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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Moose?

Dan asks a good question - why the obsession with moose? Well, the moose was once extirpated from the Adirondacks and has made a remarkable comeback all on its own. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) estimates there may be upwards of 500 moose in the Adirondacks now. 500! You'd think with numbers that high of an animal that is so big that I'd be bound to see one. But so far, no luck.

Many folks who come to the Adirondacks, either as tourists or as residents, yearn to see a moose. It's that whole charismatic megafauna thing - it's big and it's impressive. We don't have many large impressive animals left in this state, so when one is rumored to be around, we all want to slap our peepers upon it. It's a trophy sort of thing, but not so messy.

As for me, well, I've seen just about every other mammal this park has to offer: bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes (red and grey), fisher, marten, short- and long-tailed weasels (in winter and summer pelts), river otter, mink, beaver, muskrat, flying squirrel, red squirrel, grey squirrel (and the black morph), chipmunks, assorted shrews (short-tailed, star-nosed, smokey), southern bog lemmings, mice, voles. No moose.

I've seen moose tracks; I've followed moose tracks. I had a moose within a couple hundred feet of my house (I saw the tracks after the fact the next morning). I've even heard a moose bellowing in a marsh. But I haven't seen one. Come to think of it, I haven't even found moose droppings yet. Maybe I need to find those first before it's my turn to see the real thing.

Moose (that's plural - as in several) are seen every year in Newcomb - either in town, just outside of town, or even right here on the Huntington Forest property.

Then there's the fact that everyone else who works at the VIC has seen one. I'm the only one left who hasn't. It's like being the only kid at the party who didn't win a prize.

But, deep down, I know that MY moose is out there somewhere. Someday I will see one. Afterall, I got the otter, bobcat and marten!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Turtle Crossings

It may be late August, but we should still be keeping our eyes open for turtles crossing the roads. On Friday, as I was approaching Newcomb, I passed a wood turtle crossing the road (a good-sized specimen, pushing 12" along the carapace). It was moving quite steadily along, but I've seen one too many turtles get run over by drivers who either don't see them or don't care. Luckily for the turtle there wasn't much traffic, but even so I stopped the car, backed up and parked right in the middle of 28N in order to render assistance. It was a good thing that I put on the four-way flashers, though, because just as I was setting the turtle up on the bank next to the road, a stream of cars approached. I was able to jump in the car and move on before they passed me.

Another good deed entered in my karmic logbook.

Let's be careful out there, folks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rich Lake Paddle

What a great day for a paddle on the lake! The sun was out, the air was warm, a light breeze tickled the water just enough to make the humidity seem negligible.

I had six people join me today for a spin around the lake. Usually I head up towards the wetlands on these trips, but today I decided to take everyone down the outlet instead, which made for a more interesting paddle as we explored all the coves and bays, got close to the vegetation, and played a bit with the current. I only got hung up on one rock - not bad.

So, off we went, exploring Graveyard Bay first. Paddlers get a great view of some of our trails and overlooks from the water. Here is the Graveyard Bay Overlook.

As we left the Bay, we paddled around the end of the peninsula and headed for the outlet of the lake. I was surprised that even with the high water we were able to see the unusual rock formations along the north side of the peninsula, where the softer rock has been worn away by the water, leaving miniature caverns behind. This is one of those great places for someone with an imagination: imagine you were only two inches high and had a boat to fit - you could paddle in and out of those water-filled "caves" - it would be a terrific experience!

From there we mosied into the bay where the floating boardwalk crosses the marsh. No moose, but several damselflies, a few fragrant white waterlilies, and plenty of other aquatic plants.

Back into the outlet, we headed downstream, under the upper bridge of the Sucker Brook Trail. The current picked up here and we had a nice drift down the outlet. We talked about beavers, warblers, and otters. I pointed out where the otters play in the winter and where the beavers have flooded the forest at the end of the Little Sucker Brook. When we reached the lower bridge and the take-out for the carry to Belden Pond, we turned around and headed back upstream. All along the way the cardinal flower took our breath away.

As we headed back across the mouth of Graveyard Bay, most the group opted to continue up to the wetlands at the western end of the lake, so off we went. Along the way we saw two loons, and a bald eagle took off from a white pine and reached the wetlands before we did. It was an adult - the white tail a dead giveaway.

Two more of our group turned back shortly after we entered the wetlands. The current was quite strong, but the rest of us forged ahead. Fighting the current, two of us made it over the upstream beaver dam and then cruised out over the two downstream dams. I was disappointed by the amount of flowers still in bloom in the wetland: almost none. We had a few pickerelweeds, one buttonbush, and a couple more cardinal flowers. No milkweeds, no Joe Pye weed (although it is still blooming down the outlet), no swamp candles. There were very few dragonflies, too.

