The state may introduce spruce grouse into the Adirondacks as early as this year to bolster a native population that appears headed for extinction.
Without intervention, the state’s spruce-grouse population could vanish by 2020, according to a recovery plan released today by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The spruce grouse is perhaps the best-known icon and a perfect representative of boreal habitats in New York,” said Michale Glennon, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program, in a DEC news release. » Continue Reading.
During the final segment in the ascent of a high peak, before coming to the tree line, or on a trip through a lowland forest of spruce and fir, a very hoarse-sounding chickadee may be heard. While a novice birder or an inexperienced naturalist may assume that the individual responsible for this raspy chickadee song is the common black-capped variety with a bad head cold or a case of throat congestion, the more knowledgeable outdoorsman would recognize the voice as that of a cold-hardy resident of the far north–the boreal chickadee.
Aside from its similar call, the boreal chickadee is nearly the same size and has a color pattern that resembles its friendly, perky relative that is familiar to anyone with a feeder in his/her yard. When getting only a quick glimpse of one, seeing one in a dimly lit spot, or when its body is partially obscured by evergreen boughs, it is a challenge to distinguish between these two birds. » Continue Reading.
During our time at Lost Brook Tract one of our great pleasures has been discovering and measuring larger examples of the old growth trees that cover most of the land. There are four canonical species of tree in our boreal wonderland: red spruce, balsam, white birch and yellow birch, plus an occasional mountain ash. Both the red spruce and yellow birch impress in old-growth form, the latter in girth more than height.
Our catalog of giants includes a yellow birch with a diameter over three feet and multiple red spruces with heights over eighty feet and diameters in the two-foot range. One red spruce, just a little bit down slope from our property, exceeds a hundred feet by a good margin. At our elevation trees like these are impressive and very rare in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
A new effort to protect the rare Bicknell’s Thrush by an alliance of North American scientists and conservationists is taking the unusual step of funding a team of Dominican biologists to work in the migratory songbird’s Caribbean wintering habitat.
The Bicknell’s Thrush Habitat Protection Fund at the Adirondack Community Trust has awarded a $5,000 grant to Grupo Jaragua, whose biologists will study the thrush in forested mountains on the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti. The grant recognizes a need to protect the songbird across its entire range, particularly in its threatened winter destinations. » Continue Reading.
The wonderful thing about entering the primeval forest is that you feel it before you really see it. This has been my experience in old growth forests in other places but it is heightened at Lost Brook Tract because of the elevation gain and the remoteness, both having their own attendant sensations that add to the overall effect. Or perhaps it is heightened because I love the Adirondacks more than any place I’ve ever been. Whatever the underlying reasons, it is a powerful feeling.
I haven’t noted exactly where it happens, but somewhere on the way up the bushwhack route the forest changes as one moves beyond the territory that was logged in the early part of the twentieth century. Continuing on into the virgin forest a completely immersive feeling descends. I can’t put it into words very well but I want to say that it is a weight, an immensity, some combination of sight, sound and smell that presses in. Every time I come into the area of Lost Brook Tract I experience a sense of awe, of hushed breathing, even a tiny spark of fear. This is followed by a distinct and exquisite sense of beauty. My wife Amy describes it as being swallowed up. » Continue Reading.
The spattering of sizable tracts of boreal forests that remain in the Adirondacks serve as home to several species of birds that have evolved the ability to survive in northern taiga woodlands. Among the feathered creatures that are well adapted for a life in lowland stands of conifers is the spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), a dark colored bird viewed by some as being as much a symbol of the Great Northwood’s as the moose.
As its name implies, the spruce grouse inhabits those softwood forests dominated mainly by spruce; yet not all spruce forests serve as home to this northern bird. High elevation forests that cover the upper slopes of our tallest peaks are not as suitable as lowland locations despite the similar presence of spruce and balsam fir. Because higher altitudes are more frequently buffeted by strong winds, the microclimate that exists there is more adverse than the one that characterizes sheltered, lowland settings. » Continue Reading.
Lost Brook Tract is a miracle both modern and ancient. Steeply situated on a high ridge in the central Adirondacks, miles from the nearest road and with no trail to it, it is a sixty-acre swath of Adirondack territory virtually unknown to all but a handful of people. That it exists today, an utterly unspoiled piece of high mountain boreal forest tracing unbroken lineage all the way to the ice age, can only be explained as a remarkable accident of fate.
As it turns out, that is indeed how it is explained. In future posts I’ll tell that story, how this little jewel came to be spared and saved from the debilitations that were suffered by most of the Adirondacks. For now it is simply there, a virgin forest never logged, never burned, largely spared even from the depredations of acid rain. Surrounded on all sides either by strict conservation easements or by New York State lands designated as Wilderness, it is in the fullest sense primeval. » Continue Reading.
A few years ago I saw my first gray jay—one of the Adirondack Park’s boreal birds. I had read that the gray jay, a member of the crow family, is known for its boldness in stealing scraps of food from humans. Hence, it has been nicknamed “camp robber.”
I saw the jay in the dead of winter on my way to Mount Marcy. I had skied up the Van Hoevenberg Trail as far as the junction with the Hopkins Trail, about 1.2 miles from the summit. There, in the shelter of the spruce and fir trees, I stopped for lunch—a peanut-butter sandwich with raisins.
As I ate, I noticed the gray jay on a branch about fifteen feet away, eyeing my sandwich. When I held out a crumb in my palm, the bird flew down and grabbed the offering. It then returned to its perch and continued looking at me, cockeyed. So I offered another crumb and another one after that. » Continue Reading.
