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An End in Sight

It’s Tuesday of finals week, and I am coming to the realization that everything is drawing to a close. I am finished with two of my classes, and am wrapping up another by writing this blog entry. Today I went out to my spot on the Kip one last time(for this blog that is) and meandered  in the awesome dappled sunlight that was shining down through the brand new leaves of the canopy. Over the past week, a lot has happened on the kip. There is trillium everywhere, white and purple. The hostas are knee high, and the water has receded, making the mud sticker and smellier where the leaf matter in the puddles has begun to ferment.

Twice today I was threatened by a Canada goose, protecting its mate and flock of fuzzy yellowish-grey ducklings. I have never really been scared of a bird before. I actually ran, twice. The male goose raised its head, extended its wings to their fullest and charged me, with its mouth open. Scary, really. The brood of this particular pair of geese must have just hatched, they were still small and fuzzy. All water fowl are precocial, meaning that they are capable of leaving the nest within a few days of being hatched.  They are also able to swim almost immediately after fledging. I think I can safely assume that the goslings were younger than 10 days old. From what I read about Canada Geese, I understand that male geese are extremely aggressive when it comes to brood protection, and from my internet browsing, I understand that I am not the only person to be threatened or even charged by a protective goose. Canada Goose clutch sixes normally contain five or six goslings, with predation rates of 5-10% of eggs laid. Gosling survival rates however can range from 50-80% depending on the area in which they are fledged.

I saw some red wing black birds chasing each other around  on the beaver pond and got eaten by mosquitos when I sat on the fig fallen tree at  my place at watched the river float by in its lazy, care fashion. Overall, this semester has been anything but relaxed and lazy, but I have really enjoyed my last term here. I got to spend a lot of time exploring around the North Country and reading on my own about what I saw. It was a great way to read something interesting (for the most part) and to be able to make connections to the real world about biology and the environment. I got to practice and develop my own journaling style, which was exciting.  found that I really liked to focus on the art in the journal, and write additional thoughts afterwards. It was a way for me to be able to process and write more about what I saw because I was forced to revisit each entry when I wrote on my blog. I would still like to spend some more time journaling, and plant to bring all my journaling materials with me to North Carolina this coming summer, I cannot wait to explore a new region and to further improve and add to my current journal!

Last Friday  got to spend an afternoon with the older kids at Donna’s daycare, which is right in town. I spent last week preparing lesson plans and little journals for each kid to be able to journal on their own during our little nature exploration. When I got to Donna’s, I spend a little bit of time sitting around with the kids, chatting while they ate snacks of apples peanut butter and goldfish.  We walked a as group through town, a herd of kids and dogs, all the way down to the two bridges and the island park.

When we arrived, everybody was pretty energetic, but we sat in a group and talked a little about things we each like to do outside. Some liked to bicycle, and swim, others like to play on the swings and be in the sunshine, which luckily was showing its face for the first time all week. I talked a little bit about my project and why I liked to keep a nature journal and observe the world around me.  I passed around my journal and let everybody get a look at what I spent my semester working on, then passed around journals and colored pencils  for everybody in the group. The first thing I asked people to draw was something that they know lives outside. Everybody sat and thought, some drew something and some wrote. We all glanced around after a bit to see if people were finished and eventually everybody wrapped up their first entry and we wandered down the path.

We stopped a few more times, once by the back of the island where the water was roaring and loud. I asked if everybody could draw something that they heard. I think that this was a difficult one, but some of the kids really enjoyed it! We continued down the path to the little dock at the bottom of the island as passed around my binoculars to look at some crows across the way while drawing a plant that they saw nearby. There were ferns and hostas and grasses all around the marshy area under the dock.

Overall, I found that not everybody was excited about journaling, which is what I expected. I think that most children are a little too energetic to focus on something of that nature for an extended period of time. I tried to keep the group moving so it wouldn’t get too crazy, but it can be difficult sometimes. I did have two children in my group who I felt really enjoyed the walk and hte jornaling. They spent most of the walk trying to walk and draw at the same time, which can be quite a challenge. I think that I learned a lot during my time with Donna and her kids about working with children, and making things interesting for whole groups of people who might feel slightly different about the activity being conducted.  It was a really positive experience for me, and I really enjoyed sharing it with the kids at Donna’s.

