Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Turkeys

Now I know what you're thinking - roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce. But no! I'm talkin' real turkeys!

It seems that yesterday several turkeys came to the VIC and had a party in the parking lot! Not only that, but they wandered down the walkway to the main building and checked out the snow-covered gardens.

Mr. Mike says the tracks weren't here yesterday at 9am, but when he returned at noon, they were. It must've been a late-morning party.

I love turkey tracks. They are so easy to identify (what else around here has avian feet that big?) and since I grew up with turkeys a rarity, it never ceases to amaze me when I see tracks...and it's even more exciting when the birds are present (even if these days they are almost as common as fleas on a dog).

When I worked at the Utica Zoo, we had a flock of wild turkeys that often wandered the grounds early in the morning when we first opened. If you don't believe that birds are the living descendants of dinosaurs, you obviously haven't watched a flock of turkeys in the early morning light! Maybe it's due to images from "Jurassic Park," but turkeys running across the ground look so much like dinosaurs that one almost feels like time has turned back. And for someone who loved dinosaurs as a kid (me), this is a real treat.

We are down to about 17" of snow now, thanks to the rain Christmas Eve (it was like a bloomin' typhoon out there). But it's not too crusty, surprisingly. Animals were on the move last night (making up for lost time), so there should be some good tracking out in the woods today. I encourage you all to take advantage of the nice weather today and go outside to see who was out and about in the last 24 hours.

The turkeys were back this afternoon snarfing up seeds cast to the ground by eager birds at our feeders. I shot this photo from the office window, but when I snuck out on the back deck for a better shot, they took off.

Turkeys have a very strong "flight" sense when it comes to any perceived threat - they aren't about to hang around to find out if the danger is real or not. First one, then five, then the whole group started to shuffle off into the woods, and then with a whoosh! they took to the air. Flying turkeys are pretty impressive. Unfortunately, the trees were in the way of getting any shots worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

Wishing you all a pleasant and safe holiday - whichever holiday you choose to celebrate.

Me, well, I'm a Solstice Baby, so that is a special day in my heart. Still, Christmas is a family time - tree and turkey, gifts and music.

This year, however, my Christmas will be spent doing laundry and dishes...and opening the one gift I have waiting for me at home. Hopefully, though, the weather will be good enough next week that I can head to the ol' homestead and enjoy a more typical holiday with my folks.

Best Wishes to All.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whooo Loves Ya, Baby

I was sitting here chatting with my boss and just casually glanced out the window, and there was a barred owl, sitting on a branch, soaking up the sun, and squinting at the ground below.

The other birds, namely blue jays, nuthatches and chickadees, continued eating at the feeders without a second glance at the owl. Not even the red squirrels seemed to care. Hmm.

After the owl flew off, we started noting all the other birds hanging around: male evening grosbeak, female hairy woodpecker, pine siskins, goldfinches, and the regular blue jays, red- and white-breasted nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees.

Now, if only the cardinal would appear (we did see it yesterday in the middle of the snowstorm).

Perfect Conditions!

We are now looking at about 18" of snow on the ground, the top 14 of which are very fluffy. And to top it off, the sun is out today, so it's a perfect day for snowshoeing and skiing!

More snow is on its way looks like today is the day to be out and about.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another New Header Photo

I just got back from putting up winter trail use signs on the Sucker Brook and Sage Trails, and simply had to use one of today's photos for a new header. This is of three glacial erratics that are along the Sage Trail. I call them the Three Sisters.

What a great day to be out, especially if one is a tracker! And for once I think squirrels were not the most numerous tracks out there. Believe it or not, otter tracks reigned supreme! Three otters travelled up the Little Sucker Brook to the old beaver pond, and at least one otter decided to make use of a good portion of the Sage Trail - slides and tracks ran right down the middle of the trail.

Small mammals (deer mouse and shrew) were also out and about. Twice I came across mouse tracks that went on and on, from tree to tree to log, to shrub...must've been out foraging, and lucked out that owls and foxes were hunting elsewhere!

I found one set of marten tracks:

The only tracks I didn't capture on "film" were the fox, which galloped around the back deck into the woods. Hunting birds? Squirrels? Mice?

And of course no trip on the trails would be complete without a few scenic shots, so here they are:

Murder Moste Fowle

Nothing like a little murder to get one's day started!

It was a gloriously clear and sunny morning, blue sky above, new snow below. The temperature was somewhere subzero (-5 at work). Toby and I took a leisurely stroll around the horn, making it longer by taking in both ends of our street. We noted that the deer were out en force over night (could the enormous full moon have been an influence?), but so far it appears they haven't made a foray over my fence. When we reached the water tower, I was shocked to see six snow buntings on the utility line overhead. Usually these little birds are seen at a distance, foraging on the ground or in the road, or flying up from said ground or road. But here they were perched on the line, all at the end that was in the sun. It was nice to get a close look at them. Then they flew off and joined a large flock of goldfinches that were zooming about a large balsam fir - shelter at the nearest bird feeding station.

BUT! The excitement came when I got home.

I had just finished fixing breakfast and had carried it into the living room to wolf down before heading to work. The cat was sitting where I had planned to sit, so I made for the piano stool, figuring I could watch for any birds at the feeders. As I sat down, I saw maybe five or six snow buntings on the ground. They were picking at the seeds I had scattered there yesterday. A blue jay flew in and checked out the peanut situation, which was lacking since I haven't refilled it in a couple days. I set down my plate and looked at the buntings through the binocs, just to confirm that's what they were (the sun was directly behind them, and the window is a bit less than perfectly transparent). I then set down the binocs and picked up the plate. I didn't even get one bite of food when the snow buntings flew off - all but one. The jay was still looking over the food situation.

