We had no comment when the newly merged Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks announced that they’d henceforth be known as Protect the Adirondacks! (Editor’s note: the exclamation point is part of the name, not a reflection of how we feel about the name. Maybe we should have put a period after it, I really don’t know.)
We figured—like Panic at the Disco, the band formerly known as Panic! at the Disco—they’d soon come to regret the alarmist and inconvenient punctuation. Whoever edits Protect the Adirondacks!’s (!) publications and Web site would weary of the excitable midsentence stop/ambiguous sentence-ender and raise a gentle protest at a board meeting. The inconsiderate, unnecessary mark would be quietly dropped and the group would get on with the serious work of protecting the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
The tour from Adirondak Loj to Avalanche Lake in the High Peaks Wilderness may be the best day trip for intermediate skiers in the Adirondacks. Both the scenery and skiing are superb.
The scenic highlight is Avalanche Lake, a sliver of frozen water walled in by the cliffs on Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain. This iconic Adirondack landscape is stunning in any season, but skiing across the ice offers a perspective impossible to obtain in summer.
The skiing highlight is a half-mile downhill on the return from Avalanche Pass on one of the few trails in the High Peaks designed for skiing. How hard is the descent? That’s a question asked by probably every skier contemplating the trip for the first time. Of course, the answer depends on conditions, but you can get some idea of what’s involved by watching a video I made this past weekend. I strapped a point-and-shoot camera to my chest before making the descent.
Note: I pretty much pointed my skis straight down the trail. Others may prefer to check their speed by making more turns or stemming their skis.
Mine isn’t the only YouTube video on Adirondack backcountry skiing. Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides has posted two lengthy clips, with music. One was taken on the Whale’s Tail and Wright Peak ski trails during the 2008 Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival. The other is from the Angel Slides on Wright Peak. Their links follow.
This past Saturday cross-country skiers enjoyed the 28th Annual Lake Placid Loppet at the Olympic Sports Complex Cross-Country Ski Center. Novice and expert skiers alike skied the same track as the 1980 Olympic athletes.
So what is a loppet? Basically, it refers to a long-distance cross country ski race in which participants mass-start and skate various marathon distances. Like most marathons, a lot of food is consumed during the event, and a party, banquet and awards ceremony is held after the races. The term “loppet” originated in Scandinavia, where cross country races are an important part of the culture. For example, approximately 15,000 people participate in the Mora Vasaloppet in Sweden and nearly 2 million Swedes watch it on television. The sport originated as a mode of transportation and became a national pastime. » Continue Reading.
Lake George resident and regular Almanack reader Enid Mastrianni has offered for Black History Month this enlightening piece on a trip by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Jefferson’s enslaved servant James Hemings, to Lake George and their reactions to Prince Taylor, a free black man living just south of Ticonderoga:
Many a booster of the Adirondacks has cited the famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.” » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will meet on Thursday February 11 and Friday February 12, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook. The APA board will be considering a 129-foot cell tower proposed for Keene Valley, the use the herbicide Triclopyr to control Eurasian milfoil in Lake Luzerne, the Whiteface Overlook hotel project in Wilmington, and a presentation by NYS DOT Region 2 Director Michael Shamma on Adirondack Park Signage. There will be informational presentations, though no action, on the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area and the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area Unit Management Plans, and also on the economic benefits of mountain biking. The two-day meeting will be webcast live on the Agency’s website at http://www.apa.state.ny.us. Materials for the meeting can be found at http://www.apa.state.ny.us/Mailing/2010/02/index.htm.
Here is the text of the agency’s meeting announcement:
The Full Agency will convene on Thursday morning at 9:00 for the Executive Director’s report. This month Terry Martino will highlight 2009 agency activities and accomplishments.
At 10:00 a.m., the Regulatory Programs Committee will consider a Verizon Wireless application for construction of a telecommunication tower. The tower would be located behind the Neighborhood House on the east side of NYS Route 73 (Main Street, Keene Valley), in the Town of Keene, Essex County. The proposed 129 foot tower would be designed as a simulated white pine tree.
