Get out And Explore … The Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks

Centered on the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, between the Adirondacks and the Catskills, the Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks offers opportunities for both hikers and paddlers.

Covering Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga Washington, Schoharie, Montgomery and Fulton counties, the region includes a dozen state parks, as well as eight historic sites that reflect a history dating back to the Colonial era.

Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Saratoga/Capital Region, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

Hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

In addition to the name and distance of each designated trail in a park, the maps include facilities such as parking, comfort stations, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches. To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.  

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Albany County


John Boyd Thacher State Park, 830 Thacher Park Road, Voorheesville, NY 12186 (518) 872-1237: This popular park protects more than 2,000 acres and includes more than 20 miles of trails. In the heart of the park’s South Zone, the iconic Indian Ladder Trail is both scenic and historic, originating as a Native American footpath and offering sweeping views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valley. The trail descends the Helderberg Escarpment, a 100-foot tall limestone cliff rich with fossils.  There is a staircase at both ends of the trail and a walk between the two along the Clifftop Trail will make a loop hike of about 1.25 miles. Trail heads are at the LaGrange parking lot and the Visitor Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols, this trail is one-way only, and must be started at the LaGrange lot. After climbing down the stairs, the trail runs along the base of the cliff,  passing under seasonal waterfalls and over an underground stream. Interpretive signs along the way tell of the geologic and cultural history of the area. This is a rocky trail with steep drop-offs. Wear sturdy shoes and please stay on the trail. 

Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park

In the park’s lesser-traveled North Zone, which has no picnic area or restrooms, try the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail. This three-mile loop leads to a scenic view from the cliff at High Point. The red-blazed trail is fairly level with an easy slope at the beginning and end of the loop. The trail begins at an old quarry on Carrick Road, off Old Stage Road. A kiosk in the parking area offers information about the interesting geology of the area and the Long Path. The aqua-blazed Long Path joins the trail briefly on its journey from New Jersey to the north. The Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail leads through mixed forests and across small fields, reaching the cliff edge at the midpoint. The limestone bedrock is full of marine fossils and karst features such as sinkholes, caves, and crevices. At the cliff edge enjoy sweeping views of the Hudson Mohawk Valley from High Point, where the Helderberg Escarpment reaches 1,300 feet in elevation.

The view from the Helderberg Escarpment on the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail at Thacher State Park.

Find trail maps here for the North Zone and the South Zone to plan your own adventure in this amazing park.

Peebles Island State Park, 1 Delaware Avenue North, Cohoes NY 12047 (518) 268-2188: Set at where the Mohawk River joins the Hudson River, this island park features a scenic 1.85-mile trail loop that offers wonderful views of the water. Take in sights including Cohoes dam, Horseshoe Falls and the Old Mohawk Paper mill. There are plenty of deer on the island, but kindly do not feed them! This is very shaded, intermediate trail. No bicycles are allowed, but there are picnic tables along the loop to rest and enjoy a snack.

Find a trail map here…

Waterfalls on the Mohawk River at Peebles Island State Park. Be safe and stay off the falls, as the rocks are slippery.

Rensselaer County


Grafton Lakes State Park, 254 Grafton Lakes State Park Way, Grafton, NY 12082 (518) 279-1155: Covering more than 2,300 acres, this popular park has more than 25 miles of trails. A favorite is the Shaver Pond Trail, a moderate two-mile loop that circles the lake. Much of the trial is rolling terrain with some roots and rocky sections. Look for beaver chews along the lake’s edge as well as barred owls. With many sections of hemlock forest, Shaver Pond is a cool choice for hot summer days as well as an excellent spot for winter animal tracking in the snow.

For a map of the park’s North Zone, which includes the Shaver Pond Trail as well as the 2.5-mile Long Pond Trail, click here… Kayaks and canoes can be launched at Mill Pond, Second Pond or Long Pond.

Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park.

For a map of the park’s lesser-used South Zone around the Dunham Reservoir, a former water supply for the city of Troy, which has seven miles of trails, click here… The reservoir also is a good place to launch a kayak or canoe.