"Hm," thought I.

Just then, another bird showed up on the scene - right next to the bunting. Then right on the bunting. It happened so fast! I'm sitting there thinking all at once "plate" "camera" "binocs" - not knowing which to handle first. I found a place to set the plate and grabbed the binocs again. Focusing on the action, I see the raptor holding the bunting down (I'm leaning towards it being a sharp-shin hawk; it wasn't much bigger than the bunting and it was all brown and white streaks, and it's a bit late in the season for the merlins to still be around). The bunting was now on its right side, belly facing the window. The hawk took a couple jabs at the bunting's neck. The bunting's feet bicycled in the air a couple times. And then the hawk grabbed its breakfast and flew off into the sun.

While the "struggle" was going on, the blue jay watched silently from the crabapple tree next to the feeders (so much for jays giving the alert). And then, shockingly, it flew out of the tree directly at the hawk, strafed it, and flew off.

I abandoned my breakfast and dashed out the door to see if there were any discernible signs of a struggle in the snow. There was no blood, and there were no feathers. The only thing I could find was a small depression in the snow amidst the snow bunting tracks and sunflower seed husks.

Wow! What a great start to the day! Well, not so much so for the snow bunting, but for the curious naturalist it was quite exciting.

And now I will be arming myself with the camera, donning snowshoes for the first time this season (we have about 9" of snow), and will hit the trails. Who knows what cool things I will find. Afterall, it was a full moon last night - maybe something dramatic happened here as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Birds! Birds! Birds!

Yesterday the airwaves were full of rumor of a storm that was going to nail New York. The reports I heard had warnings out for Hamilton, Herkimer, and Warren Counties, which leaves out us here in Newcomb (Essex Co.). So we entered the night a bit trepidatious (even braving the storm to attend the school holiday concert).

This morning I woke to the radio saying eastern NY was hit with snow and ice - some places up to half an inch of ice! And Newcomb Central School was on a two-hour delay (Newcomb is rarly delayed and almost never closed). I was afraid to get up and look at the driveway.

On my way to the kitchen I looked out the living room window and saw goldfinches galore! My little crabapple tree had birds on every branch and twig, and each feeder had at least six birds on it: the suet block, the peanuts, the nyjer, the sunflower seed tube, the sunflower seed platform feeder. Must've been easily a hundred birds, including the batch that flew in while I watched. So I grabbed my pitchers, filled 'em with seeds and peanuts, and tossed the food out on the ground around the base of the feeders. Of course Toby charged out with me, chasing the birds away.
It took about two hours for the goldfinches to gather up their courage and return.

As I drove in to work, I almost drove into a flock of crossbills on the road. There were 30-40 of them in a group in my lane. A beep of the horn meant nothing to them - apparently they wanted that salt and sand more than they cared about their safety. Luckily for them there was no traffic in the other lane, so I swerved around them. Not too many drivers would afford them that courtesy.

And the feeders at work are swamped - even saw a white-breasted nuthatch (usually we get the reds). I think we will all be looking throughout the day to see if the cardinal returns.

And for those of you wanting to get into your winter sports, we now have over 8" of snow, so our trails are now open for snowshoeing and skiing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Whole Lotta Ottas

On my way to work this morning I stopped by The Spring to fill up my water jugs, and there on the ice of the pond were several sets of otter tracks:

I drove to the office, grabbed the camera, and came back to the pond to get photos and see if I could figure out what was going on. All told, there were four sets of tracks.

One was off by itself, moving towards the road where I was standing.

The other three were a jumble. It could be one otter travelling back and forth, or it could be multiple otters. The tracks were not defined well enough for me to tell from the road which way they went, and the ice was way too thin for me to venture out to get a closer look.

Looking up the trail they/it made, there were areas where the snow was all wiped away; it's possible the animal(s) rolled. This suggests to me that either multiple animals were frisking about, or perhaps they/it rolled to remove water from fur.

I'd give my eye teeth to have a wetland like this in my back yard. What a great place for a Sit Spot!!! (Or, as we called them many years ago at the nature center where my career as a naturalist began: Seton Spots, after the famous naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton.)

Other notes from this morning: Toby and I encountered a flock of maybe a dozen snow buntings pecking up salt and sand at the village's salt shed. At work we had a brown-headed cowbird at the feeders! And yesterday afternoon we had a male cardinal at the feeders! The current regulars are pine siskins, goldfinches, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, and red-breasted nuthatches.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Wintery Header Photo

The current header photo (winter scene with gazebo) was taken here at the Newcomb VIC (State Route 28N - just west of the village of Newcomb, about half a mile past Aunt Polly's B&B). The Gazebo is right near the main building here - if you are facing our front door, it will be to your left (the head of the Rich Lake Trail). It doesn't look like this now - all that heavy snow has melted away, but there's no saying that it won't look like this again later this winter!

Kamana and Advanced Bird Language

This last summer I signed up for an independent studies program with the Wilderness Awareness School called "Kamana I - Path of the Naturalist." It was a very, very basic (introductory) course for folks who want to be naturalists. For me, it wasn't much use, but for someone who is new to nature studies, it would be good. None-the-less, this fall I signed up for "Kamana II," which builds on the skills and knowledge learned in the first program.

