Susan Morse of Keeping Track and the staff of the Wild Center will offer a full day tracking workshop on Saturday, October 22nd. The Adirondacks offer a unique opportunity for learning about wildlife through tracking. During the workshop, the following topics are addressed: detection and interpretation of tracks and sign of focal species such as marten, black bear, bobcat, fisher, mink, river otter, coyote, moose as well as birds; conservation biology as it relates to data collection; forest ecology and plant identification as they relate to mammal uses of habitat for food and shelter; ‘search imaging’ – Sue Morse’s technique for predictably looking in the right places and finding signs; and an introduction to science-based field studies. Includes course book of readings and resources authored by Susan Morse. » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘Small Mammals’
The massive breach in the dam at Duck Hole, which has led to the demise of the picturesque body of water in the western High Peak wilderness, is initially tragic information to anyone that has spent time at this majestic location. Yet, the healing forces of nature are already at work transforming the muddy plain that now covers a good portion of the site into a meadow in a process known as succession.
Open settings are at a premium in the mature woodlands of the Adirondacks, and any site that contains both rich soil and a healthy amount of moisture will never last more than a single growing season before it is overtaken by vegetation. As a general rule, the herbaceous plants, such as grasses, sedges, weeds, wildflowers, ferns and rushes are the first to colonize such a favorable location. Seeds from these plants are able to travel many miles by a variety of methods which allows them to quickly take advantage of any spot that becomes favorable for growth. » Continue Reading.
As more frequent rain begins to replace the prolonged dry periods of early to mid summer, water levels in streams and rivers slowly start to rise from their early August lows. Yet, back country paddlers that are hoping to encounter fewer surface rocks and other obstacles that become present during times of low water are likely to be confronted with a new navigational hazard.
During the latter part of August, the awakening urge in the beaver to erect a series of dams, and to repair and heighten any stick and mud barrier that already exists in various waterways, can cause frustration to anyone hoping to encounter an unobstructed flow of water. » Continue Reading.
Sitting around a campfire after dusk, it is sometimes possible to catch sight of a small rodent bounding across a section of the forest floor that is illuminated by the glow of the flames or a bright moon. Similarly, a small creature may occasionally be seen in the headlights of a car leaping across a road like a frog, but at a distinctly faster pace. The chances are that both these sightings are of the woodland jumping mouse, a small rodent that is fundamentally different from the species of mice that begin to enter homes and camps toward the end of summer.
On those rare occasions when one of these common forest dwellers is seen around a lean-to or tent, it can be easily mistaken for a regular mouse, as both rodents are nearly identical in size and have similar body shapes and facial features. The jumping mouse however, has a set of hind legs slightly larger than those of a regular mouse. These rear appendages are better adapted for catapulting its body forward when it wants to quickly escape a location. The jumping mouse is known to bound up to three feet at a time, which is ten to fifteen times the length of its body. Along with traveling in a straight line, the jumping mouse can also hop in a more erratic manner, making it more of a challenge for a predator either on the ground or from the air to grab it while it attempts to reach a place of safety.
The most conspicuous physical feature of the jumping mouse is the extraordinary length of its tail which can approach twice the length of its head and body. The tail of a normal mouse is roughly equal to or slightly greater than its body length. The much longer tail of this rodent often becomes noticeable when it is hunched up, nibbling on a berry or a favored mass of fungi which it has just unearthed from the uppermost layer of soil.
As its name implies, the woodland jumping mouse inhabits forested settings, especially where numerous ground plants and shrubs cover the forest floor. This mammal also shows a preference for wooded glades where the soil remains moist in summer. Lowlands along the edges of marshes and swamps, or places where natural drainage is poor and water seeps into the soil rather than runs off, are ideal locations for this abundant creature.
Because the jumping mouse prefers to forage under the cover of darkness, this rodent is not as likely to be seen prowling the forest floor as a chipmunk. Also, since it rarely utters any sound, there is little to draw a person’s attention to this mammal’s presence.
As August arrives, the jumping mouse begins to increase its intake of food. This is partly the result of longer nights for foraging, and an increase in the berries, ground dwelling bugs, and maturing fungi upon which it feeds. The excess food consumed as summer wanes is stored as fat. While a normal mouse begins to amass caches of food around this time of year for use in winter, the jumping mouse relies on its fat reserves to carry it through the colder months.
Unlike other mice, the jumping mouse lapses into a state of true hibernation as its food sources dwindle. After it retreats into a chamber deep in its burrow, the jumping mouse experiences a drastic drop in its body temperature as does the woodchuck and many species of bats.
