract one of our great pleasures has been discovering and measuring larger examples of the old growth trees that cover most of the land. There are four canonical species of tree in our boreal wonderland: red spruce, balsam, white birch and yellow birch, plus an occasional mountain ash. Both the red spruce and yellow birch impress in old-growth form, the latter in girth more than height.
Our catalog of giants includes a yellow birch with a diameter over three feet and multiple red spruces with heights over eighty feet and diameters in the two-foot range. One red spruce, just a little bit down slope from our property, exceeds a hundred feet by a good margin. At our elevation trees like these are impressive and very rare in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
A new effort to protect the rare Bicknell’s Thrush by an alliance of North American scientists and conservationists is taking the unusual step of funding a team of Dominican biologists to work in the migratory songbird’s Caribbean wintering habitat.
The Bicknell’s Thrush Habitat Protection Fund at the Adirondack Community Trust has awarded a $5,000 grant to Grupo Jaragua, whose biologists will study the thrush in forested mountains on the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti. The grant recognizes a need to protect the songbird across its entire range, particularly in its threatened winter destinations. » Continue Reading.
The wonderful thing about entering the primeval forest is that you feel it before you really see it. This has been my experience in old growth forests in other places but it is heightened at Lost Brook Tract because of the elevation gain and the remoteness, both having their own attendant sensations that add to the overall effect. Or perhaps it is heightened because I love the Adirondacks more than any place I’ve ever been. Whatever the underlying reasons, it is a powerful feeling.
I haven’t noted exactly where it happens, but somewhere on the way up the bushwhack route the forest changes as one moves beyond the territory that was logged in the early part of the twentieth century. Continuing on into the virgin forest a completely immersive feeling descends. I can’t put it into words very well but I want to say that it is a weight, an immensity, some combination of sight, sound and smell that presses in. Every time I come into the area of Lost Brook Tract I experience a sense of awe, of hushed breathing, even a tiny spark of fear. This is followed by a distinct and exquisite sense of beauty. My wife Amy describes it as being swallowed up.
The first thing you consciously notice in a virgin forest is the remarkable difference in the trees. It’s not just their height; it is the voluptuousness and roughness of their growth. In all respects their sense of scale and age is imposing.This sense of scale is relative, of course. I have spent time in virgin forest in the Olympic Range in Washington where Sitka spruces and Douglas firs routinely top two hundred feet. Even the deciduous trees in my boyhood suburban neighborhood in Northeast Ohio, often exceeding a hundred feet, are taller than the trees on Lost Brook Tract. On the other hand the lowest point of Lost Brook Tract is within fourteen hundred feet of the Adirondack tree line, which makes it a different situation. Tree growth at this elevation is significantly less than at lower climes.
The contrast with the rest of the Adirondacks is dramatic. Elsewhere in the park at similar elevations the larger spruce, balsam and birch trees typically have diameters of six to ten inches and heights of twenty to forty feet, fifty feet at the outside. At Lost Brook Tract our favorite yellow birch has a diameter of three feet. Our “Base Camp” spruce has a two-foot diameter at breast height and a height just shy of ninety feet. At our elevation it qualifies as a monster. These two trees and countless others like them are hundreds of years old.
They look hundreds of years old, too, showing their age with bulging, scaly, bark near ground level and festoons of sizable dead branches much higher in the understory. Take the canonical Adirondack balsam for example, beautifully shaped, growing together in close stands like carelessly sown Christmas trees, with soft branches and needles that are almost pleasant to push through.
That ideal stands in dramatic contrast to a mature balsam in a primeval boreal forest. Standing fifty feet tall with a trunk more like a spruce, uneven in shape, extending brittle dead branches that poke and tear at you and snap harshly under your resistance, there is almost nothing of a Christmas tree about it. Or consider a mature yellow birch, a twisted, dark mass of girth and peeling bark. It is a different tree altogether than a young birch that has opportunistically sprouted in a disturbed area.
The other big difference one notices has a more pervasive and lasting than the trees, at least to me. A boreal forest is a relatively simple ecosystem with only a handful of indigenous plants and animals. Being a closed-canopy forest with a short growing season, harsh temperatures and poor soil there are few plants suited to its understory. I have seen the boreal forest floor described in various sources as “open,” or “poor growing” as contrasted with the “dense,” “lush” or “jungle-like” flora of other forest types. The impression created by these descriptions, evoking perhaps a habitat that is monotonous or comparatively barren, is ridiculous. There are few places I’ve been more verdant than untrammeled boreal forest. That’s because even if there are only a few plant types in the understory, the two major ones are ferns and moss. There’s simply nothing more verdant than ferns and moss.
