Posts Tagged ‘Wetlands’

Monday, March 19, 2012

Adirondack Wildlife: The Star-Nosed Mole

For many Adirondack residents, the onset of mud season brings about the annual problem of water in the basement. Run-off from melting snow and rain, unable to percolate into the still frozen soil, pools on the ground and eventually drains to the lowest spot available. The foundation of older homes may collect some of this water, as do surface tunnels created by small creatures like moles and voles.

While spring flooding can be a serious survival issue for some subterranean mammals, it is not believed to be of any major concern to the star-nosed mole, one of the least physically attractive forms of wildlife in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Five Ponds Wilderness: The Robinson River

What is eight miles long, black as ink, wet all over, rarely seen and present in the northwestern Adirondacks? The Robinson River, of course!

This narrow river snakes its way through the middle of the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, stretching from Crooked Lake and flowing into the East Branch of the Oswegatchie River, well upstream from High Falls. It is rarely visited by people, due to its remote location and distance from any trail. Scattered pockets of blowdown, from the 1995 Microburst, guard much of the river, increasing the effort required to reach its border and appreciate its beauty.

The Robinson begins its life as a narrow, rocky stream, where it acts as the main outlet of Crooked Lake. From its headwaters, the river undulates north alternating between being surrounded by forests and beaver meadow for about half its length before making a sudden turn east. Eventually the river reaches its inevitable destination at the Oswegatchie River.

Along the river’s first half it flows through several features of interest. It flows just south of Toad Pond, through an open shrubby area where once a single engine plane crashed back in the 1940’s. Just north of Toad Pond the river flows through Sliding Falls, where near-impenetrable blowdowns surround on both sides. Between the falls and its sharp turn east, an extensive forested swamp straddles the river.

I feel fortunate to have encountered the Robinson River several times over the past couple years. Given my typical mode of transportation through this area, the river is often perceived as either an obstacle to cross or a feature of the landscape to follow to an eventual destination. Conveniently, the river flows through many narrow, rocky drainages allowing for some relatively easy crossings. The beaver dams, old and new, lies along its run when a rocky-hop is not available.

While traveling to Stillwater Reservoir during the summer of 2010, I rock-hopped what was just a stream, mere feet from its source at northern tip of Crooked Lake. The river is narrow and bordered by thick conifers on both sides here. The shallow, rocky stream near its headwaters fails to foreshadow the larger and darker river it becomes further north.

During the same trip, I again crossed the river on a shabby beaver dam a quarter of a mile downstream from its headwaters. From here, I intermittently followed the river upstream all the way to Toad Pond, as it alternated between flowing through forest and open, wet meadows. Often the open grown vegetation was so high and dense as to almost completely obscure the river.

The river flows through a large, open meadow surrounded by several towering, guardian white pines mere yards south of Toad Pond. An cursory search along the western and northern borders of this meadow for evidence of the crashed plane proved unsuccessful during my visit; undoubtedly it is overgrown by now and impossible to find without some knowledge of its general location.

During last summer, the northern portion of Robinson River provided a convenient route on my return trip from Cracker, Gal and West Ponds. A beaver dam acted as a timely bridge immediately upon my arrival where the river leaves a wide, wet and open floodplain and enters the forest for its final mile before flowing into the Oswegatchie. Aerial photographs suggests several beaver dams along its length as it undulates through its northern floodplain, but good luck locating them given the floodplains uneven and densely vegetated border.

Nothing but uninterrupted mature forest borders the Robinson as it follows the southern base of Partlow Mountain. The terrain varied greatly along the river’s northern shore. Along the eastern portion, the landscape rises only several feet from the floodplain before remaining flat for as far as the eye could see; covered in tall mature hardwoods with less understory than typically expected in the Adirondacks.

