Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reminder: 10 Most Influential People in Adirondack History

We’re still looking for ideas about who should be included on a list of the Adirondack region’s most influential people. We’ll be offering a list of the people who have had the greatest impact on the Adirondacks on January 18th. Head over to the original post to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Suggestions should reflect the environmental, cultural, and political history of the park, and they need not be residents of the region, provided their impact was significantly felt here.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Skiing, Boarding Discounts

Though some people choose to stick to their favorite mountain for the ski season, others move around to experience all the downhill opportunities available in the Adirondacks. For those with ski passes don’t forget about the Reciprocal Pass Program between Gore, Titus, McCauley, Mt. Pisgah and Whiteface. This program allows the season pass holder to either ski for free on certain days or at a reduced cost.

There are also significant savings available for the mid-week non-season pass holder. McCauley Mountain holds to their Crazy Eight Days. Each Friday from January through April offers adult lift tickets for just $8.00. (Check for blackout dates.)

Present any Coca-Cola product at Gore and Whiteface and receive a one-day adult lift ticket for $38.00 (excluding 2/17/10.) This offer is only valid on Wednesdays. It is a great deal whether you are on vacation, have the day off or opt for a bit of “ski hooky.”

In addition, Whiteface has its Stylin’ Sundays wherein five select Sundays (December 13, January 10, February 7, March 14 and April 4) of the season feature $35.00 lift tickets for adults, $30.00 for teens and $25.00 junior tickets. Six and under are always free. Each of those select Sundays have a theme like Island Madness, Shamrock or Retro with slope-side games, live music and events.

Big Tupper Ski Area recently opened, after a ten-year hiatus, to much fanfare with a one-day adult ski pass for $15.00. Big Tupper is staffed with volunteers and relies just on nature for snow making so it is best to check their website to make sure they are open and that Mother Nature is cooperating.

Oak Mountain Ski Center in Speculator offers Fire Department Personnel, EMS Workers Hospital Employees and Law Enforcement Personnel $10 off a full day lift ticket on Thursdays and Fridays throughout the season. Residents & homeowners of Arietta, Hope, Lake Pleasant & Wells and the Village of Speculator ski for free every Sunday throughout the season.

Malone’s Titus Mountain offers a Super-Saver Special from Thursday – Saturday when all day passes are good until 10:00 p.m.

Smaller family mountains such as Bear Mountain in Plattsburgh presents $18.00 lift tickets to non-members and Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake offers a $10 lift ticket for anyone coming for the last hour and half of the day. That includes those evenings the mountain is open for night skiing.

West Mountain in Queensbury, Whiteface, Gore, Titus, Oak Mountain and McCauley offer a military discount as a thank you to active service men and women. If you or a member of your immediate family is an active service member, please ask about discounts.

Hopefully this list will help keep the jingle in your pocket while enjoying the beautiful Adirondack Park.

Photo courtesy: www.adkfamilytime.com


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Permaculture Workshop: Sustainable Backyard Farming

On Saturday January 9 the Wild Center in Tupper Lake will host a talk and workshop on permaculture, aka, how people can produce food while enhancing the natural environment on the land around them.

At 11:30 Keith Morris, a Vermont-based instructor on the faculties of Sterling College and Yestermorrow Design/Build school, will discuss the concept of permaculture and ways people can design homes and communities that are productive, ecologically restorative and less fuel-reliant.

At 1 p.m. Morris will lead a workshop on how yards and other human-centered spaces can produce food and support pollinators (and look beautiful). He will discuss challenges, such as small spaces and contaminated soils, as well as animals and plants suitable for the Adirondack region, including nuts, fruits, berries and vines.

“One of the key issues for us in the Adirondacks is our soil,” says Gail Brill, a Saranac lake resident who received permaculture certification last summer through a course Morris taught at Paul Smith’s College. “If we are going to have to feed ourselves in the near future and become a nation of farmers (thank you Sharon Astyk) in order to survive, we need healthy soil to do it. Our sandy soil makes growing difficult, so one of the key issues for us is making compost as a soil amendment. This is something every household can do and we need to do it on a grand scale. (On March 20th, the Wild Center will be having a Home Composting Workshop.)

“We need to extend our growing season with high tunnels and cold frames,” Brill says. “We need to understand what edible wild plants are readily available and plant perennial Zone 3 vegetables like Chinese artichoke and creeping onion and much more. There is much to be done.”