The key for success in the Kamana programs (there are four levels) is what they call the "Sit Spot" or "Secret Spot". This is a place that you find near your home that you visit every day for 45 minutes to an hour, absorbing (and later recording) what is going on. This involves watching, listening, smelling, tasting, studying, etc. Ideally, your spot has woods, a meadow and water. For most folks, though, it is the back yard, and if you are lucky, you have woods, a meadow and water in your back yard. Over the course of a year (or more) your observations include bird and mammal behavior, plant and tree ID, location of water sources, knowledge of all trails, dens and nests, etc. It is a really great activity and one that everyone (especially children) should do.

Well, last week I ordered the CD set "Advanced Bird Language," which I hoped would be useful in improving my tracking skills and general outdoor awareness. I listened to most of it yesterday, and I can report with confidence that it is probably the best thing I have gotten out of the Kamana program to date. The instructor (Jon Young, who is also the founder of the Wilderness Awareness School) is very enthusiastic about his topic and his enthusiasm is contagious.

So, what is this "bird language?" It's not about learning bird calls and songs (well, that's a small part of it), but rather it is about what the actions of the birds tell us is happening in the landscape around us. It's stuff that on one level we are aware of, but in truth we really don't know it because we don't pay attention to it. For example, when we go into the woods, we hear the birds call and we watch them fly. And we say "oh, there's a black-throated green," or "Ah! Common yellow-throat," and we move on. What we don't say is "why did those birds fly up so high?" or "why is the forest so silent?" By learning the behaviors of these birds, we can tell that a cat is coming through the yard and will appear "there" in 30 seconds, or that a sharp-shin hawk is about to cruise through the canopy. By learning what the birds are telling us, and how to move among them without sending out alarms, we may one day see the bear or the bobcat that is living secretly in the woods a hundred feet from the house! It's pretty neat, and if you are a naturalist (new or seasoned), you''ll want to get these CDs. Put 'em on your Christmas list!

For more information, check out .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Celestial Triad

Did you see the heavenly convergence that occurred Monday night? I had heard on NCPR that it was coming up, but had forgotten the date. None-the-less, Toby and I were out early for our walk Monday night (5:30ish) and there it was: Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon, forming a perfect triangle in the southern sky! All three were extremely bright. I expected the moon to move through the stars as the night progressed, but they all seemed to move together, for later that night I was in town and they were all still together in their same tidy triangle. Very impressive to see.

This photo was taken by Randy Bell, SSG, US Army in Bagdad, Iraq. It's a bit different from what I saw. In our sky here in Newcomb, the moon was in the upper left corner, Venus the upper right, and Jupiter was the point at the bottom center. If only I had my own digital camera!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mid-November Musings

What a contrast - the blinding sun is shooting shards of light through the window while I sit here bundled up in two blankets and I still have a cold nose! Yes, it is November in the north woods.

Winter seemed to arrive overnight this year. On Saturday after work I had to make a dash to Long Lake in search of club soda (Toby inhaled a whole bag of Glycoflex soft chews - medicine for his stiff joints - and promptly threw them up all over the carpets; I was told club soda was the way to go for removing such stains), and on my way home I glanced at the thermometer on the car's computer and it read almost 60*F at about 6:15 PM!!! The next morning, however, the ground and pavement were dusted with snow. The heart breaker was the worms: hundreds of worms had crawled out onto the pavement during the night to avoid drowning (we had 1.1" of rain between Saturday morning and Sunday morning), and then the temperature plummeted, catching all those worms a long way from home. I was amazed to see that a few were still trying to inch their way across the roads, despite the below-freezing temperatures! By evening the roads were worm-free. Either the birds finally found this frozen feast, or the worms all warmed up enough to make it to safety.

Yesterday morning we had a meeting at the Tupper Lake library (a very nice and cozy library, by the way), and as the meeting wrapped up, I noticed a large, dark bird soaring over the lake just outside the picture windows. When I said "what's that?" the other naturalists rushed to the window to take a look. "Does it have a white tail?" someone asked. And the bird banked, giving us a glimpse of a definitely white tail: a bald eagle! As we continued to admire it, we saw that it had that mottled look of a juvenile just getting it's adult plumage. What a treat for a cold and blustery day!

Later that afternoon, one of the staff from the Ecological Center stopped by to look for signs of beavers. She said that they have documented two colonies on Rich Lake, but this year they hadn't found any signs of food being put up (or I should say "down", since beavers stick their food into the mud under the water) for the winter. Because I have seen lots of recent beaver activity along the Rich Lake Trail, I offered to take her out and show her where cutting was taking place. Sure enough, the shorelines were littered with chewed sticks, and we found at least two trails where the beavers have been harvesting and dragging wood down to the water. Still, no matter how much she looked, she couldn't find a food pile. This could be because the water is quite high, thanks to the rain we had over the weekend. But now that she has an idea of where the beavers are harvesting, she said she would take a kayak out and look in the area for tell-tale larder signs.

Meanwhile, the birds have stripped all the berries off the winterberry bushes now. In the 'burbs of Newcomb they are devouring the mountain ash berries and have started on some of the crabapples.

Newcomb is a town full of apple trees. Old apple trees. Apple trees that were likely planted 50 to 100 years ago. Or more. I'm guessing than a good many of these trees were planted in the days when folks made their own hard cider, or apple jack. Apples used for this stiff drink did not have to be apples of good flavor. Still, some of the trees around here produce apples that are quite edible. I came across one this morning behind the group home that is loaded yellow apples about the size of a child's fist. This makes me wonder if among the many apple trees there might be some cherished heirloom varieties. Maybe I will contact a couple of the folks in the Park who grow heirloom apples and see if they might want to come and take some samples - see what we have. You never know - heritage strains are often found in unlikely and hidden places.