Along the middle portion there are numerous tendrils of the floodplain, winding their way into the surrounding uplands separated by a steep slope. The contrast between the large, lowland softwoods and the massive hardwoods upslope is striking. From the top of the slope, safely surrounded by hardwoods, it was possible to look directly into the canopy of the softwoods below; obtaining a view seldom seen except by red squirrels and pine martens. The regularly spaced softwoods were surrounded by a dark, green carpet of Sphagnum on the ground, interspersed with shallow open pools of water and clusters of tall ferns. A long-extinct dinosaur would barely look out of place in such a landscape.

The Robinson River offers a convenient avenue for journeying through some of the most remote portions of the northwestern Adirondacks, but if you plan on visiting the way is not easy by any means. The least arduous approach is via a canoe trip up the Oswegatchie River. The easiest route from trail is either from the south terminus of the Red Horse Trail or from the west via either the Sand Lake or Five Ponds Trails. Whichever route taken, bring plenty of bug repellant, plenty of supplies and a whole lot of patience, you will need every bit of it.

Has anyone else had encounters with the Robinson River worth noting? Has anyone ever been to Sliding Falls? Is it worth the effort of the struggling through the dense blowdowns? Have you ever searched the large swamp south of the river’s sudden turn east for boreal bird species? If so, share your observations in the comments below.

Photos: Robinson River’s northern portion, near headwaters and south of Toad Pond by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Wildlife: Inside A Beaver Lodge in Winter

The lack of a deep covering of snow this season has been a benefit to some forms of wildlife, and a detriment to others. Yet for the beaver (Castor canadensis), the limited amount of snow on the ground has had little impact on this rodent’s winter routine.

Throughout the autumn, when the water around its primary lodge remains open, the beaver scours the shore near and far in search of those select woody plants on which it relies for food. These items are severed at their base and floated to the area just outside the main entrance to the family’s winter shelter and then pushed underwater as deep as possible. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lake George English Brook Project Completed

The Lake George Association (LGA) has announced the completion of a project to build a new sediment basin at the mouth of English Brook, one of the eight major streams entering Lake George. Tropical Storm Irene changed the route of the brook near its mouth, returning the stream to the path it took 50 years ago, prior to the construction of the Adirodnack Northway.

English Brook has been of high concern for over a decade. Land development in the watershed has increased the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff, leading to increased pollution entering the brook and creating one of the largest deltas on the Lake. English Brook has high levels of total phosphorus, chlorides, total suspended sediments, lead and nitrate-nitrogen.

The new basin is expected to slow the flow of water and allow sediment to fall out prior to entering the Lake. The basin is expected to be cleaned out every one to two years, when it reaches about 50-75% capacity. Each time it is cleaned out, roughly 300-400 cubic yards of material is expected to be removed.

The 150-foot long sediment basin was designed by the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District (WCSWCD) with financial assistance from the LGA.

English Brook is located just north of Lake George Village at the Lochlea Estate. Earlier this summer, the LGA installed a $49,500 Aqua-Swirl stormwater separator on the property, as part of a $100,000 stormwater project. This system is collecting previously untreated stormwater runoff from both the east and west sides of Rt. 9N, as well as the bridge between the two exits at Exit 22 on Interstate 87. The majority of the runoff in a 48-acre subwatershed is now being captured and treated.

Now that much of the upland work is complete, lake advocates believe the final step should be the removal of the sediment that has built up in the delta over the course of generations. The nutrient-rich sediment in deltas supports invasive plant growth, hampers fish spawning, harbors nuisance waterfowl, impedes navigation and property values have been reduced.

Photo: The new sediment pond at English Brook. Courtesy LGA.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Adironack Wildlife: The Fall Loon Migration

It is typically in November when ice forms on the many ponds and lakes across the Adirondacks. This inevitable transition from a watery world into an icy plain causes the loon to abandon its summer home in remote wilderness locations and seek out an environment in which it can survive until the spring.

This process of relocation begins with the loons leaving their more traditional breeding grounds in remote ponds and back country lakes and moving to larger lakes in the same general region. Because large bodies of water take longer to freeze than smaller aquatic settings, traveling to much larger lakes gives the loon more time in its northern, fresh water environment before heading south. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

LGA Completes Indian Brook Project

A multi-year project to protect the upstream waters of Indian Brook has been completed by the Lake George Association (LGA). The project is located at the intersection of Federal Hill and Sawmill roads in the town of Bolton.