The wind now behind us, we paddled back down the lake to the beach, joining up once more with the rest of our group.

All in all, it was a great day for a paddle. The only things that could have improved it would've been otters and moose.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


One of the "programs" we do here is called "Naturalist-on-Station," which involves one of our staff standing (or sitting) out somewhere along one of the trails waiting to answer all the natural history questions of visitors who stop by. Today I was the NOS. I took up my place on the upper bridge that crosses the Rich Lake outlet and lay in wait, like a spider on a web. I ended up with about 14 visitors stopping by, but the neat stuff was, as always, courtesy of Mother Nature.


The star right now is cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). It is in full bloom and out in prodigious numbers. Some visitors and I even got to watch a hummingbird zip around the flower heads to feed. Some of the warblers that were in the cedars dashed after the hummer, possibly thinking that it was a giant insect and would make a great meal. More on the warblers later.

Also out in copious numbers are the narrow-leaved gentians (Gentian linearis). I always want to call this one a closed or bottle gentian, and while it looks the same flower-wise, the leaves are different. I was very surprised to see so many blooming this late in the season. They make a nice combination with the cardinal flowers.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium) is still blooming, and the late summer standbys are looking beautiful, too: goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and asters (Aster spp.)

Lots of little birds were hanging out in the cedars. They were darting from there out to nab a passing insect, then dashing just as quickly back to the shelter of the trees. This made it very difficult to get an ID. Still, I was able to glimpse a yellow rump, so I'm sure they were yellow-rumped warblers, aka: butterbutts (Dendroica coronata). I also saw a warbler just inside the woods that as it flew gave a flash of bright blue all along its sides and back. Striped. I really wanted it to be a cerulean warbler (unlikely, but possible), but I was unable to get a close up to be sure. By the time I got the binocs out and returned to the spot, the bird had of course disappeared. In retrospect, I suspect it was more likely a black and white warbler (Mniotilta varia), which I know we have here.

Also on the list for today was a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) flying gracefully downstream as a family in a canoe paddled by, and a sanderling (Calidris alba). This little guy was constantly in motion: tail wagging, head bobbing, fluttering from rock to rock before it flew under the bridge and up the lake. A short while later it flew back under the bridge and downstream, from whence it came.

No moose or bears, but I had a fun encounter with a red squirrel. I was looking over the railing when I heard patter of little feet to my right. I turned my head to see a young squirrel tripping down the bridge toward me. And then the squirrel saw me and screeched to a halt. He didn't know what to do. One jerky hop at a time, he came closer and closer, but just as he pulled up parallel to me, I guess it became too much for the little guy and he turned around and scampered back the way he had come. Collecting his courage, he slowly hopped back towards me. Slower and slower. He got behind me. Hop. Pause. Hop. Pause. And then, as soon as he was an inch beyond me, he took off like a bat out of hell, making a mad dash for the end of the bridge! Success to the brave of heart!

Monday, August 18, 2008

More Links for Invasives

Here are some links for more info. on the invasive honeysuckles:

Hope you all find these helpful.

Seeing Spots

Artillery Fungus (Sphaerobolus spp.). Ever hear of it? Well, if you have been getting small black spots on the side of your house, or on buckets left outdoors, etc., then you may very well have this fungus.

About, oh, three or four years ago I started to notice these tiny black dots on the side of my house. They were (are) raised - sort of like my siding was splattered with bits of braille. When I found these dots on some of my plants this year, I decided to send it in to our Cooperative Extension folks for ID. Emily, my "mystery stuff ID person", sent me back a print-out about artillery fungus from the plant clinic at Cornell. If you want to go to it, and see photos, visit

Here is a quick summary:

The dots are, as I suspected, spores. Or, more specifically, they are spore packets known as peridioles. These packets sit on top of little cup-like cells on the fungi which collect water. When the cups are "full," they turn inside out, popping open the cell and flinging the peridioles up to six meters away! These spore packets have a sticky goo on them that helps them stick to surfaces (like siding and buckets and cars) and makes them essentially impossible to remove. It seems they are very light sensitive, which means they "go to the light." In other words, if your house/car/bucket is light-colored, then they will seek it out.

Where are these fungi growing? And why did they "suddenly" appear a few years ago? Well, it seems they like wood chip mulch (as opposed to bark chip mulch) - exactly the stuff I used to mulch all the garden beds I put in around the back of the house. This also explains why I have these spots on the back of the house, but not on the front or sides (where I have no gardens).

What to do? Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a '"cure." Sometimes the spore packets can be scrubbed off, but you might actually do more damage to the house trying to remove them. Fungicides are not recommended. I guess the only solution is to remove the wood chips and thus the fungus, but this won't help with the spots already on your house/car/bucket. Maybe some clever artist in the family can create a dot-to-dot artwork on the siding...

