Almanack Contributor Guest Contributor

Guest Essayist

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at [email protected]


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Going With the Flow: The Sixth Sense of Fish

TOS_NeuromastThere are times when fish appear telepathic. Consider the uncanny way a school of bait fish moves as one to avoid a predator, or the way goldfish in their lighted bowl turn towards the glass when someone walks into a dark room.

Researchers often describe this ability as “touch-from-a-distance.” But fishy sixth sense is closer to hearing than touch. It’s what allows salmon to deftly ply the currents and eddies as they make their spawning runs upstream. They listen to the flow. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Black and Yellow Birch: Tasty Teas From Trees

TOS_birch_teaScratch and then sniff a black or yellow birch twig, and the pleasant aroma will likely put a smile on your face. What you are smelling is oil of wintergreen (methyl salicylate). This chemical compound is present in the inner bark in both species, although typically to a greater degree in black birch. In the trees, as well as several edible berries that grow in our region, the compound serves as a defense against herbivorous insects. Most people, however, enjoy the taste.

You can make a very nice wintergreen-flavored tea from peeled black or yellow birch twigs. I advise against trying to brew this the traditional way, though (i.e., steeping twigs in boiling water). The reason is that oil of wintergreen is volatile and easily driven off by heat, so if you attempt to make tea with hot water, your kitchen will smell great but there will likely be little if any flavor in your tea cup. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Lessons Of Awkward Adolescent Eagles

TOS_EaglesA deer died by the river near my home. The crows found it, as did other scavengers – a bald eagle, and two big brown raptors that were hard to identify. Both had white flecking on their heads, wings and bodies, but the markings didn’t match up, bird to bird. They looked unkempt and more than a little disreputable.

It turns out these were also bald eagles, but young birds, dressed in dark plumage. In common with some other long-lived species, eagles have an extended adolescence. They require about four to five years to mature. During this period they don’t find mates, establish territories, or conform to the adult dress code. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Road Salt Use Wasteful, Damaging

TOS_SALT_BRINEAll of a sudden, sap season is here and winter’s on its way out. Chances are though, a few more snow or ice squalls are still to come. The next time you find yourself driving behind a big plow truck, take a look at what’s coming out of the spreader. What is used makes a difference for wildlife, especially as the snow melts. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Common Myths About Adirondack Nature

TOS_barred_owlWalking through the woods on a cool spring morning, I saw a barred owl in an old maple tree. I circled the owl three times from a distance. Its head kept turning to follow me, tracking my movements with three complete revolutions.

One of the owl’s chicks had fallen from the nest, so I climbed the tree and placed the chick back in it. Then the owl flew up and pushed the chick out of the nest onto the ground, where it lay in a pile of melting snow.

One of the owl’s chicks had fallen from the nest, so I climbed the tree and placed the chick back in it. Then the owl flew up and pushed the chick out of the nest onto the ground, where it lay in a pile of melting snow. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Winter To Spring In A Bear Cub’s Den

TOS_BlackBearBabiesThe forest is going through a seasonal transition, at a leisurely pace, and often invisibly. Bear cubs, for example, are maturing in hidden dens that we might pass right by.

Black bear (Ursus americanus) cubs are born in mid-January to early February. The newborns are blind, deaf, and toothless, and covered with hair so fine they appear bald. They weigh about a half a pound and are the size of small squirrels. Barely able to crawl, they sense the heat from their mother’s sparsely furred belly and find their way to her protective warmth. She nurses often, shifting position to assist them and to avoid rolling onto them. Her milk is a protein-rich twenty percent (or more) fat. (Human milk, by comparison, is about four percent fat.) » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sneaky Ducks and Scrambled Eggs

TOS_WoodDuckBabiesIf you peek into a wood duck nesting box during the breeding cycle, you might find 10 to 11 eggs, which is the bird’s normal clutch size. But you might also stumble upon a box overflowing with as many as 30 eggs. How, you might ask, can one duck lay and care for so many eggs? The answer is: she can’t.

These huge piles of eggs result from intraspecific brood parasitism, otherwise known as egg dumping. This is when a bird lays eggs in a nest that does not belong to her. Waterfowl – and wood ducks in particular – often engage in this behavior. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nothing Rotten about Deadwood

TOS_WoodyDebrisA guy down the road has been working in his woods for the last couple of years. He’s cleaning them up. And I mean cleaning. He cuts the underbrush. Takes out the dead trees, the downed logs, the dead branches.