Friday, November 7, 2008

What is That?

I love third graders!!! They are full of curiosity and so eager to examine everything! What's this? What's this? Old decaying leaves...fungi of all shapes and sizes...pieces of bark...bits of was all fair game! We surrounded the glacial erratic, and spread the spores of puffballs and lycopodia alike. This was a group that needed very little encouragement to get out and explore!

This item though, threw me for a loop:

I had no idea what it was, so I brought in inside, all soggy and crumbly, and commenced my search for an answer. (For reference, it is over a foot long, maybe 15 inches). Answers come from some unexpected places. I showed it to our handyman and he knew right away what it is: part of a fern, from the root end. Armed with this information, I grabbed my Fern Guide (Edgar T. Wherry) and started to flip pages. Sure enough, it is the rootstock of a fern (or, perhaps, the rhizome, according to Fern Finder by Anne & Barbara Hallowell).

According to Wherry, the wood ferns (Dryopteris spp.) have a "stout, scaly rootstock, holding old stipe-bases." This seems to fit what we found.

On my next trip out towards Pickerel Pass I will have to keep my eyes open for ferns and see if I can find any attached to similar rootstocks and thus obtain a definite ID.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Morning After

This morning the other half of yesterday's school group arrived for their chance at uncovering the diversity and abundance of wildlife off our trails. This group really took their time and looked. We had some great discoveries, including one boy who, thanks to hunting trips with his dad, found deer tracks pressed into the wet leaves in the mixed woods! That takes a practiced eye. And even though we passed through the same habitats as yesterday's group, we found plenty of new things to record. Some lent themselves well to photography, while others were too mobile to allow me a clear shot.

Girls looking under rocks. That's actually the title of a book, I believe. Anyway, some of the girls were a little squeamish about touching stuff, and some were taken aback by the aromas that issued from underneath rocks partially buried in swampish muck. New doors were opened for them. By the end of the program, even the most fashion-conscious of them expressed an interest in exploring their own yards back home. Another success story.

The image of this girl in the wetland along the shore of Rich Lake was just too good to pass up. She was one of our most engaged students today. She told me how much she loves being outside and how spending time exploring sure beat playing video games indoors. This was music to my ears!

I apologize for the quality of these shots - the beast just wouldn't stand still! I believe it is some kind of wasp, but I'm not 100% sure. What was fascinating to us was its coloration: dark with white/cream-colored stripes/bands on antennae, legs and body, including what I think was a white/cream-colored stinger. If anyone has an idea of what it might be, please let me know.

Snowshoe hare scats! I was very excited to find these. We are lucky to find hare tracks once in a while during the winter, but this is the first evidence I've had of their presence outside of winter. The girls were somewhat less enthused with the discovery, and were especially appalled when I picked the scats up to show them up close. Oh, well...what can I say? I guess I'm just a scat fanatic!

On a side note: many thanks to those of you who have left me comments and who visit my blog on a regular basis! It's always nice to hear that one's efforts are appreciated!

I encourage everyone to take some time these next few days while the weather remains mild to go out and explore the late-autumn woods. Or even the late-autumn yard! It can be a real eye opener to discover that many animals are still active, hording food, grabbing last-minute morsels to see them through the winter, and foraging among the seed heads in gardens and berry-laden shrubs in wetlands and yards alike.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Off the Trails

What better way to spend Election Day than to go for a ramble off the beaten path? We had a group in today from the Lake George region and we took them bushwacking through three different habitats to record all signs of wildlife they encountered. Here are some photos commemorating the morning's exploration.

At this time of year, there aren't a lot of insects or other animals readily visible in the landscape, so we have to look for them where they lurk for the winter. Looking under the bark of dead and decaying trees is always a good place to start.

If we take the time to look really carefully, we find where animals have stopped for snacks. This mushroom was likely dined upon by a member of the rodent family. Mouse? Squirrel? I'm leaning towards squirrel.

One boy brought me a mussel shell and a berry. While not animals, they were good finds. He then tossed the shell into some water, where it landed right-side-up, making a perfect boat for a berry sailor. To me it looks like a bright red pearl nestled in it's shell.

Fresh beaver chews! We came across several of these at Pickerel Pass - the beavers must be working overtime to get in food before things freeze for real this winter.

And even though it was a cool, damp and overcast morning, the view of Goodnow Mountain was nice, especially with its reflection on the still waters of Rich Lake.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thoughts for a Snowy Day

The storm came...and the storm went (see new header photo, taken this morning). By 1:00 yesterday afternoon we heard rumors that Raquette Lake already had six inches of snow. This morning schools to the west of us and schools to the north of us are closed. Newcomb got about five inches of snow, some fluffy, some heavy and wet. As I suspected, most of the storm missed us.

Which is fine with me! Who wants to be schlepping heavy wet snow in October?

The bad news is that half of our Hallowe'en Program has been cancelled. Every year we do a special Hallowe'en Program for the K-4th graders in Newcomb and Long Lake, but thanks to the weather, this year it will only be Newcomb. It's a neat program, which is on a five-year cycle. Each year we feature three animals that have bad reputations or are somehow related to Hallowe'en, and we do mini-programs on them. Afterwards the kids all get home-made snacks. This year the segments are on bats, owls and skeletons. The bats, of course, are done by yours truly. I've transformed the exhibit hall into a bat cave, draping the exhibit panels with black felt and hanging some of my bats strategically about. The kids have to don hardhats before entering the cave, and we have to be very very quite so that we don't disturb the bats. I also feature a lot of bat books, of which there are many these days just for kids.

