Category Archives: Fun & Games

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

Happy Second Birthday Nature Times!

 

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In this second year of Nature Times we have gotten to know snapping turtles, carnivorous plants, black squirrels, and Sammi, Trailside Museums’ 36 year old bald eagle.  We’ve learned how trails are mapped, how a flock of sheep and goats have become one of State Parks’ 21st century mowing crews, and ways to explore State Parks on foot, in kayaks, on snowmobiles, and on frozen lakes. The stories have featured all kinds of work that State Parks staff and volunteers do throughout the year to help preserve and protect some of New York’s unique and exceptional places. These range from protecting sand dunes on Lake Ontario and old-growth forest at Allegany, to creating native grasslands at Ganondagan State Historic Site, and monitoring invasive species infestations and removing invasive species both on land and water.

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We mark this second birthday with 61 new followers and over 24,000 page hits!  And we thank the 32 staff, interns, and partner organizations who have shared their passion for State Parks through the blogs that they have written. We also want to recognize our partnership with the New York Natural Heritage Program who helped in initiating this feature and continues to provide support.

We look forward to continuing our celebration of State Parks in the months to come in Nature Times.  Hope to see you soon at one of our Parks or Historic Sites!

Celebrating 150 Followers!

Today, we celebrate 150 followers of the New York State Parks Nature Times Blog!

Fireworks at Niagara Falls State Park. Photo courtesy of OPRHP.
Fireworks at Niagara Falls State Park. Photo courtesy of OPRHP.

To date, the blog has featured more than 110 posts than span a myriad of topics including park history, endemic and endangered species, special studies, quizzes, scavenger hunts and more. More than 30,000 visitors from 40 different countries around the world have visited the blog.

To become a follower, visit the blog homepage and click on the button in the upper left hand corner, just under the logo.  Tell your friends and family to “follow” the Nature Times Blog, and they’ll never miss a post!