Autumn Colors et al

Already the trees are sporting their fall colors. Usually at this time of the season a few trees have started to turn, but typically it is a leaf here, a branch there. This year, however, it is whole trees. Sugar maples, mostly, but also a few ashes and, of course, the cherries and poplars with their yellow and brown leaves, which have been falling to the ground for a month or so now.

Where to go to see the leaves? The road between Minerva and Newcomb is always a good bet for color. This is State Route 28N.

And now for the "et al" portion of this post.

I had a request to post photos of the invasives in my previous post. I still do not have a digital camera, and my print photos are being developed, so here are links to some photos that might be helpful:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Warning! Warning!

I have just read the article in "Adirondack Life" about the invasives that are moving their way into our neck of the woods, and was devastated to find that some of the plants I have intentionally put into my gardens at home are invasive!!!

Now, I take pride in keeping up-to-date on the invasives problem, but I was horrified to discover that some of the plants that I love, and/or thought were native, have turned out to be persona non grata.

>sigh< TEASEL (Dipsacus sylvestris) - a bad character (and I thought it was native - I have so many great childhood memories of this plant). In some parts of the country it is naturalized, but really it is only considered acceptable in areas of shortgrass prairie. That doesn't include us. It produces prolific seeds and will spread and take over. No wildlife benefits. If you have it in your garden (like I do, because I planted it to relive childhood memories), then you need to get rid of it before it goes to seed!!!

INDIAN CUP PLANT (Silphium perfoliatum) - Highly invasive (although native to the Midwest)! Apparently up in the Keene area it is moving into and along riparian corridors. And here I was trying to grow it from seeds this year (they didn't grow) because I had one plant in the garden and loved it so much I wanted more. My specimen is wonderful this year - pushing eight feet tall, cupped leaves filled with water, providing drinks and baths for the birds, and the buds are ready to bloom. Well - now I have to go rip it out. If you have it planted on your property, get rid of it before it goes to seed.

JAPANESE BARBERRY (Berberis thunbergii) - I've heard tales of how it is invasive down below, but I thought we were safe here, and it was great to plant in areas where deer are because they won't eat it. Well, apparently it is starting to spread up here, too. Birds are spreading the berries. Sprouts are appearing in the understory of woods. I have two at home...after this weekend I will have none. (Or maybe next weekend...this weekend is pretty much booked already.)

What to do with them once you pull them up: I asked Hilary Oles, director at the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), what I should do with them once they are ripped out of the ground, and she suggested the best thing is to take them to a burn site. Do not compost.

What about the invasive honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella, Lonicera tartarica, Lonicera morrowii)? I have these in my yard as well, and I've been planning for several years to get rid of them. The best method? According to Steve at APIPP I should cut them to the ground before the berries fully ripen (I still have time), and then paint the cross-section of stump (and suckers) with Round-up, straight from the bottle, undiluted. Use a 1" paint brush. If painted with the herbicide (as opposed to spraying), the ground is safe for replanting with native berry-producing shrubs (such as nannyberry and dogwood). And just in case you are thinking "but the birds love the berries," remember this: the non-native honeysuckles do not provide the nutrients that native ones do. Watch them - the birds will not eat the non-native berries until there is nothing else left as an option. Replace these shrubs with natives instead!!!

So, get out there, folks! Learn your invasives and start patrolling for them. I know that there are those out there who love their plants and will be reluctant to kill them, but it must be done. Our native vegetation (and the wildlife that depends on it) must be protected. Good luck!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If Only I Had a Camera

Yesterday after work, I followed the usual routine of letting the dog out in the yard to run. Before going too far, I stopped to empty out one of the plant saucers I have sitting near various gardens to provide water for insects and birds. As I was dumping out the water, and its collection of rotting grass clippings and dead flower heads, I glimpsed a coiled body sitting in the same spot (apparently under the saucer). At first I thought it was a large worm, but it turned out to be a small snake, one of my all-time favorite snakes: the red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata).

Like the ring-necked snake I found earlier this summer, this is a small snake, averaging 8-10" in length. It has a brilliantly red belly (hence the name) and three light-colored spots just behind its head (whereas the ring-neck has a ring around its neck).

An important feature of this snake's habitat is rocks and other such solid objects under which it can hide - thus its presence under the plant dish.

Being me, I couldn't resist picking it up. It was a little chilled, but it wasn't long before the heat from my hands gave it enough energy to move, and move it did: head thrusting forward and body following behind as it tried to zip out of my hands. After three or four "slinky" moves with my hands, tyring to keep the snake from falling, I decided to return it to the garden where it could resume its job of catching worms, slugs and snails.

Did you know that red-bellied snakes give birth to live young? It seems that so many of the "facts" we learned back when I was a kid have now been proven to be wrong. "Snakes lay eggs" - and yet so many actually have live birth. "Mammals have live birth" - except those that lay eggs (platypus, echidna). That's the great thing about science - there is always something new to learn!

