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.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Outside Story: The Winter Life of Skunks

SkunkIn summer, you always know when a striped skunk has been around. But in winter, these animals make themselves scarce, hunkering down to wait out the onslaught of ice and snow.

Unlike most rodents and birds, which hoard food for the cold months, the striped skunk will have spent the fall eating as much as possible so it can stay warm during mid-winter dormancy. This binge eating creates thick layers of fat underneath the skin– a winter jacket, of sorts. The skunk metabolizes this fat during its dormant rests, though at a much slower rate than in summer.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Outside Story: Lake Champlain Burbot

burbotI can’t say for sure exactly how many of my childhood birthdays were celebrated on the ice of Lake Champlain, but a good number. That’s what happens when your father likes to ice fish, and your big day happens to fall on Dead President’s week, when every school in the state goes on vacation.

But I am reasonably certain it was on my twelfth birthday when I first met Lota lota, a fish my dad called a “ling” and others call “burbot,” “cusk” or “eelpout.” We were jigging for yellow perch on a shallow hump on the outskirts of St. Albans Bay when I pulled one through the ice. I remember thinking I’d caught a chunky American eel, but my dad quickly set the record straight by dislodging the 16-inch fish from my hook and quickly tossing it into the 5-gallon pail we were using to collect perch for a fish fry.

“Those,” I remember my father saying, “are excellent eating.” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Outside Story: Winter Wildlife Survival Foods

Photo by Art Kirsch, DEC Wildlife BiologistWinter is a hard time for wildlife. It brings deep cold, leafless terrain, and a shortage of food and water. Animals have few choices. Most songbirds abandon the region via a perilous migration to warmer climates. Other creatures hunker down in hibernation. But there are a number of species that remain active all winter.

This is no easy task. Mammals and birds must maintain their body heat by burning (metabolizing) their body fat – or perish. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Emancipation Anniversary: A Local Grassroots Victory

What follows is a guest essay by Peter Slocum, a volunteer and board member with the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, based in Ausable Chasm.

Almost lost in the recent “Fiscal Cliff” spectacle was the anniversary marking one of the major positive milestones of our history — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On January 1, 1863, some 3 million people held as slaves in the Confederate states were declared to be “forever free.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Most of those 3 million people were still subjugated until the Union Army swept away the final Confederate opposition more than two years later. And slavery was not abolished in the entire United States until after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Outside Story: How Do Trees Survive Winter Cold?

Trees are about half water, maybe a little less in winter. And if the temperature drops low enough, the water in even the most cold-hardy tree will freeze.

So how do trees survive below-freezing temperatures? They can’t move south or generate heat like a mammal. Sure, the below-ground parts of a tree are kept insulated by a layer of snow, and that is important to winter survival, but the exposed parts of a tree are not so protected. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Outside Story: Downy or Hairy Woodpecker?

“That’s a downy. No wait, it’s a hairy – definitely a hairy. Well, hang on…maybe it is a downy.” I admit it: I’ve had this happen to me more than once.

With the onset of winter, downy and hairy woodpeckers become more apparent– knocking away in our woods and stopping by our birdfeeders. With strikingly similar feather patterns, the two can be hard to distinguish if one only catches a glimpse. Both have black wings with white markings; white bellies, sides, and backs; and distinctively white- and black-striped heads. Males of both species have red patches on the backs of their heads, which females lack.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Outside Story: Natural Christmas Tree Decorations

“What a horrifyingly garish sight,” I said to my friend as we surveyed my Christmas tree last year. We had just finished decorating it and my eyes were sending messages to my brain, like, “Hey, this is really tacky.”

Truth is, the décor I had accumulated after years of city dwelling in my sassy twenties looked awfully out of place in my humble Vermont cabin. What I once thought dazzling – glitter-coated icicles, a miniature disco ball, a purple-feathered bird with jeweled eyes, flocks of shiny gold and green balls – now looked as out of place as a pink flamingo at my bird feeder. Even the duck decoy my great uncle carved seemed to give the gaudy fiasco an alarmed stare. Such a tree no longer belonged in my world. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Outside Story: What’s With Blue Animals?

Animals display a dazzling variety of colors, particularly in the tropics. But even here in northern New England where wildlife diversity is comparatively limited, we enjoy a rich palette of colors and patterns. The majority of colors are produced by pigments–particles of color chemicals found within specialized cells. These include melanins, which are found in nearly all organisms and produce the earthy tones common to many animals (including humans), and carotenoids, which produce colors primarily in the red to yellow end of the spectrum (think northern cardinal and American goldfinch).

What’s surprising, however, is that pigments that produce blue coloration are all but unknown in the animal kingdom, even though we have plenty of blue-colored animals, particularly among birds, butterflies, and fish. So if it’s not pigments, what makes an animal blue? » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Rescuing A Lean-to Before The Damage Is Done

What follows is an e-mail recently sent by Paul Delucia, of Lean2Rescue, one of several volunteer organizations who work to build and maintain facilities in the Adirondack Park’s backcountry.

