Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Monday, October 15, 2018

Toad Toxin: Don’t Mess with Anaxyrus

american toad When my kids were toddlers, they discovered, quite happily, a toad in a damp corner of their sandbox, tucked into the shade beneath the small, triangular piece of wood that served as a seat. The toad seemed to spend most days there, probably waiting until dark to emerge and hunt bugs and slugs.

Thankfully, back then, we had a more mature dog who was wise in the ways of the world – not the goofy pup we have now, who I’m sure will learn the hard way not to eat toads. Many a clueless canine has clamped its mouth around an American toad – the species found most commonly in our region – only to be introduced to bufotoxins, a toad’s best defense against being eaten. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Indian Pipe: Ghost Flowers of the Forest

indian pipe On a walk in the woods in early fall, you may see a cluster of waxy, white stems with tiny, scale-like leaves rising out of the leaf litter or pine needles. At the end of each translucent stem is an odd, bell-shaped flower. This is Indian pipe, named for its resemblance to the clay pipes once smoked by Native Americans and early settlers.

Indian pipe, also known as corpse plant and ghost flower, has an unusual strategy for survival. It lacks the green pigment chlorophyll, and therefore cannot make its own food through photosynthesis as most plants do. Indian pipe and its relatives were formerly believed to live off decaying organic matter and were called saprophytes. However, more recent research has revealed that the plant is a parasite, sucking up nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Trees and mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship: the fungi absorb nutrients from the trees; the trees benefit by increasing the surface area of their root systems, allowing them to drink in more water and minerals. Indian pipe interjects itself into this relationship, absorbing nutrients from the mycorrhizal fungi but giving nothing back. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

DEC Advises Public To Watch for Adirondack Moose

Adirondack moose 3 (DEC Photo)Motorists should be alert for moose on roadways in the Adirondacks and surrounding areas at this time of year during peak moose activity, advises the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Early fall is the breeding season for moose in northern New York. During this time moose are wandering looking for mates, leading them to areas where they are not typically seen. While this improves the opportunities for people to enjoy sighting of a moose, it also increases the danger of colliding with one on the roadway. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Paul Hetzler: Plant A Tree, or Rent It?

Planting a tree isn’t rocket science, which is good thing. If it were that complex, I’d wager we’d have a lot fewer trees lining our streets. It may not take a scientist to plant a tree correctly, but a lot of money is spent each year to buy and plant trees which may as well be leased, because they will only live a fraction of their expected lifespan.

When trees decline and die after 15, 20, or even 30 years, the last thing we probably suspect is shoddy planting. Although landscape trees like mountain-ash and birch have naturally short lives, a sugar maple or red oak should easily last a hundred or more years. Yet all too often, a long-lived species will expire at twenty because it was planted “fast and dirty.” You can find examples of trees declining as an age-class in housing developments, and especially along NYS routes where DOT low-bid contractors replaced trees cut down for road improvements. One may as well consider such trees rentals, not purchases. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Stings and Stingers: An Outside Story

hornet stinging apparatusAs a boy, I was exploring the loft of my grandmother’s barn when I disturbed a bumblebee nest among the moldering hay bales. In my memory, I leap stuntman-like from the haymow and hit the ground 10 feet below running flat out, rounding the corner of the barn then glancing back to see if anyone is in pursuit. There is an angry bumbler coming up fast. I vault the rusty ornamental fence and am steps from the screen door and safety when … I get nailed in the neck. Ow!

When we lived in Louisiana, I scalped a fire-ant nest while mowing the lawn and got stung a few hundred times as the ants swarmed up my legs. Vivid memory. I’ve been stung by several varieties of wasps and, as a beekeeper, I periodically get stung by my honey bees. Yes, it still hurts. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Early Success In Grasse River Freshwater Mussel Relocation

East elliptio mussel East elliptio mussel provided by DECNew York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that an innovative project that is relocating freshwater mussels in the Grasse River during an ongoing river remediation project is showing early signs of success and reporting a 98 percent survival rate.

As part of an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-led cleanup project to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from river sediments, a seven-mile stretch of the lower Grasse River in northern New York in being dredged and capped starting next year. Before dredging begins, DEC is collecting mussels from the river bottom and temporarily placing them in areas that won’t be subject to capping or dredging. The New York State Museum, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and SUNY Cobleskill are collaborating with DEC on the project. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Whirligig Beetles: Four Eyes On You

whirligig beetle “What’s this shiny black beetle with four eyes?” asked Erin Hayes-Pontius, a visiting UVM student, from her microscope. Without glancing up from my own scope I answered, “that’s a whirligig beetle.” Erin’s answer came back: “err, cute … but what’s it really called?”

I will grant you that the name whirligig is a bit odd – particularly when applied to an inert pickled beetle – but there are excellent reasons it. In life, whirligig beetles weave and whirl on pond and river surfaces amongst dozens of their peers. They move like miniature motor boats that appear to lack rudder function. There’s method to this seeming madness. The mesmerizing movement confuses predators, who find it difficult to focus on any one individual. Ecologists call this phenomenon predator dilution. It’s like the old joke about the two friends and the tiger: “I don’t need to outrun the tiger, I just need to outrun you!” » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Poetry: Find Your Tree

Find Your Tree

Find your tree.
Accept its broken embraces,
like the air of late spring,
a sonata and carnival of animals.

