Some catch their prey while in flight; others sit and wait for prey to come near. They’re a group of birds known as aerial insectivores, and they’re in trouble. In the northeast region, this diverse group consists of 19 species that, as their name implies, feed almost exclusively on flying insects. Some, such as the barn swallow and eastern phoebe, are quite common and well-known, while others, such as the olive-sided flycatcher and eastern wood-pewee, are relatively unknown to non-birders.
Unfortunately, as a group, aerial insectivores have been declining steadily across northeastern North America for the last 25 years or so. Flycatchers, swallows, and nightjars (the whip-poor-will and common nighthawk) have been particularly affected. » Continue Reading.
Let’s start out with a riddle: What animal has 16 toes and a tail that breaks off when grabbed by a predator? Not sure? Here’s another clue: It’s the smallest terrestrial vertebrate in our area. If you didn’t guess four-toed salamander, don’t feel bad—it’s probably also the least-known salamander in the North Country.
The four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) holds a number of dubious distinctions. Besides its diminutive size (a typical adult may only reach 2-3 inches in length), it is also the only terrestrial salamander with four toes on all four feet. With the exception of the aquatic mudpuppy (which happens to be our largest salamander), all other salamanders have five toes on their hind feet. Four-toeds also have specialized breeding habitat requirements, which probably accounts for their limited distributions in our region. Combine that with their small size and cryptic behavior, and you have a recipe for an animal that very few people have ever heard of, let alone encountered. » Continue Reading.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect Bicknell’s thrush as an endangered species.
The thrush breeds only high in the mountains of the Northeast and eastern Canada, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York; scientists have predicted that 98 percent or more of the songbird’s U.S. habitat could be lost due to climate change. The Center petitioned for protection for the imperiled songbird in 2010, but the agency has failed to make a final decision on the petition. » Continue Reading.
It’s happened again. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has eliminated a permit condition for advance studies to assure no harm comes to sensitive wildlife from new development on four mountain summits.
The entire project – a new Emergency Communication system for Essex County – could have still gone forward and been completed by next winter according to New York State Police – even with the permit condition in place. It’s remarkable how little pressure is required to cause APA to abandon its statutory purpose to protect delicate biological and physical resources of the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.
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.
This month the Center for Biological Diversity notified the US Fish & Wildlife Service of its intent to sue for protection for the Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Bicknell’s thrush uses the high elevation forests of the northeast as its breeding habitat.
I had a chance to talk with Mollie Matteson, long-time environmental advocate in the West and Vermont, about her work for Center for Biological Diversity on the future of the Bicknell’s thrush and the Endangered Species Act.
Before winter sets in, all reptiles and amphibians must retreat to a location that provides shelter against the temperatures that would be lethal to their cold-blooded system. While some find refuge underground, others rely on the protection afforded by water and seek out a place on the bottom of an aquatic setting in which ice is unlikely to develop, even during periods of intense cold.
All turtles that live in the Adirondacks belong to this second group, including the wood turtle, a seldom encountered species that exists in limited numbers in scattered locations, especially in the eastern half of the Park. » Continue Reading.
“We are part of a movement,” Dale Penny reminded the 50 people and representatives of 25 organizations gathered for the workshop on Nov. 3, 2012. Stewarding the Wild Adirondacks was the first workshop of its kind to bring as many of the Adirondack Park’s natural resource stewardship programs as possible together in one place to discuss ways to better collaborate. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve was the workshop sponsor, and Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center its host. International Paper helped provide underwriting support for the event.
Dale Penny is president of the Student Conservation Association, America’s conservation service organization which places over 4,200 young people annually in demanding conservation and stewardship jobs in rural and urban settings across the country, including the Adirondack Park. » 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.
One autumn day, 15 years ago, I found myself perched on a ladder that was leaning against a highway sign on Interstate 89 somewhere in Vermont. There was a wooden box clamped to one of the sign poles at least 15 feet off the ground, although fear may have exaggerated that memory. I was providing a little autumn house-keeping for one of those nest boxes so it’d be ready when the kestrels returned to breed the next spring.
The box was one of 10 kestrel nest boxes then deployed along the interstate by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, or VTrans. It’s a feel-good project started in 1995 with $40, some scrap wood, and plenty of volunteer hours from VTrans employees, who built the boxes on their own time. Since then, about 90 kestrels have fledged and four orphaned young were fostered in the boxes. That’s a lot of bang for the buck, or rather, a lot of birds for the box. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced the results of last winter’s survey of the hibernating bats in New York. The survey was a cooperative effort among state wildlife officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous volunteers to monitor the effects of white-nose disease, a fungal infection that has devastated regional bat populations since it was first documented in a cave near Albany (in Schoharie County) in 2006. Since then white nose disease has spread throughout the South, Midwest, and eastern parts of Canada. Earlier this month new cases were identified for the first time west of the Mississippi in Missouri.
According to a study in Science, little brown myotis, a once common local species, has experienced a population collapse that could lead to its extinction in the northeastern US within 20 years. The Forest Service recently estimated that the die-off from white-nose will leave 2.4 million pounds of bugs uneaten and a financial burden to farms. A growing scientific consensus agrees the cause is Geomyces destructans; there is still debate over whether or not it was introduced from Europe by cavers. » Continue Reading.
