Almanack Contributor Tom Kalinowski

Tom Kalinowski is an avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years. He has written numerous articles on natural history for Adirondack Life, The Conservationist, and Adirondack Explorer magazines and a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News. In addition, Tom’s books, An Adirondack Almanac, and his most recent work entitled Adirondack Nature Notes, focuses on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. He also spends time photographing wildlife. Tom’s pictures have appeared in various publications across the New York State.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Adirondack Wildlife: The Pileated Woodpecker

There are only a limited number of sounds that can be heard outdoors during the winter in the Adirondacks. While most of these noises tend to carry only short distances, there is one that is loud enough to travel well over a hundred yards. Even when the limbs and boughs are coated with an audio-absorbing layer of snow, the voice of the pileated woodpecker periodically breaks the silence and resounds through our mature woodlands.

Ornithologists are generally of the opinion that the pileated woodpecker uses it piercing, high-pitched “kac-kac-kac” call in winter to maintain contact with its mate during its daily search for food. Unlike most birds, once an adult male and female pileated woodpecker have established a pair bond, they tend to remain together throughout the entire year in the territory that they have claimed. Throughout the day, the birds routinely venture to various areas of the forest in search of clusters of invertebrate matter, especially carpenter ants that have taken refuge within the trees. » Continue Reading.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Adirondack Wildlife: Snowfall and the Varying Hare

The recent snowfall that allowed Whiteface Mountain to open this past Thanksgiving weekend proved to be a most welcome weather event for both our region’s alpine skiing community and the multitude of varying hares that reside in those areas of the Park impacted by this late November winter storm.

In early October, the varying hare, also known as the snowshoe rabbit, (Lepus americanus) starts to develop a new outer coat of white fur. These lengthy hairs contain numerous air chambers that increase their insulational value while also allowing them to more effectively reflect light, which gives them a brighter, bleached appearance. As this layer of guard hairs develops, it allows this small game animal to better retain its body heat while also gradually changing its appearance from a brownish-gray to an ivory white that closely matches snow. » Continue Reading.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Red-Backed Salamanders Go Underground

There are several types of migration that occur in nature. While this term generally brings to mind the long distance flight of birds and a few species of bats, it can also refer to the seasonal movements of numerous creatures that abandon their summer domains on the surface for an environment below the frost line.

As cold air becomes more intense, and nightly temperatures more regularly drop into the teens causing water in the uppermost layer of soil to freeze, most cold-blooded organisms that reside there, particularly the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) must start to migrate down in order to prevent freezing to death. » Continue Reading.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Changing Adirondack Bat Populations

Interest in bats has steadily increased over the past several years as the problem of white-nose syndrome has become more acute, especially in the Adirondacks. As people become more familiar with this unique group of mammals, numerous questions regarding their ability to survive the ravages of this rapidly spreading disease continually arise.

While there are answers to a few questions, most have none, other than “best guesses” or “ideas” from very intelligent wildlife biologists who have regularly studied these creatures. However, even the experts are limited in responding to some questions about bats, as there has not been much research conducted into numerous aspects of their natural history and population status, especially here in the Park. Although some features of bats are well known, many habits and behavioral traits of these winged animals still remain a mystery. » Continue Reading.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Big Brown Bats and the Adirondack Winter

Despite remarkable similarities in appearance, flying styles and behaviors, not all bats are created equal. In the Adirondacks, there are approximately nine species of these dark, winged mammals during the summer months, yet all possess their own unique physical characteristics and habits.

The manner in which bats deal with the total lack of flying insects that occurs with the onset of winter is one feature that illustrates how bats are different. Even though more than half the species that populate our region migrate to and then enter caves or mines that extend deep underground, all have definite preferences for below the surface. While some species proceed far from the entrance in order to reach warmer and damper locations, others favor cooler and drier spots closer to the world above. » Continue Reading.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Adironack Wildlife: The Fall Loon Migration

It is typically in November when ice forms on the many ponds and lakes across the Adirondacks. This inevitable transition from a watery world into an icy plain causes the loon to abandon its summer home in remote wilderness locations and seek out an environment in which it can survive until the spring.

