Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Saturday, September 5, 2009

In The Battle Between Feral Cats And Wildlife, The Cats Win

Recently a woman dropped off an injured robin at our front desk for the local wildlife rehabilitator to pick up. It was in a roomy box and I simply set it aside until the rehabber came, knowing the animal was already under stress and didn’t need me peeking in at it. A couple days ago I asked the rehabber how the bird was doing.

“It was a cat attack,” she said. “It was badly injured – broken wing, head and neck injuries – it didn’t survive.”

I expressed my condolences, but instead of wanting sympathy, she exclaimed “People shouldn’t let their cats outside! We need to tell them this!” So here I am, passing the word along.

Cats are natural predators, and birds, as well as mice, squirrels, snakes, baby rabbits, and insects, are on the menu. We may not think about it much if Fluffy brings home a sparrow once a year, and if it was only that, it might not seem so bad.

But, coincidentally, Audubon Magazine just came out with an article by Ted Williams about this very topic and the statistics are staggering! In one study in rural Wisconsin it was determined that there are at least 1.4 million cats running loose in the wilds of that state, and on average they are each eating about six birds a year. If you do the math, that comes out to almost eight million birds! And chances are they aren’t starlings or English sparrows, invasives we could well do without. No, these are often warblers, hummingbirds, tanagers…neotropical birds that spend the summers breeding in the north. Birds whose futures are already on shakey ground thanks to habitat loss. Birds whose populations may already hang in the balance.

Much of the article focused on the Hawaiian Islands, where feral cats (and the introduced mongoose) are wreaking havoc on the native birds, many of which are endangered species.

Well, we say, the solution is easy: trap out the cats. And it would seem easy, except cats have a huge and powerful lobby. Cats? A lobby? Yes – believe it or not, feral cat advocacy groups have sprouted up all over the US (and its territories). Their philosophy is to trap the cats, spay or neuter them, and then release them back into the wild. In theory, they will not be able to reproduce and over time the colonies will disappear. In reality, you’d have to trap and fix 70-90% of the cats in any wild population to even make a dent in the population (and that doesn’t factor in other feral cats, or newly dumped pets, joining the existing colony). Cats are difficult to trap, so in reality, that percentage is rarely reached. But let’s say 90% get fixed and are all turned loose again. Those cats may not be able to breed, but they can still hunt, and that is the problem.

So the advocacy groups put out kibble. Fluffy will be fed, then, and won’t be hungry. Well, if you have a cat, you know that Fluffy doesn’t necessarily hunt for food. Fluffy hunts for the thrill of the stalk, the joy of the capture, the pleasure of playing with the prey.

While reading the article, I was horrified to learn that the cats’ lobby is so strong that Fluffy and his friends have more protection than endangered species! It’s hard to believe.

Nationwide, millions and millions of birds lose their lives to cats. Many of these cats are feral, but many are also pets, pets that are let outside so they can “do what cats are supposed to do.” In rural areas, the numbers are high, for farmers like their barn cats, and we rural folks like to believe that cats should be able to hunt. But the truth is that the wildlife cannot support Fluffy’s habits. Not only are the birds suffering, but in some places Fluffy has reduced the wild prey to such levels that the natural predators don’t have enough to eat. And then there’s the spread of disease, things like toxoplasmosis, which can be deadly.

When I walk around my neighborhood, I often see my neighbors’ cats out for a stroll or a hunt. And recently I’ve seen young cats, no doubt feral, that are lurking around bird feeders and garages, looking for small mammals and birds. And I admit, I let my own cat out occasionally in the summer, but my yard is fenced and he’s too old, fat and lazy to chase a bird. Or so I tell myself.

The upshot of this story is a plea to folks to think twice about letting Fluffy outside to hunt. Most domestic cats are content to live the life of Riley indoors, where food and comfort are in plentiful supply. If you feel Fluffy needs to hunt, there are plenty of cat toys out there that you can supply, and this will also give you the opportunity to spend quality time with your cat. And if you know of a feral cat, or a feral cat colony, consider the impact it is having on the wildlife. Instead of maintaining it, look into capturing the offeder(s) and getting it/them into an animal shelter. Remember, there are plenty of cats in the world; it’s the wildlife that is in decline.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Understanding Green Roofs At The Wild Center

The Wild Center in Tupper Lake will present a program on what it takes to plan, install and maintain a green roof in the northern Adirondack climate on September 15th, from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. The event is free to members or with paid museum admission.