Schodack Island State Park, 1 Schodack Island Way, Schodack Landing, NY 12156 (518) 732-0187: Hike Schodack Island’s Orange Trail for a shaded walk along the scenic Hudson River. This trail starts at the main parking lot and runs approximately 4.3 miles for a round trip. The hike is well worth it. The path is wide and flat perfect for any experience level. Hikers will pass the Historic Ice House Chimney _ a remnant of when ice was commercially harvested from the Hudson River _ as well as the park’s new wetland area filled with migratory bird species, and two pond blinds. Birdwatchers will find it perfect for viewing great blue herons, eagles, ducks, snowy egrets, kingfishers and a variety of turtles.

Find a trail map here…


Cherry Plain State Park, 10 State Park Road, Petersburgh, NY 12138: Nestled in the heart of the Capital District Wildlife Management Area, Cherry Plain State Park is part of the Rensselaer Plateau, one of the largest and most ecologically intact native habitats in New York State. Cherry Plain has more than seven miles of tails, but a popular favorite is the Waterfall Trail. This two-mile, out-and-back trail is mostly moderate with several steep sections, as well as some rocks and roots. The waterfall trail winds through the woods overlooking small streams with the waterfall located towards the end of the trail. A fun hike for older kids, but be prepared to cross the steam a couple of times. Hiking poles or walking sticks and waterproof shoes are recommended during spring and after heavy rains. Looks for red efts on the trail and broad-winged hawks soaring above the trees in the summer.

Kayaks and canoes can be launched in the park’s Black River Pond. Find a trail map here…

Waterfalls at Cherry Plain State Park.

Saratoga County


Moreau Lake State Park, 605 Old Saratoga Road, Gansevoort, NY 12831 (518) 793-0511: Covering more than 5,300 acres, this park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails for all abilities. For experienced hikers, check out the trail to the Spring Overlook, which involves a challenging short one 1.25-mile climb up to a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Indicated by yellow trail markers, the trail begins at the Spier Falls Road trailhead.  The trail beginning is wide open and takes you under some power lines but narrows as you make your way into the woods through white pines, black birches and hemlock trees. You will pass a trail marked in yellow and blue, which is the waterfall trail, this in not the same as the all yellow trail.  Continue to follow the yellow trail markers while you cross under an old power line and walk along some steep rocks and tall grasses. While you are climbing you will see another trail junction marked with a 13 for the blue Eastern Ridge trail. At the intersection, continue left on the yellow trail to reach the rocky overlook for a scenic view of the river. This is a out-and-back hike, so when you have had your fill of the nice breeze and beautiful view head back down the way you came.  

Spring Overlook Trail at Moreau Lake State Park, with the same view in the fall (below).

For experienced hikers, consider the short but advanced hike to the Moreau Overlook Trail. This one-mile hike starts at the back parking lot behind the park kiosk. Follow the blue trail markers up a moderate but challenging climb. At the intersection labeled number 1, stay right to remain on the blue trial and pay some extra attention you will also see red and white markers indicating other trails. The climb gets steep and rocky before you reach the top of this trail overlooking Moreau Lake. Sometimes even from the top if you listen hard you can hear the beach goers enjoying themselves.  If you reach the intersection marked number 2, that is too far turn around. This is also an in-and-out hike.  

For those seeking a gentler hike, try the 1.7-mile Lake Bonita Trail. The trailhead starts in the parking area off Wilton Mountain Road.

Find a trail map here…

Schoharie County


Mine Kill State Park, 161 Minekill Road, North Blenheim NY (518) 827-6111: Kayaks and canoes can be launched into the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir near the parking lot. At that lot, the Yellow Trail splits to the north and south for hikes along the reservoir where bald eagles, belted kingfishers, and families of ducks are often spotted. Take the Yellow Trail to the south, then left on the Red Trail, and then left on the Orange Trail, for a hike along the Mine Kill Creek. This joins up with the Long Path. Take a left at that intersection to reach a waterfall near Route 30.

The Bluebird Trail is an easy, beginner mile-long loop that goes around the pool complex, the park office, and disc golf course. The trail is a good place to spot eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, American Goldfinches, butterflies, and other forms of wildlife.

