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.
A smaller member of the Canidae family, which includes wolves and coyotes, red foxes are found in multiple habitats throughout North America, Europe and Asia, their numbers increasing in areas where their larger canid cousins have been hunted, trapped or otherwise extirpated.
Just as wolves, limiting competition for smaller prey, hold down coyote numbers, both wolves and coyotes keep fox numbers in check. Red foxes were introduced into Southern Australia in the 19th century, and to parts of the southern United States in the 18th century, to provide sport for hunters, and, as you’d expect, with the loss of predators, they are a problem in some areas in their impact on older native species.
The bald eagle is not only our nation’s most recognizable natural symbol, and the only eagle found exclusively in North America, it is also the Endangered Species Act’s most prominent success story, and a reminder of how important are the protection of our wildlife, critical habitat and natural resources generally.
Populations of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower forty-eight states crashed in the late 1960s to just over 400 pairs, due to hunting, habitat destruction and most prominently, the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture, such as DDT. In a scary process, known as “biomagnification,” bald eagles, being an apex predator at the top on their food chain, and feeding mainly on fish, occasional small rodents and carrion, in other words, wildlife which had themselves absorbed toxins in various forms ultimately from pesticide-laden vegetation or runoff from agricultural fields, suffer highly concentrated, elevated levels of these toxins, negatively impacting birth and mortality rates. Calcium deficiencies caused by the toxins resulted in the thinning of eggshells, which would collapse under the nesting female’s weight, causing a nosedive in successful eaglet births.
Part one of two about the bald eagle
Ben Franklin, the statesman, philosopher, naturalist, inventor and all around Renaissance Man, was not all that thrilled with the choice of the Bald Eagle as our national symbol, and seemed to prefer the wild turkey as a utilitarian symbol, which is uniquely American, and often spelled the difference between our wilderness forefathers eating or starving. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin said, in part…..
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk (osprey); and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
Part 2 of 2 (click here for Part 1)
Wherever wolves hunt, ravens are present, scavenging prey, and sometimes leading upwind wolves to potential prey, or to carcasses too frozen or tough for even the ravens’ heavy, pick-like beaks to penetrate.
Ravens not only scavenge wolf kills, but steal up to one third of a carcass, by continually carrying away chunks of meat, caching and hiding them both from the wolves and their fellow ravens. A fascinating study suggested that, since an adult wolf can, by itself, kill any prey smaller than a small moose, the real reason wolves hunt in packs, is to minimize the portion of a carcass lost to ravens! And while it may seem that wolves have the short end of this symbiotic relationship with ravens, idle wolves and ravens have been observed playing together, with ravens pulling on wolf tails, and wolf pups chasing after teasing ravens.
Part 1 of 2
Ravens, crows and jays make up the corvid family, arguably the most intelligent of birds. We may honor the bald eagle as our national symbol, but compared to any corvid, the eagle is definitely a bird brain. Ravens in particular, based on their omnivorous adaptability to almost any environment, their fascination with colorful toys and glittery objects, their use of natural tools, and their remarkably diverse repertoire of sounds and vocalizations, appear to be exceptionally intelligent. In fact, ravens remind me of us humans, with no formidable anatomical weapons, but large brains to help us figure out how to get whatever we need.
Thirty thousand years before Harry Potter immortalized the snowy owl in popular culture, our European ancestors were drawing them on cave walls.
Snowy owls breed on the treeless northern tundra of Alaska, Canada and Eurasia, using scrapes on snow free boulders, hummocks or rises as nests. Males select and defend their territory, while females choose the nesting site. » Continue Reading.
The opposum is the only marsupial living in North America, and they’re one of the oddest-looking, slowest moving mammals around.
They’ve become sort of a folk hero in America, because of their penchant for annually devouring an average of 5,000 of the lyme bacteria carrying black legged ticks, which make the mistake of hitching a ride on the the possum’s low slung body. » Continue Reading.
North American porcupines are large rodents whose ancestors apparently crossed from Africa to South America on floating trees and logs some 30 million years ago. Their most prominent feature are the approximately 30,000 quills which grow individually everywhere out of the skin musculature, interspersed with bristles, under fur and hair.
The quills help the porcupine defend themselves from attacks by predators. The only quill free areas are the face and underside. » Continue Reading.
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