Posted on June 23rd, 2010 Add a comment >>
On Friday, 19 June, over 50 science-loving-mud-seeking-water-diving-naturalist-types found themselves giddy w/pleasure at being the first public group to investigate the natural world of a 14,600 acre Adirondack Nature Conservancy property near Tupper Lake.
Taking about one year to plan and coordinate, the gates to Follensby Pond were finally opened to this select group of Naturalists, Researchers and Educators as they begin to inventory as a much as they can of the living world around them-in 24 hours….aka…a “Bioblitz”!
Yours truly was handed the task of coordinating the survey of all birdlife on the property during the 24 hours. After choosing a great crew of birders we all set out on our given paths and started listing birds that we see and hear.
After all the data sheets were handed back in, and then tallied, and re-tallied just to make sure!, we ended up with a species count of 75-not bad for 24 hours.
All the credit goes to the brave (for there were lots of blackflies and mosquitoes!) lads and lasses that endured the beating sun, the fresh summer breezes, the refreshing waters, and the startlingly beautiful scenery around us….OK, it was pretty darn nice out there but we did fight some bugs to count all our species.
An early count of around 280 species of various organisms were tallied by the end of the 24 hours but many organisms still have yet to be identified due to similarities w/other species or details that can only be seen under lab conditions. For example, many dragonflies and damselflies can only be identified under microscopes and the same goes for many species of mushroom and some sedges that were found. Also many aquatic and terrestrial insects needed to be taken to a lab for further investigation.
The deep interest levels that all 50 of us shared that day was very evident. As we slowly filtered our way back to “base camp” to break for lunch, or tally up species, many colleagues were asking, “What’d you find? Anything unexpected?”. Or if a crew spotted something out of their own specialty area they would tell others all about it.
A wonderful sense of camaraderie filled the 24 hours as each taxonomic group performed their work. Many would gather at the tote board to see what new species were collected or identified.
A tip of the hat goes to The Adirondack Nature Conservancy who’s tireless work and coordination allowed for all of this data collection to occur. Of historical note, all this data was gathered on a piece of property that was once visited by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Russel Lowell, Louis Agassiz, William James Stillman, and other great minds of the day. This “gathering” of minds took place on Follensby Pond during the month of August in 1858, and became known as Philosopher’s Camp. They also named the camping area “Camp Maple”.
As we walked the woods or followed the shoreline, we all had, in the back of our minds, a developing picture of what it may have felt like to walk these woods back then and perhaps to discuss nature with them.
Photo Credit: Bioblitz tote board- Brian McAllister
Posted on June 13th, 2010 9 comments Add a comment >>
I set out this morning to get in another boreal bird survey that I conduct for the Wildlife Conservation Society. My destination was Madawaska Pond, about 10 miles northwest of Paul Smiths, NY. As I got out the car I new it would be a fine morning, because instantly I heard a Boreal Chickadee calling 20 feet from my car. I was right, things got better.
As I wandered down the densely forested logging road with several pockets of boreal wetlands along the way, I encountered wonderful views of a Gray Jay family w/two very darkly colored young.
The Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were also very vocal.
However, the highlight of the day turned out to be a poor viewing of a singing Tennessee Warbler in an area where the dense conifer forest merges into the boreal wetlands of Madawaska Pond. I was so excited that I pumped my fists into the air in final victory of this great encounter. Well that victorious bubble soon burst after I returned home.
Turns out three birder friends were at this very same spot and heard the very same bird I heard only several days earlier. They, unlike my poor viewing of the bird, were able to see the bird singing, and one of them officially recorded the song with his recording equipment. But much to his amazement and bewilderment, he was witnessing a Nashville Warbler singing the song of a Tennessee Warbler. He would not have believed it if he had not observed it.
Alas, my victorious pumping of fists was all for not. However, this brings to mind what a very interesting bit of bird vocalization “anomalie” we just witnessed.
So what was going on there? Did this Nashville Warbler just randomly pick up the song of a Tennessee Warbler. Was this Nashville, as a chick, raised in an area where Tennessee’s were also breeding and singing and simply learned a Tennessee song?
Or was this bird just not satisfied singing a “city” song and felt compelled to sing a “state” song!!…sorry.
Whatever the answer, it is still a mystery that birders, across the globe, face as we learn more about bird song. It is not all that uncommon for birds to learn whatever song they hear growing up as a chick in the nest(other than parents). This has been replicated in laboratories.
Yes there is also that instinctive process of learning the song that your parents sing for you. But to add another twist is the fact that some birds (of a different species) can take over care and feeding of a unrelated nest.
Well, we like to think we know a lot about nature but then there’s always that curve ball that humbly sets us back a step or two.
