Well, Punxsutawny Phil got it right again this year. We’ll see another 6 weeks of winter, but those of us living here in the Adirondacks already knew that. In fact we can look forward to another 6 to 8 weeks of snow, slush, and the occasional deep freeze. March and April’s weather can be very finicky. Take comfort in knowing that the birds are getting restless down there in their tropical locales. They want to start flying north as soon as they can. However their arrival is still some ways off. So to placate our wishes for green grass, warmer temps and sunny skies, I give you several offerings. Cams, or remote video cameras placed near a bird nest, have thrilled millions of birders and non-birders alike. This Eagle cam from Virginia is a very well-known cam that shows the daily nesting habits and egg-rearing behavior of two adult bald eagles in Norfolk, VA.
Another popular video is this cam from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland.
Are you California dreaming? Here’s a cam from the far western state’s Channel Islands.
Maybe you’re interested in Osprey nests? This one in Hilton Head, South Carolina looks active.
When the weather is not an issue, nesting can begin in earnest for these predators well before our Adirondack eagles and ospreys.
Olmstedville (that’s in Minerva, Essex County) boat builder and businessman Peter Hornbeck has made it through the NYS Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, the first hoop in his nomination by Governor David Paterson to serve on the Adirondack Park Agency board of commissioners (APA). The vote was a smack-down of sorts for local Republican Senator Betty Little who sits on the committee and has opposed Hornbeck’s nomination from the start. What Little doesn’t like about Hornbeck, she told North County Radio, was “his association as chairman of the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.” Little’s spokesman Dan Mac Entee, claiming to represent “dozens” of local officials, told the Plattsburgh Press Republican: “They feel his affiliation with environmental groups suggests he is going to bring an environmental agenda to APA, not an economic-development agenda, which we feel is critically important now.” Little wants Lake Placid resort owner Arthur Lussi, whose term is expiring, to remain in his seat. “We feel he has a balanced approach to economic development in the park,” Mac Entee said. [BTW, the Minerva Town Board disagrees; it voted to send a letter in support of the Hornbeck nomination to both the Governor and the Environmental Conservation Committee.]
What Little says she really wants is to require all five of the in-park APA Commissioners to be chosen by her pet group, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, who is supported by a gaggle of attorneys, engineers, and development interests. NCPR’s Brian Mann asked the Senator: “Wouldn’t that kind of a measure basically preclude anyone with an environmentalist background being chosen?”
“Not necessarily,” Little responded. “I think that they understand that there is a balance and most likely would know that they would have to have some people on that list who were maybe active environmentalists.” She kind of mumbled that “maybe” so I don’t fault Brian Mann for not following-up with the question, “Maybe Yes or Maybe No?”
Anyone who looks at Betty Little’s record of opposing the APA and the concept of a Forest Preserve can see what she’s really after: a purge of those she labels “environmentalists” from all decision-making related to the Adirondacks. Pete Hornbeck, who employs five people in good-paying manufacturing jobs at Hornbeck Boats, has made a crucial error in Little’s mind, in that he has associated with the wrong people.
“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five [people] that were known . . . as being environmentalists and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the APA,” Little said.
Just kidding – that was a quote from Joseph McCarthy; just replace environmentalists with Communist Party, and APA with State Department.
McCarthy saw enemies everywhere, including really evil places like the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union. Little has her own enemies list that includes not just local conservation organizations, but apparently their supporters and members as well.
I’d like to ask her that famous question from the McCarthy hearings: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” But I already know the answer, Little showed her sense of decency when she opposed the rights of gay people to be married, when she said that the Republican coup attempt that brought the state legislature to a standstill last year was a good idea, when she toyed with closing North Country Community College, and when she got a little too close to the criminal conspiracy of her leader Joe Bruno.
For background, the APA Board includes five representatives of local interests from inside the Park, three representing the rest of the state, and the state’s Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development, the Secretary of State, and the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation (Pete Grannis). These last three appoint others to represent the interests of their agencies. Regional Director for DEC Region 5 Betsey Lowe (former Executive Director of Wild Center) is Grannis’s substitute on the board; Region 5 includes three-quarters of the Adirondack Park. Lowe recently joined local members in opposing a wilderness classification for Low’s Lake. Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board has a non-voting seat on the APA Board.
Six of the eleven voting members (plus Monroe) of the current APA Board are full-time residents of the Adirondack Park. Three members of the APA Board—Curt Stiles, Cecil Wray, and Dick Booth—previously served on the board of the Adirondack Council. How many APA Commissioners are members of a Chamber of Commerce is anyone’s guess. The status of their connections to the Communist Party are also unknown.
