Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adirondack Bird Research Resources

It’s 4 a.m. on a chilled morning in early June. Still three hours away from sunrise so my weak headlamp casts an eerie and unnatural glow to the trail as I pick my way through rock, stream, and unseen balsam fir branches. I’m heading to the summit of Wright Peak in the Adirondack High Peaks Region. Nearing the summit I must first stop every 250 meters from a predetermined point on my map. Here I listen for any bird song that might be heard and then record it in my notes. I chuckle as I think that it’s more like the first “yawn” I hear from these birds. Over a 30-day period myself and dozens of other crazy but doggedly determined volunteer birders are assisting an organization to acquire desperately needed information on some bird species that live on the mountains.

Fast-forward to the end of June, still early morning, and I’m slogging my way through a blackfly-infested bog in the wild regions of the Santa Clara Tract. I’m nearing an area known as the Madawaska Flow. Here I’m still listening for, identifying, and counting bird species but now I’m in a completely different habitat. This lowland environment reveals new species that need to be counted for another study. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moby Dick and the Adirondacks

Long ago there were whales at the edge of the Adirondacks, but it wasn’t till last year that I saw one myself—the same day our trail was blocked by a bull moose, another creature I’ve yet to see here. This wild kingdom was on Gaspe peninsula, Quebec. The whale left a huge impression, as did Moby Dick. I can’t pretend to have read this engrossing however longass 1851 book, but I listened to it on tape during that trip, and it took another week to finish it. So it was as unexpected as a water spout to spy a poster announcing that Pendragon Theatre, in Saranac Lake, is staging the story this weekend.

Pendragon’s Web site has an explanation. “Moby Dick Rehearsed is a play that attempts to turn the 800-page novel into a two-hour play,” says director Karen Kirkham of Dickinson College. “That in itself is a feat to admire. Orson Welles’s 1955 play is little known. Even less known is Welles’s repeated opinion in interviews later in life that the play ‘is my finest work—in any form.’”

The show is at 7:30 Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21, at and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 22. Tentative performances in December are Dec. 4 at 7:30 and Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. The production will tour schools and arts centers around the region until March. Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for seniors and students; $10 for age 17 and under. Pendragon is at 15 Brandy Brook Avenue. For information and reservations, contact Pendragon Theatre (518) 891-1854 or pdragon@northnet.org.

A 1930 edition of Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent, who lived in Ausable Forks, is credited as a factor in the novel’s rediscovery. You can see Kent’s powerful pen and ink drawings at this link to the Plattsburgh College Foundation and Art Museum, to whom many of Kent’s works were bequeathed by his widow, Sally Kent Gorton. The 1930 printing was first offered as a limited edition of 1,000 copies in three volumes held in metal slipcases. AntiQbook is offering a set for $9,500—something for the Christmas list.

Cover of the 1930 Chicago, Lakeside Press edition of Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Adirondack Tree Indentification 101

I was a Stumpy – a student at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry. While an undergrad, I was enrolled in the Dual Program: Resource Management (forestry) and Environmental and Forest Biology. A required course for forestry majors, as you might well imagine, was dendrology, or the study of trees, and a huge part of dendro was simply learning to identify one species of tree from the next.

Looking back at my dendro class through the lens of time, I am constantly amazed at how difficult I found tree ID. The tree that gave me the worst trouble was the black cherry, which today I could almost identify blindfolded, standing on one foot, and with both hands tied behind my back. I suspect it was the leaves.

When most people learn to identify trees, they try to learn the leaves, but for the novice, one lobed leaf looks much the same as the next. Red maple or sugar? Maybe it’s striped maple? A serrated, or toothed, leaf looks like any other serrated (or toothed) leaf. Aspen? Cottonwood? Elm? Hophornbeam? Birch? And then what do you do when fall has wreaked its havoc on the trees, leaving the forest naked? How in the world are you supposed to know which tree is which now?

Over the years I have refined my tree ID skills, and today when I teach tree ID, I may touch on leaf shape and form, but I spend more time looking at those parts of the tree that are visible year round: the bark and branches. In fact, I’ve boiled the whole subject down to a series of simple questions that even kids as young as ten are able to follow.

First, take a look at your tree. Is it a conifer (does it have needles) or a hardwood (does it loose its leaves in the fall)? If it is a conifer, we next address the needles and bark. Do the needles turn yellow and fall off in the fall (larch)? Does the bark have blisters that ooze a sticky aromatic resin when punctured (balsam fir)? Are the needles attached to the tree via small “pegs” (spruces)? Maybe the needles flattened and scale-like and the bark looks like a cat’s been using it for a scratching post – that would be a cedar. If you crush the cedar’s needles, they have a beautiful citrus-y scent that is very distinctive.