Over a number of years, a small section of Indian Brook started to collect sediment in an area that was once a swimming hole. Eventually the swimming hole completely filled in, and non-wetland vegetation became established. Without the swimming hole to slow the velocity of the water, the brook started to carry more sediment downstream and into Lake George, contributing to a delta at the mouth of the brook.

In 2009, the LGA cleaned out the swimming hole. Approximately 500 cubic yards of material were removed. In the spring of 2010, native shrubs were planted along the bank to filter storm runoff. The former swimming hole is now functioning as a sediment basin, allowing sediment that is carried during high flow periods to swirl around and drop out of the stream. The sediment remains in the basin and does not flow down to the Lake.

This summer the LGA completed construction of a second sediment basin, a little further upstream from the original. “Our goal with this second project was two-fold,” said Randy Rath, LGA project manager. “One, create an offline basin that will capture and settle out suspended material during storm events. Two, enhance an existing wetland area and use the natural process of wetland formation to remove some nutrients present in the water column.”

“The wetland area is actually more like a sand bar,” Rath said. “It was originally formed during the 2005 storm event that brought about 7” of rain and washed out many roads in the Bolton area. During the storm, some finer material was deposited on the back end of the sandbar, and the area was eventually able to support wetland vegetation.”

LGA Education Director Emily DeBolt selected plants to match wetland species already present in the area. After installation by LGA staff, the wetland plants were given over a month to grow. With frequent watering from LGA staff and some timely rain, all of the plants and grasses survived a hot summer. Initially the wetlands were separated from the flow of the stream by sand bags and a straw bale dike. Fortunately the dike was not opened until after Tropical Storm Irene, and even though water overflowed the dike during the storm, the basin and wetlands remained intact, and continue to function as designed.

A third component of this Indian Brook project included roadside drainage improvements. A roadside ditch was stabilized and several check dams were put in place to slow the stormwater flow running down the shoulder of Federal Hill Road. A small basin installed at the end of the ditch captures the flow and allows sediment and debris to fall out. Additional road shoulder work allows for some stormwater sheet flow to occur over a vegetated area. The remaining shoulder work reinforced and directed the flow around a bend in the road to another small basin that captures the stormwater.

“Now with these essential upstream projects complete,” Walt Lender, LGA Executive Director, said. “We expect to see a dramatic reduction in the growth of the delta at the mouth of Indian Brook. The size of the delta that exists there now we know is not healthy for the Lake, and we are moving forward with our effort to remove this delta, as well as deltas located at the mouth of Finkle and Hague brooks,” he added.

Photos: Above, an area of Indian Brook earlier this year filled in with sediment; below, the same area of Indian Brook after a sediment basin and wetlands enhancement area was created.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Dave Gibson: River Management by Backhoe

“It is unfortunate that dredging has proceeded without any guidance from river experts who could provide natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat,” stated Carol Treadwell, Executive Director of the Ausable River Association (ARA).

Natural stream dimensions? Bankfull? Pool depth? Riffle spacing? What is this, a how-to manual? A certain amount of assembly required? Or a level of river awareness and fluency that any floodplain community had better strive for?

It is understandable why the small streams and rivers in this heavily damaged region of the Adirondacks (twice this year) may be viewed as marauding aliens and enemies which require a serious “talking to” by backhoe. The human and community impacts of the flood are enormous and gut wrenching.

Yet, post World War Two we keep building in floodplains, whether we know we are or not. A favored textbook reads: “The average annual flood damage nationwide… has continued to increase… The use of flood-prone land continues to rise faster than the application of measures to reduce flood damages. This continues to be one of the foremost challenges to land planners – finding ways to control the use of flood-prone areas, and ways of requiring those who seek the advantages of use of floodable areas to assume a fair proportion of the financial risk involved in such use” (Water in Environmental Planning, by Thomas Dunne and Luna Leopold, 1978).