The committee meeting will also deliberate an application submitted by the Town of Lake Luzerne to use the herbicide Triclopyr (Renovate® OTF) to control Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake Luzerne. The town proposes to apply 1560 pounds of the granular formulation of Renovate to an 11 acre area of Lake Luzerne known as the “South End.” The town wants to manage moderate to dense beds of milfoil growth in order to improve the ecological, recreational, and aesthetic values of Lake Luzerne.
The committee will also consider the Whiteface Overlook proposal in the Town of Wilmington, Essex County. This project involves conversion of a pre-existing resort hotel structure into 3 new structures each containing four, 3-bedroom dwelling units. The project site is located adjacent to NYS Route 86 across the highway from Whiteface Mountain.
At 1:00, the State Land Committee will hear a statewide fire tower study presentation from DEC staff. The committee will also receive informational presentations on the proposed Jay Mountain Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan and the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area Unit Management Plan. All presentations are informational and the committee will take no action on these matters this month.
At 3:00, the Park Ecology Committee will be provided an overview from Dr. Michale Glennon of the Wildlife Conservation Society Adirondack Communities and Conservation Program on Exurban development. Agency staff will also demonstrate GIS tools used when reviewing permit applications which include activities that could potentially result in impacts to open space resources.
At 4:00, the Full Agency will convene to take action as necessary and conclude the Thursday session with committee reports, public and member comment.
On Friday, February 12 at 9:00 a.m., the Economic Affairs committee will come to order for a presentation from Tim Tierney, Executive Director of Kingdom Trails Association of East Burke, Vermont. Mr. Tierney will provide a unique perspective on economic development opportunities related to mountain biking. The Kingdom Trails Association manages an extensive multi-use trail system for summer and winter recreation which generates economy benefits for the East Burke area of Vermont.
The February meeting will conclude at 10:00 with a presentation from NYS DOT Region 2 Director Michael Shamma on Adirondack Park Signage.
Meeting materials are available for download from the Agency’s website at:
If you can’t make to the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Lake Placid will be hosting a 30th anniversary celebration of the 1980 XIII Olympic Winter Games February 12th to 28th. The event will feature a competition in which families will go head to head in alpine skiing/snowboarding, biathlon target shooting, bobsled, curling, hockey skills, and speedskating. The inaugural Gold Medal Games Family Edition will also feature a torch run, opening ceremonies, and medals and awards. Sporting events will be held in the same venues that were used during the 1980 winter games when the U.S. hockey team stunned the world winning by beating the Soviet Union and Eric Heiden won five Olympic speedskating gold medals. “That was an incredible moment in history, not only for Lake Placid, but for the entire country,” noted Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) president/CEO Ted Blazer. “Those Games will forever be remembered for overcoming the impossible, whether, it’s a small Upstate New York village hosting the world’s largest sporting event, or the U.S. hockey team defeating the heavily favored former-Soviet Union on their way to gold. And who can forget what Eric accomplished in speedskating or what Phil Mahre did in the alpine events. Moments and memories like these only come around once in a lifetime.”
Here is more from the press release announcing the events:
The 1980 torch will be re-lit on Saturday, Feb. 13. On Sunday, Feb. 14, visitors can embrace the greatest moment in American sports history with an opportunity to watch Disney’s “Miracle” in the 1980 Olympic arena, the same arena where the U.S. Olympic hockey team stunned the former-Soviet Union before beating Finland on their way to the gold medal. The movie, starring Kurt Russell as the legendary U.S. team coach Herb Brooks, begins at 8:30 p.m., preceded by the debut of “Small Town, Big Dreams,” at 7 p.m. Other Olympic themed movies will be shown throughout the two-week celebration in the Olympic Museum.
Additional activities will include a viewing of the NHL’s Stanley Cup, also in the Olympic Museum, Sunday, Feb. 14, toboggan races, fireworks and family style celebrations on Mirror Lake.
For more information on the 30th Anniversary of the Lake Placid Olympic Winter Games, visit www.whitefacelakeplacid.com/family.
