Posts Tagged ‘science’

Monday, July 29, 2013

Crowdsourced Data Reveal Feats of Bird Migration

NorthernShoveler_ThomasDunkerton_230pxFor centuries people have marveled at the migratory abilities of birds, but new research is now putting numbers on those seasonal feats—for more than a hundred  species at a time—using data contributed by thousands of amateur bird watchers.

In all, more than 2.3 million sightings were summarized to reveal migratory routes of 102 species in North America, in a paper being  published August 1 in Ecology. The results provide a fascinating glimpse at an astonishing range of species: for instance, the tiny Calliope Hummingbird crosses the continent almost three times as fast as the Northern Shoveler, which outweighs it more than 300 times. They also highlight the immense scientific value to be gained from bird watchers’ sightings when they can be combined into a single large database. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Are Earthworms An Invasive Species?

earthwormsAldo Leopold, the famous conservationist, once wrote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” This whole idea puts nature writers in an odd position. On the one hand, it’s our job to raise the alarm when we see something amiss, but on the other, we run the risk of spending so much time dwelling on nature’s wounds that we end up giving people the impression that everything has gone to hell, which of course it has not.

So what to make of earthworms? We’ve been told for years that worms are good. Darwin was a great admirer. They make our gardens grow. But as invasive plant and animal awareness grows, we’re now being told they’re invasive animals that have the potential to destroy whole forest ecosystems. » Continue Reading.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Annual Loon Census Seeks Volunteers Saturday

Loon in AdirondacksThe Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program is seeking volunteers to help census loons on Adirondack lakes as part of the thirteenth Annual Adirondack Loon Census taking place from 8:00–9:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 20.

With the help of local Adirondack residents and visitor volunteers, the census enables WCS to collect important data on the status of the breeding loon population in and around the Adirondack Park and across New York State. The results help guide management decisions and policies affecting loons. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Adirondack Fishing: How the Trout Got Its Spots

trout_colorsWhen I was ten, I carried a tin can of worms and a battered fishing rod to the wild shores of Brickyard Pond, in the woods behind our subdivision. We caught mostly scrappy sunfish and white perch, with the occasional bass thrown in. There were alewives in some of the brooks, too, and we caught them with nets. As for the pretty trout that came from the hatchery truck, I never caught one. The fish I caught were mostly round, dark green or gray, and mottled like the mud and sand bottom of the pond.

Then one day a friend’s older brother, a real fisherman with a green fishing vest, caught a large brown trout. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The fish, shaped like a torpedo, was a yellowish gold and it had big red spots on its sides. Years later, I caught my first brook trout on a fly rod at Shoal Pond in the White Mountains. Again, I was mesmerized by the intense colors: the yellow and red spots, some with bluish halos, the fins that were bright red with white and black trim.

It all begs the question: why the trout’s fancy colors when so many other fish are dishwater dull? » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Adirondack Forestry: Stump Sprouting

CoppicingTwenty years ago when I bought my farm I made a snap decision to clear some woods near the house, all the way back to the stone wall. Out came the chainsaw and trees started crashing down.

I never did finish “neatening up” that section of the fence line. And it was only later that I realized that I had turned the only sizable northern red oak on the entire 40-acre woodlot into firewood. As a guy who prizes forest diversity, I was chagrined. No help for it. Except, a few years later I noticed some healthy sprouts from that oak stump. I left them alone. Now the three biggest are six to eight inches in diameter and some forty feet tall. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Outside Story: Fabulous Forest Ferns

fernsWe all see our forests for the trees, but the woods are alive with other plants. Among the most common are ferns, which don’t just get by in the deep shade of the forest – they flourish.

Now, you might be thinking, don’t all those ferns look alike? They form a lovely verdant backdrop to the forest, but they don’t have the showy flowers and distinctive leaves that make other plants so easy to identify. But ferns are surprisingly easy to tell apart. And once you know the names of a few species, they’ll pop out at you as you wander along forest paths. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dave Gibson: The APA Says Science Can Wait

Adirondack_Park_Agency_in_Ray_Brook_NYIt’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.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ruffed Grouse: Breaking The Sound Barrier

grouseA distant motor thud-thud-thuds as if trying to start, then dies away.  The noise repeats, and again dies off. I’ve been fooled by this sound, wondering who could be trying to start a 2-cylinder engine in the middle of the woods. This mechanical noise, of course, is really the drumming of a male ruffed grouse.

People once thought that male grouse struck their wings on a hollow log to produce this low whumping, but better observation revealed something far more astonishing. The bird stands bolt upright on a log, leans back on his tail, and fans his wings vigorously – so fast, in fact, that the wings achieve the same speed as the sound waves generated by their passage through the air. This causes the sound waves to “pile up” into a penetrating shock wave, also known as a sonic boom. For a one-and-a-quarter-pound grouse to exert such force takes strength and perseverance. Novice males have been observed going through all the motions and not producing any sound at all. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maple Sugaring: Do New Tapping Strategies Hurt Trees?

sugaringOur sugarhouse is within walking distance of an elementary school, so we’ve given tapping demonstrations to hundreds of school kids over the years. At the part where someone drills a hole in the tree and it sort of bleeds, the next question is invariably: “Does tapping hurt the tree?”

