Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Make Way for Adirondack Turtles

Evening walks in the spring are utterly enjoyable, despite the blackflies and mosquitoes. Every trip out the door is like opening a gift: the anticipation of some wondrous thing, the joy of seeing it for the first time. Even though we expect certain events at certain times of the year (because they occur regular as clockwork), they still delight us when we see them. I suspect this is something that harkens to our primitive selves, like watching the flickering flames of a campfire.

Tuesday evening Toby and I took our walk down to the Hudson River, checking some of “my” nestboxes along the way. The sun was out and a nice breeze was blowing – almost enough to keep the insects away. We toured around the Information Center at the river’s edge, noted that the water level is back down, and then turned around, heading for home. I was thinking that fairly soon we should start seeing the wood turtles wandering the roadsides in search of good nest sites, but I figured that it was still a bit too cool, thanks to the recent cold front.

Suddenly Toby stopped, sniffing the road. We investigated the pavement, which yielded nothing that I could see, and just as I was turning back around to continue our walk, I spotted her: the first wood turtle of the season. She was on the side of the road, her back to us, standing completely still. She wasn’t very large; her carapace maybe eight inches long. I greeted her and stroked her shell, which she didn’t seem to appreciate for she tucked in her legs, tail and head, doing her best to disappear. A quick scan of the sandy road shoulders didn’t turn up any evidence of recent digging, so I’m not sure if she had already laid her eggs or if she was just starting to search for a site.

This is the time of year when turtles of all stripes emerge from the woods and waters to lay their eggs. They search for good sandy soil that is easily dug. Using their powerful hind legs, they scoop out holes and fill them with ping-pong-ball-like eggs. The soft, leathery shells allow the eggs to drop without sustaining any damage. Once they finish laying, the turtles push the sand back over the eggs, completely hiding all evidence of their labors, and then wander off to continue their lives in the woods (or waters) they call home.

But turtle survival is a tenuous thing. Temperature is important for the development of the eggs (it also determines the sex of the embryos). If the weather is cool and wet all summer, they may not develop at all. Then there are the predators. Like warm-blooded metal detectors, foxes, raccoons and coyotes sniff out turtle nests along the roadsides; when one is located, they dig it up and devour the contents. Sometimes nests are laid in sandy roadbeds only to later on be paved over by road crews. In the almost nine years I have lived here, have never seen a wood turtle hatchling. Snappers, yes, we see baby snapping turtles every year (they must be hardier souls), but never a baby wood or painted turtle.

From late spring throughout the summer I tell people to be on the lookout for turtles. If you see a turtle crossing the road, do your best not to hit it. Better yet, you can be a turtle’s best friend if you pull over and assist it in its travels. Most turtles you can pick up, gently, like you are holding a sandwich, and just carry across the road – take them in the direction they were heading and let them go. Larger snappers, however, you might want to lift with a shovel (I always have one in the back of my car – good for snow removal in winter, turtle removal in summer). And if you should find a turtle that was not so lucky, and was hit by a car but is still alive, put it in a box and call a rehabilitator. You’d be surprised what they can do with fiberglass and super glue these days!

Remember, too, that many turtles are protected by state law. This means you cannot legally collect them, either to sell or to keep as a pet. Likewise, if you should have a pet turtle, like a red-eared slider for example, never turn it loose in the wild! This is how non-native populations become established. Some non-native species are not problematic, but too many others become invasive, using up natural resources and pushing out native species which cannot compete with the aggressive newcomers.
Our native wildlife and plants are having a tough enough time surviving in today’s changing world – let’s not make things more difficult for them by introducing additional competitors.

Photo by Steve Silluzio.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

DEC Reminder: ‘A Fed Bear is A Dead Bear’

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding campers, hikers and homeowners to take precautions against unwanted encounters with black bears. There are approximately 4,000 – 5,000 bears in New York’s northern bear range, primarily in the Adirondacks. Bear populations have been increasing in number and expanding in distribution over the past decade.

Black bears will become a nuisance and can cause significant damage if they believe they can obtain an easy meal from bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters, barbecue grills, tents, vehicles, out-buildings or houses. When bears learn to obtain food from human sources, their natural foraging habits and behavior are changed. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Current 10 Best Selling Books About The Adirondacks

In time for planning those summer reads and outdoor activities, here is a list of the current ten best-selling Adirondack books according to Amazon.com.

1 – 50 Hikes in the Adirondacks: Short Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks Throughout the Park, Fourth Edition by Barbara McMartin (May 2003).