Find a trail map here…

A bald eagle takes flight (upper right) over the water at Mine Kill State Park.
A bluebird takes a break along the namesake Bluebird Trail at Mine Kill State Park.

Cover Picture: Shaver Pond in Grafton State Park All photos from NYS Parks

Post by NYS Parks Staff

Swans: Natives and Invasives

Mute swans are easily discriminated from native tundra and trumpeter swans by their orange beaks. Photo by NYS Parks
Mute swans are easily discriminated from native tundra and trumpeter swans by their orange beaks. (Photo Credit- State Parks)

Mute swans are large, impressive birds that many people are delighted to see in public water bodies and in New York State Parks.

However, many people are unaware that mute swans are a non-native species which can create negative impacts in our parks. Mute swans (Cygnus olor) were introduced to the U.S. from Europe during the late 1800s and early 1900s as decorative accessories to zoos, parks, and private estates.

In New York State, Mute swans were particularly popular on private estates on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. Many of these pet swans escaped from captivity or were intentionally released into the wild. Since their introduction, wild mute swans have successfully expanded their habitat to the extent that it is now a source of concern for natural resource managers

Environmental Impacts: What do we have against swans, anyway?


Mute swans are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their large territories against other birds—including native waterfowl. This hurts our native bird populations by limiting their access to feeding areas and potential nesting sites. Mute swans may also act aggressively towards humans who walk, swim, or boat too close to their nesting sites.

Besides being physically threatening, mute swans place a greater strain on the aquatic habitats where they feed. Their long necks reach a greater number of underwater plants than other birds’. Besides eating aquatic plants, mute swans tend to uproot much of the aquatic vegetation where they feed, which would otherwise provide food and shelter for native waterfowl species, fish and other organisms.

Tundra swans, photo by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service
Tundra swans (Photo Credit- Terry Spivey, U.S. Forest Service)

Tundra Swan

The tundra swan is one of two native swan species in New York State (the other is the trumpeter swan, see below). A graceful tundra swan is an incredible sight for bird lovers. The average tundra swan has wingspan stretching just over five feet. While the tundra swan is the smallest swan species observed in New York State, averaging more than 14 pounds, they are still larger than a Canada Goose. While Tundra Swans are similar in size and coloring to trumpeter swans, their voice is distinctly different. Listen for their clear hooting, which sounds like klooo or kwooo.

They typically feed on shellfish, aquatic plants, and occasionally grains. While tundra swans spend most of the breeding season in the Arctic, where nesting and hatching takes place, these strong birds migrate southwards annually and frequently rest, feed, and eat in New York State Parks.

Trumpeter swans, photo by USFWS
Trumpeter swans (Photo Credit- USFWS)

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans are the largest of the North American waterfowl, weighing as average 23 pounds. Their call is a gentle nasal honk, lower in tone than the tundra swan. The trumpeter swan was almost rendered extinct by the high demand for swan feathers for use as quill pens throughout the 1600s-1800s. Trumpeter swans have successfully rebounded and they are relatively common in North America today, but they continue to be rare in New York. Providing and protecting suitable nesting habitat could be key to helping New York trumpeter swan populations grow.

Population control

In a few places where the mute swan population is particularly high, State Parks is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Wildlife Services to manage population growth and protect aquatic species and habitats in State Parks. In order to do so most effectively, State Parks is utilizing an integrated, multi-pronged approach:

  • Public Education: Many people value the presence of mute swans, but are often unaware that they are an invasive species which can negatively impact the ecology of parks. Educating the public is key to managing wildlife and promoting ecosystem health.
  • No Feeding Policy: All State Parks have a strict no-feeding policy for all wildlife. Feeding wildlife can be harmful to them and set up dangerous situations for people.
  • Habitat modification: Like Canada geese, mute swans seek out grassy lawns and open areas adjacent to water bodies. By allowing shoreline vegetation to grow taller, or by installing fencing, we can make it more difficult for mute swans to travel from water to land — therefore making park facilities less attractive habitats.
  • Nest and Egg Treatment: Oil blocks the exchange of oxygen through the shell and prevents young birds from hatching. Following the guidelines set by the Humane Society, parks’ staff always perform a float test before treating eggs. If an egg floats, it means that an air sac has formed and a chick has begun developing. By oiling swan eggs early in the season before chicks have begun developing, State Parks staff and partners are able to prevent halt swan reproduction. This process helps reduce the local population over time. A permit is required to disturb any swan nest or eggs on park or private property.
  • Population Control: In order to protect endangered or threatened plants as well as significant natural communities in or near State Parks boundaries, lethal methods may be used to manage mute swan populations. As in all cases of animal control, lethal measures are only considered as a last resort.

Explore New York State Parks On The Go

Now, information and tips on your New York State Parks and Historic Sites are as close as your mobile device.

Help plan your visits this summer using the free, new New York State parks Explorer App, developed by staff at State Parks and the Office of Information Technology Services.

Information is tabbed by favorites by both visitors and staff, golf courses, state historic sites with a military heritage, some lesser-know parks that some treasurer as “hidden gems, and parks that feature historic lighthouses.

The app can help guide visitors to top destinations and new must-see locations with rotating curated content. It offers quick access to park information, including directions, hours, amenities, fees and rates, trail maps, helpful know-before-you-go details, and the ability to receive important updates and alerts.

Visitors can also link directly to online camping reservations and easily access select State Parks’ social media channels to share their experiences.

The appl can be dowloaded by visiting for Android devices by visiting Google Play Store, NY State Parks Explorer App and for iOS devices by visiting Apple Store, NY State Parks Explorer App.

“This season more than ever, people are looking to spend time in the outdoors whether taking nature breaks, day trips or overnight getaways,” said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, “and this new Parks Explorer App is a helpful tool for families on the go to plan the perfect adventure with ease.  To stay in the know and make the most of your park visit, I encourage New Yorkers to download the app today.”

New York State Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, “With an unparalleled collection of parks, historic sites and recreation trails across the state, exploring New York’s State Parks system is a perfect complement to any Empire State vacation. The new State Parks Explorer App will offer information and suggestions that help keep New York a top travel destination for residents and visitors alike.”

Interim New York State Chief Information Officer Jeremy Goldberg, “The Office of Information Technology Services is proud to partner with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to share technology that makes it easier for residents to visit parks across New York State. The Parks Explorer App allows residents to plan new outdoor adventures prior to visiting parks and demonstrates how NYS is harnessing the power of technology to bring New Yorkers closer to nature.”

Get Out And Explore … The Central Region of New York State Parks

With summer now in full swing, hiking trails are calling from the Central Region of State Parks, which stretches from Lake Ontario to the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania border.

The region includes glacial lakes, sandy beaches, segments of the historic Erie Canal, and dramatic waterfalls.

Covering Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and Otsego counties, the Central Region is home to  22 parks, seven historic sites and three golf courses.

Overview of State Parks and Historic Sites in the Central Region.

Maps and a variety of other useful information on NY State Parks, including those in the Central Region, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

Hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Trail maps are available on the new Parks Explorer app, as well as on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

In addition to the name and distance of each designated trail in a park, the maps include facilities such as parking, comfort stations, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches. To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.  

Hikers should know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Chenango County


Oquaga Creek State Park, 5995 County Route 20
Bainbridge, NY 13733, (607) 467-4160:
Take a scenic hike around beautiful 55-acre Artic Lake on a trail perfect for all ages, including beginning hikers. Afterward, cool off by taking a swim or having a picnic at the beach. The trail starts at the right side of the beach area, where the main Oquaga Creek is tucked in the woods. After coming out of the woods, take the blue trail to the left to start a 1.2-mile journey around the lake. There are plenty of spots to stop and fish and even a cemetery dating back to the Civil War. The park has more than ten miles of wooded and open trails.

Find a trail map here…

The lake trail at Oquaga Creek State Park.