The event is part of the Wild Center’s 2010 Winter Wildays series and is free to members or with paid admission.

Photo: A backyard apple tree in Saranac Lake.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Online Sources for Adirondack History

Thanks to two new digitization initiatives there are now much larger collections of books online about the Adirondacks. The full text and images of some 140,000 books in the public domain, most published before 1923, are now available at the Internet Archive. The books come from the collections of the Library of Congress and Cornell University – many with Adirondack connections.

The newly available books from Cornell cover a variety of subject areas, from American history, literature, astronomy, food and wine, engineering, science history, home economics, travel and tourism, labor relations, Native American studies, ornithology, veterinary medicine and women’s studies.

The Library of Congress collection covers the period from 1865–1922 and include many difficult to obtain works, including hard-to-find Civil War regimental histories. The oldest work from the Library of Congress is from 1707 and covers the trial of two Presbyterian ministers in New York, but many of the works relate to the Adirondack region.

Among the new Adirondack works now available are:

E.R. Wallace – Descriptive guide to the Adirondacks (1894)

A. L. Byron-Curtiss – The life and adventures of Nat Foster, trapper and hunter of the Adirondacks (1897)

Albert Abraham Kraus – A hemlock bark study in culled forests of the western Adirondacks (1918)

Bob Marshall – The high peaks of the Adirondacks (1922)

Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester – Historical sketches of northern New York and the Adirondac wilderness (1877)

Warwick Stevens Carpenter – The summer paradise in history; a compilation of fact and tradition covering Lake George, Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains, and other sections reached by the rail and steamer lines of the Delaware and Hudson Company (1914)

Henry W. Raymond – The story of Saranac; a chapter in Adirondack history (1909)

Report of the Adirondack Committee, [New York State] Assembly of 1902 (1903)

And a lot more…

Photo: Rusisseaumont Hotel, Lake Placid, c. 1900 from “The eastern slope of the Adirondacks. its mountains, lakes & springs” [1901]. The hotel was built in 1892 by the Lake Placid Improvement Company. It was destroyed by fire on July 2, 1909 and never rebuilt.


Monday, January 4, 2010

The Problem With The Wright Peak Ski Trail

The Wright Peak Ski Trail is a testament to the lure of down-mountain skiing in the backcountry despite the existence of lift-service resorts.

Cut in the late 1930s, the trail switchbacks down the northeast side of Wright, providing a thrilling and challenging descent through a beautiful forest. After World War II, the trail fell into disuse and became overgrown, but in the late 1980s, Tony Goodwin and other backcountry skiers received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reopen it.

The trail is now featured in David Goodman’s guidebook Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

The problem is that the ski route ends after a mile and joins the popular Algonquin Peak hiking trail. This means skiers must descend a few miles on trails often crowded with snowshoers. It seems like an accident waiting to happen. The snowshoers probably don’t like this any more than the skiers do.

What most snowshoers don’t realize is that this section of the Algonquin trail was once part of the ski trail. In those days, hikers went up Algonquin by a separate trail located a little to the north. In the early 1970s, however, DEC closed this trail and moved hikers to the ski trail. Since then, the old ski trail has been maintained with hiking in mind: water bars have been dug, rock steps have been created, brush has been laid down to narrow the passage—all of which makes the trail less suitable for skiing. What’s more, hikers have eroded the trail and exposed boulders that create dangerous obstacles.

Goodwin has come up with what seems like a sensible solution: reopen the old hiking trail for skiing. Under his proposal, the old hiking route would be clipped to its original width. Eroded sections would be filled with logs and brush. The trail would be smooth when covered with snow but remain gnarly enough to discourage hiking in other seasons. As it is, some hikers continue to use the old trail, causing erosion.

“We want to improve it for skiing but make it less desirable for hiking,” Goodwin told the Adirondack Explorer last year. “That would be a win-win situation.”

Goodwin said the volunteers would do all the work to reopen and maintain the trail, so it wouldn’t cost DEC a penny.

Yet DEC has scotched the proposal—not because it’s a bad idea, necessarily, but because it would require an amendment to the High Peaks Wilderness unit management plan. DEC doesn’t want to revisit the High Peaks plan until it finishes the UMPs for other Forest Preserve units.

