Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hornets or Wasps: Learning to tell the Difference

When I came back from my vacation in early August, we had an impressive addition to the Visitor Center’s building: a large hornet nest. Apparently it was already under construction back in early July, but it was small enough then that it escaped my notice. But by the second week of August it was over a foot long, and it has continued to grow since then.

Many visitors have commented on the impressiveness of this nest. As one walks down our driveway to the building, it is often the first thing one sees. For a while, it even looked like a sculpted face of a woman, created by some long ago master of the marble form. Today it looks more like the face a man, with a big bulbous nose and a serious frown. Most visitors call it a paper wasp nest, and that is not surprising, since paper wasps also create papery nests on buildings. But this nest was made by bald-faced hornets, and I’ll share with you some of the differences between these insects.

First off, paper wasps, yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets are all technically wasps, and they are all in the same family: Vespidae. Members of this family are distinguished from other wasp families by the way their wings are held when at rest: folded and slightly to the side. They all have similar life cycles. The fertilized queen overwinters and come spring she sets out to build a small nest from masticated wood fibers. After a few cells are built, she lays her eggs inside. The larvae hatch, the queen feeds them, and when they pupate, the queen has a few helpers, all of which are sterile females. More cells are built by the queen and her staff, and the queen lays more eggs. This continues throughout the summer. As the season winds down, the queen lays a final batch of eggs that develop into males and non-sterile females. The old queen and her workers die off, the new queens mate with the males, the males die and the now-fertilized queens seek shelter for the winter and await spring.

The major differences that you and I will notice arise in the structure of the nests. Paper wasp nests are a series of cells that are exposed to the elements. Picture a papery honeycombed structure – that’s about it. The queen makes it by chewing up bits of wood and other fibers and forming them into cells. Hornets build cells, too, but their cells are covered with an external wall – the upside-down tear-shaped papery nest that we see in trees and under our eves. Yellow jackets build their nests underground, and like their cousins the hornets, they surround the cells with papery walls.

Most of these insects are black with yellow stripes, but the nest at the VIC was made by bald-faced hornets, Dolichovespula maculate. These insects are distinctive because they are black and white. If you look closely, you will note that the face of each of these hornets is also white, hence the name. “Bald” does not mean “hairless.” Well, it does today, but the original word was “probably from Celt. bal ‘white patch, blaze’ especially on the head of a horse or other animal,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. So, “bald eagle” means white eagle, “bald-faced hornet” means white-faced hornet and so on.

Bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are notorious for their aggressive nature. Like many people, they have a large personal space (around the nest), and if you enter it, be prepared for retaliatory actions. If you see these insects just flying around in gentle weaving patterns, they are probably foraging and not interested in you. In fact, bald-faced hornets are actually considered to be rather shy when not defending the nest. If, however, they are flying directly at you, and at great speed, then you know they mean business, and it is time to make yourself scarce. Good luck.

As the chilly nights of autumn approach, activity slows down at wasp nests. Nests built in or near the ground often become food for other animals, like raccoons and bears. Once temperatures have hovered around freezing for several days and nights, it is likely that any remaining insects inside have perished. Now it is safe to remove the nest, and even to take a look inside. Old wasp nests make interesting decorations in houses, and great educational tools, espcially for children.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Blogging Round-Up


Friday, September 18, 2009

RPI Undergraduates to Live, Study on Lake George

RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute has a global reputation for pathbreaking research on zebra mussels, acid rain, milfoil and water quality.

Now its researchers are teaching environmental science to RPI undergraduates who are living and working at the Bolton Landing facility.

It’s the first time since RPI opened the field station on Lake George in the 1980s that the university has offered a full semester of course work to undergraduates at the site.

According to Chuck Boylen, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute’s associate director, the Institute’s mission has always included education, but a lack of dormitory space made it impossible to accommodate undergraduate programs.

That defect was remedied in 2003, when RPI converted a 19th century summer cottage on the property into a year-round education and research facility, with a state-of-the art computing center, space for lectures and films and rooms for visiting scholars and students.

While some of the undergraduates participating in the semester on Lake George are commuting to Bolton Landing from RPI’s Troy campus, others are now occupying those rooms.

“We’ve expanded the RPI campus to include Bolton Landing,” said Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, the institute’s executive director.