Chenango Valley State Park153 State Park Road, Chenango Forks, (607) 648-5251: The two-mile Chenango Lake Trail circles the park’s namesake lake. The trail on the eastern side is open, accessible, and suitable for wheelchairs, while the western side is more robust single-track style path. There are several ways to start the trail – at the newly renovated beach area, located at the south end of the lake, or after parking in the new ADA compliant parking lot at the north end of the lake that connect to the Bog Trail, which then connects to the lake trail.. This multi-use trail also attracts dog walkers, hikers, cyclists, and bird watchers.  And keep an eye out for one of the park’s resident bald eagles, gliding above the lake searching for a meal. This park has more than 14 miles of trails.

To explore the park’s 14 miles of trails, find a trail map here…

The ADA-accessible trail at Chenango Valley State Park.

Onondaga County


Green Lakes State Park, 7900 Green Lakes Road, Fayetteville, (315) 637-6111: This 2,200-acre park has a nearly 20 miles of trails, with access starting at the main parking lot at Green Lake, a rare meromictic lake with an unique aqua color. (Meromictic lakes have water layers that do not annually intermix, as in in the case with nearly all other lakes. There are only three dozen meromictic lakes in the U.S. Green Lakes has two, with Round Lake being the second.) Trails around both Green Lake and Round Lake run about three miles, while doing just the Green Lake trail covers two miles. The park offers a variety of recreation including mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching. 

Find a trail map here…

Oneida County


Delta Lake State Park, 8797 State Route 46, Rome, (315) 337-4670: This park is located on a peninsula that juts into the Delta Lake Reservoir. The Fox Run Trail starts in the northwest corner of the Fox Run Parking lot.  At about a half-mile long, this wide level trail is perfect for beginners. With benches along the way to rest and take in the surroundings, hikers can see a variety of ducks, the occasional eagle, a rare owl and maybe even a fox. The Fox Run trail ends at the Yellow trail, where you can keep exploring the shoreline forest or head back.

Find a trail map here…  

A red fox surveys from atop a downed tree stump at Delta Lake State Park.

Pixley Falls State Park, 11430 State Route 46, Boonville, (315) 337-4670:  A highlight of the Nature Trail, which is just three-quarters of a mile long, is the 50-foot waterfall that the park is named for. The trail can be steep, and slippery in wet weather, so proper footwear is definitely recommended. The trail includes many other smaller falls, and on its lower half follows the course of the Lansing Kill, which is well known for its trout fishing.

Find a trail map here…

The namesake falls at Pixley Falls State Park

Other falls at Pixley Falls State Park.

Otsego County


Glimmerglass State Park, 1527 County Highway 31, Cooperstown, NY 13326, (607) 547-8662: Overlooking Otsego Lake, the famed “Glimmerglass” of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, this park offers five miles of hiking trails and a beach for swimming afterward.

The rolling, partially wooded terrain is host to a wide variety of wildlife. If you bring your four-legged friend, remember to keep dogs on a six-foot leash at all times.

An uphill trail through Mount Wellington offers the Sleeping Lion Trail that varies terrain and offers two miles of varying terrain for a moderate hike. Along the service road that leads to the trail head offers an scenic overlook of the lake to the south toward Cooperstown.  

Find a trail map here

The overlook of Otsego Lake at the Sleeping Lion Trail.

The Beaver Pond trail offers a half-mile ADA -accessible trail surface around the “Beaver Trail”. Along this route you will discover “Eco Boxes” that describe the animals that might been seen during a hike.

The Covered Bridge Trail leads to the oldest wooden covered bridge in the United States. This one-mile, partially wooded trail runs along along Shadow Brook that feeds Otsego Lake.

The bridge was built in 1825 on then-private property of Hyde Hall, a country mansion that is now the Hyde Hall State Historic Site.

The wooden covered bridge at Glimmerglass State Park.

Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park, 133 Davis Road, Westford, NY 12197, (607) 547-8662: Perched atop of a hill, this 223-acre park offers spectacular views and vistas to the south and west for some amazing sunsets.

This park has 2.7 miles of trails, with gentle meadows, wooded areas, and two catch and release ponds. Birdwatchers, remember to bring your binoculars.