The session will offer the principles of green roof construction presented by two experts in the field. Dustin Brackney, project manager with Apex Green Roofs, Somerville, MA, who installed The Wild Center’s own 2500 square foot green roof, and Marguerite Wells, owner of Motherplants, a green roof plant nursery in Ithaca, NY, will each share their tips and techniques for successfully growing plants on a building’s roof in our harsh northern climate.

Roof structure requirements and green roof material components will be discussed, along with plant variety considerations, the benefits to the environment, and the economics of creating a unique wildlife habitat that can reduce building heating and cooling energy cost.

Photo: Chris Rdzanek, Director of Facilities, checks out The Wild Center’s Green Roof.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Summer Job Everrrrr!

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined the rooftop highway road crew this summer, requesting $150 million for the proposed four-lane divided highway north of the Adirondack Park — newly renamed I-98 by supporters who argue that it will prevent the mass migration of jobs and humans away from the region. Environmentalists counter that it will cut off north-south migration routes in and out of the Adirondacks for many other species.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide

According to a just-released U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study, scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country. About one fourth of the fish sampled were found to “contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” according to USGS. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.

Mercury contamination of fish, ospreys, loons, and other aquatic-feeding animals continues to be a concern in the Adirondack region where the problem is the most acute of all New York State. New evidence in the Northeast shows mercury contamination in animals that only feed on land, spreading the concern from water based ecosystems to terrestrial ones as well. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Adirondack Birding: 60 Great Places to Find Birds

It’s not every day that we get a book here at the Almanack that reaches my list of Adirondack must-haves. John Peterson and Gary Lee’s Adirondack Birding:60 Great Places to Find Birds (Lost Pond Press, softcover, 240 pages, $20.95) is the kind of book that you will want to have on your shelf – even if you’re not that into birds. Peterson (of Elizabethtown) and Lee (who hails from Inlet), are two of the Adirondack region’s most skilled birders. They drew on decades of experience in selecting the sites for this, the first comprehensive guidebook to birding hot spots in the Adirondacks.

Experienced birders can use the book to search for the Park’s most-coveted species, including boreal birds not found in the state outside the Adirondacks as well as uncommon winter visitors and rare migrants. What I find amazing about this book however, is that it offers the non-birder like me an opportunity to find natural places were I can see a lot of great birds – even if I don’t yet know what they are. If an afternoon exploration to a spot likely to be teeming with birds is what you’re after more than working to complete your birding checklist – this is a great book for you. That’s not to say the experienced birder won’t have something to learn here as well. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where are the Monarch Butterflies?

Last month I was asked why we aren’t seeing any monarch butterflies this year. I had no answer. Well, I had an answer, but it wasn’t the answer this person was likely seeking. I looked back through my records of when monarchs are first seen each year, and discovered that when I first started keeping track, we didn’t really see monarchs until mid- to late summer; in other words, mid-July and August. Two years ago I saw my first one at the end of May.

This year, however, July came and went with only a couple monarch sightings. Now August is chugging along towards the halfway mark, and I can still probably count on one hand the number of monarchs I’ve seen. Milkweed plants are conspicuously unmunched, as are the butterfly weeds all around my gardens. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bill McKibben, Bat Expert Al Hicks in Newcomb Saturday

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, has been rallying support from around the world to call for a fair global climate treaty. Wildlife biologist Al Hicks trying to prevent the extinction of bats in the Northeast. McKibben (left) will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Land Trust on Saturday, August 15, at the Newcomb Central School in Newcomb, NY. Hicks’s lecture, The End of Bats in the Northeast?, is one of three field trip/educational opportunities being offered before the meeting formally kicks off at 1:00. The event is free and open to the public. Participants are asked to register in advance.

McKibben is founder of 350.org, which according to the website, “is an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis–the solutions that justice demand.” Their stated mission is to”inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis–to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.” The number 350 refers to parts per million, and represents the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

The meeting will also feature a conservation update from Michael Carr, delivering the latest news on historic land protection projects involving the former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands and the Follensby Pond tract—175,600 acres in all. Attendees will find out how sustainable forestry fits into part of the conservation plan.