If said tree is not a conifer, it must be a hardwood (or deciduous). So we look at how the branches are arranged on the tree: are they opposite (like my arms) or do they alternate (like my left arm and right leg)? Very few species of trees here in the northeast have opposite branching, and they are easily remembered by recalling the phrase MAD Cap Horse. MAD stands for Maple, Ash, Dogwood; Cap refers to the family Caprifoliaceae, which are the honeysuckles; Horse is simply horsechestnut. Since honeysuckles are really more shrub-like than tree-like, I usually ignore them as a category. Here in the central Adirondacks we don’t have horsechestnuts, so I delete them as well. This leaves us with MAD.

Around Newcomb, we have only a few species that we can squeeze into the MAD classification. Maples: red, sugar and striped. Ash: white. Dogwood: grey-stemmed, red-osier, alternate leafed.

The dogwoods we have up here are pretty small trees, barely more than shrubs. Their buds look like onions, or the domes of eastern orthodox churches seen in photos from Russia and the Ukraine (well, sort of; flowering dogwood, which we don’t have, has onion-shaped buds, and red-osier sort of does; with a little imagination, so does the grey-stemmed). If you take a look at their leaves, the veins are curved, or arched (arcuate). But if you’re standing in the woods craning your neck upwards to figure out what the leaves look like, you aren’t looking at a dogwood, and so, like the honeysuckles, we can easily eliminate dogwoods from consideration.

The process of elimination as brought our opposite-branched trees down to two possibilities: maples and ashes. If the leaves are still on the tree, and you can see them, this can be a clue. Ashes have compound leaves: each leaf is composed of multiple leaflets. Maples have simple leaves with three to five lobes. But suppose the leaves have fallen off and all you can see is the bark. Not a problem. Take a good close look. Feel the bark. Is it kind of corky? Can you easily stick your thumbnail into it? Does it look like many small ridges that weave in and out of each other? If so, you are looking at the white ash, the tree that sportsmen love, for its wood has been the primary source of such sports equipment as tennis rackets and baseball bats.

But suppose it’s not a white ash that you are staring at. If the branches are opposite, and you’ve eliminated all but the maples, then it must be a maple. Striped maple is easy to identify, for it rarely gets larger than three or four inches in diameter. I’ve seen some specimens that push a six inch dbh (diameter at breast height, which is measured at 4.5 ft. above the ground), but they are not common. Striped maple, true to its name, has white-ish stripes on its smooth greenish bark. Its leaves are large and look a lot like goose feet.

Red maple, well, that’s a tree that likes to have its feet wet. If you are in a lowland area, near a marsh or other wetland, and you see a tree with opposite branching, it is likely a red maple. Its leaves, if you can find one, have three distinctive lobes, all with sharply pointed teeth. The sinuses, or dips between the lobes, are also pointy, forming a nice sharp “v”.

Sugar maple, that tree adored by leaf peepers and pancake-lovers alike, prefers to live on rocky slopes, with its feet away from the water. The bark on a mature specimen is pale grey and kind of looks like it is made from plate armor (sometimes you need to apply a little imagination). Some of the sides of the plates may be peeled away from the trunk of the tree. If you find a leaf still attached to the tree, you will note that it has five lobes, and instead of sharp pointy teeth, it has gentle swoops. The sinuses between the lobes are u-shaped, as opposed to the v-shape of the red maples.

When it comes to the trees that are alternately branched, we are facing a larger selection of species, and I’ll write about them next time. In the meantime, take the information I’ve given you here, grab a kid or two, and head out into your yard. See if you can find some trees with opposite branches and try your hand at identifying them. The next time you go for a hike, see how many opposites you can find. Do they like each other’s company? Can you ferret out other clues that you can add to your ID arsenal?

Once you start to recognize tree species, you will begin to notice other plants (and animals) that associate with them. Forest communities will become apparent. Before you know it, the trees of the forest will seem like old friends, familiar faces you can recognize in any crowd, and I find that hiking with friends makes being outside that much more pleasurable. Perhaps you will, too.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Short Adirondack Hike For Short Days

November is one of those in-between months, sort of like mud or black-fly season, where your outdoor activities are sort of limited. There’s no snow yet (not anymore, not like the old days anyway), it’s too cold to paddle unless you’re a die-hard and without any leaves the woods certainly don’t look terribly appealing. Not to mention the fact that it gets dark only a few hours past noon.

Our advice for a hike during these dreary, pre-winter days? Keep it short.

