All posts by New York State Parks

Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour.

Burning calories while relieving stress, cross-country skiing is a popular activity on the parks peaceful and tranquil trails.

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An unbroken forested ski trail at Evangola.
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The only sound while skiing is the soft crunching of the snow as you glide through the woods.

Cross-country skiing is a wonderful way to connect to nature!

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Fresh snow clings onto the branches, enhancing the beauty of trees and shrubs.

Three major trail systems are avaliable at Evangola State Park. The Evangola Snowmobile Trail is located on the east side of the park and snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails are on the west side.

Many snowshoers and skiers utilize the 3.5 mile snowmobile trail since it is lightly used by snowmobilers. The trail is fairly flat and easy for beginners.

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Evangola Snowmobile Trail.

The Evangola Cross-Country Ski and Snowshoe trail is an easy two mile loop trail through forest and shrubby wetlands.The trail starts at the baseball field located on the west side of the park and goes right into the woods.

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Snowshoers head out on the trail.

With a variety of tracks along the way…….

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A skier discovers eastern coyote tracks.

A fun activity while skiing or snowshoeing is to investigate fresh animal tracks. The tracks left behind are a magical record of a nocturnal creature’s travel, allowing a glimpse into their secret lives.

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Four toed animals include the fox, coyote and dogs. Raccoon prints have 5 clear toes. Deer tracks resemble a divided heart. Image from NYS Dept. of Conservation
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White-tailed Deer are often seen crossing the trail, photo by Ed Conboy Jr.
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A skier checks out the Evangola Nature Center. The nature center is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day and is sometimes used as a resting spot during winter sports programs.
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When the snow gets deeper and the world turns quiet…

The Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office has free snowshoes to loan to adults and children and many people bring their own snowshoes. It is easy to learn snowshoeing and participants become proficient on their first winter snowshoe hike.

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The “Forest to Lake” snowshoe hike traverses Evangola’ s forested trails……
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….and ends with a majestic look at the ice formations of Lake Erie!

Stunning Ice Formations

A spectacular winter trail at Evangola is the “Rim Trail” along towering cliffs over Lake Erie, where you can see all the way to Canada on a clear day! But clear skies or cloudy, check out some of nature’s ice sculptures all along the shore.

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Even the rim trail fence can bow with the weight of wind driven ice waves!
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The “Rim Trail’s” chain link fence with ice.
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A lone skier checks out the “Rim Trail” view. During winter, arctic waterfowl and even an occasional Snowy Owl can be seen. Some of the biggest Red Oak in the park also occur along this trail.
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A winter icescape along the rim trail.
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Lake Erie ice volcano vents can be seen from above along Evangola’ s “Rim Trail”.
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Throughout Evangola’s winter trails there is plenty to see including the iconic “Scotty’s Covered Bridge”!
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Evangola Sunsets during winter can be spectacular too!

Winter is a great time to get outside and explore Evangola State Park. So, come join our outdoor snowshoe hikes and cross-country ski programs or get out on your own to enjoy the park’s “lake-effect” snow trails.

Post by Dave McQuay, Evangola State Parks environmental educator

Enjoy Winter – Get the Kids Outside

It’s cold outside, it takes forever to get the kids bundled up and out the door. Is it worth all the trouble? You bet! You don’t need a lot of planning, just a few tips and tricks to encourage kids – and you – to enjoy the outdoors in winter.

Bundle Up

Look for hats and hoods that are not just fun or cute, but that are also warm and comfy (and don’t keep falling over their eyes). Warm and waterproof boots, mittens – not gloves – to keep those fingers warm, and a scarf if it is really nippy or windy out. For the little ones, mitten clips or strings keeps them from getting lost. If it is sunny, don’t forget to apply some sunscreen on the face and ears, and fair eyed kids and adults may want sunglasses.

Build a Snow Sculpture

We all hope for snow! Building snow people or forts or animals, small or large is always fun. My father once built us a snow duck we could sit on. Look for leaves, sticks, and berries on the ground to decorate your snow sculpture with.

