The Wild Center’s Wild Winter Weekends continue with activities from now until the end of March. Next Sunday, January 30th Family Art and Nature day begins at 1pm. Bring the entire family and explore this week’s theme, Hibernation Fascination. Ever wonder what happens to Adirondack animals in the depths of winter? Meet Adirondack amphibians that hibernate during the winter. Decorate your own hibernation keepsake box.
As always, there are hikes on free snowshoes, animal encounters, feature films and great food offerings. Wild Winter Weekends are free for members or with paid admission. The Wild Center is open throughout the winter on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm and during the entire week of President’s Day. For additional information on The Wild Center, visit www.wildcenter.org or call (518) 359-7800.
Beaver are one of the very few mammals in the Adirondacks to transform their physical environment to meet their own needs (man being another more extreme example). These transforms can prove to be either a boon or a bane to a bushwhacker exploring the backcountry without the aid of a trail or path.
The most famous behavior of beavers is their propensity to build dams to pond water for protection from predators and to float wood, their chief source of sustenance. These dams offer the bushwhacker an unmatched resource for crossing wet area with a greatly reduced risk of soaked feet. These structures are so valuable that I have traveled a significant distance out of my way to cross one on more than a few occasions rather than ford across a bone-chilling cold, mucky stream.
After building a dam and flooding an adjacent area, beavers tend to clear most of the hardwood trees in the vicinity of their new home. Often this results in areas clear of most of the understory vegetation since beavers appear to prefer the succulent younger trees. Bushwhacking through these areas is often a welcome relief from fighting one’s way through thick coniferous vegetation.
Additional benefits from these beaver ponds results from the quest these large rodents participate in just to obtain a good meal. Often they journey far from the pond to find the exact type of trees they prefer and in the process they leave significant paths throughout the forest. Although these trails prove of little value within mature forests, they provide unmatched assistance to a backcountry explorer in blow down areas adjacent to beaver constructed water bodies. For such industrious animals the beaver finds the path of least resistance through even the most disorganized jumble of downed trees.
Another benefit these mammals provide to the bushwhacker is the channels of water they often produce at the point where they exit from their beaver ponds. These areas usually provide a narrow and deep canal of undisturbed water ideal for filtering. This is often a great benefit around water bodies with indistinct shorelines where finding a deep enough spot close to shore is virtually impossible.
Not all of the habits of the beaver produce conditions helpful to a backcountry adventurer. When these adverse conditions are encountered the backcountry explorer might very well conclude the beaver is more foe than friend.
The most dangerous of these buck-toothed mammal’s habits is its tendency to leave behind the remnants of the saplings it feasted upon. These Punji sticks are often covered in leaf sprouts and thus difficult to detect until one of these spikes has been embedded into an unprotected knee. And heaven forbid if one should slip and fall backwards in such an area. Now THAT would be a million to one shot, Doc!
Although the area around a recently formed beaver pond can be cleared of a significant amount of woody hardwood vegetation (making it easier to travel through), over time this can result in an area thick in conifers many years after the pond has been long abandoned. For anyone who has ever struggled through these young coniferous forests can attest to the painfully slow progress these areas afford. The scratches, scrapes and nearly poked out eyes hurt too!
Unfortunately beaver dams often result in flooding that is not represented on a bushwhacker’s map or personal GPS. This may require an explorer to make significant changes to their plans when they encounter a flooded area where once their favorite campsite was located.
Finally, one of the beaver’s most shocking habits is its mode of announcing its annoyance with one’s presence. This tail slapping on the surface of the water can be so loud and unsuspecting that it has startled me on more than a single condition even when I knew the beaver was near. Only an air horn could possibly be more disturbing or unsettling.
The beaver by the nature of its habits has shown itself to be both boon and bane to backcountry explorers regardless whether they are a hiker finding his/her favorite trail flooded, a backcountry enthusiast crossing a stream on a dam or a bushwhacker doing his/her best to avoid Punji sticks surrounding the shore of a beaver pond. So depending on your circumstances you may find yourself calling the beaver a friend or foe on your next jaunt into the Adirondack backcountry.