A good outing for those in the Lake George area, or living in the Capital Region, is Sleeping Beauty. This 2,162-foot-high treeless peak is less than two miles from the parking lot (assuming you’re brave enough to drive the one-lane, 1.5-mile road to Dacy Clearing from Shelving Rock Road — but I’ve done it several times in a sedan and never had a problem). And though it gains steeply toward the end it’s a climb any hiker should be able to tackle.

To reach the trailhead, 149 east of Route 9 in Queensbury, and make a left on Buttermilk Falls Road. Follow that road for a good 10 to 15 minutes until you enter the Shelving Rock woods. You’ll see a huge parking lot on the right, and at the end of that will be the road to Dacy Clearing (or park here and walk the road if you like). Don’t make the right onto Hogback Road.

Trail signs point the way to Sleeping Beauty, which at first follows an old, rugged dirt road. Eventually, the trail leaves the road and climbs steeply past rock cliffs to the summit, which provides a sterling view over most of Lake George.

If you left early enough you’ll have time to explore some of the many trails in this area. Bumps Pond, just north of Sleeping Beauty, makes a nice loop, and Fishbrook Pond further north will make the loop even longer. There’s a nice leanto at Fishbrook to have lunch and a number of other loop options if the short days still haven’t caught up to you.

While the trails are well-signed, an ADK Eastern Region trail map will go a long way to helping you choose your destinations. Remember to pack a flashlight and warm clothes, and enjoy.

Photo: Lake George from Sleeping Beauty.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: ADK Leonid Meteor Shower

My husband and I were up in the pre-dawn morning with probably half the world to essentially watch a fiery burning of debris enter the atmosphere. To then describe to my child a scientific reason for getting out of bed took a bit of research and a chat with an expert.

In layman’s terms (that is all I’ve got) the Leonid Meteors got their name from their apparent relationship to the constellation Leo. The meteors, some no larger than a speck of dust, derive from the parent comet Tempel-Tuttle. Ernest Tempel (December 1865) and Horace Tuttle (January 1866) individually recognized that the Tempel-Tuttle Comet was a recurring one.

The Tempel-Tuttle Comet takes a little over 33 years to orbit the sun. Each time the comet is closest to the sun it sheds particles that cluster together. Depending on where Earth passes through in the comet’s debris trail depends on the intensity of the meteors. Some years there can be as many as 500 meteors falling per hour. This year is not a “sky is falling” type of meteor year but certainly a way to introduce children to astronomy. The phase of the moon coupled with a clear night is what will make viewing the Leonids a pleasurable experience for all.

President of the Tupper Lake Observatory Mark Staves says, “The Leonid Meteor shower does occur every year but since we will have a new moon on the 18th, moonlight won’t be a factor. Moonlight usually diminishes the effect of the meteors. When the light from the meteor shower competes with the moonlight it is not as spectacular.”

He says, “After midnight start to search for meteors toward the east. As the morning progressives look toward southeast and then about 5:00 a.m. the meteors should be toward the south.”

The Adirondack Loj will be hosting a meteor-searching, s’more-eating campfire this evening at Heart Lake. Even though the early dawn of November 17th was predicted as the peak of the meteor shower the darkened skies coupled with the wide-open mountaintops over Heart Lake will present perfect viewing.

The timing of this event is late for little ones. This free program is hosted by an ADK naturalist and runs from 9:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. tonight. If you can’t make this event the meteor showers will still be able for viewing from any dark wide-open space through the 20th of this month, lessening in frequency as the moonlight brightens in intensity.

“They (meteors) can be intensive,” Staves says. “It would help children to understand that what they are actually seeing is something as small as a speck of dust but traveling 50 times the speed of sound.”

When something so small hits the atmosphere so fast the heat created causes the sand-sized particles to vaporize Staves summarizes.

As for the Tupper Lake Observatory, board members are in the process of putting together the necessary permit applications to the Adirondack Park Agency.

“We have architectural renderings for a Roll-Off Observatory,” Staves says. “The 24-30’ building will have a gantry roof structure so that the whole roof can come off. All the equipment will be set up there permanently. The roof will roll off completely and have a full view of the night sky. We anticipate breaking ground summer of 2010.”

Photo Credit: Simon Filiatrault


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cross-Country Ski Centers of the Adirondacks

These aren’t little rascals, they’re good Dewey Mountain kids, helping get their cross-country ski trails ready for winter. The Harrietstown ski area, run by Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters, hosts a volunteer work day 9:30–3:30 Saturday to build a bridge and finish drainage work that’s been ongoing all autumn. (All welcome!) Dewey’s just one of many Adirondack ski centers preparing for opening day.

The park of course has limitless free backcountry skiing on Forest Preserve, but a midwinter thaw can reveal the beauty of more civilized gliding. Most x-c ski centers pack the base so it holds up better after rain or heatwave. For races and growing legions of skate-skiers, trail grooming is a must. Plus, it’s just nice to have a hut when kids are learning to ski—a warm place to change boots or have a cup of cocoa. At night the lodges become the hub of ski parties.

Alan Wechsler gave us the rundown of downhill areas earlier this month, and we featured Tug Hill ski destinations this morning. So below are links to Adirondack cross-country ski centers. Some have lodging, some have food, some link to larger trail networks; no two are alike but each has something to make it worth the price of admission.

Garnet Hill Lodge, North River, 55 kilometers of trails

Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, Northville, 38 km

Dewey Mountain X-C Ski and Snowshoe Recreation Center, Saranac Lake, 15 km

Cascade Ski Touring Center, Lake Placid, 20 km

Mount Van Hoevenberg Verizon Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, 50+ km

Whiteface Club and Resort, Lake Placid, 15 km

Lake Placid Crown Plaza Resort, 25 km

The Jackrabbit Trail is a town-to-town trail linking all the way from Keene to Paul Smiths. Definitely not a ski center, but we love it, and volunteers take great care of the trails. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council, the donor-supported organization that maintains it, reports up-to-date trail conditions for the Jackrabbit, the High Peaks backcountry and several Lake Placid-area ski centers.

The Paul Smiths and Newcomb Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs) have well-kept trails as well as warm buildings, and they’re free.

Time to bookmark the snow-depth map!

Photograph taken and enhanced by Jason Smith, co-manager of Dewey Mountain


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Few Ways Snow Makes Tug Hill Different

Tug Hill, the 2,100-square-mile uplift west of the Adirondack Park, gets so much snow that camps are said to have entryways on the second floor in case the first floor gets snowed in. Tug Hill gets so much snow that driving through can be like traveling into a snow globe while skies remain clear north and south of the bubble. Tug Hill gets so much snow that plow drivers “plant” ten-foot-tall saplings every fall so they can see where the side of the road is.

And last week was planting time throughout Lewis County, when the “whips,” as the young limb-stripped hardwoods are called, were spaced along windswept roadsides. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Noah Rondeau: A Day in His Woods

Many an article and book is available describing the life of Noah Rondeau and his hermitage. Interactions with the few hikers who ventured into his area portrayed a favorable gentleman who loved the company of some people as well as his solitude. Pictures are worth a thousand words and attach emotion to the text. A walk to the site of the former hermitage, however, allows a person an even deeper perspective and appreciation for the “Last Adirondack Hermit” and his way of life. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

World Cup Bobsled, Skeleton Returns to Lake Placid

The 2009-10 FIBT World Cup bobsled and skeleton season is underway and some of world’s best bobsledders and skeleton athletes will be coming to the Olympic Sports Complex track in Lake Placid, during the second stop of the seven-race tour November 20-22. Here are the details supplied by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, who manages the Lake Placid Olympic venues:

While in Lake Placid, the U.S. squad will try to match the same success it enjoyed last season when driver Steve Holcomb helped lead the team to four world championship medals on the 1,455-meter long course. The “Night Train” stood on three medal podiums, winning bronze in the two-man man race, bronze in the team competition and gold in the four-man event. That victory allowed him to become the first American pilot to claim a World title in 50 years.

Fellow American Shauna Robuck is also looking forward to being back in Lake Placid. Last season, the 32-year-old won a pair of world championship medals, piloting her sled to silver in the women’s two-man event, before helping the squad nab bronze in the team competition.

The U.S. skeleton team should be just as strong. The women’s line up is led by two-time World Cup Champion Katie Uhlaender and 2007 World Champion Noelle Pikus-Pace, while Zach Lund, the 2007 World Champion, and Eric Bernotas, a winner of several World Championship and World Cup medals during his career, headline the men’s roster.

Other sleds to watch include German Andre Lange, who won the four-man silver medal, and Latvia’s Janis Minins, the 2009 four-man World Championship bronze medalist. Other athletes to keep an eye out for include Switzerland’s Gregor Staehli, the reigning men’s skeleton World Champion, and Germany’s Marion Trott, the defending women’s skeleton World Champion.

Racing begins Friday, Nov. 20, at 9:30 a.m. with the women’s skeleton event, followed by the men’s skeleton race at 1 p.m. The men’s two-man bobsled race is slated for Saturday, Nov. 21, also beginning at 9:30 a.m., while the women’s two-man bobsled race is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Both the four-man bobsled race and the team competition are set for Sunday, Nov. 22. The four-man race begins at 9:30 a.m. and the team event caps off the three days of racing at 1 p.m.

