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, November 2, 2013

Preparing For Winter: Chipmunk Game Theory 101

chipmunkTwo chipmunks vie for seeds on our front lawn. One lives directly underneath the bird feeder. Another hails from the far side of the house, address unknown.

The chipmunks appear identical to me: same size, same stripes. Same interests, namely seed hoarding, aggressive chittering, jumping into the bushes and back out again, and brazen stiff-tailed standoffs with the dog.

However, some aspects of these chipmunks’ behavior are probably distinctive. Experiments have demonstrated that a chipmunks’ choosiness about what food they collect, how fully they stuff their cheek pouches, and even how quickly they stuff food in there all relate to the distance between a foraging site and a home burrow. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Adirondack Amphibians: The Tadpoles of Winter

tadpolesFall is in full swing: foggy mornings, cold rains, and falling leaves. Time to talk about…tadpoles!? That’s right, while we may be accustomed to discussing tadpoles in spring and summer, they’re still around and they’re gearing up for winter.

Imagine your local pond. Under a slate gray autumn sky, the pond is mostly quiet. Only an occasional peep (called the “fall echo”) escapes from the reeds, where previously an amphibian chorus declared its presence. Yet despite the chill and silence, frog life continues. Most of the summer’s broods hopped onto land at least a month ago. Others will hibernate in the coming months as polliwogs.

So how do tadpoles “decide” when to change into frogs? And why do some of them stay in tadpole form all winter? » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Touchy-Feely World of Animal Whiskers

whiskingOf the many questions one is left with after listening to the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice”, none is more vexing than how three blind rodents were able to chase anything, let alone a farmer’s wife. As the three mice in question died in 1805, we’ll probably never know the full answer. There are some clues in the scientific record, though. The fact is, mice and other nocturnal rodents can take in sophisticated three dimensional information about their surroundings without using their eyes.

Rodent eyes don’t function like our eyes. Ours are on the front of our head and we see in stereo, their eyes are on the side of their head and their field of vision doesn’t overlap. Our eyes always move together, a rodent’s eyes can move in opposite directions. If a rat points its snout downward, its eyes look up, rather than where its nose is pointing. If its head tilts down to the right, the right eye looks up while the left eye looks down.   » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Adirondack Wildlife: Wood Turtles

turtleSince as far back as I can remember, the sight of a group of turtles basking on a log has made me pause to enjoy their prehistoric appearance. Most summer days during my early childhood were spent wading in neighborhood ponds to stalk painted turtles and spotted turtles with a long-handled net, while avoiding the larger snapping turtles that were lurking beneath the surface. Stumbling upon an eastern box turtle or a musk turtle, something that has happened far too infrequently, was often the natural history highlight of my year.

This summer, I had what may be my best turtle day ever when I stopped my car to help a turtle cross the road. It turned out to be a rare wood turtle, the first I had ever seen, and an animal that is unmistakable for its striking appearance. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

This Weekend: A Celebration of Adirondack Moose

cow moose and calf AHIn September 1980, after an absence of 100 years, moose returned to New York State permanently when four or five animals migrated west out of Vermont. Thirty years later, to celebrate the arrival of moose, the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the 4th annual “Great Adirondack Moose Festival” September 28 and 29.

Among the activities planned are moose themed games and activities for the children, demonstrations, contests, wilderness guided hikes and tours, Bruce the Moose and a self-guided driving tour of the Moose River Plains, all to celebrate the return of the largest member of the deer family, the moose. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Guest Essay: Do Local Movie Theaters Have A Future?

digitaldark4ConceptWhat follows is a guest essay by T. J. Brearton, co-founder of production company ADK MOGUL and a project specialist at the Adirondack Film Society, a partner in the regional Go Digital or Go Dark campaign.

Einstein said that if you want to understand something better, try and explain it to your grandmother.  The more I find myself talking about the digital conversion issue which faces independently owned theaters, the more feel like I understand it.  But, it’s challenging.  The topic is complex, and not black and white.  And the rabbit hole, it seems, gets deeper and deeper.

In 2012, the Lake Placid Film Forum hosted a Panel Discussion called “Do Movie Theaters Have a Future?”  The answer, I have come to believe in the months since, is a resounding Yes.  And the road to success is one that literally takes a village. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feathered Whirlwinds: Swallow Flock Migration

migrationWhirlwinds of feathered bodies, iridescent beetle-blue on top and snowy below, are touching down all along the eastern seaboard.   Flocks move in a loose collection of tumbles and dives, sweeping across fields and swamps. They pepper the sky, often collecting over bodies of water to skim for insects and catch a drink. As the sun sets, the scattered birds pull together, gathering like a slow-building storm.

At the peak of migration, flocks of tree swallows can contain hundreds of thousands of birds. Doppler weather radar – yes, weather radar – has revealed that staging points are relatively evenly spaced, almost always 62 to 93 miles apart. Migration flows down the eastern seaboard in a multi-month game of hopscotch as the birds make (comparatively) leisurely stopovers one roost after another. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Eastern White Pine: A Meat-Eater?

DeceiverPlants are not often thought of as predators. They’re the nice guys. With over 300,000 species known to exist, only a small fraction are known to be meat-eaters. In our northern bogs, for example, insects are trapped on the sticky hairs of sundew or drowned in the pitcher plant’s water

Research now suggests that at least one tree may owe its size to more than just sun, water and good soils.