Almost there…

It’s finally May, which means that the semester is really starting to come to a close, which is a scary thought because that means that college, and my time here at St. Lawrence is coming to a close. It’s a little, okay a lot a bit scary. Anyhow, as I am wrapping up classes and projects and prints and papers and such I have been putting together a way to bring some closure to my Natural History project. I made some phone calls, and sent some emails and heard nothing back, from anybody. This was a bit scary because I needed something to do! After having a minor freak out I was given the suggestion to make some more attempts to contact people in town and it worked!

Through my friend and housemate Lizzie Bogosian I got into contact with Donna’s daycare in Canton and am going to do some nature journaling with her older kids on friday afternoon! I have made up miniature journals for each kid, and some for the adults who come along, and plan to do a few different journaling exercises with the group. I went down to the island park yesterday to check it out, and do a little exploring myself. It amazes me that in my four years here in canton, I had never wandered down to that little island to check it out. I’ve passed it a million times on my bike, or on a run, or on my way to and from school in my car. The little drop in the river there was fierce yesterday, probably because of all the rain that we have been getting. The little island connects SUNY Canton and the town, and is full of little signs and pieces of information about Canton’s history and the mill that used to be right in that place along the river.

I walked around the little loop trail that circles the island I looked around for things to share with the kids from Donna’s. I think that the water will be really exciting, its noisy and big and is a major feature of the little park. There are also lots of things beginning to bloom all around the area. The fiddleheads are coming up along with the hosta in the marshy areas across and under the foot bridges, the trees and bushes are starting to leaf, the buds on beeches are just about to burst and the poison ivy is looking healthy. Just kidding.

In other news, I picked up my little nature journals from the duplicating center today, which look really good, I only hope that that kids enjoy using them. I had about 25 made up, which means that I’ll have a bunch of extra to give out to other people, or to keep, hmm. I have been drawing up some plans for activities for the kids this week, and I’ve decided to try and keep it pretty simple, as the kids are a bit younger than I thought from Lizzie’s description. I can’t wait to put an update with how it all went!

Spring Bloomers

These past few days here in Canton have been pretty incredible. Yesterday was rainy but warm, and we had an absolutely amazing thunderstorm last night. Lightning lit up the sky so much that it looked purple. Thunderstorms are generally accompanied by warm heavy rain, which reminds me of summer. Today it felt like summer. It was almost 75 degrees and super humid. I expected the sky to cloud over and for heavy rain to fall. The sticky weather is something less than to be desired, but it means that it is initially turning into spring. It better, as we have only one week left of classes. What a scary thought. One more week, e gads.

Today I went on a walk in the Kip looking for wildflowers and leafing on trees. There have been a lot of changes over the past few days. The last time I visited the Kip was Friday, and there was not nearly as much green as there was today. The hostas are knee high in places and the wildflowers are starting to come up all over the place. Today I collected some flowers and brought them back to the lab to identify. I found some trillium, which I think was Large Trillium, based on the color of the closed flower. I found some Trout Lily and and some Bloodroot, which I identified by the leaf shape and the orange juice my field guide said should come from the stem. I smeared some of the orange goo into my journal just to make sure. I also cut some red and sugar maple twigs, which were swollen and green at the tips. I think they will begin to leaf in the next week or so. That’s about what happened to the branches that I preciously leafed in the greenhouse. They now all have nice little fresh leaves on them, and seem to be happy in their mason jar sitting in the constant 70 degree heat. To identify the wildflowers that I collected I used the Peterson field guide to Wildflowers, which was really helpful and easier to use than I expected. The book was organized by color and petal variety, which made my time flipping through pages much more pleasant.

My curiosities about spring flowering plants lead me to read a paper about phenology  and reproduction in understory plants, as that is exactly what I saw today.  I was slightly disappointed today when I went out to look at leaves, and saw none, but it actually is logical. Without light coming down onto the forest floor, there is no way the lilys and trillium could flower and reproduce. The sunlight that is present from the absent canopy cover stimulates the growth of the understory flowers. If trees and wildflowers and grasses all bloomed at one the understory plants would be out-competed in an instant, simply because they are on the forest floor, and are far below the tree tops, where the sun would be hitting.