Given DEC’s chronic shortage of staff, however, it will be years, perhaps more than a decade, before the other plans are done. DEC was supposed to complete all the unit management plans in the 1970s, but more than thirty years later, we’re still waiting on a dozen or so. In addition, DEC is writing recreational plans for vast tracts protected by conservation easements.

In short, we all could be dead or in retirement homes before DEC gets around to evaluating Goodwin’s proposal—if it ever does.

The same goes for proposals for trails in other parts of the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council has talked for years of extending the Jackrabbit Ski Trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. DEC won’t rule on this until it completes the management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. When will that be? No one knows.

One purpose of the management plans is to ensure that trails are not approved willy-nilly, without due forethought to their impact on the Forest Preserve. But the system is broken. Because DEC lacks the staff to write these plans, proposals wither on the vine or languish for decades. Surely, there must be a way for DEC to evaluate worthy ideas more quickly without neglecting its duty to protect the Preserve.

Perhaps there are sound reasons for rejecting Goodwin’s proposal for the Wright Peak Ski Trail, but it deserves a hearing.

Photo of skiers on Wright Peak by Susan Bibeau/Adirondack Explorer.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Adirondack Architectural Heritage Ski Tour Announced

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) will kick-off their 2011 educational series with an interpretive cross-country ski into the 19th-century, Adirondack Great Camp, Camp Santanoni. Participants will learn about the camp’s history and the architectural significance that makes it a National Historic Landmark. The 10-mile round trip ski, along the preserve’s gently sloping historic carriage road, leads us into the majestic wilderness estate. Participants will visit the camp’s three complexes; the Gate Lodge, the Farm, and the Main Camp, the design of architect Robert Robertson.

The tour will be led by AARCH staff and John Friauf, former AARCH Board Member. The group will depart Santanoni Preserve parking area, off Route 28N in the hamlet of Newcomb at 10AM, returning around 3 PM. This is a remote site so participants are encouraged to bring a trail lunch and plenty of hydration. The fee is $20 for members and $30 for non-members. Advance registration is required by calling AARCH at (518) 834-9328.

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is the private, non-profit, historic preservation organization for the Adirondack Park region. AARCH works in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Town of Newcomb to preserve and interpret Camp Santanoni.

This tour is one of over fifty events in our annual series highlighting the region’s architectural legacy. For more information on AARCH including membership and a complete 2011 program schedule contact AARCH at (518) 834-9328 or visit their website.

Photo: Recent repairs on part of the extensive covered porches at main camp, Camp Santanoni during winter. Photo courtesy AARCH.


Monday, January 4, 2010

The Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum

Tucked in the small hallway within the Box Office entrance of the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, is the 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum. The museum is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon examining the unique artifacts and learning more about the amazing Olympic History of Lake Placid.

The Museum was established after the 1980 Olympics, and was originally located in the former Aromaround café. The circular building used to be known as the Austrian House, and proudly displayed Olympic artifacts. In the 1990s, the Museum entered an agreement with the Olympic Regional Development Authority, and stayed in the location where it is today. The goal of the Museum is to celebrate Lake Placid’s unique Olympic heritage while collecting and preserving Olympic artifacts and archival materials associated with Lake Placid’s Olympic history.

So who visits the Winter Olympic Museum? Visitors of all ages can find something of interest here, from the sparkly figure skating outfits of yesteryear, to the stuffed Mascots from each Olympic Games, and even the original “Ronnie the Raccoon” Mascot costume from the 1980 Games. As for the amount of visits the museum receives, the number varies. “We can have 1500 people in one week, or we can have 100 visitors in a week”, said Olympic Museum Archivist Allison Haas. “It all depends on the season, holidays, or weather.”

The first medal awarded ever in a Winter Olympics (the gold medal won by Charles Jewtraw, a local speed skater, for the 500 Meter race in the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, France) is proudly displayed in the first part of the museum, on loan from the Smithsonian. A complete collection of participant medals from every summer and winter Olympics are displayed, along with over 2 dozen prize medals from Olympic Games, (including a medal from the 2006 Torino Games).