2 – At the Mercy of the Mountains: True Stories of Survival and Tragedy in New York’s Adirondacks by Peter Bronski (Feb 26, 2008).

3 – Adirondack Trails High Peaks Region (Forest Preserve Series, V. 1) by Tony Goodwin and Neil S. Burdick (April 13, 2004).

4 – The Adirondack Book: Great Destinations: A Complete Guide, Including Saratoga Springs, Sixth Edition by Annie Stoltie and Elizabeth Folwell (April 21, 2008).

5 – The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park by Jerry C. Jenkins and Andy Keal (Jun 30, 2004).

6 – Adirondack Home by Ralph Kylloe (Oct 19, 2005).

7 – The Adirondacks: A History of America’s First Wilderness by Paul Schneider (Sep 15, 1998).

8 – Adirondack Wildlife: A Field Guide by James M. Ryan (April 30, 2009).

9 – Adirondacks (Hardcover – April 25, 2006).

10 – Adirondack: Wilderness by Nathan Farb (Jun 16, 2009).


Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project – Another Family Activity

Last summer I grew some amazing sunflowers – they must’ve reached ten or more feet in height and over a foot across the blossom! I also grew some smaller sunflowers, in all shades from a chocolaty red to a brilliant yellow. My sunflower bed became one of my favorite gardens, especially last fall when the chickadees came to steal the seeds (afterall, I planted the flowers to provide food for the birds).

Then I discovered The Great Sunflower Project (http://www.greatsunflower.org). This outfit’s goal is to sign up folks around the country to plant sunflowers and monitor them for bee activity. It’s kind of like the Lost Ladybug Project I wrote about earlier, except this time it’s bees that are in the spotlight. (The photo is from their website, by the way, taken by Ginny Stibolt.)

Most of us have heard about the crashing honeybee populations, better known as Colony Collapse. There are many theories out there as to why it’s happening, but I don’t think anyone has nailed down THE reason yet. Honeybees, however, are non-native insects, brought over to this part of the world for their honey-making skills and pollination efforts. That said, North America is home to many native bees (over 4,500 species of bees, according to the Great Sunflower Project’s website), most of which are important pollinators in their own right.

But even many our native bees are having some difficulty surviving these days. One reason, according to the website http://nature.berkely.edu/urbanbeegardens, is how we are gardening. The latest gardening fad is mulching, either with natural materials like wood chips or with synthetics like plastic or landscaping cloth. Mulching is touted for its weed-suppressing, water-conserving qualities, something every gardener appreciates. These ground covers, however, make it nearly impossible for ground nesting bees to find ground in which to nest. And in urban areas, which already have a surplus of impenetrable ground, thanks to roads, driveways, parking lots, lawns, etc., this can spell doom for some species of bees.

So, the Great Sunflower Project is recruiting gardeners, students, teachers and general nature nuts like me to survey our gardens for bees. If you sign up early enough, they send you a free packet of seeds (this year it was Lemon Queen Sunflower seeds). It’s too late now for the freebie seeds, but you can find Lemon Queens at many seed shops or catalogues. You plant your seeds, they grow and bloom, and then you watch for bees, timing how long it takes for five bees to show up at your plant(s). You send your data to them and that’s about it. But they aren’t looking for just any ol’ bee. Specifically, the sunflower folks want to know about bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees and green metallic bees. A quick buzz through their website will provide you with ID info for these species – it doesn’t get much easier than this!

Perhaps you don’t have sunflowers, or maybe you aren’t a sunflower fan. Not to worry – you can also monitor bee balm (if you need some, see me – I have a surplus of the stuff), cosmos (great companion plant for your veg garden, by the way, because it attracts these important pollinators), rosemary, tickseed and purple coneflower.

Maybe you are hesitant because you are afraid of getting stung. Did you know that bees are really quite shy and mostly are just too busy going about their own business to worry about you? About the only time most bees “attack” is if their nests are threatened (and by the by, male bees lack stingers). So if you are just puttering around your garden, taking notes on bees, they will happily ignore you and continue collecting pollen, sipping nectar, or looking for mates.

Need more reasons to participate? The Urban Bee Garden website has some great tips for bee watching, including interesting bee behaviors you can witness. For example, some male bees actually sleep overnight inside flowers; if you get up early enough you can catch them snoozing in their blossom bowers. Other males are very territorial, protecting “their” flowers from other males. In truth, they are on the lookout for females and spend most of their time driving away potential rivals.

This weekend I will probably plant my sunflower seeds and brace myself for the influx of bees. I’ve already noticed bees of many stripes about my gardens, some at the flowering shrubs, others hovering over bare ground, no doubt testing its potential for a nest site. I know that my yard is a great bee haven, thanks to the many flowering companion plants I scatter among the veg, but also thanks to my lax gardening standards: mulch is spotty at best these days. Watching the flowers for specific bees will give me just one more excuse to stay outside and learn something new about my fellow earthlings; the vacuuming and dishes will have to wait for another day.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Red Efts: Nifty Adirondack Salamanders

Earlier this spring, after our first few bouts of significant rain, the red efts were on the move. They were tiny, measuring just a bit over an inch from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, but their bright orange skin made them stand out brilliantly against the dark gray pavement of the road, and each one that I found got a lift as I carried it to a safer location off the road and into the woods.

Red efts are the terrestrial form of the eastern (or red-spotted) newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. More than just larvae, but not quite adults yet, red efts can be considered the teenager stage in the eastern newt’s life. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adirondack Black Bears

There I was, cruising the VIC’s Sucker Brook Trail in search of spring wildflowers (translation: staring at the ground as I walked along), when to my left I heard a rustle of vegetation. “Ruffed grouse,” I thought, and turned my head, anticipating the explosion of wings as the bird made a hasty retreat towards the treetops. What I saw, however, was no ruffed grouse. It was black, it was furry, and it was galloping away from me a high speed.

My next thought was “someone’s black lab is loose.” Then it dawned on me: this was no lab, it was a bear. A small bear, probably a yearling, but a bear nonetheless. What I saw was the typical view I have of bears in the Adirondacks: the south end of the animal as it’s headed north. If I’m lucky, I’ll see the face before the animal turns tail. And this is how bears are – they fear people. Many people fear bears as well, but unlike the bear, people really have little reason to be afraid of these normally placid animals. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Lost Ladybug Project – Perfect for Families

“Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone.”

I never really understood that little ditty when I was a kid. I mean, why would you tell this specifically to a ladybug, as opposed to a bumblebee or a dragonfly?

As it turns out, there is a reason. A quick search on the Web turned up a neat little website on nursery rhymes: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/ladybug_ladybug.htm. It seems that in merry ol’ England it was traditional to burn the fields after the fall harvest to cut down on potential future insect infestations. The farmers knew that this beetle, which they call a ladybird, was the farmer’s friend (they are ravenous aphid-eaters), so this was essentially a courtesy call made to tell the insects to leave the fields before they set them on fire.

Today we find ladybugs mostly in our houses in the winter and spring. This is because these insects seek out good hidey-holes for hibernation (cracks along the outside of the house), and when they detect the warmth and light inside, they move on in. Ladybugs are totally harmless, but they can exude a foul-smelling orange goo from their legs if they are pestered. This is a defense mechanism meant to drive away predators, but to them a broom is just as aggressive as a bluejay, so if you try to sweep them away, they may leave this exudate on your walls and curtains. The majority of the ladybugs that turn up in your house are probably non-natives, the Halloween ladybug being the most common perpetrator. This species is orange and black, and often shows up in the fall.

Despite this apparent evidence to the contrary, many native ladybug species are in rapid decline. Back in 1986, when the nine-spotted ladybug was proposed as New York’s state insect, it was common, but by 1988 its population was in a tailspin. One hasn’t been seen in New York now since the late ‘80s. Only one specimen has been found since then in all of the eastern US, and that was discovered by two children in Virginia.

What can YOU do? Cornell University, home to many a citizen science project, has started the Lost Ladybug Project (www.lostladybug.org). This is a great hands-on project for kids, families, or adults. All you do is go out, look for ladybugs, take their pictures, and send the photos in to Cornell, along with the particulars of where you found the ladybug, when you found it, etc. There are three species they are especially interested in finding: nine-spotted, two-spotted, and transverse ladybugs. If you go to their website, they have lots if photos and color print-outs that can help you succeed in this mission.

I know that I’m going to add ladybug hunting to my list of outdoor activities this summer. I have a patch of tansy that in the past has been loaded with ladybugs, both adults and their larvae (which are strange-looking beasts). Chances are most of these will be introduced species, but you never know…lurking among the immigrants there just might be a native or two.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Access to DEC Region 5 Forestry and Wildlife Info

This morning we heard from DEC forestry and wildlife representatives from Region 5 (which covers most of the Adirondacks). Tom Martin, DEC Forester, kicked it off with a discussion of the explanation of the role the agency plays in local forests, public and private. Martin was followed by a DEC Wildlife Biologist who pointed out a number of important resources for landowners, including a few cool internet tools.

Region 5 contains more potential commercial forest land (about 3 million acres) than forest preserve land. The region has three part-time people who handle private land services who are basically foresters who help people develop land management plans.

Martin reviewed recent large land transfers in Region 5. “Every single large forest products company has sold their land,” he said. Those include Champion, International Paper, Domtar, and Finch Pruyn. Lands not bought outright by the state (or a third party like the Nature Conservancy) have been purchased by timber management investment companies which Martin said have much shorter term financial goals (and shorter tenure) than the original owners.

By the way, DEC has paid full taxes on land the state owns in the park since the 1880s. The companies that have sold their land all enjoyed 480a tax breaks that reduced their assessments by 80% (that includes state, county and school taxes).

Following Martin, Region 5 Wildlife Biologist Paul Jensen reviewed DEC resources for forest owners including the agency’s beaver damage management program. The program includes nuisance beaver permits that allow trapping and killing of nuisance beaver and the removal of beaver dams; the DEC no longer traps beaver for relocation. Jensen also briefly touched on whitetail deer management, a significant factor in understory regeneration.

Here are a few resources Jensen pointed us to for getting a closer look at public and private forest lands:

Environmental Resource Mapper – enter your property location and find about wetlands, significant natural communities, and rare plants and animals.

Landowner Incentive Program
– provides information and access to funds and/or tax breaks for forest land owners whose land contains at risk species.

PDF – provides a lot of information on state lands.

We’re off to Tupper Lake for a sawmill visit, then back here for tree identification. This evening – Adirondack mammals. I’ll report again after dinner.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

7th Annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration

Seven years ago Brian McAllister, then volunteer coordinator at the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center, had an idea: why not host a birding festival in the Adirondacks? After all, birders are committed hobbyists who will travel great distances to add new birds to their life lists, and this would be a great way to promote the Adirondacks and the boreal birdlife that makes the Park special. Fast forward to 2009: the Great Adirondack Birding Celebration (GABC) is still going strong and has a line-up of speakers and field trips that will appeal to bird (and outdoor) enthusiasts of all abilities.

This year the GABC, which will be held June 5-7, is hosted by the Adirondack Park Institute (API), the Friends Group of the Visitor Interpretive Centers. One of the changes for 2009 is a registration fee ($35 for individuals, $50 for families), which not only includes entry to all the programs and field trips, but also to the Dessert Reception and Owl Prowl at White Pine Camp (June 5), the BBQ lunch at the Paul Smiths VIC (June 6), and a one-year membership to the API. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reporting From NY Master Forest Owner Training

I’ll be reporting regularly this week beginning Wednesday evening from Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York Master Forest Owner (MFO) training at SUNY ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. The program, which is being held in the Adirondacks for the first time, combines classroom and field experience in general forestry. My goal is to simply learn a little more about the variety of local forestry issues we cover here at the Alamanack. Forest ecology, wildlife management, water quality issues, timber harvesting and management, invasive species, sugar bush management, and more are all on the schedule.

The MFO website explains why the program is valuable:

Over 14 million acres of woodland in NY State are privately owned by approximately 500,000 nonindustrial forest owners. That’s over 3/4 of New York’s total forest area! It is estimated that less than 1/4 of the state’s private forest holdings are purposefully managed despite the educational programs and technical services available. In order to reap the benefits of this vital resource, sound stewardship is necessary. Stewardship objectives involve management practices that ensure ecologically sound forest productivity. Forests represent a precious commodity that, if wisely managed, can generate a variety of economic, ecological, and aesthetic values to forest owners and their communities, generation after generation.

I’ll regularly report my experiences and some of what I learn here at the Almanack, as I did with the Wild Center’s climate conference in November 2008.

You can find out more about the program and training schedule here.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bird Banding in Crown Point Begins in May

Beginning Saturday, May 9, master bird bander Mike Peterson will again begin banding migrating birds that pass through the Crown Point peninsula on Lake Champlain. The program is a well-established and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds.

Bird banding has been used for more than 100 years to keep track of the activities of wild birds. Banding involves placing a metal or plastic band around the leg of a wild bird and then releasing it back into the wild. If the bird is recovered in the future, either dead or alive, the information is sent to the original bander. In this way, scientists can find out how far birds travel how long they live, where they spend their winters and whether the species populations are rising or falling. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bats Flying and Dying in Broad Daylight

The disturbing die-off of the Northeast’s bats has been mostly something we’ve heard about on the news.

Reporters have accompanied biologists into abandoned mines to witness bats dying or dead, piled on the floor of their winter hibernacula. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A Dry White(water) Season

Low snowpack and scarce April showers have led to burn bans around the Adirondack Park. The drought also has river paddlers wandering, searching for streams pushy enough to float their colorful little boats.

“Whitewater kayakers are being forced into summer habits of traveling downstream, unfortunately by car, to seek water levels suitable enough to sink their paddles in,” writes Jason Smith, on Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters blog. “The Hudson River along with the Moose River, in the central Adirondacks, offer reliable spring flow and are popular spring runs. But even these mighty rivers are running lower than usual. . . . [D]on’t be alarmed if you see a vehicle loaded with short, plastic kayaks driving aimlessly around your neighborhood.”

Other Adirondack critters known to crave a good spring rain are amphibians. In Paul Smiths, in the high-elevation north-central Adirondacks where ice was still on ponds as of Thursday, wood frogs and spotted salamanders began to move on a warm rainy night about two weeks ago, observes Curt Stager, professor of biology at Paul Smith’s College. The cold-blooded creatures live buried in the forest floor most of the year, braving exposure to predators and car tires on rainy April nights to travel to the ephemeral ponds where they breed. Peepers, American toads and other frogs and salamanders also congregate at waterholes this time of year.

Showers Saturday gave creeks and rivers a noticeable boost. The last two weeks had brought snow and then unrelenting sun. “They [herps] have been dribbling around. It was an early start and then it got cut off by the dry weather,” says Stager, who studies local phenology. “Every year is a little different in the Adirondacks. You’ve got to watch it for decades to notice a real pattern.”

High/dry kayaker sketch courtesy of Jason Smith


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wildlife Conservation Society Adk Program Event

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program will be hosting a public gathering in Saranac Lake highlighting recent work. The event will take place Sunday, April 19, 2009 from 4pm to 6pm at the Saranac Laboratory’s John Black Room in Saranac Lake. Program director Zoë Smith will give a brief presentation beginning at 4:30 pm about the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and how the Adirondack Program bridges scientific research and community outreach to achieve wildlife conservation. Afterward, guests will have the opportunity to ask the WCS’s staff experts about Adirondack wildlife and conservation. The event is free and open to the public; refreshments will be served.

The Saranac Laboratory is located at 89 Church Street, just around the corner from the Hotel Saranac in downtown Saranac Lake, New York. For more information call (518) 891-8872 or e-mail (accp@wcs.org).

Based in Saranac Lake, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program works to promote healthy human communities and wildlife conservation through a cooperative, information based approach to research, community involvement and outreach. The Wildlife Conservation Society works to save wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. WCS is currently running more than 500 wildlife conservation projects in 60 countries worldwide that work together to change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Adirondack Bracket: Round Three Recap


If it looked as though seasonal residents just didn’t show up for their match against the Wild Center otters, it’s because they didn’t. Excuses ranged from new restrictions on use of corporate jets, to a few who were laying low, waiting to cash their TARP-subsidized year-end bonuses. It was an early present for otters Squeaker, Louie and Squirt, who will celebrate their birthdays on Sunday.

Speaking of anniversaries, quadricentennial explorer Samuel de Champlain showed off his skillet skills, making a 30-minute meal out of Rachael Ray.

In the second quad, home to a couple of southeastern Adirondack powerhouses, file this one under “just say nose.” Hard-riding, hard-partying Americade succumbed to white nose syndrome. We are talking about the mysterious fungus that’s devastating bat populations, aren’t we? And E-bay watch out: Warrensburg’s World’s Largest Garage Sale discounted, tagged and liquidated another cherished Adirondack icon, the lean-to.

In the third quad, two lopsided pairings in the round of sixteen has cleared the way for a classic showdown between endurance and speed. Moose were overrun by the Northville-Placid Trail, while TR’s Midnight Ride left hunting camp coffee cold. The 25th veep’s lightning-fast buckboard ride from Tahawus to the railhead at North Creek will now face the 133-mile-long recreation trail, which was laid out by the Adirondack Mountain Club in the 1920s. This match-up promises to be a rough ride, much more than a simple walk in the park.

In the final corner of the dance floor, the iconic Adirondack pack basket proved to be more decorative than utilitarian, getting stuffed by popular local hang-out Stewart’s Shops. And finally, nordic-combined golden boy Bill Demong could not find the right combination to defeat Canadian drivers. Work continues on what particular characteristics distinguish Canadian drivers from any other sort.

Coming Monday: The Final Four.



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