Category Archives: Family Fun

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

“Big Day” Birding Adventure in State Parks of Western New York

Planning for a New York State Parks birding “big day” started before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world and lives. Originally, it called for a team of three to four birders to see how many species could be tallied in one day while visiting only State Parks during the height of spring migration in May.

Besides being a fun adventure, I wanted to highlight the fabulous birding opportunities for visitors to the State Parks in Western New York, and bring attention to habitat restoration projects in several parks that have enhanced the birding in the parks. The third week of May is the best time to see the most bird species in Western New York and it was perfect that my kids and wife were scheduled to be away for a trip to Boston.  

While the school trip and the team approach didn’t work out due to COVID, my original target date of May 20th held up and I embarked on a solo, New York State Parks only, birding big day. Of course, this was done while wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from other Parks visitors as spelled out in these guidelines.

And the day started early…

Sunrise at Golden Hill State Park.

* 4:40 a.m., Golden Hill State Park, Niagara County. While listening in the darkness for any vocalizing nocturnal birds, an Eastern Whip-poor-will sounded off like an emphatic alarm clock– “whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will!” This uncommon migrant to this region was the first great addition to my big day list. Two more heard vocalizing shortly thereafter in another part of the park to add to the excitement.

Many bird species started singing as sunrise approached and then after sunrise, I quickly realized that it was going to be a great day because there were warblers and other migrant birds all throughout the park.


Cerulean Warbler at Golden Hill State Park

I departed Golden Hill around 8:45 a.m. with 93 species, including 22 warbler species. I also realized that luck was working in my favor, as evidenced by one notable example. While scanning Lake Ontario with my spotting scope, I heard a Cerulean Warbler sing from some trees behind me. I turned away from the lake to go find this rare migrant and watched a pair of Sandhill Cranes fly by as I walked. Had I not turned when the warbler sang, I would have missed the cranes!

* Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, Four Mile Creek State Park, and Fort Niagara State Park, Niagara County, through 1 p.m.  The lakeshore parks were all filled with migrant birds and it was tough to leave them even though I was well behind schedule at this point. With 109 species already, it was time to head south along the Niagara River for some species I had “staked out” in the weeks beforehand.


Red-tailed Hawk at Fort Niagara State Park
Swainson’s Thrush at Four Mile Creek State Park
Bay-breasted Warbler at Four Mile Creek State Park
Red-eyed Vireo at Fort Niagara State Park

* 1:10 p.m. Joseph Davis State Park, Niagara County. Not only was the Pied-billed Grebe still present as I was hoping, but I found another sitting on a nest. After some quick photos to document the breeding activity of this State-listed threatened species for the New York Breeding Bird Atlas III project, I hiked the trails to find a few other likely breeding species that were present a week earlier. It’s rewarding to see that the vegetative habitat in the eastern part of the park is still in good shape after an invasive species removal and bird habitat restoration project was completed in 2013. I was involved in that project design through my employer Ecology and Environment Inc (E&E)., a WSP company, as part of grant funded project with Buffalo Audubon Society and Audubon New York.


Pied-billed Grebe at Joseph Davis State Park
Baltimore Oriole at Joseph Davis State Park

*2 p.m. Artpark State Park, Niagara County. Even among local birders, not too many people think of Artpark as a birding destination; however, an upland grassland habitat was created on the Lewiston Plateau as part of a 2003 project involving E&E and the Village of Lewiston with funding from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund and Niagara County. This grassland has hosted Grasshopper Sparrows for years, and this year I discovered rare Clay-colored Sparrows there as well.


Grasshopper Sparrow
Orchard Oriole

While I expected to get these two “staked out” species, I also picked up two nice bonus species with Black Vulture and Merlin, both seen flying from the expansive view looking toward the Niagara Gorge. My list was up to 120 species.

* 2:45 to 4 p.m., Reservoir State Park and Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara County. A quick check of the Lewiston Reservoir provided an Osprey but not any hoped-for shorebird species. While Niagara Falls State Park is one of my favorite local places to go birding, I didn’t spend a lot of time there beyond picking up a few expected species in the afternoon on this warm day. Falling more behind schedule, I had to drop one of the planned stops and reluctantly passed by Buckhorn Island State Park, which is a great place to go birding. However, I felt that I had better chances of adding new species at other parks with less hiking time. I likely missed out on a few species there.