If there was any doubt about where the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) stands on cell towers, the following press release, presented here in it’s entirety, should clear it up:
On January 29, 2010 the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) hosted a meeting on telecommunication projects which was attended by Senator Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, Franklin County officials, Local Government Review Board Executive Director, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T representatives. Agency staff were in attendance and provided an overview of the Agency’s Towers Policy and the 31 telecommunication projects approved in 2009 resulting in a total of 116 telecommunication structures in the Adirondack Park through a total of 188 permits. The meeting focused on ways to refine the permitting process, reduce cost, extend coverage and promote coordination between the cellular carriers. During the meeting participants expressed strong support for continued improvement in overall cellular coverage throughout the Adirondack Park to benefit local residents, businesses and tourists. There was discussion about the need for the agency to consider fewer taller towers to promote co-location. Officials emphasized co-location potential is minimized when permitted towers just peek above the tree line. Discussion also focused on considering different conditions where not readily discernible and sometimes visible could build more flexibility into the agency’s review process.
There was encouragement for cellular carriers to coordinate planning efforts and submit joint applications. Industry representatives indicated they must abide by FCC regulations which limit the extent they can collaborate when planning their networks. Carriers said they do not submit joint applications or design their overall network based on the possibility of co-location but can design individual towers to accommodate future co-locations. They also stated system development is driven by customer base and while co-location is advantageous it is not currently a major part of their business model or revenue sources.
The carriers did acknowledge they realized significant benefits from information provided by agency staff and local officials in reference to the availability of tall structures located throughout the park. Carrier representatives proposed the agency itself consider slightly taller towers to accommodate co-location.
Tower height was also discussed by local government officials regarding differences in coverage areas for the Verizon Paul Smith’s College site. During the initial proposal, Verizon s propagation analysis for a 90 foot tower projected a coverage range of approximately 1.5 to 2 miles and analysis further indicated little change in range for the approved 65 foot tower. However, with the site built and operational, the public is experiencing coverage within approximately a three mile radius of the campus. Verizon officials indicated that a higher customer user volume could occasionally cause a decrease in the coverage area which was noted by local town officials. Agency staff presented a Verizon Wireless coverage map of NYS Route 30 which identified the potential need for three additional towers between Paul Smith s and Duane to ensure coverage along the corridor. It was also noted that topography and specific locations are two important factors in terms of serving population centers and travel corridors.
The meeting included dialogue on possible approval process refinements. Agency staff suggested pre-application meetings earlier in the process to avoid extra costs associated with visual analysis and site engineering details. Staff also suggested carriers utilize the agency’s tall structure GIS database to help design networks. In addition, an interesting approach to siting multiple towers on sites where taller towers would not be appropriate was suggested. There was discussion about the potential to amend the co-location General Permit to review the proposal for a new tower on an existing site as a horizontal co-location. This could result in significant time and cost savings.
The discussion addressed how telecommunications services provide a safety network for visitors, residents and businesses. It was acknowledged that additional tower development throughout the park will build services that result in decreased gaps in coverage. Chairman Stiles stated that the agency’s administration of the Towers Policy has matured and the agency will consider the various recommendations shared. How do we refine the process to serve the public good? he asked.
APA APPROVED 31 CELLULAR PROJECTS IN 2009
Staff provided an overview detailing the continued improvement in cellular coverage inside the park. In 2009, the APA approved 31 permits/amendments for cellular projects. This included 14 new towers, 14 co-location projects, 1 replacement and 2 replacement/co-location permits. Presently there are 11 cellular tower applications under review. To date the agency has issued 188 telecommunication permits resulting in the construction of 116 structures.
2009 Cellular Permit Activity By Cellular Carrier
8 Verizon Wireless Permits:
5 New Towers 2 Co-locations 1 Replacement
18 T-Mobile Permits:
6 New Towers 11 Co-locations 1 Replacement & Co-location
1 AT&T Permit:
Additionally, park-wide coverage was reviewed in relation to the following eleven applications that are pending approval:
11 Cellular Applications Pending Approval:
1 in Town of Dresden (behind Hulett’s Landing fire station) 1 in Town of Keene (near Neighborhood House) 1 in Town of Fine (NYS Route 3) 1 in Town of Minerva (NYS Route 28 & Morse Memorial Hwy) 1 in Town of Chesterfield (Virginia Drive) 1 in Town of Clifton (NYS Route 3, Cranberry Lake) 1 in Town of Chester (NYS Route 9, Word of Life) 1 in Town of Wilmington (NY Route 86) 1 in Town of Queensbury (West Mountain Road) 1 in Town of Duane (Co. Rt. 26, fire department) 1 in Town of Westport (Boyle Road)
Coverage along travel corridors and communities continues to improve as cellular companies build approved projects.
