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 25, 2013

Wildlife Food: More On Mast

nutsHard mast, the term used to refer to the nuts wild trees produce, is humbling this way. We know that, generally speaking, trees require a lot of energy to produce nuts, and so a tree won’t produce them every year. The books say every two or three years for beech nuts and three to seven years for oaks, but take it all with a grain of salt.

There are advantages, from a tree’s perspective, to being unpredictable. Abundant years followed by lean years keep seed predators in check. (Biologists call this predator satiation.) In a good year, the woods are flooded with nuts – more than any squirrel or mouse can eat. The next fall, when rodent populations are high thanks to all the easy living, the trees take the year off and the surplus rodents starve.
» Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sportsman Education: A New Hunting Tradition

sepatwThis past year Mary Grose of Herkimer County become a certified Sportsman Education instructor through the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Almanack asked her to relate her experience for our readers.

Hunting symbolizes tradition, family, and a fair chase. Growing up in rural New York State, I was surrounded by the sport of hunting. Friends and family would share hunting stories throughout the years and I wanted to become part of that tradition. As a young girl I was privileged to have a father and brother who taught me about hunting. Now that I am older and an educated hunter I want to share my love of the outdoors with others. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Small Mammals: The Shrew That Walks On Water

shrewOn a morning walk around the pond, the dog and I encountered a dead shrew – perhaps the unfortunate casualty of a neighborhood feline or a red fox (shrews are well-known for being distasteful to mammalian predators). When I picked it up and noticed its velvety black fur, long tail, and unusually large hind feet, I realized that this was a species I did not recognize. I tossed it on the passenger seat of the car so I could identify it later at work.

Like all shrews, this small, mouse-like mammal lying on my desk had a long pointed snout and tiny eyes. Its minuscule ears were barely visible, covered by short velvety fur. As I stroked the soft black hair, I noticed that the fur offered little resistance no matter which direction my finger passed over it, a perfect adaptation for life underground, permitting the animal to slide easily through a tight tunnel in any direction. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Giant Puffballs: Orbs of the Mushroom World

puff_ballWho left that soccer ball on the front lawn? Come on, you know it didn’t just grow there.

Pretending to confuse a giant puffball mushroom with a soccer ball (or vice versa) is a well-worn joke among mushroom foragers. For the rest of us, finding out that there exists a common mushroom in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire that frequently grows to soccer ball size sounds like more of a hidden-camera, the-joke’s-on-you kind of gag.

Not only do these giant mushrooms exist, says Ari Rockland Miller, a Vermont based mushroom foraging expert, they are edible, even delectable, early in their lifecycle, when their flesh is white and has the consistency of Styrofoam. » Continue Reading.


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.