* 4:15 p.m. Beaver Island State Park, Erie County. This spring, the local birders have regularly visited the recently restored marsh habitat along the Niagara River in East River Marsh. Marsh birds have really taken to this location and I added a handful of species including Sora and Marsh Wren to my list. It’s been delightful to see such a rapid response from birds to this restored habitat. New York State Parks took on the design and construction project efforts with funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This serves as a great predecessor to some upcoming similar projects at Buckhorn Island State Park.

*5:50 p.m. Amherst State Park, Erie County. This is the park where the warmest day of the spring caught up with me through more than fatigue. I’m a regular visitor to the park in spring and fall for birding and family hikes but I’m always there in the early morning. I had never seen so many people in the park as on this visit and I knew right away that birding would be a challenge, as well as trying to maintain social distancing even though most in the park did not share that concern. I picked up two staked out species plus an obliging White-breasted Nuthatch, a common species that I was in danger of missing out on for the day.

*6:50 p.m. Woodlawn Beach State Park, Erie County. A walk on the beach on a beautiful evening with the sun starting to set over Lake Erie was picturesque but without any new shorebird or gull species that I was hoping to add. A Cooper’s Hawk seen from the parking lot kept up the streak of adding at least one new species at each park on the day.

*8 p.m. Knox Farm State Park, Erie County. The last stop was good to get Eastern Meadowlark and American Kestrel in the extensive grasslands and then the last addition for the day was a Wood Duck that I saw fly into the woods. With sunset nearly on hand, I called it a day and headed home.

And what a birding adventure it was. The final count was 138 species, which was much better than I was expecting. Other notable numbers were 185 miles by car, over 30,000 steps on foot, and 11 State Parks visited.

While I have known of the tremendous birding in these parks for many years, it was great to get out and experience so many of them in one big day. It only reinforced to me how important these parks are for providing bird habitat, and how habitat restoration projects I’ve been involved with professionally have improved bird habitat even more at several of the parks.

Birding has been one of the best ways for me and many others to get outside during these pandemic times. A big day is at the more extreme end of the birding hobby, and not the way for someone to start into birding. Visiting your local State Park is a great place to go and start out.  For the more experienced birders, the bar has been set at 138 species for a New York State Parks (only!) big day. I’ll be interested to read about the efforts of others who try a similar adventure.


Cover Photo- Baltimore Oriole at Joseph Davis State Park. All photos by Mike Morgante.

By Mike Morgante, Senior Group Leader, Ecology and Environment Inc.


Resources

  1. The New York Breeding Bird Atlas III has something for everyone from beginner birders to the most experienced.
  2. Find background information and recordings of bird calls at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  3. Review the 23 separate Bird Conservation Areas to be found in New York State Parks across the state.

Reviving A Dutch Holiday with African Flavor

As spring moves toward summer, we are in the time of an historic celebration dating to New York’s colonial era known as Pinkster – the Dutch word for the religious holiday of Pentecost.

Pinkster was a three- to five-day celebration beginning the Monday following Pentecost Sunday held in Dutch Colonial New Netherland and later New York from the 17th century through the late 19th century.

This year, Pinkster began Sunday, May 31, and will run through Thursday. While revival of the Dutch version of Pinkster began in the Hudson Valley in the early 20th century, recently there has been a push to revive a unique expression of the holiday by enslaved Africans of that earlier time.

A ban by Albany city lawmakers enacted in 1811 against African Pinkster put an end to the tradition. But in 2011, this prohibition was symbolically lifted by the city after two centuries, opening the way for the celebration’s return to the Capital Region.

Past celebrations at Crailo State Historic Site and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site have helped spread the word about this important historical event which documented early African cultural expression in our state.



Scenes from the 2019 Pinkster celebration at the Crailo State Historic Site and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.


Contemporary newspaper articles, a pamphlet of the ‘Pinkster Ode’ a poem detailing the celebration, and other documents about Pinkster celebrations describe African drumming, languages and other cultural expressions or Africanisms used to uplift spirits of the enslaved during a time of rest before the summer planting season. Pinkster also helped maintain cultural links between family and friends, even as they lived under the yoke of slavery.

To attend a Pinkster gathering, the enslaved often had to travel many miles to get to the appointed place. Walking, riding in a wagon or on a horse, by boat or any combination of these meant time and physical effort, when many were already tired from work.

There were enslaved who could not or chose not to attend these large gathering. Even when permission was granted, the travel requirements were often daunting. Despite all that, Pinkster was still celebrated, but in smaller groups or even perhaps alone.

