“The early bird catches the worm.” It’s an old adage that most likely refers to the American robin (Turdus Migratorius). This year, I first saw robins in late March, right around the time that maple sap started running.
As I write this, they’re still showing up, almost daily, apparently looking for fly nymphs resting on the ice and snow alongside the river. Just up the road, they’re already hopping around on bare areas in lawns, gardens, fields, and pastures; cocking their heads from side to side as they try to find a big, fat, tasty worm to eat. » Continue Reading.
Once, when I was living in a house on the edge of a forest in Western Massachusetts, an early-spring storm blew in and left about a foot of snow in its wake. Worried about the birds, many of which had just returned to their northern breeding grounds, I spent the day replenishing the feeders and scattering extra seeds on the deck and in the yard. I watched through the sliding glass doors, as dozens of songbirds flitted in and out my view. It was a mesmerizing scene.
My reverie was broken, however, when a large bird torpedoed out of the woods and snatched one of the songbirds off the ground. It flew with such speed, I barely had time to register its presence. All of the birds, however, instantly dispersed, as if vaporized. » Continue Reading.
The State Museum’s bird collection is always growing as scientists continue to prepare new specimens to document the current New York bird population.
Every time a bird specimen is prepared, State Museum scientists take tiny samples of different types of tissues (heart, liver, muscle, brain) and place them in a plastic vial that is stored in an ultra-cold freezer at -80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit). » Continue Reading.
Using data on 77 North American migratory bird species from the eBird citizen-science program, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say that, in as little as four decades, it may be very difficult to predict how climate change will affect migratory bird populations and the ecosystems they inhabit.
Birds of a feather flock together. It’s a metaphor dating back to the sixteenth century; used even then in alluding to people with similar interests, motivation, loyalties, or like minds.
It’s also a straightforward reference to the fact that birds congregate with others of their own species. So, when I’m asked, as I have been recently, about the considerable numbers of crows that people have seen roosting in the village of Malone, I’m inclined to simply answer, ‘birds of a feather…’ » Continue Reading.
250 acres of the south face of Moxham Mountain have been protected by private sale to the Adirondack Land Trust. There is no recreational access presently. The Land Trust and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are working to transfer the land to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, at which time it will become public.
Moxham Mountain is located between Minerva and North Creek and is part of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest. It’s lofty cliffs have been eyed by climbers, although no public access to the face of Moxham was possible.
On winter mornings when I look out my window, I often see a gray squirrel clinging upside down to the post supporting my bird feeder, with his front paws in the tray, munching sunflower seeds. Sometimes, a much smaller red squirrel is perched on the opposite side of the feeder.
This brings to mind my studies of squirrels years ago and the differences between the two species. For my thesis in biology at Williams College, I conducted a field study of social behavior and organization in the eastern gray squirrel in a suburban area in Williamstown, Massachusetts. My first step was to live-trap and mark squirrels so I could identify individuals. » Continue Reading.
Under future climate scenarios, changing winds may make it harder for North American birds to migrate southward in the autumn, but make it easier for them to come back north in the spring according to researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
They came to this conclusion using data from 143 weather radar stations to estimate the altitude, density, and direction birds took during spring and autumn migrations over several years. They also extracted wind data from 28 different climate change projections in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their findings were published in the journal Global Change Biology. » Continue Reading.
It’s the time of year when the landscape is laid bare, the ground is impenetrable with frost, and flying insects have faded into memory. As fall slides into winter, resident songbirds like robins and waxwings must switch from their warm weather diets of earthworms and arthropods to the best of what’s left: fruit, and lots of it. As it turns out, this is also the time of year when conditions become ripe for the conversion of fruit sugars into alcohol via natural fermentation.
Studies show that waxwings, whose winter diet is comprised almost exclusively of fruit, metabolize alcohol seven times faster than finches (seed eaters) and three times faster than starlings (omnivores). In addition, a waxwing’s liver constitutes nearly 5 percent of its total body weight, compared to just under 3 percent for starlings and finches. Larger livers and higher rates of alcohol metabolism likely evolved in response to occasional exposure to fermented fruit. For the most part, these adaptations enable waxwings to dine on boozy berries without ill effect. » Continue Reading.
