Posted on December 18th, 2010 4 comments Add a comment >>
It was a beautiful morning for a ski along the trails of what was formerly known as the “Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center”. As I started out on the picturesque trail with snow-laden branches of maple, pine, and spruce, I couldn’t help but notice a low droning sound off in the distance that seemed to boil-up now and then into a mechanical sound of engine and buzzing.
My interest was certainly peaked so on I skied through the downy flakes, enjoying the hushed, rhythmic crunch of snow, ski, and pole-planting through the narrow trails. The occasional chickadee and woodpecker would lisp or tap a dead tree as I cruised by.
Now the sound grew in volume and the first thing that came to mind was a large truck rumbling down the Jenkin’s Mountain Trail that I was skiing on. Could that be? Was my skiing about to come to an abrupt halt by a Mack logging truck obliterating the ski trail, ripping up mud, rocks, and causing general mayhem?
Well no, that was not the case…so I skied on. But still the sound grew louder.
There!…Off in the forest! A flash of red, the crashing of branches, and nasal-like drone of a chain saw! Peering deeply into the snow covered forest my eyes finally caught a glimpse of a machine that, as best as I can describe, was a hulking, mechanized tree-eater on tank-like treads…and it was coming my way!
Ok, the skiing came to a quick stop at this point. The whirring sound of the engine and the split second buzz of the saw held my rapt attention. But where were the many loggers w/saws in hand felling these trees? There were no shouts of “timber!”, or the steady crack of the ax on a stout maple.
About 50 yards away I encountered a machine (not unlike this one) that would wrap steel “fingers” around a tree trunk, then in the blink of an eye, a hidden saw blade would come out to slice into the 50-year old maple, relieving it of it root-bound feet. And with no more than a flick of it’s “wrist” the long boom would lift and gently lay the entire tree down to the ground as if it were an injured soldier being tended to by a caring nurse.
Other times the saw would buzz and a tree would give a forceful jolt of it’s top branches and then the sickening, crumbling sound of limbs violently falling to the ground with only a momentary “puff” of new fallen snow to indicate where the tree was laid to rest.
Paul Smiths College is in the midst of harvesting timber on its own land but to the skier and snowshoer along the Esker Ski Trail this tree-harvesting machine may cast a feeling of sadness, and gloom.
Yes “business is business and business must grow” to quote the often-used line of Dr Seuss’ “The Lorax”, and I have laid witness to the “Super-Ax-Hacker” of the same story.
I’ve always been a “on-the-fence” kinda guy when it comes to land use/management, and wildlife conservation because I want to see the big picture and how both sides deal w/things.
And I know the result of this harvest will go far in adding to the economy and furthering us along on our yellow-brick road to prosperity but I wonder if the College’s draft horses and “leave-little-trace” harvesting equipment, that faculty and student alike train on in their classes, wouldn’t have been a better choice.
The almighty “buck” is made much quicker these days by the diesel-fueled power of technology that giveth and then taketh away.
Posted on November 17th, 2010 3 comments Add a comment >>
For those who collect, eat, study, name, write about, and in general just have a passion for the delicate mushroom (aka- “fungus”) you should take note that next year, 11-14 August will be the “king” of all mushroom events in the northeastern US….and it’s going to happen in our own backyard of Paul Smiths, NY.
For 4 days, mushroom experts with the NorthEast Mycological Federation will comb the forests of the northern Adirondacks in search of prized fungus among-us. Experts from around the country will be on hand to identify the tasty ’shrooms and tell us of the deadly poisonous ones also.
Click here for video for upcoming Foray! Details will be on the NEMF website after December.
So if fungus is your thing, put this event on your calendar and join us in the mountains.
Photo Credit-Brian McAllister
Posted on April 9th, 2010 Add a comment >>
It reminds me of the Munchkins scene from the Wizard of Oz where they all start coming out of their hiding places after Dorothy’s house lands in their village, and Glinda the Good Witch tells the Munchkins it’s safe to come out now.
Spotted Salamanders-Ambystoma maculatum, are in the beginning stages of their breeding cycle and the warm spell of last week, along with a gentle nights rain is allowing for the nightly migration of salamanders from their protected winter homes to vernal pools of standing water.
After spending many winter months curled up in some crevice between a rock and tree root or old mammal tunnel, these salamanders are awakened by the need to mate. They “smell” their way to a nearby fish-less, spring rain-filled puddle or pool on the forest floor.
I happen to like the vernal pools around the Black Pond Trailhead parking lot on Keese Mill Rd(in Paul Smiths). After a good soaking rain in mid April it’s worth taking a walk to a woodland pool or small pond and look for these critters slowly migrating their way to water.
In the pools males will produce small white packets of sperm(spermatophore) that they attach to a small leaf or stick. The females will follow a few days later and enter the pool looking for spermatophores. Lying on top of a spermatophore, the female will gather it up into her reproductive organ and it will fertilize her eggs internally.
Soon after this she will lay a clump of gelatinous eggs in a pond and over time this egg mass absorbs water and swells to softball size. You may see these in shallow areas along a ponds edge. It often gets covered with algae also.
The human attraction to this yearly phenomena is to monitor and safely guide the salamanders that end up having to cross some of the roads leading from woodlands to the vernal pool. Many Paul Smiths College students participate in this endeavor along Keese Mill Rd. and safely carry spotted salamanders to the other side of the road.
Along with the spotted salamanders you can often find Wood Frogs-Rana sylvatica crossing these deadly roads. They’re on the same pathway that the salamanders are on….getting to the water. In a large enough vernal pool you can find both salamanders and wood frogs actively mating on warm April nights.
