Monday, October 22, 2018

Shady Characters: Paul Hetzler On Nature

shady charactersRegular Adirondack Almanack contributor Paul Hetzler is the author of a new book of nature essays, Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World (Lexingford Publishing, 2018).

Paul Hetzler knows all about nature in all its wonders, complexities, and hilarities, and weaves considerable wit with a range of wisdom. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mallards: The Chevy Impala of Ducks

Mallard Ducks My francophone wife is often amused as I commence à apprendre la langue, like the time I said connard when I meant canard. For the monolingual English-speakers out there, canard means duck, while the rough equivalent of connard is a word that rhymes with “spithead,” and that you don’t want your kids to say. But where mallards and other puddle-ducks are concerned, the two are related. The drake (male) can be an absolute connard sometimes.

The Darwinian principle “survival of the fittest” is not always about who wins the antler fight or arm-wresting contest. Fitness means being well-suited to one’s environment so as to live long enough to reproduce and thus pass on one’s DNA. Above all else, it means being adaptable. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Toad Toxin: Don’t Mess with Anaxyrus

american toad When my kids were toddlers, they discovered, quite happily, a toad in a damp corner of their sandbox, tucked into the shade beneath the small, triangular piece of wood that served as a seat. The toad seemed to spend most days there, probably waiting until dark to emerge and hunt bugs and slugs.

Thankfully, back then, we had a more mature dog who was wise in the ways of the world – not the goofy pup we have now, who I’m sure will learn the hard way not to eat toads. Many a clueless canine has clamped its mouth around an American toad – the species found most commonly in our region – only to be introduced to bufotoxins, a toad’s best defense against being eaten. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Indian Pipe: Ghost Flowers of the Forest

indian pipe On a walk in the woods in early fall, you may see a cluster of waxy, white stems with tiny, scale-like leaves rising out of the leaf litter or pine needles. At the end of each translucent stem is an odd, bell-shaped flower. This is Indian pipe, named for its resemblance to the clay pipes once smoked by Native Americans and early settlers.

Indian pipe, also known as corpse plant and ghost flower, has an unusual strategy for survival. It lacks the green pigment chlorophyll, and therefore cannot make its own food through photosynthesis as most plants do. Indian pipe and its relatives were formerly believed to live off decaying organic matter and were called saprophytes. However, more recent research has revealed that the plant is a parasite, sucking up nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Trees and mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship: the fungi absorb nutrients from the trees; the trees benefit by increasing the surface area of their root systems, allowing them to drink in more water and minerals. Indian pipe interjects itself into this relationship, absorbing nutrients from the mycorrhizal fungi but giving nothing back. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

On The Watch For Porcelain Berry

porcelain berries A total lunar eclipse is likely more common than the swift removal of a novel invasive plant infestation, but fingers are crossed that such a thing happened in St. Lawrence County this summer. The plant eradication, I mean — we all know about the celestial event this past July, the first central lunar eclipse since June 2011. Thanks to the sharp eyes of Dr. Tony Beane, a Professor of Veterinary Science at SUNY Canton who is also an avid naturalist, an exotic vine capable of smothering fields and forests has been eliminated within weeks of its confirmation in the Ogdensburg area. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

DEC Advises Public To Watch for Adirondack Moose

Adirondack moose 3 (DEC Photo)Motorists should be alert for moose on roadways in the Adirondacks and surrounding areas at this time of year during peak moose activity, advises the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Early fall is the breeding season for moose in northern New York. During this time moose are wandering looking for mates, leading them to areas where they are not typically seen. While this improves the opportunities for people to enjoy sighting of a moose, it also increases the danger of colliding with one on the roadway. » Continue Reading.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Adirondack Loon Celebration, Art Show At Paul Smith’s VIC

The loon is such an iconic symbol of wilderness with its haunting call, red eyes, and distinctive markings. With all wildlife, we need to understand how to respect its boundaries while admiring it in its natural habitat. Thanks to the Adirondack Loon Center for Loon Conservation, there is a place to learn more about this aquatic bird.

The annual Adirondack Loon Celebration takes place at the Paul Smith’s VIC, October 7 from 1 to 5 pm, with a schedule of activities emphasizing the importance of loons to the Adirondack ecosystem. Live music with Celia Evans, Green Goddess food, silent auction, children’s activities, and other loon related activities are just part of the fun-filled day. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Paul Hetzler: Plant A Tree, or Rent It?

Planting a tree isn’t rocket science, which is good thing. If it were that complex, I’d wager we’d have a lot fewer trees lining our streets. It may not take a scientist to plant a tree correctly, but a lot of money is spent each year to buy and plant trees which may as well be leased, because they will only live a fraction of their expected lifespan.