While most people like birds, some are totally ga-ga over them, while others downright fear them. When it comes to the corvids, though – birds informally known as members of the “crow family” – it seems it’s an either/or situation: either people hate them because they are “cruel,” “mean,” “vicious” birds, or they are intrigued by them because they are “clever,” “intelligent,” and “ingenious.” Somewhere in the mix, the truth lies.
Here in the Adirondacks we are lucky to have four species of corvids: ravens, crows, blue jays and gray jays. A fifth species, the fish crow, is listed as “rare” in the Lake Champlain Basin, so we can consider it an Adirondack possibility, but one exhibiting low probability. A more southern species, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the fish crow became a more frequent visitor to our region, along with vultures and cardinals, as our climate continues to change. » Continue Reading.
“Although global in scale, the impact of climate change will be felt, and its effects will need to be fought, at the local level.” That simple truth – that the climate is changing, that we’ll feel it, and fight it, here in the Adirondacks – is taken from the flap of the new book Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability by Jerry Jenkins (who is giving a talk on the book this Friday at 7 PM at the Northwoods Inn in Lake Placid).
The book is an extensive gathering of data on local climate change problems, and as importantly, what Jenkins calls “An Adirondack Strategy” that includes suggestions for moving from fossil fuels (coal and oil) to renewable energy (sun and wind). What makes this book so valuable is that Jenkins has crafted a readable and useful reference developed with local Adirondack conditions in mind: our excessive automobile and home energy use; the increasing loss of ice and snow cover and winter recreation businesses and facilities; the northern movement of the boreal forest and invasive species from the south; the loss of northern climate cultural traditions. “These losses will be extensive,” Jenkins writes. » Continue Reading.
Who hasn’t gone for a walk in the Adirondacks and been sputtered at by a small rodent up in a tree? This russet-colored animal, the red squirrel, is probably the most commonly seen (and heard) mammal within the Blue Line. In fact, even as I write this, a red squirrel is fussing outside the window. Is another squirrel encroaching on its perceived turf? Is it trying to scare the birds away from the mother load of sunflower seeds we placed on the platform feeders? Who knows? I sometimes think these squirrels cuss at the world simply because they can.
Here in the Adirondacks we have several members of the squirrel clan. Starting with the smallest and working our way upwards, we have the eastern chipmunk (small, striped, sleeps away the winter), the red squirrel (small, reddish year-round raider of birdfeeders), the flying squirrel (northern and southern species, both of which are nocturnal), the grey (and sometimes black) squirrel (larger, more often found in villages and urban areas, as well as forests dominated by hardwoods), and (drum roll please) the woodchuck (bet you didn’t know that this was a squirrel). But today I’m focusing on the red squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, that feisty, surly, aggressive, and yet adorable rodent that calls the north woods home. » Continue Reading.
The Moose River Plains Wild Forest, sitting between Route 28 and the West Canada Lake Wilderness in Hamilton and Herkimer counties, is a bit of an Adirondack political and natural history wonder.
The gravelly, flat, grassy “plains” of the Moose and Red Rivers are a significant contrast to the rest of the Adirondack Park and one of it’s more unique (and popular) features. Although it’s hard to know for sure, indications from various studies and permit requests suggest that about 50,000 people use the plains each year (not including the some 500 campsites bordering the area, and the incidental use generated by those in the hamlets of Inlet, Raquette Lake and Indian Lake). “The Plains,” as the area is known, was also the site of one of the region’s legendary environmental conservation fights of the last 100 years. » Continue Reading.
This weekend marks the 8th Annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration, hosted by the Adirondack Park Agency’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) at Paul Smiths. This annual event draws as many as 400 visitors to the region. This year participants have come from throughout the Northeast down to Maryland and Virginia and as far away as Texas. Highlights of the Celebration include field trips both Saturday and Sunday mornings led by local experts to to birding hotspots such as Bloomingdale Bog, Madawaska, Spring Pond Bog, Whiteface Mountain, as well as the Paul Smiths VIC. Birders hope to see boreal bird specialities such as the Black-backed Woodpecker, shown at the left, as well as Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and many northern warblers. More than 160 species have been seen over the eight years of this birding festival. » Continue Reading.
June is birding month in the Adirondacks of Northern New York and avid ornithologists can enjoy the pristine wilderness habitats of several species of birds during one of the many birding events and festivals this spring.
At Great Camp Sagamore, two adventure programs featuring Boreal Birds of the Adirondacks will take place May 25-28 and June 10-13. Space is extremely limited – only 15 people are accepted per program and reservations are required. See and hear the boreal birds (gray jay, white- throated sparrow, black-backed and Northern three-toed woodpeckers, boreal chickadee, etc.) that make their home in and breed in the Adirondacks. Lectures, slide shows and bird-call lessons will prepare you for field trips to two New York State “Important Birding Areas.” $439 per person for this three-night, four-day program. » Continue Reading.
Every spring, at about this time, there is a day when I step outside and find my olfactory senses drowning in a spicy sweet aroma. The scent is so powerful that it blocks out all other senses, the brain focusing on this and this alone. The fragrance brings to mind dark rooms filled with incense, or images of the ancient orient, and yet its source is completely and wholly native: balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), an otherwise unassuming pioneer species of the boreal forest.
It took me several years to discover the source of this fragrance. I first encountered it while working in The Great Swamp in New Jersey. No one there knew what it was. I didn’t smell it again until I came to the Adirondacks, and that first spring, there it was. My head snapped up and I looked around. “I’ve smelled this before,” my nose was telling me. Scent is a powerful memory stimulant, and this scent is one of the strongest. My search for an answer began. » Continue Reading.
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