Last week, the organization, PROTECT the Adirondacks, announced that they plan to begin a program, entitled Cougar Watch, for developing a database of Mountain Lion sightings in and around the Park. For years, many reputable individuals have claimed to have glimpsed this large member of the cat family, which has led some people to wonder whether a small population of these highly adaptable predators currently exists within the boundaries of the Blue Line. With all the sightings entered into a publicly accessible database, it might be easier to draw some conclusions regarding the status of this reclusive feline in northern New York. » Continue Reading.
The lack of a substantial accumulation of snow this winter has created hardship for those forms of wildlife that seek shelter from below zero temperatures and gusty winds by embedding themselves in the powdery covering that typically covers the ground at this time of year.
The insulating value of a fairly deep snow pack affords excellent protection against the elements for many creatures small enough to utilize this seasonal layer of material. Among the more sizeable members of the wildlife community that use snow for shelter is the ruffed grouse, well known for plunging head first into a pile of powder in its attempt to completely cover itself with this unlikely natural blanket for an entire day or two. » Continue Reading.
The vast expanses of wilderness forests that cover the Adirondacks serve as home to many forms of wildlife adapted for survival in areas where visibility is limited by trees and grasses, and grains are nearly non-existent.
Large open areas scattered throughout the Park serve to support the collection of creatures that require much greater visibility and food sources that exist on the soil’s surface. Among those animals drawn toward these open spaces is the snowy owl, which regularly migrates southward from its arctic breeding grounds in autumn to establish a winter hunting territory in more hospitable surroundings. » Continue Reading.
Winter seems to have come early to the Adirondacks, as below zero temperatures and periodic bouts of measureable snowfall have been a part of our weather pattern since the last few weeks of November. The arctic air that has regularly swept across the region has made a sizeable dent in everyone’s wood pile, placed a strain on car batteries and forced many to wear Christmas sweaters on a daily basis.
The intense cold has also pushed the frost line down in numerous spots, which greatly impacts the existence of those creatures that attempt to survive this season by burrowing into the soil. It is difficult to determine how deep the frost line has advanced, as this critical feature of the winter environment varies greatly from one spot to another. » Continue Reading.
Noting what visitors appear at a bird feeder in winter can provide some revealing information on the status of the local populations of the feathered creatures hardy enough to remain in the Adirondacks after cold weather becomes established. Aside from the regular flocks of black-capped chickadees, a pair or two of red-breasted nuthatches and blue jays, there may be juncos, redpolls, evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, purple finches and other closely related seed eaters.
This year, at least around my house in Saranac Lake, there has been a healthy number of American goldfinches, which is not surprising considering this past summer’s weather. From mid May through the first week in July, record setting rains soaked the region, and cool temperatures made conditions difficult for birds attempting to incubate eggs and care for a nest full of recently hatched offspring. However, after the 4th of July, the weather improved substantially. Bright skies, warm temperatures and moist soil created ideal growing conditions for plants, which was noted by people who attempted to keep their lawn properly mowed, individuals who maintained flower and vegetable gardens, and those souls that enjoyed harvesting our crops of wild berries. » Continue Reading.
The powdery layer of snow covering the forest floor across the Adirondacks is still too thin in many areas for back country skiing and snowshoeing; however, several inches of fluff is ideal for noting the tracks of wildlife. Among the most common of mammals that populate the Park is a miniature predator, whose tracks typically appear from beneath an old stump, a rotted log, a surface boulder or a pile of brush and zigzag in an erratic pattern for roughly a dozen feet before disappearing under some other chunk of debris.
In our mixed forests and woodland edges, the short-tailed shrew is a prolific, but rarely seen, member of the wildlife community, yet its abundance becomes evident by the presence of its tracks in the snow, especially in late autumn and early winter before an increased snow depth reduces this creature’s visits to the surface. » Continue Reading.
The arrival of weather with temperatures favorable for snowmaking, blustery northwest winds, and damp, unstable air that produces periodic bouts of flurries forces many forms of wildlife into a less active routine and causes them to spend more time in some type of shelter. As the length of their daily confinement to a nest or den increases, there is an expansion of the population of tiny organisms that make their home on the skin of many forms of wildlife.
While vast stretches of wilderness serve the ecological needs of numerous warm-blooded animals, the microenvironment that exists at the very base of a mammal’s dense coat of fur provides countless invertebrates with the space they need in which to carry out their life cycle. » Continue Reading.