The Dutch residents retained many of the old customs of their mother land, and no reminiscence of Holland was more earnestly kept in remembrance than Pinkster. This occasion by consent had been made a holiday time for the blacks, and they enjoyed it in a good, old fashioned measure of hilarity and carousing. The meadow in front of Col. Schuyler’s house, between it and the river, was the place usually selected for the celebration, and here they met and danced and frolicked with all the zeal they could… Occasionally they would go to Albany and aid their neighbors in drinking to Prince Charlie, but this was too often a hard day’s work and did not always pay for the trouble it cost in rowing down and back.”  — Troy Daily Times, 18 September 1874


A newspaper ad taken out by a slave owner offering a reward for an African man who had left to celebrate Pinkster and not returned.

In years past, the Pinkster celebrations brought people together to rejoice in spring and the opportunity to see family and friends again. Here at State Parks, our celebrations planned for 2020 have been cancelled as we live in the time of COVID-19 and social distancing.

However, like many of the enslaved we gathered to remember, celebrating African Pinkster does not have to stop because we aren’t able to gather in those ‘big’ places.

We can still celebrate Pinkster and we invite you to join us!


All photos by NYS Parks

Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation


Resources To Host your own Happy Pinkster 2020 Celebration

Be a part of this spring gathering to honor those enslaved in New York, the African cultures they came from and the lives they lived here. Here are some of the ways:

ANCESTORS & LIBATIONS

Honoring the ancestors with libations opens African celebrations across the continent and throughout the diaspora. Pouring libations is the act of honoring the ancestors, those who have come before us by sharing water, one of nature’s greatest gifts. Prayers said or thoughts shared during the pouring of libations center around showing gratitude for what we have in our lives, honoring our ancestors or people important to us by calling their names, keeping the memory of them alive. Remembering the names and lives of loved ones in our own family and other’s lives is a great way to begin. In preparation, make a list of people you would like to honor, perhaps create a family tree to help you remember. How far back can you go over the week of Pinkster?

Libations can be poured on the ground, into a plant, or a few drops of water on your fingertips can be sprinkled on the floor. A simple glass or a special pitcher can be use. Create a ceremony of your very own and film it!

MUSIC – DRUMS PLEASE

African drums were played during Pinkster celebrations up and down the Hudson River Valley. Drums are voices calling to us, to the ancestors, and to the Divine. Drums bring joy, encouraging us to move our bodies to their rhythms freeing us of stress and everyday worries and concerns, as they did the enslaved. Other instruments were played too. Hands were clapped, pieces of metal were beat together to keep time or accent the drum’s rhythms. Voices were lifted in song. There are so many ways to produce music for your Pinkster 2020 celebration.

YouTube and Spotify are just two of the many places you can find African drum music. Create your own playlist or check out one of these amazing musicians!

Babatude Olatunji – a master drummer who was a great influence on many famous musicians, Including Carlos Santana and the Grateful Dead.

Fatala – Exhilarating traditional African music from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

Bolokada Conde—Experience the complex rhythms of the popular djembe drum.

DANCING

Where there’s music there is dancing! Moving our bodies to the rhythm or our own tune is a human activity we all can enjoy. Dancing takes many forms and there is often nothing better than taking a dance break to help you feel better. The enslaved in New York danced in both the African and European styles. Today, we can move in a more formal style or however we please. Take some of the music you found yesterday and get up and dance! Be sure to send a picture!

10 Traditional African Dances

Dance Africa 2020 – A virtual Celebration — The 42nd Anniversary of the oldest African Dance festival in New York.

GAMES

Games were a big part of the entertainment of Pinkster and life overall. Board games like Mancala and Nine-Men’s Morris, Draughts (checkers), other games like marbles, string games, cards, running games like tag, all the way to wrestling were just a few games children and adults enjoyed during Pinkster. Take a break and play a game today! Pull out your favorite board game, make your own Nine-Men’s Morris board and learn to play or go outside and jump rope, play tag or fly a kite. Inside or out, there are so many ways to play!

Nine Men’s Morris Board & Instructions

SPRING FLOWERS

Dressing up the Pinkster grounds with branches of flowering trees, and the official Pinkster bloom, a pale pink Azalea, were part of making things festive. Creating a place for your own Pinkster celebration can be simple and fun. Decorating with flowers immediately brightens up the space. Fresh flowers are great, so are those that are handmade. Coloring your own Pinkster blooms and hanging them up can do the trick as well.