Photos: Beaver dam, beaver activity and beaver tail splash by Dan Crane.
The 11th Northeast Natural History Conference (NENHC), including the founding meeting of the Association of Northeastern Biologists (ANB) will be held April 6-9, 2011, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.
The conference promises to be the largest regional forum for researchers, natural resource managers, students, and naturalists to present current information on the varied aspects of applied field biology (freshwater, marine, and terrestrial) and natural history for the Northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. It is expected to serve as a premier venue to identify research and management needs, foster friendships and collegial relationships, and encourage a greater region-wide interest in natural history by bringing people with diverse backgrounds together.
While we sit inside on these increasingly colder winter days, have you ever wondered; how do the wild creatures of the Adirondacks survive? From the smallest insect to the largest mammal each is adapted to survive the cold in very interesting ways.
The black bear, an icon of the Adirondack forest does not truly hibernate, but instead slumbers through the cold winter in a torpid or dormant state within a warm den. The difference between true hibernation and a torpid state is, in a torpid state the animal can still be easily awoken. » Continue Reading.
At long last, we come to the end, the final chapter on Adirondack bats. I left the most common species for my last piece because what is common today may be gone tomorrow. I speak of the little brown (Myotis lucifugus) and big brown (Eptesicus fuscus) bats, those furry cave-dwellers who have been most heavily impacted by the fungus-based disease now known as white-nose syndrome (WNS). Every hibernaculum in New York has now been diagnosed with the disease, and in some of the caves, these bats have experienced over 90% mortality. It’s a sobering fact. » Continue Reading.
To the average Joe, an Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is not a terribly impressive animal. It is a smallish, brownish bat, often mistaken for a little brown bat (another less-than-dazzling member of the clan). A scientist in the know, however, can detect small differences to tell these species apart, such as the length of the toe hairs (I kid you not), the length of the ears, the color of the snout, the amount of shine to the fur, or the presence of a keel on the calcar (a spur of cartilage that gives some rigidity to the trailing edge of the wing membrane near the bat’s foot). » Continue Reading.
Two bats that are often never mentioned (mostly because so few people have heard of them) are Keen’s myotis (Myotis keenii) and the northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). Both species have been found in the Adirondacks, but neither in great numbers. » Continue Reading.
Having covered the Adirondacks’ solitary tree-dwelling bats, it is now time to tackle the cave bats. There are a number of species to contend with, but today I am going to introduce you to just two: the eastern small-footed bat (Myotis leibii leibii) and the eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus).
The small-footed bat, as you no doubt guessed, is noted for its petite terminal appendages: it has small feet, only about six millimeters long. I’ve never seen any data on the size of other bats’ feet, but one must suppose that they are significantly larger with respect to the size of the bats in question. » Continue Reading.
Since October is quickly drawing to a close, I am going to combine two bats in today’s article, the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) and the silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans). These are the last of our caveless, summer-only bats and also our only other chiropteran residents that have striking coloration. » Continue Reading.
Ah, October; the month when summer has truly fled and winter can be felt in the air. Leaves explode in color and then lose their grip on life. Geese and other waterfowl beat a hasty retreat for warmer climes. Some flowers we typically see in the spring are apparently confused and put out a few end-of-season blossoms. And everywhere we turn, yards and businesses are decorated for Hallowe’en.
In keeping with this time of year, I’ve decided to bless you all with a series of articles about one of my all-time favorite animals: bats. I know, I know – I say this about so many animals, but truthfully, bats do top the list. Perhaps this is because they are so reviled by the majority of people and I love to root for the underdog. In fact, this was probably why my interest was piqued in the first place. But as I learned more and more about bats, I discovered just how fascinating these winged mammals are. » Continue Reading.
