Saturday, March 9, 2024

Surveying the Adirondacks: An intriguing undertaking

Bald Eagle in a tree

After a couple short spurts of snow at the beginning of the week, it has been all downhill for the snow cover since then. With temperatures predicted above normal for the next few days, there will be very little snow left in the woods and [unstable] ice conditions on any lake. [Back] when I was trapping beavers with my partners in the Moose River Area, they would still be trapping into April with a snowmobile…but not anymore. This is surely giving the deer a break, and if it stays like this, the bears will be out checking bird feeders on their travels.

Just last week [I was] reading Adirondack Explorations: Nature Writings of Verplanck Colvin compiled and edited by Paul Schaefer. In one place, it mentioned surveying the shoreline of Raquette Lake. Colvin said it was hard to find solid ground on which to start, as they had to shovel through seven feet of snow. He mentioned the cedar trees’ lower bows had been killed by the deep snow (his theory.) In fact, they had been eaten off by the deer browsing around the shoreline, which they still do on many lakes in the Adirondacks.

Some other things I found interesting, were in his travels over Seventh Lake Mountain looking for high point to survey from, but it was covered with towering trees and no open summit. He continued down the backside of the mountain and came upon a deer yard and a mountain lion track. They followed the track and found the cat treed, which they shot; this was in February of 1877. They also saw wolf tracks as big as mountain lion tracks traveling from Raquette Lake up Brown’s Tract Stream to Eighth Lake.

In this survey, they went on to the Little Plains by the Red River over to the Big Plains and the Moose River. From there, they traveled west to the outlet of Limekiln Lake which they followed back to the lake, then over the hill to Fourth Lake. [They did this] all in the same day on snowshoes…that’s one heck of a hike in one day towing the mountain lion.

Daffodils sprouting.

Daffodils sprouting. Photo by Gary Lee.

When I first came to my position as Forest Ranger at Limekiln Lake, I got to paint some of the same lines that Colvin had surveyed and saw some of the corners that he set way back then. He set the corner of John Brown’s Tract, Totten and Crossfield’s Purchase, and Moose River Tract which is not far off the Black Bear Mountain trail. This was the corner of the Rocky Point property before some was sold to the state after it was logged.

He followed old, blazed lines that were many years old, carrying elevations as he or his crews went along. He did this all over the Adirondacks determining the elevations of all the High Peaks and many of the smaller mountains, ponds, and lakes he either crossed or came near to as he went down these old lines.

With this warm weather and southerly winds, the Canada Geese have been going north already and some of the smaller birds are also coming north. I haven’t seen a Robin yet, but some have been reported in the Utica area. There have been Red-Winged Blackbirds in Old Forge for two weeks now, but none at Eight Acre Wood yet. I did see a Red-Tailed Hawk cruise over one day, but I had no carcass on the dam, so it didn’t stop for a snack (as they usually do.)

I did have a mature Bald Eagle in a stub on the other side of the pond a couple times also looking for a snack. Normally, when I have a carcass on the dam, I get Golden Eagles stopping in to feed on it. Even if I’m not here, I catch them on my trail camera on the dam. If I’m home and see them, they are very spooky. They can see me moving around in the house, trying to get their picture, and they fly away. I’ve had a pair a couple times on their way north as they nest in Maine and Canada, but none in New York since 1970 when they raised one young back in the Moose River Area. Their last attempted nesting was in 1981, which failed, as we had a few heavy snows in March and April.

Some of my daffodils are popping out of the ground as the snow melts. They will probably get frozen, as winter isn’t over yet. [There is] still some freezing weather to come this month and next month [as well.] It needs to be clear for the big solar eclipse on April 8. There was an article, Towering Women by Peter Benoit, in the latest Conservationist Magazine. Mentioned in the article, was the Rondaxe Mountain Fire Tower where three women were Tower Observers; Florence Mykel 1926-1929, Harriet Rega 1930-1936, and the last [female] observer in a tower there was Mary Brophy-Moore 1989.

My sister, Wendy, has been feeding Eastern Bluebirds in Clifton Park all winter, but that’s another story. See ya.

Photo at top: Bald Eagle across the pond. Photo by Gary Lee.

Related Stories

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."

11 Responses

  1. Boreas says:


    Do you suppose Colvin actually hauled the catamount back, or just took an ear to get the bounty?

  2. Paul says:

    Wow, golden Eagles – sighting them this far east is a treat. Sure they were not immature bald eagles? Definitely contact Cornell’s lab of ornithology to share the pictures.

    • Boreas says:

      I have seen them more than once around Silver Lake. They seem to like the cliffs and such in that area with the bog nearby. It seems to be a fairly regular stopover. If they ever start breeding here again, that may be a logical place.

      • Paul says:

        Cool. Did they used to breed in this area? It looks like they escaped the perils of DDT like bald eagles since they didn’t eat much with the pesticide.

        Feathered legs all the ways to the toes that is an easy distinguishing factor.

        • Boreas says:

          Gary would know more than me, but nesting was very limited throughout the NE, and irregularly even in the Adirondacks in the previous century or two. Supposedly Tupper Lake had some breeding birds at one time. Since they typically prefer open, mountainous land it is possible they nested when burn scars and clearcuts were more common and moved away once prey was gone. But they like cliffs on mountainsides like Peregrines and Ravens. But without open areas to hunt for prey, it is unlikely a breeding population would ever be established in the central ADKs again.

        • Boreas says:

          I see one or two annually around Peru during migration periods. They seem to like to follow the open country along the Champlain Valley. I think they are attracted by the open farmland, but because it is typically intense monoculture farming, I doubt they have much hunting success. I think they did better when farms were neglected and abandoned during the Depression and subsequent federal land buybacks. But it didn’t take long before these lands reforested.

          • Paul says:

            Yes, I saw a USDA scientist give a talk recently and he was saying that we have 16% more forested land in the lands east of the mississippi river that we had in 1900. We grow a lot more food on a lot less land than we used to.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      Mr. Lee literally wrote the book Adirondack Birding along with John Peterson; color photos by Jeff Nadler. Published in 2008 by Lost Pond Press it is highly recommended!

  3. Peter says:

    The geese have come back to the river in St. Regis Falls this week. Also saw 2 loons as we walked this past week. All the ice is off the river above the dam. Lots of Pine Siskins at the feeder.

  4. David Gibson, Managing Partner, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve says:

    Thanks to Gary I will return to Paul Schaefer’s “Adirondack Explorations, Nature Writings of Verplanck Colvin.” to reread that section dealing with the Plains. Paul Schaefer bought his first Colvin survey one hundred years ago, in 1923, from Scopes Books in Albany. Paul was 15 and it took him a month to get the cash – $10 – to pay for it. In 1996, the year he died, Paul was still speaking of Colvin’s influence on him. He and his grandson were putting the finishing touches on “Adirondack Explorations,” published posthumously by Syracuse Univ. Press in 1997.
    And Gary we have been feeding 12 eastern bluebirds with mealworms all winter, near your sister. A pair nest in one of our boxes every spring since 2009.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox