You’re walking through the woods on a late spring day and a loud bird song bursts from forest. It sounds as if the bird is repeatedly saying ‘tea-cher,’ getting louder with each note. You pause to look for the bird, thinking it may be the size of a robin, a blue jay, or maybe something bigger because it is so loud, but you don’t see anything.
The song starts again, and there on the forest floor, you see a small light brown bird with dark brown streaking on its breast singing ‘tea-cher, teacher’. That bird is only about half the size of a robin. It’s an ovenbird, a bird known for an over-sized voice and a unique nest that looks like an old-fashioned outdoor oven, after which the bird is named.
The female ovenbird builds her domed shaped nest on the forest floor. She builds it from the inside out using pieces of bark, small twigs, grasses, dead leaves and even hair. She leaves a side entrance so she and her mate can care for the young birds once they hatch. After she has finished weaving the nest, the female ovenbird drops small twigs and sticks on top of the nest to hide it from predators such as garter snakes, eastern chipmunks, and raccoons.
The next time you walk through the forest, listen for these birds. If you do spot one or see a bird quickly fly off of the forest floor, be careful where you step. Look closely to see if you can find that unique dome-shaped nest on the ground. If you are lucky enough to spot one, view from a distance for just a minute and then move on so the parent can get back to the nest.
Featured image by Tim Lenz, US Fish and Wildlife Service
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, is not the tallest waterfall in New York? To find this peak waterfall, we must actually go to another New York State Park! From high plunges to rocky cascades, waterfalls are all over New York State Parks. In fact, there are 15 parks that have sizeable waterfalls. Few can deny the mesmerizing power and beauty of a waterfall, so why not try to add some of these destinations to a road trip this summer?
Niagara Falls State Park
Easily the most well-known of New York’s waterfalls, Niagara Falls is actually composed of three distinct waterfalls. The smallest is Bridal Veil Falls (the middle falls in the picture), which measures around 50 feet wide and 80 feet down to the rocky cascade below. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls, both of which are on the American side of the Niagara River. American Falls (located on the far left of the picture) is around 100 feet tall (measured from the top to the rocky piles below) and around 830 feet wide. Horseshoe Falls (on the right in the picture), which runs between New York and Canada, averages 188 feet tall and 2,200 feet wide.
Letchworth State Park
Considered the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park southwest of Rochester has three major cascading waterfalls – Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls – which range from 70 to 100 feet tall. There are also numerous smaller waterfalls as the Genesee River cuts through the gorge.
3. Stony Brook State Park
Stony Brook State Park, near Dansville, contains a large, rocky gorge common in the Finger Lakes. Visitors can hike along the Gorge Trail to see two of Stony Brooks’ three main waterfalls, as well as several smaller ones in between. Lower Falls, the largest of the three, cascades about 40 feet down to Stony Brook below.
4. Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls State Park, near Ithaca in the Finger Lakes, contains a large cascading waterfall, 165 ft, right near the entrance to the park. If you hike up the Gorge Trail, you will find several other minor falls along Buttermilk Creek. There is even a natural swimming area at the base of these falls.
5. Watkins Glen State Park
At Watkins Glen State Park, located at the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes, you can walk through the gorge along the scenic Glen Creek. Within the two-mile glen there are 19 waterfalls that you are able to walk past, two of which you can even walk behind! Central Cascade is the park’s largest waterfall, plunging more than 60 feet.
6. Robert H. Treman State Park
Home to ten smaller and two major waterfalls, Robert H. Treman State Park is located in Ithaca in the Finger Lakes. In the Upper Gorge you can hike to Lucifer Falls, a 115-foot cascading waterfall. Another park highlight is the stream-fed pool right at the base of the cascading Lower Falls.
7. Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park, located in the Finger Lakes north of Ithaca, is home to the highest vertical single-drop waterfall in the eastern United States. Carved into 400-foot cliffs, water from Taughannock Creek plunges 215 feet over Taughannock Falls. Two smaller waterfalls, Upper and Lower Falls, can also be found at this park.
8. Fillmore Glen State Park
Another classic gorge of the Finger Lakes, Fillmore Glen State Park (about 20 miles northeast of Ithaca) is home to five waterfalls. These range from 5 feet in height to the largest in the park, Dalibarda Falls, which is around 85 feet tall. Dry Creek, which runs the length of the park, helps create a stream-fed swimming pool in the Lower Park area.
9. Chittenango Falls State Park
Chittenango Falls, a beautiful 167-foot staircase cascade, is the highlight of Chittenango Falls State Park, located in Central New York southeast of Syracuse. Enjoy the view from the picnic area above or from a wooden bridge over Chittenango Creek below. Chittenango Falls is also home to the world’s only population of the federally threatened Chittenango ovate amber snail!
10. Pixley Falls State Park
Pixley Falls State Park is named after its main attraction, the 50-foot waterfall on the Lansing Kill. There are also a few smaller falls in nearby streams. This park is in Central New York, about 20 miles north of Utica.