The eastern white pine is one of the tallest native tree species in our region. Give them a few hundred years in ideal floodplain habitat, with roots sunk deep into sandy and silty soils and protected from winds and lightning by hillsides, and they’ll grow to over 200 feet tall with nearly eight foot diameter trunks.

It takes a lot of energy and nutrients for a tree to grow to such grandeur. One thing that might help the eastern white pine is its surprising relationship with a meat-eating fungus. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Adirondack Birds: The Science of Wing Sounds

wing_musicAs the summer bird chorus wanes, we might remember that song can arrive in unexpected ways. Drumming heads, clacking bills, and dancing feet create nonvocal sound. Even flight, that foremost avian feat, creates music of its own.

Wings can sing – sound is created by the asymmetry, anatomy, and arrangement of individual flight feathers as they vibrate through the air. A number of birds use wing song to communicate, both with their own species and as a way to thwart predators. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Adirondack Outdoors: Understanding Spittle Bugs

spittle_bugOn the lower levels of the food chain, danger is rarely out of spitting distance. Risk from predators has spurred the evolution of many clever adaptations – camouflage coloring, speedy retreat, distasteful secretions, and armor plating among them. Small jumping insects known as froghoppers approach concealment in a unique way: their developing nymphs cover themselves in a bubble bath. From this trick they derive their common name, “spittle bug.”

If you investigate the clumps of white froth, sometimes referred to as ‘cow spit’ or ‘frog spit,’ that appear on plant stems this time of year, you’ll find that each dollop of foam envelops a soft, greenish insect. Who would have thought that froth, so soft and insubstantial, could be protective? Yet predators can’t see the bug for the bubbles, and if they probe the foam, they soon find that it has an acrid taste. The spittle bug’s foam is also a good insulator against heat and cold. And it is a great moisturizer, without which the soft-bodied nymph would soon dry up. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dwarf Wedgemussels: Fishing for a Ride

musselsLast week my eight-year-old nephew, Romeo, got on an animals kick. He’s an inquisitive kid who’s fascinated by things like white blood cells and he absolutely loves sharks. So, knowing that I was some sort of fish doctor, he made his fifty-seventh inquiry in what I learned was to be a series of 2000 questions, “what are the strongest animals in the water?”

“Mussels,” I replied. My nephew’s eyebrows scrunched in mild displeasure (sort of like yours are now) because the joke was borderline funny, barely punny and the opposite of true. Regardless, I had an opening to use some new-found knowledge about the dwarf wedgemussel, Alasmidonta heterodon, so I forged ahead. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Wing and a Prayer: Are Aerial Insectivores in Trouble?

NighthawkSome catch their prey while in flight; others sit and wait for prey to come near. They’re a group of birds known as aerial insectivores, and they’re in trouble. In the northeast region, this diverse group consists of 19 species that, as their name implies, feed almost exclusively on flying insects. Some, such as the barn swallow and eastern phoebe, are quite common and well-known, while others, such as the olive-sided flycatcher and eastern wood-pewee, are relatively unknown to non-birders.

Unfortunately, as a group, aerial insectivores have been declining steadily across northeastern North America for the last 25 years or so. Flycatchers, swallows, and nightjars (the whip-poor-will and common nighthawk) have been particularly affected. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 29, 2013

New State Lands: The Nature Conservancy’s $500,000

IMG_9702What follows is a guest essay by Connie Prickett, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. The Nature Conservancy is using $500,000 to create a new grant opportunity for recreation-based development in local communities.

When The Nature Conservancy in 2007 took on its largest single land conservation project in the Adirondacks, we knew success was only going to happen through collaboration. Recent steps by the Conservancy to establish a $500,000 grant opportunity ensures that community involvement continues to be an integral part of the conservation equation and a key element to the project’s overall success. The aim is to help communities position themselves to capitalize on new outdoor recreation opportunities being created through this project. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Are Earthworms An Invasive Species?

earthwormsAldo Leopold, the famous conservationist, once wrote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” This whole idea puts nature writers in an odd position. On the one hand, it’s our job to raise the alarm when we see something amiss, but on the other, we run the risk of spending so much time dwelling on nature’s wounds that we end up giving people the impression that everything has gone to hell, which of course it has not.

So what to make of earthworms? We’ve been told for years that worms are good. Darwin was a great admirer. They make our gardens grow. But as invasive plant and animal awareness grows, we’re now being told they’re invasive animals that have the potential to destroy whole forest ecosystems. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Adirondack Wildlife: The Four-Toed Salamander

four_toed_salamanderLet’s start out with a riddle: What animal has 16 toes and a tail that breaks off when grabbed by a predator? Not sure? Here’s another clue: It’s the smallest terrestrial vertebrate in our area. If you didn’t guess four-toed salamander, don’t feel bad—it’s probably also the least-known salamander in the North Country.

The four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) holds a number of dubious distinctions. Besides its diminutive size (a typical adult may only reach 2-3 inches in length), it is also the only terrestrial salamander with four toes on all four feet. With the exception of the aquatic mudpuppy (which happens to be our largest salamander), all other salamanders have five toes on their hind feet. Four-toeds also have specialized breeding habitat requirements, which probably accounts for their limited distributions in our region. Combine that with their small size and cryptic behavior, and you have a recipe for an animal that very few people have ever heard of, let alone encountered. » Continue Reading.


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