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, July 30, 2015

The Impact of Stormwater on Adirondack Streams

Roaring Brook Falls 2014 by John WarrenIn peaceful streams, aquatic macroinvertebrates such as crayfish, stoneflies, and caddisflies travel over and under submerged rocks, foraging for other invertebrates, leaves, and algae. When rain falls, their world turns upside down. At first only the surface is disturbed, but before long, runoff reaches the stream and increases its flow many fold. Silt and sand blast every exposed rock surface. At peak flow, boulders are propelled downstream by powerful currents.

How do small creatures survive such crushing chaos? They hunker down. Water-filled nooks and crannies extend deep below streambeds and far beyond river banks. These deep interstices provide a safe haven even while turbulent water pulverizes the riverbed, comparable to a storm cellar in a tornado. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Understanding Spider Silk and Spider Webs

TOS_Spider_SilkThere is an all-natural material, produced at room temperature, that can be used to build homes, to make protective coverings, to hunt and trap, and even to swing through the air. It’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and waterproof. On a per-weight basis it’s stronger than steel and more elastic than nylon or kevlar.

What is this remarkable material? Spider silk.

If it sounds impossible that a single material can be used for so many purposes, well, in a way it is. Depending on how you want to count them, there are seven or eight kinds of spider silk in the world, and any given spider species may make as many as six different kinds. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Science Behind Fledging Birds

TOS_grouse_fledglingOn a recent afternoon, I saw a baby ruffed grouse about the size of a pin cushion scurry into the bushes. I had the same impulse I did as a 10-year-old when I scooped up a baby blue jay hopping around on a neighbor’s lawn: I wanted to “rescue” it.  Instead, I kept driving, leaving the tiny bird to its fate.

Fledging is perilous for all birds – most won’t survive their first year – but what exactly is that process? Do nestlings know when to leave or do the parents signal when it’s time? Do they all go at once? Will the parents continue to protect and feed them after they have fledged? And what should I have done, if anything, to help that baby ruffed grouse? » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Are American Elm Trees On The Rebound?

TOS_American_ElmOn a recent damp May morning I walked around Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, with arborist Brian Beaty. While he is responsible for all of the trees in the center of the campus, our visit focused on a small number of trees that require an inordinate amount of his attention. These were the college’s mature American elms – tall, elegant, and, most importantly, healthy.

Beaty wants to keep them that way, which is why he checks on the elms almost daily from early spring to late summer, and has his crew look them over every time they drive by one. “We don’t have a lot big elms left,” he explained. Of the hundreds of mature elms that once adorned the college, only twenty remain. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Flat Stanley and the Dangerous Centipede

TOS_centipedeBiologists sometimes field questions about a “huge scary bug” that appeared in someone’s home or worse yet on their person. Most turn out to be benign organisms that ended up in the wrong place.

For me, the most common questions come in July, when male dobsonflies emerge. The males have impressive mandibles that look scary but are harmless to people. Recently however, one of these questions did actually involve something dangerous. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tree Climbing Adirondack Foxes

Grey-Fox-Website_49When you think of foxes (if you ever do), you likely picture the ginger-coated red fox, like Mr. Tod from Beatrix Potter’s fantastical children’s tales, only without the dapper suitcoat and tweed knickers. It is the less common gray fox, however, that has been wandering the woods and fields near my home – and climbing the trees. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Samaras: Maple’s Other Delicacy

TOS_SamarasHelicopters. Keys. Whirligigs. Samaras. Whatever you call the winged seeds released by maple trees, here’s one more word for them: delicious.

Like many New Englanders, I have fond childhood memories of dropping maple “helicopters” from a height and watching them twist and twirl down to the ground. My children do the same now. They gather fistfuls of maple samaras, toss them over the railing of the upstairs porch, and watch them flutter earthward. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bee Mimics: Pretending To Be Bees

Honey beeA while back I had a few hives of honey bees parked at a beef farm down the road, tucked up against a stone wall just outside a pasture. One day the owner called to say that my bees had invaded a building in a barn complex and were laying eggs in manure puddles.

I went down to check it out, and the building did have a lot of buzzing insects butting their heads against the windows. I looked closer. They looked like honey bees, but… not quite. And there were weird larvae wriggling in water seeping from manure. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Being Prepared In The Adirondack Backcountry

Forest Rangers DEC PhotoIf you are traveling into the backcountry beyond the trailhead these tips are important to keep in mind:

* Be prepared, consider what you need to do to protect yourself and to protect the Adirondack Park.

* Plan ahead. Let friends of relatives know where you are going, when you plan to return and what to do if you do not return on time. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Whitetail Fawns Hide In Plain Sight

TOS_FawnLast May, while out hiking, I came across a young fawn curled up in the ferns only three feet from the Appalachian Trail. My husband and our dog had already walked right by without noticing it. I quickly snapped a few photos as the creature lay motionless, its large eyes wide open, a picture of innocence. Then I alerted my husband, we put the dog on a leash, and hurried away. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wild Salads: Eat Your Weedies

TOS_wild_saladIn the early 1960s, Euell Gibbons wrote Stalking the Wild Asparagus and introduced millions of North Americans to the virtues of harvesting wild foods. Since that time, gathering wild edibles has become increasingly popular, and in our region, woods-grown delicacies such as ramps and fiddlehead ferns appear in grocery stores each spring.

Yet you don’t have to lace up your hiking boots to enjoy the wild repast. If you resist the urge to use herbicides, you are likely to find a diverse array of edible wild plants growing in your lawn and vegetable garden. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Alder and Willow Flycatchers: Sibling Species

TOS_FlycatcherBy mid-May each year I begin to look forward to the return of the alder flycatchers that nest in the willows along the stream near our house. Usually the last migrant to arrive on our property, this small, drab, gray bird with its sneeze-like song, signifies that summer is indeed just around the corner. But last year, for the first time in 20 years, another bird joined the neighborhood.

A willow flycatcher announced his presence, just a few days after I first heard the alder flycatcher. To my surprise, the two sibling species co-existed all summer, presumably both nesting in the same acre or so of shrubby wetland habitat. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Nature As Artist: How Tree Burls Grow

TOS_BurlI’ve had my eye on this maple in my woods for some time. Not because it’s a beautiful timber tree. It’s only about eight inches in diameter, after all. But, it has an interesting burl about 14 feet up the trunk.

As a woodturner, I love the twisted wood grain found in most burls. A burl is a surprise package on a tree. Yes, straight grained wood is beautiful. I love the open grain of red oak, the milky brightness of birch, the rich burnished glow of cherry. But they are predictable. A burl is anything but.

I’m not the only one who loves burls. » Continue Reading.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Vernal Pools: Hatch, Grow and Get Out

Vernal_poolsThree things happened this week: bluebirds and tree swallows returned, my road was graded, and the red maple buds popped. It’s time to search for vernal pools.

Vernal pools are small areas of wetland that form in the spring and dry up during the summer. Water collects in saucer-shaped depressions that have an impermeable layer of soil, leaves, or debris. Snowmelt and spring rains fill these puddles. Without an inlet to replenish the supply, summer’s sun and heat eventually evaporate the water, though a dense forest canopy helps delay the inevitable drying up. Some vernal pools may refill after a heavy rain, but the main characteristic is their temporary nature. » Continue Reading.


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.


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