Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Yikes! Fall Foliage is Coming Early

Peak Weekends: September 22-23, September 29-30.

The fall foliage in the Adirondacks is peaking early this year. Many red maples and birches are already decked out in red and yellow, and the sugar maples are on their way. We've had very, very little rain since late April and everything is bone dry. All summer we've watched all the storms going south through the Albany and Mid-Hudson region.

The trees are stressed and when that happens, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down earlier than in a season of normal rainfall. Last year the trees were terribly stressed from too much rain. Wetland and riverbank trees turned red in July.

If the glorious colors of the red maples is any indication, this will be a brilliant season. Fall foliage is my busiest time of the year, so book early!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Two Crane Mountain Trips

This week has turned out to be Crane Mountain Week so far. It's only Tuesday and I've climbed up twice. Sunday's adventure took me to the northernmost slopes of the mountain, the area where most hikers don't travel. I love the open ledges and the views, which are more comprehensive than those available from the summit. On Sunday, the day was so clear, we were viewing the Green Mountains in Vermont as well as the Adirondack High Peaks to the north.

Today's climb took us up into the clouds--literally. Low-lying clouds drizzled on us, and at times let loose a bit of rain. At around half past twelve, the sun broke through and the air became warm and humid. Today I was guiding an international group: about 7 teens from the Netherlands and 6 American young people. As one might expect, their spirits were high, and from time to time they broke into song, which was fun. The most common question on the way up: How much longer to the top? The question on the way down: How long until we're back at the trailhead?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Butterfly Time!

Ask About Our Waterfall Safaris!

The woods are becoming quieter and quieter as each day passes. For most birds, the breeding period is long gone and the nesting time will soon close. As the fledgings grow and gain their independence, the songbirds' northern sojourn will come to an end no later than late September. Yet many warblers will begin their "fall" migratory trip to the tropics toward the end of July and in August.

For breeding fireworks, however, there is always the American goldfinch, the last songbird to breed, to entertain us birders. If you have the time and can hang out with a bunch of goldfinches for a while in mid-August, watch for their incredible aeronautic courtship displays.

And what about the butterflies? They're in full swing in northern fields and pastures. Even in the forests, a few can be found. I planted a butterfly bush (buddliea) this year in a gigantic pot on my deck and enjoy having them so close by. Monarda is another perennial that's worth planting if you want more butterflies in your yard.

It mystifies me. Last year the milkweed, a favorite food of Monarch butterflies, bloomed in mid-June and this year it's blooming now, in mid-July. I've tried to recall what makes this summer's weather different than last. One huge difference has been this summer's very cool nights, with many temps in the 50s, occasionally dropping to the high 40s. The nighttime chill has retarded the growth of almost every vegetable except for the lettuces.

Besides delaying their major food supply, butterflies are bothered by cold as well, and there do seem to be fewer of them now. If the weather warms up as expected (the long-range forecast says a heat wave is coming late next week), I'm going to watch to see if more butterflies appear.

Monday, July 16, 2007

No nature hikes this morning. I'm currently (yes, right this minute) teaching a workshop "The Brave New World of Fiction Blogging" for the Adirondack "Fiction among Friends" Writers' Retreat.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bear Hunting Dogs on the Loose

Early Saturday morning I was enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee and a good book while lounging on the living room couch. The slider door was open and I had half an ear tuned to birdsong.

First I heard the growling of young bears in the distance, in the far reaches of our back property or our next door neighbor's property and beyond. It sounded a bit like the cubs were carousing and wrestling each other. Next came the furious barking of dogs, lots of dogs raising a racket. By this time, I was out the slider and on the deck, listening and alarmed. All of this was followed by the deep growls and bellows of a mature bear, growling over and over while the dogs continued to bark. By this time, I'd pulled Ken out of bed and we were both standing on the deck.

Any good scent hound, like these foxhounds, can hunt bear

As the barking and growling continued, I imagined the cubs surrounded by dogs, or perhaps the mother bear surrounded. Or perhaps the dogs had managed to get the cubs up a tree, or the mother. After about ten minutes, the sounds stopped.

Later, on my walk with Sophie, I ran into a neighbor and told him the story. He shook his head. "I'm sorry he's doing that."

"You know whose dogs they were?" I asked.

"Sounds like the fellow training his bear hunting dogs. It's not legal to hunt bears in New York," he said, "but you can train them here. This guy hunts bears in Vermont."

In the course of my travels later in the morning, I found out the name of the local person who this neighbor was referring to. I later had his name confirmed by several other people.

I placed a call to New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation and eventually got to have a good long talk with the game warden who covers our area. As people had told me, July 1st was the first day of the season when hunters are allowed to train dogs to track bears. The warden pointed out, however, that a person has to obtain a special permit to do this. Steve (the warden) said he'd see if any permits were filed for our area.

What a time to have this bear tracking training season, though! The time when mother bears and their cubs are at their most vulnerable. Just think of the stress this mother bear and cubs went through over this incident. It made me angry and sad. If New York does not allow hunting bears with dogs, then it should not allow this "training" to go on.

While writing this entry, the phone rang. It was the game warden, letting me know that the hunter believed to have been involved in this incident does indeed have a permit. The cost of the permit? $100/year.

Monday, July 02, 2007

News from My Neck of the Woods

It’s fascinating to wander one’s home territory and keep track of the wildlife and the wild plants, and to observe the changes week by week and day by day. When did the creek slow to a trickle this year, and when did it last year? What’s going on with the wild strawberry crop: Who’s eating the strawberries, how do the ripening dates compare with last year’s, and what’s the quality like? And for wildlife, how many does have I seen, and how many fawns? (By the way, a mother bear and her two cubs are in the area this year, and I wonder if it’s the same female that had two cubs here last year.)

