Saturday, November 19, 2011

Boreal Chickadees -- © Dave Spier

Boreal Chickadee in a White Pine by Dave Spier [scanned from a old slide]
see the links at the end of this blog post for great photos by other photographers

Judging by recent reports on Northern New York Birds, there's no shortage of Boreal Chickadees (Poecile hudsonica) in the Adirondacks.  If you're looking for a specific location, try the Roosevelt Truck Trail off Route 28N in Minerva.  The trail runs north from the old, narrow sideroad 1.6 miles north of the Boreas River bridge; details are in the ADK guidebook.  Birding guide, Joan Collins, said, "I had a beautiful walk on the Roosevelt Truck Trail [November 16]. I don't recall ever finding as many Boreal Chickadees on one walk. Views of the Boreal Chickadees were terrific throughout the hike.”

They're also likely to be encountered in northern New England, much of Alaska and certainly in their trans-Canada strongholds from coast to coast south of the tree line.  For an eBird range map, look under View and Explore Data, and then zoom in for finer detail.  At the highest resolutions you’ll find individual locations and checklists.  If you continue north on the map through Canada, you’ll find the data is incomplete, so if you’re ever up that way, please submit your complete checklists to eBird and help fill in the gaps.

Not surprisingly, almost all of the 2000-2005 Breeding Bird Atlas records for Boreal Chickadees are clustered in the Adirondacks.  The two exceptions are on the Tug Hill between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks.

The Boreal's preferred habit is dense northern (boreal) coniferous forests, so whenever they move in search of winter food, they're usually found in a similar environment, often in association with their close relatives, the Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapilla).  At a distance the two species can be separated by song, with the Boreal's being a slower, raspier version of the familiar "chicka-dee-dee-dee," but more like "che-day-day" at a lower pitch.

All chickadees come to suet and sunflower seed feeders.  If you have conifers (spruce, pine, firs or hemlock) in your yard or nearby, pay some extra attention to any chickadees coming to your feeder.  Watch for any with a brown cap, gray sides of the neck behind the white face, and light-brown flanks.  (All chickadees have the black bib and underthroat.)  If you see one [or more], please report it [them] to eBird, or email me at

For great photos of Boreal Chickadees, please visit Jeff Nadler's website and Larry Master Conservation Photography

Saturday, November 12, 2011

MOOSE -- © Dave Spier

Female Moose (October)  -- © Dave Spier

In an issue of D.E.C. Field Notes (Nov. 4), there are links to a Moose fact sheet and a gallery of NY Moose photos from various counties (mostly Hamilton and Essex, plus Warren, Herkimer, St. Lawrence, Oneida, Lewis, Rensselaer, and Saratoga). A video about tagging and tracking Moose in NY was not working.  North Country Public Radio featured moose as a Photo of the Day.

I have no secret hotspots for finding Moose in the Adirondacks. The last estimates I saw of Moose numbers in New York ranged up to 800, based on statistical analysis of sightings, vehicle collisions and reports from hunters. (Moose are protected in New York, so these were people hunting deer, bear, ducks, etc.) Average that population across the region and you get 7500 acres per Moose. Ideal habitat is a mix of forests with both deciduous and coniferous trees for shelter and browse, plus small clearcuts for regeneration of additional browse plus wetlands for aquatic vegetation eaten in the summer. Moose are therefore unevenly spread across the Adirondacks and some of the population is located in the Taconic Highlands.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn Gold -- © Dave Spier

Mention the word "conifer" and it's likely the concept of "evergreen" comes to mind. Most groups of conifers keep their needles through the winter. One big exception is the larch, or tamarack, the only common deciduous conifer. It turns gold in the fall (roughly the third week of October) and then drops its needles. During the winter, when the twigs are bare, take a closer look at the knobby texture of the year-old twigs.

Larch needles grow in dense, radial clusters supported by short, woody knobs on the sides of last year's twigs. One cluster can have 30 needles growing in a circular whorl. On this year's twigs, the soft needles grow singly.

Larches begin flowering at 15 years of age. The male flowers are tight clusters of stamens, while the female flowers are larger, scaly rosettes. Like other members of the Pine family (Pinaceae), they are wind pollinated. The female "larch roses" develop into barrel-shaped cones with overlapping scales and hollow tips. Immature seed cones are bright red. They grow upright on the ridged twigs, reach a length of a half inch or slightly more, then turn brown as they mature and may persist for several years. Inside the cone scales are brown seeds with firmly-attached, membranous (papery) wings affixed at one end.

October snow on larch (tamarack) branches before the needles fall - note all the cones. Natural Bridge, NY - © Dave Spier

Larches are related directly to pines and less directly to spruce, hemlock and Balsam Fir. All of these conifers produce so-called naked seeds. The Greek word for naked is gymnos, and yes, it's the original root of the word gymnasium. Combine this with sperma, the Greek word for seed or germ, and you get the botanical classification gymnosperm. (Other members of this group include yews, redwoods, cycads, cedars, cypress and the Ginkgo.) By contrast, angiosperms, or flowering plants, are evolutionarily more modern. Their seeds are enclosed by the ovary.

The native Eastern [American] Larch (Larix laricina) grows in bogs and boreal (northern coniferous) forests wherever it can get enough sunlight. It is one of the pioneer tree species but cannot grow in the shade of other trees. Overall, larch is now more abundant than it was before the logging of the late 1800's and early 1900's opened the forest canopy and allowed more light to reach the ground. (The Boreal Life Trail at Paul Smiths is a good place to see larches in their natural habitat.) Altitude is little hindrance to larches; they grow at 4620' on Haystack. At lower elevations, larches can reach heights of 60 to 80 feet, but still die out as mature forests reclaim the land and close the canopy, thereby preventing rejuvenation from seedlings.

European Larch (Larix decidua) is widely planted as an ornamental and for timber harvesting. Pure stands of tall larches are very likely this species.

Fortunately, larches are still commonly called Tamaracks (Algonquian). "Larch Lodge" just doesn't have the ring of "Tamarack Lodge."

Okay, I'm late getting around to this post, but other comments and corrections may be sent to