Let’s Go Sledding! Snowshoeing! Hiking!

Many parks have places for sledding. Pick the size of slope that is right for the kids and a location without trees or other hazards. Likewise, choose the right size route for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and make it fun. If there is no snow, there are still lots of places to hike. Avoid icy trails. You can find flat trails around a lake or campground or on bike paths that are good for beginner snowshoeing and hiking with or without snow. Some of the nature centers even have snowshoes to borrow. Start small and work up to a longer outing. Older kids may enjoy the challenge of a longer day out; just remember to bring lunch and water and plan for some stops.

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Learn to ski! Photo by Anneli Salo, accessed from Wikicommons

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Sledding is always fun.

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Out for a hike.

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Accessed from Wikicommons

Look for Animals Kids are good at spotting animals and animal tracks. Stop and look and listen for squirrels and birds in the bushes and trees. You don’t need to be able to identify what animal it is, just take the time to look. Where do the tracks go? Are they big or small? What kind of animal do you think it might be? Common animal tracks to see in the winter at the park are squirrels, dogs, birds, snowshoe hare, and deer.

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Chickadees will sometimes come to a little birdseed in your outstretched hand.

Need a little help? Take part in a park-led activity like a snowshoe hike or ice fishing day.

Be an Explorer 

There are all kinds of cool things to see in winter. Take the time to look around, it’s amazing what you can find. Some kids are naturally curious, others may need a little encouragement or direction to get started. If so, make a game out of it like a scavenger hunt for shapes, colors and/or things. Try this: find a sign of 1 animal; a place where an animal might hide; the shape of the letters U,V,X,Y; something green, something blue.

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Ski tracks form nice V’s

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Do you see a ‘U’?, photo by Julie Lundgren

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A hollow tree trunk is a place animals could hide, photo by Julie Lundgren
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Light green lichen decorates this hemlock log, photo by Julie Lundgren

 

Take a Break – Bring a Treat

Bring a little treat and stop outside on a log or a bench to have a snack and water.  Tangerines, raisins, apple slices, pretzels, nuts are some healthy choices but a little chocolate or a cookie doesn’t hurt. Bringing a thermos and having hot chocolate or tea to have outside seems really special after sledding or midway through a hike or ski.19_kid smiling with snowball

Know when to come indoors

If it is really cold or windy, pay attention to signs of getting too cold. Noses, ears, and fingers can easily get cold and frostbite may happen when the temperatures drop. Get out of the cold if any of you can’t feel your fingers or toes or start shivering. And plan your outing so you are done well before the daylight dims, as temperatures drop when the sun goes down.20_winter_painting2_JLundgrenPost by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program.

More outdoor fun ideas:

Appalachian Mountain Club, 20 Outdoor Activities Kids Can Do Anywhere

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become An Outdoor Explorer

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become a Winter Wildlife Detective!

Which Track is That? A Look at Winter Animal Tracks Throughout State Parks

Winter is a wonderful time of the year, there’s snow and ice everywhere in our State Parks. Within that snow and ice, you can see traces of what animals have been there – maybe even just moments before you arrive! One of the traces that can help you identify which animal it came from is their tracks.

To determine what animal the track came from, you should look at several different factors. First, the condition of the snow the track is in makes a big difference in how a track looks (wet snow leads to more clear tracks and drier, powdery snow has less clearly defined tracks). Second, you should think about the gait of the animal (how it moves). There’s four different types of gaits that most animals use in their daily activities: the walk, the trot, the gallop and the jump. And lastly, you must look at the shape of the track including the number of toes present, which can vary in size depending on the animal that made it. For more information on identification of winter tracks, please see this blog.