Find a trail map here

A bench along the trail at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park

Cover Photo of Green Lakes State Park. Photo credit to Carina Scalise. All other photos from New York State Parks.

Post by Brian Nearing, deputy public information officer at NYS Parks

The Wonderful World of Mason Bees

In honor of National Pollinator Week last month, let’s give a tribute to a native New York bee. While there are hundreds of bee species in the state, this shout-out is for one species – the mason bee.


A mason bee (Osmia sp.) (Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons)

“What are Mason Bees?”

While there are over 400 species of bees in New York State, mason bees comprise only about 7 percent of that diversity. These small bees are important pollinators of crops, wildflowers, and many other woodland, meadow and wetland plants. Unlike honeybees, which are sial in nature, mason bees are solitary. They construct individual nests in hollow reeds or other plant stems, pre-existing cavities, or burrows found in dead wood. Their name stems their practice of transporting mud to nesting areas to build structures in which they eventually lay eggs.

Mason bees come from the tribe Osmini of the family Megachilidae. In New York State, mason bees include genera such as Osmia, Hoplitis, Chelostoma, and Heriades. Each genera has specific characteristics. Also, these mild-mannered bees only sting if provoked or cornered, so they are ideal for observing up close.

Osmia Mason Bees: When referring to “mason bees”, many people would generally reference them to the bees of genera Osmia. A key trait of these types of bees that they are an energetic fast flier. Osmia mason bees tend to be small-to-medium in size with a robust build and relatively large heads. Within the genera, there are three subgenera (or subspecies): Helicosmia, Melanosmia, and Osmia. In New York, there are at least 25 native Osmia species.

Blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria) (Photo Credits – USDA Agricultural Research Service)

Hoplitis Mason Bees: They are the pollinators of woodland shrubs and trees, garden flowers and berries, while also visiting some varieties of commercial fruit. What makes them different from Osmia mason bees is that their bodies are slenderer. Hoplitis mason bees tend to be black to darkly-colored with pale abdominal stripes. These bees use chewed leaves, dirt, pebbles, or wood particles to construct walls between the brood cells of their nests. There are seven Hoplitis species found in New York.

The face of a Hoplitis spoliata (Photo Credit – USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)

Chelostoma Mason Bees: They are the only type of mason bee native to New York State that is represented solely by one species, the mock orange Chelostoma, Chelostoma philadelphi

Mock orange chelostoma bee (Chelostoma philadelphi) (Photo Credit – USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory

Their appearance is small and ant-like, with disproportionately long jaws compared to the rest of its body. Bees that fall within this genus tend to be picky about which plants that they feed on and pollinate. Thus, the mock orange Chelostoma is a pollinator of the mock orange shrub (genus Philadelphus after which the bee was named). However, for those who are bee enthusiasts, there are also two non-native species of Chelostoma in New York that tend to feed on bellflowers.

Heriades Bees: Last, but certainly not least, is the resin bee, genus Heriades. What are resin bees? Resin bees and mason bees are quite similar to one another in terms of their lifestyles; they are both solitary bees; living in nests rather than hives. But unlike the other three genera, resin bee nests are located in the ground. Heriades bees can forage on a range of plants, not prioritizing one over the other when pollinating crops and wild plants. These bees tend to be dark in color with a slender-to-medium build, having sparse body hair that cover their bodies.

“What is the life cycle of a mason bee?”

While their lives are short, mason bee are very hard workers, making then truly a “busy bee.” 

There is only one generation of mason bee per year.

Inside each nest tunnel or cavity, there are about 5 or 6 cocoons each containing a full-grown bee awaiting the right time to emerge. Each cocoon within the tunnel is separated by a thin mud wall placed there by the adult mother bee the spring before. The end of each tunnel is capped with a thick plug of mud or chewed leaves to keep the young safe through the winter.

In spring, after the temperate hits a consistent high of 55 degrees, both male and females emerge from their cocoons. Male bees always emerge first, remaining close to the nest, leaving their mark while waiting for the female mason bees. They leave only to feed on the nectar from flowers and plants.  

