Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Monday, April 25, 2011

Guest Essay: Migratory Birds On Parade

What follows is a guest essay by Nancy Castillo, who along with Lois Geshiwlm owns the Wild Birds Unlimited shop in Saratoga Springs. The Almanack asked Nancy to tells us what migrating birds she is seeing in her yard at this time of year.

The parade has begun – don’t miss the show! A parade of birds, that is. And you don’t have to go far to view it – the show is great right in your own yard!

Some of these birds will stop and stay for the summer, choosing to raise a brood or two in our yards. Others will continue the parade, perhaps all the way to the far reaches of the boreal forest of Canada.

My parade began in mid-March with the arrival of the real harbinger of spring, the Red-winged Blackbird. He serves as an avian grand marshal with a rousing “konk-ler-eeee!” and a suit of black adorned with red and yellow epaulets. The parade he leads will last for weeks, providing us a show of color and sound from migrating birds.

In my yard, the Song Sparrow followed the blackbird in mid-March, scratching for food in the open patches of my still snow-covered yard. A few weeks later, another native sparrow arrived, the Fox Sparrow. They had an easier time foraging for food with their back-scratch technique as the remaining snow had significantly retreated. The Fox Sparrow is one of those migrants in the long-distance parade – they typically don’t breed in New York and the majority breeds in the boreal forest.

Yet another native sparrow, the Chipping Sparrow, arrived in the 2nd week of April. With his smart little rusty cap, he’s the first migrant that will spend the season in my yard, raising 1-2 broods before heading back to the southern states to spend his winter.

A raspy “fee-bee” song alerted me that the Eastern Phoebe was back. This little flycatcher also drops out of the parade to nest in the area. Last year one nested under the eaves of a neighbor’s garage, a favorite location for their mud-mortared nest.

Another native sparrow also marks his arrival by song. “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” tells me the White-throated Sparrows are here. They’ll forage on the ground beneath the feeders amongst the Dark-eyed Juncos before heading to higher elevations to breed.

A month of the migratory parade has gone by, yet there are many birds yet to arrive. In anticipation, I have filled my hummingbird feeder in case an early migrant passes through. Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will arrive first, and often the first hummingbird seen for the season is still just passing through. Hummingbird season for us is a “Mother’s Day to Labor Day” affair, though there are always some early and late hummers that push those limits.

So what else can we expect in the second half of the parade? In May, I look forward to the return of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I love to take note of the pattern of red on the males’ breasts as each is unique in size and shape. It’s a good way to get an idea of how many different individuals are visiting your yard.

Shortly after, Baltimore Orioles will return. If you put a feeder out immediately after you see your first oriole of the season, you might be able to attract them down from the treetops to a feeder offering orange halves, grape jelly, mealworms, or nectar. Your chances are best early – after the tent caterpillars emerge, the chances of luring orioles to a feeder decline significantly, though you never know!

In mid-May, we’ll also welcome back the Gray Catbird. Listen for their cat-like little “mew, mew” calls coming from bushes and trees. They may even stop by your feeders if you’re serving a birdseed blend or suet that has fruit in it.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers will return in May as well, drilling their sap wells in trees like Mountain Ash. The sap attracts insects that the sapsucker will feast upon, but watch for other creatures like butterflies and even hummingbirds check out the sap and the insects trapped in it.

The migratory bird parade marching through our backyard brings a welcome blast of color and sound following a long, drab winter. And the best part is that the parade comes to you – all you need to do is open your eyes and ears and heart to enjoy it!

Photos: Above, Rose-breasted Grosbeak; middle, Purple Finch; below Ruby-throated Hummingbird.


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

‘Owner’s Manual’ for Landowners Available Free

When you buy a car or a refrigerator, you receive an owner’s manual. But when you buy a piece of land, you’re on your own. Until now, that is. A new owner’s manual is now available for New York landowners, and it’s free.

Cornell Cooperative Extension is working with the publishers of Northern Woodlands magazine to distribute this new publication that will provide New York landowners with essential information for taking care of their land and getting the most out of it. The guide, called The Place You Call Home: A Guide to Caring for Your Land in New York, is being distributed free of charge to people who own 10 or more acres in New York. » Continue Reading.