Pinkster Bloom Coloring Pages

THE FEAST

The seasons of the year dictated what was available to eat during the colonial and New Nation periods in New York. Late May and early June offered very few garden or field crops for people to enjoy. Dried beans and grains, fresh dandelion greens, left over root vegetables from last year’s harvest, fresh eggs, fish, fowl, and small game filled cooking pots of the enslaved celebrating Pinkster.

Travel also restricted the amount of cooking equipment people could carry with them. Cooking in one or two pots, spit roasting, and baking or roasting in the fire’s ashes connected them to their African roots. Traditional Central and West African meals centered around a main dish (soup/stew), a side starch (pounded yam/rice), and fresh fruit for dessert. One pot soup or stew meals, a mixture of beans/meat/fish and vegetables or whatever is on hand, can be found in every culture in the world. For your feast cook up your favorite stew or try this delicious Vegetarian Peanut Soup adapted from several West African recipes.

Vegetarian Peanut Soup Recipe

The soups are often accompanied by a starch of some kind. For enslaved Africans in New York, many of whom came from the Kongo/Angola area, the traditional starch would have been a pounded yam dish called ‘foo-foo’ or rice. In New York many would make maize pudding or Johnny cake in its place. Native to the Americas, ‘maize’ was historically called ‘Indian Corn’ in cookbooks, but today we simply call it corn meal. Maize pudding or corn meal mush was popular with New York’s colonial Dutch, who called it Sapahn. Recipes for variations of this Native American dish can be found in cookbooks all over the world.

Maize Pudding

Create a Pinkster feast of your own and share your results with us! 

We look forward to joining you next year at a large gathering. Till then thank you for joining in our Pinkster 2020 Celebration!

LEARN MORE

New York is rich with a variety of information on those enslaved in New York and the African celebration of Pinkster. From the arrival of the first in 1625 until the end of slavery in 1827, Africans or people of African descent were a vital part of the development of our State and the region. Pinkster is just one of many ways to honor their memory, celebrate their lives, and rediscover the African cultures they were from.

Drawing Today’s History to the Page

For decades, comics have been a gateway into the world of reading for many children. During today’s challenging times, creating personal comics can also help young people chronicle their unique view of the history-making COVID-19 pandemic, according to an artist who also helps students discover history at the Clermont State Historic Site.

In 2016, Emily Robinson, a professional comic artist and the site’s School Programs Coordinator and Camp Director, founded History Comics Club, a unique program that connects underserved youth with their local history, builds an interest in art and writing, and helps create a sense of place at our historic site for students and their families in the community. Each student learns to draw their own comic while learning about the history of the Livingston Family.

Seven successive generations of the family left their imprint on the site’s architecture, room interiors and landscape. Robert R. Livingston, Jr. was Clermont’s most notable resident. His accomplishments include drafting the Declaration of Independence, serving as first U.S. Minister of Foreign Affairs, administering the oath of office to George Washington, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase and developing steamboat technology with Robert Fulton.

Clermont State Historic Site, which remains closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Credit: Friends of Clermont)

Thanks to funding from Friends of Clermont, History Comics Club has provided the program to more than 1,000 students from age 7 to 17, resulting in the program’s publication of five books of their collected comic art and prose.

“Drawing requires the students to look at the history represented at Clermont, from clothing and how homes looked, to pets that lived on the estate,” said Robinson. 

As part of her work to help introduce students to Clermont’s history, she created a series of comics from the point of view of the family dog, Punchy, who gives a “tour” of the mansion in his own inimitable way. View some of it here

Punchy the dog makes an appearance at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival in 2018 to introduce visitors to the history of Clermont.

During the pandemic, families are sheltering at home, and many children might feel anxious over what the future might hold. Art can be a powerful way of processing that anxiety and interpreting ongoing events through their eyes as part of a historical record.

“Art can be a great healer,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t matter how well you draw or write, it’s about being creative and conveying information.”

Emily Robinson’s comic version of herself urging students to consider creating their personal comic or other record of their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a child grows older, each piece of art will provide a window into their younger years, said Robinson, who recalled being in fifth grade during the September 11th terrorist attacks.

