For several days last winter, a barred owl perched atop a dead white birch tree in our field. As winters go, last year’s was very cold, and the owl puffed up against the stubbornly below-freezing temperatures, its streaky brown and white feathers fluffed and fluttering in the icy breeze. Occasionally the owl would move its head in a slow turn, from east to west to east again, dark eyes gazing at the field blanketed in deep snow.
The owl was most likely listening more than watching, straining to hear the scratching of tiny feet moving under the thick layer of white. Owls are remarkably skilled at finding and catching prey, but even they struggle to survive a long, cold season. » Continue Reading.
The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) has completed the purchase of more than 18 acres on the east side of Lake George in the Town of Putnam, Washington County, that provides public access to the 189-acre Anthony’s Nose tract.
With public access secured, the land is eligible for purchase by New York State for inclusion in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. According to LGLC Executive Director Jamie Brown, Anthony’s Nose has been on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s protection wish list for many years because of its historical and ecological significance. » Continue Reading.
A deer died by the river near my home. The crows found it, as did other scavengers – a bald eagle, and two big brown raptors that were hard to identify. Both had white flecking on their heads, wings and bodies, but the markings didn’t match up, bird to bird. They looked unkempt and more than a little disreputable.
It turns out these were also bald eagles, but young birds, dressed in dark plumage. In common with some other long-lived species, eagles have an extended adolescence. They require about four to five years to mature. During this period they don’t find mates, establish territories, or conform to the adult dress code. » Continue Reading.
You know winter is coming to an end when the state Department of Environmental Conservation closes rock-climbing cliffs where peregrine falcons are known to breed.
Peregrines are on the state’s endangered-species list, and so each spring DEC closes cliffs to protect their nesting sites. Cliffs will be reopened if no nesting occurs on them. Those cliffs used for nesting will be reopened in the summer after the chicks fledge. » Continue Reading.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “Conservation Plan for Bald Eagles in New York State” is available for public review and comment. The document provides guidelines for the future management of America’s national bird (and national animal) in the State, where it prefers to live in mature forests near large bodies of water.
Bald eagles were once common in America, but their numbers began a dramatic decline as a result of hunting, logging, habitat loss, and pollution. The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962, and the modern environmental movement it helped launch, led to a new public awareness of the threats to wildlife from over-development and chemical poisoning. Eventually, that awareness and activism helped save bald eagles from extinction. » Continue Reading.
It rained heavily the first time I had planned to go on a hawk watch, and the trip was cancelled. But the rain brought with it a weather front the next day that created the perfect conditions for fall hawk migration. And migrate they did. Hawks and falcons and eagles and vultures soared southward along mountain ridges in numbers I have never seen in the 30 years since then. Carried aloft by rising currents of warm air and light winds from the north, many of those birds may have traveled a hundred miles that day without ever flapping their wings.
Despite the diversity and impressive numbers of raptors, there was one species that stood out to all of the hawk watchers: the broad-winged hawk. It was a bird I had never seen before, and although it is a common nesting species in the forests of the Northeast, the total number of broad-wings I’ve observed since then doesn’t come close to the number that soared past us that day. Whereas most hawks travel alone or in groups of three or four, broad-winged hawks migrate in flocks called kettles that can sometimes number in the thousands. » Continue Reading.
Just in time for the holiday weekend, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is giving rock climbers access again to Moss Cliff, one of the region’s better crags. Moss Cliff had been closed to avoid disturbance of peregrine falcons during nesting season, but DEC has detected no nesting activity on the cliff this year.
Located in Wilmington Notch,the 400-foot cliff towers over Route 86 and the West Branch of the Ausable River. It’s a landmark to motorists, but climbers know it for its clean rock and tough routes. » Continue Reading.
“She’s so cute!” a little girl coos to the snowy white owl. The owl blinks languidly, ignoring her admirer. No doubt she is used to human attention, as she is one of the more popular raptors housed at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science Nature Center (VINS) in Quechee, Vermont. She likewise ignores the decapitated rat in her food bowl, chirruping softly as if dissatisfied with what’s on the menu. I wait patiently, hoping to witness the moment when she gulps it down.
Owls eat their smaller prey whole, or tear larger prey into chunks with their beaks and talons. Sooner or later, that owl will grab the raw rat out of her food bowl with her sharp beak and knock it back like a shot of whiskey. It will slide down her esophagus and into her two-chambered stomach. The first chamber, called the proventriculus, or glandular stomach, secretes digestive enzymes to break down all the easily digestible parts. Much like our own stomach, this chamber will liquefy the soft tissue (the gooey stuff, including muscle, fat and organs). Whatever isn’t digested in the first chamber, such as the bones, fur and teeth, will pass through to the second chamber, called the gizzard. » Continue Reading.