Staff also noted policy implementation through the permit process has withstood legal challenges which ensures approved projects move forward in a timely fashion for telecommunication carriers. The Agency’s Towers Policy, revised in February of 2002, discourages mountaintop towers and promotes the co-location of facilities on existing structures. The policy is intended to protect the Adirondack Park’s aesthetic and open space resources by describing how telecommunication tower sites achieve substantial invisibility. The natural scenic character of the Adirondack Park is the foundation of the quality of life and economy of the region, long recognized as a uniquely special and valuable State and National treasure.
The policy also recognizes the importance for telecommunications and other technologies to support the needs of local residents, the visiting public and the Park’s economic sector. The policy includes guidance for telecommunication companies to ensure successful implementation of projects.
Guidance includes: avoiding locating facilities on mountaintops and ridge lines; concealing any structure by careful siting, using a topographic or vegetative foreground or backdrop; minimizing structure height and bulk; using color to blend with surroundings; and using existing buildings to locate facilities whenever possible.
The mission of the Adirondack Park Agency is to protect the public and private resources of the Adirondack Park through the exercise of the powers and duties of the Agency as provided by law. With its headquarters located in Ray Brook, the Agency also operates two Visitor Interpretive Centers, in Newcomb and Paul Smiths. For more information, call the APA at (518) 891-4050 or visit www.apa.state.ny.us.
One of the great family-friendly activities of the winter will soon be upon us: the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), which this year runs from Friday, 12 February, to Monday, 15 February. The brain child of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this four-day long bird watching event is one of the easiest citizen science projects out there. Anyone, regardless of age or birding ability, can participate. Citizen science programs have a long history at the Lab of Ornithology. Back in the mid-‘90s, I signed on to do my part for their wood thrush and golden-winged warbler projects. Those projects were quite involved, requiring participants to get aerial photographs of their research areas, determine acreage of irregularly shaped plots, measure the distance to the nearest water and roads…and this was all before setting out to look for signs of the actual birds.
The GBBC, on the other hand, is very easy and user-friendly. All you have to do is look for birds in your backyard. You can do this for as little as fifteen minutes, or for as long as your interest holds. You can do it for one day of the weekend, or record observations for all four days. You can watch for birds at each of your bird feeding stations (do you have more than one?), or you can choose to observe the visitors to just one tree or shrub. As for me, I will probably spend some time watching each of my stations (I have two, with a total of about twelve feeders), as well as the feeders at work.
Maybe you are unsure about participating because you don’t know a black-capped chickadee from a black-backed woodpecker. Not to worry. You can go on-line to www.birsource.org/gbbc/ and check out their simple bird ID pages. You can also print out a checklist for the most common birds in your region, which will help narrow down your options. For example, it is highly unlikely that a flock of northern parulas will be buzzing through any Adirondack backyard in February, so you won’t have to worry about telling one warbler from another.
One of the important aspects of your observations is recording the numbers of each species you see. This can be tricky, so the Lab has put together a really simple rule to help you out. Let’s say you decide to record the birds you see between 10:00 and 10:30 AM. You see two goldfinches at 10:01. At 10:15 you see twelve. At 10:17 there are 32. By 10:30 they have all flown away. How many goldfinches do you record? Thirty-two. In other words, to eliminate the possibility of counting the same bird(s) more than once, you only report the greatest number you saw at any one time.
Counting large numbers of birds can be a bit of a challenge. Some birders are very good at estimating how many are in a flock; others are not. I read an article once that said that it is easy for humans to eyeball numbers in pairs, threes, and fours. Fives get a bit harder, and anything above five is nearly impossible. So, if you can fix in your mind what five birds look like, then you can guesstimate how many of those fives you see in the flock as it shuffles and flits about. Good luck.
You will want to keep track of your sightings on a piece of paper, and when you are ready, simply go to your computer and pull up the GBBC website (see link above). Open the tab labeled “Submit Your Checklist” and follow the easy directions for reporting your observations. Afterwards, you can “Explore the Results” to see what birds other people found. Are you wondering where all the pine siskins are this year? Here’s a good way to find out. The genuinely curious can check out the results from past years as well.