When trees decline and die after 15, 20, or even 30 years, the last thing we probably suspect is shoddy planting. Although landscape trees like mountain-ash and birch have naturally short lives, a sugar maple or red oak should easily last a hundred or more years. Yet all too often, a long-lived species will expire at twenty because it was planted “fast and dirty.” You can find examples of trees declining as an age-class in housing developments, and especially along NYS routes where DOT low-bid contractors replaced trees cut down for road improvements. One may as well consider such trees rentals, not purchases. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Stings and Stingers: An Outside Story

hornet stinging apparatusAs a boy, I was exploring the loft of my grandmother’s barn when I disturbed a bumblebee nest among the moldering hay bales. In my memory, I leap stuntman-like from the haymow and hit the ground 10 feet below running flat out, rounding the corner of the barn then glancing back to see if anyone is in pursuit. There is an angry bumbler coming up fast. I vault the rusty ornamental fence and am steps from the screen door and safety when … I get nailed in the neck. Ow!

When we lived in Louisiana, I scalped a fire-ant nest while mowing the lawn and got stung a few hundred times as the ants swarmed up my legs. Vivid memory. I’ve been stung by several varieties of wasps and, as a beekeeper, I periodically get stung by my honey bees. Yes, it still hurts. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 24, 2018

As Invasive Waterflea Spreads, Another Confirmed In Champlain

Fishhook waterflea Researchers have confirmed the presence of fishhook waterflea (Cercopagis pengoi) in Lake Champlain, bringing the known number of nonnative and aquatic invasive species in Lake Champlain to 51.

The discovery increases the likelihood of the invasive’s spread by recreationists into the Adirondack Park, which currently has at least 12 known aquatic invasive species in interior lakes where spiny waterflea has been spreading.

The fishhook waterflea is similar to the spiny waterflea, which was confirmed in Lake Champlain in 2014; they are both small crustaceans that are aggressive predators of zooplankton and are known to foul fishing lines. The Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario were the closest lakes known to host fishhook waterflea. Like the spiny waterflea, the fishhook waterflea likely arrived in Lake Champlain by hitchhiking over land on recreational boats, trailers, or equipment.  » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Early Success In Grasse River Freshwater Mussel Relocation

East elliptio mussel East elliptio mussel provided by DECNew York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that an innovative project that is relocating freshwater mussels in the Grasse River during an ongoing river remediation project is showing early signs of success and reporting a 98 percent survival rate.

As part of an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-led cleanup project to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from river sediments, a seven-mile stretch of the lower Grasse River in northern New York in being dredged and capped starting next year. Before dredging begins, DEC is collecting mussels from the river bottom and temporarily placing them in areas that won’t be subject to capping or dredging. The New York State Museum, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and SUNY Cobleskill are collaborating with DEC on the project. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Whirligig Beetles: Four Eyes On You

whirligig beetle “What’s this shiny black beetle with four eyes?” asked Erin Hayes-Pontius, a visiting UVM student, from her microscope. Without glancing up from my own scope I answered, “that’s a whirligig beetle.” Erin’s answer came back: “err, cute … but what’s it really called?”

I will grant you that the name whirligig is a bit odd – particularly when applied to an inert pickled beetle – but there are excellent reasons it. In life, whirligig beetles weave and whirl on pond and river surfaces amongst dozens of their peers. They move like miniature motor boats that appear to lack rudder function. There’s method to this seeming madness. The mesmerizing movement confuses predators, who find it difficult to focus on any one individual. Ecologists call this phenomenon predator dilution. It’s like the old joke about the two friends and the tiger: “I don’t need to outrun the tiger, I just need to outrun you!” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Indian Lake’s Moose Festival Is This Weekend

According to the Great Adirondack Moose Festival Chairperson Brenda Valentine, it’s difficult for her to believe that it has been nine years since this celebration of everything moose took over the streets of Indian Lake.

The festival celebrating New York State’s largest land mammal is back this weekend (Sept. 22-23) with more hikes, vendors, and information regarding the return on the Adirondack moose. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Where the Birds Are: Advances In Fall Bird Migration Forecasting

Magnolia Warblers September is the peak of autumn bird migration, and billions of birds are winging their way south in dramatic pulses. A new study published in the journal Science reports that scientists can now reliably predict these waves of bird migration up to seven days in advance. The study details the underlying methods that power migration forecasts, which can be used as a bird conservation tool.

In this study, the researchers quantified 23 years of spring bird migration across the United States using 143 weather radars, highly sensitive sensors that scientists can use to monitor bird movements. They filtered out precipitation and trained a machine learning model to associate atmospheric conditions with levels of bird migration countrywide. Eighty percent of variation in bird migration intensity was explained by the model. To view a radar loop depicting bird migration during spring 2018, click here. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fifty Shades of Nightshade: From Delicious to Deadly

Deadly Nightshade courtesy Köhler's Medicinal Plants 1887Many nightshades are safe and delicious, and go well in sandwiches and sauces. A few are deadly, dished up mainly by criminals, but most occupy a gray area between these two extremes. Worldwide, there are around 2,700 shades of nightshade, a family known to Latin geeks as Solanaceae. The family comprises tasty crops like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos. It is also composed in part by jimsonweed and other shady characters which have wrought mayhem and death, both accidental and intentional, throughout history.

Nightshades are present on every continent except Antarctica, though Australia and South America have the greatest diversity, and overall numbers, of species. Tobacco is one of the most economically important nightshades, while other family members, for example petunias and Chinese lanterns, spice up our yards. The majority of nightshades are wild species, some of which have been used as sources of medicine for millennia. » Continue Reading.