At 11:00 a.m. in the Newcomb Central School Auditorium, state wildlife biologist Al Hicks will give an up-to-the-minute account of “white-nose syndrome,” a mysterious affliction causing bat populations in the Adirondacks and at least nine northeastern states to plummet. Hundreds of thousands of bats, including animals from well-established colonies in the Adirondacks, have already died. Hicks has been on the frontlines of this environmental crisis since the outbreak was first discovered in 2007.

Participants should plan to arrive around noon for the annual meeting, or before 11:00 a.m. to attend the special lecture. Bring a bag lunch or call ahead to reserve an $8 lunch from Newcomb Central School students raising money for their trip abroad.

To register for this event, reserve a bag lunch, or obtain more information, contact Erin Walkow at (518) 576 – 2082 x133 or [email protected]


Friday, August 7, 2009

Paul Smith’s VIC To Host Wildlife Festival on Saturday

The Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) at Paul Smiths will host the Adirondack Wildlife Festival from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, Aug. 8. The annual event will feature children’s activities, live music, wildlife exhibits, food, trail walks, lectures and live animal demonstrations.

The day starts with live animal programs. Beth Bidwell, executive director of the Wildlife Institute of Eastern New York, will present reptiles, amphibians and a variety of Adirondack raptors. Providing informative and exciting programs to groups of all ages, she will give live demonstrations from 10am to 3pm.

Singer/songwriter Mark Rust, of Woodstock, is the featured musical act. From 10 to 11 am, he will welcome visitors with hammered dulcimer music. At noon, he will give a show for kids, “My Family’s Musical Traditions,” followed by a “How to Play the Spoons” workshop at 12:45pm in the Music Tent near the Butterfly House.

From 2 to 3pm, Rust will give a show titled “Our Families Came to Sing,” songs about family life and growing up. Rust’s performance showcases an impressive array of instruments, including fiddle, guitar, hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer and banjo.

Wildlife photographer Gerry Lemmo, of Queensbury, will be offering several programs: a Wildlife Walk at 11am; a BYOC (Bring Your Own Camera) Photography Walk at 1:15pm; and a slide show presentation titled ” Songbirds of the Adirondacks” at 3pm in the VIC theater. Participants will need to sign up and meet at the front desk for the two walks.

Displays will be set up by the DEC bureaus of wildlife, the DEC Hudson River Otter Stewardship Program, the New York State Bluebird Society and regional organizations.

Staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society will give a lecture titled “On the Scent of Adirondack Moose” at 11am in the VIC theater. APA Environmental Educator Milt Adams will present a lecture titled “Home Sweet Home: Interpreting Wildlife Habitat in the Adirondacks” at 1pm also in the VIC theater.

Free and open to the public, the Adirondack Wildlife Festival at the Paul Smiths VIC will be held rain or shine. Food and beverages will be available for purchase from 11am to 2pm in the Food Pavilion. Children’s activities will be led by VIC naturalists and volunteers from 10am to 3pm in the Sunspace. The Native Species Butterfly House will be open from 10am to 4pm.

The Adirondack Wildlife Festival is sponsored by the Adirondack Park Agency and the Adirondack Park Institute, the not-for-profit group that funds environmental educational programs, events, publications and curricula at the VICs.

The New York State Adirondack Park Agency operates two VICs, in Paul Smiths and Newcomb, which are open year-round from 9am to 5pm daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving. They offer a wide array of educational programs, miles of interpretive trails and visitor information services. Admission is free.

The Paul Smiths VIC is located 12 miles north of Saranac Lake on Route 30. For more information about the VICs, log on to the centers’ Web site at www.adkvic.org.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Opinion: Gillibrand Listening to the Wrong People on Rooftop Highway

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest to obtain federal stimulus funds for the “Rooftop Highway” is a puzzlement. Who has the senator’s ear on this? Apparently nobody inside the Adirondack Park.

While the science is abundant and clear, that four-lane highways are akin to walls to animals that travel on the ground, the presence of a six-million-acre park south of the proposed expressway is rarely mentioned. Nor are movements of wide-ranging mammals between the Adirondacks and southern Canada. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Adirondack Gardening: Habitat Close to Home

When the editors of Adirondack Almanack asked me to take over Ellen Rathbone’s garden columns while Ellen is on vacation, I couldn’t help thinking, they have got to be kidding! Me, write a garden column? I guess they don’t know that I’m more of an anti-gardener. Not anti in the sense of “against” (I love other people’s gardens), but in the sense of “antithesis of.” In short, I’m a weed-loving wildflower nerd who will risk drowning and broken bones and heart attacks and Lyme disease pursuing additions to my wildflower “life list,” but I faint at the thought of cultivating the plot behind my house. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sticking Up for Skunks, Adirondack Style