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.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Commentary: Oversight Needed for Conservation Easements

Conservation easements are real property arrangements designed for the insider. Specialists predominate before and after an easement is consummated in private, including the negotiators to the terms of the easement (the seller, donor, buyer, or grantor and grantee and their lawyers), the appraiser of the easement’s value, and an ecological specialist who conducts baseline surveys of the land in question. There is rarely, if ever, a public meeting to discuss the details of the easement. The public may learn about easements through after the fact press releases, but their specific provisions and public benefits may be unclear for years. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wildlife in Spring: Beavers on the Move

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).


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Free Family-Friendly Amphibian Workshop

Learn how to keep an eye out for newts, frogs, toads and other amphibians at a free workshop at the Lake George Association on Thursday, April 14, from 6:30 – 7:30 pm. David Patrick, director of the Center for Biodiversity at Paul Smith’s College will be the presenter. Workshop attendees, ages 10 and older, will learn how to assist in amphibian conservation efforts.

Amphibians in the Adirondacks face a wide range of challenges. Habitat destruction, invasive species, diseases, climate change, and deaths caused by vehicles have led to declines in many of the 32 species of amphibians — 14 frogs and toads and 18 salamanders — found in New York State.

The Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) designed this hour-long, family-friendly workshop to show people how to monitor amphibians and their habitats. The data collected by observers will help researchers with amphibian conservation efforts.

“One of the best ways to help conserve these animals is to learn more about where they are currently found, and the types of habitats they are using,” said David Patrick. “This workshop will show where you can learn more about these animals, how to identify them, where to find them, and the information that can be collected to aid in their conservation.”

For more information, contact David Patrick, (518) 327-6174, [email protected], or visit www.paulsmiths.edu/ATBI, or contact Emily DeBolt, LGA director of education, (518) 668-3558, [email protected], or visit www.lakegeorgeassociation.org.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Wildlife: The Woodcock’s Spring Serenade

Patches of snow that remain in open areas and along forest edges, and the reluctance of the soil to completely thaw have impacted the seasonal routines of numerous forms of wildlife, including the woodcock. Yet, despite the adversities created by the weather, most woodcock are already engaged in breeding, as can be easily noted by visiting certain settings after the sun has set.

The woodcock is a plump, mottled tannish-brown bird that is seldom seen during the day because of its extremely effective protective coloration, and its preference for remaining inactive when the sun is above the horizon. It is during the fading twilight of evening, and as the sky begins to brighten before dawn that this odd-looking bird ventures from a sheltered spot on the forest floor and begins to forage.

With its long, hook-tipped bill, the woodcock is ideally adapted for extracting earthworms from the soil. By inserting this lengthy beak into the dirt, the woodcock is capable of sensing any nearby worms, or other soil invertebrates. The high concentration of nerve cells that exist within its bill are attuned to the minute vibrations generated by worms as they ever so gradually move through the soil. Once it detects and locates an invertebrate, the woodcock quickly attempts to insert its bill directly over the potential meal, grab hold of it, and then pull it from its earthen surroundings.

Because the ground is still partially frozen, or covered with patches of snow in many of the deciduous and mixed forest edges preferred by the woodcock, this bird temporarily concentrates its evenings and early mornings in places in which the soil has thawed and worms have become active. Open, south facing hillsides and wetlands where the sun and high water events have caused the snow to melt are places sought out by the woodcock in early spring. Alder thickets are particularly attractive to this bird as they provide a dense layer of ground cover as well as a wealth of soil invertebrates during the spring. Even in summer, when hot and dry weather forces worms and many soil bugs in open and dry sites deep into the soil below the reach of this bird, alder areas provide conditions favorable to a foraging woodcock.