Hornbeck’s appointment will need to pass the Senate Finance Committee before a full Senate vote.
Photo: Peter Hornbeck from the Hornbeck Boats website.
More Olympic metal is heading for the Adirondacks. Silver this time, with an American second place finish in the Nordic Combined 4 X 5K relay yesterday, anchored by Vermontville’s Bill Demong. Added to Lake Placid’s Andrew Weibrecht’s bronze performance in the Men’s Super-G last week, Demong’s silver brings the Adirondacks even with Slovenia, Croatia, and Belarus (and surpassing Great Britain) in the medal count. Demong competes again Thursday in Nordic combined long hill/10k (1 p.m. Eastern time competition round and 4 p.m. final). Tim Burke of Paul Smiths and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid compete in a 4 x 7.5k Relay at 2:30 (Eastern time) Friday.
Lake Placid is holding a welcome home parade for Super G bronze medalist Andrew Weibrecht at 4 p.m. Friday. Saranac Lake will hold a parade for its Olympians at 1:30 p.m. Saturday March 13. Demong, who will still be competing in Europe, will be honored in absentia.
Every fall when I lead groups of students through the woods on a biodiversity investigation, we always have to be careful not to step on toads. It’s a challenge, for once we are off the trails, the forest floor is one big closet, full of hiding places that small animals, like toads, can use, and which we, with our clumsy feet and our eyes towering four to six feet above the ground, never see. More than once we have stumbled upon wee tiny toads and great giant monster toads. Size not withstanding, they are all one species: the American toad (Bufo americanus). Throughout history, toads have gotten a bad rap. For some reason, reptiles and amphibians in general have been relegated to the realm of “evil” animals. European sensibilities, especially during the Middle Ages, are largely responsible for this. Fortunately, some cultures, primarily Asian, took a more enlightened view of frogs and toads. Still, what we need to remember is that concepts like “good” and “evil” are strictly human. Animals are neither good nor evil, for that implies intent. No, animals are just animals, going about their daily lives doing what they must in order to survive.
That said, the toad has some pretty nifty ways of taking care of itself. Contrary to popular belief, one cannot get warts from a toad. Sure, they are covered with warts, but these aren’t the same as the warts people get. Human warts are caused by a virus. The “warts” on a toad are actually poison and mucus glands, the former containing a milky substance that is chock full of chemicals that can irritate the mucus membranes of other animals. This is a great defensive mechanism. The two biggest poison glands are on the back of the toad right behind its head, the exact location where a predator (say a coyote) might chomp down in an attempt to grab a potential food item. The predator’s teeth puncture these glands and the animal gets a mouthful of poison. The poison will likely make the animal sick, and could potentially kill it. Hopefully the toad lives to see another day.
Here’s another defensive mechanism of the toad: bloat. Let’s say you are a toad and you are hunkered down in your daytime den – a nice cool, damp hole in the ground. A nosy predator comes along and grabs hold of your head and tries to pull you out of your home. What do you do? You gulp down a lot of air and swell up – hopefully increasing your girth enough that the predator cannot pull you out. Or maybe a snake caught you unaware from behind. There you are, your backside partway down the snake’s gullet, so you puff up, hopefully making yourself too big to swallow. This is a great strategy…unless the snake is a hognose, which has teeth in the back of its mouth that are just perfect for puncturing inflated toads, in which case there’s not much you can do.
Toads are pretty ubiquitous – you can find them just about anywhere: in the woods, in your back yard, along a stream. They aren’t too fussy about habitat as long as there is a semi-permanent body of water in which they can lay eggs, and some dense patches of vegetation for shelter and hunting. This is one reason why toads readily adapt to living in our gardens. All they need is a shady toad abode (could be an overturned pot) and they will happily patrol your garden for pesky pests like slugs.
When spring arrives, the air soon fills with toad song. The sound is often mistaken for an insect by those who are not nature savvy. It’s a trilling sort of sound, which can last sometimes 30 seconds or more. I read that you can imitate this sound if you whistle and hum at the same time. I tried it last night and I think it is safe to say I won’t be calling in any toads any time soon. Anyway, when you hear the toads trilling, it is time to stake out your neighborhood pond and see if you can see any action. Males, recognized by their smaller size and dark throats, will group together, trilling their hearts out, waiting for a receptive female to come along. When she does, the males all jockey for position, the hopefuls trying to latch on to her back and become fathers.
