Category Archives: Fun & Games

YOU Were Seen Where? … At the New York State Fair!

The nation’s oldest State Fair has come a long way since it started in 1841 as a two-day event in Syracuse _ with highlights that included a plowing contest, which was no doubt of interest to an audience that was very familiar with farm life.

Drawing about 15,000 visitors then, the Fair has grown over the decades and last year, set a record with about 1.3 million visitors at the 13-day event.

This year’s fair will run from Wednesday, Aug. 21, through Sept. 2, and feature more than 80 live concerts spread across five stages, 200 food vendors, 70 rides, and more than 10,000 animals.

A $120 million plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to revitalize the fairgrounds wrapped up last year, when the 136,000-square-foot Expo Center, the largest indoor events space north of New York City between Boston and Cleveland, was unveiled.

Earlier work at the fairgrounds included a full-service RV park for 313 campers, a larger, relocated Midway area, a new Main Gate entrance, a new exhibit area for the New York State Police, and the Sky Ride, a 1,400-foot long chairlift ride. The Indian Village, a part of the Fair since 1928, also received renovations to its Turtle Mound, the home of cultural performances.. 

Last year’s turnout ranked New York as the fourth-largest state fair in the nation, behind Texas (2 million), Minnesota (2 million) and New England (1.5 million).

Present-day attendance is about double what the Fair was drawing during the 1950s and 1960s, as New York and the rest of the U.S. basked in a post-war economic boom tinged by a bit of Cold War angst.

So take a little trip in the time machine, and see the State Fair as it was then, contrasted with as it is today. All photographs courtesy of the New York State Fair. Click to the first picture to start the slideshow…

And will you be seen at the Fair this year?

Posted by Brian Nearing, deputy public information officer

Grab Your Phone – Take a Picture

This Saturday is National Nature Photography Day.  So, grab your phone, head out to your favorite state park and take some pictures.

rock-kring-pt.jpg
Along Morgan Island shoreline in Kring Point State Park.

Here are a few tips to help you take great photos with your phone:

  1. Get to know the different photo settings your phone offers.
    1. Burst Mode is great for capturing fast moving images like birds or insects in flight or chipmunks scurrying along the trail.
    2. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, helps to improve landscape photos that have contrasting levels of light between the sky and land. HDR evens out the light and shadows between the bright and dark areas.
    3. Practice changing the focus by tapping the screen in the spot where you want the camera to focus.
    4. Practice changing the exposure (image brightness) in case you want to take pictures of something that is in a dark spot or a bright spot.
  2. Before you start taking pictures, clean the lens. With all the use our phones get, the lens can get dirty with finger prints and more. Use a soft lens cloth or 100% cotton cloth dipped in distilled water to clean your lens.
  3. When you are out taking photos:
      • Be sure you have plenty of memory or storage available for your photos.
      • The Rule of Thirds guideline will help with composing the photo. The Rule of Thirds is based on dividing the image into nine equal parts and placing points of interest along the lines.  In the example below, the image on the right takes advantage of the Rule of Thirds by placing the rock spire on the left vertical line and the distant horizon centered on the lower horizontal line, making the image feel balanced. The image on the left centers the rock spire, not the whole scene, and the image feels unbalanced.   Research has shown that our eyes naturally go to the intersections of the lines rather than the middle of the photo.  Use the grid setting on your camera to help with the composition.

    Tadrart01- Pir6monderivative work Teeks99
    Rule of Thirds guideline, image by Tadrart01- Pir6monderivative work Teeks99
  • Take multiple pictures of the same image,trying some from a different angle or perspective, such as looking up to take pictures of trees or kneeling to take photos through the meadow.

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TreeHollowAllegany
Crouching down gives you a better angle for photos like this one of a tree hollow in Allegany State Park.

  • Keep your camera steady as you take your photos, especially for photos of fast-moving things. Place your phone on a rock or a wall to take your pictures or bring a tripod with a smartphone mount.

Tripod - accessed from Thingverse
Cellphone tripod, accessed from Thingverse.com

  • If your phone has macro mode, use it to take photos of flowers or bees in flowers. Just be really careful that you keep your camera steady as you take photos in macro mode, any tiny movement can ruin your shot. If you do move, you can try to take the photo again.

MagnoliaBud
Magnolia bud at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park. Used macro mode to capture the image.