Although the woodcock’s coloration and markings perfectly match that of a deciduous forest floor or the ground in an alder thicket, the males come into an open, grassy setting before they eat in order to announce their presence. The loud, sharp, nasal-sounding note bleated by the male is a far cry from the melodious tunes produced by many of our feathered songsters, yet this call serves a similar purpose. After repeating this short squawk for several minutes, the woodcock then takes to the air to perform an aerial display that is also part of its mating ritual.

The tips of the woodcock’s primary flight feathers produce a distinct whistling-twitter sound when air quickly flows past them. This is why a woodcock makes a similar twitter noise when it’s flushed from a daytime resting spot.

The aerial display of the woodcock is difficult to follow in the dwindling twilight, especially on overcast nights. When the sky is clear, however, and a full moon has ascended above the horizon, it is possible to watch this bird circle the forest clearing that it has claimed, and perform a series of dives that bring it back to its singing perch on the ground.
Taking an evening walk to a forest clearing near an alder thicket or to a stand of young hardwoods after the daytime breeze has subsided, and the first stars of the night (which are usually not stars, but planets) are just becoming visible, often results in noting a woodcock’s presence.

A fair number of these occurrences, however, center on hearing the characteristic sounds made by this plump, short-legged bird, rather than actually seeing it. It is the distinct vocalization made by the woodcock as it stands in the open, yet shrouded by darkness, that alerts other woodcocks in the area, and the humans attuned to the sounds of nature, that the process of creating another generation of woodcocks is already underway.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Adirondack Birds: Nesting Time for Canada Geese

The persistent northerly wind that has kept spring at bay this year has also impacted the migration schedule of numerous birds. However, the urge to return to the breeding grounds is extremely strong, and there are always hardy individuals that travel northwards during those brief periods when the headwind dies and the air becomes calm.

Among these impatient migrants are pairs of Canada Geese that have overwintered in the windswept corn fields of southern New York, and across the Pennsylvania and New Jersey countryside where they have found an adequate source of food.

Historically absent from most waterways in the Park prior to the mid 1800’s, the Canada goose has become an abundant species of waterfowl in many sections of the Adirondacks populated by humans. When accompanied by its brood of young, a pair of adults avoids the heavily forested shorelines that characterize most bodies of water throughout this section of northern New York. It is large, open fields, especially those in which the grass is periodically mowed that attract this hefty herbivore. Golf course fairways near a pond or river, large athletic fields adjacent to a marsh or stream, and community parks and sprawling lawns that border a lake are all ideal settings for the Canada goose.

The abundance of grasses, leafy weeds, grains and select soil bugs that serve as food to these honking giants attracts them to such open places. Additionally, this long necked bird is better able to scan the immediate surroundings which provide it with the opportunity to detect a predator when one is still a long distance away.
Even though many of shorelines in the Adirondacks are still covered with snow, and ice continues to exist well out from the water’s edge, pairs of Canada geese may be seen is spots of open water as they begin to return to the region. Upon their arrival, the pair seeks out a secluded location in which to make a nest. A remote section of a marsh along a stream that has caused the ice to disappear for the season is frequently selected. An open, sun-baked patch of low shrubs and collapsed sedges near the edge of a river is another type of setting that might be chosen for a nest, as is the roof of an abandoned muskrat house that sits back from the shore in a snow free spot.

While these sites lack the grasses and other herbaceous plants that typify a well maintain lawn, such marshy communities still contain an assortment of non-woody vegetation useful to this grazer. Because the growing season has not yet started, the older adults that take up residence in such locations for the month long period of building a nest, laying eggs, and incubating them depend on their experience at locating various seeds and other wetland edibles to keep them sufficiently nourished.

Once their eggs hatch, the parents begin the process of relocating the family to a setting in which grasses are starting to grow.

As southerly winds eventually usher in more spring-like weather, flocks of Canada geese can be heard and seen flying overhead in their characteristic “V” shaped formation. These are the birds that are headed much further north than the upper portion of New York State. The Canada geese that have established breeding populations in many sections of the Park over the past several decades have mostly returned from their wintering areas despite the icy conditions that remain along our waterways. While a few pairs may occasionally be seen on scattered patches of open water that currently exist on some of our lakes and ponds, many pairs of Canada geese have already retreated into the semi-open thickets in marshes and other wetlands that they have selected to serve as their home for the next month or so.

