Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Be on the Lookout for Amphibians Crossing the Road

wood frogWith the arrival of spring temperatures, amphibians have begun their annual migrations to woodland pools to breed. Often, they must cross roads to reach these pools. In New York, this migration usually occurs on rainy nights in late March and early April, when the night air temperature is above 40F. When these conditions exist there can be explosive, “big night” migrations, with hundreds of amphibians on the move. Volunteers can help document these locations and help amphibians like wood frogs, spotted salamanders, American toads, or spring peepers safely cross the road. Drivers on New York roads are encouraged to proceed with caution or avoid travel on the first warm, rainy evenings of the season. Amphibians come out after nightfall and are slow-moving; mortality can be high even on low-traffic roads.

Photo of wood frog by Laura Heady.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Who cooks for you, barred owl?

barred owlThere are many species of owls in the Adirondacks, with barred owls being the most common, and the most frequently seen.

We mainly hear owls calling between Autumn and early Spring. Great Horned Owls nest earlier than other owls, and their deep staccato HOO-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-HOO call, sounding most like the stereotyped call we associate with owls generally, is resonant and vaguely threatening.

The Long-eared owl, which resembles a smaller, perpetually startled and skinny great horned, has a call which reminds you more of song bird calls, stretched out with longer pauses between notes, which may be single syllable “ooo” or raspier pleas, sounding almost cat like. Screech owl calls are shrill and loud, sharp and abrupt. If you ever watched the comedy “My Cousin Vinny”, there is a funny scene where the Joe Pesci character, surprised by a screech owl’s scream in the dead of night, runs out of the cabin firing a pistol, followed by a close up of the screech owl. Tiny saw whet owls make a “toot-toot” call, like a small truck backing up. 

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Kid next to water
Thursday, April 1, 2021

Native bees make due with honeydew

aphid honeydewMarch 21st marked the first day of spring and here in the mountains the warm early spring temperatures have begun to prompt the native bees to wake from their hibernation.  Like many creatures, most native bees store up food during the warm months in preparation for a cold long winter.

The first thing waking bees do is perform a cleansing flight, they expel any excrement that has accumulated during their winter’s rest.

The next thing they do is search for food.  Its not hard to see that there are no trees and flowers in bloom as the snow begins to melt and once again bare ground is exposed.

So what do these amazing little creatures do to survive until blossoms appear?  Unlike colony-building honeybees, solitary bees don’t stockpile honey for times when blossoms are scarce.

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Flea beetles: Be ready for action when they pop up in your garden

flea beetleDespite the frigid weather that recently swept across the United States, gardeners are busily planning for the growing season. In the Adirondacks, the stakes are high for gardeners; a shorter growing season is made more urgent by frequent flea beetle attacks. The purpose of this article is to discuss these insects, share information about control measures, and reflect on one potentially positive aspect of living with these insects. 

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Species Spotlight: the Northern Cardinal

male cardinalThe Northern cardinal is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. Male cardinals are brilliant red all over, with a reddish bill and black face immediately around the bill. Females are pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail, and crest. They have the same black face and red-orange bill.

The male cardinal will fiercely defend its breeding territory from other males. When a male sees its reflection in glass surfaces, it frequently will spend hours fighting the imaginary intruder.

Photo of male Northern cardinal by John Mack/DEC


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

As the temperature heats up, so too does the activity of woolly bears

Woolly BearAs the old saying goes, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” During this transition, overwintering insects begin to reanimate. One insect that will soon regain mobility is the woolly bear, Pyrrharctia isabella Smith (Lepidoptera: Erebidae). The life cycle of this insect is complex, but if it is properly understood, then lepidopterists will have a much better chance of seeing one in the wild. 

The woolly bear overwinters as a larva. As the temperature gets cooler, the woolly bear larva will bask in the sun, using its dark coloration to gather heat. When the autumnal temperatures drop too low for basking to be sufficient, woolly bears ensconce themselves in leafy detritus. Snowfall serves to further insulate the moth from biting winter winds. Woolly bears are further protected by the chemical glycerol, which is produced by their bodies to protect them from extreme cold. This chemical is found in some antifreeze brands, and can be used in cars. Through strategic selection of overwintering sites and the use of glycerol, the woolly bear can survive temperatures as low as -60 oF.

Their survival can be put at risk if they are brought out of dormancy by unseasonal warmth, because they stop producing the chemicals necessary to protect themselves. Therefore, if a woolly bear is encountered in the wintertime, it is recommended that nature enthusiasts leave it alone.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Tree Buds: Honest Friends

winter treesHow to distinguish one leaf-bereft hardwood from another in winter is more of a challenge than summer tree ID, but there are practical reasons – and a few offbeat incentives – to tell one species from another in the dormant season. Hikers and skiers can benefit from such a skill, and in survival situations, hydration and warmth may depend on it. And if you’re among those who adore wintertime camping, you can have more fun when you know common woody species.

In late winter/ early spring, a pathogen-free beverage flows from sugar, silver, and red maples when temperatures rise above freezing in the day. A bit later in the spring yet prior to leaf-out, our native white (paper), yellow, black, grey, and river birches yield copious, healthful sap as well. The same can be said for wild grape stems, although it’s crucial that one can recognize other vines out there like Virginia creeper and poison ivy.

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

All about osprey: Widespread, prehistoric, fish eaters

OspreyThe osprey is second only to the peregrine falcon, as the most widely distributed bird of prey in the world, found on every continent but Antarctica, while picking up regional names like fish hawk, fish eagle and seahawk. There are probably half a million osprey globally, and osprey are one of the clearest indications of the health of any shallow fresh, brackish or saltwater habitat.