To the side of our Base Camp Spruce is a moss field. Vivid green, awash with moisture and texture, it is more than a foot deep. I don’t really know how deep as I have not had the heart to defile it by plunging my arm all the way in. A moss field the size of a basketball court winds among trees further up slope. Protected by the constant dampness of the boreal environment, it carpets large swaths of the forest like a sponge, evoking Verplanck Colvin’s descriptive arguments for the Adirondacks as an irreplaceable watershed.
It seems that nearly all of Lost Brook Tract is brushed with emerald. Moss spills over rock shelves, blankets ancient trunks that have been slowly decaying over decades, swaddles the stream bed, flows out of cracks and crevices. We have named some of the mossiest places: the glade, Henderson’s glen. I like to go sit in the glade and perhaps wait for elves. Reclining in silence I think about the wonderful comment Amy made after a bushwhack to Wallface Ponds during which she came across an extensive bed of moss. She said that such magical places should only be found by accident.
This mini ecosystem of ferns and mosses has lived its natural life cycle unaffected by the incursions of humankind. Indeed if the area had been logged there would be only a fraction of the existing moss. The activity on the ground, dislodging and crushing it, and the opened canopy, letting in sun and dry air, would make quick work of a build-up that has taken centuries. That is why such moss fields are mostly found in descriptions in the Adirondack Reader rather than the forest any more. I heard from a fellow hiker that much of the magnificent moss along the Herbert Brook herd path up Marshall was washed away by Hurricane Irene. That is a tragedy; its recovery will take a long time.
The effect that the primeval boreal forest works upon the soul is lasting. Having an experience of how different it is makes it painful to walk through logged forest, to feel the damage to wounded land: the dryness, the erosion, the harsh competition to reestablish equilibrium. To experience the primeval over time is to want more, to need the health and depth and richness of it. It is to feel the age of the forest beyond one’s own life span, deep into a sense of the primitive, as Jack London might say. It is an essential experience.
Photo: Moss field at Lost Brook Tract
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.
Lost Brook Tract is a miracle both modern and ancient. Steeply situated on a high ridge in the central Adirondacks, miles from the nearest road and with no trail to it, it is a sixty-acre swath of Adirondack territory virtually unknown to all but a handful of people. That it exists today, an utterly unspoiled piece of high mountain boreal forest tracing unbroken lineage all the way to the ice age, can only be explained as a remarkable accident of fate.
As it turns out, that is indeed how it is explained. In future posts I’ll tell that story, how this little jewel came to be spared and saved from the debilitations that were suffered by most of the Adirondacks. For now it is simply there, a virgin forest never logged, never burned, largely spared even from the depredations of acid rain. Surrounded on all sides either by strict conservation easements or by New York State lands designated as Wilderness, it is in the fullest sense primeval.
But why tell the story of Lost Brook Tract at all? It is certainly not to encourage the curious to flock to its borders, to offer a challenge to latter-day explorers to attempt to locate what is indeed a very hard patch of land to find; we’d rather keep our solitude, thank you. But if the purpose of these dispatches is not to advertise the land itself, it is to advertise the value of it, to suggest through the stories something of the power and preciousness of pristine wilderness. I do so in the heartfelt belief that experience of the primeval is more than a privilege in this rapidly changing American culture: it is an imperative.
We can visit wilderness in many places in the United States. But it is another thing to live in the primeval long enough to have its clarifying, restorative purity work its magic upon us. It takes but a few days of acclimation to be receptive to the primeval’s aesthetic directive to us to simply inhabit, to be and breathe and deliberate. In the primeval wilderness we are given to remember that our collective humanity is not goal oriented. We are reminded that we can stop deciding things all the time, that we need not always rush headlong to the next answer, the next new improvement. We are reminded of the incredible richness in the truth that the most meaningful matters of our humanity have no answers, that their true value is rooted in something else. We are reminded that simplicity is a virtue. We remember that we are in fact wild creatures, removed from our forests by no more than a blink in time.
If you believe as I do that we are all too quickly leaving part of ourselves behind in our headlong plunge towards progress, then I am preaching to the choir and the importance of these primeval experiences needs no further argument. But be that as it may, there is a problem with the size of the choir and the size of the audience, and that is worth talking about.
Lost Brook Tract could no more hold a hundred people to experience the primeval than it could all three hundred million Americans. It is a small piece of real estate; just our family of five alone could ruin it with careless stewardship. Not a day goes by that I do not think with humility how lucky we are to have acquired it, how privileged we are to be able to experience it, to write about it. But we cannot share it further without compromising its intrinsic value. Therefore if the experience of the primeval is to be available for more than a few of the privileged, America needs a lot more wilderness preserved, literally every piece possible. Even if it is compromised, incomplete or second-chance, wilderness offers us the chance to reconnect to the primeval aesthetic. To champion this aesthetic is the “raison d’etre” for these dispatches.