The paper I read talked about the two phases that flowers go through: reproductive growth and vegetative growth. For many plants these two periods can overlap, and both happen before the canopy cover becomes too heavy.  Some plants however separate the two phases, letting vegetative growth happen when there is the most light and reproductive growth happen during the summer when light is lower on the forest floor.  The times at which plants flower and trees leaf can vary year to year because of temperature and sunlight differences. I remember this time last year (the last two weeks of classes) being warmer and drier. I feel as though many of the maples on campus had leafed by the time finals week came around. Things this year seem to be a bit later than last year, which is probably due to our winter lasting a little bit longer.

Today I also saw tons of new happenings in the woods. Just four or five days ago, walking in the woods I saw maybe two or three frogs over the course of two hours. Today, I could hardly help but stepping all over them. I saw Green frogs, and Northern Leopard frogs, and American toads. The Peepers and Wood frogs were both pretty loud, even though I did not see any up close. The water was pretty high today, but it was warm so I waded through thigh deep water to get to my spot behind the lean-to up in the red pine plantation. My place was bright green today, and it was sunny so the whole place glowed a little with the reflections from the grass and the hosta plants that were in the little gulley behind my big fallen tree. The water in the river was moving fast today and was pushing a lot of fallen branches, likely from the storm last night down stream. There were a lot of people out exploring the Kip today, and I chatted a little bit with Dr. Jones’ Environmental Studies class, as they passed and questioned me about my project. I also saw my friend Warren who was collecting mosses for his own project. Spring is finally in full swing, and I am very happy about it.

I can tell that spring is trying, but its really not trying quite hard enough. Its the end of April and today it was 42 degrees and rainy. It has been raining for about a week now and I have just about had enough. I want to go outside and play and enjoy the sunshine and explore and I’m rambling so I’ll stop, but really Canton, come on.

When I first stepped onto the kip today I was not so excited about the prospect of a wet, cold trek through the woods.  Once I started walking around I cheered up quite a bit though. Just outside the fieldstation there was a huge flock of chickadees, that all flew into the air as I walked past. It was like the tree sneezed and snotted birds all over. Today I saw a lot of birds; some of them were winter residents like the blue jay, who I was excited to see just because he was really colorful and bright, and flew right over my head this afternoon after my kip adventure when I was at the golf course on the other end of town. Today I also saw a little bird that I could not identify for sure. I took note of its tail feathers while on my walk: they were banded black and white, two white stripes around a bigger black one. The bird was pretty little, but bigger than  chickadee and was low in the branches at the beginning of the kip trail. When I got back to my room I looked in Sibley’s guide to birds and settled on the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. They are a little bit uncommon but do summer in Northern New York, so its possible that they are here now. Summer may seem like an impossible amount of time from now, but I know it will happen over night. It always does.

This week I decided to read some literature on Red-Winged  Blackbirds because I thought that it would give some insight on migration and life history of a bird I know very little about. I read a paper that was kind of old (published in 1978) but it talks about migratory patterns for red-winged blackbirds in regions all across the country, which I think is still pretty relevant. I can imagine that migratory times have changed slightly due to the slight changes in temperature at each season over the past 30 years, but that just makes it more interesting: the ability to compare 1978 and today. I learned that there is a huge difference in migratory distances in different parts of the country. In most parts of the country, movements during post reproductive periods were less that 200km from their locations during the breeding period, but in some parts of the northwest blackbirds traveled an average distance of 729km from their breeding sites. That’s a really big difference. Could this possibly be due to the drastic change in climate that occurs in a rather small area in the eastern United States? Is is really that different on the west coast?

I found it really interesting that birds at different latitudes of the same species can have such different tolerances to cold. There are some birds that winter around Maryland but come as far north as us here in Canton, while other birds winter in northern Florida and only go as far north as Virginia, which is south of the southern most sites for another group. I wonder if displacement experiments would allow birds to adapt well to colder temperatures. The paper was not conclusive, but gave me some really interesting questions to ask myself and to further research. I know that migration is really costly for all species who do it, so why migrate so far. It seems like many of the regions in-between winter and summer locations would be perfectly suitable places to nest,  so why travel the extra distance, is space and habitat in such short demand that birds need to travel such long distances? I guess I have a lot more reading to do.