If you take some photos this weekend, tag us #nystateparks, @nystateparks

References

8 Tricks to Take Better Photos With Your Phone

12 Mobile Photography Tips Every Photographer Should Know

Nest Hunt

Late fall through early spring is a great time to look for abandoned bird nests in our parks.  These nests provided homes for young birds last year and are so well built that they have lasted through the harshest of winter weather

When you come upon a nest during your hike, there are a few things to consider when trying to identify which bird species built the nest.

Habitat

Different bird species live and nest in different habitats or places. Some birds nest along river banks, while others nest on the ground, on a cliff, in a shrub or dead tree, in a tangle of vines, in trees, or even floating on water.  In winter, the easiest nests to find are the ones in trees, shrubs, and vines.

Height

How far off the ground is the nest?  Birds such as robins will nest 10 -20 feet off the ground, while a cardinal will build a nest 1 -10 feet off the ground. As with habitat, nest height can help with nest identification.

Shape

The overall shape of the nest is also a clue as to which species built the nest.  Goldfinches, like many bird species, build cup-shaped nests.  Mourning doves build saucer-like nests.  Marsh wrens build a ball-shaped nests and orioles build a pendant-shaped nest.

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Nest Materials

The nests that we see in winter are made from sturdy materials such as plant matter (grass, bark, twigs, small roots, and tree branches), which may be held together by dried mud or spider webs.

Some common nests you may see on your walk:

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One of the most common nests that you can see is an American robin nest. Robins usually build their nests in coniferous trees, like pine trees, that have a couple of horizontal branches near each other.  They will also build their nests in the eaves of buildings and gutters.  Robins use twigs and dead grass to build a cup-shaped platform nest.  Once the nest is formed, the inside of the nest is reinforced with soft mud then the inside of the nest is lined with dry fine grass.  These nests are between 10 and 20 feet off the ground and are quite durable thanks to the mud lining.

Bird_nest_JLundgren3
photo by Julie Lundgren

Blue jays build their cup-shaped nests on horizontal branches or forks in tree branches. They build their nests in conifer or deciduous trees like maple and oak trees 5 to 20 feet off the ground.  The nest is built from twigs, strips of bark, lichen, moss, and grass. Sometimes the blue jay nest builder will use mud to hold the nest together like a robin. The nest is lined with small roots.

ChippingSparrowHamlin

This chipping sparrow nest from Hamlin Beach State Park shows the cup-shaped nest made from dry grass and small roots.  Look for these nests in deciduous trees between 1 and 10 feet off the ground.

GoldfinchMaybe

An American goldfinch nest sits in a sapling along the edge of a field in Allegany State Park.  This cup shaped nest is made of tiny roots and plant fibers which are held together by spider webs.  Look for these nests between 1 and 30 feet off the ground.

Osprey _WellesleyIsland

Ospreys are commonly seen nesting on the light poles at Wellesley Island State Park. They use sticks to build their saucer-shaped nest which they line with grass, sod, bark, or other material. Each year they add more sticks to the nest; with nests growing to over 12 feet deep and 6 feet across as generations of osprey use the same nest.

Yellow Warbler EvangolaSP (MN)

Yellow warbler nests, like this nest from Evangola State Park, are found in small trees and bushes in woodlands near water. Their cup-shaped nests are usually about 10 feet off the ground, but can be as high as 60 feet. The nest is made from grass, nettles, and thin bark strips, which is surrounded by spider webs and plant fibers. If you can look in the nest, you may see the remains of the nest lining of cattail, cottonwood, and cattail seeds and deer hair.

BOriole_Henry T. McLin
photo by Henry T. McLin

Spotting one of these Baltimore oriole nests can be a treat. Baltimore orioles build their pendant-shaped nest in American elm, maple and basswood trees between 15 and 30 feet off the ground. The nest is made from fine plant fibers such as grass, strips of grapevine bark and as you can see here blue man-made fibers. Baltimore orioles tangle and knot the fibers together to form the nest.  The nest is built in three phases, the flexible outer portion is completed first, followed by springy fibers on the inside of the bowl. The springy fibers help the nest to maintain the pendant-shape. Finally, the inside of the nest is lined with downy fibers like dandelions.