Okay, I confess. The neatnik in me is envious. Part of me would like my 70 acres of woods to look like a park. But that’s the problem. A park is not a forest and the forest is more than the trees. It’s an entire suite of complex systems, merging and interacting. An ecological orchestra in the woods.

Dead and dying wood, standing snags, rotting branches are more than Mother Nature’s litter. They’re an integral part of the forest symphony – what forestry types call “coarse woody debris,” or CWD for short. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Tips for Game Camera Success

TOS.gamecameraillustrationMy town had the job of removing a dead beaver from a culvert pipe cage, a rather sad and odorous affair, but also an opportunity. I alerted the usual suspects – there’s nothing like a rotting carcass to bring camera trappers together – and we moved the body into the woods and set up a few cameras.

We placed the body in mature forest near the wetland. We figured that just about any of our meso-carnivores might appear: coyote, fox, fisher, and bobcat were all possibilities. We didn’t get the bobcat, but we did get the others, and the fisher photos were especially nice. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Porcupines: Waddling Through Winter

TOS_PorcupineWinterThe porcupine is one of the most unique and recognizable mammals in our region, and thanks to its short legs and fat body, it’s also one of the slowest.

Of course, a porcupine really has little need for anything faster than first gear, since its quills provide excellent protection from most predators.

It still surprises me though, that a short-legged herbivore that doesn’t hibernate manages to thrive in the deep snow of our northern forests. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Wildlife Gets Inside Your Home?

TOS_mouseWe two-leggeds build inviting habitats and fill them with ample food supplies. We heat these spaces in winter, cool them in summer, and keep them dry year-round. And when our wild neighbors have the audacity to move in, we frequently kill them on sight.

My wife and I recently restored an old brick farmhouse that was built in 1790, back when Vermont was still an independent republic. We removed walls and ceilings to expose and repair the original structure, then vacuumed every nook and cranny to remove debris left behind by two centuries of sundry inhabitants. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Science of Snowflake Shapes

TOS_snowflakesWho hasn’t marveled at a lacy snowflake coming to rest on a jacket sleeve? Do you wonder how it could survive the fall to earth in one piece, or if it’s really true that no two snowflakes can look exactly alike?

A snowflake begins high up in the clouds, not as a snowflake but as a small particle of dust, salt, or ash. When a cloud cools below 32°F, some specks of water vapor freeze onto the particle. As it moves through the cloud, the particle absorbs additional water vapor, building up microscopic layers of ice. When water molecules freeze, they bond together in a way that forms a six-sided ice crystal. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Adirondack Snowshoe Hares in Winter

TOS_HareHomeFor the past 14 years, my Winter Ecology students and I have spent a lot of time outdoors, studying the preferred habitat features and winter foods of snowshoe hares. We’re likely to find hare tracks hopping in and around lowland conifers near wetland edges, and then again at higher elevations, where the forest transitions into fir, birch, and spruce. Where we won’t find them, at least not very often, is in broad bands of open, leafless hardwood. On the rare occasions that we find tracks in this habitat, they have almost always been single strands of widely spaced prints – suggesting an animal that’s really moving! » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Blobs on Ice: Jelly Fungi Add Color to Winter

RSCN5706They look like blobs of shiny tar, a melted lollipop, or a crayon left in the sun too long. They come in vivid colors from orange to yellow to white to black to pinkish. They have a disconcerting ability to mimic human body parts, such as ears and tongues, with Daliesque artfulness.

Jelly fungi.

They got their name because their tissues have the texture and consistency of, well, jelly. In some cases it’s more like rubber. The various species often carry imaginative common names: witch’s butter, snow fungus, jelly ear. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mystery Middens: Red Squirrels In Winter

TOS_squirrelIn the woods behind our house, there’s a pile of cones and gnawed apart bracts – easily two feet deep and twice as wide – built against the trunk of a tall hemlock. We’ve watched over consecutive winters – when the newly discarded bracts stand out against the snowy white backdrop – as the heap continues to expand.

This pile, called a midden, is the work of a single red squirrel. Red squirrels are active year round and generally easy to spot – and even easier to hear as they scold passersby in their high, chattering voice. » Continue Reading.



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