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.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Adirondack Wildlife: Fisher Families In Fall

TOS_Fisher_kitsAlong with the crisp mornings and crimson colors that signal summer’s slide into fall, there are changes occurring in the forests that go mostly unnoticed.  Among them is the dispersal of fisher kits from their mother’s territory into their own.

Little is known about the process of fisher families breaking apart, except that it generally starts in late summer or early autumn and unfolds gradually. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Challenges Of Identifying Mushrooms

Russula mushroomsWhen you stumble across something purple in the forest, it’s hard not to stop in your tracks. At least it was for me on a recent hike, when I came across three purple mushrooms. They stood about four inches tall, with saucer tops that were nearly black in the center and ringed in a rich eggplant-purple.

I was captivated. I was also clueless, as I had no idea what I was looking at. I have long regarded mushrooms the way I do yellow-colored warblers and ferns – far too many and too confusing to distinguish one from another. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Secret To Bird Migration: It Takes Guts

TOS_HummerAs an avid birdwatcher for more than 30 years, I’ve long been familiar with the big picture of songbird migration. Tiny blackpoll warblers, for instance, fly 1,500 miles from southern New England to the Caribbean in a single two- or three-day flight across open water with nowhere to land if they get tired.

The even tinier ruby-throated hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico in a similar way. But until recently I haven’t spent much time wondering how these little birds do it. Don’t their flight muscles get tired? How do they replenish their energy reserves in the air? » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Halloween Natural History: Witch’s Brooms

TOS_Witches_broomHarry Potter rode one during the Quidditch matches at Hogwarts. The Wicked Witch of the West zipped around on one in the Wizard of Oz.

We’re talking, of course, about witch’s brooms. No one knows exactly why witches were associated with with flying brooms. But the trope is remarkably persistent. The witch is the perennial favorite in Halloween costume popularity rankings, and she always carries a broom, generally a twiggy bundle with a handle that doesn’t look like it would do much for a floor.

But there’s another type of witch’s broom. This one grows on trees, or, more specifically, from the tree. It’s a tightly-packed mass of shoots, a deformity caused by organisms that have invaded the tree, or a genetic mutation.

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cyanobacteria: A Primordial Lake Monster

TOS_Blue_Green_AlgaeIt came from the lake. It is a life form nearly as old as life itself. Living peacefully in the depths for eons, it is awakened by humankind’s abuse of the environment. It strikes out with toxins that attack nerves or the liver. Attempts to kill it only make it more toxic.

It sounds like the plot of a 1950s horror movie. But this horror plays out in lakes and ponds across New York, Vermont and New Hampshire on hot, sunny days each summer. This year, a September heat wave extended the season of blue-green algae blooms past Labor Day at Lake Champlain. In the second week of September there were blooms in Missisquoi Bay, a northern, shallow bay of Lake Champlain, and St. Albans Bay, another lake trouble spot. This summer blooms, or suspected blooms, were also reported in Lake Placid, Schroon Lake, Friends Lake. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Upcoming Meteor Showers In The Adirondack Night Sky

TOS_Shooting_StarsWe call them shooting stars, and they never fail to make us catch our breath in surprise and wonder. But they’re not stars at all. Those bright, brief streaks across the night sky are meteors. And, clear skies permitting, the next month brings two excellent chances to see them.

Meteors are debris left by disintegrating comets. Comets are mostly rock and ice, and once they enter the inner solar system, their orbits may bring them close enough to the sun to heat up, causing the ice to melt and vaporize. Particles of rock fall away from the nucleus of the comet when this happens. When the earth collides with the trail of this debris, the particles burn up in our atmosphere. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Understanding Zebra Mussel Impacts On Lake Champlain

TOS_Zebra_MusselInvasive species have earned their bad reputations. English sparrows compete with native birds from Newfoundland to South America. Australian brown tree snakes are well on their way to exterminating every last bird from the forests of Guam. And I don’t think anyone can fully predict how Columbia’s rivers will change in response to drug lord Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippopotamus population.