The sound of a gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) evokes an image of the North Woods: dark green spruce trees, spire-like balsam fir, and bare-branched tamaracks silhouetted against a raw, slate-colored sky; the smell of woodsmoke in the air and a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. I see these birds occasionally around our cabin in northern New Hampshire and on hikes at higher elevations in the White Mountains. They’ve always had an air of mystery about them.
The bird is often heard before it’s seen. The gray jay has a number of calls, whistles, and imitations in his repertoire: many are harsh sounding, and I have witnessed gray jays mimic the scream of the blue jay. My favorite call, though, is what some ornithologists refer to as “the whisper song.” This is a soft, warbling chatter that can sound either cheerful or melancholy – depending, I suppose, on the mood of the listener. Not long after hearing the whisper song, a group of birds will suddenly appear, silently swooping and gliding from branch to branch. » Continue Reading.
Over the past two decades, biologists have been busy studying one of our native mythological birds. At once the most widely distributed member of the crow family, and a figure revered across the globe by civilizations both ancient and modern, the common raven (Corvus corax) is anything but ordinary.
In Norse mythology, the god Odin had two ravens who flew around the world gathering information for him, and the Irish giant and culture-hero Cú Chulainn was honored by a visit from the goddess Morrígan who appeared as a raven. To the modern Haida and Tlingit peoples out West, the raven is a bird of surpassing intelligence, as well as a culture-hero who is responsible for creating humans, and causing much mischief as an inveterate trickster. » Continue Reading.
The wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is one of only two domesticated birds native to North America. The Muscovy duck is the other. Five sub-species make up the entire North American population. The most abundant is the eastern wild turkey, sub-species silvestris, meaning forest, which ranges across the entire eastern half of the United States and parts of eastern Canada. They’re readily identified by their brown-tipped tail feathers, which spread into a fan when the birds are courting or alarmed and by the bold black and white bar pattern displayed on their wing feathers. This is the same turkey variety encountered by the Pilgrims. » Continue Reading.
Every autumn, when the air tastes of apples and leaves crunch underfoot, my thoughts turn to tiny owls – northern saw-whet owls (Aegolius acadicus) to be exact. Just eight inches in length with a round head and bright yellow eyes, the saw-whet is arguably New England’s most endearing owl. Deer mice, I suspect, would beg to differ.
Saw-whets are small, secretive, nocturnal, and very often silent. As a result, until relatively recently, their migration patterns were poorly understood. Project Owlnet, a network of researchers spanning much of North America with a particular concentration in the northeastern U.S., is changing that. » Continue Reading.
My francophone wife is often amused as I commence à apprendre la langue, like the time I said connard when I meant canard. For the monolingual English-speakers out there, canard means duck, while the rough equivalent of connard is a word that rhymes with “spithead,” and that you don’t want your kids to say. But where mallards and other puddle-ducks are concerned, the two are related. The drake (male) can be an absolute connard sometimes.
The Darwinian principle “survival of the fittest” is not always about who wins the antler fight or arm-wresting contest. Fitness means being well-suited to one’s environment so as to live long enough to reproduce and thus pass on one’s DNA. Above all else, it means being adaptable. » Continue Reading.
The loon is such an iconic symbol of wilderness with its haunting call, red eyes, and distinctive markings. With all wildlife, we need to understand how to respect its boundaries while admiring it in its natural habitat. Thanks to the Adirondack Loon Center for Loon Conservation, there is a place to learn more about this aquatic bird.
The annual Adirondack Loon Celebration takes place at the Paul Smith’s VIC, October 7 from 1 to 5 pm, with a schedule of activities emphasizing the importance of loons to the Adirondack ecosystem. Live music with Celia Evans, Green Goddess food, silent auction, children’s activities, and other loon related activities are just part of the fun-filled day. » Continue Reading.
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