Rarely do we get a chance to rescue a lean-to before the damage is done.

On Thanksgiving, Hilary Moynihan (ADK lean-to adopter coordinator) and I were notified that somebody had chopped down a tree at the Gull Lake lean-to (Black River Wild Forest). Sadly, it was live spruce tree (about 60 ft tall) left hanging precariously in a smaller cherry tree. It threatened both the lean-to and anybody that might visit it. I sent out a broadcast to all that might be in the Woodgate / Old Forge Area on a moment’s notice. By Saturday, a crew of eight from Lean2Rescue arrived with nearly 150 lbs of equipment (ropes, climbing gear, saws), and a tree climber (me). After about an hour, the tree was safely down and the lean-to standing unharmed.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Outside Story: The Science of Sunsets

It seems each autumn, I start noticing sunsets more. They are so pink, so orange, so bright. I’ve always chalked up my autumnal sunset attention to my mood shifting with the changing season; perhaps I’m feeling a little wistful at summer’s end and reflecting on nature’s splendor more than usual. But according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the colors we see during sunsets really are more vibrant in fall and winter than they are in spring and summer – seasonal melancholia has got nothing to do with it.

The intensity of sunset and sunrise colors has to do with Rayleigh scattering. I spoke with meteorologist Chris Bouchard of the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who kindly dropped some knowledge on this scattering business.
» Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Outside Story: The Ecology Of Leaf Litter

It’s one of the pleasures of fall: walking in the woods on a warm day, scuffing my feet through a deep layer of newly fallen leaves. Looking down, I notice the gold coins of aspen leaves against the bread-knife serrations of brown beech leaves. My feet make that “swoosh, swoosh” sound that takes me back to when I was a kid.

It’s November and the color blast has faded. The woods are gray and brown. The much admired “fall foliage” has drifted earthward to become the more prosaic “leaf litter.” I understand the term, but the word litter grates a little. It connotes trash, yet leaves are just the opposite of trash. Their contribution to forest health, to the ecosystem, is incalculable. They help make the forest what it is.
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Outside Story: The Clinker Polypore Fungus

If you’ve seen a well-developed clinker polypore (inonotus obliquus) protruding from a tree, there’s a good chance that you remember it. This fungus causes large, black, cinder-like growths, sometimes neatly conical, but often rough and ragged. Also called the birch polypore, you can find these conks on all species of birch, as well as on hophornbeam and occasionally on other hardwoods. By the time the fungal tissue is visible on the outside, the inside of the tree is likely to be rotten to the core.

Much is yet to be learned about this organism, but it seems that infection often occurs after another fungus, called Nectria, has invaded a tree. Injuries, too, allow the clinker polypore to get a foothold, and once it has settled in, death – though sometimes a slow death – seems to be inevitable. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Outside Story: Smart Birds Stash Stores, Thwart Thieves

We know that squirrels make the most of fall’s plenty by hoarding nuts for the winter, but the fact that birds also store, or cache, food goes largely unappreciated. Through clever observation and experiments, biologists have found that food caching (from the French cacher, “to hide”) has developed to a high art in some birds.

Take the chickadee, for instance. Chickadees put tens of thousands of food items a year into short-term storage. They usually retrieve and eat the food in the space of several days. Each food item is cached in a different place to make it difficult for thieves to steal all the food at once. When hiding a new item, they remember their previous storage sites and avoid placing caches too close together.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Outside Story: Decline of American Kestrels

One autumn day, 15 years ago, I found myself perched on a ladder that was leaning against a highway sign on Interstate 89 somewhere in Vermont. There was a wooden box clamped to one of the sign poles at least 15 feet off the ground, although fear may have exaggerated that memory. I was providing a little autumn house-keeping for one of those nest boxes so it’d be ready when the kestrels returned to breed the next spring.

The box was one of 10 kestrel nest boxes then deployed along the interstate by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, or VTrans. It’s a feel-good project started in 1995 with $40, some scrap wood, and plenty of volunteer hours from VTrans employees, who built the boxes on their own time. Since then, about 90 kestrels have fledged and four orphaned young were fostered in the boxes. That’s a lot of bang for the buck, or rather, a lot of birds for the box.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Outside Story: Peregrine Falcons

When asked to name the fastest animal on earth, many people will respond “cheetah.” But it is the peregrine falcon – a cliff-dwelling raptor –that holds that title with the ability to reach speeds of 200+ MPH as they stoop (dive) in flight. (The cheetah tops out at a mere 70 MPH).

Equally remarkable is the fact that this speed demon of the skies was nearly wiped out 50 years ago; its recovery ranks among the great success stories of conservation biology and endangered species management.

Historically, the eastern peregrine falcon population was centered in New England and the Adirondack Mountains, ranging south along the spine of the Appalachians to western Georgia. In 1940,the population was estimated at 350 pairs; by the mid-1960s, the species was completely gone from the region, a victim of the devastating pesticide DDT. » Continue Reading.


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