Almanack Contributor Ellen Rathbone

Ellen Rathbone

Ellen Rathbone is by her own admission a "certified nature nut." She began contributing to the Adirondack Almanack while living in Newcomb, when she was an environmental educator for the Adirondack Park Agency's Visitor Interpretive Centers for nearly ten years.

Ellen graduated from SUNY ESF in 1988 with a BS in forestry and biology and has worked as a naturalist in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont.

In 2010 her work took her to Michigan, where she currently resides and serves as Education Director of the Dahlem Conservancy just outside Jackson, Michigan.

She also writes her own blog about her Michigan adventures.



Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Eastern Coyote: The Adirondacks’ Large Canid

eastern coyoteThere are few things as equally hair-raising and awe-inspiring as a chorus of coyote calls. My first experiences with these were of the hair-raising variety when I worked at a summer camp in Lake Placid for three years right out of high school.

We spent the summer living in canvas tents that were draped over wooden platforms. At night we could see the fire reflected in the eyes of the “coydogs” that lurked in the trees between the junior and senior camps.

And then we would hear the howls…no, the wails…no, the…the… Words fail to describe the sound these animals make when they all sing together, but it was enough to make me wish that we had a lot more between us than a flimsy canvas wall. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Adirondack Birds: The American Goldfinch

Anything that brings a splash of color to the winter woods is a welcome sight. Much as I enjoy the stark black and white world of winter, sometimes it just needs a little something extra, and that extra something most often comes in the form of a bright and colorful bird, like the American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).

Goldfinches are, as you no doubt know, small finches native to North America. Like many songbirds, the females are rather drab in appearance, sporting olive-green camos — all the better to hide in the trees, my dear. The males, however, are Crayolas on the wing. My favorite crayon when I was a kid was lemon yellow, and to my mind this will always be the color of the male goldfinch. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Weasel: Black and White and Curious All Over

short-tailed weasel in winter fur by Steven HintIn my humble opinion, one of the most adorable animals in our Adirondack woods is the weasel in winter. To be more precise, it’s two animals: the short-tailed weasel, or ermine (Mustela erminea), and the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata). Both animals, with their pristine white fur, black-tipped tails, black button noses and alert black eyes, embody the essence of cute and curious, while at the same time filling the role of efficient predator.

Most of us, upon encountering a weasel, would be hard pressed to say if it was the long- or short-tailed variety, mainly because the encounter is likely to be fleeting.
» Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

It Came From The Cupboard: Larder Beetles

Larder beetlesIt was small. Black … with a reddish band across the middle. It scuttled across the kitchen counter on six short legs. I had to swat at it more than once to kill it. It was… a larder beetle.

Larder beetles (Dermestes lardarius) are also known as bacon beetles, and, as you may have guessed, they are frequently found in our kitchens. A member of the scientific family Dermestidae, these insects, while at once creepy and revolting, serve an important function in the world: they clean up messes. That’s right. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Adirondack Chipmunk in Winter

chipmunk by Charlotte DemersSeveral years ago, a friend of mine from England came visiting with his wife. I was living in rural central New York at the time, and it was summer. Because I was gone most of the day at one job or another, David and Karen had lots of time on their hands to explore.

One of the things they enjoyed greatly was watching the many birds and squirrels that lived around the property, especially the chipmunks. I was surprised when David told me that in England chipmunks were sold as pets in the pet stores. Jokingly I told him we could make our fortune: I’d send him chipmunks, he could sell them and we’d split the proceeds. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Using Common Sense With Adirondack Black Bears

Black Bear NYS Museum Camera TrapThere I was, cruising the VIC’s Sucker Brook Trail in search of spring wildflowers (translation: staring at the ground as I walked along), when to my left I heard a rustle of vegetation. “Ruffed grouse,” I thought, and turned my head, anticipating the explosion of wings as the bird made a hasty retreat towards the treetops. What I saw, however, was no ruffed grouse. It was black, it was furry, and it was galloping away from me a high speed.

My next thought was “someone’s black lab is loose.” Then it dawned on me: this was no lab, it was a bear. A small bear, probably a yearling, but a bear nonetheless. What I saw was the typical view I have of bears in the Adirondacks: the south end of the animal as it’s headed north. If I’m lucky, I’ll see the face before the animal turns tail. And this is how bears are – they fear people. Many people fear bears as well, but unlike the bear, people really have little reason to be afraid of these normally placid animals. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Lives Of Chipmunks In Winter

While many people consider chipmunks pests, they are one of our more endearing squirrels. I suspect that part of their charm comes from the fact that we don’t see them for almost half of the year. Contrary to popular belief, though, chipmunks don’t hibernate the winter away, not really. Unlike true hibernators, who sink so deeply into a comatose state that it takes a bit of doing to wake them up, chipmunks could be considered light sleepers.

A true hibernator spends the summer and fall seeking out all possible food items and eating them. The goal is to put on as much fat as possible, for once the big sleep hits, the animal must live off its stored energy supply. If it doesn’t get enough food before winter, the animal is likely to starve to death, never waking to see the blush of dawn on a new spring morning. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Adirondack Wild Turkeys Were Once A Rare Sight

Male_north_american_turkeyThe wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is one of two species of turkeys in the world. The other is a denizen of Central America and as such is of little importance to us here in the Adirondacks. No, we are concerned with our own native bird, the one of such character and pride that Ben Franklin thought it should be the symbol of our country.

When Europeans first descended upon the eastern shores of North America, turkeys ruled the roost, so to speak. Millions of them populated the woodlands, providing food for man and beast alike. But, as is the habit of mankind, forests were cut and turkeys were eaten. As early as 1672 keen observers of nature were already remarking that turkey populations were not what they once had been. In 1844, the last wild turkey in New York was reported in the extreme southwestern part of the state; after that, they were gone. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Short Primer On Adirondack Turtles

Turtles - Photo by John WarrenOn the surface, we all know that turtles are animals with shells. They plod along on land, or swim gracefully in the water. Some live in the oceans, some in the deserts – what wonderful extremes they have come to inhabit. They have been around for over 200 million years – since the late Triassic. Some species can live well over a hundred years. If we dig deeper though, they are even more fascinating.

Four species of turtles live within the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park: snapping turtles, wood turtles, painted turtles (eastern and midland species), and Blanding’s turtles. Let me share with you a little bit about each of these species before detouring into some generalized nifty turtle traits. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Adirondack Bats: Little and Big Brown Bats

At long last, we come to the end, the final chapter on Adirondack bats. I left the most common species for my last piece because what is common today may be gone tomorrow. I speak of the little brown (Myotis lucifugus) and big brown (Eptesicus fuscus) bats, those furry cave-dwellers who have been most heavily impacted by the fungus-based disease now known as white-nose syndrome (WNS). Every hibernaculum in New York has now been diagnosed with the disease, and in some of the caves, these bats have experienced over 90% mortality. It’s a sobering fact. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Adirondacks’ Endangered Bat: The Indiana Myotis

To the average Joe, an Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is not a terribly impressive animal. It is a smallish, brownish bat, often mistaken for a little brown bat (another less-than-dazzling member of the clan). A scientist in the know, however, can detect small differences to tell these species apart, such as the length of the toe hairs (I kid you not), the length of the ears, the color of the snout, the amount of shine to the fur, or the presence of a keel on the calcar (a spur of cartilage that gives some rigidity to the trailing edge of the wing membrane near the bat’s foot). » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Adirondack Bats: Keen’s and Long-Eared Myotis

Two bats that are often never mentioned (mostly because so few people have heard of them) are Keen’s myotis (Myotis keenii) and the northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). Both species have been found in the Adirondacks, but neither in great numbers. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Adirondacks’ Smallest Cave-Dwelling Bats

Having covered the Adirondacks’ solitary tree-dwelling bats, it is now time to tackle the cave bats. There are a number of species to contend with, but today I am going to introduce you to just two: the eastern small-footed bat (Myotis leibii leibii) and the eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus).

The small-footed bat, as you no doubt guessed, is noted for its petite terminal appendages: it has small feet, only about six millimeters long. I’ve never seen any data on the size of other bats’ feet, but one must suppose that they are significantly larger with respect to the size of the bats in question. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two More Caveless, Summer-Only Bats

Since October is quickly drawing to a close, I am going to combine two bats in today’s article, the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) and the silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans). These are the last of our caveless, summer-only bats and also our only other chiropteran residents that have striking coloration. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Adirondack Bats: Lasiurus Borealis, The Redhead

red-batWhen most people think of bats, they either think of caves, or their attics. While a good number of species are colonial and hang out together in caves (in winter) or attics/barns/bridges (warmer months), we do have three species here in the Adirondacks that live solo lives in the woods. These are the red, hoary and silver-haired bats. Not only is their lifestyle not what we expect, but they also look much different from what we expect, for these are the most colorful bats in our part of batdom.

Today we will contemplate the red bat (Lasiurus borealis). Like any true redhead, the red bat is actually more of an orangish color, sometimes leaning more toward the yellow end of the spectrum. The males are more brightly colored than the females, which makes sense when one considers the rather exposed lifestyle this bat leads (a female can more easily hide with her young if her coloration is dull, kind of like birds). » Continue Reading.



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