11. Mine Kill State Park
Located southwest of Albany, Mine Kill State Park features an 80-foot cascading waterfall that cuts through a narrow gorge. Hike down to the base or check out the separate parking area (1/4 mile south of the park’s main entrance) that provides access to the overlook viewing platform.
12. John Boyd Thacher State Park
John Boyd Thacher State Park, just west of Albany, contains numerous waterfalls which range from 5 feet to over 100 feet. Indian Ladder Falls (also called Minelot Falls) and Outlet Falls are two of the larger falls at this park, each plunging around 100 feet.
Peebles Island State Park is just north of Albany, located at the merging of the Mohawk River into the Hudson River. There is a waterfall here, about 15 feet high, in the Mohawk River near the southern end of the park.
14. Taconic State Park
Taconic State Park shares borders with Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many people flock to this park to see Bash Bish Falls, which is actually just a short hike across the New York border into Massachusetts. After a long cascade and a 60-foot drop, it is Massachusetts’ tallest single-drop waterfall.
15. Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, located in the Hudson Valley near New Paltz, contains many waterfalls. Near the gate house, the Peters Kill plunges around 70 feet at Awosting Falls. Stony Kill is another plunging waterfall, reaching about 90 feet in height. Some other well-known falls include Rainbow Falls, Bogerman Falls, Peterskill Falls, Sheldon Falls, and Verkeerderkill Falls near the Sam’s Point Preserve area.
Please remember that waterfall conditions are dynamic, changing with weather and seasons. Stay on the trail and be cautious of your surroundings, like slippery or rocky terrain, fast moving water, or steep drops.
For more information, check out some of these great waterfall resources:
From the tip of Long Island, to the St. Lawrence River, the forests of the Taconic Mountains to the Niagara River Gorge, New York State is home to thousands of miles of trails. Every year on the first Saturday in June we celebrate these places with National Trails Day®.
Created by the American Hiking Society in 1993, the 2017 celebration marks the 25th anniversary of the event. National Trails Day® seeks to connect people and trails across the country. Organized trail events are hosted at parks and recreation locations across the country and people are encouraged to “participate, recreate, and give back”. Many locations have events where folks can join other trail lovers in an organized hike, paddle, bike or horseback ride. Other spots host trail work days where volunteers can lend a hand and clean up their favorite stretch of trail or even help a trail crew construct a new one. In 2016 there were over 100 events in New York alone!
Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever and many people are finding enjoyment on trails. Whether it’s cycling on a greenway trail, hiking to a scenic view, or paddling a river, trails provide a connection to the natural world. That connection is important as studies now show that, in addition to our hearts, lungs, and legs, trails are good for our brains as well!
With greater numbers of people heading out on the trail, it’s more important than ever to recreate responsibly by following the seven principles taught by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
The Seven Principles are:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
It is also good practice to prevent the spread of damaging insect pests and weeds by brushing off your boots or boat before you leave the trail or water. Following these steps will help you have a safe and satisfying experience and ensure that the trail will be there for the next person to enjoy as well.
To find out more information on National Trails Day® including links to events near you, visit the American Hiking Society’s website. To learn more about the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, visit their website. For maps and information on trails in New York State Parks, visit Trails webpage. National Trails Day® events in State Parks can be found here.
A group of tiny bacteria has been making a splash in New York State waters, and not in a good way. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs, also known as cyanobacteria, Blue-green algae, BGA) are actually a type of bacteria rather than algae. If the right conditions are met, the bacteria can form what are called “blooms”, or massive amounts of floating material on the surface of a lake or pond. These blooms can look like brightly colored paint, oil, or scum, on the surface and at the shoreline of lakes and ponds. The blooms can move around a lake with wind action, or currents, and can appear, and even disappear, in a matter of hours. Harmful algal blooms have been spotted at an increasing rate around the US in the last several years, including within some New York State Parks’ waterbodies.
The worst part about these colorful phenomena are that some species of HABs are known to produce toxins that are harmful to both humans and animals. Humans can be affected through swallowing water while swimming, touching blooms, and wading in blooms. If the HABs are producing toxins, some swimmers can experience a range of symptoms, from simple rashes, to stomach issues, and even to muscular paralysis. New York State Park bathing beaches are closed when a HAB is present. NYS Parks follows NYS Department of Health criteria when reopening the beach, which requires that the HAB bloom be visibly absent from the swim area for 24 hours.
Dogs are also particularly susceptible to these toxins and should not be allowed, under any circumstance, to drink or swim in a bloom. Dog owners are encouraged to educate themselves on identifying HABs, to protect their fur-kids from harm. Dogs exposed to HAB toxins can experience severe illness and in some cases, fatal effects.
NYS Parks posts HAB alert signs near waterbodies where HABs have been seen.
One of the best ways to recognize HABs on a lake surface is to be aware of changes to the surface of the lake. Take a look at the pictures below of HAB blooms that have been seen in NYS Parks.
Be on the lookout for HABS in stagnant or still, nutrient-rich waters, when the temperatures start to rise. HABs are influenced by time of year, climate and nutrient loads. The best way to prevent HAB growth is through watershed management. Reduce your own runoff by following NYS fertilizer guides, and help to report any evidence of HABs to the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation HAB hotline.
There are some HAB look-a-likes out there. Duckweed, other algae such as Cladophora (a form of clumpy, stringy algae), and pollen can easily be mistaken for HABs, especially in the spring.
Threatened in New York State and often misunderstood, the Timber Rattlesnake is an impressive and unique species that is essential for healthy ecosystems. At an average of 3-4 feet in length and described as “stocky,” timber rattlesnakes are the largest venomous snake species in New York. They are easily identified by their broad triangular-shaped head and rattle. Like other pit-vipers, timber rattlesnakes possess a heat-sensitive organ, or pit, on either side of the head that allow them to detect prey. Their rattles are comprised of segments that accumulate each time a snake sheds its skin, which is every 1-2 years in this region. Counting the number of rattle segments is not an accurate way of aging snakes, as rattles wear and break off. Rattles are used as a warning to potential predators to stay away, making a distinct buzzing noise when rattled.
Timber rattlesnakes can occur in two color patterns: The black phase, which consists of dark bands against a dark background, and the yellow phase, which consists of dark bands on a lighter background. Color shades and band patterns vary from snake to snake.
Their distinctive cross-bands allow them to camouflage themselves from unsuspecting prey as well as from predators. Rattlesnakes primarily feed on small mammals, but will also consume birds, amphibians or other snakes. They ambush prey as it passes by and inject a controlled amount of venom with “hinged” hollow fangs. They then release the animal, wait, and follow its chemical trail to consume it. Rattlesnakes play a vital role in maintaining stable numbers of prey populations, such as rodent species that can carry diseases and destroy crops.
The venom from a bite can be fatal to humans if not treated, but bites are rare. Snakes will not go out of their way to pursue or bite a person. They have the ability to sense the vibrations of an approaching creature and if it is too large to be prey, they rely on their camouflage to hide or they retreat. It requires precious energy to produce venom- Timbers will bite as a last resort if they are cornered and feel threatened. There has not been a death from a timber rattlesnake bite in New York State in several decades. In all of my encounters with these snakes, both for study purposes and chance encounters, one has never struck. While they might coil in a defensive posture and rattle as a warning, the snakes simply want to go on their way and be left alone. It is important to give them space.
These snakes will hibernate together in a den below the frost line, and it’s not uncommon for other snake species to den with them. The same den will be used for generations. They can live up to 30 years, though most live 16-22 years. Male timber rattlesnakes reach sexual maturity at about 5 years whereas females don’t reach sexual maturity until 7-11 years. Females give birth every 3-5 years, and they are among a few species of snakes that give birth to live young. Their slower reproduction rates make them even more susceptible to the threats they face.
Timber rattlesnakes were once more abundant. Indiscriminate killing and a bounty system, as well as unregulated collecting has greatly reduced their numbers, completely eliminating them from some areas. Though the bounty was repealed in the 1970’s and they are now protected by law in New York State, they still face poaching. Snakes are purposefully killed out of a misplaced fear or disdain, or are collected for the illegal pet trade. Snakes can also be killed by vehicles while attempting to bask in roads or cross them in search of food or a mate. Timber rattlesnakes are a slower moving snake, and they tend to freeze when they sense vibration, such as that of an oncoming car. This puts them at greater risk of being run over. People have said that snakes stretched out across the road look like sticks. It’s important for drivers to be observant in order to avoid hitting snakes (or any animal) in the road, and heed animal crossing signs.
Habitat loss due to human development and frequent recreational use of land has also had a negative impact on timber rattlesnake populations. Additionally, snakes in the eastern United States are facing decline due to a deadly fungal disease. Conservation efforts are underway to preserve the few populations of timber rattlesnakes left in New York State and the habitat that supports them. Surveys are conducted and sightings are tracked to help determine the size and health of populations. Snakes are also fitted with transmitter devices for tracking and monitoring. One of the biggest efforts in the conservation of Timber Rattlesnakes is raising public awareness. By educating people about the snakes at sites where they occur, it increases safety for visitors and for the snakes. While they can pose a threat to people (similar to many other species of wildlife), these graceful animals are not bad and are not out to get anyone. They occupy a key niche in the natural community and food web and help to keep the ecosystem in balance. It is rare to encounter a timber rattlesnake in New York State because of their reclusive and docile nature. However, if you do see one, remember — as with all wildlife — to keep your distance for your safety as well as to not stress the animal. Take the time to watch from a distance to appreciate the beauty of a part of the natural world we live in. Whether snakes fascinate or frighten you, if you are walking through their home territory, it’s important to be aware. Respecting their space benefits both you and the snakes.
Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
See the nose to left and body to right under the rock? Photo by NYNYP