AND SPEAKING OF WHICH! If you are a bat-lover like I, then you will want to check out the two bat books by Brian Lies: Bats at the Beach and Bats in the Library. My eye was caught by the latter as I was walking by the bookstore in Lake Placid last week. Being a collector of all things batty, I had to add it to my collection. The illustrations are priceless, and the rhyming story is delightful! I will be getting Bats at the Beach soon.

I've finally got my winter feeder up at my office window - birdseed instead of nectar. It certainly doesn't take the chickadees long to find it. Sometimes I think they have scouts posted, ready to spread the word when it finally appears full of food.

I also put out my feeders at home, but I'm sans seed at the present time. Which is fine, because I suspect the bears are still out and about and wouldn't be adverse to helping themselves to some fat-rich seeds. Still, many of the sunflowers I grew this summer remain upright and sporting their seedheads, so the birds are welcome to those!

Toby had a great time out in the snow yesterday evening - we had about an inch or so by 5:00. He ran around and around in darting circles, scooping up mouthfuls of snow and eager to play. I think we all love the first snowfall of the year - it adds something exciting to the dull greyness of late fall.

Monday, October 27, 2008

NYSOEA and the Chubb River

I am back from the NYSOEA conference (New York State Outdoor Education Association) and am rarin' to go!

It was a very good conference, and I added some new skills to my lexicon (such as making slate tools using stone age technology) and expanded my horizons (how to work with Generation Y). And I did indeed see many familiar faces - some of whom I knew and many others who looked very familiar but I just couldn't place them! The weekend was capped off with a wonderful paddle on the Chubb River with a group of four - what could be better!

The Chubb River
Things were looking rocky weatherwise on Saturday as we peered ahead towards a Sunday morning paddle. Newcomb was hit with over 2" of rain, gale force winds were whipping up the western portions of the Park. But Sunday morning dawned clear! As I was out putting the canoe on my car a o-dark-thirty (okay, it was about 6:00 AM), the stars overhead were glittering at their most spectacular. Orion, the Big Dipper - all my celestial friends were there. This boded well.

I drove into Lake Placid as the sun came up - blinding me as I crested the hill into town. With the fog still settled over the village, it was really quite pretty. I pulled in early, so I curled up with my book by the fireplace of the hotel. At 8:40 we rolled out of the parking lot and headed for the river.

The Chubb River flows through Lake Placid, coming in near the railroad tracks, flowing through the mill pond next to Placid Boatworks, under the road that heads out towards the ski jumps, and on out of town. Access is down a side road (Averyville Road) and is not marked. If you slow down and look carefully, on the south side of the road there is an itty bitty pull-off and a DEC sign tacked to a tree. From here it is about a 120 yard carry down the hill and through the woods to the water's edge.

We launched our two boats and piled in. The fog had things pretty well covered still, making us all glad for an extra layer of warm clothes. Upstream we headed. Chickadees (black-capped), nuthatches (red-breasted) and kinglets (golden-crowned) greeted us from the shores as we paddled along the slow-moving water and into the first marshy bit (noted for the very large home perched on the shoreline slope to our right as we rounded a bend). The first mile and a half is a very pleasant paddle. Pine siskins joined in the early morning song- and feeding-fest, and ubiquitous blue jays called from the trees.

All too soon we could hear the rapids. After searching the shoreline, we found the carry, and thanks to all the rain the day before, it was a very wet carry, as in large sections of the trail were up to a foot or more under water! Cheers to our paddlers who carried the boats and slogged through the water! The carry is about a quarter mile long, according to Paul Jamieson in his book The North Flow. After putting back in, there is supposedly a three-mile stretch of easy paddling. We maybe did another mile when we encountered a beaver dam (lots of beaver activity all over). While it was a small dam and still in the making, it would've required another carry to get around it (or ramming speed and two strong paddlers), and we opted to turn back instead.

On the paddle back (more of a float and steer, actually), the sun was mostly behind us, and the fog was completely gone. Wild clematis (Clematis virginiana), aka: virgin's bower, was everywhere! We didn't see it on the way out, no doubt due to the fog and the sun in our eyes, but on the way back everything seemed to be draped in the long-haired flowerheads. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) was fruited out and still had green leaves. Speckled Alder (Alnus incana), however, was THE dominant plant along the water's edge.

We had some great views of Street and Nye mountains, and the Sawtooth Range in the more open and marshy sections of the river. And as we approached the start/finish of the paddle, we saw a large stick nest in the top of a dead tree. Eagle? Osprey? More likely the latter, but since they've all moved on by now, we had no way to know for sure.

On a scale of one to ten, I'd give the Chubb an eight for ease of paddle, an eight for plant and bird life, and an eight for views. All in all a nice morning (or afternoon) paddle that doesn't require a lot of effort. I recommend going any day but after a heavy rainfall when the carry will be submerged!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And The Beat Goes On

I haven't forgotten about the blog-o-sphere...I've just been terribly busy. Which is a good thing. It seems almost every day this month we've had a school group in, which is wonderful. Today's group cancelled due to the weather (there was a possibility of snow in the forecast - which so far hasn't happened), so I find I have a few free moments to drop a note on-line.

While "autumn is the season that I like the very best," I find that it doesn't provide a lot of easy nature stuff to write about. It's not like there are new flowers blooming, or new insects flying around, or birds feeding their young. Oh, there are certainly fascinating things happening, but who wants to read another essay about how leaves turn color, or why the birds are migrating southward?

As I look out my office window today, the world is grey and brown. The sky is grey, the tree trunks are grey. The leaves remaining on the trees are tan: American beech, which will hold onto their leaves through the winter. The wind is blowing, making the leaves shiver. And who can blame them - it's in the lower 40s out there and the temp is dropping, it's been raining, and snow is predicted. If I was left standing out there, I think I'd be shivering, too.

Looking back at this fall, it seems like it came and went in a heartbeat. The leaves, when they finally turned, were colorful en mass for about a week and a half, and then they dropped. The shaggy mane mushrooms erupted from the soil and self-digested within two days. Warblers came and warblers went. Even the migrating geese seemed to have consolidated their trips into about a two week window. And now the mountains are holding their collective breath and waiting for that first snowstorm (not counting the snow that has already fallen on the High Peaks).

This weekend I will be at the New York State Outdoor Education Association's annual conference, which this year is in Lake Placid. I'm hoping for good weather for the commute, and for the paddle on Sunday on the Chubb River. And I'm looking forward to making an ulu in one of the workshops! I expect I will see some familiar faces there - people I've worked with in the past. It should be a good time! And when I get back I should have plenty to share.

In the meantime, my brain-tanned and smoked deer hide has arrived and I will be trying to get up the courage to attempt learning quillwork on leather. It's one of those things that looks easy enough, but when you read about others trying it, it seems to be a lot more difficult that you anticipated.

We are also gearing up for our annual Halloween Program for the local schools. I have to start making bat tortillas, owl cookies, bone-shaped breadsticks...and preparing my portion of the program: bats. It's my favorite one of the cycle: I transform the exhibit "maze" into a bat cave, have the kids all don hardhats, and with my headlamp on, we enter to cave to learn about bats. The exhibit is draped in black cloth and I have many of my bats (I've quite the collection) hanging around. They will learn about the cultural as well as the natural history surrounding these animals. Our other staff will be doing similar bits about owls and skeletons. Afterwards, we have homemade Halloween-ish snacks. It's a lot of fun.

So, in case I don't get back to the blog before November (and Election Day), I hope you all have a Happy Hallowe'en!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumn Splendor

Just a quickie: the fall colors are GLORIOUS in North Creek and southward. If you have the chance to go out and travel today or tomorrow, while the sun remains out making for a lovley Indian Summer this weekend, then do so! Warrensburg is also spectacular! I'm off to Old Forge tomorrow, and I imagine the colors will be equally nice out that way.

Happy Leaf Peeping!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bluebirds in October?

Last Saturday (4th), while I was out stacking firewood, I could've sworn I heard bluebirds calling. Nah, I told myself - they've all flown south by now. Well, by golly, wouldn't you know that the next day I not only heard them, but I saw them - a small flock of bluebirds flitting about the trees and lawns of the neighborhood!

While part of me wants to believe that these are "my" bluebirds still hanging around, logic dictates that in reality they are probably more northerly birds who are passing through on their way southward. Perhaps our trees and yards are providing them with some much-needed insect meals to give them energy as they wing their way towards balmier climes.

Meanwhile, every day (and night) more and more Canada geese fly over - I hear their calls even if I don't get to see them.

Our autumn colors are now past peak. The rain and wind of the last week have done their work - the leaves are now falling steadily from the trees. The reds have come and gone, and now a gentle golden glow remains where the leaves are still hanging on. The southern portion of the Adirondacks is probably still approaching peak.

For those looking to camp and enjoy the fall foliage and crisp air, be aware that we are getting very hard frosts on a nightly basis now, and snow has been in the High Peaks for over a week now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Attention Mushroom Maniacs!

Over the course of this summer we had a fair number of folks stopping in with mushroom ID questions, and while I find mushrooms interesting (the shaggy manes emerged overnight last night, by the way), I am hardly a mushroom expert.

Well, now we have an answer for all the mushroom fanciers out there: the new Adirondack Mushroom Club! Thanks to Bernie Carr, a group is now forming to address the needs of the mycological set.

They are having their first meeting this Saturday, 4 October, at 1 PM at the Cantwell Room of the Saranac Lake Library.

So go and check it out! Bring mushrooms to ID. Have a good time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Great New Find

If any of you are spider aficionados, and yet not at the level of hard core arachnid scientists, then have I got a deal for you!

Yesterday we had a gentleman in who was asking us some ID questions for plants he had seen. He was from Minnesota and while he recognized a lot of our vegetation, some plants were new to him. So, we helped him out, and in exchange for our assistance, he gave us a copy of his book: Spiders of the North Woods - a handy field reference to our most common northern spiders.

What a great book! It is very user-friendly, written for the average person who just wants to know what spiders are in the neighborhood. And although it is written for the spiders specifically in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, the U.P. of Michigan, and the southern portion of Canada in the same area, it apparently applies pretty well to us over here in the Adirondacks, too. It has great photographs of the spiders, shows sizes with and without legs, descriptions of their hunting techniques, webs, and life cycles, some nifty nature notes in sidebars, and very readable info at the very beginning about what makes a spider a spider.

So, rush out and get your copy of Spiders of the North Woods by Larry Weber. I know I will be placing an order for my own copy very soon!

Monarch and Moose

LNJ 186
I heard back from Monarch Watch, and the tagged butterfly is from Paul Smiths, just north and a bit west of us. I called the VIC up there to see if it was one of theirs, but it isn't. However, they think they know whose tag it is. Will keep you posted.

Moose Sightings
Okay, you probably guessed that since this wasn't the first item on this list, I wasn't the one sighting these moose.