“I remember the confusion of those early days, and how my own teacher used art as a creative outlet,” she said. “I struggled writing the script for the COVID-19 comic, because I wanted to address kids in a way that wasn’t patronizing but didn’t scare them. They’re already stressed out; art should be a welcome window to self-expression.” Robinson continued, “I hope kids will feel pride that their artwork could help inform future historians’ understanding of life during the pandemic.” 

It does not take many supplies to start creating comics at home, a drawing pad and something to draw with. Robinson suggested that students may start with a basic sketch book, which includes stencils and general information on how to draw expressions and symbols. But almost any kind of white paper, like computer printer paper, will do.

During the last four years, Robinson has taken the program to the Hudson City School District, Germantown Central School District, Rhinebeck Central School District, and the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, as well as the Hudson Valley Writers’ Project in New Paltz. She also has presented on the program at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival and in 2018 hosted a panel at Comic Con in New York City.

Clermont’s Historic Site Manager, Susan Boudreau, is extremely proud of the program and what it offers to area children: “As I’ve seen over the life of the program, the art of making comics can make a great impact on the lives of our students. No student needs to have any artistic experience to participate, and some find that they are quite talented, which is so empowering. The openness of the comic genre encourages students to explore their own identities, fears, hopes, and dreams, which is a wonderful gift in these uncertain times.”

Emily Robinson, under her pen name Emily Ree, is best known for her young adult graphic novels, Anarchy Dreamers and Marshmallow Horns. You can see more of her work on her websites, EmilyRee.com and AnarchyDreamers..com.


Cover Photo: Emily Robinson’s comic representation of herself wearing a protective mask. All photos from New York State Parks.

By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks

Waterfalls Herald Spring’s arrival

So much has changed in recent days as all of us in New York deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, But natural cycles are still continuing to mark the arrival of spring.

One of those cycles is the freshet – a term used to describe a thaw from snow and ice melt that then feeds a surge of fresh water into rivers and streams. Too large a freshet can cause spring flooding.

While much of the snow in New York is now gone, there is still snowpack remaining in the high country from the recent storm that will feed the freshet in the coming days. And while that surge is thankfully too small to cause flooding, it does mean that is a great time to see some of the beautiful waterfalls found in New York State Parks.

Of course, such visits should be made while being mindful to maintain social distancing critical to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Use this map to locate a State Park with a waterfall.

In the eastern North America, annual freshets occur from the Canadian Taiga ranging along both sides of the Great Lakes, continuing through the heavily forested Appalachian mountain chain and St. Lawrence valley from northern Maine into barrier ranges in North Carolina and Tennessee.

In the western part of the continent, freshets occur throughout higher elevations of various west coast mountain ranges that extend southward down from Alaska as far as the northern reaches of Arizona and New Mexico.

This previous post from the NYS Parks Blog describes each waterfall in detail,,,

Fall in Love with New York State Parks’ Waterfalls

Did you know that Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States? Established in 1885 as Niagara Reservation, the breath-taking waterfalls at this park are considered some of America’s greatest natural wonders. Did you also know that the American Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, at around 100 feet tall, … Continue reading Fall in Love with New York State Parks’ Waterfalls

Of course, any visitors to State Parks should keep this COVID-19 guidance in mind:

COVID-19 UPDATE:  New York state parks, trails and grounds of historic sites are open for open air outdoor recreation. Governor Cuomo is urging all New Yorkers to stay home as much as possible. If you do plan on visiting, it should be for a healthy nature break. For the safety of all visitors and to stop the spread of COVID-19, all State Park playgrounds, athletic courts and sporting fields are CLOSED

Please limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact, and avoid activities where you may come in close contact with other people. If you arrive at a park and crowds are forming, choose a different park or trail, or return another time/day to visit. We appreciate your support and patience as we navigate this public health crisis together. Learn more about COVID-19 and its impact on NY State Parks. Visit: COVID-19 UPDATE

NEW: CAMPING UPDATE

Early Season Camping: Due to the global health crisis, all campgrounds, cabins, and cottages are CLOSED to overnight visitation through April 30. All visitors with reservations will be issued a full refund. We ask for your patience as refunds are processed.

Camping Reservations: New York State has suspended all new camping, cabin and cottage reservations for the 2020 season until further notice. We are assessing campground status on a daily basis. If you’ve made a reservation for the season beginning May 1, and we determine your campground is safe to open, your reservation will be honored. However, visitors who wish to cancel an existing reservation may do so and receive a full refund. Thank you for your patience as we work to protect the safety of our visitors and staff.


By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks.