Almanack Contributor Guest Contributor

Guest Essayist

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with a biding interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor John Warren at adkalmanack@gmail.com.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Parsing the Name Partridge

Ruffed Grouse by Adelaide TyrolOn spring evenings, just before dark, I used to hear a faint drumroll coming from somewhere off in the wooded hills. It sounded to me like an old tractor starting up, although it seemed like an odd time for a farmer to start work.

I later learned that it was the drumming of a ruffed grouse. Not a partridge; this was Connecticut. Years later I lived in Maine, where my husband took up bird hunting: not for grouse, but for “partridge.”

They are the same bird, Bonasa umbellus. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Close Look at Science of Fall Colors

Fall Foliage by Adelaide TyrolWhere I live, autumn typically starts in late August, when pockets of red maples start to turn scarlet around the marshes and lakes. Uh oh. As they say in Westeros, “winter is coming.”

But not before we get to enjoy fall. Yes, a Northeastern autumn is a postcard cliché. Yes, the tour buses and land yachts full of leaf peepers clog the roads. But, really, who can blame them? No matter how many you’ve seen, fall in the Northeast is still one of nature’s most awesome spectacles.

And, so, so ephemeral. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Firewood Physiology and the Woodstove

This week feels like fall proper. It’s gray, drizzly, 50s; the kind of weather that makes you realize you’d better batten down the house for winter.

We’re going to get to the first fire of the year in a moment, that pathetic, smoldering pile of hissing wood in your woodstove that you made such a big deal about. “Come here kids!” for the ceremonial lighting of the hearth, which turned into the ceremonial opening of the doors and windows to let the smoke out of the living room. (Write what you know, the English professors advise.)

But first let’s talk about the physiology of a tree. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Botflies

botfly by adelaide tyrolGrowing up in a rural town, I was exposed to a lot of the wonders in nature through hunting. Specifically squirrel hunting, which is how many kids get their start.

I don’t do much anymore, but I try to get out a few times each autumn on those first cool days. With luck, I can put up enough squirrels for a deer camp stew in November, over which the people in camp can reminisce about being young. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Outdoors: Helicopsyche Caddisflies

Helicopsyche borealis by Adelaide TyrolWhile sampling in the LaPlatte River, students noticed what looked like rough black pebbles about the size and shape of well-worn pencil erasers.

I suppressed my mild distress as they started to discard the ‘pebbles;’ when sampling aquatic insects, I discard little. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Pitcher Plants Turn Food Chain Upside Down

pitcher plant As a kid, I was fascinated and terrified by the idea of carnivorous plants. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, my only exposure to this particular subset of the plant kingdom was the ravenous, larger-than-life Venus fly trap in Little Shop of Horrors.

If I stumbled upon a carnivorous plant in real life, I wondered, would it have teeth? If I ventured too close, would it grab on to my finger and never let go? » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Wet, Wild and Wonderful Bogs and Fens

bog by adelaide tyrol“Squish, squash.” I was walking gingerly on a soft, spongy carpet of sphagnum moss in a northern Vermont bog. Magenta blossoms decorated the sheep laurel shrubs that lined the edge of the open wetland – beyond them the pointed spires of balsam fir and black spruce reached towards the sky. Ahead of me, the white tufts at the ends of cotton grass waved in the breeze. I took another step. There was a sucking sound, and a cold, wet feeling as my right foot suddenly sank a couple of feet into the bog. It was challenging to get it out without falling in entirely, but I finally extricated my muddy boot and vowed to buy some high rubber boots for future wetland exploration. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Water Pennies Have A Unique Approach to Survival

Water pennies Imagine for a moment that you travel on all fours like other self-respecting quadrupeds. Extend your imagination yet a little more, and with it your body, so that a large dome-shaped shell-like structure extends out to cover you in all directions.

From above, a predator would see only a disk with a snug fit to the ground on all sides. Now shrink dramatically and move into the nearest fast-flowing stream: you are well on your way to becoming a water penny beetle larva. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Insect Apocalypse: What We Don’t Know May Bite Us

insects around the world by adelaide tyrolLast February you might have seen news stories about an impending insect apocalypse.

“Huge global extinction risk.” “Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature.” “Insects are dying off at a scary rate.” And those were just the headlines on online articles from New Scientist, The Guardian, and Fortune.

Whew. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Science of Amphibian Regeneration

Red Backed Salamander A few times a year, I bring groups of people into the woods to search for red-backed salamanders in the damp netherworld that is the forest floor. Last spring, it was 8th graders.

They did their best to follow the cardinal rule of middle school social interaction – thou shalt not appear “uncool” by expressing interest in anything whatsoever that an adult is asking of you – but the salamanders exposed the chinks in their armor. Crouched low over small wooden boards we’d set out to mimic the rotting logs that red-backeds prefer, the students murmured with excitement. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Spotties: Sandpipers That Like Lakes

Spotted Sandpiper by Adelaide TyrolIf there’s one place you’d expect to see a sandpiper, it’s on the sand. However, there is one member of this family of shorebirds that prefers streamside to surfside.

Almost any time you go for a paddle, you are likely to see small brown birds skimming low across the water with stiff, rapid wingbeats. As they walk along a branch or log, or a muddy stretch of shore, they have a characteristic rear-end bob that never quits. In flight, their calls are an ascending ‘weet-weet-weet.” » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Science of Rainbows

rainbow adelaide tyrolAfter a passing shower, when the sun comes out again, I often see a rainbow in the east behind my house, arching over the trees on the hilltop. Ancient peoples were awed by these multi-colored arcs in the sky and came up with a variety of explanations.

To the Norse, a rainbow was a bridge connecting Earth with the home of the gods that could only be used by warriors killed in battle. In Japan, rainbows were the paths upon which the dead could return to earth. In Hindu mythology, Indra, the god of thunder and war, uses a rainbow as an archer’s bow to shoot arrows of lightning. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Burying Beetles: Nature’s Grave Diggers

nicrophorus tomentosusA regular chore of mine is to dispose of the mice and moles trapped in our home. I place them on a 4 x 5-foot patch of dirt and rock – which I have named the grave site – beside my woodshed. There, they typically disappear overnight, taken, I had assumed, by our resident barred owl, or perhaps a skunk, raccoon, or bobcat.

Then one day last July, as I was stacking my wood for the coming winter, I noticed a small black and orange beetle around one of the disposed mice. Fascinated, I watched for over an hour as a tomentose beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus) dug a trench alongside the mouse and ever so slowly rolled the mouse into it. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Mosquitoes: Life Under Tension

Mosquito A good friend was in touch; her son was enduring allergic reactions to mosquitos and, like any good parent, she sought solutions. I told her that the most practical, non-toxic way to deal with the problem was to consider a mosquitos’ lifecycle, and interrupt it where it starts.

Mosquitoes begin their lives in eggs laid singly or in rafts, in most cases on the surface of water. We purchase mosquito egg rafts at Saint Michael’s College to run student experiments with the hatching larvae. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Brook Floater Mussels

freshwater mussel Freshwater mussels are not exactly charismatic. They don’t flit gracefully about like a Karner blue butterfly, or munch on clover like a cottontail. They aren’t known for their sweet songs like a wood thrush, and they don’t close down traffic on the first rainy night of spring like spotted salamanders. They are fish parasites at one stage of their lives, and they don’t even taste good like their saltwater cousins. » Continue Reading.