Sunday, January 23, 2022

On getting outside in negative temps and how the birds are coping

ice on treesEditor’s note: We are pleased to start offering this new weekly column from retired forest ranger Gary Lee.

This week was a little more like winter should be, with snow a few days and very cold a few others. Tuesday was a bear about dark a light rain was falling with the temperature on twenty-eight which instantly froze on anything it hit and some of that was on my windshield. I didn’t get five hundred feet down the road and my windshield was a blank screen.

I pulled over and let it warm up some, but it was covered instantly when I started to move again. I had to use windshield washer fluid to keep it so I could see. I called my wife Karen at the library to tell her that things were being coated extremely fast and be careful on her way home. I told her about the windshield washer trick which she used all the way home. That ice coated the trees making them all shiny when the sun came out, but it also put an eighth-inch of ice on top of the snow which was just like glass.

Then the temperature plummeted to -22 one night and -24 the next night with a high of -8 here at Eight Acre Wood during the day. The wind blew just a little that day and the wind chill must have been – 30 or more that day. I only stuck my head out a few times to feed the birds who were mobbing the feeders. I had a White Throated Sparrow feeding here every day but the -24 might have done it in as I haven’t seen since that night.

The Slate Colored Juncos are still around battling with the Purple Finch for seed control. They have been outnumbered, two to one the last couple of weeks but they don’t seem to spook as fast as the finches off the feeder and keep right on eating.

The Northern shrike that has been around may be picking them off, but their numbers seem to be holding about the same each day. I did put some bands on a few of these on one of the milder days but still haven’t caught the old Black Capped Chickadee who might still be with us. Since I’ve had it in hand eighteen times since 2009 it might be smarter than the others which I’m catching.

I have been working on and marking parts of the ski trail out back that goes in a big loop back to the Limekiln Campsite. Three Forest Rangers and Mike from the Inlet Town crew got together one day and cleared the rest of the big blowdowns in that system. Now all we must have is some snow to make it skiable. Today’s four inches sure will help but there still are some wet spots that haven’t frozen up even with all the cold nights we’ve had. There has been so much rain and warmer temperatures water is still running in some spots. Anyone out there skiing should have a scraper with them in case they get into water or wet spots which will instantly freeze on the bottom of your skies. Ice or snow stuck to the bottom of your skies will not be a fun situation, I’ve been there. If you are walking on skis not skiing and they get heavy fast, use the scraper and carry and old candle to wax the bottoms after you get them free of the snow and ice, which should help.

One day I hit another situation on skis, I was trapping beaver in the spring, and I had some traps in at Horn Lake which was a five-mile ski from where I parked my snowmobile. There was a beautiful crust that morning and I zipped into Horn Lake in less than an hour. I had caught two big beaver which I skinned there and that took some time. That was just enough time with the sun out to soften the crust. I got part way back to the snowmobile before I was breaking through the crust every stride. I got back to Balsam Lake where I had another beaver. So, I built a fire and skinned that one as the temperature was falling. I waited until the crust had tighten up before I started out in the dark. It was just over a mile more to ski and I was sure glad to see my snowmobile that night. Karen hadn’t called out for my rescue yet, but she was about ready to.

moon at 3 am

The night it got to -24 the power went out which happens sometimes. This was an accident that caused this outage. I looked out the bedroom window as I could hear the trees popping in the frigid air and the tree shadows caused by the near full moon were beautiful on the snow outside. I tried to get these moon shadow shots a few other times and failed but that night they were coming out okay, so I shot several. The full moon the next night was covered by the clouds that were coming in with the snow. Keep an eye out, as there are a couple blood moons this year which should be beautiful.

   Fishing Contests coming up this weekend Raquette Lake and The Fulton Chain but that’s another story. See ya.

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

18 Responses

  1. Mitch Edelstein, Raquette Lake says:

    Always great to hear from Gary Lee.

  2. JB says:

    Looking forward to the new column. …Trapping beaver at Horn Lake! Gary Lee is an Adirondack legend. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Bill says:


    if that Chickadee shows up again, it would a record breaker for longevity.

    Wikipedia says: “Maximum recorded lifespan is 12 years, but most individuals live only half that long”

  4. lori brand says:

    Loved reading this, thank you! I look forward to reading your column.

  5. Tom V says:

    What a great place for Gary’s column. I’ve followed his writings for years, but that’s another story. See ya.

  6. louis curth says:

    This new column is a great choice Melissa!

    I have known Gary Lee for more years than either of us would care to admit. In addition to being an outstanding ranger, Gary was, and is, a terrific homegrown naturalist who has a wonderful range of life experiences to share. He is a talented writer to boot.

    Almanack readers will not be disappointed.

  7. Jennifer Potter Hayes says:

    Great to see that Gary’s column has found a new home at The Explorer!
    Reading them is like being with him on the trails and lakes, banding birds, rescuing loons, trapping, seeking orchids and loving nature. He’s a darn good photographer but that’s a story for another day. See ya;

  8. Eric Rees says:

    Great to read the stories from Gary Lee. he takes you on a adventure every time..

  9. Helene says:

    Why are you killing beavers?

    • JohnL says:

      Probably because that’s what trappers do. Have been doing that for millennia. Is there a problem?

      • Dana says:

        Not unless you are the one in the trap. That can ruin your day.

      • JB says:

        Given the fact that Gary has been around for a long while, the area in question is less accessible now, and fur prices have collapsed, I would venture to guess that this anecdote was from some time ago. Either way, that is an impressive daily commute! Should prices ever surge, it is probably a good thing that we have wilderness designation and trailless areas–for the sake of the beavers and the foolhardy men that may be dissuaded from walking in Gary’s highly experienced footsteps. If one got caught out alone in his beaver set in that kind of solitude, it would indeed be a very bad day.

    • William says:

      Always sad when someone feels the need to question the legal recreation of another, to somehow make them justify it, as if they have to. Especially when it is evident that no reasoned response will change the already formed opinion. Just know that no greater conservationist exist than the experienced trapper. I know, this falls on deaf ears.

  10. Jonny says:

    FYI, Gary Lee’s past columns are available at the webpage.

  11. Ginny Alfano says:

    So good to see you here, Gary! We always enjoyed running into you in the Plains. How we loved listening to your stories. I’ll never forget you helping me out with a birding group I had organized with people coming from all over the country and across the pond. You showed them a wonderful time at Ferd’s Bog. Another time you told me of a place I might see the elusive Boreal Chickadee. I had been trying to see one for years. I went to that spot and there wasn’t just one, there was a whole family of them!! All great memories. Now I’ll get to “see” you here and read your wonderful stories. Thank you to Melissa, and The Almanack for making a great choice.

  12. Boreas says:

    Looking forward to more article!

  13. Jean Rohde says:

    Wonderful story, Gary. Reminds me of checking traps years ago with Leroy Spring from Indian Lake.

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