There is also an impressive Olympic torch collection. For fans of the “Miracle on Ice”, the complete video recording of the game is played daily at the Museum, and the actual 1980 hockey goal guarded by Jim Craig, along with his goalie equipment, stands nearby. A newer feature of the “Miracle on Ice” collection are props and costumes used in the making of the Disney movie “Miracle”, based on the famous showdown between the US and Soviet team.

So what makes the 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum such an important and interesting part of Lake Placid? “The museum is all about education, to teach the public about the Olympic history of Lake Placid”, said Allison Haas. “We also collect and preserve important artifacts for future generations to appreciate the Olympics.”

The Museum is open every day from 10-5; for more information, check out the Olympic Regional Development Authority’s website or call 518-523-1655, extension 226.


Monday, January 4, 2010

The Almanack’s 10 Most Popular Stories of 2009

Here is our list of the Adirondack Almanack‘s ten most popular stories of 2009, in descending order.

History of Adirondack Airplane Crashes
This year’s tragic death of two in the crash of a Piper Cherokee 140 single engine aircraft en route from Saratoga to Malone spawned this look at the some 30 major plane crashes that have happened in the Adirondacks since 1912. Adirondack danger and disaster stories have always been an Adirondack Almanack reader favorite. I’ve covered thin ice, earthquakes, drownings, bridge collapses, mining, boating, and of course, our 10 Deadliest Accidents in The Adirondack Mountain Region.

New Study: Coy-Wolves Evolved To Hunt Local Deer
A new study by scientists from the New York State Museum showed how local coyotes have evolved to be bigger and stronger over the last 90 years, both expanding their geographic range and becoming the top predator in the Northeast – by interbreeding with wolves. 2009 was also notable at the Almanack for our addition new natural history contributor Ellen Rathbone. Ellen’s regular looks at our natural world have included how feral cats impact wildlife, the joys of macro wildlife photography, local unique trees like the Black Tupelo; she has stuck up for skunks, pondered porcupines, and even gave three cheers for carrion beetles (“nature’s sanitary engineers”).

Kids Enter Big Tupper Ski Area Fight
One of the big stories in the region in 2009 has been the reopening of the Big Tupper Ski Area. Back in March, when reopening the old slopes was still very much tied to a development plan that included 652 high-end home and townhouses, a 60-room hotel, and more, Mary Thill took a look at the movement to enlist kids in the plan to make the development happen. “The project has become a sensitive issue, drawing questions about its scale, financing, tax breaks, new utilities and backcountry building lots,” Mary wrote, “Inside Tupper Lake, there have been shows of political and public support. Some have questioned whether asking kids to wear ski jackets and carry signs shills them into a much larger debate. And to miss a point. Nobody is against skiing.” Indeed, nobody was against skiing, and Tupper Lakers eventually worked diligently, apolitically and successfully to reopen their slopes.

Upper Hudson Rail Trail Planned: North Creek to Tahawus
When the Almanack broke the news in October that there were plans afoot to transform the northern end of the Upper Hudson Railroad into a 29-mile multi-use trail from the North Creek Railroad Station to Tahawus, it sparked a great discussion between supporters and critics of the plan the spilled over into a follow-up post by new Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler. “We already have a paved path from North Creek to Newcomb – it’s called State Route 28N,” the first commenter opined. The ensuing debate covered the history of the rail line, the role of the federal government in seizing Forest Preserve land in war time, and the legal questions surrounding its subsequent abandonment.

Adirondack Park Agency Releases 2009 Land Use Plan Map
The release of the Adirondack Park Agency’s 2009 Adirondack Park Official Map was a very popular post this year. The new map (the first since 2003) includes recent state land acquisitions and the overall framework for protection of the Adirondack Park’s public and private land resources. More than a dozen times our contributors wrote about maps and geography this past year. The Almanack looked at the digitization of the reports and surveys of Verplanck Colvin, the disappearance, and then reappearance of the Adirondack Park on Google Maps, the longest Adirondack rivers, and lakes and ponds of the Forest Preserve. Two highlights came from our resident paddling guru and regular Almanack contributor Don Morris who offered Adirondack Waterbody Trivia, and a geographic look at the Adirondack eskers paddlers often see in their travels.

