Go outside tonight. Bundle up, find a comfortable place to lie down and look up. You’re looking back in time. On a very clear night, with the naked eye, you will see stars whose light left their source between three thousand and sixteen thousand years ago, the former a thousand years before Jesus Christ lived, and the latter about the time our hunter gatherer ancestors were transitioning to farmers, and were slowly breeding, through unnatural selection, dogs out of gray wolves.
Photo by Joe Kostoss
Short-eared owls are one of the most widely ranging members of the Strigidae owl family, absent only from Australia and Antarctica. They favor grasslands, fields, tundra, meadows, airports, marshes and bogs, any open habitat home to their favorite prey, moles, voles, deer mice, shrews, small birds, and insects.
Owls are birds of prey of the order Strigiformes, which are divided into two main families. Strigidae has 220 wide ranging species, for example round faced owls filling all possible sizes between the great horned owl and the elf owl. Tytonidae has 20 species, distributed worldwide everywhere but the polar regions and northern regions from Canada through eastern Russia, for example, heart faced owls like the barn owl.
Eight owls are found in the Adirondacks: Snowy owl seasonally, Great Horned owl, Barred owl, Long eared owl, Short eared owl, Barn owl, Eastern screech owl and Northern saw whet owl, all year-round residents.
Saw whet owls appear nearly as strange as their name sounds. At seven to nine inches long, weighing in at two to six ounces, with a stubby wingspan of sixteen to nineteen inches, saw whets are the smallest owl in the Adirondacks, though surprisingly not the smallest in the world, coming in at twice the weight of the insect eating elf owls of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. As with other raptors, female saw whets are larger than males.
There is an amusing scene in the comedy “My Cousin Vinny”, where the Joe Pesci character, an inexperienced lawyer from Brooklyn, where local wildlife tends towards pigeons, rats, crows, and stray cats, is staying in a remote back woods Alabama cabin, preparing for the big murder trial, and is startled by a blood curdling shriek in the dead of night. He explodes out the front door, wildly firing a pistol, as the camera suddenly focuses down on a small screech owl in a tree.
How do you describe Barn Owls? To begin with, what birds are stranger than owls? The oddly inelegant shape, the seemingly humorless and serious demeanor, the hostile and insistent beak snapping, the strength all out of proportion to their sizes?
And then there is the barn owl, with that heart shaped, almost alien, face, the head wagging when surprised or threatened, the long, gawky legs, and that arrestingly loud, drawn out and raspy hiss, like a cobra with a microphone.
Barn owls are a weird and fascinating species, even within the ghostliest of raptor orders, Strigiformes. The Martians have landed, and they have come for your rodents! In an interesting observation, the Carolina Raptor Center, speculating on the origin of ghosts and goblins in people’s minds, and mindful of the link between old barns, church steeples and agricultural fields, in other words, the proximity of villages to barn owl nesting sites, wonder whether the ghostly appearance, odd hisses, screeches and screams of the barn owl, helped foster such nightmares.
There are many species of owls in the Adirondacks, with barred owls being the most common, and the most frequently seen.
We mainly hear owls calling between Autumn and early Spring. Great Horned Owls nest earlier than other owls, and their deep staccato HOO-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-HOO call, sounding most like the stereotyped call we associate with owls generally, is resonant and vaguely threatening.
The Long-eared owl, which resembles a smaller, perpetually startled and skinny great horned, has a call which reminds you more of song bird calls, stretched out with longer pauses between notes, which may be single syllable “ooo” or raspier pleas, sounding almost cat like. Screech owl calls are shrill and loud, sharp and abrupt. If you ever watched the comedy “My Cousin Vinny”, there is a funny scene where the Joe Pesci character, surprised by a screech owl’s scream in the dead of night, runs out of the cabin firing a pistol, followed by a close up of the screech owl. Tiny saw whet owls make a “toot-toot” call, like a small truck backing up.