The female lays her eggs in double strings of sticky gel. These strands are often loosely wound around submerged aquatic vegetation. They won’t be there long, for most will hatch within a week. This is an uncertain time for toads, for life in a pond is rife with danger. The pond could dry up. Raccoons and herons are constantly looking for meals. Cannibalism lurks around every corner. What is a tadpole to do?
Fortunately, toadlets have a couple fallback positions. First, they, like their parents, have chemicals in their skin that make them less appetizing to predators. And second, they can recognize their siblings. This is pretty amazing when you consider just how many siblings they might have. A single female toad produces on average 4,000 to 12,000 eggs. Even if only a quarter of the eggs hatch, that is several hundred siblings. Knowing your siblings can save your neck, because if you hang out with your family, your back is guarded and you only have to watch out for cannibals coming at you from one side.
With all the dangers a toad faces, it’s not surprising to learn that most live only a year or two. Some robust toads might make it to ten years, and one toad lived a long life of 36 years in captivity. Even with poison glands providing protection, it’s a rough world out there. And since toads provide a great service to us by consuming pestiferous insects and slugs, I figure it’s the very least we can do to watch our steps when stomping through the woods.
Join storyteller Bill Smith and master fiddler Don Woodcock for a winter afternoon of stories about growing up in the North Country and lively toe-tapping music. The Adirondack Museum’s popular Cabin Fever Sunday series will return to Saranac Lake for a special program on February 28, 2010. “Rosin and Rhyme” with Bill Smith and Donny Woodcock will be held at Saranac Village at Will Rogers. The time will be 2:00 p.m. The presentation will offered at no charge to museum members and residents of Saranac Village. The fee for non-members is $5.00. There is no charge for children of elementary school age or younger. For additional information, please call the Education Department at (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit the museum’s web site at www.adirondackmuseum.org.
Master Adirondack storyteller and folksinger Bill Smith is the genuine article. He learned about the adventures of the North Country’s old woodsmen from his father. He learned the popular ballads and songs of an earlier time from his mother. To that strong foundation he has added his own years of living as a logger, trapper, hunter, fisherman, and guide.
Prepare to laugh ’til you can’t stand up at Bill’s tall tales, step back in time with his descriptions of country life in the “old days,” and feel warm and nostalgic as he picks up his autoharp for a Carter family tune.
Don Woodcock began to play the fiddle at the age of fourteen. More than forty years later, he holds the title of Grand Champion Fiddler of New York State. Woodcock’s playing is technically superb and he is recognized for having one of the largest repertoires of traditional fiddle tunes around.
Photo: Don Woodcock and Bill Smith; courtesy of Old Songs Festival press images.
The Albany regional Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an affiliate of the University at Albany’s School of Business, is establishing the Champlain Bridge Business Assistance Center, an “emergency outreach office” to assist small businesses that have been adversely affected by the closing and demolition of the Champlain Bridge. The Center opened Feb. 18, at 3259 Broad Street in Port Henry. The Champlain Bridge Business Assistance Center will help interested business owners plan how to transition and maintain the viability of their businesses during construction of the new bridge. The SBDC, along with strategic partners, will offer assistance to dislocated workers who cannot afford the long commute around Lake Champlain to jobs in Vermont and may be interested in starting a business. The Albany SBDC is collaborating with the North Country SBDC located at SUNY Plattsburgh to provide staff for the counseling and outreach efforts.
Services offered will include assessment of impact, identification of NYS Champlain Bridge Relief Programs, application assistance for these programs, market research, cost analysis/financial management, identifying sources of capital and business growth strategies.
The bridge, which crossed Lake Champlain between Crown Point, NY and Chimney Point, VT, was demolished in December, cutting off a vital connection. Construction of a new bridge is expected to be complete in late summer 2011.
The SBDC program is funded through the Small Business Administration, New York State, and the State University of New York.
Nobody knows how many varieties of brook trout once lived in the Adirondacks. Probably dozens. Trout colonized the Adirondacks after the last ice age, when melting glaciers created watery pathways into the highlands. After water levels receded, trout populations were isolated from each other, and so they evolved separately, developing slightly different traits.
Sadly, only seven strains of heritage trout remain in the Adirondacks. The rest were done in by habitat destruction (often from logging), overfishing, acid rain, and/or shortsighted stocking policies. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is taking steps to protect only three of the seven heritage strains—by breeding and releasing fingerlings. The other four populations are so small that the department won’t risk removing fish from the wild for breeding. One DEC scientist says three of these populations are on the verge of extinction.