In the Adirondacks, the jumping mouse is known to begin its winter dormancy as early as the middle of October. This is the time in the autumn when berries and bugs become limited in availability. While small seeds may still be present for this rodent to pick up from the forest floor, the new layer of dead leaves on the ground covers them and makes them harder to find.
Also, a fresh, dry carpet of dead foliage makes it harder for the jumping mouse to remain inconspicuous as it forages. The faint noise created by a mouse as it rustles through the dead leaves may be difficult for a person to hear, but it is more than adequate to alert any predator in the immediate area that a potential meal is active nearby. By slipping into a dormant state until conditions on the ground improve for it in mid spring, the jumping mouse is able to deal with the adverse conditions over the next 6 months.
As the moon develops in brightness over the next few weeks, an evening out in the woods may reveal periodic glimpses of this unique rodent which is active around most campsites here in the Adirondacks.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
Tom Kalinowski has written several books on Adirondack nature.
Over the past several centuries, there have been numerous additions to the Adirondack flora and fauna. The recent Invasive Species Awareness Week highlighted some of the many forms of life that have invaded the region and are currently wreaking havoc with the established members of the region’s plant and animal communities. However, not all organisms from outside the area adversely impact the environment like Eurasian milfoil or the zebra mussel. One of the largest transplants to the North Country is the turkey vulture, a bird that occupies a niche for which few other creatures are so well suited. » Continue Reading.
The vast expanses of conifer and mixed forest that exist in the Adirondacks serve as home to numerous forms of wildlife. While many of these creatures are easy to recognize and lead lives that have been well studied by researchers, others are still shrouded in mystery. Among the mammals that are difficult to identify and which have not been well researched is a tiny creature believed to be widespread across the Park – the pygmy shrew.
The pygmy shrew ranks among the smallest mammals in the world as this miniature creature has a weight of only a tenth of an ounce. This is about the same as that of a hummingbird, or a penny. However, this fuzzy beast is substantially larger than a copper coin with its body measuring about two and a half inches from the tip of its long, wedge-shaped snout to the base of its wiry tail. By comparison, this is about half the length of a mouse, and only one-eighth its weight.
While it would seem that a mammal of this incredibly small size is easy to identify, confusion exists because a related species, the masked shrew, can be nearly as small, and has almost identical external features. Only a detailed dental analysis can positively tell the pygmy shrew from an immature masked shrew.
Since very few studies involving this ultra-small mammal have ever taken place in the Adirondacks, little is known about most aspects of its life history here in the Park, as well as its current status. Almost all of the scientific information regarding the pygmy shrew’s life comes from just a handful of studies that were undertaken in Alaska, Canada and a few other locations where stands of timber exist, especially in northern regions.
Because the masked shrew forages along the forest floor, as do many other shrews, it can be collected by researchers using certain ground traps. The pygmy shrew, however, is reported to spend more of its time in narrow, crayon-diameter tunnels that exist just below the soil’s surface. This prevents the pygmy shrew from being routinely captured by conventional methods whenever surveys of small mammals are performed. Also, since a live specimen captured in a trap is nearly impossible to properly identify in the field, reliable scientific data on the abundance of this species has been a challenge for wildlife biologists to collect.
Like all shrews, the pygmy shrew feeds heavily on invertebrate matter. Spiders, grubs, worms and caterpillars are routinely harvested by this active predator as it probes the nooks and crannies on the forest floor. The pygmy shrew is believed to concentrate more of its time just below the surface in the burrows of voles, moles, earthworms and in tunnels which it makes itself as it pushes its wedges-shaped head into the spongy layer of dead matter that covers the ground. In this way, the pygmy shrew does not compete directly with the masked shrew for food, as this slightly larger species prowls more just above the soil’s surface. While both species are believed to coexist in the same location, and may occasionally utilize the same travel corridors under fallen logs, pieces of rotted bark and partially uprooted stumps, little is known about the interaction between these two species.
While there is evidence to suggest that the pygmy shrew exists in most types of northern woodlands, this creature does show a preference for stands of evergreens that are close to a source of water. The prolific presence of conifers in the Adirondacks, along with the abundance of fresh water would seem to make our wilderness a perfect retreat for the pygmy shrew; however, there is very little hard evidence to indicate that this species of shrew exists in the Park.
