Summer is the season for being on the water in the Adirondacks, and a canoe or kayak is the perfect way to explore the many ponds, slow-moving rivers and marshes that exist throughout the Park. While these shallow, muddy-bottomed settings may not be great for swimming, the rusty-tan water occasionally covered with patches of floating leaves and strands of submerged vegetation does teem with life. Among the residents of these quiet, weedy waterways is the redbelly dace (Phoxinus eos), a common and widespread member of the minnow family of fish. » Continue Reading.
A screened-in porch is an ideal place to relax on a summer evening in the Adirondacks. The tight, wire mesh that covers the walls allows the enjoyment of nature’s unique fragrances and wildlife sounds without the harassment of mosquitoes and other flying nocturnal pests. However, during the early parts of summer, there is one bug that can detract from the backwoods ambiance of that peaceful Adirondack evening. Biting midges are small enough to pass through traditional screens, allowing them access to any individual wanting to enjoy the evening.
The biting midges form a large group of exceedingly small true flies that are roughly the size of a sand grain, and are known to many as punkies or no-see-ums. The latter common name comes from this bug’s ability to remain unseen in low light conditions, such as on a porch after sunset, even when one of these pests has started to chew into your skin. Despite their dark color, no-see-ums are still a challenge to see clearly, even when standing against a patch of light colored skin. On a person with a dark complexion, punkies can be impossible to spot, regardless of how good the light may happen to be. » Continue Reading.
It is traditional backwoods wisdom to avoid getting between a mother and her babies, and while this advice usually pertains to the black bear, it could also apply to several other forms of wildlife that reside in the Adirondacks.
In late spring many infants are emerging from the safety of their den or nest and most mothers try to provide some form of protection from potential danger to their babies. Perhaps the most remarkable display of parental courage for a creature of its size is seen in the hen ruffed grouse. This bird will aggressively confront and challenge any human that happens to come too close to its recently hatched chicks. » Continue Reading.
Insects adapted for survival in an often cool, high-elevation environment have emerged from their long winter dormancy and are now engaged in eating and breeding. Various species of birds have traveled to our upper elevation slopes to mate and nest, and numerous mammals that reside in this harsh climatic zone are now busy rearing infants which can temporarily double their populations.
One predator that is occasionally seen by people who pass through this region and whose young are currently developing to the stage at which they are leaving their mother’s den for the first time is the American marten (Martes Americana), a creature that symbolizes the great North woods character of the Central Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
Forest clearings in the Adirondacks are especially attractive settings for many forms of wildlife. The warmth of the ground when the sun is shining is particularly inviting to cold-blooded creatures, and the stands of trees that surround these openings in the canopy serve as a source of food and shelter.
Clearings created during logging operations, wide sections along secondary roads, and the open space that typically exists around lean-tos and campsites are places frequented by numerous animals. Among the creatures easily observed during the coming month in these sunny oases of our deciduous and mixed woodlands is a strikingly attractive, black butterfly with a distinct white strip across its wings. The white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) is a common component of our fauna and regularly lingers around small forest clearings during the early summer throughout the Park. » Continue Reading.
Spring is a season when the greatest abundance of natural sounds echo across the landscape. During the day, birds are primarily responsible for the variety of musical calls; however as darkness approaches, especially when the weather is mild, the voices of amphibians produce our most captivating sounds.
Around the alder-laden shores of ponds, marshes and rivers, choruses of tiny spring peepers regularly drown out the songs sung by all other creatures. During the latter part of May, after dusk, toads can be seen heading to similar shallow wooded waterways to engage in their nocturnal serenade. » Continue Reading.
Coinciding with the onset of bug season in the Adirondacks is the return of our insect eating birds. While nearly all of these perching birds have an attractive musical call that announces their presence, most maintain a secretive routine so they are rarely spotted.
The swallows are the most visible bug consumers as their preference for perching in exposed places and feeding over open settings allows these skilled aerialists to be regularly seen.
Additionally, their habit of placing their nest close to human dwellings and in plain view of any passerby makes them well known to residents and visitors of the Park.
» Continue Reading.
The recent series of rain events that has occurred over the past several weeks has elevated the level of streams and rivers, reduced the threat of wildfires, and brought trail conditions back to a more typical spring muddy state.
This wet period has also helped greatly in rejuvenating vernal pools that are critical breeding areas and nurseries for many forest dwelling amphibians and has created the damp soil conditions essential to these wet-skinned animals. Among these moisture loving vertebrates that commonly occurs in stands of mature forests throughout the Adirondacks is a sizeable dark colored creature known as the spotted salamander. » Continue Reading.