Photo Credit: Boreal wetland -Brian McAllister
Posted on May 31st, 2010 Add a comment >>
What has bright yellow legs and is black and white all over? And by the way you have to travel up a mountain to see it in our neck of the woods.
The blackpoll warbler leads an interesting life as far as warblers go. During fall migration most species of warbler travel down the eastern US, often following the coast or higher elevations of the Appalachian Mts. But our little blackpoll has a different route.
After nesting just below the treeline on many of our Adirondack High Peaks in the thick spruce-fir forests, the black poll will often wind its way south and east to the New England coastline or farther south to the Long Island coast.
Here, if the winds are just right-meaning a good tail wind from the north, our tiny two-ounce bird takes flight into the night-time skies. Loaded down with fat layers on its body, the blackpoll starts on an incredible migratory journey that takes it out over the open Atlantic Ocean and it may not land on solid ground until it reaches the Caribbean Islands and northern South America for it’s winter holiday. If it’s tired it may stop off in Bermuda for a brief rest and refuel….whew!…that’s almost 90 hours of non-stop flight.
If your birding pursuits take you on a search for Bicknell’s thrush on, let’s say Whiteface Mt, take a moment to stop along the trail or roadside and listen for the extremely high-pitched song of this bird. A quick repetition of “tsi-tsi-tsi-TSI-TSI-TSI-tsi-tsi-tsi” rising in strength in the middle of song.
Once you pinpoint the song, scan the tops of the stunted trees before you and look for a small black-capped bird, not unlike the black-capped chickadee, but with black stripes on the breast and dark wings. Then look for the definitive ID clincher of yellowish legs.
I often describe the blackpoll song as a fast-moving squeaky wheel going by you as you stand still (soft at first, then growing in volume, then softening) as compared to the flat, monotone squeaky-wheel of the black and white warbler.
If you look for this bird during fall migration you’ll be fooled by its appearance. Just before summer ends it will molt into light-green-yellowish colored feathers with some white and dark striping.
Hopefully you’re planning a hike up your favorite Adirondack Mt. this early June, maybe in search of a Bicknell’s thrush, and as you do you’ll take the time to look and listen for this little, inconspicuous, black and white bird, with the unpretentious song.
Photo Credit: Blackpoll warbler-Wikipedia
Posted on May 15th, 2010 1 comment - Add a comment >>
While traveling along the wonderful “wildlife-watching ” roads of St Lawrence County, I stumbled upon this red fox as it trotted through a dandelion-covered field. On my return trip on this road, about a half-hour later, the same fox came up to the roadside, this time it’s long pointed snout held 3-4 “meadow mice” packed in a toothy grip. Putting 2 and 2 together, I figured it was heading to a nearby hedgerow which most likely was a the site of the family den…many young mouths to feed!
On another note, this weekend appears to have all the makings for great migrant bird movements. So far I’ve tallied up some great sightings of warblers, vireos, and other migratory birds. Two highlights so far are a Scarlet tanager, and a Philadelphia vireo
Along Lakeshore Road, just north of Westport, some friends and I found a Golden-winged warbler, and a blue-winged warbler, both singing their hearts out in a second-growth field on the west side of road. A description of this area can be found in Adirondack Birding by John MC Peterson and Gary Lee. Chances are these birds are on territory and so they’ll be singing for a while longer. Hope you get to see them!
Photo Credit: Red Fox-Brian McAllister
Posted on May 8th, 2010 Add a comment >>
Birds returning north each spring are anxious to get on breeding territories so they spend every clear night, with south winds, migrating north.
If you look here you will see a US radar map from Friday night showing bird movements (the big blue blobs again!) all over the eastern US…those are migrating birds passing over a Doppler radar site But as the map progresses check out what happens as that big yellow-green blob moves in from the west and “eats up” all the little blue blobs in New York.
-just kidding, no birds were harmed in the making of this blog.
So, what we’re seeing is a storm move into the Adirondacks and totally cut off northward migration.
What happens to the birds? Well they stop flying and find a protected spot in the nearest woods or wetlands to wait out the bad weather.
As a result the birds congregate into feeding groups that can contain many species. When this happens it’s often called a “fallout”, and it’s a birders dream come true.
On a bird walk this morning, along the trails of the Paul Smiths Visitor Center, we encountered a “mini-fallout”-not so big-but fun to see the different warbler species in the trees. 9 species in fact.
Our best-bird-of-the-day was, without a doubt, a warbler species called a bay-breasted warbler and what a beauty it was!
The Adirondack’s weather for the next couple of days shows rain and north winds, which most birds don’t want because it’s hard for an object that weighs about .5 to 1 ounce (2 or 3 pennies) to fly against strong headwinds.
