It was one of those sparkly winter days, when snow drapes fir trees and glints across the landscape. I was at the top of Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch, and an undercast made it seem as if the summit were a sunny island above a sea of clouds. To add to the wonder, there was something magical happening in the sky, which shimmered with color and light. » Continue Reading.
Few things seem as remote as the January sun in the North East. We see the light, but we feel almost no heat. In this way, winter can feel like a kind of exile – there’s a sense that the Earth has been flung to the farthest reaches of its orbit.
The idea that the winter sun is remote, however, is misguided. In fact, the Earth is closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere is in the deep freeze of winter. This extreme proximity is known as perihelion, and in 2019 it will take place on January 3. Conversely, aphelion – when the Earth is farthest from the sun – takes place during the height of summer, this year on the Fourth of July. The exact dates vary slightly every year, but always occur in January and July. » Continue Reading.
Some people keep lifelong birding lists. I’ve tried, but birds and I have never really hit it off. Too many colors, too many species, and I’m tone deaf, so birding by ear is completely beyond me.
I do keep a lifelong weasel list. I can tell you exactly where I was when I saw my first white-coated ermine and how many times I’ve seen a mink. My best fisher sighting was particularly memorable: I watched in awe as it jumped from tree to tree in pursuit of a gray squirrel. » Continue Reading.
There’s a giant living in Coös County, New Hampshire. It’s a 61-foot tall tree, the country’s largest known American mountain ash. At last measurement, it stood at a height of 61 feet and had a circumference of 70 inches. That’s outstanding for a tree that’s described by most sources, including my old dendrology textbook, as “a small tree or shrub.”
This tree is a champion — but the species as a whole has a lot going for it. I love the mountain ash for the beauty of its white flower clusters and red berries. More importantly, though, it fills an important spot on the menu for birds and mammals, especially in winter. » Continue Reading.
I once lived in a cottage perched atop a sloping field in Western Massachusetts. It was the lone structure at the edge of undeveloped forest and sat far from the road. The cottage had a large front deck with an expansive view and a smaller one in back that faced the forest. It was under the small deck that a porcupine took up residence one fall, for a stay that turned out to be briefer than I would have liked.
Since he wasn’t damaging the house, and didn’t seem aggressive, I didn’t mind his presence. Until my dog, Beckett, met him. Beckett, a 55-pound mixed breed, could not learn the porcupine lesson. He was always certain that this time – this time – he would be victorious. Fed up with yanking quills out of him or taking him to the vet after especially bad encounters, I was desperate to figure out how to share the space peaceably with our resident rodent. » Continue Reading.
It’s the time of year when the landscape is laid bare, the ground is impenetrable with frost, and flying insects have faded into memory. As fall slides into winter, resident songbirds like robins and waxwings must switch from their warm weather diets of earthworms and arthropods to the best of what’s left: fruit, and lots of it. As it turns out, this is also the time of year when conditions become ripe for the conversion of fruit sugars into alcohol via natural fermentation.
Studies show that waxwings, whose winter diet is comprised almost exclusively of fruit, metabolize alcohol seven times faster than finches (seed eaters) and three times faster than starlings (omnivores). In addition, a waxwing’s liver constitutes nearly 5 percent of its total body weight, compared to just under 3 percent for starlings and finches. Larger livers and higher rates of alcohol metabolism likely evolved in response to occasional exposure to fermented fruit. For the most part, these adaptations enable waxwings to dine on boozy berries without ill effect. » Continue Reading.
The sound of a gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) evokes an image of the North Woods: dark green spruce trees, spire-like balsam fir, and bare-branched tamaracks silhouetted against a raw, slate-colored sky; the smell of woodsmoke in the air and a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. I see these birds occasionally around our cabin in northern New Hampshire and on hikes at higher elevations in the White Mountains. They’ve always had an air of mystery about them.
The bird is often heard before it’s seen. The gray jay has a number of calls, whistles, and imitations in his repertoire: many are harsh sounding, and I have witnessed gray jays mimic the scream of the blue jay. My favorite call, though, is what some ornithologists refer to as “the whisper song.” This is a soft, warbling chatter that can sound either cheerful or melancholy – depending, I suppose, on the mood of the listener. Not long after hearing the whisper song, a group of birds will suddenly appear, silently swooping and gliding from branch to branch. » Continue Reading.
Deer hunters, like professional athletes, are always looking for an edge – it’s the nature of the pursuit. And so we’re susceptible to superstition, alluring gadgets, marketing campaigns. A classic genre that combines all three of those elements is the moon table – a chart that tells you when the best hunting days are based on the moon phase. These charts were a sporting magazine staple in the early days. In the print world they have largely gone the way of the Marlboro Man, but you can now buy an app which uses the moon to tell you when to take your hunting vacation.