Let’s look at some tracks that have been seen throughout our State Parks:

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Here’s evidence of a mink on the ice of one of the streams within Allegany State Park, photo by T. LeBlanc
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This is the track of a long-tailed weasel also seen within Allegany State Park. Fun fact: long-tailed weasels have a very high rate of metabolism and they eat about 40% of their body weight per day! photo by Thomas LeBlanc
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Above you can see track of a turkey. To learn more about Allegany State Park’s role in wild turkey restoration, please see this blog. photo by Thomas LeBlanc)
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And a coyote track was spotted within Allegany State Park. As you can see, there is a bit of fur and a splotch of blood so perhaps this coyote just finished his lunch! Photo by Randall Abbott.
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Within the Finger Lakes Region, park staff noticed this track of a fisher at Keuka Lake State Park. Photo by Becky Sibner
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The tracks above, found at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area, are from a deer. The large spot is where the deer had stopped to browse. Photo by Whitney Carleton
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This is the footprint of a black bear, found at Mark Twain State Park. For more information on female black bears in the wintertime, please look at this blog. Photo by Kira Broz
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Also, seen at Mark Twain State Park, is a raccoon. The most important sense of the raccoon is their sense of touch – they have hyper-sensitive front paws adorned with vibrissae (a type of hair that aids in tactile sensing) that allows them to identify objects before fully touching them! Photo by Kira Broz
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At Letchworth State Park, you can see the tracks of a squirrel as compared to a human footprint for a scale reference. Photo by Gary Lamitina
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Above is the tracks and wing impressions of a Northern Bobwhite, a small quail, seen at Connetquot River State Park Preserve on Long Island. Photo by Annie McIntyre
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At Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, you can see the tracks of a squirrel and some mystery tracks as well…which turns out to be from a pine cone as seen in the insert! Photo by Peter Cutul
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At Harriman State Park, you can find the tracks of a bobcat as seen here. For more information on bobcats and other wild cats of the Northeast, please check the blog again in a few weeks for the upcoming post on that subject! Photo by Peter Cutul
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Also at Harriman State Park, the tracks of what is believed to be a short tailed weasel can also be found! Photo by Peter Cutul
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Looking around Grafton Lakes State Park, river otter tracks can be seen in the snow. Photo by Elizabeth Wagner

As you can see, there is still a great diversity of animals to be found within our State Parks – even in the cold of winter! So, the next time you’re hiking the trails at a State Park, look around you and see what tracks you can see!

Scat is another trace that animals leave behind.  If you are interested in learning more about winter scat ID, check out this blog.

Post by April Brun, State Parks

Disclaimer: All identifications are just suspected, none are confirmed by a wildlife biologist.

Resources:

Animal Track Activity Sheet, Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources

Long-tailed weasel, NatureWorks

My Animal Sign Field Guide, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Tracks, New York State Conservationist, February 2015

Early Birds Get More than the Worm

In the wild, February and March may seem like the worst time for a bird to raise a family, with challenges including frigid temps, sleet, wind, and snow. But this is no ordinary bird, this is a great bird—a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). These large, thick-bodied raptors- weighing in at 2.5 to 5 pounds with 4 ½ to 5’ wingspans –  are one of the most widespread owls in North America and have plenty of ‘don’t mess with me’ moxie. They have a very diverse diet, including small mammals, rabbits, geese, herons, amphibians and reptiles, skunks, porcupines – and even other raptorial birds. It is this adaptability and tenacious behavior that gives them a leg up on surviving tough conditions.

Great Horned Owls are among the earliest birds to breed each year, with males staking out territory from other males beginning in October. Most Great Horned Owls mate for life and every autumn they reestablish their bonds by loudly calling to each other. Like many birds, they have a range of vocalizations. Their classic hoot is unmistakable, a deep slightly muffled resonating “hoo-h’HOO–hoo-hoo” call with the female’s voice slightly higher in pitch than the male’s.

While establishing their territory they will seek out a suitable nest. They don’t build their own– instead, they use abandoned real estate like an old Red-tailed Hawk nest or a hollowed tree cavity, even a cliff ledge will do.