Following close on their tails are Spring Peepers-Pseudacris crucifer. We’re all familiar with the often deafening chorus of peepers on a spring night around wetlands. This thumb-sized member of the chorus frog family can be pretty hard to locate among the grasses around a pond. They often tuck themselves under the overlapping grasses and disappear from view.
Although April showers do bring May flowers, it’s well worth the effort to explore the early, wet April nights in your favorite Adirondack woodland.
Photo credit: Spotted Salamander -Wikipedia
Posted on February 26th, 2010 12 comments Add a comment >>
I’d like to start a new feature here on Notes from the field which I’ll call “Learn your boreal birds“. This title refers to the many species of birds that spend a majority of their time in the Boreal Forest region of North America.
What is boreal again? Boreal forests make up a fair percentage of our forested land in the Adirondacks. It’s made up of mostly coniferous trees or cone-bearing species (pine, spruce, fir, tamarack,cedar).
If you were to map out the boreal region on a globe, it would be shown as a continuous ring of green encompassing northern Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Siberia.
But as luck would have it, the Adirondacks, due to several factors including; soil, bedrock, local microclimates, and vegetation, has a version of boreal that we can see/access from many back roads throughout the region.
As we’ll see in future postings, some of our boreal birds are year-round residents and some are summer residents only. These summer only birds will spend the winter months down in the tropical regions of South and Central America and then migrate to the Adirondacks in the spring.
I’ll start this series with the year-round resident Gray Jay. Clicking this link will take you directly to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s(CLO) “All About Birds” website. If you look at the Jay’s home range map you’ll see a tiny dot where the Adirondacks are. We’re lucky because this is the only area in New York State where this jay can be found. Gray jays are related to all the family(Corvidae) members of the jays, crows, and ravens of North America.
You can read all about the life history of gray jay on CLO site but I’d like to focus on our Adirondack population. I’ll often find gray jays squealing and screeching along the Bloomingdale Bog trail(snowmobile trail in winter). I find the best part of the trail to see the jays is to drive to the northern access point (along County Rt 55) between Gabriels and Bloomingdale. Here you can walk south along the trail, and listen carefully as you do, for the high-pitched squawking the jays make as they approach the trial.
Over the past two summers, I’ve come across several pairs of gray jay with their very dark gray young(photo above right). This leads us to believe that gray jays have had several successful breeding seasons in a row. At one site I counted 4 young!
Gray jays have the wonderul ability to “stash” food in various places in the forest. They will often put food in the crotch of tree limbs, or bury it, or place it in an abandoned nest hole in a tree. All this so it has food(if it remembers where) to tide it over during the winter months.
Gray jays are rather tame and will often approach humans and feed out of hands…if there’s some good food in that hand. Keep some granola in your coat pocket if you’re heading into a bog.
Posted on February 4th, 2010 3 comments Add a comment >>
Most of us living in the Adirondacks are probably not aware that the UN has proclaimed that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Bully for you if you knew this!
But let’s take a minute to grasp what “biodiversity” actually means. Author/Harvard Professor, and “Biodiversity Guru”, E.O. Wilson puts it simply as “…the key to the maintenance of the world as we know it…this is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve.” And I will add that it has taken only several generations of anthropocentric(human) effects to destroy it in many areas around this planet.
Biodiversity is the collection of all the living organisms, their interactions with one another, their reliance on one another, and their outcomes of these interactions. So, everything is supposed to be working in harmony. But in many areas this diversity has crashed and burned. Many of you learn about this as you hear of the rapid loss of rainforests; degradation of the planets coral reefs; the polluting of the oceans, bays, and freshwaters; and the fragmentation of so many of our natural fields, forests, and wetlands.
In each of these natural areas we find millions of living things(birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects, plants,..etc), all living harmoniously until some outside, human-made factor enters the system and then we see a domino-effect of great loss and degradation. OK-enough with the negativity.
Now that we have a working definition, let’s look at this “big picture” view and move it into our neck of the woods.
The biodiversity of the Adirondacks is composed of many, many things. Something like 270+ species of birds. I don’t know how many reptiles/amphibians found specifically in the Adk’s but there are around 69 species of herpetofauna (reptiles and Amphibians)in NY state alone. Fish?-no clue. Insects?-alot! Plants-tons! Mammals…about 54. Fungi…? Lichens…? Mosses…? So you see there are many holes in this long list of diverse things that make up the biodiversity of the Park.
Well, how do we fill those “holes”? WE start counting things! WE list things. WE look under rocks; in the water; up in the trees; down in the soil. Please note that the WE is you and I, and a little help from our scientific experts in the field.
Cue the music- da-dada-da! Enter the world of the Adirondack All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory or ATBI for short. You may have heard of this awe-inspiring, species-counting event that will take years to complete. It’s housed at Paul Smiths College under the moniker Center for Adirondack Biodiversity
Headed up by the very talented director David Patrick, the CAB will take on the task of figuring out what living organisms live in the 6 million acre Adirondack Park. A similar program is underway in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Many residents of the Adk’s are already involved in this colossal undertaking and there is hope that this number of citizen scientists will grow.
Back to big picture of biodiversity. Why should we care what’s out there? Well, in the tropical regions of earth we may have a yet-unidentified medical cure for humans. There may be unknown plants that will aid humans in technology or industry. There are still yet unknown birds, frogs, mammals, and other organisms being discovered in these critical areas every year. So yeah, this seems important.
E.O. Wilson says, “It(biodiversity) holds the world steady.”
On another note…just want to say that I’m thrilled to be a part of the Adirondack Explorer community and I hope readers will follow our blogs that will take you all over the Adirondacks, and reveal some pretty cool things about our special place!
…..and for those of us wishing for warmer temperatures and the feel of spring, here’s a nice live cam of a Anna’s Hummingbird on a nest in California. Enjoy!
Photo credit-Brian McAllister-painted turtle