Adirondack Trout And Salmon Season Opener Tips
One of the great things I love about the Almanack is the variety of readers we have. Readers from all walks of life. Hunters, trappers, and fishermen and women, are right there with vegans, animal rights activists, and just plain folks who appreciate wildlife too much to kill and eat it. Mary Thill’s report on a Bald Eagle’s awful encounter with a leg hold trap brought out both sides, and the wife of the man who set the trap. We considered the near extinction and reintroduction of beaver, the battle (some success, some distress) over reducing mercury pollution in fish, and a major crackdown on deer poaching.

Adirondack Fall Foliage Seen from Space
Sometimes short and simple, fun and interesting, are just the ticket. Our discovery of a NASA satellite photo of the Northern Forest and parts of southeastern Canada taken several years ago at the peak of fall color was hugely popular.

Opinion: Hiking, Drinking and News at Adirondack Papers
Mary Thill struck a nerve with local media folks (and even sparked some hate mail) when she questioned the wisdom of two new publications by local newspapers, including the Post-Star‘s leap into the weekly entertainment rag business, what she called a “crayon-font attempt to take ad share away from the excellent but shoestring real community newspaper.” The post inspired a collaboration with the Lake George Mirror‘s publisher and editor Tony Hall. Hall has offered some enlightening insight into the origins of the APA, the question over whether State Senator Ron Stafford was really an environmentalist, and some great expanded coverage of Lake George. The partnership with the Lake George Mirror opened the door for a similar weekly contribution from Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown, who has come forward with a return to the Battle of Crane Pond Road, some insight into Clarence Petty, and when it’s alright to call it a day. The jury is still out on the Adirondack Daily Enterprise better-designed hikey new outdoor-recreation publication as a business decision, but the bimonthly, called Embark, is gradually growing a low ad percentage; it appears to be helping keep at least one reporter employed, so we wish it well in 2010.

Canton Eddie: Turn-of-the-Century Safecracker
Adirondack history has always been a forte of the Almanack. When someone robbed a Tupper Lake bank it inspired a look at one of the region’s most infamous thieves. Canton Eddie was the perpetrator of a string of at least 30 robberies in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Another highlight of 2009 at the Almanack was the publication of Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack, which included Canton Eddie’s story, and a whole lot more Adirondack history.

The Adirondacks: Gateway for Quebec Hydroponic Marijuana
Whether a measure of what Adirondackers are really doing behind closed doors, or a testament to our fascination with crime drama, when Mary Thill (clearly the winner of this years “readers’ choice” award!) covered the July story of the largest border drug bust ever, readership went off the charts. “A billion dollars worth of this weed funnels through Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties annually, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne,” Mary wrote. “A look at the map is all it takes to see that much of it travels through the Adirondack Park on its way to Albany, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and as far south as Florida.” The news was a fascinating inside look at where some American marijuana comes from, but probably no surprise to those who were following the other big drug story of the year: the discovery of some 800 marijuana plants growing in Essex County.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mean High-Water Mark: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Early on in the discussion of public rights of passage, the term “mean high-water mark” was used as in being able to portage or carry around an obstruction as long as one stayed below this mark. This term was dropped in favor of carrying in the “least intrusive manner possible.” I think this was a good development. Why? Partly because of statistics.

The mean is one of several statistical measures of central tendency—add all the values of what you’re measuring and divide by the number of values and you get the mean. The other primary measures of central tendency are the mode (the value that occurs most frequently) and the median (the value that has half the items below it and half above it). When a distribution of values is “symmetrical” these three measures are close to each other. But, if your distribution is “skewed” (i.e., assymetrical), the mean is no longer accurate.

Say 20 families in a neighborhood have salaries between $60 K and $140 K, with most in the middle and some on the extremes. With a symmetrical distribution, the mean will be about $100 K and will be a valid measure of typical wealth. But if family A sells their house to someone earning a million dollars, the distribution will be skewed and the new mean (about $190 K) will not represent the typical neighborhood salary. If water levels for a river are symmetrically distributed, the mean is a valid measure. If not (as when rivers are flood-prone or dewatered due to dams), then the mean is not a good measure. The median or mode would be a better measure in such cases.