This process of relocation begins with the loons leaving their more traditional breeding grounds in remote ponds and back country lakes and moving to larger lakes in the same general region. Because large bodies of water take longer to freeze than smaller aquatic settings, traveling to much larger lakes gives the loon more time in its northern, fresh water environment before heading south. » Continue Reading.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Adirondack Nuts: The Time for Beechnuts

For many Adirondack trees and shrubs, this past growing season was exceptional, as is evident by the quantity of fruits and seeds which our woody plants have produced. While many of these reproductive vessels have already matured and fallen to the ground, a few like the nuts of the beech have only recently finished ripening and are being shaken loose from their twigs by the winds that occur around the opening of deer season.

Beech is one of the most common components in stands of mature hardwoods across northern New York, especially in our wilderness regions. While the buds and bark of this stately looking tree are avoided by nearly all forms of wildlife, the small, 3-sided nuts that it yields in October are among the most nutritious wild edibles produced in our forests. » Continue Reading.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Adirondack Wildlife: The Howling Coyote

It can be heard at almost anytime, but especially after sunset. On calm evenings from the late summer throughout autumn, the high-pitched yelping cry of the eastern coyote occasionally echoes across the landscape as this resourceful predator moves under the cover of darkness. While the coyote is known to make its tormented-sounding bark during any season, there are times when it is more vocal and fall is one of those periods.

» Continue Reading.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adirondack Weather: The Winter Forecast

It is part of human nature to be curious about future events, and with the approach of winter, many people are currently wondering about the severity of the upcoming season. In an attempt to gain insight into the weather conditions for the next 5 to 6 months, some people turn to the scientific community. The Climate Prediction Center, the very long range forecasting division of the National Weather Service, regularly provides its “best guess” weather scenarios for the next 12 months based on oceanic and atmospheric anomalies that are believed to influence global weather patterns.

The Farmer’s Almanac and The Old Farmer’s Almanac are two very popular and long established publications that provide similar general and specific weather forecasts for the coming seasons. While the exact methods employed to devise these forecasts are still considered to be a trade secret, both of these almanacs are believed to rely on solar cycles and other natural phenomena that are thought to influence weather patterns.

As a means of learning what the future holds, some people turn to nature for those subtle “signs” of upcoming weather. Unquestionably, the woolly bear caterpillar is the bug assumed to be the most reliable and accurate in predicting the winter. The woolly bear is a very fuzzy caterpillar roughly an inch in length, identified by a reddish-brown section between the two black ends of its cylindrical body.

This caterpillar emerges from an egg late in the summer at which time it begins to feed heavily on the foliage of a variety of plants. Around the time of the first frost, the woolly bear abandons its feeding routine and starts to search for a sheltered spot in which to pass the winter. A pile of dead leaves around an old stump, a crevice in a rock that becomes covered by snow following the first winter storm, or a nook within a stack of firewood in a shed or barn are likely places where this caterpillar to retreat to and curl up into a ball before slipping into a deep state of dormancy. The reduction of moisture within its body and the development of certain substances in its tissues that lower the freezing point of water allow this caterpillar to survive prolonged periods of frigid temperatures without perishing.

According to popular legend, the width of the middle, lighter colored strip is the key to determining the severity of the coming winter. Should this middle section exceed one-third its body length, winter will be on the mild side, and the longer it is, the milder the winter will be. Scientists have discovered, however, that the relative length of this center band expands as the caterpillar ages. It has also been reported that dry conditions also promotes the expansion of this center band.

Folklore enthusiasts insist that the woolly bear’s coat responds to subtle atmospheric conditions and these factors are instrumental in determining future weather patterns, just like the Climate Prediction Center focuses on la Niña conditions across the Pacific.

