Thursday, April 30, 2015

Coltsfoot: Eye Candy and Cough Syrup

ColtsfootI haven’t checked with an optometrist, but I may have a winter-related vision problem. When five or six months of winter-white finally give way to a mostly brown world each early spring, my eyeballs hurt – they ache for something bright in the landscape. That’s probably why I plant a few additional crocus bulbs in the yard every fall, and why I search out early-blooming native wildflowers like bloodroot and Carolina spring beauty.

But what thrills me most is how clumps of yellow coltsfoot flowers emerge, long before their leaves come out, from muddy roadside ditches, rail embankments and other sites with a history of soil disturbance. Coltsfoot flowers look a bit like small dandelions, but without any leaves in sight. Maybe it’s the contrast between their bright color and the sepia environs, or perhaps it’s their audacity at blooming so early, but these tiny sunbursts do much to dispel my winter fatigue. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Going With the Flow: The Sixth Sense of Fish

TOS_NeuromastThere are times when fish appear telepathic. Consider the uncanny way a school of bait fish moves as one to avoid a predator, or the way goldfish in their lighted bowl turn towards the glass when someone walks into a dark room.

Researchers often describe this ability as “touch-from-a-distance.” But fishy sixth sense is closer to hearing than touch. It’s what allows salmon to deftly ply the currents and eddies as they make their spawning runs upstream. They listen to the flow. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Appreciating Bears Through The Seasons

black_bear_Deb-mckenzie_070110_aBears – we love ‘em, we hate ‘em, we’re fascinated with them, and we fear them. We seemed to have evolved from different ends of the mammalian tree. Humans started out as a fruit and seed eater, who gradually adapted the more efficient role of the omnivore. Black bears (and grizzlies) are creatures who appear better equipped to be carnivores, but pursue an omnivorous diet, learning to exploit a variety of food sources, in many different habitats.

We have our nightmare visions of the wild bear prowling beyond the dissolving glow of the campfire – or the fear that we’ll lose our vegetable garden or livestock or trash barrels to a marauding black bear. Those are balanced by their sometimes comical and often ingenious attempts to break into our stored food and trash, or the way they entertain themselves with the natural toys and circumstances nature provides, such as sledding on their butts. Curiosity and play are characteristics of higher mammals, particularly in predators like humans, wolves and bears. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Adirondack Painted Turtles In Spring

April24 089After a long slumber buried deep in the protective mud beneath Adirondack lakes, the painted turtle is awake. Chrysemys picta, the eastern painted turtle, is common to many of our ponds, lakes and wetlands, preferring areas with abundant aquatic plants, ample spots for sunbathing, and sunny places with sand for nests.

Painted turtles are named for their intricate shell pattern and very distinct yellow stripes on their heads. Reaching an average length of 5 to 6 inches, they can live for more than 40 years. Being omnivorous, they feed on insects, crustaceans, fish, plants and any other food (plant or animal) they can find. Like snapping turtles, painted turtles can live in a wide range of habitats. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Lessons Of Awkward Adolescent Eagles

TOS_EaglesA deer died by the river near my home. The crows found it, as did other scavengers – a bald eagle, and two big brown raptors that were hard to identify. Both had white flecking on their heads, wings and bodies, but the markings didn’t match up, bird to bird. They looked unkempt and more than a little disreputable.

It turns out these were also bald eagles, but young birds, dressed in dark plumage. In common with some other long-lived species, eagles have an extended adolescence. They require about four to five years to mature. During this period they don’t find mates, establish territories, or conform to the adult dress code. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mountains Of Molehills: Not All Bad

MolehillsUKPaulGlazzardOne thing about snow is that it hides a multitude of sins, making one property look as immaculate as the next. In the years when winter lingers into spring, some of us start to think pristine is overrated, and we are prepared to settle for muck and grime if only Mother Nature would peel back her wintry shroud.

But as backyard glaciers recede, some homeowners are dismayed to find that an army of moles has apparently spent the winter detonating explosives. The star-nosed mole and the hairy-tail mole are the two species that live in my area of Northern New York, and as their soil mounds indicate, they are active all winter. If they have turned your once-flat lawn into a relief map of the Adirondacks, don’t panic; it’s not as bad as it seems. » Continue Reading.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cold Start to Spring: Yard and Garden Tips

SnowCrocusMeneerkeBloemThe one good thing I can say about this slow start to this 2015 growing season is that it has been just that: slow. A gradual warm up will delay things a bit, but plants will usually catch up, and by mid-June it will be hard to tell it was so cold in early April.

