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.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Wing and a Prayer: Are Aerial Insectivores in Trouble?

NighthawkSome catch their prey while in flight; others sit and wait for prey to come near. They’re a group of birds known as aerial insectivores, and they’re in trouble. In the northeast region, this diverse group consists of 19 species that, as their name implies, feed almost exclusively on flying insects. Some, such as the barn swallow and eastern phoebe, are quite common and well-known, while others, such as the olive-sided flycatcher and eastern wood-pewee, are relatively unknown to non-birders.

Unfortunately, as a group, aerial insectivores have been declining steadily across northeastern North America for the last 25 years or so. Flycatchers, swallows, and nightjars (the whip-poor-will and common nighthawk) have been particularly affected. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 29, 2013

New State Lands: The Nature Conservancy’s $500,000

IMG_9702What follows is a guest essay by Connie Prickett, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. The Nature Conservancy is using $500,000 to create a new grant opportunity for recreation-based development in local communities.

When The Nature Conservancy in 2007 took on its largest single land conservation project in the Adirondacks, we knew success was only going to happen through collaboration. Recent steps by the Conservancy to establish a $500,000 grant opportunity ensures that community involvement continues to be an integral part of the conservation equation and a key element to the project’s overall success. The aim is to help communities position themselves to capitalize on new outdoor recreation opportunities being created through this project. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Are Earthworms An Invasive Species?

earthwormsAldo Leopold, the famous conservationist, once wrote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” This whole idea puts nature writers in an odd position. On the one hand, it’s our job to raise the alarm when we see something amiss, but on the other, we run the risk of spending so much time dwelling on nature’s wounds that we end up giving people the impression that everything has gone to hell, which of course it has not.

So what to make of earthworms? We’ve been told for years that worms are good. Darwin was a great admirer. They make our gardens grow. But as invasive plant and animal awareness grows, we’re now being told they’re invasive animals that have the potential to destroy whole forest ecosystems. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Adirondack Wildlife: The Four-Toed Salamander

four_toed_salamanderLet’s start out with a riddle: What animal has 16 toes and a tail that breaks off when grabbed by a predator? Not sure? Here’s another clue: It’s the smallest terrestrial vertebrate in our area. If you didn’t guess four-toed salamander, don’t feel bad—it’s probably also the least-known salamander in the North Country.

The four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) holds a number of dubious distinctions. Besides its diminutive size (a typical adult may only reach 2-3 inches in length), it is also the only terrestrial salamander with four toes on all four feet. With the exception of the aquatic mudpuppy (which happens to be our largest salamander), all other salamanders have five toes on their hind feet. Four-toeds also have specialized breeding habitat requirements, which probably accounts for their limited distributions in our region. Combine that with their small size and cryptic behavior, and you have a recipe for an animal that very few people have ever heard of, let alone encountered. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Adirondack Fishing: How the Trout Got Its Spots

trout_colorsWhen I was ten, I carried a tin can of worms and a battered fishing rod to the wild shores of Brickyard Pond, in the woods behind our subdivision. We caught mostly scrappy sunfish and white perch, with the occasional bass thrown in. There were alewives in some of the brooks, too, and we caught them with nets. As for the pretty trout that came from the hatchery truck, I never caught one. The fish I caught were mostly round, dark green or gray, and mottled like the mud and sand bottom of the pond.

Then one day a friend’s older brother, a real fisherman with a green fishing vest, caught a large brown trout. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The fish, shaped like a torpedo, was a yellowish gold and it had big red spots on its sides. Years later, I caught my first brook trout on a fly rod at Shoal Pond in the White Mountains. Again, I was mesmerized by the intense colors: the yellow and red spots, some with bluish halos, the fins that were bright red with white and black trim.

It all begs the question: why the trout’s fancy colors when so many other fish are dishwater dull? » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Adirondack Forestry: Stump Sprouting

CoppicingTwenty years ago when I bought my farm I made a snap decision to clear some woods near the house, all the way back to the stone wall. Out came the chainsaw and trees started crashing down.

I never did finish “neatening up” that section of the fence line. And it was only later that I realized that I had turned the only sizable northern red oak on the entire 40-acre woodlot into firewood. As a guy who prizes forest diversity, I was chagrined. No help for it. Except, a few years later I noticed some healthy sprouts from that oak stump. I left them alone. Now the three biggest are six to eight inches in diameter and some forty feet tall. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 17, 2013

For Some Bumblebees, Future Not So Sweet

Bumblebee2In early summer, my roses are buzzing with bees. European honeybees from my hives are tripping over the tiny metallic native bees while burly black and yellow bumblebees, the sumo wrestlers in this ring, shoulder through the stamens.

It would appear all is right with bees. But it’s not. Everyone knows honeybees are in trouble, but bumblebees are also in worldwide decline. In North America, several species are extinct, or perilously close to it. » Continue Reading.


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.