While our climate protects us from rampaging hippos, the Northeast has plenty of exotic species in its waterways, including some that cause serious damage. Zebra mussels are possibly the most familiar of these. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Swallowtails Have Many Disguises

TOS_Black_SwallowtailIt was the dotted, orangey-yellow and black stripes that stood out, drawing my son’s gaze to the edge of the sandbox. A small caterpillar clung to the goutweed, munching away on the green leaves. At first we thought it was a monarch caterpillar, but the stripes weren’t quite right. Out came the field guide, where we discovered our caterpillar to be a future black swallowtail butterfly. After that first discovery, we suddenly noticed more caterpillars, both in that patch of goutweed and on the greens of the carrots in our late-summer garden.

The black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is one of more than 500 swallowtails flitting about throughout the world. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Snakes and Toads Provide Garden Pest Control

TOS_Toad_houseEncountering a snake in the garden causes many people to shriek or even panic. Yet snakes and another often unloved creature, the American toad, are among the most effective forms of pest control.

If you tolerate these herpetological visitors – or better yet, encourage their presence – you’ll be less likely to share your garden with ravenous bugs, or bottles of pesticide. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wild Foods: Cattails

TOS_CattailsLast winter I spent three months exploring East Africa, traveling through ten different countries and covering over 8,077 miles. I was continuously impressed with how much local guides knew about their surroundings, in particular the human uses of various plants. In some instances we could not walk more than ten feet without stopping to learn about another plant and all the ways it could save your life.

This experience made me curious about plants in my own backyard. A quick skim of foraging articles on the Internet revealed that cattails, with their various edible parts, are often referred to as “nature’s supermarket.” I was thrilled to learn that I had a 40-acre produce section right outside the back door. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Electroreception: The Buzz of Bees

TOS_Honey_beesImagine you had a power that allowed you to pick up nearby objects without actually touching them. Imagine this power could help you find and choose the best foods while shopping. Imagine you could use this power to communicate with your family. Bees have just such a power. It’s called electroreception, and it gives them the ability to perceive and respond to electrical fields.

Scientists have known since at least the 1970s that flying bees can pick up electrostatic charges as they move, but they didn’t know whether these charges had any practical value. Today, some suspect that electrostatic charge may be very useful to bees. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Bobcats: Elusive, Powerful, and Beautiful

TOS_bobcat_hidingThe distinctively feline tracks through the snow in our woods last winter intrigued me. They would follow the narrow ski trail a ways, then meander into the trees or, sometimes, seem to disappear altogether.

There was no way, I thought, a house kitty was so far from home in the deep of winter, and besides, these tracks were a bit large for your average cat.

Then it hit me: these were bobcat tracks! » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Impact of Stormwater on Adirondack Streams

Roaring Brook Falls 2014 by John WarrenIn peaceful streams, aquatic macroinvertebrates such as crayfish, stoneflies, and caddisflies travel over and under submerged rocks, foraging for other invertebrates, leaves, and algae. When rain falls, their world turns upside down. At first only the surface is disturbed, but before long, runoff reaches the stream and increases its flow many fold. Silt and sand blast every exposed rock surface. At peak flow, boulders are propelled downstream by powerful currents.

How do small creatures survive such crushing chaos? They hunker down. Water-filled nooks and crannies extend deep below streambeds and far beyond river banks. These deep interstices provide a safe haven even while turbulent water pulverizes the riverbed, comparable to a storm cellar in a tornado. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Understanding Spider Silk and Spider Webs

TOS_Spider_SilkThere is an all-natural material, produced at room temperature, that can be used to build homes, to make protective coverings, to hunt and trap, and even to swing through the air. It’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and waterproof. On a per-weight basis it’s stronger than steel and more elastic than nylon or kevlar.

What is this remarkable material? Spider silk.

If it sounds impossible that a single material can be used for so many purposes, well, in a way it is. Depending on how you want to count them, there are seven or eight kinds of spider silk in the world, and any given spider species may make as many as six different kinds. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Science Behind Fledging Birds

TOS_grouse_fledglingOn a recent afternoon, I saw a baby ruffed grouse about the size of a pin cushion scurry into the bushes. I had the same impulse I did as a 10-year-old when I scooped up a baby blue jay hopping around on a neighbor’s lawn: I wanted to “rescue” it.  Instead, I kept driving, leaving the tiny bird to its fate.

Fledging is perilous for all birds – most won’t survive their first year – but what exactly is that process? Do nestlings know when to leave or do the parents signal when it’s time? Do they all go at once? Will the parents continue to protect and feed them after they have fledged? And what should I have done, if anything, to help that baby ruffed grouse? » Continue Reading.


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