Carol’s quote was submitted for a news release issued this week by a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals who live in these communities, along with a letter to Governor Cuomo seeking an end to floodplain management by bulldozer, and a meeting to assess how best to respond to the altered nature of these waterways in ways that are mindful of people, property, stream health, aesthetics and tourism on which so many of these towns and Essex County depend.

Carol denotes an apparent lack of “river experts” and related oversight of the heavy earth moving equipment moving about our region’s streams during the Governor’s month-long emergency authorization. The Ausable River Association has spent years studying the Ausable. Similarly, the Boquet River Association on the Boquet. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency know something about the behavior and morphology of rivers and floodplains. NYS DOT has environmental experts who know how to manage highway rights of way without taking a proverbial two by four to the environment. So, where are they? It was good to read that the Essex County Board of Supervisors is calling on these experts to help them assess and, if necessary, adjust the in-stream work as may be necessary. Governor Cuomo should have had his environmental experts in the field overseeing any stream work a month ago.

Yet, our state agency experts and field managers at DEC, APA, DOT still seem unable to respond in a coordinated, effective fashion, despite the fact that the Emergency Authorization issued by NYS DEC on that fateful Sunday, August 29 states: “This Authorization hereby allows emergency work to occur in navigable waters, streams and wetlands regulated under Environmental Conservation Law Article 15 and Article 24. The work hereby allowed must be immediately necessary to address an imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources. All work carried out under this Authorization must be conducted in a minimally invasive manner, consistent with the goals of the restoration work. Non‐critical work is not allowed by this Authorization. All work must be undertaken in compliance with the conditions below.”

The emergency authorization and all conditions for working in the rivers is found at the DEC website. Based on what Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild has observed, many of these conditions are being violated every day, but this assumes that the equipment operators understand the conditions, and that DEC is on-site to explain them, which it appears not to be.

There is probably a strong difference of opinion whether the work to date has been “minimally invasive” and necessary to address imminent threat. At the same time, the workers in the streams and their supervisors are doing all they can with the information and resources at hand. Which gets me back to Carol Treadwell’s quote: “natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat.”

What is she talking about? I return to and quote from Dunne and Leopold’s Water in Environmental Planning (1978). Rivers construct their own floodplains, laterally migrate, and deposit lots of sediment in the process. Over a very long process of movement the river occupies each and every position on the flat valley floor, with the river moving laterally by erosion on one bank and deposition on the other. That is the meander that rivers want to achieve as their way of expending energy most efficiently. In fact, really straight stretches of river (absent human channelization) are rare “and seldom does one see a straight reach of length exceeding 10 channel widths.”

Yet, the river does not construct a channel large enough to accommodate flood stages. The bankfull stage referred to by Carol “corresponds to the river discharge at which channel maintenance is most effective, that is the discharge at which moving sediment, forming or removing bars, forming or changing bends and meanders, and generally doing work that results in the average morphologic characteristics of (river) channels.”

The authors Dunne and Leopold continue: “It is human encroachment on the floodplains of rivers that accounts for the majority of flood damage. Because it is a natural attribute of rivers to produce flows that cannot be contained within the channel, the floodplain is indeed a part of the river during such events. It is therefore important that planners know something about these characteristic features, and thus possibly counteract to some degree the emphasis placed on flood-control protection works. More logical is flood damage prevention by the restriction of floodplain use.”

In short straight sections in between meanders, stream pools and riffles alternate in consistent ways due to the creation of gravel bars on the convex side of a meander. “The distance between successive bars averages five to seven channel widths.” The alteration of steep (over the riffles) and less steep water (over the pools) is characteristic of rivers, as is the fact that meanders are steeper than the average straight section. I think this is the “pool-riffle spacing” Carol is speaking of. She may be suggesting that in-stream work should seek to maintain this kind of pool-riffle spacing, and ensure that stream slopes are not severely altered.