Yesterday on  my Kip walk I also went out to my place. The water was pretty high at the turn before the final small incline up into the pine plantation, but I managed to get there without too much going wrong. Not too much had changed since my last visit, but I was happy to see the ground and the banks of the river greening up. I did not have my camera with me on account of the rain but I will be sure to get some photos over the next couple of days.

All over the North Country spring is really starting to make moves. I’ve noticed trees starting to leaf; buds are swelling and opening up and starting to push the first small bits of color through the tips of their branches to their apical buds. I’ve been watching trees around campus as well as trying to preciously induce leafing in some buds that I cut down a week ago and placed into a jar of water in the green house. It’s about 75 degrees in there, which basically mimics the weather about six weeks ahead of where we are now in Canton, tricking the buds into thinking, if buds “think” that it is time to open up and put out leaves.

I’ve been walking around campus a lot these past few days and am starting to realize once again how amazingly fast everything here turns green. This winter was especially drawn out, or at least it felt that way to me. All of the sudden, over the past few days that is, the grass that was brown and gross and covered in snow five months is looking bright and colorful. The crocuses and narcissus flowers are sending up shoots from their buds and are starting to bloom all over campus and throughout Canton. I started to see them almost three weeks ago when we had a few freakishly warm days pretty early on.

Plants are not the only things making changes right now. Everything seems to in spring mode: things are blooming, sprouting, greening, mating and chasing. Yesterday I went out to Higley Flow to look at salamanders and we walked along some of the ski trails, down to the beaver pond with the bridge that is scar to ski across in the winter, and up onto the ridge on the yellow trail which is higher and dryer than then other trails in Higley. We saw three different species of salamander: Blue spotted, spotted (the yellow ones) and red backed salamaders. The blue spotted and yellow spotted salamanders have really similar body shapes. They are soft and lumpy, they look kild of like a squirt of jelly, they are both from the genus Ambystoma. the red backed salamander is smaller, less gloopy looking and is from the genus Plethodoa. I turned over a rock as found four red backed salamanders all together, one bigger than the next. The biggest was about three inches long, and the smallest was less that half an inch.

We watched red squirrels chase each other all around the ground and up into trees. Not quite the romantic notion of courting that we associate with spring, but still an affective method, I guess. Birds were singing, I heard chickadees, and golden crowned kinglets, and saw a group of Canada geese flying over head. This week I attempted to use another style of journaling. I looked online and in my journaling book at methods and decided to follow the Joseph Grinnell method.  It is much more factual than what I have been doing, including lists of species seen and recognized, behavior and patterns. I looked at some other journals that were posted online for ideas. Some were helpful, like this one:


Others were less helpful, and did not include images and style thoughts about Grinnell style journaling.

Glenmeal Adventures

So I fell a little bit behind last week, it was rainy and little bit cold and I had strep throat for the third time in 11 months, which was pretty lame. I decided to forgo running around in the woods for a week and make up the time over the weekend, which ended up being perfect and beautiful weather to frolic and explore the woods around the area. Today I went on an adventure with my housemate Lizzie to glen meal to look at wood frogs and vernal pools. We went out in the early afternoon, when it was just starting to cloud over and walked a big loop through the forest to look at six different vernal pools. Vernal pools are really neat little habitats that appear in the spring time after the snow melt in areas of low ground. They are the breeding grounds for all sorts of amphibians. Here in northern New York we see wood frogs, green frogs, toads, salamanders, peepers and other small semi aquatic woodland creatures.

Lizzie and I went in search of frog eggs, which form in masses near the edges of pools. Wood frog eggs, which we were specifically looking for are pretty dark in color and sit in mat-like formations on the surface of the water. We did not get to see any eggs in the pools we saw. This is possibly because some of the ponds we visited still had ice partially covering them, which would be a deterrent for egg laying.

