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, June 12, 2013

Adirondack Wildlife: Meadow Voles

meadow_voleIn years when the snow is deep, voles, the most abundant mammal in the Northeast, thrive. When the snow recedes, the glaring white of rodent-chewed bark shows up on saplings along field edges, roadsides, and, especially, in orchards.

In addition to bark, meadow voles will eat almost every agricultural crop. When, as sometimes happens, there are thousands of these metabolically active animals per acre, the damage can be significant, even though each one weighs just an ounce or two. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Secret Weapon Of The Salamanders And Butterflies

In the natural world predation is relentless, and evading predators strongly favors the evolution of camouflage colors in animals. How contradictory then, for small, defenseless creatures – like red efts and monarch butterflies – to be sporting a bright shade of orange. But there is more to their cheerful color than meets the eye. Both the eft and the monarch are poisonous.

Once a predator has tasted one, it soon gets sick, and from that experience learns not to eat another. Thus an individual eft or butterfly may sacrifice itself, but the education of predators benefits the species as a whole. And, in fact, efts and monarchs often survive predator attacks. Toads and snakes that swallow red efts have been observed to vomit up the prey unharmed in about half an hour. Birds that attack monarch butterflies often go for the brightly colored wings, the most toxic part of the insect. One peck may be all it takes to deter the bird. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Outside Story: Fabulous Forest Ferns

fernsWe all see our forests for the trees, but the woods are alive with other plants. Among the most common are ferns, which don’t just get by in the deep shade of the forest – they flourish.

Now, you might be thinking, don’t all those ferns look alike? They form a lovely verdant backdrop to the forest, but they don’t have the showy flowers and distinctive leaves that make other plants so easy to identify. But ferns are surprisingly easy to tell apart. And once you know the names of a few species, they’ll pop out at you as you wander along forest paths. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why Do Trees Leaf Out At Different Times?

LeafOne of my hobbies this time of year is to try to pinpoint the day that I can say that the leaves are out and spring has arrived. Usually it’s sometime in the second week of May, though it seems to have been inching forward over the past couple of decades. But even when I can declare that it’s “spring,” not every tree is clothed in green.

Ash trees, for instance, will still have bare branches weeks from now, and the northern catalpa in my yard will balk at putting out its saucer-sized leaves for another month. Why? The question has gnawed at me and, I’ve learned, bedeviled scientists for decades.

The answer has to do with genetics and evolution, climate and weather. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Clean Energy Conference Focuses on Local Success

Adirondack Energy ConferenceWhat follows is a guest essay by Daniel Mason who is the Director of the North Country Clean Energy Conference and a Board Member/Clean Energy Leader of the Adirondack North Country Association. He retired as an engineering manager after 34 years from a Fortune 100 petrochemical corporation.

People get excited about clean energy for a number of reasons. Clean energy use helps businesses and organizations save money, homegrown renewable energy keeps more money in the region’s economy, and creates local jobs.  » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Outside (And Inside) Story: Ants

antsSpring is on our doorstep, and so are the ants. Seeking the open sugar bowl or the drops of maple syrup left on the kitchen counter, they’re a sure sign that winter has finally drifted away. Myrmecologists, scientists that study ants, know these small kitchen ants as Tapinoma sessile, but to most of us they’re odorous house ants, or sugar ants. Whatever you call them, these little ants are likely to be visiting your nest soon.

Named for the faint smell (described as over-ripe bananas) that they emit when squeezed, the odorous house ants in your kitchen are workers. They may have traveled as far as 50 feet, following scent trails left by other workers from the nest to the bounty. Each ant species has a specific chemical it uses to mark trails. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ruffed Grouse: Breaking The Sound Barrier

grouseA distant motor thud-thud-thuds as if trying to start, then dies away.  The noise repeats, and again dies off. I’ve been fooled by this sound, wondering who could be trying to start a 2-cylinder engine in the middle of the woods. This mechanical noise, of course, is really the drumming of a male ruffed grouse.

