It’s human nature to get excited about the “charismatic megafauna” around us. Let’s face it: polar bears, elephants and eagles are impressive. But what about the other 99% of life on this planet? Where is the cheering section for sea slugs? Is there a “Hug a Millipede” campaign? What about bladderworts? As a naturalist, many people ask me what my favorite animal is, or they want to know my area of expertise. It’s a difficult question to answer because the more I learn about my fellow beings on this chunk of space debris, the more fascinating I find each to be. » Continue Reading.
Spring arrives in fits and starts. For many it is the longer days and warmer temps that say “spring is here,” while for others the signs are more subtle: the first flowers that bloom (around here that is usually coltsfoot), the first robin in the yard, the first thunderstorm echoing across the mountains. For me, each “first” is another stepping stone bridging the gap between winter and summer, and one of my favorites is the flight of the woodcock.
Woodcocks are odd-looking birds, resembling something that may have been desiged by a committee: the body is squat and compact with a dinky head, an impossibly long beak, and large eyes placed in such a way that the bird almost appears cross-eyed. In fairness, the eye placement really is to the woodcock’s best advantage, since it gives the bird nearly 360 degrees of vision, allowing it to see above its head, in front of its face, and along both sides. I suspect its periferal vision picks up movement from behind as well. And that beak, well, it may look goofy (like a bird with a straw stuck to its face), but it also has some marvelous adaptations: the end is highly flexible and has a sensitive tip that is able to sense worms underground, worms being the woodcock’s preferred food.
But the characteristic that makes this game bird near and dear to the hearts of many a naturalist is the male’s courtship display. You just know that spring is here when you head outside in the evening, right after sunset, and your ears pick up the unmistakable buzzy nasal peent coming from the ball field, golf course, or yard. That would be the male woodcock out strutting his stuff in an open area, hoping to win the heart of a nearby female. But, wait! There’s more! After a few peents, the bird takes off for the sky, twittering away in an almost musical way, ascending the heights in ever-increasing spirals. And when you can no longer see his silhouette agaist the darkening sky, the sound changes to chirping, popping noise as the bird plummets back towards earth in a series of death-defying zigzags. The sounds stop suddenly (the bird is now 50-100 feet aloft), and he lands, only to start strutting and peent-ing once more. As if this weren’t enough to grab one’s attention, note this: the sounds made as he is airborne are not vocalizaions; they are created by the wind created by his flight interacting with his feathers!
I urge you to step out some evening this spring, when the temperature is above freezing, and find yourself a good open space near some woods. Dress warmly and tune your ears for the insect-like peent near the ground. Locate the bird if you can and wait for an aerial display that will impress even the youngest members of your family. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Adirondack Almanack is happy to welcome Ellen Rathbone to the ranks of our contributors. Ellen, posting as NatureGirl, is by her own admission a “certified nature nut.” She lives in Newcomb and has been working as a naturalist or environmental educator almost steadily since she graduated from SUNY ESF in 1988 with a BS in forestry and biology. Her work has taken her from NY to NJ to VT and finally back to what she calls her “beloved Adirondacks,” where she has been an environmental educator for the Adirondack Park Agency’s Visitor Interpretive Centers for nearly ten years.
“I consider myself a generalist, since almost any natural history subject is bound to catch my attention,” Ellen told me. “That said, I tend to drift towards plants and ethnobotany (plants are easy to study because they stand still), and I am quite fond of bats (which were the topic for my master’s degree work) and snakes. The more I learn about nature, the more fascinated I become with the complexities that keep our world in balance; it’s an amazing place, this planet we call home.”
Please join us in welcoming Ellen. Her natural history posts will appear regularly on Wednesday afternoons (starting today at 3 pm) and Saturday mornings. On Sunday morning, another treat — Ellen will be providing a local gardening piece! We’re hoping she’ll be adding her naturalist insights at other times as well.
Researchers, summit stewards and others interested in protecting northeast alpine zones will gather in the Adirondacks May 29 and 30 to explore the impact of climate change on these fragile ecosystems. The Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering is held every two years to allow researchers, planners, managers, stewards and others to share information and improve the understanding of the alpine areas of the Northeast. The 2009 conference, the first to be held in the Adirondacks, will feature presentations by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and award-winning photographer Carl Heilman.
Alpine zones are areas above the treeline that are home to rare and endangered species more commonly found in arctic regions. In the Adirondacks, alpine zones cover about 170 acres atop more than a dozen High Peaks, including Marcy, Algonquin and Wright. Because these summits experience heavy recreational use, New York’s alpine habitat is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the state. Alpine vegetation is also highly susceptible to climate change and acts as a biological monitor of changing climate conditions.