The osprey is second only to the peregrine falcon, as the most widely distributed bird of prey in the world, found on every continent but Antarctica, while picking up regional names like fish hawk, fish eagle and seahawk. There are probably half a million osprey globally, and osprey are one of the clearest indications of the health of any shallow fresh, brackish or saltwater habitat.
Like eagles, osprey are generally monogamous and tend to use the same nests year after year, so a successful osprey family indicates lots of fish, and since osprey are not as rigidly territorial as some other predators, the more osprey nests a habitat supports, the more likely the general health of the ecosystem is good.
The Eurasian Lynx entered North America across the Bering Land Bridge about 2.5 million years ago, in the first of two waves. Glaciers waxed and waned, alternately blocking and opening Beringia, as well as migration paths down to what would become the U.S. border and Canadian province areas, a classic example of how one species gets separated by changing land and sea features, the two groups then evolving in different directions, until representatives of one group can no longer mate, thus resulting in two species. The second wave, coming with melting of northern glaciers evolved into the Canadian Lynx.
Kayla Hanczyk was a beautiful and accomplished young woman, a graduate of SUNY ESF, a wolf lover and an outdoor girl with a love for nature, whose life was struck short by a debilitating cancer. Her grieving family raised the money and built a Memorial to their daughter, the new Kayla Hanczyk Memorial Education Center at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge. This Sunday, Sept. 6, come learn about wolves, bears, moose, bees, butterflies and pollinators, and help us celebrate Kayla’s short but fruitful life.
There are three vultures in the United States: the California Condor, the Turkey Vulture, which has the widest range, extending from Canada down into South America, and the Black Vulture, the smallest of the three.
If I wanted to observe black vultures 25 years ago, I went to the Everglades or the Texas Gulf Coast. About 15 years ago, I began seeing black vultures in swampy areas of northern New Jersey, and, with warming climate, they’re now showing up in the southern Adirondacks.
Every creature plays a role in maintaining the balance in nature. Turkey vultures in particular have an important job. They are “carrion” eaters, which means they scavenge the remains of dead animals.
We often see them overhead, their broad v-shaped, five to six foot wingspan teetering effortlessly from side-to-side on rising thermals, like a kite in a gentle breeze, using their keen eyesight and highly developed sense of smell to locate the carcasses of recently deceased animals.
If nature were a fashion show, the Great Gray Owl might qualify as the most handsome owl, with its grey mottled plumage, inflated bonnet like head, expansive facial disk, penetrating yellow eyes, white mustache and a look of perpetual surprise on its face. And yet the great gray is a bag of bones only half full, with its skeleton dramatically smaller than the large physical appearance created by the fullness of its plumage.
The Great Gray is not as heavy as the Snowy Owl or the Eurasian Eagle Owl, and it lacks the incredible crushing power that the talons of the Great Horned Owl possesses, but in terms of length, it is the largest owl in the world, averaging two to three feet in length, but only one and a half to four pounds in weight, with a wing span which can reach five feet. As with other birds of prey, females are slightly larger than males.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series.
Deer appear in paleolithic cave paintings at Altamira, on the north coast of Spain, going back 36,000 years.
The white tailed deer has been in North America for about 4 million years, making the white tail one of the real veterans of nearly all varying habitats in North America, ranging from Nova Scotia west to southern Alberta, sweeping south into Central America, with gaps west of the Rockies.
To put that in perspective, modern moose have only been in North America about 15,000 years, having migrated through Berengia about the same time the ancestors of native Americans began to trickle across.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.
Following Bergman’s Rule, white tails in colder climates will be larger on average than deer in warmer climates, as larger deer in colder climates are more likely to survive cold winters, thus surviving to breed and pass along their genes for superior size. Adirondack bucks average about 200 lbs, with mature females at about 160 lbs.
While deer flourish in widely varying habitat, ideal habitat tends to be woodlands, river valleys, forest edge, swamp, meadow and farmlands. The Adirondacks, with its rough mountainous terrain, is not good habitat, and most of the hunters who hunt in the Adirondacks are here as much for the beauty and splendor of an Adirondack autumn, and would more likely find more deer in their back yards or local forest, than they will up here.