Daily Tickets are available for $8.00 for adults and $6.00 juniors and senior citizens. Anyone who brings a non-perishable food item for the Lake Placid Ecumenical food pantry will receive free entry. For tickets call the Olympic Sports Complex at 518-523-4436 or pick them up at the gate on event days. For more information on the Nov. 20-22 FIBT World Cup bobsled and skeleton race in Lake Placid, log on to www.whiteface.com.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lecture: The Klan, Vigilantism in the Adirondacks

Writer and social historian Amy Godine will be giving a talk about vigilantes and the Ku Klux Klan on Sunday, November 22, at 3 p.m., at 511 Gallery on Main Street in Lake Placid. The lecture, entitled “Have You Seen That Vigilante Man?”, is being sponsored by The Lake Placid Institute.

Those interested in local history should be familiar with Godine’s work on social and ethnic history of the Adirondacks. Her stories, which have appeared a number of times in Adirondack Life magazine, take on the usually ignored aspects of Adirondack history. Spanish road workers, Italian miners, black homesteaders, Jewish peddlers and Chinese immigrants have all been brought to life through Godine’s meticulous research and writing. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Porcupines: Armed and Dangerous

At the mention of the word “porcupine” most of us conjure in our minds the image of a medium-sized brown animal covered with long quills. But beyond this, I’d be willing to say that the average person knows very little about our second largest rodent, a relatively shy animal with poor eyesight, little muscle tone, and a fondness for salt. So, I thought I’d look into the cultural and natural history of the porcupine and see what interesting tidbits I could come up with to expand the average person’s knowledge of this denizen of our Adirondack forestlands. What I found was really quite interesting. » Continue Reading.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, November 13, 2009

APA Reverses Lows Lake Wilderness Vote

All three of Governor David Paterson’s representatives on the Adirondack Park Agency board have reversed votes made in September and opposed designation of the waters of Lows Lake as Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe. By a 6-4 vote the APA had added most of the waters and bed of Lows Lake to the Five Ponds Wilderness in September. The rest of the lake was classified as Primitive, which would have prohibited motorized use. It was later learned that the tenure of one of the APA commissioners had expired and the vote needed to be retaken – that vote occurred today and ended in a 7-4 reversal of the previous decision. » Continue Reading.


Friday, November 13, 2009

State Investigators Probing Lake George Officials

The New York State Comptrollers Office is investigating potentially illegal actions by Town of Lake George officials, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s office said. “An investigation is underway but we cannot comment on its scope or how it was initiated,” said Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Lake George supervisor Lou Tessier said he had no knowledge of any investigation nor any idea why such an investigation would be undertaken.

Auditors from the Comptroller’s Division of Local Government and School Accountability have begun an examination of the town’s books, Tessier said, but stated that a performance audit is a routine matter. A similar audit was made of Lake George Village’s records earlier this fall.

Investigators from the Office of the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations, based in New York City, traveled to Lake George in mid-October to conduct interviews, the Lake George Mirror has learned. Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky and Fort William Henry Corporation president Robert Flacke were among those interviewed.

Navitsky said he was asked whether he knew of any instances of favoritism in the granting of variances or permits by the town’s Zoning or Planning Boards.

Flacke said he was asked about issues that emerged during his unsuccessful campaign for Town Supervisor two years ago. “We discussed issues such as whether developers are given gravel free from the town’s gravel pit and whether town employees work on private roads and driveways,” said Flacke.

Rita Dorman, a former Town Clerk who was later elected to the Town Board, said she was contacted by investigators but has not spoken with them. “I haven’t had any association with the town government in recent years; I have no information to give,” she said.

Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, to whose office any criminal actions might be referred, said she has had no formal contact with the Comptroller’s office about the Lake George investigation.

Some residents have surmised that the investigation was begun after the Office of the Comptroller received complaints from one or more current or former town employees.

According to the Office of the Comptroller, the public is encouraged to report allegations of fraud, corruption or abuse of taxpayer dollars to a hotline staffed by investigators from the Investigations Unit of the Legal Services.

After conducting a preliminary investigation, the Office may proceed with a full investigation and refer its findings to a prosecutor or, if no evidence of wrong-doing is found, close the case.

Individuals who make complaints are granted anonymity, the Office says.

Photo: Lake George Supervisor Lou Tessier

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror or visit http://www.lakegeorgemirror.com


Friday, November 13, 2009

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories



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