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, August 4, 2018

The Northeast’s Most Alarming Insect

Hellgrammites If freshwater insects did senior superlatives before graduating from aquatic life, what would yearbook entries say about dobsonflies? Largest? Most ferocious? Most likely to change names? Most likely to bite a human? Or to be used as fish bait? Or to be confused with a centipede?

All of these superlatives apply to larval hellgrammites – insects that, upon emerging from the water, promptly change names to become dobsonflies. These fascinating predators spend their larval stage eating other invertebrates, including other hellgrammites. They’re equipped with impressive mandibles that can open wider than the width of their own heads and can handily crunch through the tough exoskeletons of most insects. An occasional angler has learned the hard way that the mandibles of larger hellgrammites are quite capable of penetrating human skin. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Living With Wildlife: The House Wren Eviction

house wrenOne afternoon in early June, a small brown bird swooped down in front of our kitchen window. I wondered where it had swooped from when, a minute later, I saw it fly back up, with a sliver of straw in its beak. I went out the back door, onto the deck, in time to see the bird exiting the shower vent on the gable end of the house. It was a house wren, and it was building a nest in my house.

Tip to tail, house wrens, Troglodytes aedon, are generally about 5 inches long and weigh about .4 oz. – half the length of the average robin and far lighter. They have brown feathers, longish beaks, and tails that are often tipped upwards. These tiny birds have one of the most expansive breeding ranges of any songbird, stretching from southern areas of Canada, to the far southern reaches of South America. In between they are found across the entire continental United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dry Weather May Mean Less Lyme Disease

tick life cycle Over the past few decades, black-legged tick populations have grown relentlessly. These are the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and so what was once a novelty illness has become a rite of passage for many. It’s probably safe to say that by now everyone reading this knows someone who’s had the disease, if they haven’t had it themselves.

But some years are worse than others when it comes to Lyme disease infection rates, so the obvious question is: what causes this? Part of the answer involves the number of deer and small mammals around. There’s been elegant science done that establishes a neat connection between Lyme disease rates and good acorn years. The oaks produce a good crop, which causes a spike in the mouse and chipmunk populations the next year, and then a surge in human Lyme disease cases a year after that. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Backcountry Tragedy: Lessons From A Deadly Wilderness Incident

Rock Pond Pharaoh Lake Wilderness photo by John WarrenBill had been driving all over the Adirondacks since early Friday morning. I was in my car heading north to meet him. I’d get occasional calls from him about the wintry conditions and iced-over lakes that he found. Ice-out was late this year, so our original plan to canoe into the St. Regis Wilderness Area for a few days of fishing was scrapped. Instead, we decided on fish Rock Pond, in the Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness.

Bill had been wanting to fish the pond for years, and he was sure we had a chance for some big brook trout. From the DEC boat launch in the campground on Putnam Pond we paddled about two miles to the carry at the other end of the lake, about three quarters of a mile from Rock Pond. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Mallards: A Dissolute Dabbler’s Rise and Decline

mallard ducks Robert McCloskey’s Make way for Ducklings is one of my favorite childhood books. I loved the way Mr. and Mrs. Mallard interacted, their seemingly endless search for the perfect nesting place, the description of classic Boston neighborhoods, and the whimsical names of their eight ducklings.

Not until I started reading the story to my own children, several years ago now, did I notice Mr. Mallard ditches Mrs. Mallard after the ducklings hatch, leaving her to tend to eight kids on her own, amid the dangers of snapping turtles and Boston traffic.

It turns out Mr. Mallard, with his handsome green head, dapper blue wing patches, and charmingly curled tail can be a bit of a scamp; male mallards will mate with just about any feathered thing that floats on water. And they’re not always nice about it. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Stabilimenta: Northeastern Spider Silk Web Decoration

spider web When I was little and tagging along when my dad tended his vegetables, I would sometimes find large black and yellow garden spiders. They were beautiful, and I noticed they had a curious trait: they often added a bright white decorative zigzag to their webs. I always wondered why, if a spider web is meant to catch insects unawares, these spiders would go to such effort to make their webs more visible?

To answer this question, I recently spoke with Dr. Todd Blackledge, who researches spider silk and the web decorations of garden spiders. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Gregarious Great Blue Herons

blue herons Years ago, friends and I spotted a group of huge nests high in the trees along the edge of a large pond: a great blue heron rookery. From across the water (a respectful distance to avoid disturbing the birds), we observed the goings-on through our binoculars. Adult herons flew in and out of the colony, their long necks and heads folded back onto their shoulders in an S-shape, wings beating slowly, long legs trailing behind.