Think of it: a trout that has been around these parts for thousands of years—and is found nowhere else in the world—may soon be gone forever.
Perhaps you’re betting this won’t happen in your lifetime. Wrong. It already has. The Stink Lake strain in the West Canada Lake Wilderness apparently vanished just a few years ago, thanks to acid rain. And the Tamarack Pond strain in the Five Ponds Wilderness was lost in the 1990s. That pond became so acidified the trout couldn’t spawn. Because of the lack of competition, however, the adult trout grew fat. After word got out about the big brookies, anglers fished out the pond before DEC could act.
And then there’s the yahoo who released bass into Little Tupper Lake after the state bought it in 1998, thereby jeopardizing the heritage trout it had harbored for centuries. Fortunately, Little Tupper trout breed elsewhere, and so the population is not at risk, at least not now.
All of the above comes from an article by George Earl in the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer, titled “Tragedy of the Trout.” Click here to read the full story.
Photo by George Earl: Angler with a Little Tupper trout.
In 1978, the first Empire State Summer Games were held at Syracuse University. In 1981, Lake Placid hosted the 1st Empire State Winter Games, in which amateur winter athletes from the state of New York can compete in winter sports such as ice hockey, figure skating, skiing, speed skating, and more. The Empire State Games celebrated their 30th Anniversary in Lake Placid this past weekend. Each year in February athletes of any age compete at events held at the Olympic venues in the Lake Placid. The State Games in general give the athlete an experience similar to the Olympics- they can participate in Opening Ceremonies in the Olympic Center (during which the “Empire State Games” torch is lit), receive their own warm up suit and hat, and compete in Olympic Style competition. The sports include adapted skiing, alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, cross country skiing, figure skating, women’s ice hockey, luge, skeleton, skier cross, snowboard cross, ski orienteering, snowshoe racing, ski jumping, and short track speed skating. The Games are conducted by the New York State Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation.
Athletes compete in the Empire State Games for the thrill of competition, and also for the chance to compete in the State Games of America. Held biennially, the State Games of America are held in various locations in the United States, which are selected by a bid process. In 2009 the State Game of America were held in Colorado Springs, Colorado; in 2011, they will take place in San Diego, California.
A new study on roadway de-icing in the Adirondacks describes an antiquated, ineffective, expensive, and environmentally damaging system in need of revision. Commissioned by the non-partisan political action committee AdkAction.org, the science was compiled by Daniel L. Kelting, Executive Director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) at Paul Smith’s College, and Corey L. Laxson, Research Associate. The findings are available online [pdf] and are being distributed to the New York State Department of Transportation and local governments responsible for salting Adirondack roadways. » Continue Reading.
The Wild Center’s Winter Wildays continues on Saturday, February 27th, 2010. With activities from now until the end of March there is a schedule guaranteed to keep everyone in the family entertained, enlightened and warm during these long winter months.
On Saturday February 27th, at 1:00 pm, join Ken Visser, as he provides an introduction to small wind turbine technology and takes a closer look at the fundamentals of wind, current technology and ongoing research in ‘Windpower in the Adirondacks’. The aerodynamic design of a wind turbine is a complex process involving the balance of numerous parameters, but the fundamental objective of a wind turbine design is to maximize energy produced while minimizing the capital and operating costs. How to balance these objectives and produce a viable design has led to many “marketing ploys” that the consumer needs to be aware of.
Three areas of interest will be presented: 1) fundamentals of wind energy including power and energy in the wind, factors affecting turbine performance and behavior, and various turbine concepts, 2) current technologies for the consumer, such as what is available and what to look out for and be aware of; costs; and expectations, and 3) wind research at Clarkson University on new concepts for the future.
On Sunday, February 28th, Family Art and Nature day begins at 1pm. Bring the entire family and explore this week’s theme, ‘Become a Track Detective’. Come prepared to go outside and use your detective skills to track down some of our critter friends. Once you’ve learned the ropes we’ll head inside to create our own track stamps and then create your own track story. Snowshoes provided.
As always, there are hikes on free snowshoes, animal encounters, movies and food. Winter Wildays are free for members or with paid admission.
For additional information on The Wild Center, visit www.wildcenter.org or call (518) 359-7800.
The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) is seeking support with fund-raising for what it’s calling the “Last Great Shoreline Preserve” in Putnam, Washington County by offering an opportunity to win naming rights to the preserve’s eastern overlook trail.