Update: Reading through the red-bellied snake entry in the wonderful "new" herp book entitled Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State, by Gibbs, Breisch, Ducey, Johnson, Behler and Bothner, I came across this nifty tidbit on a previous page (I was reading the entry backwards): Red-bellied snakes and DeKay's Brownsnakes both fancy snails, but snails can be difficult to get out of their shells, especially if you don't have hands. Rossman and Myer discovered how these snakes do it in 1990. Apparently the snake grabs the snail by its soft parts before it can pull itself back inside its shell. Then, the snake scoots backwards until the shell is wedged between a rock and a hard place. At this point the snake twists and pulls until the snail can no longer hang on to the inside of its shell, and slurp! the snake has a escargot snack. According to this entry, it takes a DeKay's brownsnake only 10 minutes to accomplish this. And it seems that the snakes' dental apparati are ideal for eating snails: the teeth on the upper jawbone are longer and are thus able to grasp the bulky sticky mass of snail, enabling the snake to get a good grip and pull. (This sounds similar to the green tree python, which also has long upper teeth that enable it to grasp the birds it prefers to eat - the long teeth help the snake grip the bird through all its feathers.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Amazing Lichens

While out with a group of students doing a compass exercise in July, I came across this wonderful foliose lichen:

It was huge! Easily six to eight inches long, three inches wide per leaf. But I had no idea what it was.

Fast forward to last week. A friend of mine, who is a botanist of the old-school type (knows her plants all by their scientific names), knew right away what it was: Lobaria pulmonaria, or Lung Lichen. According to Evelyn, it is an indicator of clean air, and grows on high calcium tree bark. In these parts that is usually sugar maple (and indeed I found this specimen at the base of a large sugar maple). Lung lichen is also extremely sensitive to toxins, which makes it a wonderful indicator of ecosystem health. According to Wikipedia, it is often found in climax communities, such as old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Here are some other interesting factoids about this lichen:

  • The name lungwort (or lung moss, or lung lichen) comes from its general appearance - it looks somewhat lung-like.

  • According to the Doctrine of Signatures, if a plant resembled a part of the body, it was presumed to have curative properties for that body part. As a result, this lichen was deemed to be beneficial for lung and respiratory ailments. There are no "peer-reviewed" data to support this belief, however.

  • The Hesquiat people of British Columbia used lungwort in a treatment for those who were coughing up blood.

  • In Darjeeling and Sikkim it was also used traditionally to treat lung problems.

  • There used to be a monastery in Siberia that used this lichen in the brewing of a bitter beer (according to the entry on L. pulmonaria at

Most of us have learned at some point in our education that lichens are actually composed of two different living organisms: a fungus and an alga. Well, our friend L. pulmonaria is apparently a symbiotic organism with three components: a fungus, an alga and a cyanobacterium. The cyanobacterium serves as a nitrogen-fixer, just like legumes such as peas, beans and clover function in your garden or lawn.

All in all, this is a nifty "plant." Keep your eyes open when you are out tramping through the woods - you never know what fascinating thing you might stumble across!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"On Vacation"

Things have been quiet here at the old blogstead because I've been "on vacation." Didn't go anywhere, but I don't have Internet at home, so no postings were possible. Saw some neat stuff around the neighborhood, though, and I thought I would share.

For instance, it seems that in the last couple weeks the merlins fledged. This seems late to me for birds to fledge, especially raptors, but there they were: four young merlins shrieking away from the tree behind a house on the next street over from mine. I heard them for several days, and then finally on one of the last mornings of July (or the 1st of August) Toby and I were walking down the street and saw the four lined up on the roof ridge of the house in front of "their" tree. What a racket they were making! One was exhibiting great nerve and made a foray or two out from the roof, over the street and back. A couple days later, they were all on the utility lines in front of the house - still making a lot of noise. By mid-week they had made it over to my street - I saw (and heard) them as they cruised the neighborhood. And now all is quiet. They must've moved on to bigger and better places!

Also of note, I finally dragged Toby down the small embankment next to the Rescue Squad to ID the purple flowers growing in the waterlogged ditch: smaller purple fringed orchids (Habenaria psycodes - a rather strange name)! These are a first for me. There were maybe a dozen or so plants in bloom (now down to about five or six) in a place where I've never before seen them. I've been worried about their survival, though, because for the last couple of weeks a crew has been out with a backhoe digging up many of the roadside ditches in town, and the town crew has been out mowing down the roadside flowers. Hopefully both treatments will pass by this far, so good.

We've added another 3+ inches of rainfall this month already. Water levels remain quite high - I'm looking forward to some good fall paddling this year! There are some folks in town trying to get together a paddling group. If anyone is interested in joining, contact Judy at