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 http://www.monarchwatch.org/ .

And check out this website for an interesting article about tagging bumblebees: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7258822.stm !

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!