The rooms’ rustic décor is certainly a departure from that of the usual dorm rooms, said Nicole Nolan. “Mine is moose-themed,” she said.

As on any campus, the students spend a significant amount of time in the laboratories and classrooms. But they also spend equal amounts of time on Lake George.

That’s one of the aspects of the program that attracted Kelsey Cote. “I had intended to be a cell biologist, but I realized that spending my life in a lab was not something I wanted to do,” she said.

“The students do field work, work with graduate students on individual research projects , do lab work with sophisticated technology and get exposed to environmental conservation organizations and agencies,” said Nierzwicki-Bauer. “That’s what we offer. It’s a great opportunity for the kids.”

The program’s blend of theory and practice makes it an especially strong one, said Chuck Boylen.

This year’s semester is essentially a pilot project for what Boylen and Nierzwicki-Bauer hopes will become a multi-disciplinary program serving large numbers of students every year.

To read more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror


Friday, September 18, 2009

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories

  • Senate Confirms John McHugh
  • Brown Road Signs To Be Replaced?
  • Sprague Bests Garcia in GOP Primary
  • End of the Official Recession?
  • Salmon River Could Correct Itself
  • 800 Pot Plants Found in Jay
  • Queensbury Man Drowns in Lake George
  • Aubertine Helps Green Jobs Act Pass
  • Top APA Official to Retire
  • Plattsburgh Split on Rooftop Highway
  • APA Easing Wind Tower Process

  • Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Adirondack Music Scene: Fall Festivals Offer Polka, Blues and Jazz

    It appears that most towns in the Adirondacks like throwing Fall Festivals. Makes sense given how lovely trees look in all their colorful glory—the weather is usually pretty cooperative too. That said, I was still surprised to find out how many are on this weekend. Music and food—can’t beat that combination as far as I’m concerned.

    It all starts today with the last Art Walk of the season in Saranac Lake, starting at 4:30 pm. Galleries will be open late. There will be music and artists on the street. The Stoneman Blues Band will be playing on The Waterhole patio from 6 pm until no one wants to hear ’em anymore—in other words, until quite late. With two very interesting guitarists, strong vocals and a solid rhythm section I find it hard to stay seated when they have the stage.

    On Saturday there will be a Pig Roast, Apple Festival and Concert in Willsboro. What more could one want? It will be held at the 1812 Homestead Farm and Museum I don’t eat pig and I don’t even know anything about the concert but it still sounds like a good time. Try calling Jack Swan at 963-4071 for more information.

    Inlet is having their annual Fall Festival. Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm. It takes place in Fern Park and features crafts, food, with music provided by Dave Ruch and Fritz’s Polka Band. Any band with lyrics like “Grab my accordion and stretch it out” obviously knows how to party.

    In Lake George from 1 to 6 pm on both Saturday and Sunday; Jazz At The Lake will be under way. With three groups a day I’m sure jazz fans will be satisfied. It’s going to be held at Shepherd Park and admission is free.

    Also on Saturday the 19th in Saranac Lake, the popular Jamie Notarthomas returns. He starts at 7pm. He’s a one-man band with large repertoire of originals and covers. This also happens to be the last patio show of the season at the Waterhole, which pretty much guarantees a rockin’ party.

    A quick mention goes out to Lowville – holding their Cream Cheese Festival on Saturday from 11 am – 6 pm. There will be live music all day and the “World’s Largest Cheesecake”! I checked out some tunes from the Bad Weather Blues Band, who play at 2:30 pm. Their lead singer, nicknamed “Hop”, is quite good and they sound super tight in their recordings.

    On a sad note: The Ten Dollar Radio Show has been cancelled. Their blog will continue for now but this is truly a blow for our local listeners and even a few in NYC and LA. They weren’t even given a chance to have one last show. I don’t get it and will write more on this upsetting turn of events later. At least, for now, we have the archives.

    Photo: Fritz from Fritz’s Polka Band


    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    New Contributor: Tony Hall of the Lake George Mirror

    There are big changes happening here at the Adirondack Almanack. In the coming weeks we’ll be rolling out a new design and adding some new contributors. Our first is Anthony F. Hall, editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror, who will be offering news each week from the Lake George basin (on Fridays at noon).

    Tony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

    In 1998, Tony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall. Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

    Please join me in welcoming Tony to the Almanack.


    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    New Book: Adirondack Wildflower Portraits

    A post script to our series on wildflower bloom dates: we’ve received a copy of a new book by Chestertown-based photographer Curtiss M. Austin called Adirondack Wildflower Portraits. Last year, over the course of a single spring-to-fall season, he photographed flowers within a mile of his home and organized 60 of them chronologically, by the date he found them in bloom.

    The book is more album and almanac than field guide, though Austin provides Latin names and a few facts about each species. It won’t help you key out a flower but it might surprise you. The photographer pays as much attention to the diminutive and ignored blooms of plants like common mullein, cow vetch and curly dock as he does to blue flag irises and day lilies. “Many wildflowers are very small, but close-up they are just as interesting and beautiful as larger flowers,” he writes.

    The 130-page 8″ x 8″ paperback will be available soon at Amazon.com and at Austin’s website for $19.95.

    Photograph of crooked-stemmed aster taken September 22, 2008 by Curtiss M. Austin, from Adirondack Wildflower Portraits


    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Leatherleaf – An Adirondack Heath

    The other day I was paddling a peaceful lake with a friend, poking around a pocket wetland along one of its shores, when I came across a lone leatherleaf plant (Chamaedaphne calyculata). It stood out for two reasons: one, it was all by itself, and two, it was knee deep in water.

    Leatherleaf, also known as cassandra, or dwarf cassandra, is a classical denizen of bogs, although it is often also found on the edges of wetlands, where the water from a pond or lake starts to turn acidic.

    Typically, leatherleaf moves into bogs after sphagnum mosses are established, making it an early pioneer of these wonderful wetlands. One of its functions is to extend the edge of the peat mat, creating more bog habitat as it goes, thereby giving other plants a toehold in the soggy environment. Because it reproduces by sending out new sprouts from specialized roots and branches (as well as by seeds), leatherleaf forms dense colonies of clones, sometimes as dense as 200 stems in a single square meter of space. If you thought witchhobble could trip you up, you should try pressing through a stand of leatherleaf!

    In the broadest sense of the term, leatherleaf is an evergreen shrub. Some of its leaves fall off in autumn, but many of them persist for an additional year. None remain on the plant for a second winter. But what really stands out about the leaves is their variation. On most of the plant, the leaves are tough, leathery, and olive-drab, and they have an almost vertical orientation on the plant’s stems and branches. But if you look at the top of an upright stem, a rather droopy horizontal twig arises with much smaller leaves. This stem produces the flowers and fruits of the year. Come fall, the leaves drop, the fruits are eaten, and the stem shrivels up and dies. Right now you can go out and find leatherleaf bedecked with ripening berries on its many horizontal twigs.

    In the spring, you will find leatherleaf in its other beautiful form: hung with many delicate white bells along its horizontal branches. If you are lucky, you may see its chief pollinator, the bumblebee, fumbling around each dangling flower.

    As the season progresses through summer, other insects visit this plant, although few are considered pests. Look for the foamy blobs of heath spittlebugs, which, like other spittlebugs, have whipped the sap of the plant into a protective frothy coat. You might also find leafhoppers, leaf miners, or even cyphon marsh beetles. This time of year it is easy to find copious spider webs tangling the upper branches; they make for some great early morning photography. The dense stems provide shelter for larger wildlife as well, such as nesting ducks.

    Leatherleaf is such an unassuming plant, yet for grouse within its range its berries and buds are an important food source. White-tailed deer and snowshoe hares are also dependent on leatherleaf for food in winter, the former eating the twigs and leaves, the latter the twigs and bark. Not to be outdone by wildlife, humans have also made use of leatherleaf, both as a medicine (febrifuge and topical anti-inflammatory) and as a beverage.

    To see leatherleaf, or other equally fascinating bog plants, hie thee to thy nearest wetland. If you are timid about getting your feet wet, or if you are concerned about damaging the fragile wetland ecosystem, you can visit wetlands at both Visitor Interpretive Centers (located in Newcomb and Paul Smiths), where wooden boardwalks will take you right up to many wetland plants safely and dryly.