A friend of mine in college had a pet skunk named Cauliflower. We heard tales of this unusual household companion, but sadly only got to meet her on the occasion of my friend’s funeral. The year before, while I was interning at a nature center near Syracuse, someone brought in an “abandoned” baby skunk. One of the staff worked with a rehabber and took temporary custody of the little animal until the end of the day. After giving it a meal of Similac, I volunteered to babysit. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a baby skunk nestled in your bosom for the better part of a day (I had to keep it somewhere warm and secure). Needless to say, I developed a fondness for skunks.

In the ensuing years I have discovered that the mere mention of the word skunk causes cries of “pee-eeww” to leap from the mouths of every child, and even some adults, in the vicinity. Noses are pinched tightly shut, even though no actual skunk is nearby. This reaction amuses and baffles me. I guess some lessons are learned early and persist for a lifetime, whether legitimate or not.

Striped skunks (there are, by the way, nine other species of skunks) are known to scientists as Mephitis mephitis. Once grouped together with weasels in the family Mustelidae, skunks now have their own family, Mephitidae, which is shared only with stink badgers, an animal found in the Philippines and Indonesia. It is easy to see why skunks were combined with weasels, for like skunks, weasels have many scent glands and can be quite aromatic. However, only skunks use their scent as a mode of defense.

If one encounters a skunk, and does not threaten it in anyway, the skunk is liable to trundle along its merry way without a second glance. If harassed, it will give plenty of warning to leave it alone. First, it will stomp its front feet. If this doesn’t work, it will make little charges towards it’s harasser with its tail raised over its head. Should the intruder continue to bother it, the skunk will bend its nether regions around to the front, so both its nose and rump are facing the same direction, and let loose a stream of yellowish liquid, a potent musk that can be fired up to twenty feet away. The skunk can manage six to eight squirts before its supply is gone, after which it will require about a week to recharge. The active compound in the spray is butylmercaptan, Mother Nature’s answer to tear gas. While it will burn and sting the eyes, it will not persist (and the recipient will not go blind). Unlike man-made tear gas, the odor can persist for weeks and can be smelled up to a mile away.

In short, it’s best not to bother a skunk.

And why would you want to? After all, skunks provide a valuable service to those who grow crops, and they do it at night when we are asleep. They eat many grubs and grasshoppers and insects of all stripes that are considered pests to the farmer. True, skunks have been known to chicken eggs and sometimes even a hen, but these instances are considered rare. Skunks are true omnivores, consuming berries and bugs, mice and roadkill all with equal relish. That said, invertebrates make up the greatest portion of the skunk’s diet.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, skunks were routinely trapped and bred in captivity for the fur industry. Believe it or not, their pelts were the second most popular fur in the business. But after about 1915 the demand for skunk fur started to decline, and all the skunk breeders had to find a new outlet. Skunks as pets became the next rage. Today pet skunks are hard to come by, mostly because they are illegal in most states due to the fact that skunks are the number two carrier (in the wild) of rabies. Red foxes, incidentally, are listed as number one.

I have been asked several times by local folks why Newcomb has no skunks. My pat answer has been that it’s simply too cold here for them. However, I have learned from long-time residents that Newcomb used to have a good number of these black and white animals. Pursuing this, we discovered that skunks seemed to disappear about the same time that coyotes moved in. Hm…interesting. Part of me wonders, though, if it has more to do with the lack of open space than it does with the presence of coyotes. Skunks are traditionally animals of open spaces, preferring to live near agricultural lands and open woods. Sometimes they inhabit dense woodlands, and have even been found at elevations over 2000 feet, but this is not where they thrive best. Since Newcomb has reverted back to forest over most of its acreage (believe it or not, at one time most of this area was cleared for farms), I suspect this is what has driven the skunks from our fair village.