It is hard for some people to believe that in the 21st century there still exist creatures, like the pygmy shrew, about which we have learned very little – at what time of the year do they breed, how many litters do they have during a single year, what kind of social structure do they have, how long do they live, and how do they manage to survive northern winters? While sacked out in a sleeping bag at a campsite, there could easily be one or several pygmy shrews only an arms length away engaging in activities that are unknown to anyone.
The wilderness of the Adirondacks is a great place to explore, and there are still many facets of our environment that have yet to be examined.
Tom Kalinowski has written several books on Adirondack natural history.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding New Yorkers to keep their distance and not to disturb newborn fawns or other young wildlife as many animals are in the peak season for giving birth or hatching young.
Finding a fawn deer lying by itself is fairly common. Many people assume that young wildlife found alone are abandoned, helpless and need assistance for their survival. In nearly all cases this is a mistake, and typically human interaction does more damage than good. If you see a fawn or other newborn wildlife, enjoy your encounter, but for the sake of their well being, it is important to keep it brief and maintain some distance. » Continue Reading.
In this northern climate, the red fox breeds during the very end of January through the first few weeks of February. As a result, the females give birth to their annual litter toward the very end of March, or during early April.
In the weeks prior to giving birth, each pair of red fox establishes a den that serves to shelter their pups from the bouts of inclement weather that often occurs in spring. A den also protects these helpless infants from being attacked and killed by other predatory creatures, such as coyotes, bears and various birds of prey. » Continue Reading.
The period of high water in the Adirondacks from frequent spring rains and snow melt typically corresponds with the time when maturing beavers travel. As is the case with all forms of wildlife, when young begin to transition into adults, they experience a strong urge to vacate their parents’ territory and look for a suitable spot some distance away that they can claim as their own.
The natural tendency of maturing young to disperse well away from their parent’s territory allows for the healthy spread of genetic information among a particular species. If offspring were to remain nearby, there would eventually be an increased risk of inbreeding. Individuals produced from parents that come from the same blood line have a greater chance of displaying unwanted traits that would reduce their chances for survival. Because of this, nature promotes in maturing adults the desire to disperse far enough away from their natal home so as to prevent the likelihood of two closely related individuals encountering one another and interacting as breeding partners.
For the beaver, sexual maturity occurs just prior to the age of two, which is shortly before the adult female in the colony gives birth to her yearly litter of kits. It is these beavers that are most likely to venture far and wide during mid April in the Adirondacks.
Traveling well outside their parent’s territory is a real challenge for a young adult beaver in the Park. There is currently a relatively high population of these flat-tailed rodents within the Blue Line and vacant waterways that contain an adequate supply of food are difficult to find.
Upon encountering a stretch of water with an aggressive resident adult that refuses to allow an outside beaver to trespass, a wandering individual is occasionally forced to travel overland in its journey to find a suitable, unoccupied body of water. A beaver in search of a territory will also exit the safety of the water should it encounter an impassible obstacle, such as a dam, a waterfall, or a series of rapids in which the current is just too swift and the turbulence too severe to continue moving through the water.
The unusual tendency of a beaver to venture across land in mid-April may be noted by the occasional dead beaver alongside a stretch of highway that is a fair distance from any body of water. Noting the presence of roadkill may seem to be a gruesome way of assessing the habits of certain forms of wildlife, however, it can sometimes be useful in gaining insight into the lives of certain types of animals.
Along with the two year olds, older adult beavers occasionally abandon their home pond when the supply of edible vegetation along the shore, and a short distance inland, become exhausted. After the ice melts and the beavers can again gain access to the shoreline, they may realize that almost every shrub, sapling and tree that is of nutritional value to them has already been cut.
In such situations, the entire family relocates to another stretch of the same waterway where the vegetation is more favorable to them. However, when a family moves, it rarely travels over land; rather it typically remains on the same general drainage system.
The maturing forests in the Adirondacks have created shorelines that are very picturesque from a human perspective; however, such stands of timber are of very little value to the beaver. This gnawing rodent has a distinct preference for the bark of aspen and white birch which thrive in open, sunny locations. The forests that sprouted a century or more ago following the widespread logging operations that left much of the Adirondacks devoid of trees were ideal for the beaver. This is the main reason why the beaver experienced such a dramatic resurgence at the turn of the last century. As the process of forest succession replaces the pioneer trees with maples, beech and yellow birch, the abundance of trees useful to the beaver steadily dwindles.