    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Restoring Arto Monaco’s Land of Makebelieve

    Among theme-park historians Arto Monaco is a legend. The work of Monaco in designing the area’s theme parks has become a central part of the history of tourism in the Adirondacks. His creations have been found in the defunct Old McDonald’s Farm (Lake Placid), The Land of Makebelieve (Upper Jay), Gaslight Village (Pottersville and then Lake George), and Frontier Town (North Hudson), at Storytown (now the corporate Great Escape) and Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington (the last of a breed and a spot that made our Seven Human-Made Wonders of the Adirondacks).

    Monaco was a local artist who designed sets for MGM and Warner Brothers, a fake German village in the Arizona desert to train World War II soldiers, and later his own Land of Makebelieve. Monaco died in 2005, but not before the Arto Monaco Historical Society (AMHS) was organized (in 2004) in order to preserve and perpetuate Monaco’s legacy, assemble a collection of his work, and stabilize and restore the Land of Makebelieve which was closed in 1979 after the Ausable River flooded the park for the eleventh time.

    Since they first went into the woods with tools in 2006, volunteers of the AMHS have hacked the now overgrown Land of Makebelieve out of the encroaching forests in hopes of saving what’s left of Monaco’s legacy there from the ravages of nature.

    On Saturday, September 26, the AMHS will hold its 2009 Annual Meeting followed by a another work session at the former Land of Makebelieve site from 1 to 4 pm. The morning meeting will be held at Paul Johnson’s Bakery, on Route 9N one mile south of the Upper Jay bridge. Lunch is available for those who stay for the afternoon work session. To RSVP, or for information on the upcoming work day or volunteering for the AMHS in general, contact them through their website at http://www.artomonaco.org/.

    Photo: The Land of Makebelieve in 2006 before volunteers began work on the abandoned theme park.


    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    18th Annual Whiteface Oktoberfest, Flaming Leaves Announced

    Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort will host its 18th Annual Oktoberfest on October 3-4 with vendors, arts and crafts, children’s rides, and Bavarian food, drink and entertainment by die Schlauberger, the Lake Placid Bavarians, and Ed Schenk on the accordion, Schachtelgebirger Musikanten (Scha-Musi is in their fifth year at the Whiteface Oktoberfest), Spitze, The Alpen Trio, and dancing by the Alpenland Taenzer.

    Considered one of America’s best German bands, die Schlauberger plays German favorites with a mission of “Keeping the Traditionalists on their Feet and the New Generation Interested.” SPITZE! offers an alpine show that features cowbells, the alpine xylophone, the alphorn and yodeling. The band will host yodel and Schuhplattler (Bavarian Folk Dancing) contests. The Lake Placid Bavarians have been performing traditional Bavarian music in the north country for the last 18 years.

    The Cloudsplitter Gondola will be operating for views of the Adirondack foliage as will the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway.

    Oktoberfest will be held Saturday from 10 am – 7 pm and Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm. A complimentary shuttle service will be provided both days. Departure from the Olympic Center Box Office in Lake Placid takes place at 11 am, 1 pm and 2:30 pm. The bus will depart Whiteface and return to Lake Placid at 2 pm, 4 pm and 6 pm (Sat. only), 7:30 pm (Sat. only) and 5:30 pm (Sun. only). The shuttle will also service Wilmington with stops at the Candyman, located on the corner of Routes 86 and 431, at 12 pm and 5 pm.

    Daily admission for adults is $15 for the festival; $25 for the festival and a scenic gondola ride. The junior and senior price is $8 for the festival and $18 for both. Children six years of age and under are admitted free of charge.

    The following weekend (October 10-11) the 9th Annual Flaming Leaves Festival will feature the 2010 U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships along with live blues bands, barbeque and microbrews, kids’ activities, games, craft vendors and more The Flaming Leaves festival runs from 10 am – 5 pm both days. Admission is $14 for adults, and $8 for juniors/seniors and includes the chairlift and elevator ride to the Sky Deck atop the 120 meter ski jump tower.

    Olympic Sites Passports are honored for admission at both the Oktoberfest and the Flaming Leaves Festival.


    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    DEC Region 5 Invites Public to Deer Management Meetings

    Public meetings that focus on the state’s whitetail deer herd management have been scheduled for around the state this fall. The meetings seek public input and an opportunity to participate in New York’s long-range deer management planning. According to a recent press release the goal of the meetings will be, “to identify and prioritize the issues that are most important to hunters and other people concerned with or impacted by deer.”