People once thought that male grouse struck their wings on a hollow log to produce this low whumping, but better observation revealed something far more astonishing. The bird stands bolt upright on a log, leans back on his tail, and fans his wings vigorously – so fast, in fact, that the wings achieve the same speed as the sound waves generated by their passage through the air. This causes the sound waves to “pile up” into a penetrating shock wave, also known as a sonic boom. For a one-and-a-quarter-pound grouse to exert such force takes strength and perseverance. Novice males have been observed going through all the motions and not producing any sound at all. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Outside Story: Pussy Willow’s Time to Shine

pussy_willowLast fall, I went to a nearby wetland with a pair of clippers and cut twigs from one willow shrub after another. It wasn’t hard to tell the willows from the non-willows because willows are the only woody plants in this area whose buds are covered by a single bud scale.

These cute, pointy caps are very different from the overlapping scales that protect most buds through the winter. And the few woody plants with no protective scales are easily recognizable: their naked, embryonic leaves rely on a coating of woolliness to keep them from desiccating or freezing. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Outside Story: Pasture Pines

weevilThe eastern white pine is the tallest tree in this part of North America, with the biggest specimens getting up near 200 feet. They can live for 250 years or more. A truly big one is jaw-droppingly impressive.

Unfortunately, many never reach their full potential. Dubbed pasture pines, cabbage pines, or wolf trees, these squat multi-stemmed trees look like shrubs on steroids. Not for them the soaring magnificence of a robust, healthy pine. I’ve got plenty of them in the woods in back of my house. When I look at them, I just sigh.  You can blame it all on a native insect: the white pine weevil, Pissodes strobi. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maple Sugaring: Do New Tapping Strategies Hurt Trees?

sugaringOur sugarhouse is within walking distance of an elementary school, so we’ve given tapping demonstrations to hundreds of school kids over the years. At the part where someone drills a hole in the tree and it sort of bleeds, the next question is invariably: “Does tapping hurt the tree?”

The stock answer is no, as long as you don’t overdo it: use the smaller “health” spouts, follow conservative tapping guidelines, give the tree a year off if it looks stressed. As proof that sugaring is sustainable, we point to some of the trees in our sugarbush that have been tapped for close to a hundred years and are better off for it. Better off because we thin out the trees around them, giving the chosen trees extra light, water, and nutrients.

Their increased vigor, when compared to the maples in unmanaged sections of the forest, is plain to see.  But the sugarmaking being practiced today in many commercial bushes – including our own – is not the same sugarmaking that was practiced even 10 years ago. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Outside Story: Golden-Crowned Kinglets

KingletThe only regal thing about the golden-crowned kinglet is the crest of yellow-orange feathers atop its head. Everything else about this speck of a songbird’s appearance and behavior would make any proper monarch frown. It’s half the size of a black-capped chickadee yet twice as energetic: a gregarious and kinetic bird wrapped in unassuming olive-gray plumage. Yet this tiny creature faces head-on winters that animals fifteen thousand times its size (we’re looking at you, black bears) hide from.

Winter survival for animals in the Northeast often involves setting their metabolisms to “simmer” and waiting out the coldest months in a state of hibernation (in the case of many mammals) or some equivalent torpor (most reptiles, insects, amphibians). In the most dramatic cases (wood frogs, woolly-bear caterpillars), the animals simply freeze solid and thaw in spring. Songbirds, given the luxury of flight, often simply flee.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Outside Story: Sapstreak Disease in the Sugarbush

diseaseOn a walk through a still, snowy sugarbush, the peacefulness can be overwhelming; everything looks to be in good order. But all may not be as perfect as it seems.

In any sugarbush, there is a good chance that a fungal intruder has gained entry and is wintering unseen beneath the rich, dark bark of an unlucky sugar maple. If this invader is sapstreak disease, then death is likely to soon claim a valuable sap producer. » Continue Reading.


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.