There is no greater exemplar of wilderness preservation and recovery than the Adirondack Park, but even here the struggle rests upon a knife’s edge, as it always has. The economic conditions in the park are poor, there is no question of that, and the pressure to improve them is appropriately high. While there is universal appreciation of the Adirondacks’ natural beauty, I read in newspapers and hear from the lips of strangers and friends alike that “there is enough wilderness here,” that we can afford to tilt the balance more towards development in order to sustain the lives of our towns and hamlets. Certainly this is understandable from the perspective of the Adirondacks themselves. It seems a little silly even to me to worry about whether we have enough wilderness in the park when I traverse the Blue Ridge Road, for example.
But this is a myopic, park-centered view. Amy and I live in the Midwest when we are not on our land and we have a fourteen hour trip from our doorstep to the Adirondack Park boundary. Not a single part of our route crosses or parallels wilderness. Apart from a wildlife refuge that Interstate 90 bisects for a short distance (and which is nowhere near wilderness in any case) there is not one foot of remotely wild land in nine hundred miles. From the park border on Route 28 we travel for roughly eighty miles before we arrive at the trailhead we take to get near Lost Brook Tract. In so doing we pass by the homes of perhaps ten thousand park residents. But on the trip from our home to the park border, traveling through Chicago, Gary, Cleveland, Buffalo and Syracuse, we pass by roughly twenty million people. Consider the magnitude of that difference, and consider that almost all of those people will never set foot on land like ours. There must be enough Adirondacks – enough wilderness – for them as well.
I happen to align with Bill McKibben in my conviction that the Adirondacks can have their cake and eat it too, that they can simultaneously sustain vibrant communities and an uncompromising commitment to protecting and restoring wilderness. The debate about whether and how this can be done belongs in another venue. But McKibben is interested in the Adirondacks as a global laboratory, an example to the world of how to do it, and that laudable interest is pointless if we do not have enough wild land with which to execute the arrangement. Measured on that scale, measured on the scale of twenty million people we pass on the way to our paradise, every single acre of wilderness is precious.
I offer an ongoing chronicle of our sixty acres as a small gesture, a celebration of primeval land in the modern world meant to help tip the scale McKibben’s way, and also to push back a little bit against the relentless, short-sighted consumption of the wild heritage that is the ancestry and heart of all of us.
Photo: Red Spruce on Lost Brook Tract
Pete Nelson is a teacher, performer and writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. He is also a lifelong explorer of the Adirondacks who recently purchased unspoiled acreage deep in the back country. This is one of an ongoing series of dispatches for Adirondack Almanack chronicling his adventures with Lost Brook Tract.
A few years ago I saw my first gray jay—one of the Adirondack Park’s boreal birds. I had read that the gray jay, a member of the crow family, is known for its boldness in stealing scraps of food from humans. Hence, it has been nicknamed “camp robber.”
I saw the jay in the dead of winter on my way to Mount Marcy. I had skied up the Van Hoevenberg Trail as far as the junction with the Hopkins Trail, about 1.2 miles from the summit. There, in the shelter of the spruce and fir trees, I stopped for lunch—a peanut-butter sandwich with raisins.
As I ate, I noticed the gray jay on a branch about fifteen feet away, eyeing my sandwich. When I held out a crumb in my palm, the bird flew down and grabbed the offering. It then returned to its perch and continued looking at me, cockeyed. So I offered another crumb and another one after that.
I’ve read that you shouldn’t feed wild birds. But, really, what was the harm? The jay got a few morsels of food, and I got a close-up look at a bird I’d been eager to see.
I was reminded of the gray jay last weekend when skiing past Marcy Dam with Alan Wechsler. While stopped at the dam, Alan held out a crumb from an energy bar for a black-capped chickadee. When the bird flew to his hand, I snapped the photo above.
The chickadees at Marcy Dam are notorious for taking handouts from people. Again, I wonder if there is any harm in this. You can argue that their behavior has been modified, that it’s somehow unnatural and therefore a bad thing. But why is it bad? Is it because freeloading actually harms the chickadees? Or is it only because it doesn’t conform to our ideal of chickadee behavior?
I also wonder if feeding a lone “camp robber” in the wild is different from feeding the chickadee flocks at Marcy Dam. After all, pilfering from humans seems to be in the gray jay’s nature.
Finally, if feeding wild birds is wrong, how do we justify feeding birds at home feeders?
Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.