Like eagles, osprey are generally monogamous and tend to use the same nests year after year, so a successful osprey family indicates lots of fish, and since osprey are not as rigidly territorial as some other predators, the more osprey nests a habitat supports, the more likely the general health of the ecosystem is good. 

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

Eagle Banded 26 Years Ago Spotted In Lewis County

eaglesThis is an outstanding opportunity to see three American bald eagles devouring their lunch, but even more fantastic of an opportunity to be able to learn there’s more to the story.

Bill Straite of Oneida County sent us this photo a while ago. No doubt, it’s a great one! DEC wildlife biologists noticed right away the center eagle was banded, and contacted the federal bird banding laboratory to learn more about it.

The eagle was banded in June 1995 – 26 years ago – in Parishville, NY, St. Lawrence County.

Photo courtesy of Bill Straite.


Friday, March 12, 2021

Flight of the cicada: Insect gears up for big event

cicada maniaMeet the Cicada Beetle.  They are big, noisy and make an appearance by the billions every 13-17 years.

May 2021 marks the month and year that we here in New York will experience a natural phenomenon of the insect world.  This phenomenon about to happen is named Brood X or The Great Eastern Brood.  Starting in May of this year, for five to six weeks, it will be virtually impossible to miss Brood X, which will be the most widespread and prolific of the known generations of cicada in the U.S.

Cicadas are members of the superfamily Cicadidae and are physically distinguished by their stout bodies, broad heads, clear-membraned wings, and large compound eyes.

There are more than 3,000 species of cicadas, which fall into roughly two categories: annual cicadas, which are spotted every year, and periodical cicadas, which spend most of their lives underground and only emerge once every decade or two.  While annual cicadas can be found throughout the world, periodicals are unique to North America. Periodical broods are concentrated in the central and eastern regions of the United States, and some areas are home to multiple broods.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Loon Conservation Center rescues birds trapped in ice

The afternoon of Valentine’s Day, we received a report of 3 loons iced-in a small puddle near the west shore of Lake George, with an eagle sitting on the edge of the ice. Apparently a 4th loon had already met its demise, so it was important to rescue these trapped birds as soon as possible. Being late in the day, it was decided to attempt the rescue the following morning.

That area of the lake had just frozen in the previous week with a couple of days of below-zero temps, so the loons were trapped by quickly forming ice. We’ve had a relatively mild winter, thus some loons had wintered over on Lakes Champlain and George.

At this time of year, loons are molting out of their winter plumage and into their black and white breeding plumage. They also completely lose their flight feathers, so they are flightless for about a month until the new ones grow in. Thus, they can easily become trapped in a small pool of water if the ice forms quickly.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Maple Sap Runs on Gas

Some foods give you gas, but March is the time of year when gas gives you a delicious food. Maple syrup, which is nutritious enough to be listed by the US Department of Agriculture as a food, is carbon dioxide-powered. If it wasn’t for a bunch of little gas bubbles in the wood or xylem tissue, maple sap would not flow. Who knew that trees were carbonated?

A mere two decades ago, biologists and arborists were at a loss to explain what causes maple sap to run. They’d typically mumble something about vacuum and straws before changing the subject. Everyone was aware that below-freezing nights followed by warm days led to sap flow. But it wasn’t until recent years that the mechanism behind sap flow was better – although still not perfectly – understood.

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Friday, March 5, 2021

2021 outlook for monarchs in the Adirondacks

monarch butterflyThe size of the overwintering population of Eastern monarch butterflies was just released on Feb 25, and the number shows yet another decline (to a total of 2.1 hectares/ 5.2 acres; details are shown in the figure below). What does this mean for the Adirondacks this coming summer?  Monarchs were abundant in the Adirondack region in 2018, just as they had been decades ago, but 2021 will be a year of many fewer, just as it was in 2020 and most recent years.

Monarchs are in decline because of multiple threats throughout their life cycle: the loss of milkweed because of industrialized agriculture in their main midwestern breeding area; logging of the overwintering forests in Mexico; drought and loss of nectar sources due to climate change; and increasing severity of killing storms.

Recently the US Fish & Wildlife service declared monarchs to be “warranted but precluded” for listing under the Endangered Species Act. That decision is well explained at: https://monarchjointventure.org/blog/faqs-endangered-species-act-listing-decision-for-monarch-butterflies. It means that the federal government will take no actions for the time being to reverse this decline even though the current figure of 2.1 hectares is much below the estimated number of 6 hectares required to sustain monarch migration.

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Friday, February 26, 2021

Woodpeckers: Nature’s Tree Drummers

woodpeckerIf you have a love for the great outdoors, chances are you have heard and or seen “Tree Drummers,” the creatures we call woodpeckers.  There are nine species of woodpeckers here in New York; Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, American Three-toed Woodpeckers, and Black-backed Woodpeckers.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Oh, Rats! Controlling populations starts with prevention

ratsIt must be hard to foster a decent public image if your family was responsible for spreading the plagues across Europe, Asia and North Africa that killed between 75 and 200 million people. If rats were able to launch a rebranding campaign, it would never work. I imagine that even NetReputation.com would throw up their hands and give a refund.

But in spite of the many problems they cause, rats do have a few entries in the positive side of their ledger. In a CBC Radio interview, Bobby Corrigan, a renowned NYC rodentologist (yes, there is such a thing) said rats are “the most important mammal group to homo sapiens.” In addition to being test subjects for innumerable studies on human diseases and new drugs, rats have provided insights into our neurology which may not otherwise have been made, especially the way richness of environment affects brain development. They can sniff out land mines better than any human technology, and can accurately tell if a patient has tuberculosis.

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