As a parent approached its nest, the young stood up eagerly, jostling each other and clamoring for food. Alighting on the stick platform, the adult quickly inserted its long beak into each nestling’s throat, and with a pumping motion, regurgitated a nutritious soup, which likely included fish, crayfish, or frogs. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 25, 2018

New Hampshire’s Ancient Volcano

Ossipee Ring DikeNorth of Concord and south of the White Mountains is an estate romantically named Castle in the Clouds. Reclining on the patio there on a pleasant spring afternoon, you might enjoy the sun as well as the view. While it’s a beautiful view today, 122 million years ago it would have been a lot more exciting: you would have been staring at an active volcano.

Some articles about the Ossipee Mountains compare the former volcano that created them to Mount Vesuvius or Mount Fiji, attributing to it an eruption ten times bigger than Mount St. Helens’ last explosion. Nelson Eby, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, is less sure. “We don’t actually know that there was a big volcano,” said Eby; “it might have been small. What we do know is that however big the original volcano was, it ultimately collapsed on itself.” » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Slow Start for Snapping Turtles

snapping turtle One moonless May evening, my husband and I walked down to our local pond, flashlights in hand, to look for toads. We were delighted to discover hundreds of them, floating, darting, and jockeying for position in an explosion of courtship. Their surround-sound trills left our ears ringing.

The toads were frenzied, focused only on each other, and highly concentrated in one small, shallow section of the pond, which prompted my husband to wonder if they weren’t awfully vulnerable to predators that way. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

What the… Adirondack Turkey Vultures

“Mom, there’s a really big crow in the compost,” my son said one day early this spring, followed closely by, “Wait. What is that bird? It’s huge!”

I peeked out the back window to find a bird, huge indeed, a red head atop of cloak of dark feathers, sitting on a corner post of the garden fence, peering into the compost heap. Two others perched behind the garden, high in a tall white pine tree. The red head, naked of feathers, easily gave the birds away as turkey vultures. While we see these vultures often during the warmer months, soaring in circles high in the sky, we’d never seen them up close. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Appreciating Adirondack Woodchucks

woodchuck One summer we had an ongoing battle with a woodchuck. Unbeknownst to us, it had dug a burrow in an ideal location — in the center of our dense raspberry patch, about 10 feet from our vegetable garden. The woodchuck then dug a hole under the garden fence and feasted on beans, peas, and other tender vegetables. We filled the hole and placed a large rock over it. The next day the rock had been moved and the hole re-dug. We tried more rocks, then sheets of metal roofing, but every day these barriers were removed. Finally we put a Havahart trap near our garden — and caught a young skunk (which was released, very carefully)!

In addition to eating vegetables, woodchucks dine on clovers, grasses, dandelions, goldenrod, asters, apples and berries. They occasionally eat insects such as grasshoppers. In the spring, before much green vegetation is available, they will also feed on the buds and bark of deciduous trees and shrubs. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Spoonwood: Mountain Laurel

mountain laurelIf you were fortunate enough to grow up with freedom to roam outdoors, there are likely certain places that stick with you. For me, one of these places is a thicket of old mountain laurels that my brother and I hiked through on our way to an outcrop we called The Ledge. What I loved about them was how their shreddy, red-brown trunks forked and twisted, like trees in a fairy tale, or in the Haunted Forest on the way to Oz. In early summer, they held delicate pink and white flowers that were sticky to the touch — another sign that they were, if not enchanted, at least special. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Web of Mystery: Euonymus Caterpillars

Ermine SpindleJanet Hayward Burnham, of Bethel, Vermont, was driving to the bank one day when she saw a tree on the side of the road that looked like it was covered in decorative webbing, “cans and cans” of it, as if for Halloween. However, it was June.

Burnham is an illustrator, children’s book author, and writer of sweet (as opposed to sexy) romances and mysteries. She is, in other words, an intellectually curious person and she pulled over for a better look. From the sidewalk, she could see that the whole yard was covered in cottony webbing. Deep inside the webs were yellowish-white caterpillars with black heads. “I’d never seen anything like this in Vermont,” Burnham said. “Clearly, it was infested with something. What were they? Should we be concerned?” » Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Mute Swans: An Adorable Invasive Species

swan by Adelaide TyrolThe big white birds paddling gracefully across a Massachusetts pond last November surprised me. I’d grown up in the town I was visiting and had never seen swans there, although my friend assured me they were resident birds. The only mute swans I’d seen before, years ago, were floating along the River Thames between Eton College and Windsor Castle.

Swans in England have a long history, and the mute swans along the Thames are, by law, the property of the queen. Mute swans on our side of the Atlantic are a more modern phenomenon and have no such protection. In fact, wildlife managers have been working for years to reduce the population of this species in order to protect native habitat and waterfowl. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ellen Rocco: All The News Fit To Air

ellen roccoNorth Country Public Radio is like a river, working its way through the geography of the Adirondack North Country. We adjust to a changing and sometimes erratic environment, but we’re always there with a reliable flow of news, information, stories, and music of our communities, our country, and the world.

As we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, I’d like to share some of the highlights of our history and my observations as station manager for the past thirty-five years. » Continue Reading.


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