I found a paper about migratory breeders that use vernal pools which focused on four species: two species of salamander, the wood frog, and one species of newt.  Vernal pools are temporary habitats that serve as breeding grounds for a short period of time in the spring and then become mostly dry for the majority as the weather gets warmer and the breeding period ends. The majority of the amphibians that use the pools will leave the aquatic environment and move to their terrestrial habitat on higher grounds throughout the forest. Generally, the amphibians that use the pools will stay within 100m of the breeding pool during the fall and winter periods of the year (Regosin et al. 2005).

The experiment preformed by Regosin et al. was done in  Sudbury, Massachusetts in a wooded area that was closer to a road than the vernal pools I visited in glen meal, but the types of organisms found in both areas are similar. Drift fences were set up around the areas surround the pools to be able to measure distance traveled from the ponds, and to prevent travel outside of the study area. The data from this paper focused mainly on the migrations and wintering places of migrating woods frogs, salamanders, and newts. There was general increased movement in the fall over all four of the species in the study. Overall, the blue spotted salamanders moved farthest from the vernal pools after their migration. Wood frogs fell in the middle and tended to move less distance, with 45% of frogs with 100m from the ponds.

I am curious why Lizzie and I did not see any frog eggs around the vernal pools. It is possible that we were just a little bit too early. The frogs that we saw were likely males who were about to breed. According to my amphibian guide of New York State male wood frogs that are able to breed are slightly darker than non mature males and females. The wood frogs that we saw were pretty dark brown in color and relatively few in number. From what we heard when we approached the biggest pool, I would have thought other wise, but we only saw two frogs in the pool.

On our way out of glen meal we saw either a great blue heron or a snowy egret flying over head. I did not have a pair of binoculars on me at the time, but recognized the silhouette and looked in my bird guide. Both have really similar silhouettes, with the legs drawn up behind them, and the large bulge on the underside of its neck. I wish I could have seen it closer up!

Back to My Place

Today was incredible. It was sunny, clear and almost 50 degrees at 3 pm. Days like today always make me laugh; in reality 45 degrees is not that warm, and in probably not suitable weather to break out sundresses and flip-flops, but it happens every year. After a winter with weeks that do not get above -10 degrees, and months when the sun goes down before you get out of your 1:15 lab, anything that involves sunshine and a snow-less ground means summer wear. Even if today was not truly warm enough for sundresses I know that it will be soon enough, and  it better be with less than six weeks of classes to go.

This morning felt like a fall day: there was a frost last night, but it was not too cold.  The grass was was dewy but frozen and it crunched a little when I went to class at 8:30. Today I went on a Kip adventure. I got to the trail head and was amazed to see an incredible lack of snow around the field station. The ground was dry and the grasses and milkweed pods that had been buried under the ice and snow all winter were rustling. The trail itself had a little bit of snow in its shadiest places, but was, for the most part quite dry. I’m unsure if the ground is still frozen, or if it has actually begun to dry. Either way, I was able to walk all the way down the trail without too much trouble. I even managed to stay dry (I did remember to wear knee-high boots just in case).

As I walked along the trail I looked around for signs of spring. There is not much of anything green sprouting yet, but the river and beaver pond that I walked on about a month ago was almost free of ice, and seemed to be dealing with the extra water from the melt. The big vernal pool with the giant silver maple to the left of the trail looked as though it had three feet of water in it, which must have collected there because it’s a low point, and is pretty swampy all the time anyhow.

The deck out on to the beaver pond was particularly inviting, I sat there for a while, just watching a pair of Canada geese swim around and dive for food. I’ve been hearing them for about two weeks now, and seeing flocks over head flying back from their winter homes south of Canton, NY. I was hoping to get a glimpse of some Hooded Mergansers on the pond because one of my housemates, Ryan said that he saw some yesterday. I’m a little envious.