It is much harder on plants to have a roller coaster of spring temperatures, from early thaws to cold snaps to warm spells and then back down below freezing. Those early warm spells can induce plants to come out of dormancy ahead of schedule, and the tender, new tissue is especially vulnerable to below freezing temperatures. It doesn’t kill a plant to have tip dieback or to lose flower buds, but it can affect that season’s bloom and fruit set. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Chipmunks: Friendly Harbingers of Spring

800px-Tamias_striatus2The friendly harbinger of spring has arrived. Our banded friend the Eastern Chipmunk has been making visits to our bird feeder in Schroon Lake.

Chipmunks can be very social creatures; even those found deep within the woods can still surprise you. Years ago, my husband and I were taking a much needed vacation by camping out at Clear Pond in the Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area. We had the lean to all to ourselves, or so we thought.   » Continue Reading.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Adirondacks Burn Ban In Effect

DEC LogoResidential brush burning in towns with less than 20,000 residents is prohibited in the state through May 14 – including all of the Adirondack Park.  New York State prohibits residential burning during the high-risk fire season to reduce the number of wildfires and protect people, property and natural resources.

Open burning of debris is the largest single cause of spring wildfires in New York State. When temperatures are warmer and grasses and leaves dry out, wildfires can start and spread easily. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring in the Adirondacks

Loon Lake by Shannon HoulihanAlthough, we had some snow last night, the temperature is rising in the Adirondacks, the snow is melting, and the sap has been flowing. The natural world around us is starting to wake up; spring is finally on its way.

In Schroon Lake, we have witnessed the increased activity of the wildlife and the beginning of ripening buds on trees. We have been visited by energetic red squirrels, a vole, shrew, and many birds, flocking to our backyard feeder. Although squirrels, voles and shrews don’t hibernate, their increased activity is a sign that breeding will take place soon. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Late Maple Sap Run For Syrup Makers

Sugar Shack 2015In spite of deep snow and frigid temps through early 2015, most maple producers in northern New York have been ready for sugaring season since early February, but they had to wait for the right weather to trigger sap flow.

Until this past week, sap runs in the region had for the most part been sporadic and brief, and producers at higher elevations where it is a bit colder have seen very little action until now. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Common Myths About Adirondack Nature

TOS_barred_owlWalking through the woods on a cool spring morning, I saw a barred owl in an old maple tree. I circled the owl three times from a distance. Its head kept turning to follow me, tracking my movements with three complete revolutions.

One of the owl’s chicks had fallen from the nest, so I climbed the tree and placed the chick back in it. Then the owl flew up and pushed the chick out of the nest onto the ground, where it lay in a pile of melting snow.

One of the owl’s chicks had fallen from the nest, so I climbed the tree and placed the chick back in it. Then the owl flew up and pushed the chick out of the nest onto the ground, where it lay in a pile of melting snow. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Where is the Source of the Hudson?

Dan on descent on Skylight July '09Last week I was doing a little research for a book project when a web search returned an interesting line from a Wikipedia entry on the Hudson River. It piqued my curiosity, going as it did against conventional wisdom. Wikipedia being Wikipedia I wasn’t about to take it as gospel, but it provoked me to start digging around just for fun. After all, if one learns anything in research and the sciences it is that conventional wisdom or historical tradition are no sure bets.

In this case, both conventional wisdom and historical tradition say that Lake Tear of the Clouds, nestled between Mounts Marcy and Skylight in the Adirondack High Peaks, is the source of the Hudson River. Thus has it been generally accepted ever since Verplanck Colvin determined it to be so, on his second visit to Lake Tear in August of 1873. For generations of hikers Lake Tear has been a special destination, an upward trek to the ultimate source of one of America’s greatest rivers.  But is it? » Continue Reading.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Winter To Spring In A Bear Cub’s Den

TOS_BlackBearBabiesThe forest is going through a seasonal transition, at a leisurely pace, and often invisibly. Bear cubs, for example, are maturing in hidden dens that we might pass right by.

Black bear (Ursus americanus) cubs are born in mid-January to early February. The newborns are blind, deaf, and toothless, and covered with hair so fine they appear bald. They weigh about a half a pound and are the size of small squirrels. Barely able to crawl, they sense the heat from their mother’s sparsely furred belly and find their way to her protective warmth. She nurses often, shifting position to assist them and to avoid rolling onto them. Her milk is a protein-rich twenty percent (or more) fat. (Human milk, by comparison, is about four percent fat.) » Continue Reading.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

DEC Limes Pond in Five Ponds Wilderness

picking up lime at Stillwater ReserviorAs part an effort to mitigate the impact of acid rain and restore brook trout to the Adirondacks, state helicopters delivered 80 tons of lime to an acidified pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area in the Town of Webb in Herkimer County.

Over three days in early March, about 40 Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff and New York State Police helicopter crews conducted the liming operation, which included 120 helicopter flights to transport 160,000 pounds of lime from a staging area near the boat launch at Stillwater Reservoir to Bear Pond.  » Continue Reading.

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