Spending time outdoors in the Adirondacks during spring is a rewarding experience, as the sounds that emanate from our forests, especially in the early morning, are sure to delight. While the musical calls produced by most birds are relatively short and composed of only a handful of notes, there are a few songs that are considerably longer and more complex.
The lengthiest and most intricate song that commonly graces our woodlands is one heard in patches of mixed forests where dense clusters of undergrowth or ground debris exist on the forest floor. This fast tempo melody is quite loud, yet comes from one of the smallest birds to nest in the Adirondacks – the winter wren. » Continue Reading.
Among the many groups of insects that exist on our planet, the most abundant, diverse and ecologically successful are the beetles. And while many of these hard-shelled bugs are viewed as ugly and unwanted by humans, the ladybug beetle is considered to be one of the most attractive and environmentally friendly creatures in nature.
With a conspicuous dome-shaped, orange shell marked with black spots, the ladybug is difficult to mistake for any other invertebrate. Like all insects, there are numerous species of ladybugs that reside in our region, and the subtle differences in the color and pattern of its markings is the common means of distinguishing among the members of this insect group. » Continue Reading.
Prior to the start of black fly season, and continuing for several weeks after the swarms of those tiny, biting demons have faded, there is another insect onslaught that impacts numerous people throughout the Adirondacks. Shortly after the soil has thawed in spring, ants begin to invade the living space of humans, especially kitchens and dining areas where bits of food are readily available.
Since there are so many types and species of ants in the North Country, it is impossible to say what kind of ant is appearing around countertops, near pantry closets, in garbage containers, and under tables where morsels of edibles lie undisturbed on the floor. However, it is easy to state that numerous ants readily welcome themselves indoors, as long as there is something worthwhile for them to collect and transport back to their colony. » Continue Reading.
Over the next several weeks, the buds on hardwood trees and shrubs will open and the forests will again be cloaked in green, providing our many herbivores with a welcome change in their diet. While many plant eaters are able to subsist on woody buds and cellulose laden layers of inner bark throughout winter, leafy matter provides far greater levels of nourishment. The porcupine, a common denizen of the deep Northwood’s forest, is among our region’s first order consumers to ingest greens when they emerge in spring.
In winter, the porcupine settles into a routine of eating only the bark and needles of a very few species of trees in the area around its den. The stomach and small intestine of this rodent contain strains of microorganisms that act on this ultra-high fiber material in order to derive the energy needed to remain alive in this climate. Yet the limited amount of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, in such plant tissues makes this type of food less than ideal for maintaining a healthy diet. Despite ingesting large volumes of woody matter each night in winter, the porcupine often loses weight continuously as this bleak season progresses. » Continue Reading.
The early break up of ice on ponds, lakes and marshes, along with a very healthy flow of water in streams and rivers, has made conditions far better for fishing this April than in recent years. Humans, however, are not the only creatures that prowl the banks of remote streams, or visit the shores of backcountry ponds, in an attempt to snag a small brook trout. Throughout the Adirondacks, there are numerous forms of life that are well adapted for catching fish, and among the most colorful and noisy is the belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon).
With its large head, long, thick bill, jagged crest, and white band around its neck, the kingfisher provides a silhouette that is easily recognized. However, it is not the unique appearance of this stout bird that initially draws attention to its presence. Most anglers and individuals that simply spend time outdoors commonly become aware that a kingfisher is in the immediate area by noting its distinct rattling call. » Continue Reading.
The mild weather that the Adirondacks has experienced over the past 10 to 12 months has benefited numerous forms of wildlife better suited for an existence in a temperate climate rather than a taiga biome. Yet, the inability of many creatures to travel long distances prevents them from quickly overspreading the Park when a lengthy warm period becomes firmly established.
Additionally, the wilderness forests of the Adirondacks limit the influx of those species that thrive in the lowlands composed primarily of agricultural fields and small suburban communities. Perhaps the status of the cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is one of the best examples of this type of natural exclusion, as this small game creature is abundant everywhere in the eastern U.S. except for settings well within the Blue Line. » Continue Reading.
There are several natural disasters that can alter the ecological make-up of an area. Wide spread tree disease, severe winds and intense ice storms can all seriously damage or destroy the dominant members of a forest community. However, the most catastrophic force of nature is fire, as a major blaze can significantly impact more than just the composition of trees that cover a given location.
Unlike other natural calamities, fire can wipe out most of the plants that root in an area. In an ice storm, or a major wind event, it is primarily the older and taller trees that are subject to the greatest devastation. Seedlings, saplings, the various shrubs that form the understory and the array of herbaceous plants that grow on the forest floor often benefit from the increase in sunlight that result when the canopy has been drastically thinned or eliminated. During an intense fire, however, the entire plant community can be obliterated. » Continue Reading.