However, there are more pressing practical considerations suggest that any statistical measure is not very helpful for rights of passage. Until fairly recently, most paddlers would have a difficult time knowing a river’s mean flow. This information is more available now—the U. S. Geological Service has a Web site and you can get a pretty good idea of typical high water levels from scanning their databases. Still, there are problems. While a good number of rivers have gauges, many do not. Dedicated paddlers are fairly good at estimating water levels for a river by looking at the gauges for nearby rivers, but this is not an exact science. Another problem is that gauges are almost always located in fairly wide sections of a river with relatively milder current. Even if we do know a river’s mean high-water mark, it’s not clear how to extrapolate this information to the spot on the river where you need to carry.

A one-foot difference on a downstream gauge can easily translate to a several foot difference in a narrow part of the river, which is where most carries occur. And, the river at a gauge site may be rising, while a section far away is already dropping (or vice-versa). At low levels, lining may be an option and the issue of “mean high-water mark” isn’t too important. In flatwater and easier whitewater, paddlers can usually(!) carry around obstructions that block narrow passages without having to go inland very far. It is in more significant whitewater, with steep banks, ravines and gorges, where the mean high-water mark comes more into play. But how do you figure out where this is? Well, you can’t, unless you know a given river very well.

Debris lines can indicate the highest recent level and stains on ravine walls might do likewise, but these aren’t reliable measures and it is difficult to communicate this type of information to other paddlers or landowners. A lengthy whitewater run may require multiple carries in a variety of environments. Identifying the “mean high-water mark” for each is just not tenable, regardless of what we may know about USGS readings. While the phrase “least intrusive manner possible” is impossible to define, I still think it’s better than referring to a statistical concept that sounds precise but really isn’t.

Photograph: The Boquet River in late June


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winter Wildays at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake

The Wild Center’s Winter Wildays return in every Saturday and Sunday from January 9th until March 28th 2010 with an entertaining and enlightening schedule for the whole family. Here is the announcement from a Wild Center press release:

Saturday events grow your skills. Learn more about easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint with Home Composting, Heating with Biomass or Small Windpower in the Adirondacks. Admire some of the wildlife, like Boreal Birds or the Timber Rattlesnake, that make their home in the Adirondacks. Improve your photography skills with leading photographer Carl Heilman or discover what it takes to raise chickens in your own backyard. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bruce Spudworm and the Evening Grospigs

With the recent arrival of a large flock of evening grosbeaks at our feeders, my mind has drifted to one of the main reasons these birds, which are native to the Pacific Northwest, are here in the East: the spruce budworm.

[And this, of course, sends my memory plunging down the rapids of my stream of consciousness to my days at forestry school, where a good friend from New Jersey, who was a huge Bruce Springsteen fan (it was the ‘80s, after all), referred to this forest pest as the Bruce Spudworm. The spoonerism has stuck with me ever since. I therefore dedicate this post to Cynthia.]

Evening grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus), often called grospigs around here because of their propensity for emptying birdfeeders at lightning speed, are striking birds. They are big and chunky, the males stunning in yellow, black and white. We see them mostly in the winter, when flocks descend upon birdfeeders and inhale all the seed in a matter of minutes. Once in a blue moon a few might hang around in the summer, but winter seems to be their season.

Even so, one cannot count on seeing evening grosbeaks every winter, for they are rather nomadic, showing up in great numbers one year, and then disappearing, sometimes for years at a time. This sporadic pattern has been documented for well over a century, and there seems to be a tie-in with the spruce budworm.

The spruce budworm (a type of moth, actually) comes in a couple different flavors: the western worm (Choristoneura occidentalis) and the eastern worm (Choristoneura fumiferana). The western spruce budworm is, as you may have guessed, native to the western part of North America. It didn’t turn up in the United States (from Canada) until 1914, when it was first reported in Oregon. Since then, it has spread across much of the Pacific Northwest towards the Rockies, its larvae devouring the foliage, staminate flowers and developing cones of conifers throughout the region.

Here in the Adirondacks, we are blessed with the eastern spruce budworm. Also a native insect, the first major outbreak recorded in the U.S. was in Maine in 1807. The next major outbreak was in 1878, and since 1909 there have been several waves of devastation. In the east, balsam fir is the insect’s tree of choice, so you can imagine the impact this would have on the Adirondack forest. Spruces are also consumed (hence the name), and even hemlocks on occasion, but nothing is hit quite like the firs.

Like many forest insect pests, the spruce budworm’s havoc is wreaked in a cyclic pattern: it’s always out there, eating away at the trees, but the infestation only becomes problematic when the population suddenly swells and takes over the forest. With the spruce budworm, the cycle is about every 40 to 60 years.