The beaver is still able to exist in the Adirondacks, as this creature is capable of surviving on alder choked streams, along the shores of lakes, and on slow moving rivers. As with all forms of wildlife, finding food is always a challenge. So too is the chore of locating a territory that confronts the two year olds. Yet this year’s high water is making travel easier and allowing them to more easily move from one area to another here in the soggy Adirondacks.
John Warren wrote a shorty history of beaver in the Adirondacks for the Adirondack Almanack in 2009.
Anthony Hall wrote s short political history of the beaver in April, 2010.
Dan Crane wrote about beavers from the perspective of a bushwacker in January, 2011.
Photos: Above, a beaver from Lake George Mirror files; below, a fanciful 17th century European print picturing abundant beaver in the New World (courtesy private collection of John Warren).
The deep snow pack that formed this winter and its persistence in remaining has created hardships for many forms of wildlife, yet a few creatures have benefited from this substantial crystalline covering, especially the mice.
Life for a small, ground dwelling rodent in winter is a challenge that many individuals fail to survive. Not only must a mouse find enough to eat in order to maintain an internal temperature near 100 degrees, but it must also avoid the many predators that target this round-eared critter. After most other small creatures, like the chipmunk, wood frog, jumping mice, salamanders and snakes have entered their dormant stage in autumn, only a few ground dwelling forms of prey remain active for our carnivores to hunt. This substantially increases the pressure on these familiar small rodents.
In their attempt to avoid being seen by a fox, coyote, bobcat, fisher, hawk, owl or other meat eater, those mice that have not taken up residence indoors tend to confine their travels as much as possible to places under the snow’s surface. Limiting their foraging activities as much as possible to the crevices and hollows under fallen logs, around large rocks and stumps, and beneath other objects on the forest floor helps to conceal these critters from the view of the larger animals that are always on the prowl for prey.
While the keen senses of hearing and smell of most predators, especially the fox and coyote enable these highly perceptive animals to detect the movements of a mouse under the snow, their ability to capture one depends on the depth of the snow, as well as surface conditions. Rapidly and accurately digging through more than a foot of powder becomes a major challenge for any quadruped. The noise generated in flinging aside the snow instantly alerts the quarry to an attack, and causes this potential meal to quickly retreat from that spot. Unless a predator attacks with lightning speed, it will never be successful in apprehending a roving mouse beneath the snow pack.
A crust on the surface presents an even more formidable barrier to snagging a mouse as it moves in the shallow spaces that exist between the forest floor and the snow that covers the ground. A dense crust which forms after a late winter thaw is especially beneficial, as it can act like a coat of armor over the domain of a mouse.
Hawks and owls are particularly adversely impacted by the presence of a substantial layer of snow throughout the winter. These hunters rely entirely on snatching creatures that are traveling on top of the snow, or are moving just below the surface. While their razor sharp talons are effective weapons in quickly killing prey, they are useless in digging through the snow to search for an animal that has recently burrowed down into the powder to escape an attack.
Aside from offering protection from its numerous natural enemies, snow also provides mice with protection against bitter cold temperatures. Snow is an excellent insulator, and a layer of fluffy powder effectively traps the heat contained within the soil, making a far more favorable microclimate beneath this seasonal blanket than the air above.
It is difficult to say when the snow will eventually disappear for the season. For outdoor enthusiasts that enjoy bare ground and for the region’s numerous predators, it can’t come soon enough. But for the mice, a snow pack that lingers well into April is ideal, for this is when the intensity of the sun’s rays begins to thaw the soil and awakens most dormant critters. As these creatures begin to repopulate the forest floor, in an often still lethargic state, the appetite of the predator community begins to become satisfied, and hunting pressure eases on the mice.
So far, this has been a near perfect snow season for our mouse community, and undoubtedly, there are now plenty of mice to begin their extensive breeding season. With their normally high rate of reproduction, it can be expected that there will be an over abundance of these small, ubiquitous rodents by the time mid autumn arrives, and countless individuals will be looking for a warm home in which to spend next winter.
By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities
I have been having a great winter skiing and snowshoeing around the Adirondacks so much so that when I received my Otter birthday party reminder at the Wild Center it took me a bit by surprise. It is already that time of year when The Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (The Wild Center) closes for the month of April to rejuvenate and get ready for a busy summer season. That said, this weekend, March 25-27) will be the last opportunity until May 1st to see what the Wild Center has been up to this winter.