The website is chock full of all sorts of interesting bird information. There is a whole series of activities just for kids, and there’s even a page dedicated to educators. For those who enjoy looking at really great bird photographs, there’s a gallery of photos taken by past GBBC participants. My favorite is a really funny photo of a very soggy orange-crowned warbler caught in the act of taking a bath.
This year marks the thirteenth anniversary of the GBBC. If you haven’t participated in the past, I hope you will take up the challenge and participate this year. Not only is it a great way to spend time with your family and feathered friends, but it also helps provide a snapshot of where the birds are across North America, a practice that has turned up some interesting trends in population shifts and declines.
And if being a good Samaritan isn’t enough of an incentive to get you to participate, check out the list of prizes the Lab is giving away. There are plush birds that chirp when you squeeze them, assorted feeders (you can never have too many), a bird camera (takes photos for you while you stay toasty warm inside), field guides, and much, much more. So, dust off your field guide, set a comfortable chair by the window, have your beverage-of-choice close at hand, and get ready to count.
Last year, for the first time in decades, sales tax revenues in the Lake George region declined in every one of the year’s four quarters. Revenues dropped by as much as 15% over the summer. That’s not only an indication that resorts, restaurants and shops saw less trade in their busiest season than in years past; the drop in revenues left local governments scrambling to fill gaps in their budgets. According to Warren County Treasurer Frank O’Keefe, 1.5% of the 7% sales tax collected by New York State in the county is distributed to local towns.
And, as O’Keefe explains, “The sales tax is apportioned on the basis of a town’s share of the collective value of the property in the county.”
Lake George, Bolton and Hague represent approximately a third of the value of all property in Warren County, and the lion’s share of sales tax revenues are returned to those towns and to Queensbury, where more than 32% of the assessed value of the county is located.
At the start of 2009, Warren County expected to receive approximately $45 million in sales tax revenues; instead, it received only $42 million, a drop of more than 8%, O’Keefe said.
Newly-elected Town Supervisors in Lake George and Bolton now find themselves with less revenues, and less flexibility, than their predecessors had.
The Town of Bolton received $3.2 million, approximately $333,000 less than it had received the previous year.
“That could have been devastating,” said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover, who said he had carefully observed the previous administration’s budget making process before he himself took office in January.
“Whenever there’s a drop in sales tax revenues, there’s additional pressure on property taxes,” he said.
While the town’s tax rate did rise by 2.5%, that increase was much less than one that hit residents of Lake George, where municipal taxes rose by 26%.
“The members of the Bolton Town Board were very careful, knowing that sales tax revenues would be impacted by the recession. They knew this was no time for wishful thinking,” said Conover. “The Board went over every expenditure. The result was a good budget that allows the town to operate without reducing existing levels of service.”
Warren County estimates that Bolton’s share of sales tax revenues will rise in 2010, but Conover says the town will continue to follow a prudent course.
“Sales tax revenues may rebound, although not to the historically high levels of the past; but if the economy picks up, it will take some pressure off the property-owners’ taxes,” he said.
Although Bolton will watch its expenses, it will continue to maintain and improve its infrastructure of parks, beaches and public docks, said Conover.
“These are assets that we need for economic development and tourism,” Conover said.
In Lake George, according to Supervisor Frank McCoy, sales tax revenues dropped by 12%, leaving the town with $300,000 less than it had anticipated, said McCoy,
The market for recycled paper and plastic also crashed, costing the town another $100,000 in revenues, said McCoy.
But those losses in revenue were not wholly responsible for the 26% increase in property taxes, McCoy said.
For the past several years, the town had drawn from its reserves rather than raising taxes; by mid-2009, those reserves were all but exhausted.
“From 2004 to 2009, we chipped away at the reserves,” McCoy acknowledged. “Instead of using the reserves, we should have increased taxes incrementally, by 3% a year.”
The increase in property taxes will enable the town to rebuild its reserves, McCoy said.
“We’re on the road to recovery,” said McCoy. “We’ll watch the pennies, we’ll review finances monthly and meet with department heads every quarter to make certain we’re on track, just as any business would.”