Drey

One of the most common nests that you may see are not bird nests but squirrel nests. These leaf nests, or dreys, are made from twigs that are woven together into a ball shape in a tree crotch with an entry on the side of the nest..  They are lined with damp leaves and moss. Dreys have a variety of functions from being a winter retreat from winter’s cold to spring and summer homes for young squirrels.

MiceUsingNestbox

Mice are unexpected nest box visitors.  If you open up a nest box during your hike, you might encounter mice, like these deer mice, who use the nest box as a warm place to hide during winter’s cold days.

Make your next hike a nest hunt hike!  If you do find a nest, tag us on Instagram, #nystateparks.

Learn more about New York’s winter bird nests:

Boring, Mel. Birds, Nests, and Eggs, Milwaukee, Wis.: Gareth Stevens, 1998.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Dugmore, A. Radclyffe.; Bird homes. The nests, eggs and breeding habits of the land birds breeding in the eastern United States; with hints on the rearing and photographing of young birds, New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1902, c1900.

Harrison, Hal H. A Field Guide to Bird Nests in the United States East of the Mississippi River, Boston, Houghton Mifflin; Expanded, Subsequent edition, 1998.

Heinrich, Bernd, Which Bird Made That Nest? Northland Woods, 2009.

Massachusetts Audubon Society, Nests in Winter.

West Virginia Wildlife Magazine, What’s That Clump of Leaves?

 

Hidden Treasures in New York State Parks

No need to chase down the end of a rainbow to find a hidden treasure.  What if I told you that you could find unique knick-knacks, rubberstamps and secret messages in parks near you?  This spring I challenge you to explore participating New York State Parks and Historic Sites and try out these fun treasure-hunting activities!

Geocaching (geo= Earth, caching= hiding/storing) is a great hide-and-seek activity that started in 2000 with the rise of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.  Geocachers use location coordinates and a GPS device such as a smartphone to find a hidden container.

official geocache
A geocache hidden near a tree. Geocaches can vary greatly in size and appearance. Public domain image

Inside each container is a logbook, and if the container is big enough there are trinkets that you can see and swap (See Resources below for details about the different kinds of geocaches).  Occasionally the “hidden treasure” is the scenic location itself.  If searching in a New York State Park, it’s not uncommon for geocaches to be along trails with peaceful waterbodies or iconic views nearby.  Bring a buddy or two to serve as extra eyes, especially since GPS location information can vary by a few meters.

Letterboxing is a much older hobby (at least 150 years old) which involves exchanging unique rubber-stamped images instead of trinkets.  Traditionally you find the hiding places using clues or written directions, but some hybrid letterboxes may have coordinates as well.

CranmerePoolLetterbox
The famous Cranmere Pool letterbox in England, photo by Patrick Gueulle

Each letterbox has a special, often hand-made rubber stamp for you to stamp into a journal like a passport; in return, you use your own personal stamp to “sign” the letterbox logbook.  This outdoor activity began in the mid-1800s, when a trail guide left his business card in a bottle at Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, England.  Others who hiked through the notoriously rough terrain found the bottle, and they began to place their own business cards inside as a way to say, “I was here.”  This turned into travelers hiding boxes in the woods and meadows for postcards and, eventually, stamps.  If you like clues, art, traveling and walking through beautiful trails, then I recommend giving letterboxing a try.

Who can participate in these local adventures?  Anybody!  Both activities are a great way to find new nature trails, historic sites or hidden treasures near you.  Are you ready to go letterboxing or geocaching in New York State Parks?  Here’s how!

Search for an active geocache/letterbox at a Park near you.

There are different websites and mobile apps to search for letterbox clues and geocache spots (See Resources below).  Use the “Search” features to find stamps or caches nearby, in a place you’d like to visit, or at a State Park that you enjoy.  Letterboxes and geocaches have been found in every region of the state.  Just remember that locations are subject to change, as caches/stamps can go missing or can be retired by their owners.  As a courtesy, people often record their findings online to update the status of a letterbox/geocache.

Pack your supplies

If you are geocaching:

  • The geocache coordinates
  • GPS device or cell phone
  • A pen
  • (optional) A trinket of your own

If you are letterboxing:

  • The letterbox clues/directions
  • A notebook
  • Your own, “signature” rubber stamp
  • (optional) Your own ink-pad, just in-case
  • A pen to sign, date and write any comments about your trip in the letterbox journal or your own. Make sure to sign with your trail name and not your real name!

