Posted on February 8th, 2011 Add a comment >>
“….we see fantastic forms stretching in frolic gambols across the landscape, as if Nature had strewn her fresh designs over the fields by night as models for man’s art.” – Henry David Thoreau from “A Winter Walk”.
We can only wonder if Thoreau knew about “plasticity” in snow. We often think that snow is simply piles and piles of snow flakes that sit on the ground, in the trees, on the roof, or on any other structure we see. To some degree that is true, snow on the ground is made up of gazillions of snow flakes, but what goes on in that snow pile over time can tell us a lot.
The picture above shows a once-vertical column of snow now slowly leaning to one side, but yet it is not breaking or collapsing! How can that be?
This is what’s known as the “plastic behavior” of snow. Even though snow pack is frozen it can still behave in a way that resembles water moving in slow motion. When this pile of snow was vertical it began to deform at the bottom due to the weight of the upper part and gravity working on it. Over time the snow column yields to these pressures in a fluid-like movement and reforms but does not break.
I’m sure many of you have seen snow that looks as if it’s wrapped completely around a branch, like a snake or a vine. That snow was once on top of the branch, where it fell, but over time it gave way to its own weight, deformed and then reformed into the odd shapes we see.
As I was skiing on the trails at the Paul Smiths College “VIC” I saw lots of small mice or vole tracks on top of the snow pack:
However, if you look closely at the picture you can see a couple “tail drags” where the tail hit the snow. This tells us that it was mouse, probably a white-footed or deer mouse (Peromyscus) that made the track while on some dawn or dusk run to a food source.
Even though we play on top of the snow in winter, there’s still lots of serious activity down under the snow, or in the “subnivian zone” (area from the ground up to the snow surface). Here we find mice and voles busy eating their stored food, or happily eating the bark off your favorite ornamental shrub. Mice and voles will often build a nest or bedding area on the ground where they can take a little day or week-long nap depending on the outside conditions.
Ruffed grouse and weasels can often be found burrowing through this zone. For the former, it’s a place to hide and stay warm while a blizzard rages on above them, and for the latter, it’s the source for many yummy dinners!
So often we snowshoe and ski with our minds only on that task, but when you can let your eyes wander over the snow pack and look for the finer details….”the models for man’s art.”
Photo Credits: Brian McAllister
Posted on January 5th, 2011 Add a comment >>
Hard to pass up a sunny…well partly sunny, day in the Adirondacks. With the recent announcement of the Paul Smiths VIC now officially under the ownership of Paul Smiths College, I thought it worthwhile to get out for a ski.
Many of the trails are still in the good shape that they’ve have always been, however one should avoid and heed the “trail closed signs” when skiing up into the Esker Ski Trail from the Silviculture Trail.
Currently white-tailed deer are feeding on many of the downed/fallen branches that remain behind from the timber harvesting. Some beech and maple bud tips are a welcomed food source.
Skiing the Jenkins Mountain Road I found several good animal tracks to examine and follow for awhile. This Ruffed Grouse set of prints tells us that the warmer temperatures have allowed grouse to feed in comfort rather burrowing down into loose snow to wait out another snowstorm.
Likewise, the coyotes are traveling through the woods. These prints were observed crossing the ski trail. If you look carefully at a canine(dog) print you will see a “X” in the middle of the oval print which results when the toe and heel pads press into the snow leaving behind a raised “X” between all pads. The feline family(cats) have a more circular shape to the print and lack a central “X” mark. Feline toes tend to be more forward in the print.
I hope the public continues to visit the “VIC” and if you do take the time to look at your surroundings. Find some animal tracks to follow and see if you can reveal the story they leave behind. Sit patiently and watch the woodpeckers pecking for food along the tree trunks and branches, or watch the acrobatic chickadees hang upside down along a branch as they look for spider eggs or insects.
The property is under new ownership(and stewardship) but the wildlife that survive there day to day probably won’t take notice of the new “landlords”, and for the rest of us….let’s not forget that we are also just visitors into their realm.
Photo Credits: Jenkins Mt Road ski trail(and all other photos)-Brian McAllister.
Posted on February 18th, 2010 4 comments Add a comment >>
Just some quick highlights here of a recent back country ski into the lesser known trails to Grass Pond and Sheep Meadows via the Hayes Brook Ski Trail.
2 friends and I started out to Sheep Meadows Lean-to, (accessing the trailhead off of Rt 30(north), about 3.8 miles north of the junction of Routes 86 and 30). Finding the usual troops of black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creeper, and golden-crowned kinglets buoyed our spirits as we glided over endless deer tracks in the snow. Occasionally we’d spot something different and took time to examine ermine(short-tailed weasel) tracks, snowshoe hare, vole, and mouse tracks. But as our explorations took us to Grass Pond, the wildlife tracks and traces reached a crescendo!
The photo above shows a “playground” of river otter tracks as they slide over the frozen water falls and beaver dams found near Grass Pond. Their sleek bodies flatten out on the snow and they shove off with their large, webbed hind feet allowing for an efficient, and fun, slide along the snow.
This photo(right) shows(in the center of photo) the prints of two hind feet in the middle of the slide.
Nearby was a muddy opening into the side of a beaver dam showing recent otter use. And if that was not enough evidence, my friends then found piles of fresh, and smelly scat(otter poop) close to the hole. Not wanting to overextend our presence we linger just long enough to hear some red crossbills fly overhead.
As we made our way back to the Grass Pond lean-to we skied by the protruding beaver lodge on the pond. Putting ears to the mud and snow on the lodge my friends declare, ” I hear chewing sounds!”. My own ears pick up a gentle whining sound…maybe from the pups just recently born inside the lodge.
Back onto land and the main trail home, our hearts beat wildly. From the physical exertion?… yes. But mostly from a day filled with great nature scenes and wonders!
Photo credit-Brian McAllister