Driven by a surge of hormones, the bucks, especially the largest and oldest males with their impressive rack of antlers, are now continuously on the move as they attempt to locate females nearing their estrous, or heat period. Rather than spend time resting or sleeping, bucks are on the go day and night in the days prior to, and immediately after, Veteran’s Day, as these individuals experience an innate urge to focus all their time and energy into spreading their genetic composition into the deer herd of that area. » Continue Reading.
As cold weather becomes more common and intense, the temperature of lakes, ponds and marshes drop significantly, with ice soon appearing over the surface of our smaller and more shallow waterways. As these aquatic settings continue to relinquish heat to the atmosphere, most of their resident, cold-blooded creatures are forced by the low temperatures to become extremely lethargic or lapse into a dormant state until spring.
There are, however, a few forms of life that remain active throughout the winter, as these entities are well adapted for an existence in frigid waters. Among the animals that thrive in northern lakes, even during winter, is the lake trout, a sizeable predator that resides only in our largest and deepest lakes; and it is during mid to late autumn when this prized game fish migrates to certain gravel bottom locations in order to spawn. » Continue Reading.
Preparations among the members of our wildlife community have been underway for weeks, if not months, for the arrival of snow and temperatures low enough to freeze the upper layer of soil. Most bugs are genetically programmed to enter a dormant stage of their life in advance of this onset of adverse weather, and the mammals of the area are well along in the process of modifying their physical structure (accumulating fat and growing a thick layer of fur) in order to cope.
Many species of birds have either left, or will soon be exiting, our region because of the inhospitable conditions building throughout the northern latitudes. Among our migratory birds is a member of the woodpecker family forced to leave because of its preference for pecking at the soil, rather than on trees, for its meal of bugs. The northern flicker has body shape, plumage characteristics and pecking talents similar to its non-migratory relatives; however this common seasonal resident of the Adirondacks is now on its way, or will be leaving shortly, for a more temperate climatic zone. » Continue Reading.
Last week, an article appeared in the Science Section of the New York Times exploring the decline in the moose population in many sections of North America. While several potential causes for this widespread die-off were cited, much attention was given to the role of the winter tick in impacting the health and well being of this large, hoofed mammal.
As a rule, ticks are not considered to be a serious problem in the Adirondacks, especially in the more mountainous areas of the Park. However, the thought of a devastating tick infestation developing across our region is unsettling to outdoor enthusiasts that prefer to hike, camp and explore when the weather is cool. » Continue Reading.
Migration is the seasonal movement of an animal population in response to changing environmental conditions. While birds are best known for employing this survival strategy to cope with winter, many other forms of wildlife also engage in some form of relocation during autumn to deal with prolonged bouts of cold and an absence of food. Among the migratory reptiles in the Adirondacks is an abundant and widespread snake familiar to anyone that spends time outdoors – the garter snake.
As daylight wanes and the temperatures cool, garter snakes begin to travel to various sites that afford protection from the intense cold that settles over our mountainous region in winter. Typically, garter snakes rely on specific crevices that extend deep into a rocky outcropping situated on a south-facing slope. Also, garter snakes are known to utilize selected abandoned woodchuck, fox or skunk dens that exist deep enough into a hillside to get near or below the frost line. » Continue Reading.
In the Adirondacks, all forms of wildlife have a natural fear of humans. This is the primary reason why hikers, campers, and individuals sitting on their back porch don’t generally see many creatures, despite being outside for long periods of time.
Should a healthy animal detect the presence of a person, it inevitably hides or immediately flees in order to avoid being seen. » Continue Reading.
Despite the numerous frosts that our region experienced in September, there continue to be many types of bugs that remain active into the autumn in the Adirondacks. Among these hardy invertebrates, and the ones that are quite conspicuous to anyone that spends time working in the yard, garden or on the wood pile, are the harvestmen, known to most as the daddy-longlegs.
Like spiders, the harvestmen are classified as arachnids because of their body structure, having 4 sets of legs and a set of arm-like appendages near their mouth. (In the harvestmen, these arms, known as pedipalps, are barely visible, yet are still of great use to this creature in grabbing and holding items it wants to eat.) It is easy to understand how these arachnids acquired their popular name, as the lengthy thread-like legs that surround their small body are proportionately longer than those of nearly any other bug. » Continue Reading.
Starting in early autumn, a profound silence pervades the forests of the Adirondacks, especially on frosty mornings when the air is calm. In the hours following dawn, only a few avian voices disturb the stillness, such as the soulful song of the nuthatch and the perky call of the chickadee. Yet it is the loud, raucous, squawking voice of the blue jay that prominently violates the solitude of our deep woods and forest edges. During the weeks immediately following the equinox, a new phase begins in the life of this familiar backyard bird, signaled by the intensity of its boisterous calls. » Continue Reading.