Until February 24, each gift of $100 entitles the donor to entry in LGLC’s Name the Trail drawing. The drawing winner will be given the exclusive opportunity to name the eastern overlook trail as well as receive a picnic for six at the overlook this summer. The new name will be displayed on trail markers and in the preserve’s trail guide, available at the trailhead kiosk and from the LGLC website. LGLC acquired the Last Great Shoreline nearly one year ago, on February 27, 2009, while also taking a leap into debt in order to finance the purchase. The cost of the land was $4 million with another $300,000 of project expenses.
Though much of the mortgage’s Phase 1 payment has been raised with the support of private donations, LGLC still needs to raise $34,000 by the payment deadline of February 27, 2010. If this deadline goal is not met, the mortgage interest can by contract grow tenfold, from 0.6% to 6%, increasing the overall cost of the land purchase by $144,000 each year over the life of the loan.
In his proposed 2010-2011 budget New York State Governor David Paterson suggested a moratorium on land acquisition by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). By reducing the Open Space Land Acquisition line item to zero, Gov. Paterson eliminated any spending from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for land acquisition, ostensibly for at least two years. When LGLC purchased the Last Great Shoreline property in 2009 (a culmination of twenty years of negotiations) LGLC says it was led to believe that it would be purchased by New York State within three years. Now, the proposed moratorium in the governor’s budget threatens to postpone the state’s purchase of the property into a distant and uncertain future, according to the LGLC.
The Lake George Land Conservancy’s is says “the purchase of the Last Great Shoreline project… was a crucial step in the protection of the Lake George watershed.” 351 acres and 2,357 feet of shoreline were acquired as a preserve, and 70 acres and 1,613 feet remain in private ownership that is now protected by a deed restriction. LGLC has already built over a mile of trails to lead hikers through a diversity of ecological systems, from the Sucker Brook wetlands, to the lichen covered rocks on the western shore of Lake George.
The land contains approximately thirty-five acres of wetlands (reportedly including a rare white cedar swamp) which which the LGLC says provide important food and breeding sites for amphibians, birds and mammals. These Sucker Brook wetlands provide a natural filtration system, according to the group, contributing to the pristine water quality of Lake George. In addition, the legendary Jumping Rock, rising approximately 30 feet above the lake, is situated on the northern shore and will be preserved forever as an LGLC preserve.
Those who wish to learn more about the Last Great Shoreline Challenge, the trail naming opportunity, or the Lake George Land Conservancy’s work, are invited to visit www.lglc.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 518-644-9673.
Photo: Last Great Shoreline eastern overlook. Courtesy the LGLC.
On the spring equinox of March, 1969, I snowshoed and skied into Bushnell Falls, on the slopes of Mount Marcy, with Sam Lewis and two friends of his from college: Henry, a young English professor, and Doug, who had recently graduated with Sam from Franklin and Marshall. It had been the first of a series of major snowfall winters, and we made our way along the John’s Brook Trail after the usual college kids’ late start in the gloom of another approaching storm. The accumulated snow lay seven feet deep in the pine plantation, as we judged from the height of the telephone line to the ranger cabin that we had to step over periodically as it zigzagged back and forth across the trail. » Continue Reading.
This winter has been a good one for grouse. At least in the tracking sense it has been a good one for grouse. Almost every day I have found fresh grouse tracks in the woods, along the roads, down driveways. I’ve even flushed a couple of the birds, their thunderous take-offs turning a few more hairs white, but mostly it’s their tracks I’ve seen.
The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is one of two grouse species that call the Adirondacks home. The second is the spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), which is an uncommon boreal species found in only a very few pockets within the Park. Therefore, I will stick to the ruffed grouse in this piece since that is the one most readers are likely to encounter. » Continue Reading.
It was a thrill to watch Andrew Weibrecht nail the Super Giant Slalom today. Superstition prohibited us from saying so, but when we saw the first two skiers skitter over an icy, bumpy, rutted course, we thought, This is Andrew’s day.
Third out of the starting box, Andrew flew down the hill. Own it, Whiteface: You can be one scrapey wind-scoured slope. They say anyone who learns to ski on Whiteface can ski anywhere. None of us can ski like Andrew, but we’re all a little tougher for that mountain. So, congratulations, Whiteface, NYSEF coaches, Lake Placid and Weibrecht family! Most of all, congratulations Andrew! You earned it.
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