Great Horned Owl family
Great Horned Owl, at the nest with her Owlets

When January arrives the parents-to-be will be settled in and ready to start a family. The female will lay 1-4 eggs and incubate the eggs for 30-37 days through all kinds of weather.  Only the female can incubate the eggs as she has a featherless patch on her abdomen called a “brood patch,” an area that has many blood vessels and is very efficient at transferring her body heat to the eggs. While she is incubating and brooding the young chicks, the male will hunt for them, but if the food he provides is insufficient she will also hunt for the family. Great Horned Owls are large birds and it takes owlets longer to grow than say a robin and longer to develop and master complex skills.

Great Horned Owl Feather
Great-horned owl feathers have a velvety texture and combined with tiny serrations along each feather edges called flutes which muffle their wing beats allowing owls to silently swoop down on their prey unnoticed.

Nesting early is a risky move but there are definite advantages. By day 45, the young are fully feathered and capable of flight and by the time spring arrives, these youngsters are ready to practice their main craft– hunting.  Not only are temperatures milder but there is now an abundance of young inexperienced prey animals, such as rabbits, mice, squirrels and chipmunks who are also venturing out on their own. These predators can now hone their flying and hunting skills under ideal conditions all because their parents were early birds.

Owl Talons
When clenched, an adult Great Horned Owl’s talons lock down like a ratchet and require a force of 28 lbs. to pry them back open.
Tiger Owl Eye
Owls have huge eyes compared to their body size– larger eyes are able to take in more light which is picked up by their rod- and cone-shaped photoreceptors. Rods allow them to see well in dim light, but colors, not as well. Cones help distinguish colors but only when our surroundings are well lit. Humans have about 200,000 rods per square millimeter while owls have close to a million rods per square millimeter. This is then magnified by the owl’s tapetum lucidum or ‘eyeshine,’ a feature humans do not have. This layer of tissue located behind the retina reflects all available light to those photoreceptor rods and provides superior night vision.

For More Information

Cornell Lab of Ornithology https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl/id

Audubon Guide to North American Birds https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-horned-owl

Flies that Know Snow

On a warm afternoon this winter, keep an eye out for snow flies walking on the snow.  Snow flies are typically a yellow brown to light brown fly with a body of about one quarter inch long, not including their long legs. Snow flies are wingless – scientists assume that they lost their wings because it takes too much energy to fly in winter. However, being wingless makes the snow flies more at risk of being eaten by predators. This may be why we see them in winter when there are fewer predators out. Snow flies are similar to woolly bear caterpillars and wood frogs, in that their bodies produce a natural antifreeze that prevents these small insects from freezing during winter.

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Adult snow fly, note the fly’s long legs, photo by Brandon Woo.

Little is known about the life history of snow flies. Scientists have found that females lay eggs in the winter. In the lab, eggs hatch in as little as eight days or as long as three weeks. But where the female lays her eggs, what the larvae eat, how long the larvae take to develop into adults, and where the larvae or adults live in winter remains a mystery.

Giant Eastern Crane Fly on the screen
Giant eastern crane fly clings to a window screen, Bob Travis, accessed from Flickr.

Snow flies are related to crane flies, like the above giant eastern crane fly (Pedicia albivitta).  You may have seen a giant eastern crane fly clinging to window screens in the late summer.  At first glance, you might have thought it was a large mosquito. But if you look carefully, you will notice that the crane fly does not have a proboscis – or tube mouth – like a mosquito. Since they can’t bite you, it is safe to hold them in your hand to take a closer look.

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Chionea scita, photo by Tom Murray, accessed from Bugguide

One common New York snow fly is Chionea scita that was first described in 1848. The translation of this fly’s scientific name is snow (chion in Greek) knows (scita in Latin).

If you see any snow flies this winter, please let us know!

References

BugGuide Chionea scita

 Byers, George W. The crane fly genus Chionea in North America, 1983. University of Kansas Science Bulletin.

Catalogue of the Craneflies of the World

Hansen, Amy. Bugs And Bugsicles : Insects In The Winter  Honesdale, Pa. : Boyds Mills Press, 2010.

Schrock, John Richard. Snow Flies, The Kansas School Naturalist, Volume 38, Number 2 – May 1992, updated 2005.

Wikipedia Chionea

Featured image: Chionea by MUSE, accessed from WikiCommons.