Find your tree.
Once through again,
a songbook for the latter days,
like old Deuteronomy or
the ad-dreaming cat.

Find your tree
and everything Zen
made of sky. For the world
has gone wrong; the gamma rays
are all off. The heart breaks and
the brain is losing power.

Find your tree.
Old and in the way,
waifing near the morning after,
such a strange condition is a tree.

Another life on a chain.
Another in between dream.
Another helpless dirt farmer.

Find your tree
and Nirvana, too.
Everyday when the world ends-
mother, father, angel, and the space
between. Find your tree.

Unplugged,
running on faith,
the ghost inside.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Where the Birds Are: Advances In Fall Bird Migration Forecasting

Magnolia Warblers September is the peak of autumn bird migration, and billions of birds are winging their way south in dramatic pulses. A new study published in the journal Science reports that scientists can now reliably predict these waves of bird migration up to seven days in advance. The study details the underlying methods that power migration forecasts, which can be used as a bird conservation tool.

In this study, the researchers quantified 23 years of spring bird migration across the United States using 143 weather radars, highly sensitive sensors that scientists can use to monitor bird movements. They filtered out precipitation and trained a machine learning model to associate atmospheric conditions with levels of bird migration countrywide. Eighty percent of variation in bird migration intensity was explained by the model. To view a radar loop depicting bird migration during spring 2018, click here. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fifty Shades of Nightshade: From Delicious to Deadly

Deadly Nightshade courtesy Köhler's Medicinal Plants 1887Many nightshades are safe and delicious, and go well in sandwiches and sauces. A few are deadly, dished up mainly by criminals, but most occupy a gray area between these two extremes. Worldwide, there are around 2,700 shades of nightshade, a family known to Latin geeks as Solanaceae. The family comprises tasty crops like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos. It is also composed in part by jimsonweed and other shady characters which have wrought mayhem and death, both accidental and intentional, throughout history.

Nightshades are present on every continent except Antarctica, though Australia and South America have the greatest diversity, and overall numbers, of species. Tobacco is one of the most economically important nightshades, while other family members, for example petunias and Chinese lanterns, spice up our yards. The majority of nightshades are wild species, some of which have been used as sources of medicine for millennia. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Snakes On The Beach: Our Northern Watersnakes

water snake The northern watersnake, Nerodia sipedon, has a lot going against it in the eyes of most people. I’ve watched this medium- to large-sized snake clear a crowded lakeside beach in a matter of moments.

As the local naturalist in my small town, I’ve become this snake’s self-appointed public defender. I’ve stopped children chasing it with large sticks, parents with rocks ready to throw, and once, a policeman who came ready to shoot.

“But it is poisonous, right?” he supposed. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Invasive Spotted Lanternfly In Albany County

Spotted lanternfly by Lawrence BarringerThe New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Agriculture and Markets (DAM) have confirmed that spotted lanternfly (SLF), an invasive pest from Asia, has been found in Albany and Yates counties.

A single adult insect was discovered in a vehicle in the Capital District. In addition, a single adult insect was reported on a private Keuka Lake property in Penn Yan, Yates County.

Following both reported cases, DEC and DAM began surveys in the area and report that at this time no additional insects have been found. DEC and DAM urge New Yorkers to report potential sightings to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Invasive Species And Their Consequences

Contact with the sap of giant hogweed It seemed like a good idea. Let’s start a silk industry in the United States. Silk is a valuable cloth in demand all over the world. And insects do the work. All we need to do is import some gypsy moths from France; then just sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

So, the moths were imported. They escaped. And today, gypsy moths are a major threat to U.S. forests. Gypsy moths are just one example of an invasive species. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Invasives: A New Tick Species Is Spreading

longhorned tick courtesy wikimedia user CommonsourceYears ago I read an author interview, and although I don’t recall her name, one of the images she raised has stayed with me. It’s not an exact quote, but she said something to the effect that writing ought to feel to an author as if they were water skiing behind their work, not towing it like a barge. In general, I find this to be the case. The hours or days of research which go into an article are hardly exhilarating, but the wave-jumping that comes after shrinking those pages of facts into 800 words makes it worth the effort.

However, when I tried to water-ski behind a brand-new invasive tick that can reproduce without mating, drain the blood out of livestock, and potentially carry ten or more human diseases, including one similar to Ebola, something changed. A few topics whip across the water at high speed. Most at least pull me at a leisurely pace. This one made me drop the whole water skiing idea and swim for my life. Turns out there is a limit to how many miles you can get out of happy imagery. And to how long a writer should be allowed to spend alone in a room with the same metaphor. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Thank A (Native) Thistle

thistleThere will always be thistle, said the late U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin in one of her poems, because “Sheep will not eat it / nor horses nor cattle / unless they are starving.” She described it “choking the sweet grass / defeating the clover,” and pricking the hands with its spines.

Okay, I guess thistles are not everyone’s favorite wildflower, but I’ve always liked them. I’m not a farmer, so it’s easy for me to say. I like them because they’re pretty, they remind me of Scotland, and they’re like grocery stores for goldfinches. » Continue Reading.