Enter the evening grosbeak. Way back when, evening grosbeaks were only seen on occasion in the Pacific Northwest (there were much fewer people in the woods back then). Slowly, they started moving eastward, and by 1854 they had come as far east as Toronto. In the winter of 1889-90, huge flocks were seen in New England. Then they disappeared again for another twenty years. In the winter of 1960-1, evening grosbeaks appeared as far south as Georgia, with huge flocks taking over feeders and forests across the eastern U.S. I bet a lot of birders were thrilled to add them to their lifelists!

It is believed that these irruptions (a sudden sharp increase in the relative numbers of a population) were in large part due to the birds’ fondness for spruce budworm larvae. Although primarily seed eaters, specializing in extracting seeds from the cones of spruce and fir trees, grosbeaks supplement their diets with tasty insect snacks, and spruce budworm seems to be a favorite. Scientists believe that these birds followed the western spruce budworm eastward, and then started snacking on the eastern spruce budworm. When pest populations irrupted, the birds followed close behind.

The sudden increase in spruce budworm larvae can result in a catastrophic loss of spruce and fir trees, adversely affecting the timber industry and forest ecosystems. In order to deal with this, chemicals were employed to combat the insect pests. Unfortunately, birds that eat the larvae (including Tennessee, bay-breasted and Cape May warblers) were also negatively impacted. In fact, studies have shown that evening grosbeaks will not return to areas that have been sprayed for spruce budworm, even if the larvae population increases.

In an effort to try to cut down on the use of toxic chemicals, research has been done to determine if biological controls can be used instead. Science has discovered both a virus and a fungus that infect spruce budworms, but unfortunately neither is particularly deadly – at least not at a level that would benefit the forest. The bacteria B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis) has been proven effective for small infestations (fewer than 50 larvae on an 18” branch), but major infestations (more than 8000 eggs per 100 square feet of foliage) are barely touched.

Maybe we should try breeding warblers and grosbeaks and have them in stock to release when infestations occur.

Since the last major outbreak of the eastern spruce budworm was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we should be about due for one. Some birders are speculating that this might explain the great numbers of grosbeaks at the feeders, and the reports of more warblers downstate. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see the grosbeaks, even if their presence means more trips to the feed store for seeds.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Weekly Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, January 1, 2010

Lake George Counts itself a Zebra Mussel Survivor

In December 1999, researchers discovered that Lake George was not immune to Zebra mussels after all.

During an annual dive to retrieve litter from the lake bottom in Lake George Village, volunteers discovered what appeared to them to be the exotic mollusk that had already wreaked havoc in Lake Champlain and in nearby rivers, competing with native animal species for food and clogging water systems.

Diver Joe Zarzynski contacted the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, whose scientists confirmed that the brown and cream striped shell attached to a beer bottle was indeed a Zebra mussel. » Continue Reading.


Friday, January 1, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adirondack Music Scene: New Year’s Eve

It’s all happening tonight on New Year’s Eve. I hope everyone has a blast, listening, moving your bodies and celebrating. This is a great week to remember the amazing events of this past year and put a little thought into what you’d like to see happen in the new one. A toast to supporting and creating fantastic music in 2010.

Thursday, December 31st:

First Night in Saranac Lake! There are a bunch of great shows to check out. My advice; get to the venue early and buy your buttons now. Check out the website for the complete listing. I’m particularly fond of Big Slyde, Frankenpine and my band, The Dust Bunnies. I hope to see you out and about!

Also in Saranac Lake: at the Waterhole, Pie Boys Flat and Hot Day at The Zoo will be playing. These fun bands should get started around 9:30 pm, Pie Boys are first up.

In North Creek at barVino, The Tony Jenkins Jazz Trip starts at 9 pm.

In Lake Clear at Charlies Inn, Rock-n-Rob starts at 9 pm. It’s party, there will be hors d’oeuvres and champagne.

In Wilmington at Steinhoff’s, Big Boss Sausage will be playing starting at 9 pm. Steinhoff’s is also lucky enough to have chef Bill Bentz reigning over their kitchen.

In Saranac Lake at Captain Cook’s; Road Kill Dog starting at 10 pm until 2 am.

Photo: Pie Boys Flat



Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.