Prepare for the weather/terrain 

As with any kind of adventure, consider the weather and terrain beforehand.  A few geocaches and letterboxes are indoors, but many others require going out on a trail.  If you are treasure-hunting on a sunny day, wear a hat and bring water.  Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts if going out in colder weather, or in an area that might require you to be walking on a path with lots of brush nearby.  Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes, and keep an eye out for poison ivy, stinging nettles, slippery surfaces, etc.

Learn the rules & be respectful of nature. 

Stay on trails, and do not trample native plants in search of a letterbox or geocache.  If you see any litter while out on a trail, remember, “Cache In, Trash Out.”  This is part of an environmental beautification effort by geocachers worldwide.  When you find what you’re looking for – whether letterbox or geocache – be subtle.  You don’t want to ruin the surprise for others, and you definitely don’t want to draw the attention of folks who might not be letterbox- or cache- friendly.  Put everything back exactly where you found it and as you found it, and remember to record your find (or attempt) online!  See online communities and resources below for other code-of-conduct guidelines.

Have fun!
You may find yourself discovering new places you never knew existed in your own neighborhood, or trails you wouldn’t have otherwise visited. You can log your experiences at one of the many hobby websites.

letterboxing stamp (photo by Erin Lennon)
Stamp, inkpad, and notebook by a river, photo by Erin Lennon, State Parks

Resources and Relevant Links:

For geocache locations & rules: www.geocaching.com, www.earthcache.org, http://www.cachegeek.com/cache-listing-sites.html, and see various mobile apps (search “geocaching” in the app store for your smartphone).  For some services, you may need to create an account.  As a note, State Parks is not affiliated with any geocaching or letterboxing organizations.  And always check with landowners and local rules before creating new caches or routes.

For letterbox locations & rules: http://www.atlasquest.com/, http://www.letterboxing.org/

Policy for placing geocaches/letterboxes in NY State Parks: State Parks Geocache Guidance.

Keep in mind that cache/box locations and maintenance statuses are subject to change.  Here are a few State Parks and Historic Sites to begin your search for geocaches or letterboxes:

Geocache

Post by Erin Lennon, State Parks

 

Celebrate Your Freedom In a State Park!

Fourth of July weekend is a great weekend to spend in a State Park or Historic Site.  You can build sand castles at Hither Hills State Park to camp on the banks of Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, fish in the St. Lawrence River at Wellesley Island State Park, listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, take a hike, enjoy the forest and more.  Find out all that State Parks has to offer this weekend at nysparks.com.

Thacher Indian Laddler Trail near Falls
Take a hike on the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park, Photo by OPRHP

Stony Point-3002
Hear the cannons firing at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by OPRHP

Spider Fishing
Try your hand at fishing at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by OPRHP

schuyler
Play one of George Washington’s favorite games at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, photo by Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site

Lorenzo
Tour the gardens at Lorenzo State Historic House, photo by OPRHP

John Jay kids in pen with Rabbits and Chickens
Check out the Farm Market at John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, photo by OPRHP

Gorge
Enjoy a cool gorge in the Finger Lakes Parks or at Whetstone Gulf State Park – photo by OPRHP

John Williams
Build a sand castle at Hither Hills State Park, photo by John Williams, OPRHP

Glimmerglass State Park summer 2008
Picnic by the lake, Glimmerglass State Park, photo by OPRHP

Boy Salamander
Get to know the residents, salamander program at Allegany State Park, photo by Tom LeBlanc OPRHP

Rockland Lake Golf DSC_9783
Try your hand at golfing at Rockland Lake State Park, photo by OPRHP

Grafton Bike event_2267 copy
Go biking at Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by OPRHP

Cherry Plain Camping_AAT0238 web
Camp at Cherry Plain State Park, photo by OPRHP

Finger Lakes Boating
Go boating in the Finger Lakes, Allan H. Treman State Park, photo by OPRHP

Trees
Marvel at old-growth trees in Allegany State Park along the Conservation or Eastwood Meadows Trails – photo of old-growth ash tree in Allegany State Park by J Lundgren, NYNHP

Fireworks_PRT0033
See the fireworks at many parks across the state, photo by OPRHP

Sunset, Golden Hill
Or enjoy a quiet evening sunset, Golden Hill State Park, photo by OPRHP