I saw my first Adirondack pine marten (Martes Americana) the other day in Newcomb. I was on a marked state trail through Wild Forest, and came to a sizable stream fresh from the recent rains. A log seemed conveniently placed for me, but I hesitated. Knowing I would have wet feet, how badly did I wish to go on? Then I looked up. The marten was staring back at me from the opposite bank.
Give way! Hadn’t I seen the marten crossing sign, he seemed to be saying? The marten loped downstream, and took the next log across, paused and vanished. The animal was larger than I had imagined, redder, too, like my face flushed with excitement. The photo above is not of this animal. It is one of the many fine photos in the public domain provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. When I got home I remembered reading in Jerry Jenkins’ Climate Change in the Adirondacks (2010, Wildlife Conservation Society) that Adirondack martens are isolated by a hundred miles and more from cousins in New England and Canada; and that they can outcompete the larger fisher only by having an advantage in deeper snow. When the number of days with snowpack decline, as they are doing, the fisher may gain a competitive . There is already a 15-30% decline in the number of days with snowpack since I was in grade school c. 1970.
Do we have obligations to ensure Adirondack martens survive, because of their intrinsic worth, and so that our successors experience the same excitement I felt? Many might agree on the moral obligations. Fewer might agree on whether we have legal obligations. Fewer still might agree that those obligations, moral and legal, apply to our leaving the legacy of a planet at least as healthy as the one we now live on.
The hard realities and impacts of the warming oceans and shrinking ice which are already turning so many societies, human and more than human, to survival mode all over the world does challenge a boundary between moral and legal justice concerning future generations. This is because the global science is uniformly advising us that today’s pace of warming is the result of emissions in the 1950s and 60s and 70s.
Given the lag between greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of atmospheric change, we make climate decisions today that are likely to make life support systems much less functional for people – and martens – 100 years hence. This is a debt we are piling up far more ominous for society than fiscal imbalance.
Many philosophers have thought about current debts to future generations, and more than one has lived in the Adirondacks. One who did, and who regularly acted on his thinking, was the Reverend Woody Cole, Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1984-1992, and a resident of Jay. Woody died recently. He spoke to an Adirondack audience in St. Huberts (Ausable Club) in 1991 about his view that we have an intrinsic duty to protect life forms built into our evolutionary past. Here is an excerpt of what he said:
“In nature, each organism has its own uniqueness in the way it finds to procreate, to endure, and to associate with its habitat. Each organism has evolved its complex way of capturing the energy of the sun and of maintaining its species population, building up its genome or genetic code so that it can adapt, keep going; and keep struggling in a universe that is supposed to be running down.
These millions of organisms evolved from symbiotically derived relationships with other species within ecological systems both over space and time. Contemplating this billion year old record is awesome; biota helped to produce the thin layer on this planet known as the living biosphere. …it is unique in this universe, and of value intrinsically, in and of itself, beyond mere utility for human satisfaction….
Thus it is that the conservation of ecosystems can be seen as an ultimate good, a moral obligation for observers who have been nurtured and sustained by the diverse biomes that up Earth’s biosphere. As creatures capable of appreciating inherent values, we now have a moral imperative as human organisms to protect the rich biotic ecosystems that perpetuate the life systems of the planet.
As suggested by the anthropological – cosmological principle, we have a duty to insure that complex life will be available for eventual transmission into the universe itself. But first we must conserve our own planet’s diverse ecosystems.”
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is encouraging hunters to participate in two surveys for popular game species during this fall’s hunting seasons. The DEC’s Citizen Science Programs provide wildlife managers with important data, particularly as the state’s forests mature, and we lose the early successional habitats many species depend upon. Tracking grouse and cottontail populations will helps wildlife professionals understand how New York’s changing landscape affects these and other species. New England Cottontail Survey:
The New England cottontail is the only native cottontail rabbit east of the Hudson River in New York. However, its range has been greatly reduced due to habitat loss and competition with the more abundant Eastern cottontail.