After getting my fill of deck laying and goose observing, I walked down the trail, through the pine plantation, over the place where I fell through the ice and up the trail to the lean-to. I went right along the river and came to my place. A last I got to visit it again, I had so many failed attempts before and feel as though I’d been neglecting it. I sat on the fallen tree where I sat my first time out and looked around to see what had changed. For one it was a lot easier to get out there, I mean the mud was a little deep in places but not deep enough to steal shoes or anything. The trees were still bare, and the forest still looked pretty empty,  but a lot had changed. I was able to see that I picked a pretty interesting location. The river was father than I initially thought it was, and had dried up in the little gully right behind me. I’d assumed it was part of the river when it was covered in snow, but I was wrong. There was a pretty neat little peninsula right behind where my tree seat was. It also had a big fallen tree on it and I sat there and watched the river meander by. I saw some robins, and found a snail shell and some dried-up seed pods that looked like miniature loofah brushes. All in all it was a pretty excellent experience.

This week I decided to read about Canada Geese and migration. I read two papers, neither of which were really helpful. The first was about the affects of light goose population on brood migration of Canada Geese, and the second was about the energetics of Dusky Canada Geese and what makes good conditions for nesting and egg laying. Energy allocation for egg laying and hatching can be delayed in Canada Geese if the parent geese do not have sufficient food and protein reserves for raising young. There is also the choice of leaving the eggs exposed during the period of incubation in order to search for more food, and supplement reserves. Leaving nests during incubation creates a much higher chance for predation by other avian predators and bears. Health and lipid storage in geese was observed during the period of time before and throughout migration and the nesting period. Maximum lipid levels were found in females during the reproductive season which is before migration. They expected to see the highest levels after the migration season. I am still in search of a paper to better describe the energetics and patterns of Canada Goose migrations.

Intertidal Zones

This week I’ll be doing some follow-up from my spring break excursions. I mentioned a few days ago that I visited a few different places in the north east, and was especially excited to see a new ecosystem when I went to Rhode Island to visit my good friend Julia Collins. Luckily for me Julia lives right near the beach, and works for the Nature Conservancy during the summer, so she was able to tell me a lot about the area we were in, which was a real treat for me.

The beach that we visited is a pretty neat ecosystem, the intertidal zone. Simply put the intertidal zone is a beach. It is an area that has changes in water levels throughout the day. High tide to low tide, and vice versa. They are particularly interesting because the organisms that live there have to be adapted to live both in and out of the water, as many of them do not have the ability to get up and walk back into the water, or back onto land when the water level changes. Julia told me about a particularly cool snail called the periwinkle, Littorna littorea. They are common in the northern parts of the eastern seaboard, living in rocky areas in the higher intertidal zone. They live on rocks and feed on algae. The periwinkle is in the transitional stage from being an aquatic organism to being a land organism, scientists have been keeping tabs on its evolution for this reason.

This week I read a paper on avian predation on mobile predators. While at the beach, I saw two different types of gulls: The Herring Gull, and the Great Black Backed Gull, which is what this paper talks about. Julie C. Ellis et al, focused on Gull predation on common crabs, like the Jonah crab, Cancer borealis, the common periwinkle, Littorna littorea. They were looking to find out the connections between population size of gulls and crabs throughout different parts of the intertidal zone. For this experiment they had control sites and gull exclusion sites, to be able to compare the effect of predation by gulls. They found that gulls have a huge impact on the organisms living in the intertidal zones. They were able to show predation over three trophic levels.

Gulls did most of their foraging at times of low tide, when the water was shallow enough. C. borealis. In the gull exclusion sites, the amount of Jonah crab was six times higher than in the open beach sites, and seven times higher during low tides. Because of crab predation by gulls, the periwinkle was also affected. C. borealis drastically reduced the number of L. littorea that were in the intertidal zone when they were placed in cages. This suggests that if there was less predation by gulls on crabs then there would be much more predation on periwinkles by crabs. They were not able to make significant measurements to include the algae that the periwinkles were feeding on, limiting the trophic cascade they measured to three levels.

It is so interesting to look at a community and be able to understand what is going on. When I went to the beach with Julia and walked along the water I saw a ton of broken shells from mollusks and clams, but did not really stop to think too much about who was eating who. Right now there is not a lot of action happening in New England intertidal zones because the weather is not quite warm enough. As spring and summer roll around there will be an enormous increase in activity as more snails and crabs come into the intertidal zone to feed and reproduce.

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