We could learn a lot from skunks, who are truly pacifists at heart. They waddle their way through life, minding their own business, consuming pestiferous insects to help out (unintentionally) their human neighbors. We could all use a few more neighbors like this.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Porcupines: 2nd Largest Adirondack Rodent

This last winter one of our local residents came in with a photograph of the strangest looking tracks in the snow. There were no distinct foot prints, and no well-defined gait pattern. What it looked like was a beautiful serpentine zig-zagging design; it reminded me of rickrack. And it looked familiar. I grabbed one of my tracking books and quickly thumbed through. Sure enough, there it was: porcupine tracks. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dog Day At The Adirondack Museum

On Saturday, August 1, 2009 the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake will celebrate all things canine. “Dog Days of Summer” will return for a third season with a variety of dog demonstrations, programs, and activities. All dogs are welcome when accompanied by well-behaved owners.

The event will include a few simple rules and regulations for doggies and their people: dogs must be leashed at all times; owners must clean up after their pets – special bags will be available; dogs will only be allowed on the grounds – not in the exhibit buildings; Doggie Day Care will be available throughout the day at no charge, with the understanding that dogs cannot be left for more than an hour; poorly behaved or aggressive dogs will be asked to leave the museum grounds with their owners.

“Dog Days” demonstrations will include “Dancing With Dogs” at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on the museum’s main lawn. Join members of the Adirondack High Peaks Training Club for Canine Freestyle behaviors, Solo Freestyle performances, a Formation Dance routine, and a Square Dance. Whether you have two feet or four paws, this fun-loving group of dogs and owners will get you moving!

The “JAZZ Agility Group,” featuring a variety of dogs going through their paces on an agility/obstacle course featuring hurdles, weave poles, and tunnels, will demonstrate at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Adirondack Museum Curator Hallie E. Bond will offer a Brown Bag Lunch program in the Mark W. Potter Education Center at 12:00 noon entitled “Historic Hounds: A Ruff Account of Dogs in the Adirondacks.” The presentation will showcase a portion of the more than 800 historic photographs of dogs in the museum’s collection. Dogs are welcome in the Education Center.

Nationally recognized Adirondack folksinger and storyteller Chris Shaw will share songs and a few humorous stories about man’s best friend in two short sets at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Shaw has released nine recordings: his 1988 debut album, Adirondack, has been inducted into the Library of Congress Folk Archive. He has appeared at the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Old Songs Folk Festival, and the Chautauqua Institute, as well as music halls, festivals, and coffee houses across the United States and Europe.

From 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. “Doggy Booths” featuring working dogs, including the Champlain Valley K-9 Search and Rescue Dogs, will be open. Dog owners will answer questions about training, care, and the work of their dogs.

Museum visitors and their pets are invited to participate in the Rustic Agility Course from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and join the Pooch Parade, a who’s who of dog breeds at 2:30 p.m.

This year the Adirondack Museum will support the work of the Tri-Lakes Humane Society, a no-kill shelter caring for stray and unwanted domestic animals, by holding a collection drive as part of the “Dog Days of Summer” festivities. Visitors are asked to bring a donation of food, toys, or cleaning supplies to the museum. A drop-off spot will be located in the Visitor Center. Needed items include: Science Diet puppy and dog food, Kong and Jolly toys, dog beds, biscuits and jerky treats for dogs of any size, Clorox bleach, paper towels, toilet paper, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, and large, heavy-duty garbage bags. The museum will deliver donations to the shelter.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Linking Forests Across the Champlain Valley

The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy gets a lot of attention when it completes a landscape-scale protection deal like the 161,000-acre Finch Pruyn purchase, or when it buys a place with a hallowed name like Follensby Pond.

But for decades it has also been working among the little farms and forests of the Champlain Valley with a larger picture in mind.

“The goal is to provide safe passage for species—a way for a moose, say, to go from the Adirondacks to Vermont with little risk of being struck by a car, or a salmon to make it far enough upstream to spawn without being blocked by a dry culvert,” Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said in a press release Monday. “Where are the most important habitat linkages and how do we work do we protect them? To date, we’ve raised several hundred thousand dollars in grants for this initiative in the Champlain Valley, which is a critical piece of a larger effort.” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Annual Adirondack Loon Census Seeks Volunteers

Loons are the quintessential symbol of wilderness. Just watch any TV show or movie that has a “wilderness” scene and you will hear loon calls in the soundtrack (even if it is in the desert). A stroll through any gift shop in the Adirondacks, Canada or Maine proves that they are probably the number one animal associated with the outdoors (competing only with moose and bears). There is nothing quite like the mournful wail of a loon floating through the night air as you lie in the dark trying to sleep. It is easy to see how people might once have associated them with unhappy or restless spirits. » Continue Reading.



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