Saturday, May 23, 2009

Red Efts: Nifty Adirondack Salamanders

Earlier this spring, after our first few bouts of significant rain, the red efts were on the move. They were tiny, measuring just a bit over an inch from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, but their bright orange skin made them stand out brilliantly against the dark gray pavement of the road, and each one that I found got a lift as I carried it to a safer location off the road and into the woods.

Red efts are the terrestrial form of the eastern (or red-spotted) newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. More than just larvae, but not quite adults yet, red efts can be considered the teenager stage in the eastern newt’s life. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adirondack Black Bears

There I was, cruising the VIC’s Sucker Brook Trail in search of spring wildflowers (translation: staring at the ground as I walked along), when to my left I heard a rustle of vegetation. “Ruffed grouse,” I thought, and turned my head, anticipating the explosion of wings as the bird made a hasty retreat towards the treetops. What I saw, however, was no ruffed grouse. It was black, it was furry, and it was galloping away from me a high speed.

My next thought was “someone’s black lab is loose.” Then it dawned on me: this was no lab, it was a bear. A small bear, probably a yearling, but a bear nonetheless. What I saw was the typical view I have of bears in the Adirondacks: the south end of the animal as it’s headed north. If I’m lucky, I’ll see the face before the animal turns tail. And this is how bears are – they fear people. Many people fear bears as well, but unlike the bear, people really have little reason to be afraid of these normally placid animals. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saving Fruit Trees from the Frost

The forecast says the low temperature tonight in Saranac Lake will be 22 degrees. The apple tree we share with a neighbor decided to bloom yesterday. What to do?

Since the tree has thrived at an elevation of about 2,000 feet for longer than anyone living in this neighborhood can remember, it must be a pretty cold-hardy variety. But a deep freeze at blossom time really threatens to thin the crop. So we called Bob Rulf, who owns Rulf’s Orchards, in Peru. He said it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to light charcoal in a couple of grills beneath the tree (this is a pretty big tree) and keep the smoke rising. Between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. is the coldest part of the night, Rulf said.

The temperature is only supposed to get down to about 29 degrees in Peru, the more-temperate apple basket of the Adirondacks. Cornell Cooperative Extension advises that when an apple blossom is tight and in the pink it can stand 30 degrees F for an hour; when it’s wide-open white it can stand 28 degrees for an hour, which seems counterintuitive, Rulf said.

His orchard is not equipped with wind machines or any large-scale equipment for dealing with frosts, so he’ll take his chances with the apples. However Rulf does plan to tow a furnace around the strawberry patch tonight with helpers riding along to blow hot air on that crop.

Photograph: Our apple tree in bloom


Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Lost Ladybug Project – Perfect for Families

“Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone.”

I never really understood that little ditty when I was a kid. I mean, why would you tell this specifically to a ladybug, as opposed to a bumblebee or a dragonfly?

As it turns out, there is a reason. A quick search on the Web turned up a neat little website on nursery rhymes: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/ladybug_ladybug.htm. It seems that in merry ol’ England it was traditional to burn the fields after the fall harvest to cut down on potential future insect infestations. The farmers knew that this beetle, which they call a ladybird, was the farmer’s friend (they are ravenous aphid-eaters), so this was essentially a courtesy call made to tell the insects to leave the fields before they set them on fire.

Today we find ladybugs mostly in our houses in the winter and spring. This is because these insects seek out good hidey-holes for hibernation (cracks along the outside of the house), and when they detect the warmth and light inside, they move on in. Ladybugs are totally harmless, but they can exude a foul-smelling orange goo from their legs if they are pestered. This is a defense mechanism meant to drive away predators, but to them a broom is just as aggressive as a bluejay, so if you try to sweep them away, they may leave this exudate on your walls and curtains. The majority of the ladybugs that turn up in your house are probably non-natives, the Halloween ladybug being the most common perpetrator. This species is orange and black, and often shows up in the fall.

Despite this apparent evidence to the contrary, many native ladybug species are in rapid decline. Back in 1986, when the nine-spotted ladybug was proposed as New York’s state insect, it was common, but by 1988 its population was in a tailspin. One hasn’t been seen in New York now since the late ‘80s. Only one specimen has been found since then in all of the eastern US, and that was discovered by two children in Virginia.

What can YOU do? Cornell University, home to many a citizen science project, has started the Lost Ladybug Project (www.lostladybug.org). This is a great hands-on project for kids, families, or adults. All you do is go out, look for ladybugs, take their pictures, and send the photos in to Cornell, along with the particulars of where you found the ladybug, when you found it, etc. There are three species they are especially interested in finding: nine-spotted, two-spotted, and transverse ladybugs. If you go to their website, they have lots if photos and color print-outs that can help you succeed in this mission.

I know that I’m going to add ladybug hunting to my list of outdoor activities this summer. I have a patch of tansy that in the past has been loaded with ladybugs, both adults and their larvae (which are strange-looking beasts). Chances are most of these will be introduced species, but you never know…lurking among the immigrants there just might be a native or two.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

7th Annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration

Seven years ago Brian McAllister, then volunteer coordinator at the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center, had an idea: why not host a birding festival in the Adirondacks? After all, birders are committed hobbyists who will travel great distances to add new birds to their life lists, and this would be a great way to promote the Adirondacks and the boreal birdlife that makes the Park special. Fast forward to 2009: the Great Adirondack Birding Celebration (GABC) is still going strong and has a line-up of speakers and field trips that will appeal to bird (and outdoor) enthusiasts of all abilities.

This year the GABC, which will be held June 5-7, is hosted by the Adirondack Park Institute (API), the Friends Group of the Visitor Interpretive Centers. One of the changes for 2009 is a registration fee ($35 for individuals, $50 for families), which not only includes entry to all the programs and field trips, but also to the Dessert Reception and Owl Prowl at White Pine Camp (June 5), the BBQ lunch at the Paul Smiths VIC (June 6), and a one-year membership to the API. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Learning to Love the Little Things

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.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Woodcock Watching – A Sure Sign of Spring

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.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another New Contributor: Naturalist Ellen Rathbone

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.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adirondack Conference to Focus on Alpine Zones

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.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bird Banding in Crown Point Begins in May

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.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adirondack Events for Mid-April

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.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Faster, Easter Bunny, Run, Run

Spinning egg by Marquil


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Leave No Child Inside Program at Adk Wild Center

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.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NY Master Forest Owner Program Announced

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: warren@cornell.edu


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

‘Wild, Unsettled Country’ at the Adirondack Museum

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.



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