When entomologist James Needham arrived in Upper Saranac Lake in 1900 on a mission to study Adirondack aquatic insects, he found no room at the Saranac Inn. For the first 10 days, Needham, State Entomologist Ephraim P. Felt, and their assistant Cornelius Betten, were forced to find lodging two miles from the Adirondack Fish Hatchery where they hoped to “collect and study the habits of aquatic insects, paying special attention to the conditions necessary for the existence of the various species, their relative value as food for fishes, the relations of the forms to each other, and their life histories.” Although their study was short, it was also a historic first, up until that time all that had been written about Adirondack aquatic insects amounted to a few short paragraphs by former State Entomologist J. A. Lintner (1889). The daily trek to their study area didn’t diminish their enthusiasm. “I arrived at Saranac Inn on the evening of June 12m and at once began looking over the ground,” Needham recalled. “Dr. Felt came on the 14th, and spent the day with me canvassing the situations to be studied… and the regular work of the session was at once begun, to be continued without cessation to the date of closing [on August 20].” The study session was the first of a comprehensive study of aquatic insects in the state funded by the NYS Museum that also included short surveys in Old Forge and Lake George, and two additional trips to the Saranac Inn.
Needham and Felt identified a number waters to be studied. They were provided by the hatchery a space to work, the use of several hatching troughs for insect breeding, a carpenter bench and tools to build specialized breeding cages, and a small boat. They brought with them or acquired additional equipment necessary to sweep vegetation, raise insects, and store their collections. “Extensive use was made of white wash bowls, soup plates and saucers in the examination of our catch,” Needham reported.
The entomologists chose Little Clear creek on the hatchery grounds for their study area, which proved to be the most fruitful, but also the hatchery’s three fish propagating ponds, Little Clear, Little Green, and Bone. Twice they made trips to Lake Colby, Stony Brook (just north of Axton) and St. Regis, at the end of the carry from Little Clear, and the first week they spent mornings and evenings at Lake Clear.
The study they produced, “Aquatic Insects of the Adirondacks” (NYS Museum Bulletin 47, September 1901, link to pdf), proved to be the most important study of the subject for more than 100 years. It was one of the first truly scientific studies of aquatic insects in North America, and yielded life histories of more than 100 species, the discovery of 10 new species and and two new genera, plus additional information about Chironomidae dragon flies.
Needham, who studied under renowned entomologist John Henry Comstock (1849–1931), was then refining his pretracheation insect wing theory. Although discredited in 1938 by more refined studies, Needham’s work was the basis for the Comstock–Needham System of naming insect wing veins, considered “an important step in showing the homology of all insect wings.” Needham later replaced Comstock as head of the Department of Entomology at Cornell, a position he held for more than 20 years.
A new study by Luke Myers (a Saranac native) and Timothy Mihuc of the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh, along with Boris Kondratieff of Colorado State University, highlights the role of Needham and Betten in the rise to prominence of of aquatic insect entomology in New York State in the early 20th century and treads new ground as an important update to our knowledge of aquatic insects in the Adirondack region.
After four years of studying mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, Myers (who did much of the fieldwork with the assistance of self-taught caddisfly expert D.E. Ruiter), Mihuc, and Kondratieff have produced what is being considered the most comprehensive biodiversity study of those aquatic insects in the Adirondacks.
According to a story by Mike Lynch in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, “Myers and his team examined 25,000 specimens from 465 locations. They found 509 species of mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, including 99 that were reported in this state for the first time. They also discovered several species new to science and some species of conservation concern.”
Even given the new techniques and equipment available to modern researchers, that’s no mean feat. It’s also one that will be a welcome addition to those interested in the biodiversity of Adirondack wetlands and their place in the larger ecology of the region.
Photos: Above, Little Clear creek, Adirondack Fish Hatchery (1900 NYS Museum Photo); Middle, illustration from the 1901 report “Aquatic Insects – Sepedon and Tetanecera”; Below, Luke Myers working on the Raquette River near Axton Landing (Photo Provided).
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.
Imagine if the population of Adirondack loons had declined more than 50 percent over the past two decades. Imagine too that loons stood a 35 percent chance of vanishing entirely from the Park by 2020.
Wouldn’t there be a public outcry from bird lovers and conservationists? Wouldn’t the Adirondack Council, which features a loon call on its website, be demanding that the state do something to stop the decline?
Don’t worry. The loon population appears to be stable. It’s only the spruce grouse that is in danger of vanishing from the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.
While walking through the West Virginian highlands, John Davis was struck by the character of the forest: all the trees were middle-aged and the ground was covered with ferns. There were almost no saplings or wildflowers.
“You could almost call them fern glades,” he said. “To the eye, they’re very pretty, but they’re biologically impoverished. These forests just aren’t regenerating themselves.”
The problem is that deer are overbrowsing. And the solution, Davis says, is to bring back the cougar.
A former conservation director of the Adirondack Council, Davis this week finished a 7,600-mile, 280-day journey from the southern tip of Florida to the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. He traveled mostly by foot, bike, and canoe. » Continue Reading.
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