The conference, which will be held at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Lake Placid, kicks off Thursday evening with a reception and Carl Heilman’s multimedia presentation. Friday will feature a full day of sessions on such subjects as “The Effects of a Changing Climate on the Alpine Zone” and “Visitor Use and Management of Alpine Areas.”
On Saturday, conference attendees will have an opportunity to participate in a variety of field trips, such as guided hikes to a High Peak summit, a morning bird walk or a visit to the Wild Center.
The $40 conference fee includes Thursday mixer, Friday lunch, Friday dinner and Saturday bag lunch.
The 2009 Gathering is hosted by the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Steward Program, a partnership of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Gathering is sponsored by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund. Conference partners include the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor’s Interpretive Center, the Crowne Plaza Resort, New York Natural Heritage Program, DEC, Paul Smith’s College and the Wild Center.
Rooms are available at the Crowne Plaza. For reservations, call (800) 874-1980 or (518) 523-2556. Camping and lodging are available at the Adirondak Loj, six miles south of the village of Lake Placid. For reservations, call (518) 523-3441. Additional lodging options may be found at www.lakeplacid.com.
For more information, call Julia Goren at (518) 523-3480 Ext. 18 or visit ADK’s Web site at www.adk.org.
Beginning Saturday, May 9, master bird bander Mike Peterson will again begin banding migrating birds that pass through the Crown Point peninsula on Lake Champlain. The program is a well-established and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds.
Bird banding has been used for more than 100 years to keep track of the activities of wild birds. Banding involves placing a metal or plastic band around the leg of a wild bird and then releasing it back into the wild. If the bird is recovered in the future, either dead or alive, the information is sent to the original bander. In this way, scientists can find out how far birds travel how long they live, where they spend their winters and whether the species populations are rising or falling. » Continue Reading.
Rick Moody — author of Garden State, The Ice Storm, The Diviners and the memoir The Black Veil — will read from his most recent novel at 7 p.m. tonight at the Joan Weill Student Center of Paul Smith’s College. The event is free, sponsored by the Adirondack Center for Writing.
Kayaks are on roof racks and the Northern Forest Paddle Film Festival returns to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Friday. There’ll be five shorts about canoeing, kayaking, waterways and the paddling life. Proceeds support the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. $8-12.
April brings the spring whomp. Old-time fiddle and harmonica duo the Whompers are back in town, 7:30 Friday at BluSeed Studios, in Saranac Lake ($10). Musicians are invited to bring instruments for a second-set jam. On Saturday night, Whompers and friends play at the Red Tavern, in Duane. The place is off the grid and off the map, and the dancing goes late into the night.
In the pastoral hill country east of Glens Falls and west of Vermont, 10,000 spectators are expected to turn out Saturday and Sunday for the Tour of the Battenkill, the largest bike race in the country. Two thousand riders will blow through downtown Greenwich, Salem and Cambridge, but the real character of the race comes from remote dirt roads that have earned the event the nickname Battenkill-Roubaix, after the Paris Roubaix of France.
In Bolton Landing, Up Yonda Farm offers a guided Cabin Fever Hike at 1 p.m. Saturday. The walk winds through the farm’s trails to a vista overlooking Lake George. On Sunday the farm will offer Earth Day activities all day. $3; members free.
Monday through Thursday next week, days start warming at the greatest rate of the year. Impatient? At the Adirondack Museum at 1:30 Sunday, naturalist Ed Kanze presents “Eventually . . . the Adirondack Spring.” Free for members and kids; $5 everybody else.
On Monday the Lake Placid Center for the Arts begins a six-session life drawing course, 6-8:30 every Monday evening through May. $55. Call (518) 523-2512 to sign up. Gabriels artist Diane Leifheit runs the course. She will also offer pastel plein air evening classes beginning May 20 (sign up by May 11). The first session introduces pastels and materials, setting up to paint outdoors and mixing colors. The following four sessions will go on location around Lake Placid (weather permitting), capturing the early evening colors. $95. 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, through June 17.
The recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, Richard Louv identified a phenomenon many suspected existed but couldn’t quite put their finger on: nature-deficit disorder. Louv is a journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, is coming to the Adirondacks on Saturday, May 2nd to discuss the future relationship between nature and children. Since its initial publication, Last Child in the Woods has created a national conversation about the disconnection between children and nature, and his message has galvanized an international movement. Now, three years later, we have reached a tipping point, with the book inspiring Leave No Child Inside initiatives throughout the country.
According to Last Child in the Woods two out of ten of America’s children are clinically obese — four times the percentage of childhood obesity reported in the late 1960s. Children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation. They are missing the opportunity to experience ‘free play’ outside in an unstructured environment that allows for exploration and expansion of their horizons through the use of their imaginations. In Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States, studies of children in schoolyards with both green areas and manufactured play areas found that children engaged in more creative forms of play in the green areas.
Nature not only benefits children and ensures their participation and stewardship of nature as they grow into adults, nature helps entire families. Louv proposes, “Nature is an antidote. Stress reduction, greater physical health, a deeper sense of spirit, more creativity, a sense of play, even a safer life — these are the rewards that await a family when it invites more nature into children’s lives.”
In addition to Louv speaking about nature deficit disorder, more than twenty-five organizations from throughout the region will be present at the Wild Center to offer information, resources and inspiration for families. Through increasing confidence and knowledge in the outdoors, families can learn how easy it is to become reconnected with nature. Activities scheduled throughout the day on the 31-acre Tupper Lake campus will range from fly fishing and nature scavenger hunts to building a fort or just laying back and watching the clouds as they pass in the sky above.
Louv will also officially open The Pines nature play area at the Wild Center. The Pines is a new type of play area designed entirely with nature in mind. Kids are encouraged to explore the play area on their own terms and in their own time. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cornell Cooperative Extension is looking for small-forest owners to volunteer to meet and work with their neighbors through the New York Master Forest Owner (MFO) Volunteer Program. The MFO program is entering its 19th year and a new volunteer training is scheduled May 13-17 at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. Volunteers who complete the four-day workshop will join the corps of 175 certified volunteers across the state [pdf of current volunteers].
Participants can commute daily, or accommodations are available at the AEC. A $50 registration fee (upon acceptance into the program) helps defray lodging, publications, food, and equipment costs. The workshop combines classroom and outdoor field experiences on a wide variety of subjects, including tree identification, finding boundaries, forest ecology, wildlife and sawtimber management, water quality best management practices, communication techniques, timber harvesting, and invasive species identification and management.
The goal of the program is to provide private forest owners with the information and encouragement necessary to manage their forests to enhance ownership satisfaction. MFOs do not perform management activities nor give professional advice. Rather, they meet with forest owners to listen to their concerns and questions, and offer advice as to sources of assistance based on their training and personal experience.
If you are interested in obtaining an information packet and application form, send your name and address to:
CCE Warren County
377 Schroon River Road
Warrensburg, NY 12885
518-623-3291 or email: [email protected]
The Adirondack Museum has announced a new exhibit, “A Wild, Unsettled Country: Early Reflections of the Adirondacks,” which will look at the early efforts to convey the Adirondacks visually to the wider world. The exhibit will open on May 22 — meaning that year-round Adirondack Park residents should be able to catch the exhibit for free the last week of May.
The first Europeans to see the Adirondack landscape of northern New York State came to explore, to document important military operations and fortifications, or to create maps and scientifically accurate images of the terrain, flora and fauna. These early illustrations filled practical needs rather than aesthetic ones.
The exhibition will showcase approximately forty paintings from the museum’s exceptional art collection, including works by Thomas Cole, John Frederick Kensett, William Havell, John Henry Dolph and James David Smillie.
Also featured are fifty of the engravings and lithographs of Adirondack landscape paintings that brought these images to a wider audience and provided many Americans with their first glimpse of the “howling wilds” that were the Adirondack Mountains.
While tourists were flocking to Saratoga Springs in the 1830s, few ventured north into the “lofty chain of granite” visible from Lake George. One guidebook described the mysterious forms as “a wild repulsive aspect.” Little was known of these yet-unnamed mountains.
In 1836, the New York State legislature authorized a survey of the state’s natural resources. Artist Charles Cromwell Ingham was asked to join geologists Ebenezer Emmons and William C. Redfield during one of the first exploratory surveys. During the trip, he painted the Great Adirondack Pass “on the spot.” The original painting will be shown in the exhibition.
The exhibit will also include photographs — stereo views and albumen prints — sold as tourist souvenirs and to armchair travelers. William James Stillman took the earliest photos in the exhibition, in 1859. These rare images are the first photographic landscape studies taken in the Adirondacks. Photos by Seneca Ray Stoddard will also be displayed.
Significant historic maps will illustrate the growth of knowledge about the Adirondack region. In 1818, it was still a mysterious “wild, barren tract . . . covered with almost impenetrable Bogs, Marshes & Ponds, and the uplands with Rocks and evergreens.” By 1870, the Adirondacks had become a tourist destination with clearly defined travel routes, hotels, beaches, and camps.
A Wild, Unsettled Country will be on exhibit in the Lynn H. Boillot Art Galleries. The space includes the Adirondack Museum Gallery Study Center — a resource for learning more about American art. In addition to a library of reference books, a touch-screen computer allows visitors to access images from the museum’s extensive fine art collection.
The Gallery Study Center will include a media space as part of the special exhibit. The documentary film “Champlain: The Lake Between” will be shown continuously. The film, part of the Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery project, has aired on Vermont Public Television in recent months.
A Wild, Unsettled Country is not just for adults. Family-friendly elements include Looking at Art With Children, a guide for parents as they investigate the arts with youngsters; the Grand Tour Guide, a colorful and engaging map that encourages exploration of the Adirondack sites shown in the paintings; and ten different Wild About! guidebooks that urge kids to be “wild” about maps, prints, history, and more.
Photo caption: View of Caldwell, Lake George, by William Tolman Carlton, 1844. Collection of the Adirondack Museum.
If you want to consider yourself knowledgeable about the Adirondacks you must own and have read Mike Storey’s Why The Adirondacks Look The Way They Do. That’s not hyperbole – that’s a simple fact.
Storey self-published this guide to Adirondack natural history in 2006 and sold out the first printing in the first year. The reason, no doubt, is that it’s readable and relevant. Storey was the former Chief Naturalist at the Adirondack Park Agency (24 years at the APA!) and he wrote the book we all need to keep in our car, backpack, and back pocket. In fact, my only complaint is the book’s format doesn’t make it easy to pack – it could have been a lot smaller, even with all the info and images packed in there!
This book is more than a guide to our local flora and fauna, more than a wildlife guide, it covers geology, geography, forestry, history, cultural anthropology, environmental politics, from the life cycle of the black fly to the problems of upland development. The diagrams, illustrations, photographs, are illustrative beyond comparison. From “Grenville Continent Rifting and the Lake George Rift Valley” to the illustration of a 50-years of a hemlock and yellow birch growing on a rotting log resting on a glacial erratic rock, this book shows you the basics and backs it up with detailed explanations. The tracks of common animals, identifying common birds, leaves, trees, fish, soils, insects, eskers, kettle holes – its all there and more.
This book will do what it says it will – explain, in vivid and easy-going detail, why the Adirondacks look the way they do. I’ve been thinking about doing a “Ten Books Every Adirondacker Should Own,” and when I do, this book will be on that list.
The Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York is inviting families visiting the museum from September 24 through September 30 to participate in the “Young Naturalists Program” — a series of self-guided activities that explore gardens, grounds, and wooded areas while learning about the natural history of the Adirondacks.
The Adirondack Museum is one of many participants nationwide in “Take a Child Outside Week.” The program is designed to help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world. By arming parents, teachers, and other caregivers with resources about outdoor activities, the goal is to help children across the country develop a better understanding and appreciation of the environment in which they live, and a burgeoning enthusiasm for its exploration.
“Take a Child Outside Week” has been initiated by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and is held in cooperation with partner organizations such as the Adirondack Museum, across the United States and Canada.
The museum is offering a number of special activities to guide families in exploration of the outdoors. Find the beauty in leaves, trees, and rocks with the Nature’s Art Scavenger Hunt. Use a tree guide to identify and learn about the trees on museum campus. Learn about the tracks and signs animals leave behind at the Animal Signs Station and visit sites on grounds where you can see signs of nighttime animal visitors. Make a pinecone mobile or leaf rubbing at our Nature Crafts Center. Explore mystery boxes at the Senses Station and look at pictures and pelts of Adirondack animals. Learn how animal coloring helps them survive. Watch fish in the pond, learn how to identify rainbow and brook trout, and help feed them lunch at 12:30 p.m. daily.
Families should not leave the museum without a “Young Naturalists” booklet filled with activity suggestions to do at home, in parks, and on trails.
According to the organizers of the weeklong program, “Going Outside” connects children to the natural world, helps kids focus in school, and reduces chances of childhood obesity.
The Zen Birdfeeder points us to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Annual Loon Census, set to take place Saturday, July 19th:
The Annual Loon Census provides valuable data for the Loon Program to follow trends in New York’s summer loon population over time. Hundreds of residents and visitors throughout New York assist them each year by looking for loons on their favorite lake or river. » Continue Reading.