No, I didn't take this photo. Yikes! (Public domain)

I’m not sure of the number of acres surrounding my home that I regularly traipse during the course of a week, but I’d count at least 175 acres as my home territory. I own a mere fraction of this landscape of hills, meadows, swamps, marshes, and woodlands, but I watch over all of it. In fact, I feel sometimes like the caretaker of a huge estate.

As the months pass, there are victories and tragedies to account for. A victory this year was the return of “my’ chestnut-sided warbler. This beautiful male and his mate have a nest in the exact same area they did last year, not far from our stream. I know it’s the same pair because the male has a song that’s unique. Of course his song is similar to all chestnut-sideds, but he has a unique variation. I swear he says, “Mo-ga-dee-shew, with the accent on the “dee.” So this couple has nested, as has “our” indigo bunting pair, and several pairs of common yellowthroats.

The tragedy was at a new neighbor’s place. They have dug a foundation for their second—no, wait—I think it’s their third home--on land they prepared last summer. I worried last year about the scarlet tanager that nests on their property. I don’t know if he and his mate successfully raised a family last summer or not. But he returned this year, and everything seemed to be going well until two weeks ago. The owner returned to put in a “road” of sorts for his electric hook-up. This man's driveway is too winding to be used as a direct route for the electricity running to the house. The trees were chainsawed right down the middle of the scarlet tanager’s territory. I haven’t heard him sing since.

Speaking of nests, you know, even when I know where a nest is, I never approach it. I never even go close by. I know lots of naturalists like to get close to see the nest or see the eggs. I know these people wait until the parents are out foraging, but I believe the birds know when a human has invaded their territory. Birds need space, inviolate space, if they are to thrive while raising their young. They have enough problems from wildlife marauders, and they have enough trouble finding the amount of undisturbed land they need for their nesting areas.

So, what’s going on in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Crane Mountain Birdwatch

View from the Summit of Crane Mountain

And here I will relate my Mountain Birdwatch adventure on Crane Mountain. (For the link to Mountain Birdwatch, please scroll down to my previous post and search for the blue highlighted "Mountain Birdwatch" text and just click.) First of all, I'm so glad that Crane Mountain was assigned to me. Evidently the person who covered Crane last year was not able to do it this year, and, as a result, I had a fairly short drive to the trailhead in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 16, rather than a long drive to a mountain in the High Peaks. I say "fairly short" because I didn't realize until I was in the car at 3:30am that I wouldn't be able to drive at a normal daytime speed. I forgot to factor in the need to drive at 20-25 mph, all because the roads belong to wildlife at that hour. Not one but two foxes ran across the road at various points. And a doe was so mesmerized by my headlights, she took a long time to recover and meander off the road.

With no moon, the world was dark. Yet at half past three, as I left our house, the east was light! The strong cup of coffee, brewed at the bewitching hour of 2:45 am, kept me alert. Let's face it, though, I was tense with this mission ahead of me. I slept with the light on all night. Now this wasn't intentional, but I think my unconscious was trying to ensure I'd get up when the alarm went off.

When I arrived at the trailhead, I ate the yogurt I had brought with me. I then slathered on a heavy application of my non-Deet bug repellent/SPF 30 lotion. As I prayed that the mosquitos would not eat me alive, I slathered on extra bug stuff around my hairline, a favorite target.

I put on my headlamp, got out of the car, and heaved my pack onto my back. Inside it was my Sony CD player and 2 smallish speakers, and lots of water, my Mountain Birdwatch notebook, birding guide, and extra clothing. If I failed to hear the endangered Bicknell's Thrush on my route, I was to retrace my steps, playing genuine Bicknell Thrush calls and its song at each of the five stations.

A quick glance at my watch--4:20 am. How did it get to be so late so quickly? I set off for the trail, signed in, and started climbing. It was not pitch dark, but the rocks on the trail were barely visible, even with a headlamp. I scrambled up the mountain as fast as my legs and lungs would allow me, pushing relentlessly, and yes, stumbling, I'm embarrassed to say. I had to make tracks fast because I knew how important it was to be at Station 1 early, before five if I could. Bicknell's do not sing all day, nor all morning.

Thirty-five minutes later, I was there--almost to the summit. After that push, I was starving and so out of breath. The instructions gave me permission to spend thirty seconds (!) orienting myself before beginning the survey. As soon as I was breathing halfway normally (more like two minutes), I started the ten-minute site survey, identifying and recording every bird song I heard and its location. A hermit thrush, a Swainson's thrush's liquid, rising tones, black-throated blue warblers, and more, but no Bicknell's. When I finished, I realized I was having fun. I sat on a rock in the middle of the trail, surrounded by spruces and balsam firs. I chomped on a granola bar and wondered where the heck my graham crackers and almond butter went to. I also wasted valuable time pouring a half cup of coffee from my thermos. I sipped and looked off into the distance and marveled at the tinges of aqua appearing on the horizon.

Only then did it dawn on me to check my watch. 5:20 am. I gazed at the time, stupefied. I couldn't believe I had sat there ten minutes wasting all those minutes. It was as if someone else had done it.

I scampered off and reached the second, infamous Crane Mountain ladder with its 15 steps, screwed into a sheer rockface. Up I went (some people say it's scarier going down the ladder, but I think it's more daunting when you see that ladder going straight up the cliff.) Anyway, I had no time to think about it.

At station 2 I felt certain I wouldn't hear any Bicknell's. The spruce-fir cover at this location on the summit was not dense enough for a Bicknell's. No way. But I complied. I felt similarly at Station 3, which is near the overlook that looks down on Crane Mountain Pond.

This is a dreadful place to leave off. All I can say is I will be back with more soon.