Ice is Nice!

In winter, New York’s gorges and waterfalls turn into frozen ice sculptures that are no less beautiful than their summertime counterparts. These pictures of frozen waterfalls at Thacher State Park are iconic of New York’s natural beauty at any time of the year. Don’t let the cold and snow keep you cooped up inside all winter long. Thacher, and many of our other state parks in New York, offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking and snowshoeing.

First Day Hikes

There’s no time like the present to incorporate a new tradition into your holiday celebration! New York State Parks will be hosting more than two dozen “First Day Hikes” on New Year’s Day at Parks and Historic Sites ranging all the way from Long Island to the Thousand Islands to Western New York. This effort is a part of a nationwide initiative to connect children and families to the outdoors.  To date, over 400 hikes have been scheduled across the country!

Parks on Long Island, including Montauk Point State Park and Jones Beach State Park, will host beach hikes to explore marine geology as well as observe varies species of winter birds.  Participants will also have the chance to observe up to four different species of wintering seals that are common near Long Island this time of year, including the grey seal, harp seal, ringed seal, and hooded seal.

Moreau State Park Snowshoe Hike

Above: Snowshoeing at Moreau Lake State Park.

If you live in the Buffalo area, be sure to pay a visit to New York’s newest State Park, Buffalo Harbor! This “First Day Hike” will feature a 2-mile route along the Gallagher Beach Bike Path, with views of the historic waterfront, towering grain elevators, shipping ports, and the Buffalo River Lighthouse. Participants are encouraged to bring cross-country skis if there is snow on the ground.

No matter which hike you choose, “First Day” hikers can expect to be surrounded by the tranquil beauty of our State Parks in wintertime, with views and lookout points unimpeded by dense foliage. Hikers are advised to dress in warm layers, bring appropriate footwear or snowshoes/skis and water for your group. Most hikes range from one to three miles in length.

Click here for a complete listing of “First Day Hike” events and registration instructions.

Post by Megan Phillips. Photo by John Rozell.

 

Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is one of the methods scientists use to keep track of wildlife in New York’s parks. To set a trap, researchers place a hidden camera in a location where an animal is likely to pass by, and sometimes they even leave bait to make the trap extra enticing. The bait in all these photographs is road-killed deer salvaged under permit for this purpose. At NYS Parks, we use infrared-sensing cameras. When an animal passes in front of the camera, the infrared-sensor is activated and the camera snaps a pic. Later, the researcher comes back to the camera to find out what he or she “captured” on film. In this way, researchers can observe and survey wildlife without frightening them or interfering with their natural behavior. It’s also one of the best ways to find out if certain rare, nocturnal, or particularly shy animals are living in our parks, such as bobcats, which are rarely sighted in the daytime.

This trap at Harriman State Park (Rockland and Orange Counties) was set up where golden eagles had been sighted in winter, 2013. We were thrilled to discover that we captured not only the golden eagle, but a coyote and bobcat as well! The observations of the golden eagle from this camera are being contributed to a database kept by the Appalachian Eagles Project, an effort to survey wintering golden eagles.

These next pictures were taken by the Taconic Outdoor Education Center at Fahnstock State Park for the purpose of better understanding the diversity of wildlife and their behavior. For example, we were surprised to capture an image of a great horned owl in our camera trap, as this species is not known to scavenge for meals. Other animals featured in these photos are turkey vultures, red tail hawk, crows, coyote, bobcat and bald eagle.

Wildlife Spotlight: Pine Grosbeak

The Pine Grosbeak is one of the largest members of the finch family, and a rare winter visitor to New York. This bird species generally breeds between Alaska and Newfoundland, and south in the western mountains to California and Arizona. They winter further south, in the Dakotas, New York, and also Eurasia. These birds use their short, curved beaks to eat seeds, buds, and berries from trees such as Mountain Ash, cedar, and Juniper. Look for Pine Grosbeaks in scattered forests where these kinds of trees are plentiful. Pine Grosbeak’s tame and slow-moving behavior has earned them an unusual name in Newfoundland, where they are called “mopes.”

Post by Paris Harper, photos by Lilly Schelling.

Ecological Change in Lake Minnewaska

Small changes to lake ecosystems can mean big changes for plants and wildlife that make their homes there. Even though Lake Minnewaska (Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Ulster/Sullivan counties) looks the same from above the surface, life in the water has undergone major change in the past several decades. Lake Minnewaska is a unique “sky lake” ecosystem. Historically, Lake Minnewaska has been acidic acidic. No, it wouldn’t burn you to touch it, but it was too harsh for fish to live in. Studies show that Lake Minnewaska was oligotrophic as recently as the 1990s, meaning that nutrient levels were low and the phytoplankton that form algae were absent. The lake was home to other types of creatures, though, including a mat of sphagnum moss which grew up to 20 meters underwater and carpeted 60% of the lake, possible because of the high clarity of the water. The sphagnum moss sheltered two species of salamander which, because of the lack of predators, made use of the habitat and behaved in ways that no one had ever seen elsewhere (Bahret 1996).

Since the ‘90s, however, the lake has gradually become less acidic and phytoplankton more prolific, moving the lake towards mesotrophic status. The primary factor in the trophic shift is the introduction of the non-native bait fish species, the Golden Shiner, which was first observed in Lake Minnewaska in 2008. The Golden Shiner eats zooplankton, which are the primary consumers of phytoplankton, leading an increase in microscopic plant life in the lake. Because of these changes, sphagnum moss no longer grows in Lake Minnewaska, and as these trends continue, we can expect further reductions in water clarity, and more plant and fish species to take up residence in the lake. NYS Parks’ Environmental Management Bureau – Water Quality Unit continues to monitor Lake Minnewaska as an ongoing part of a statewide lake monitoring program.

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References

Bahret, R. 19996. Ecology of lake dwelling Eurycea bislineata in the Shawangunk Mountains, New York. Journal of Herpetology 30:399-401.

Townley, Lauren. Investigation of trophic changes in Lake Minnewaska, a pristine sky lake in Ulster County, New York. Poster, Northeast Association of Environmental Biologists Conference. Online, accessed 8/25/2014.

The official blog for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation