Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Examining Threats to Monarch Butterfly Migration

monarch butterflyThe monarch butterfly may be the most recognized butterfly in the world. With the exception of the Polar Regions, the medium-size butterflies can be found on every continent on Earth. Their spectacular migration in eastern North America, from breeding locations in Canada and the United States to overwintering sites in Mexico, is nothing short of a miracle and has been the subject of decades of study.

Monarchs have four life stages; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (butterfly). The search for milkweed, the only food that monarch larvae eat, is the sole reason for the annual monarch migration. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Wildlife: The Adirondack Frog and Toad Choir

Bull Frogs If you walk by a pond on a summer evening, you may hear the deep “jug-o-rum” of a bullfrog or the “tung” of a green frog, sounding like a plucked banjo string. Sometimes you’ll hear a whole chorus of frogs, the songs competing with each other for attention.

The frogs are not singing for our enjoyment, of course. Most frog sounds we hear are advertisement calls to attract mates, and the callers are usually males. In some species, these vocalizations also help male frogs maintain territories against other males. If you look closely around the shore of a pond, you often see male green frogs spaced at regular intervals. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kingfishers: Birds of Middle Earth

kingfisher I usually hear the kingfisher before I see it. If I’m reading by the lake, its harsh, rattling call gets my attention. I look up to see the flashy blue-and-white bird fly to a new perch or hover over the water scanning for small fish and crayfish. If I’m kayaking, I try to follow it along the shore as it moves from one overhanging limb to another. This lasts for about two moves: they are easily disturbed and are fast fliers.

Stalking the bird recently, I began to wonder about its nest. As common as belted kingfishers are, I didn’t know anything about their domestic arrangements. As it turns out, my kingfishers likely consider this lake better for noshing than nesting. The lake’s rock-bound shore lacks the type of steep earthen bank the birds need to dig a burrow. Kingfishers are among the few birds in North America that nest in cavities they excavate themselves. » Continue Reading.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Juvenile Ospreys Rescued From Burning Power Pole

Juvenile Ospreys rescued from burning power poleNYS Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) Stephen Gonyeau reported that on July 27th he was called to Putnam, east of Lake George, to assist with an osprey nest that had caught fire on a power pole. Gonyeau said he arrived to find two juveniles on the ground and learned that a third had been transported to a wildlife rehabilitator, but was unable to recover from its injuries.

DEC reported that the power company repaired the damaged pole and placed a nesting platform on top. One of the juveniles was returned to the nest and the remaining osprey was transported to a rehabilitator to be treated for smoke inhalation. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Northeast’s Most Alarming Insect

Hellgrammites If freshwater insects did senior superlatives before graduating from aquatic life, what would yearbook entries say about dobsonflies? Largest? Most ferocious? Most likely to change names? Most likely to bite a human? Or to be used as fish bait? Or to be confused with a centipede?

All of these superlatives apply to larval hellgrammites – insects that, upon emerging from the water, promptly change names to become dobsonflies. These fascinating predators spend their larval stage eating other invertebrates, including other hellgrammites. They’re equipped with impressive mandibles that can open wider than the width of their own heads and can handily crunch through the tough exoskeletons of most insects. An occasional angler has learned the hard way that the mandibles of larger hellgrammites are quite capable of penetrating human skin. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Monarch Butterfly Lecture Planned At Wild Center

monarch butterflyAdkAction has announced a free lecture, “Monarchs in a Changing World,” by Dr. Karen Oberhauser on Friday, August 10 at 6 pm in the Flammer Theater at The Wild Center.

Monarchs, like many other organisms, are facing the challenges of a rapidly changing climate. Their capacity to cope with these changes remains uncertain. Climate also affects monarchs indirectly, by altering the habitats and plant species on which they depend, or the distribution and abundance of their predators and parasites. Dr. Oberhauser will explain her work using climate models to understand how these direct and indirect inputs might affect monarch in the future.  » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Deer Flies—Away!

adult deer fly Toothaches, difficult break-ups, and traffic accidents. With some things in life, if you have one, you have one too many. This applies to deer flies, those hard-biting pests with a knack for moving in at the instant your hands are full. And the same goes for their beefier cousin the horse fly.

Deer and horse flies are in the family Tabanidae, a group of aquatic insects comprising over 4,000 species worldwide. Fortunately, we “only” have around 100 species of deer flies and 200 of horse flies in our region. It is the female deer and horse flies which slash you with their scissors-like mouthparts and sop up your life-blood to mature their ovaries. After a nice bloody Mary, or Tom or whoever, they will lay 100 to 800 eggs at the edge of a pond, marsh, or temporary mud hole. The larvae are easily found (should you want to) in ponds and marshes in the near-shore ooze. Mind the leeches. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Living With Wildlife: The House Wren Eviction

house wrenOne afternoon in early June, a small brown bird swooped down in front of our kitchen window. I wondered where it had swooped from when, a minute later, I saw it fly back up, with a sliver of straw in its beak. I went out the back door, onto the deck, in time to see the bird exiting the shower vent on the gable end of the house. It was a house wren, and it was building a nest in my house.

Tip to tail, house wrens, Troglodytes aedon, are generally about 5 inches long and weigh about .4 oz. – half the length of the average robin and far lighter. They have brown feathers, longish beaks, and tails that are often tipped upwards. These tiny birds have one of the most expansive breeding ranges of any songbird, stretching from southern areas of Canada, to the far southern reaches of South America. In between they are found across the entire continental United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Fire on the Altona Flat Rock: Déjà Vu

Recent news stories on both sides of Lake Champlain reported a huge, dark cloud of smoke rising above northern Clinton County. A section of the Altona Flat Rock was afire, and within a day, more than 300 acres were scorched.

Dry conditions across the North Country were cited as the reason it spread so quickly, but there were other factors I happen to be familiar with because the first book I wrote, back in 1980, was titled A History of the Altona Flat Rock. The area in question comprises fifteen square miles of uninhabited wildlands which, by nature, is a very dry environment. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dry Weather May Mean Less Lyme Disease

tick life cycle Over the past few decades, black-legged tick populations have grown relentlessly. These are the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and so what was once a novelty illness has become a rite of passage for many. It’s probably safe to say that by now everyone reading this knows someone who’s had the disease, if they haven’t had it themselves.

But some years are worse than others when it comes to Lyme disease infection rates, so the obvious question is: what causes this? Part of the answer involves the number of deer and small mammals around. There’s been elegant science done that establishes a neat connection between Lyme disease rates and good acorn years. The oaks produce a good crop, which causes a spike in the mouse and chipmunk populations the next year, and then a surge in human Lyme disease cases a year after that. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Annual Adirondack Loon Census Volunteers Needed

loonThe Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Adirondack Program has announced a call for volunteers to survey loons on Adirondack lakes as part of the 18th Annual Adirondack Loon Census.

The event will take place on Saturday, July 21, 2018, from 8 to 9 am. Participants can choose from a list of available lakes and ponds in the Adirondack region to sign up for and survey. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Eastern Musk Turtle: A Stinkpot’s Aposematic Stink Screen

musk turtle I have always admired turtles and their armored ways; how they bask in the sun and retreat when the world is too much. Last summer, through the perseverance of a nine-year-old boy, I found myself holding a small, golf-ball-sized turtle. It had a pointed snout that had two white lines stretching above and below its eye and an olive-brown carapace with a garden of algae growing on it.

Evan had captured this treasure from a local pond. We were using dip nets and strainers and our trays were already filled with dragonfly nymphs, aquatic snails, log cabin caddisfly larvae, and diving beetles. Intent on catching the silver-scaled minnows that schooled around our feet, Evan stalked the edge. He was like a great blue heron, his net like a bill, poised high and ready for a quick jab into the water. He caught two minnows and then made this lucky scoop, pulling up the small brown turtle. Our trays were forgotten as everyone crowded around. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Paul Hetzler: More Blissful Ignorance, Please

It’s a rare blessing to have a job I absolutely love, but it’s not all roses. Although some of it is, literally, roses. All too often it is my dubious honor to bring to public awareness a new invasive pest or disease, and history has not always been kind to the bearers of bad news.

There is an old saying that knowledge is power, but there is another one that ignorance is bliss, and some days I’d be happy to trade some alleged power for a little bliss. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Mallards: A Dissolute Dabbler’s Rise and Decline

mallard ducks Robert McCloskey’s Make way for Ducklings is one of my favorite childhood books. I loved the way Mr. and Mrs. Mallard interacted, their seemingly endless search for the perfect nesting place, the description of classic Boston neighborhoods, and the whimsical names of their eight ducklings.

Not until I started reading the story to my own children, several years ago now, did I notice Mr. Mallard ditches Mrs. Mallard after the ducklings hatch, leaving her to tend to eight kids on her own, amid the dangers of snapping turtles and Boston traffic.

It turns out Mr. Mallard, with his handsome green head, dapper blue wing patches, and charmingly curled tail can be a bit of a scamp; male mallards will mate with just about any feathered thing that floats on water. And they’re not always nice about it. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Stabilimenta: Northeastern Spider Silk Web Decoration

spider web When I was little and tagging along when my dad tended his vegetables, I would sometimes find large black and yellow garden spiders. They were beautiful, and I noticed they had a curious trait: they often added a bright white decorative zigzag to their webs. I always wondered why, if a spider web is meant to catch insects unawares, these spiders would go to such effort to make their webs more visible?

To answer this question, I recently spoke with Dr. Todd Blackledge, who researches spider silk and the web decorations of garden spiders. » Continue Reading.