Whether deer movement is affected by moonlight is an intriguing question. But because it’s hard to isolate the moon from all the other phenomena that affect deer behavior, I can’t imagine how you’d go about proving or disproving any particular theory. Scientists have conducted radio-collar studies with small groups of deer trying to gain insight, but the samples were so small, and the data ambiguous enough, that there’s not a lot to take from it. » Continue Reading.
In early November, I flicked on the porch light and took out the trash. In the brief time it took, a couple of late-season moths found their way to my porch light, and as I slipped through the back door, one of them joined me inside. I cupped my uninvited guest under a drinking glass and took him out for liberation; and “him” turned out to be correct.
Before the release, I couldn’t resist a closer look. It was unmistakable: a “flunker moth.” But don’t expend energy on a Google search; it will come up empty because the term is a Vermont original coined perhaps by the venerable Dr. Ross Bell or by students in his Field Zoology course which I had the privilege to take in the 1990s. » Continue Reading.
In the September-October edition of the Adirondack Explorer, ecologist Charles Canham says there are legitimate concerns about over-harvesting trees in the Adirondack Park, and that there is no good ecological or silvicultural rationale for clear-cuts.
I must disagree with these suppositions by Mr. Canham. With millions of acres of state land preserved within the Adirondack Park and never to be managed (harvested), Adirondack Park Agency oversight of larger clear-cuts on non-state-owned lands, and best management practices in place for forest harvests, there should not be great concern for over-harvesting. This is not the days of old, when massive cuts were done on steep slopes with no effort to stabilize the soil. Methods are much more environmentally friendly these days. » Continue Reading.
New Yorkers think of the Adirondacks first and foremost as a preserve, but working forests on private lands have always been an important part of the Park. There has been a sea-change in ownership in recent years, with timber investment firms now controlling the bulk of working forests. And harvest rates throughout the Northeast have been steadily increasing.
So much so that logging rates are at unsustainably high levels in many places. This is most readily apparent to the public in the growing acreage of clear-cuts in the Adirondacks and Maine. But it doesn’t take clear-cutting to overharvest a region’s forests. Forest biomass is declining in Connecticut due to high-grading—the highly selective logging of just the largest and most valuable trees. To most foresters, that is a far worse sin than clear-cutting. » Continue Reading.
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s shtick was the phrase, “I don’t get no respect,” always followed by one of his great self-deprecatory one-liners.
If Rodney Dangerfield were a tree, he might be Acer negundo – the boxelder, which also gets no respect. When boxelder isn’t being ignored, it’s being disparaged, dismissed, or damned with faint praise.
Boxelder, also known as ash-leaved maple, can be a fairly big tree: it can grow 50 to 75 feet tall and more than two feet in diameter, though it often has multiple trunks. » Continue Reading.
Scientists in the 1970s began to notice and be alarmed by the abnormally acidic lakes and streams they were discovering throughout the Adirondacks. In some cases, fish populations were disappearing. Their groundbreaking work coined the term acid rain, caused by fossil-fuel emissions that drifted on high-altitude winds and were flushed down in cloud bursts.
Today, just as science-driven rules limiting industrial and vehicular emissions have helped our local waterways begin to recover, evidence we are seeing supports new approaches to safely managing snow and ice on roadways, driveways, and sidewalks while protecting our freshwater resources. » Continue Reading.
New York State public campgrounds are managed under what is called “Intensive Use” rules. These lands are the most developed (least restrictive of development) public lands in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. “Wilderness” is the most restrictive. Interestingly, when it came to establishing management plans for Moose River Plains Camping Area, special guidelines were agreed upon to preserve its unique version of primitive/public campground. The Department of Environmental Conservation may not “upgrade” the area with features found in regular campgrounds. “Keep it simple” is what the people wanted. » Continue Reading.
Every autumn, when the air tastes of apples and leaves crunch underfoot, my thoughts turn to tiny owls – northern saw-whet owls (Aegolius acadicus) to be exact. Just eight inches in length with a round head and bright yellow eyes, the saw-whet is arguably New England’s most endearing owl. Deer mice, I suspect, would beg to differ.
Saw-whets are small, secretive, nocturnal, and very often silent. As a result, until relatively recently, their migration patterns were poorly understood. Project Owlnet, a network of researchers spanning much of North America with a particular concentration in the northeastern U.S., is changing that. » Continue Reading.