Beware! Pictured here are your adversaries—the official enemies of the state. Don’t be distracted by the pretty colors, lovely feathers, or furry critters. These are vermin, and citizens are urged to kill them at every opportunity. The poster, by the way, represents only the top nine targets from a group of notorious killers, presented here alphabetically: bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, crow, English sparrow, goshawk, gray fox, great gray owl, great horned owl, house rat, “hunting” house cat, lynx, porcupine, red fox, red squirrel, sharp-shinned hawk, snowy owl, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. Kingfishers and a number of snakes were later added, and osprey were fair game as well.
While some of the phrases used above—“official enemies … kill them at every opportunity … new job requirement”—might sound like exaggerations, they were, in fact, official conservation policies of New York State a century ago.
It was all part of a Conservation Commission campaign in the early 1900s to eradicate undesirables (their word, not mine) from the food chain. The above-named animals were deemed undesirable in the realms of farming and hunting. They were just doing what comes natural—killing to eat, or gathering food—but those foods included barnyard animals, garden and field crops, and the vaguely defined “sporting” game that hunters treasured, particularly grouse, pheasant, and rabbits. Lest you think eradicate is too strong a word, the actual order in one state pamphlet was, “Destroy the Vermin.” » Continue Reading.
I was enjoying a morning cup of coffee in the sunroom when I saw the hawk.
It was perched across the road, maybe 30 yards away, its chest puffed up against the cold. It appeared to be eyeing the activity at our birdfeeder.
As I was trying to decide if it was a female sharp-shinned hawk or a male Cooper’s hawk, the bird launched from its perch, and in an instant had threaded its way through a dense tangle of road-side branches while in hot pursuit of a blue jay.
It all happened so quickly that I wasn’t even sure if the jay had been captured, although I was able to identify it as a Cooper’s hawk. » Continue Reading.
My children seem to attract wildlife like iron to a magnet. It is not because they are good trackers or particularly quiet, as neither attribute is consistently true. It seems that they are observant and often at the right place at the right time.
Quite consistently when they accompany me on a hike we seem to view more wildlife, though eagles and snowy owls have evaded me to date. Opportunities to come across such majestic creatures come down to timing, organization and just luck. » Continue Reading.
From a lifetime of experiences, and reading nature books since childhood, it’s true that I should know a little more about wildlife than the average Joe, but I lay no claim to being an expert. Learning something new is a principal reason for reading books, and of late, I’ve had occasion to indulge in several excellent Adirondack-related titles written between 1840 and 1920.
In one of them, a particular passage caused me to stop, backtrack, read it again, and then one more time in disbelief. Since other animal behavior described in the book held true, I supposed this one should as well, but I had reservations. Above all, one thing was certain: confirmation would be hilarious, at least to my thinking. The claim was that bald eagles snore. And not only that: they snore LOUDLY.
On camping trips I’ve taken in the woods over the years, odd and unusual night sounds have proved puzzling, and even intimidating at times. A snorting, growling sound, persistent for hours during a trip 30 years ago, somewhere on the eastern slopes of Lyon Mountain, would have scared me half to death had I been alone. » Continue Reading.
The vast expanses of wilderness forests that cover the Adirondacks serve as home to many forms of wildlife adapted for survival in areas where visibility is limited by trees and grasses, and grains are nearly non-existent.
Large open areas scattered throughout the Park serve to support the collection of creatures that require much greater visibility and food sources that exist on the soil’s surface. Among those animals drawn toward these open spaces is the snowy owl, which regularly migrates southward from its arctic breeding grounds in autumn to establish a winter hunting territory in more hospitable surroundings. » Continue Reading.
We’re experiencing what could be the largest-ever influx of Arctic Snowy Owls into the Northeast and the Great Lakes states, and more may be on the way. Dr. Kevin McGowan, a biologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says this may be the first wave and we should expect more.
“More than likely these Snowy Owls are moving south from the Arctic because of a shortage of their favorite food up north—lemmings, or because of a bumper crop of young,” he said, “We can expect them to stick around through early spring before they head back to the Arctic again.”
This year’s Snowy Owl irruption is the largest recorded in decades in the Northeast and is an excellent opportunity to see these birds, so here are a few online resources to get you up to speed on our latest high profile visitors. » Continue Reading.
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