No reductions in the town work force are planned, said McCoy.
Any new positions would be part-time posts, he said.
“Last August, when the sales tax revenues dropped, we went into an austerity mode,” said McCoy. “We’re still in an austerity mode.”
The first of two very exciting weeks of music starts this Friday in Saranac Lake where Winter Carnival is going to be on in full glory. There will be bands and concerts in town every day or night for the whole two weeks, awe-inspiring!
Other events to check out include a new Open Mic and Hoot, a variety of classical music concerts and local folk musicians.
Thursday, February 4th:
In Canton, there is an Open Mic at the Blackbird Cafe. Sign up is at 6:30, performances start at 7 pm. Writers,readers and musicians of all kinds are encouraged. the winners will be selected for a CD to be released later this year.
In Elizabethtown, Piano By Nature recital is happening between 7 – 8:30 pm at The Hand House. Soloist Jill Dawe will play works by Chopin, Debussy Ginestera and Part. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
In Tupper Lake at The Wild Center, “Pleasures of the Courts” dinner and dance will be held from 7:30 – 9 pm. The Orchestra of Northern New York will be giving their annual Baroque concert. Tickets are available at the box office.
In Plattsburgh at the Monopole , Capital Zen starting at 9 pm.
In Elizabethtown, Piano By Nature recital will be held at The Hand House from 3 – 4:30 pm. Soloist Jill Dawe will play works by Chopin, Debussy Ginestera and Part. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
In Potsdam, “Pleasures of the Courts” dinner and dance will be held from 3 – 5 pm. The Orchestra of Northern New York will be giving their annual Baroque concert. It will be held at St. Mary’s Church.
The BBQ will be held 11:30-2:30 at the Mount Pisgah lodge. The families of Olympians will be special guests. At 1 p.m. photographer Mark Kurtz will take a group photo from a bucket truck, and the gathering will be videotaped and put on YouTube so that local Olympians Billy Demong (Nordic combined), Tim Burke (biathlon), Chris Mazdzer (luge) and Peter Frenette (ski jumping) can see their proud hometown cheering them on. Everyone is invited. There’s a charge for the barbecue but the Olympic rally is free. People are welcome to bring signs and banners. The vets’ club will provide flags. Organizers are hoping to have more than 250 people in the photograph. There will be an opportunity to send recorded messages to the athletes as well.
Events begin at 10 a.m. with the annual White Stag Race, one of the oldest continually run ski races in the East, begun in the mid 1940s. The big-air freestyle exhibition will be held throughout the day on the Terrain Park.
Pisgah is one of the Adirondacks’ awesome little ski areas (here’s a list of the others, including the bigs), and there is a lot of excitement on the mountain this year, not just because of the Olympians. Friends of Mt. Pisgah, a grassroots group, is trying to raise $400,000 to replace the T-bar lift, the tubing area is better than ever, and the terrain park and night-lighting have undergone big improvements.
The 113th Saranac Lake Winter Carnival kicks off Friday night at the Harrietstown Hall with coronation, when the nuclear secret of who will reign as this year’s king and queen is unlocked. Events continue until Sunday February 14.
Every winter we have a barred owl that takes up watch just off the back deck here at the VIC, and we remember every visit it makes. Sometimes he (she?) is here off and on for a couple weeks, and sometimes it’s only a quick visit of a day or two. However long, or brief, its stay, it is always a welcome sight.
Barred owls (Strix varia) are fairly common around these parts. With their pale plumage, rounded heads, and big brown eyes, they seem to us mere humans to be a softer, gentler owl than their fiercer-looking cousins the great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus). Like all owls, they have nearly silent flight, thanks to the special fringed edges on their flight feathers and the extra fluffy body feathers that help muffle sound. This stealth coating, so to speak, comes in very handy when you are hunting for nocturnal prey, for food that is out at night tends to have good hearing. Which brings up a good question. If owls are nocturnal (with some exceptions, like the snowy owl), then why is this particular bird visiting our bird feeders during the day? A couple potential answers come to mind. First, it is not uncommon to see owls active during the day, especially when that day is overcast (like much of this winter has been). A cloudy, gloomy day may seem like nothing more than an extended twilight to a hungry owl.