The worst thing to do, according to Dunne and Leopold, is to severely shorten a river channel with consequent change in channel gradient. “An imposed change of river slope can cause an instability quite irreversible in any short period of time, and is the most difficult change to which a stream must adjust.” It appears this is exactly what heavy equipment operators did to Johns Brook, and may be doing to other stream sections.

The authors’ conclusions may be ones which Governor Cuomo, DOT, DEC, APA, and Essex County should pay particular attention to: “Among the potential costs or disadvantages accruing from channel modification are: 1. Channel instability or effects of channel readjustment to the imposed conditions; 2. Downstream effects especially increased bank erosion, bed degradation or aggradation; 3. Esthetic degradation, especially the change in stream biota and the visual alteration of riparian vegetation, and of stream banks and channel pattern or form.”

Photos: Johns Brook, Keene, before and after channel dredging and grading by state-funded heavy equipment, photos by Naj Wikoff.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adirondack Waterfowl: Mallards in Autumn

As the leaves approach peak color, all of the region’s birds concentrate nearly all their time and efforts preparing either for migration; or establishing a local winter range in which to pass the winter and locating as many sources of food as possible. However, along with developing the food reserves needed to fuel the journey south, the mallard also spends a portion of its time courting members of the opposite sex, fending off rivals and establishing a pair bond with a specific individual.

While the reproductive season is more than a half year from now, the mallard has already developed its brightly colored breeding plumage and starts to engage in the process that occurs in other birds as the buds are swelling on twigs, rather than as the leaves are falling to the ground. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Endangered Bog Turtle Lecture Friday

A researcher who has studied the endangered bog turtle will discuss ways to save their habitat in an upcoming lecture at Paul Smith’s College.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the bog turtle is the state’s smallest. It reaches a maximum length of 4.5 inches. While considered threatened nationwide, they are endangered in New York; development in the southeastern part of the state, the species’ primary habitat here, has hindered the turtle from moving into new areas as existing habitat is lost.

Dr. Kevin Shoemaker will lead off this fall’s Fisheries & Wildlife Science Seminar Series on Friday, Sept. 23, with “Scaling Up Bog Turtle Conservation in New York.”

Shoemaker, a postdoctoral associate at Stony Brook University, studies how wildlife populations are affected by habitat alteration. He hopes to help humans co-exist with wildlife by making those connections understandable.

Two other lectures are scheduled this semester: Dr. Dennis Murray of Trent University in Ontario will discuss “New World Wolves: Confusion, Controversy and Conservation” on Friday, Oct. 14, and Tim McKay of Colgate University will deliver a lecture called “Ecology of North America’s Smallest Mammals: The Shrews” on Friday, Nov. 4.

All lectures will be held at 10:10 a.m. in the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Duck Hole Dam Breech: What Comes Next?

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.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bushwhacking Cowboy Beaver Meadow

There are many places in the Adirondacks where one can get away from the crowds but few as remote as the Cowboy Beaver Meadow in the northwestern corner of the Pepperbox Wilderness.

The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a series of beaver swales along the Alder Creek. Nearby one can find a lovely unnamed pond and several beaver created wetlands. But if you expect to find any crowds then think again; this is a rarely visited place. Other than the occasional bushwhacker or hunters during the fall this place probably rarely gets many visitors.

The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is an ideal place for those contemplating exploring the backcountry beyond the trails and trying their hand at bushwhacking. Bordered on the east and south by the Alder Creek, north by a dirt road south of Spring Pond and west by the Herkimer/Lewis county line this area allows for testing one’s navigation skills while providing enough natural/man-made landmarks to remain oriented on a map.

The origin of the name for these beaver meadows along the Alder Creek remains unknown. According to a posting on the Adkforum website, the beaver meadow was named after a mysterious cowboy who made his residence in the area around the time of the Civil War.

Gaining access to the Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a challenge. The easiest access is from the west out of Croghan via Prentice Road, a gravel road that eventually turns south and becomes the Main Haul Road. This is a fairly decent dirt road suitable for most cars but caution is required due to the occasional ATV traffic.