    » Continue Reading.


    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Adirondack Public Observatory Lecture Series Announced

    The Wild Center will host the Adirondack Public Observatory 2009 Fall Lecture Series begining Friday, September 18th. The equinox, Jupiter and Galileo’s legacy, Pegasus Square and Andromeda constellations, and 2012 “the end of time” will be some of the topics discussed. All lectures begin at 7:00 p.m. in The Flammer Theatre at The Wild Center followed by astronomical viewing outside using telescopes and binoculars (weather permitting). The programs are free and open to the public.

    Here are the details from the Adirondack Public Observatory:

    The Equinox… Facts and Myths – Friday, Sept. 18

    Did you ever hear about being able to stand an egg on end during the equinox? Did you ever try it? This evening’s talk by Jeffrey Miller from St. Lawrence University will provide an explanation of just what the equinox is and how it affects us here on Earth. Jeff is a trustee of the APO, accomplished astronomer and physics instructor at St. Lawrence University.

    Jupiter and Galileo’s Legacy – Friday, Sept. 25

    Jupiter is now visible in the evening sky and along with the giant planet comes some interesting history. Dr. Aileen O’Donoghue, Associate Professor of Physics at St. Lawrence University, Astronomer and APO trustee, will be talking about Galileo, Jupiter and some of their history as well as a look at the Vatican Observatory.

    “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!” – Friday, Oct. 2

    What telescopes reveal point to how little we really see. A closer look at the Pegasus Square and Andromeda Constellations, how to identify them and what wonders the telescope can uncover for us. Presented by Dr. Jan Wojcik, Professor Emeritus from Clarkson University

    2012…The End of Time – Friday, Oct. 9

    You may have heard about the coming of the end of the world in 2012? Marc Staves of the APO will shed some light on this dark topic and provide the facts and history behind 2012. A senior lineman for the local power company, Marc is also president of the APO, and an avid amateur astronomer with his own backyard observatory.

    For more information and driving directions please visit . For information on the Adirondack Public Observatory, please visit www.apobervatory.org


    Monday, September 14, 2009

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    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Adirondack Fall Foliage Seen from Space

    In the Random Stuff We Like category: NASA has a great satellite photo of the Northern Forest and parts of southeastern Canada taken several years ago at the peak of fall color. You can see the full photo here.

    Full disclosure: we saw this photo first in Canadian Geographic and Adirondack Life.


    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Wild Center Program, Workshop Feature Wildlife Photography

    Author and wildlife photographer Eric Dresser will present a wildlife photography program and workshop at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake on September 26th. From 11:00 am – 12:00 pm Dresser will offer Wild About the Adirondacks, a program of photos of Adirondack wildlife throughout the seasons. During the presentation, which is being offered in partnership with The Adirondack Photography Institute, Dresser will discuss his photography techniques. The program will run for about an hour and is free for members or with admission.

    During a second event later that day (1-5 pm) Dresser will lead a Wild About the Adirondacks Photography Workshop and Tour from 1-5 pm, also at The Wild Center. This workshop will offer photography techniques to help participants capture unique moments through outdoor wildlife photography and indoors photography utilizing the museum’s exhibits. The field photography part of the program will provide a special focus on equipment. According to the Wild Center’s spokesperson “Eric enjoys working with all levels of photographers however having some familiarity with camera equipment as well as basic photo techniques will make the workshop more enjoyable.”

    A biography of Dresser provided by the Wild Center notes that:

    Eric Dresser is an internationally published photographer who specializes in wildlife and landscape photography from the northeastern United States and Canada. His credits include Adirondack Life Magazine, National Wildlife Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, L.L. Bean Catalogues and many more. Eric is also an instructor for the Adirondack Photography Institute. His first book “Adirondack Wildlife” will be available in the 2009. With over 35 years of experience in the field, Eric has developed many strategies for getting up close and personal with his wildlife subjects. His love and passion for our natural world can be seen in his photographs.

    The Wild about the Adirondacks workshop cost $63.00 for Wild Center members ($70.00 for non-members). To register (which is both required and limited) for the workshop contact Sally Gross at 518-359-7800 x 116 or email sgross@wildcenter.org

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