But the flipside is this becomes a birders delight. So get up early Sunday or Monday and go birding-the birds will wait for you!
Photo credit: Bay-breasted warbler-Wikipedia photo
Posted on May 1st, 2010 Add a comment >>
Birders across the Adirondacks await the arrival of warblers, tanagers, buntings, sparrows, thrushes…just to name a few families of birds. But recent weather patterns have allowed for some really good movements of birds over the past 2 nights. Look here. You will see blossoming “blue blobs” all over the eastern states-those are migrating birds flying over radar sights at night.
So, birds are on their way. In fact this morning I saw four species warbler while walking the trails at the Paul Smiths Visitor Center. One that seemed a bit overdue is the Nashville warbler. But there it was singing it’s little heart out along the marsh-just a day or two late.
The going theory is that it seems a bit late for these arrivals but looking over the past weather patterns shows that there was plenty of good south wind blowing birds up into the Gulf of Mexico, from Mexico, but then bad winds and weather in the mid US shut them down, only temporarily.
Birding is a game of patience and patience is what it will take to allow these migratory birds to filter into our Adirondack woods.
Also….a comment here on the horrible oil spill in the Gulf. Most of the bird families mentioned here and many other small migratory birds are fortunate in that they are not affected by the spill, as they migrate at night and are mostly flying over the shorelines along the Gulf. However, the shorebirds(sandpipers, plovers) and wading birds(herons, egrets) along with pelicans, gulls, gannets, ducks, and other seabirds will, without doubt, be harmed by this spill. We can only hope for the best and then put the oiled birds into the hands of caring and helpful rehabilitators.
Photo credit: Savannah Sparrow-Brian McAllister
Posted on April 18th, 2010 2 comments Add a comment >>
I wonder if in 1881, amateur ornithologist Eugene P. Bicknell, had any idea what a whirlwind he would cause in the birding world by classifying his new-found thrush as a subspecies. Back in the day they assumed this thrush was a just a subspecies of gray-cheeked thrush(a bird lesson for another day). Fast forward to 1995 and the birding-powers-that-be officially gave Bicknell’s thrush it’s current name and status as a species of thrush.
As birders eagerly watch for Bicknell’s thrush on Whiteface Mt near Lake Placid, they are grateful to Eugene because he added another bird to the big list, which in turn adds another “tick” off the list for the hardcore birders among us.
But over the years we’ve learned a lot about Eugene’s bird, and it now stands precariously on a delicate precipice that could easily crumble. Bickies are listed as a “Bird of Special Concern”. As you look at the range for this bird you see a very small wintering ground in the Caribbean and a very localized breeding ground here in the northeast.
To make matters worse, Bickies nest in a very inhospitable area – they prefer the harsh climate of the very thickly-wooded red spruce-balsam fir forest found at higher elevations of the Adirondacks, Green, and White Mountains in northeast US.
Your best bet to see a Bicknell’s is to take a drive up the Whiteface Mt Toll Rd which is certainly eaiser than climbing the other mountains where Bicknell’s is found, but if you’re the hiking type and enjoy a good workout, then try Wright Peak, Hurricane Mountain, Blue Mountain, or even Cascade Mt(outside Lake Placid).
On Whiteface, stop, look, and listen along the stretch of road between the “Lake Placid Turn” and the “Wilmington Turn” before coming to the top.
Chances are you will hear the thrush before you see it. The peak time to observe this bird is during the early breeding season(late May-early June) when they are most vocal. You can hear the song here
As with other members of the thrush family, the Bicknell’s is somewhat drab brown in color with a pale white breast w/darker spots on the throat and upper breast. Many sharp-eyed birders are able to discern a reddish color to the feathers of the tail and larger(primary) feathers of the wing.
Also the paler brown coloration on the cheek of Bicknell’s differentiate it from the “gray-cheek” of the gray-cheeked thrush…clever name, eh?
Here’s the other ID clue that you need to know. At a point on most of the High Peaks around here you come to an elevation where the Bicknell’s shares habitat with it’s other cousin the Swainson’s thrush. That’s somewhere around the 2500-3000 ft level. But if you are beyond that elevation, in the thick spruce-fir forest, then there’s a very good chance you are looking at a Bicknell’s
Well pat yourself on the back and then buy yourself a beer to celebrate your accomplishment…not many get to see this bird, and it’s pretty high on the list of “priority sightings” for many birders.
Better yet, save the money from the beer and give it toward a research organization that’s keeping tabs on one of our prettiest but most imperiled thrush!
Photo Credit: Bicknell’s thrush – 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.