The creation of open spaces along lake shores and river edges that are carpeted with lush, green lawns has been an alteration of the Adirondack environment much to the liking of property owners and community residents alike. For the Canada geese it is also a most welcome change to the shoreline, as it provides this large species of waterfowl with the opportunity to raise the young birds that will begin appearing by early to mid May.

Photo: Canada Geese in flight. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Adirondack Brook Trout

After a long, cold, snowy winter, it is time to search out the majestic Adirondack Brook Trout. Many of the best trout fishing and viewing locations are still experiencing high flow conditions, making accessing them difficult. Due to these conditions, stocking of bodies of water within the Adirondacks will not take place until later in the month. It is anticipated that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will stock 147,000 Brook Trout into Adirondack waters.

Brook Trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, our state fish, is one of the easiest species to recognize. The white leading edges on the fins, wormlike vermiculation and the red spots on their sides haloed with blue, make this fish unique. The Brook Trout, like the Lake Trout is actually a char. They can serve as an indicator of the health of an aquatic ecosystem.

Brook Trout live in lakes and streams throughout the Adirondacks. Being a cold-water species, they prefer, small streams with cool temperatures, as well as lakes and ponds that are cold and well oxygenated. During the fall, Brook Trout will migrate to the spawning redds, generally in streams or in the shallow bays within lakes on gravel beds. The majority of spawning takes place midday. During courtship both sexes defend the spawning redd by chasing away intruders. Females will lay between 40 to 79 eggs per pit. The female will spend up to 2 days digging the pit. While she is digging the male will approach her, touching her sides. When the female is ready, she will move into the center of the pit, the male will curl himself around her to hold her in position. The pair will then vibrate together, releasing eggs and milt. Both sexes will spawn multiple times.

Brook Trout are voracious eaters and will feed on aquatic insects, invertebrates, salamanders, tadpoles, small mammals and other fish. Within the Adirondacks, there are native strains of Brook Trout that are unique to the body of water in which they are found. These strains are termed Heritage strain Brook Trout. The most commonly known are the Horn Lake, Little Tupper Lake and the Windfall Pond strain. The average size of a Heritage Brook Trout is 9 to 16 inches. They reach maturity between 2 to 3 years of age and can live for up to an average of 6 years.

The New York statewide fishing regulations for Brook Trout are: Open season starts April 1 and runs till October 15; however their may be regulations for specific bodies of water. The minimum length that may be kept is, any, with a daily limit of 5. The state record Brook Trout is a 5 pound 4.5 ounce fish caught in Raquette Lake in 2009.

Brook Trout populations within the Adirondacks have declined from historical numbers; this is due in part to non-native fish species, degradation of water quality and acid deposition.

Photos: Brook Trout, Courtesy Blueline Photography, Jeremy Parnapy.

Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes regularly about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

DEC Reports Black Bear, Whitetail Deer Hunt Results

Hunters killed just over 230,000 deer and more than 1,060 bears in the 2010 hunting season, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced. The deer take was up about 3% from 2009, bear numbers were similar to harvest levels of 2005-2007, down 25% from 2009. While overall population size plays a large role in harvest totals, annual variations in take are also strongly influenced by environmental factors that affect bear activity and hunting pressure such as natural food availability and snow fall according to DEC wildlife biologists.

The 2010 deer take included approximately 123,100 antlerless deer (adult females and fawns) and just under 107,000 adult bucks. Deer harvests in the Northern Zone were very comparable to 2009, with adult buck take (approx. 16,100) essentially unchanged and antlerless take (approx. 12,500) only increasing about 3%. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adirondack Amphibian Inventory Volunteers Sought

Amphibians in the Adirondacks face a wide range of challenges — but a new project aimed at citizens and scientists alike could help ease some of those threats, says David Patrick, a Paul Smith’s College professor who is director of the Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI).

The ATBI is organizing a series of hour-long, family-friendly workshops to show people how to monitor amphibians and their habitats. Researchers will use the data collected by observers in order to help with amphibian conservation efforts.