Another “sign” in nature said to be useful in forecasting winter weather is the height of a wasp nest above the ground. When wasps build their nest high in trees, it indicates that there is going to be substantial amount of snowfall. However, this correlation doesn’t seem to make sense, as wasps completely abandon their nest during mid autumn. Only the queen wasp survives the winter by burrowing underground; all the workers eventually perish when the temperatures begin to regularly drop below freezing in mid autumn. The location of a wasp nest is based solely on the site the queen believes will provide the greatest level of protection from the predators in that immediate area, not on how future snowfall will impact the vacant nest.

The thickness of the coats of various animals and the bushiness of a gray squirrel’s tail are other “signs” that people cite as they attempt to peer into the future. The density of fur on all animals is regulated by genetics, yet its appearance can be impacted by the weather. For example, a deer’s coat appears to puff out as the temperature drops because of the hair’s response to cooler conditions. It is similar to a person having a “bad hair day” when moisture levels increase and the hairs react by becoming crinkled, or more rigid.

In any event here are the Forecasts:

National Weather Service: Normal temperatures and normal precipitation

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Below normal temperatures, especially from mid Jan through April and below normal precipitation

Farmer’s Almanac: Near normal temperatures with stormy and snowy conditions

Woolly bear caterpillar: (At least the ones that I have encountered.) normal winter conditions

Wasp nest: heavy snowfall winter

My own personal analysis: A mild winter to start with minimal amounts of snowfall into mid Jan. Normal to slightly above normal temperatures for the rest of the winter with above normal amounts of snowfall. (There will be 3 days this winter when the temperature never gets above zero.)

Illustration: The probability of average, higher, or lower than normal temperatures for November, December, and January. Courtesy the The Climate Prediction Center.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Adirondack Entomology: Ugly Bugs

Most insects are known for their unappealing body shape and form and unattractive overall appearance. While there could be much debate and discussion regarding our region’s most strikingly ugly type of insect, the leaf-footed bugs near the top of this list regularly appear around homes and camps with the approach of the Columbus Day weekend.

The leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus spp.) form a collection of insects in the Hemiptera order, or category of insects better known to naturalists as the “True Bugs”. Members of the order Hemiptera are characterized in part by a mouth that is adapted for piercing and sucking. While a few types, like bedbugs, have evolved a mouth for piercing human skin and extracting blood, most individuals in this diverse group have a mouth that is designed to puncture the outer layers of plants and drain some of the nutrient-enriched fluid contained in the underlying tissues.

One of the most prominent type of leaf-footed bugs in the Adirondacks is the Conifer-seed bug which attacks the developing cones on certain evergreen trees in summer. By latching onto cones, the conifer-seed bug is able to extract the sap that supplies vital nourishment to these structures as they form on twigs. The conifer-seed bug is about an inch in length, has a rather robust brownish-gray body, and a small head with a prominent set of antennae. As with all leaf-footed bugs, the lower portion of their hind legs exhibits a uniquely flattened shape, which sets them apart from other closely related True Bugs.

Most similar looking members of Hemiptera, like the Squash Bugs, produce a foul smelling odor when they feel threatened or have been disturbed. Because of this, some people refer to them as stink bugs; however, the true stink bugs form a separate family within the Hemiptera order.

While this potent smell is effective in discouraging attack by those creatures with a keen sense of smell, such as mice, shrews and ermine, it often fails to prevent them from being eaten by most bug-eating birds. Since the sense of smell is not well developed in most forms of avian life, birds typically fail to be impacted by the repulsive odor emitted when a leaf-footed bug, or one of its close relatives, is forcefully grabbed.

People wanting to transport these insects from inside their home can usually trap them under a cup, or simply grab them loosely with their hands. Slightly agitating the cup, or grasping them too firmly, triggers this defensive response, as can be noted by placing your nose near the container, or bringing your hand close to your face just after the bug is released.