Although the Main Haul Road continues to the Soft Maple Reservoir, the Cowboy Beaver Meadow parking area lies at the end of Sand Pond Road located just south of the Sand Pond parking lot. Do not expect a sign or register here, although an old “Parking Area” sign nailed on a tree is present, it is now mostly obscured by new growth.

Historical topographic maps show the area once had a more significant human presence than it does today. An unimproved road once followed along the Alder Creek through the beaver meadow on its way from Long Pond to Crooked Lake. In addition, another road left the beaver meadow and headed up along Pepperbox Creek. A winding, low rock ridge resembling a beaver dam made of boulders that crosses the Alder Creek between beaver ponds is probably the remnants of this old road.

In addition to the rare human artifact there are numerous natural landmarks to investigate in this area, including the many beaver ponds along the Alder Creek, an unnamed pond and a hill with steep forested cliffs.

The unnamed pond provides an attractive place for camping while visiting the area. Several islands exist within the pond although they are merely muddy, slightly raised areas covered with semi-aquatic grasses, sedges and other vegetation. Beavers and hooded mergansers frequent this pond and its islands.

Many dead trees choke the shoreline of the pond. Along the west shore sits a large, stick nest located at the top of one of these snags near the shoreline. This nest may belong to either a great blue heron or possibly an osprey but remained unoccupied during the late summer.

An elevated area between the pond and the beaver swales along Alder Creek provides an opportunity to gain some perspective on the area. The forested cliffs provide a destination but do not expect much in the way of views. Although the hills to the east beyond the Alder Creek can be seen through the tree canopy these minimal views are merely a tease since a clear view of the Cowboy Beaver Meadow remains elusive. A better view may be available during the autumn months after most of the leaves have descended from the canopy.

The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is the main attraction of the area. This meadow is a series of beaver swales following along the Alder Creek as it meanders toward the Beaver River to the south.

The meadows range from wide and relatively dry open, shrubby areas to just a narrow corridor surrounding the creek. Most of the creek is slow moving with many pools along its length but at some points, the tannin-rich water flows swiftly over bare rock with frequent small waterfalls. Opportunities for crossing the stream and exploring to the east of the creek are plentiful in late summer.

For those wanting to experiment with bushwhacking in a seemingly remote area should consider the Cowboy Beaver Meadow area within the northwestern Pepperbox Wilderness. The area provides a beaver pond, a series of beaver swales along the Alder Creek and human artifacts from bygone days. So, saddle up and enjoy!

Photos: Beaver pond within Cowboy Beaver Meadow, unnamed pond and rocky portion of Alder Creek by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Adirondack Wildlife: Basking Painted Turtles

In any shallow, muddy-bottom body of water in spring, when the sun is shinning or a southerly breeze has elevated the temperature into the 50’s or 60’s, the painted turtle may be seen lounging peacefully, often in the company of others of its species.

As with all reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded. This means they are unable to generate any internal heat of their own. In order to elevate their body temperature to a level that is more favorable for carrying out numerous physiological processes, these slow moving creatures must first pull their body from the still frigid waters that engulf them, and then attempt to absorb as much solar radiation, or thermal energy from the air as possible. In this way the painted turtle can effectively restart its system after lying totally dormant over the long winter season here in the Adirondacks.

Like several other cold-blooded organisms, the painted turtle passes the winter embedded in the layer of dark, muddy silt and organic debris that forms the bottom of most quiet Adirondack waterways. Even though this shelled vertebrate has lungs rather than gills, it can remain submerged for prolonged periods without breathing when the water is close to freezing. As is the case with other reptiles, the painted turtle becomes increasingly more lethargic as the environment surrounding it cools in autumn, thereby decreasing its need for oxygen. As the temperature drops to within a degree or two of freezing, the painted turtle lapses into a state of complete dormancy which further reduces it need for this essential elemental gas.
The very limited amount of oxygen needed to sustain life comes from this turtle’s ability to absorb this dissolved gas from water that is repeatedly drawn into a special sac near its tail and into its throat.

As the sun’s rays become more intense in mid to late April, and begin to penetrate the bottom muck, the painted turtle’s internal temperature starts to rise. The dark color of this turtle’s back shell allows it to effectively absorb the sun’s infra-red rays, even when it is below the surface. Exposure to solar radiation can boost a turtle’s core temperature by several degrees above that of the water which surrounds it. This helps provide it with the energy needed to resurrect itself from the bottom muck and become somewhat active again.
When conditions above the surface become favorable, the painted turtle swims to an object that it can climb onto in order to lift itself completely from the frigid water. Logs that are floating on the surface, a small island of peat, or a deteriorating muskrat house are all common places that the painted turtle visits to bask in the sun. Since these spots are separated from the shore, the turtle is less likely to come under attack from a shoreline predator.

Since this creature’s metabolic state is still drastically depressed by the cool surroundings, the life processes within this normally sluggish critter are not yet fully functional. Even acquiring nourishment becomes a challenge, as the turtle’s digestive system is unable to effectively process any of the various items consumed by this omnivore when it is immersed in the water. By basking in the sun, the painted turtle is able to elevate its core temperature to a level that allows for a more effective break down of the food ingested when it forages along the bottom.

Along with promoting digestion, the temporary warming of the turtle’s body helps facilitate the process of egg formation within mature females. In the Adirondacks, it is usually toward the end of May when the females leave their watery home and venture onto dry land to lay their eggs. As with all reptiles, the painted turtle must leave the safety of the water and seek out an appropriate spot on land in which to deposit her eggs.

Painted turtles regularly emerge from the water during the spring whenever the air temperature is warmer than the water, or when the sun is beating down on a particular spot in their home. For this creature, it is more than just a pleasant way to relax, but a method allowing for the digestion of their food, and the development of their eggs.

Tom Kalinowski has written several books on nature in the Adirondacks.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Aerial Photos Capture Champlain Sediment Plumes

A series of remarkable photographs issued by the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) shows shoreline erosion and sediment and nutrient loading of Lake Champlain as a result of the flooding that continues to occur around the region. The lake has reached historic levels that have accelerated shoreline erosion and sent dark plumes that likely contain contaminants into open water.

The filling of historic wetlands, channeling streams and development along watersheds that empty into the lake have increased storm water run-off and added what is considered an unprecedented about of contaminants – pollution, nutrients and sediment – into the Lake Champlain ecosystem according to the LCBP.

“While there will be time in the future for a careful assessment of the flooding of the many tributaries and of the Lake itself,” an LCBP press statement said, “it already is clear that the impact on water quality (in addition to the immediate human distress) will be very significant.”

Among water quality managers’ concerns is controlling run-off phosphorus pollution from household cleaning products and lawn fertilizers, believed critical to managing and reducing water pollution. Increased phosphorus pollution is linked to the growth of potentially toxic and economically disruptive algae blooms.

During unseasonably warm weather last July health warnings were issued in New York and Vermont for algae blooms in Lake Champlain (including some near Westport, Port Henry, and Crown Point). At the time health officials recommended avoiding all contact with the affected water including swimming, bathing, or drinking, or using it in cooking or washing, and to keep pets and livestock from algae-contaminated water.

The water quality issues come at a time when Plattsburgh is celebrating its 10th year of hosting professional fishing tournaments on Lake Champlain. According to Dan Heath, writing in the Press Republican, Plattsburgh has hosted more than 50 tournaments that included some 25,000 anglers since 2001. More than 3,000 bass anglers are expected for this year’s tournaments which together will offer $1,8 million in prizes. “Lake Champlain has earned a reputation as one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in North America,” Heath wrote.

The tournament season will kick off withe the American Bass Angler’s Weekend Series on June 11th.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program has posted the aerial photos (taken on April 29-30, 2011) online; the photos are also linked to Google Maps. It’s likely a similar situation is occurring on many of the Adirodnack region’s lakes and reservoirs.

Photos: Above, sediment plume from the Ausable River and Dead Creek; Below, headland erosion and suspended sediment north of Mooney Bay. Photos courtesy the Lake Champlain Basin Program.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adirondack Amphibians: The Wood Frog in Spring

The awakening of the many forms of life that passed the winter in a deeply dormant state begins with the melting of the snow, the retreating of the ice sheet covering our waterways, and the thawing of the soil. Because of fundamental physiological differences among the species and the various preferences that each creature has for a wintering site, some animals are quicker to respond to the onset of favorable spring conditions than others.

In the forested regions of the North Country, the wood frog is among the first to return to an active state and announce with a distinct chorus of voices that spring has come to the Adirondacks.

Unlike other frogs in the Adirondacks, the wood frog does not spend the winter embedded in the muck that covers numerous bodies of water. Rather, this amphibian burrows deep into the leaf litter that covers the forest floor to protect itself from the frigid conditions of this long season. Also, unlike many other cold-blooded vertebrates, the wood frog fails to get below the frost line.

This small, forest dwelling frog with the black mask across its face is among the very few forms of vertebrate life that can experience freezing without perishing. The body of this frog has adapted by producing several substances that allow for a lowering of the freezing point of the water molecules within its body.

Additionally, even if the actions of these compounds fail to prevent ice crystals from forming, the wood frog will not die. With the formation of ice in its body, the wood frog’s heart stops beating, its blood no longer circulates throughout its systems, and oxygen fails to be delivered to its cells. In this type of cryogenic state, the wood frog can remain alive throughout the winter and awaken once its body warms to a temperature that is above freezing.

As soon as the upper layer of soil thaws, releasing the wood frog from its icy tomb, it spends a few days acclimating to an active state before heading to the small, vernal pool of water that serves as its breeding ground. Upon arriving at such a seasonal body of water, the males begin to announce their presence by emitting a clacking noise that is described by some as several ducks that are not quite “on-key”.

Within a span of a few days, such small bodies of water may contain dozens of wood frogs. While these amphibians can be heard anytime of the day, late afternoon is when more voices are added to the chorus, and by evening on those occasions when the temperature is well above the freezing point, every male is contributing to the unique noise that can carry for nearly a hundred yards. Additionally, the intensity of this sound increases during times of warmer weather. Sunny days which can elevate the temperature of these small, seasonal pools can also make the wood frog more active and vocal.

While some amphibians, like the spring peeper, persist in announcing its presence for well over a month, the wood frog seldom remains in its breeding surroundings longer than a week to ten days. Shortly after the last females have had their egg masses fertilized, these temporary occupants abandon the pools and begin their travel to their summer ranges. Wood frogs are reported to migrate up to a half mile to reach a favorable spot on the forest floor in which to spend the summer.

Spring is a season of sound in the Adirondacks. While birds have the most musically complex songs, and the most melodious calls, the voices of several amphibians add to the diversity of this springtime, vocal ritual. It is impossible to state which amphibian produces the most appealing mating call; however, it is certain that the love serenade of the wood frog is the first to grace the air and signal that the spring peepers will soon be calling here in the Adirondacks.

Tom Kalinowski has written several books on Adirondack nature and is a regular contributor on natural history here at the Adirondack Almanack.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wetlands: Vernal Pools And Their Inhabitants

What follows is a guest essay from Stacy McNulty Associate Director and Research Associate at SUNY ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. Following last week’s story on the destruction of wetlands by ATVs at the 2011 SNIRT rally, the Almanack asked Stacy to provide some background on vernal pools, small intermittent wetlands that are important sources of Adirondack biodiversity.

On a proverbially dark and stormy night in mid-April I climb the hill, flashlight sweeping the ground for obstacles. The first warm, spring rain has been falling and snow piles lie here and there. Faintly I hear a quacking sound up ahead, signaling my target – but what I seek is not a duck, but a frog. Scores of wood frogs swim and call from the pool, their eyes shining in the beam of my light. » Continue Reading.