That said - today the moose sightings are pouring in. A male was seen just down the road in Newcomb: out past the ski tow down the Goodnow Road. And another big male was seen out near Long Lake, and a cow out near Raquette Lake. The moose are on the move!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Make Way for Turtles

Now is the second time of year when we must all be alert for turtles. This time, however, it isn't the gravid females on their way to dig nests and lay eggs for whom we watch; it is their off-spring, the tiny hatchlings who've decided to emerge before snow flies and make their way to water for the winter.

This tiny snapping turtle was found by the students last week tackling the hill at the beginning of the Sucker Brook Trail. How it evaded the running feed of ten students and the plodding boots of two adults is beyond me!

At first we thought the little guy was dead, but low and behold it wasn't. Now this lucky snapper has a home for the winter at the VIC, living in a luxurious tank in our Children's Space.

So keep your eyes peeled and slow down when out on your travels. We want to help as many baby turtles survive as possible!

Tagging Butterflies

"Cedar" sent me a comment about tagging butterflies, so I thought that it would be a good subject for a post.

There's a group out of Kansas (associated with the university) called Monarch Watch. They are highly active in tracking monarch butterfly populations and getting the public involved in tracking butterflies. It's kind of the lepidopteran version of birding! Anyway, they have kits for interested folks to tag butterflies.

The butterfly tags are essentially stickers, which are stuck to the underside of the hindwings of captured butterflies. When a person signs up to be a monarch watcher and to tag butterflies, he/she gets a set of stickers with a specific number on them - a number assigned to that person. It's very much the same as bird banding, although you have to have a special license to do bird banding.

About seven years ago the Newcomb VIC had a butterfly "event" and a fellow from up near Tupper Lake came down and did tagging with the kids. It was a big success.

For more information, visit their website at .

And check out this website for an interesting article about tagging bumblebees: !

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back in the Butterfly Garden

It's hard to believe that after all the heavy frosts we've had we still have butterflies around. I grabbed the camera this afternoon to get some photos of the brilliant asters in the VIC's butterfly garden only to discover that they were covered with butterflies (monarchs, although a mourning cloak was flitting about acting as though it was looking for a place to puddle) and bees! It has become a very warm day in the sunshine, and like some of our staff, the insects were out and about getting a bite to eat while soaking up some sunshine.

Here are some images from the garden:

The highlight was this male monarch who was sporting a tag! We've done butterfly tagging here in the past, but I've never encountered a "wild" butterfly with a tag before! I don't know whose tag this is, but if you know a butterfly tagger (most likely in the Adirondacks), ask if this is his/her tag! It reads: LNJ 186. I've placed a call to Monarch Watch to see if they can send me the info about this butterfly.

Enjoy the rest of the show:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Discover Nature Walk

We had a very energetic group of students in today for a Discover Nature Walk. We couldn't have had a more perfect day for it! Cool, bright and sunny, autumn colors, mushrooms, etc.

So, I thought I'd just share some photos from our walk.

We found some amazing growths under water at the bridge. They looked like giant brains growing on the rocks. I suspect it's some sort of algae colony, or cryptozoans; another thing to look up.

Puffballs abounded. This batch wasn't "ripe" yet, so we couldn't puff out the spores. Still, the students found them interesting to touch and examine.

We took a trip to the "underworld" - using mirrors to look at the underside of mushrooms, under logs and leaves, and into holes. Here we found a toothed fungus (maybe Hericium americanum), which they thought was both disgusting and fascinating.

These small, peach-colored blobs caught everyone's attention. They were about the size of one's little fingernail, and squishy. I suspect they are a slime mould.

And the leaves are finally turning red - spectacular!

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Yesterday morning the fine folks at North Country Public Radio did a spot on astronomical things to look for in the current night sky. Jupiter was featured, with its several moons (visible with binocs - although you should put them on a tripod to hold them steady), but the biggie was The Space Station. Yes - according to their guest astronomer (Jeff Miller, physics and astronomy prof. at St. Lawrence University) if we went out at 8:10 last night and looked towards the western horizon, we should see the Space Station as it cruised northeastward across the night sky at the mind-boggling speed of 17,000 mph!

So, last night, as Toby and I returned from our night walk, I made a couple phone calls to neighbors who also like celestial things. At 7:50 PM I headed down the street, armed with my binocs. I stopped and looked at Jupiter - a tripod is a really good idea. I didn't have one, so Jupiter was bouncing all over the place. I could see maybe one moon at about "7:00" to Jupiter. I picked up one of my neighbors and we headed to The Scenic Overlook - just down the street. We took up our spots behind the monument, blocking out the light from the dozen or so street lights in the immediate area, and waited.

Bracing our binocs against the stones of the monument, we could finally make out about four of Jupiter's moons: at 3:00, 5:00, and two at 7:00. We watched something presumably man-made zip across the sky, from the middle of the dome overhead down towards north, where it vanished. We suspect it was a satellite.

And we waited.

Ten minutes can really drag when you are waiting for something exciting to happen.

And sure enough, at 8:10 PM I saw something large, bright and red shoot out above the silhouetted trees to the west, like a shot from a cannon. It was the Space Station!!! And it was cruising! It arced up and up, heading northward, then northeast. As is sped across the heavens, it lost the bright red color, becoming plain white, shrinking in size, and finally vanishing all together as it entered the northeastern quadrant of the sky. On the radio they had said something about it disappearing as it entered the Earth's shadow (which we usually only see on the moon); maybe that was it.

The whole thing lasted about two minutes, but Charlotte and I figured it was well worth the price of admission.

Additionally, there was no moon out at that early hour, so the night sky was stunning, as it often is up here in the mountains. An arm of the Milky Way was draped across the heavens, its dense clusters of stars almost seeming like fog.