New England cottontails look nearly identical to Eastern cottontails and are only reliably identified by genetic testing of tissue, by fecal samples, or by examining morphological skull characteristics.
DEC is requesting that rabbit hunters in Wildlife Management Units in Rensselaer, Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties contact the department to learn how they can submit the heads of rabbits they harvest (a map of the survey area can be seen at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/67017.html). The skulls will be used for identification to assist the department in determining the distribution of the New England Cottontail.
Hunters interested in participating or looking for more information, can contact DEC by calling (518) 402-8870 or by e-mailing [email protected] (please type “NE Cottontail” in the subject line). Participating hunters will receive instructions and a postage-paid envelope they can use to submit heads from harvested rabbits. Results of these efforts will be available after the close of the hunting season.
Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log:
The ruffed grouse is one of New York’s most popular native game birds. Annually, around 75,000 grouse hunters harvest 150,000 grouse. The ruffed grouse is a forest species that is widely distributed across New York State. While some grouse are found in more mature forests, the greatest population densities are in younger forests. These preferred habitats are declining as most of New York State’s forests grow older, resulting in a decline in grouse numbers since the 1960s.
This survey asks hunters to record their daily grouse hunting activities on a “Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log.” The hunting log requests information such as the number of hours hunted, number of grouse flushed, and the number of birds killed. Starting this fall, hunters are also asked to record the number of woodcock they flush while afield. Grouse and woodcock share many of the same habitats, so the information will help monitor populations of both of these great game birds as habitats change both locally and on a landscape scale.
Hunters interested in participating can download a Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log from the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9351.html to record their observations. Detailed instructions can be found with the form. Survey forms can also be obtained by calling (518) 402-8886 or by e-mailing [email protected] (please type “Grouse Log” in the subject line).
All outdoor enthusiasts should consider purchasing a Habitat/Access Stamp, an optional stamp that helps support the DEC’s efforts to conserve habitat and increase public access for fish and wildlife-related recreation. The new 2010-2011 stamp features a drawing of a pair of Common Loons. Buying a $5 stamp is a way to help conserve New York’s fabulous wildlife heritage. More information about purchasing a Habitat Stamp is available at http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/329.html.
Another day, another blog. What to write about? I could muse about the preponderance of liquid precipitation we recently acquired (I am bowled over by how high the Hudson has risen). I could expound on my latest theory about birds having a sense of taste (based on the fact that they zeroed in on the few apples on my heirloom trees while ignoring the thousands of little green apples that laden the many feral apples trees in the neighborhood). But I think I will share with you an amusing experience I had at the library this morning. I’d just walked in the back door and had set my laptop, my bag of files (transcripts, job notes, resumes, etc.), and such on the table. Grabbing the movies I was returning, I headed toward the front desk, only to be distracted by a movement on the floor. A small grey ball of fur, with a long tail, large ears, big black bead-like eyes, and large back feet scooted across the rug from underneath the book cart. It stopped, started, stopped, started, changed direction, zipped about. » Continue Reading.
It’s a baby bear! It’s a black panther! It’s a wolverine! No, it’s none of the above – it is the fisher, sometimes called fisher cat, a member of the marten genus, and the largest land weasel in New York (I’m considering otters to be amphibious).
We have a terrific fisher mount here at the Newcomb VIC that was donated a few years ago. This particular animal is exceptionally large; according to the gentleman who donated it to us, it weighed about 19 pounds. The largest fisher on record was 20 pounds. Most fishers weigh significantly less: males average 8-11 pounds, females 4-6 pounds. In our minds, however, they are much larger, as most predators seem to be. Lots of misinformation surrounds the fisher, and not just concerning its size. The name alone is the cause of quite a bit of confusion, for it seems logical that anything called a fisher must have something to do with fish. Surely it hangs out near the water and eats fish. In truth, the fisher is an animal of the deep woods, and while its diet is incredibly diverse, the only accounts I have found of it actually eating fish are those where it stole fish that was used to bait traps for martens.