Habitat destruction, invasive species and diseases, climate change, and deaths caused by vehicles have led to declines in many of the 32 species of amphibians — 14 frogs and toads and 18 salamanders — found in New York State.

“One of the best ways to help in conserving these animals is to learn more about where they are currently found, and the types of habitats they are using,” Patrick said. “These workshops will show where you can learn more about these animals, how to identify them, where to find them, and the information that can be collected to aid in their conservation.”

The ATBI is a coalition of several academic institutions, state agencies, not-for-profit organizations and other groups.

Workshops are free and open to the public. They are scheduled for 6:30-7:30 p.m. on the following dates:

* Thursday, March 31. SUNY-Potsdam, Stowell Hall, Room 211.

* Wednesday, April 13. Adirondack Interpretive Center, Newcomb.

Prof. Glenn Johnson of SUNY-Potsdam, co-author of “The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State,” will host the events at Paul Smith’s and SUNY-Potsdam; Stacy McNulty, an ecologist with SUNY-ESF, will host the event in Newcomb with Patrick, who is also director of Paul Smith’s Center for Adirondack Biodiversity.

For more information, contact David Patrick at (518) 327-6174 or [email protected], or visit www.paulsmiths.edu/ATBI.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Banner Winter for Adirondack Mice

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.

Tom Kalinowski’s videos can be seen at


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Undertanding Fish ‘Winterkill’ on Small Waters

As the ice melts across the state, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) expects to get increasing reports of fish kills in small ponds. Reports of fish mortalities have already been received from some small waters in the southeastern portions of the state.

Whenever large numbers of dead fish are observed, there is concern that a pesticide spill or disease caused the mortality. However, in most cases fish kills that become obvious when the ice melts can be attributed to “Winterkill,” a natural phenomenon that occurs when waters rich in nutrients, algae, and other aquatic plants are covered with ice and snow for long periods of time.

Winterkills occur when ice and snow prevent sunlight from entering the pond and prevent aquatic plants from producing oxygen, necessary to maintain life in the pond. The ice cover also prevents oxygen from mixing into the pond’s waters from the atmosphere. Instead, the decomposition of organic matter and respiration of aquatic organisms in the pond cause a steady decline in oxygen. If the snow and ice cover persists long enough, as was the case in some state waters this year, fish mortalities can occur. Once the ice melts, hundreds of dead fish can be found floating at the pond surface. Winterkills are most common in small, shallow, nutrient-rich ponds with plentiful decaying aquatic vegetation. Winterkills are rare in waters over 20 acres in size and do not occur in larger lakes which have sufficient volumes of oxygen rich water to maintain aquatic life through even the worst of winters.

Winterkills are rarely complete as different fish species and sizes of fish have varying tolerances to low oxygen levels. Some fish also find isolated locations of sufficient oxygen in ponds to hold them through low oxygen periods. Fish populations in these waters often rebound a few years after the fish kill occurred.

Anyone noting a fish kill involving a substantial number of fish that they believe cannot be attributed to Winterkill should contact their local DEC regional office.

Photo courtesy www.nodakoutdoors.com.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hunting Related Shootings Rise in 2010

Following two of the safest years in New York State hunting history, reports of hunting related shooting incidents received by DEC for 2010 were higher than average according to a draft report issued by the State’s Department of Conservation (DEC). There were 40 personal injury incidents, and four fatalities, three of which occurred during the deer season (one was self-inflicted). The fourth fatality was also self-inflicted and occurred during spring turkey season.

Although the total was higher than the average of 38 incidents over the previous decade, it was still well below the average of 66 incidents per year that occurred in the 1990s, and 137 incidents per year during the 1960s.

The number of hunters statewide is declining, but the hunting incident rate (incidents per 100,000 hunters) is falling faster than the number of hunters. During the 1960s, the incident rate was 19 incidents per 100,000 hunters. Since 2000, the incident rate is one-third of that, averaging 6.4 incidents per 100,000 hunters.

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