It's good to live in the mountains.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Orchids, Garlic, Route 10 and Wind

It's been a while since I last posted. Things have been busy at work, and I haven't had a chance to get out on the trails. But today I rejoin you with some new observations.

One: more orchids. The roadside ditch which hosted the smaller purple fringed orchids last month is now sporting some lovely tiny white orchids. I'm not 100% sure what they are, but I'm leaning towards nodding ladies' tresses (Spiranthes cernua). Still, the flower head seems to be too short and stocky - not long and slender like it appears in the field guides. So, here are photos of the flowers up close, the entire plant, and just the leaves. Does anyone else want to render an opinion?

Also in full bloom, in the ditch and elsewhere, is one of my favorites: Eyebright (Euphrasia americana). A delightful, tiny, orchid-like flower, this charmer is in the figwort family.

Two: garlic. On Saturday I drove down to Sharon Springs (the country cousin of Saratoga Springs) for their Annual Garlic Festival. If anyone out there is a garlic aficionado, then I highly recommend this little festival. Lots of garlic for sale, of many varieties, and of amazing sizes! I went down to purchase bulbs for planting and came back with not only garlic, but also butternut squash ($1 apiece) and a lovely little handmade soapstone vase. I was duly impressed: the prices were right (most garlic only a dollar a bulb) and the size of the bulbs was more than one could've hoped for - sure beat what I got two years ago in Vermont. It was worth the almost three-hour drive!

This segues perfectly into number three: Route 10. To get to Sharon Springs, I drove down a road new to me - Route 10. What a beautiful drive!!! The Adirondack portion, which goes from just a bit south of Speculator right on out of the park, via Caroga Lake, is a wonderful winding road that passes some spectacular wetlands. I wanted to stop and stare - perfect digs for a moose! And yesterday, upon reading the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer, I discovered that the winding waterway that followed the road, which I was eyeballing as a potential paddle route, is indeed a paddle-able waterway: the West Branch of the Sacandaga River! It looks to be about a 10-mile paddle, recommended for two vehicles, but the current is supposedly sluggish enough that one can easily turn around and paddle back to a single vehicle waiting at the put-in point. I will have to do this trek and report back to you.

Anyway, as Route 10 leaves the Park, it enters the Mohawk Valley over by Palatine Bridge and Canajoharie. Farm country, over hill and dale. Very historic - wonderful old stone and brick houses and churches. One can almost feel the weight of history as one drives through this part of the state. It's been quite a while since I've been down that way, so it brought back some nice memories, almost like a home-coming.

And this leaves us with number four: the wind. Holy smokes what gale force breezes we had during the wee hours this morning! It was Hurricane Ike getting in a last word before finally dying out. It woke me up as it howled through my windows, and kept me up wondering if my row covers were going to end up in the next county!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Day on the Bridge

I spent a pleasant two and a half hours this morning staking out the upper bridge again. At 9:30 it was very nice outside - cool air, a warm sun, and the occasional breath of a breeze. By noon the sun was quite hot and fortunately the breeze had also been kicked up a notch. All in all, a delightful morning weather-wise.

When I first arrived, mists were spooling off the shoreline and out across the surface of the water, where the breeze grabbed a hold and gave them a swirl before sending them upstream. Thanks to the breeze, the mists looked just like northern lights dancing on the water. And as fleeting as the aurora are, so were the mists. It was captivating to watch.

No much happening in the wildlife department though. No squirrels daring to cross the bridge, and most of the birds either kept to the woods (where I could hear them but not see them), or were hawking for insects above the water two bends downstream - I could just see them as the sun glinted off their wings.
Here is our friend the butterbutt (yellow-rumped warbler) nabbing an insect before darting back into the cedar. This all happens in the bat of an eye - so I'm lucky the photo is as clear as it is!

Insects, though, were numerous. Only one mosquito attempted to snack on me, but down on the water insects by the thousands lurked. Water striders, beetles, and assorted mystery insects. At one point, the angle of the sun was just right that when it glinted off the wavelets made by the insects as they touched the water, it looked like a stadium where hundreds of flashbulbs are going off continuously. Unfortunately, this does not translate in a still photo.

I was lucky to get a dragonfly and a couple damselflies calm down long enough for me to take their portraits. Here we have a yellow-legged meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) female:
This particular dragonfly is one that flies late summer through fall, often one of the last dragonflies seen flying up in these northern climes.

When dragonflies do these handstands (the technical term is obelisking), holding their bodies almost vertically above their heads, they are trying to cool off by presenting as little of themselves to the sun as possible.

I also was able to snap a couple shots of this lovely damselfly, which I think is a variable dancer (Argia fumipennis). It was very skittish. Can you see the purple eyespots on the head behind the eyes? They look like a set of dumbbells. Eyespots can be one of the keys to identifying damselfly species.

These two damselflies (species unknown, but I suspect they are also variable dancers) are mating. I kept seeing them flying around, the male clasping the female behind her head. They would alight on the bridge and if all was safe, she would bring her abdomen around to receive the sperm packet from the male. Apparently this process can take anywhere from three seconds to more than an hour to complete).

So I guess in the end is was an Ondontra morning (that's the name of the order of insects to which dragonflies and damselflies belong). Dragonflies and damselflies are the hot insects to study these days. There are several user-friendly books available now for identifying these insects (such as Dragonflies Through Binoculars and the Stokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies), and New York has an on-going dragonfly atlas program. An atlas (whether breeding birds or dragonflies) is basically a mapping program of where the animal in question is found. For more information on the dragonfly and damselfly atlas, go to