Second, we have made our bird feeding area a great hunting place for predators interested in small birds and small mammals. One glance at the ground in the winter brings this clearly into focus: fox, squirrel, mouse, and bird tracks are everywhere! Every winter we chuck a conifer tree over the railing to provide shelter for small birds and mammals. Mice and squirrels are particularly appreciative of this gesture, which in turn brings in the predators. When I lead tracking workshops, I can just about guarantee “fresh” fox tracks beelining from the woods towards the feeders.
I’ve watched barred owls hunting during the day along roadsides in winter. One particular time I was cruising into Minerva when a barred owl perched on a speed limit sign caught my attention. I hit the breaks, turned the car around, and parked, watching and waiting along with the bird. Although it was fully aware of my presence, its attention was focused on the snowbank beneath the sign.
After about ten minutes or so, the owl flung itself from the sign and landed with a face- and foot-plant in the snow, its outstretched wings caught on top of the snow above its head. It hopped a bit, shuffled its feet, then struggled to lift off…empty footed. There must’ve been some small rodent beneath the snow that the owl, with its hypersensitive hearing, could detect, but either the bird’s aim was off or the rodent was too fast, for it got away. Many folks don’t realize that predators tend to miss their prey more often than not. It’s a tough thing being a predator, a life full of peril (what if the prey fights back?) and potential starvation (food gets away from you, the snow is too deep for you to hunt successfully, etc.).
This is why I don’t mind too terribly much when a raptor snags a bird at my feeding stations, which invariably happens at least once every winter (and if I’m lucky I get to see it). After all, they are birds, too, and they also need to feed. If they are smart enough to realize that bird feeders are essentially convenience stores, then more power to them. Same goes for foxes and weasels. I’m an equal opportunity feeder.
This is a great time of year to go on an owl prowl, for owl mating season is upon us. Great-horned owls will soon wind down their mating, while barred owls will soon be starting. Now is the time to go out at night to listen for owl calls. The barred owl has the soft “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-allllll” pattern, while the great-horned is the typical eight-hooter: “hoo-hoohoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” (okay, that was only six, but they can do up to eight or so at a time).
If you are really lucky, you might hear the truck-backing-up “toot-toot-toot-toot” of the northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus). About three years ago we had a couple saw-whets (tiny little owls) hanging out near the golf course and every night for a week or two I would hear them tooting away when I took the dog for his evening stroll. Haven’t heard one since.
If you want to find winter owls, your best bet is to go out at night and listen for their calls. But, if standing out in the cold on a clear winter night isn’t your thing, then put on some snowshoes and go for a walk in the woods on an overcast day. You want to look up in trees, where fairly good-sized branches attach to the trunk. It is here that owls will sit during the day, with their feathers fluffed up and their eyes (did you know they have feathers on their eyelids?) shut. They blend in perfectly with their trees of choice, often looking like just another bump on a limb. They can be difficult to spot.
If you want more of a sure thing, you can keep an eye on the bird hotlines for announcements of recent owl sightings: short-earred owls at the Saratoga Battlefield; snowy owls at Fort Edwards, northern hawk-owls at Bloomingdale bog, great greys in Watertown. Unusual birds get groupies, and all you need to do to find these itinerant birds is find the people with the binoculars and big camera lenses. A group of birdie nerds is a whole lot easier to spot in a snowy field than a single snowy owl, and the chances are that they will be more than happy to help you find the bird they’ve all flocked to see themselves. Birders are like that – they think everyone is a potential bird nut like themselves and they are eager to recruit.
So, find yourself a birding group and keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for the owls of winter. They are out there, and if you want to see them, you have to get out there, too.
One of my favorite winter trips is what one might call “extreme cross-country skiing.” That is, skiing on routes that aren’t generally considered by the cross-country community. Routes you won’t find in Tony Goodwin’s Classic Adirondack Ski Tours.
Some of these routes are long and committing. Others require the use of snowshoes or skins (unless you’re a member of the Ski-To-Die Club, a group of locals who took extreme skiing to a new height by taking wooden cross-country skis in the 1970s down mountain descents that would give most people on modern alpine gear pause). » Continue Reading.
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