The best explanation I have found for this weasel’s name is really quite simple (and common): corruption of a foreign word. It is believed that “fisher” was originally “fichet,” a word the French used for the pelt of the European polecat (another weasel). This makes complete sense when one considers that some of the earliest European fur traders/trappers on this continent were French; they would have called things by names with which they were familiar. Over time, fichet became fisher; no fish were involved.
The 19th and early-20th centuries were tough on fishers. They faced a double-whammy survival-wise thanks to two human endeavors: trapping and logging. Both activities reached their peak by the late 1800s and early 1900s, declining by the 1930s.
When it came to trapping, fishers, especially the females with their significantly softer furs, were popular for scarves and the trim of coats and such. Prices rose steadily, which encouraged more folks to run trap lines. By the 1920s, fisher pelts were bringing in well over $100 apiece.
At the same time, logging was going full steam. Fishers are animals of the deep woods – they do not like open spaces such as farms and clearcuts. Between trapping pressure and loss of habitat, fishers were soon extirpated from much of their historical range in the US and Canada. By the 1930s, the Adirondack Park was one of the very few places that had a remnant fisher population.
In an effort to preserve the remaining animals, the fisher trapping season was closed. Enough fishers remained in intact ecosystems for the population to recover, and by 1949 New York opened the fisher season once more.
Today fishers can be found across much of New York State. This is due in part to decreased trapping pressure (a fisher pelt may get $30 to $50 today, a far cry from the nearly $800 price tag of the mid-‘30s), and in part to agricultural lands reverting to forest.
Over the years, I have followed many fisher tracks in the Adirondack woods. Their preferred gait, a lope, looks like a mysterious three-legged animal has cruised through the snow. Although fishers can easily climb trees, they prefer to stay on the ground, often using downed logs as their highways. Because they are solitary animals, you will rarely find fisher tracks grouped together, unless it is mating season.
Fishers mate in late March or early April, about a week after the female has given birth. This would seem to suggest that gestation lasts almost a whole year, which would be odd for an animal of this size. In fact, fishers enjoy delayed implantation, where the fertilized eggs remain in a state of suspended animation for about ten months, at which time they are implanted and official gestation begins, ending in the birth of one to six young about 50 days later.
Blind and helpless at birth, the young remain in the hollow tree den for several weeks. By the time they are five months old, the mother can no longer take the squabbling of the young and kicks them out of the family circle. Within a year, the offspring will have established their own ranges, and another generation of fishers takes on the world.
One of the comments I most frequently hear when visitors look at our fisher mount is something along the lines of “these are mean animals.” I make a point of telling them that “mean” is a human characteristic. Fishers are fishers. They are weasels, they are predators. They are, out of necessity, efficient hunters that can take down a porcupine almost as easily as a squirrel. If cornered, any animal will fight – a fisher may be just a bit more aggressive because it is a predator and used to taking on others. Does this make the animal mean? No – it makes it a successful hunter.
That said, it is best to keep your cats and poodles inside at night. Fishers have been known to snack on pint-sized pets that are left outside. But otherwise, having a fisher in the neighborhood is kind of a nice thing. I’ve only seen fishers three or four times – and each time the animal was dashing across the road, seeking the shelter of the deep woods. I find it comforting to know that this medium-sized predator has done well in the Adirondacks, a link to a past where primeval woods covered most of the eastern US.
A SUNY Plattsburgh ecologist whose research has taken her from Alaska to the Adirondacks will speak at Paul Smith’s College on Friday, Sept. 3. Dr. Danielle Garneau’s talk, “Of Mice and Moose and Scat,” will launch this fall’s Fish & Wildlife Seminar Series at Paul Smith’s. The lecture will be held at 10:10 a.m. in the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center. It is free and open to the public. » Continue Reading.