While the conifer-seed bug, along with other leaf-footed bugs, is active throughout the summer, its presence is most often noted during early to mid autumn, as the concentration of sap diminishes greatly in trees. As its food source dwindles, this bug begins to look for a place in which to pass the winter. In areas far from human dwellings, the conifer-seed bug is known to seek out a large tree with a deep hole or chamber in the center. Such a sheltered spot offers protection from the extreme cold as well as from exposure to the exceptionally dry air that can cause desiccation. An abandoned mouse or squirrel nest tucked in the recesses of a pile of brush is another spot likely to be selected to spend the winter.

A place that radiates warmth, like the south side of a house, is highly attractive to the conifer-seed bug. It is not uncommon as the leaves turn color to notice one, or several of these ugly bugs perched on a crack around a window, near a door, or close to a vent or chimney. While the body of this insect appears to be fairly chunky, the conifer-seed bug is able to squeeze through some small openings in order to access a more favorable environment.

While the conifer-seed bug, as well as all of the various types of leaf-footed bugs will not harm you, your pets, or your house plants, their presence can be unsettling to many people. Their slow, menacing-looking manner of movement, odd pattern of body markings, and overall ugly appearance makes them unwanted residents in your home for our long winter here in the Adirondacks.

Photo: Conifer seed-bug, courtesy Wikipedia.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adirondack Waterfowl: Mallards in Autumn

As the leaves approach peak color, all of the region’s birds concentrate nearly all their time and efforts preparing either for migration; or establishing a local winter range in which to pass the winter and locating as many sources of food as possible. However, along with developing the food reserves needed to fuel the journey south, the mallard also spends a portion of its time courting members of the opposite sex, fending off rivals and establishing a pair bond with a specific individual.

While the reproductive season is more than a half year from now, the mallard has already developed its brightly colored breeding plumage and starts to engage in the process that occurs in other birds as the buds are swelling on twigs, rather than as the leaves are falling to the ground. » Continue Reading.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adirondack Wildlife: The Vocal Moose

Most of the mammals that populate our wilderness, including the moose, are not known to produce much in the way of sounds. Like the white-tailed deer, the moose is viewed as silently moving through our woodlands, except for the snapping of twigs and the rustling of leaves that it steps on, and brushes against as it meanders about the forest. However, in the early autumn, the moose becomes more vocal, as it occasionally utters distinct sounds in its attempt to communicate with other moose that may be in the general area. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Natural History: The Season’s First Frost

It is inevitable. Regardless of how nice the summer has been, a time comes in September when the first frost of the season coats every exposed surface with a layer of ice crystals and brings about the official end of the growing season.

While this event causes gardeners to panic about harvesting nearly ripened vegetables, and homeowners to cover up, or bring in their delicate flowering plants, it also brings about the demise of the many forms of life that are unable to tolerate freezing conditions. While there are numerous living entities in our region that can’t survive temperatures below 32 degrees, most are capable, after developing special adaptations that allow them to deal with the changes that are soon to come. » Continue Reading.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wild Boar in the Adirondacks?

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Wildlife is currently trying to develop a plan to deal with the growing problem of wild boars (Sus scrofa) in New York State. Small populations of these sizeable beasts have become established in several sections of the State over the past decade and are wreaking havoc with the local environment in those areas. Because of their adaptability and resourcefulness, it is feared that their numbers could greatly expand if measures are not immediately taken to eradicate this invasive species from the general environment. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Duck Hole Dam Breech: What Comes Next?

The massive breach in the dam at Duck Hole, which has led to the demise of the picturesque body of water in the western High Peak wilderness, is initially tragic information to anyone that has spent time at this majestic location. Yet, the healing forces of nature are already at work transforming the muddy plain that now covers a good portion of the site into a meadow in a process known as succession.

Open settings are at a premium in the mature woodlands of the Adirondacks, and any site that contains both rich soil and a healthy amount of moisture will never last more than a single growing season before it is overtaken by vegetation. As a general rule, the herbaceous plants, such as grasses, sedges, weeds, wildflowers, ferns and rushes are the first to colonize such a favorable location. Seeds from these plants are able to travel many miles by a variety of methods which allows them to quickly take advantage of any spot that becomes favorable for growth. » Continue Reading.

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