Females hatch unable to fly, and immediately mate with the waiting male mason bees.  Females mate with several males during this period. After mating, the males die and complete their life cycle. Unlike their females in their species, male mason bees only live for a few days.

Osmia at nest’s entrance (Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons)

A Female’s World

Female mason bees begin to nest about 3 to 4 days after mating, usually preferring to nest in preexisting holes. The bees plug the bottom of the hole with mud, then begin to bring both pollen and nectar from nearby plant blossoms to place in the hole as well.

After accumulating enough food for her young, the female lays eggs on top of the pollen and seals the cell with thin mud. She repeats this process until either the entire length of the tunnel is used or until she lays all of her eggs. The sperm that was stored from mating with the male mason bee acts as a fertilizer for the eggs, but only if she wants to have female offspring. An unfertilized egg will become male. Typically, two-thirds of cocoons will be male mason bees.

Hatching in a few days, larvae devour the pollen and nectar mixture in the nest. The amount of mixture that the female gathered determines the size of the emerging bees of the following spring. The larger the piles of pollen and nectar, the larger the bees.

In about ten days, the larvae spin into a cocoon and pupate inside. Towards the end of summer, the bees turn in to an imago, their adult stage and remains in their cocoon until next spring.  Their roles completed, the female mason bees die that fall and the cycle begins all over again.

“How do you make a mason bee house?”

Well I am glad you asked. This is a really fun way to attract mason bees to your yard.

An example of a solitary bee house was constructed by Sarah Witalka, a conservation steward for the Thousand Islands Region at Westcott Beach State Park, while working at its pollinator garden. If you are not that big into woodworking, you are not out of luck. Stewards at Westcott Beach made one with an old Gatorade bottle and hollow plant stems.

A home-made mason bee house (Photo Credit – Sarah Witalka, Conservation Steward for Thousand Islands Region)
 

Here’s how!

  1. Gather hollow stems from large flower stalks like goldenrod, daisies, black-eyed-susan, or Phragmites (also known as reed).
  2. If you do not know, Phragmites are an invasive reed that can be easily found by water and ditches. Keep the stems but leave the flowering head or seeds at the site or discard bag so you do not spread this invasive weed around!
  3. Score the stalks with a knife (always have an adult present to do this part), then snap the lengths.
  4. If using reed or grass, cut so that each tube ends in a node and is solid. Otherwise plug one end of each tube with mud.
  5. If that part is not done and the end of the tube was left open, a bee would not use it.
  6. Put as many tubes in the bottle as will fit, open end facing out towards you.
  7. Then use twigs to fill the spaces, so everything remains snug.
  8. If the original tubes were a little long for the bottle, a lip could be added in order to keep the rain off.
  9. Lastly, attach twine to hang it with.

Tips for placement:

  1. The front of the house should have a south or southwest exposure where it will get the most sun in winter to keep bees warm. REMEMBER! Bees are cold-blooded and they need the warmth of the sun to get going!
  2. Choose a secure and peaceful place, not one that sways or is noisy and full of movement; areas protected from high winds.
  3. Hang at eye level to keep them safe from critters and easy to check.
  4. Avoid installing the bee house right next to a bird feeder or birdhouse.
  5. Placed within about 300ft./100m of your garden, fruit & nut trees or berry patches to get the most benefit of these pollinators
  6. Plant or encourage NY native plants in your yard to benefit the native bees.
Osmia distincta is one of the more colorful mason bees (Photo Credit – USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)
 

Mason bees are among the hundreds of pollinators in North America that you can learn about. Learn to appreciate the job that these insects are committed to do every single year.

If you would like to read more about mason bees, follow these links to obtain a broader knowledge on not just mason bees, but all kinds of native bees.


Cover photo- Female Mason bee on a flower (Photo credit- Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License)

Post by Kelley Anne Thomas, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Environmental Steward and Student Conservation Association member;and Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program


Websites and Links

Bee Diversity in New York Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography

Empire State Native Pollinator Survey 

The Honeybee Conservancy- Mason Bees

Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation

USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

The official blog for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

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