Now with the recent flurries of snow, mud season doesn’t seem to be approaching as fast as some may wish. Keep in mind that if you always wanted to attempt snowshoeing now is the time. The Wild Center offers free snowshoes with paid admission. So practice around the various trails and see how easy it is to go out an explore while the trails are still covered in snow. The added bonus for this weekend is the Otters’ birthday party celebration.
Interpretive Naturalist Kerri Ziemann says,”On Friday and Saturday we will have all our regular programming as well as one more chance for people to find the golden otter before the drawing on Sunday.”
For those not in the know, a tiny golden otter has been hiding in various places within the Wild Center for the past twelve weeks. Children and adults are welcome to search and use a list of clues to find the evasive creature. Once found, submit his/her name into a raffle for a chance to win a pack basket full of otter related goodies. Thankfully nothing that I saw relates to having to go home with a real otter though there is a huge plush toy right on top.
“For this weekend the otters’ birthday will be held on the 27th and we will have activities all day starting at 10:00 and ending around 3:30. There will be enrichment programs about otters and craft tables open for anyone to color an individual quilt square. We will then tie all the squares together to create a quilt,” continues Ziemann.
Additional events are face painting and storytelling sessions with author Hope Marston of “My Little book of River Otters” at noon and 1:00 p.m. Ollie the Otter, the Wild Center mascot, will also be around for picture taking. Currently the Wild Center as four otters: Squirt, Louie, Squeaker, and Remy. The raffle will be drawn at 1:30 p.m. with a celebration of cupcakes (for humans) and ice “cake” for the otters.
After a month of spring cleaning the Wild Center will reopen on May 1st with a green festival as part of “Build a Greener Adirondacks Expo.”
If that doesn’t fit into the schedule, the Adirondack Museum will hold two more Cabin Fever Sundays. Women and their role in early conservation is the March 27 topic where Museum Educator Jessica Rubin will highlight early female activism. On April 10, curator Laura Cotton will discuss artifacts from the museum’s collection that show chase Adirondack ingenuity. These events are at 1:30 p.m. in the auditorium and free to museum members or elementary-school-age children and younger. Otherwise it is $5 for nonmembers. Though to see the whole facility you will have to wait until its May 27th opening day.
Photo and content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George.
Anyone living in a town or hamlet in the Adirondacks knows that the gray squirrel is a common member of the wildlife community within the Park. This bushy-tailed rodent ranks among the most frequently seen creatures, especially if a few individuals in the neighborhood are maintaining bird feeders. Yet, as common as this skilled aerialist may appear, the gray squirrel is not as widely distributed throughout the Park as it would seem.
The gray squirrel is a creature that is heavily dependent on acorns for its staple source of food. It is in mature stands of oaks that the population of this species reaches its natural peak. In areas where oaks occur only sporadically, the gray squirrel has a far more challenging time surviving. » Continue Reading.
A New York State Museum scientist has collaborated with Smithsonian colleagues to make more than 202,000 wildlife photos available to the public for the first time through a new searchable website called Smithsonian Wild.
The new website allows the public to see exactly what scientists see in their research — photos of wildlife captured at close range. Three of the nine photo sets available on the site come from research in the Adirondacks and other locations, conducted by Dr. Roland Kays, the State Museum’s curator of mammals. The site operates off of a database that was created as part of Kays’ National Science Foundation funded research. » Continue Reading.
Early March is the time of the year when the snow pack in the Adirondacks typically reaches its greatest depth, and winter gales are the most frequent and powerful. Yet, this period of wind and deep snow produces some of the most favorable conditions for the varying hare, also known as the snowshoe rabbit, a common denizen of our dense conifer forests.
For a creature that can easily remain on the surface of the snow, a thick blanket of powder provides the varying hare with the opportunity to access vegetation that is ordinarily out of its reach. Standing upright on its powerful hind legs, this herbivore is only able to gnaw on the buds and bark of twigs that occur up to a foot above the surface on which the animal is located. Should a snow pack that is three plus feet deep develop over an area, the hare will then be able to reach the edible parts of saplings and shrubs that exist nearly four feet above the forest floor. » Continue Reading.
Yesterday I visited an old graphite mine in Hague that once harbored the largest population of wintering bats in the state. Back in 2000, state scientists estimated that the old mine contained 185,000 bats. Last winter, they found only a few thousand.
Such are the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome [pdf], first discovered in upstate New York in 2006. Since then, the disease has killed 90 percent of the state’s bats and spread to hibernacula throughout the Northeast and as far south as Virginia. » Continue Reading.