The stock answer is no, as long as you don’t overdo it: use the smaller “health” spouts, follow conservative tapping guidelines, give the tree a year off if it looks stressed. As proof that sugaring is sustainable, we point to some of the trees in our sugarbush that have been tapped for close to a hundred years and are better off for it. Better off because we thin out the trees around them, giving the chosen trees extra light, water, and nutrients.

Their increased vigor, when compared to the maples in unmanaged sections of the forest, is plain to see.  But the sugarmaking being practiced today in many commercial bushes – including our own – is not the same sugarmaking that was practiced even 10 years ago. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Science Sundays at VIEW

monarch_butterfly_newScience on Sundays at  VIEW in Old Forge is continuing March 3 with “Migration of Monarch butterflies in and beyond New York” with Ernest Williams, co-author of The Stokes Butterfly Book, author of The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors, as well as other books, journals and numerous articles.

Recently quoted in New Scientist magazine regarding the monarch butterfly migration, the  Hamilton College Biology Professor stated that the Monarch butterfly species is not threatened, but rather its migration is endangered. Williams further states that if the climate alters, there are possibilities to consider such as a migratory shift further into Canada during summer or the monarchs may stop before reaching Mexico in the winter. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Surveying Chains and Oxen

Saxon OxenWhat if I told you that the specifics of our American system of land measurement, with its miles and acres and such, was the direct result of a bunch of oxen standing tired in a field during a morning’s  plowing more than a thousand years ago.  Would you believe me?  Read on.

If you peruse historical documents pertaining to the great Adirondack surveys you will encounter a variety of measurement units.  Some, like feet and miles, will be common knowledge to you.  Others, like acres, will be familiar terms though you may not know precisely what they are.  But a few, like the chain, which seems to be the fundamental unit of surveying distance, may well be unknown.   Every major land division in the Adirondacks was originally measured in chains using an actual metal chain called a Gunter’s chain. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Backyard Bird Count: Adirondacks Still Underrepresented

GBBCIf thousands of New Yorkers counted birds in their backyards and across the landscape for four days in the middle of February, how many species would they find? And what species do you think they would spot most frequently?

Well, it happens that it is possible to answer these questions, and many more, for the past fifteen winters as a result of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This annual “citizen science” project  is designed to encourage bird enthusiasts to combine the pleasure of observing birds with gathering data that will help scientists better understand trends in bird populations and locations.

The 16th annual GBBC, occurring over this President’s Day weekend (February 15-18) once again aims to develop a nationwide mid-winter bird census and calls on bird watchers everywhere to help assemble a picture of bird numbers and distribution. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Adirondack Birds: The Pine Siskin This Winter

Carduelis pinus by Wikimedia user CephasDuring winter, the possibility exists that a transient flock of birds may suddenly appear at a feeder and dominate the local seed supply for several weeks before exiting the area. The presence of a mob of gluttonous evening grosbeaks, redpolls or purple finches can quickly decimate a mass of sunflower seeds, leaving little for the regulars like chickadees, nuthatches, and an occasional blue jay or cardinal.

Yet despite the highly competitive feeding habits exhibited by the gregarious members of the finch family, there is always one irregular winter visitor that is enjoyable to have in the neighborhood for a few weeks. With a petite body shape, a stylish hint of yellow on its wings and tail, and a drawn-out, single syllable call that sounds more like an insect than a bird [audio], the pine siskin never fails to add a touch of charm to its surroundings. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Surveying, Out of Sight

Fallen Spruce and DuffThis week I return to my series on surveying.  Two weeks ago we got as far as revealing the basic idea and magical power of triangulation.  This wedding between shape and mathematical proportion transformed human knowledge and literally made all modern science, engineering, geography, architecture and cartography possible.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Climate Change: Entries From A 1970s Journal

PPR Headline 19 Apr 1976A few weeks ago, in a piece about old-time weather forecaster Billy Spinner, I mentioned insects on our sidewalk near Christmastime, which is certainly out of the ordinary in my life’s experience. In another piece in December, I mentioned the value of keeping a journal. The two subjects came together recently when I was pondering how the winters of my youth seem so different from those we are experiencing today. Of course, we can’t trust our memories, which again demonstrates the value of a journal.

Now don’t get all excited thinking that I’m trying to prove climate change or global warming. I do know that through my teen years (mainly the 1960s), little time was spent wondering if we would have a white Christmas each year. It was basically a given. » Continue Reading.