Tag Archives: Fall

The 3 Season Paddler: Safety Tips for Extending Your Boating Season

The tang of a slightly warm breeze rattled the yellow leaves of the cottonwoods under a dome of grey clouds welcoming an intrepid group of fall paddlers chasing the last vestiges of summer at Schodack Island State Park on the Hudson River near Albany.

“We weren’t planning to go out on to the Hudson River for this trip, but were headed to the kayak launch at Schodack Creek on the eastern side of the island,” Ro Woodard recalled. “It has tidal waters like the Hudson and snakes through the phragmites reeds and cattails swamp under the mighty bridges of the CSX Railroad and NYS Thruway.  It was exciting to think, as I drove over the Thruway bridge and looked down to the creek, that I would be soon seeing the secrets of the marsh from a water’s eye view rather than a bird’s eye view.”

Warm fall and winter days might tease paddlers into heading for their favorite open water, but the warm air temperatures can deceptively mask the dangers of the cold water surrounding our boats as we paddle. NYS OPRHP would like to remind paddlers and sportsmen who venture out on the water between November 1 and May 1 that everyone in boats less than 21 feet in length  (this includes motor boats, too) MUST WEAR a US Coast Guard approved life jacket while underway.  OPRHP also recommends that everyone wear a life jacket if the water temperature is less than 70o F.

All boaters (and, yes, paddlers are boaters) should be aware of the possibility of a sudden unexpected swamping, capsize, or a fall overboard into the cold water. At the onset of a sudden cold water immersion there is an initial uncontrollable gasp reflex leading to hyperventilation and increased heart rate and blood pressure which can result in immediate drowning. Go to Cold Water Boot Camp to see what this reaction looks like.  A life jacket may save your life by keeping your head above water and your body floating you while you get your breathing in control.  Next you should attempt self-rescue by getting back in or on your boat.  You have about 10 -20 minutes depending on the temperature of the water before your muscles and nerves cool down and stop functioning;   even good swimmers can’t control their movements and ultimately experience swimming failure.   Again, the life jacket can make all the difference because it will float you.   This is a sobering message for those going out for what they hope to be a fine day on the water.  Remember to wear your life jacket, because it can make all the difference.

Late season paddlers should dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature with either a wet suit or dry suit under your life jacket.  Bring along safety equipment to help with rescue in case of a capsize: pump, rescue bag, sling, paddle float, whistle, visual distress signals, and a VHF radio or cell phone is a waterproof bag.  Also take a course to learn how to use the equipment and how to rescue a paddler who is in the water, empty the water from their boat and get them back inside before you head out for your cold season paddling trip. It is important to have essential skills and equipment, which we hope we never have to use, with you when you kayak and canoe.  The American Canoe Association has a variety of courses for all level of paddlers.

Always paddle with a group if possible and be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return.  Take a boating safety course and refrain from the use of alcohol when paddling.  Boating safety courses can be found at http://nysparks.com/recreation/boating/boating-safety-class.aspx  and a free online paddle sport safety course at www.paddlecourse.com.

Click on an image above to enlarge it and read the caption.

The properly dressed and equipped group enjoyed a pleasant afternoon sweeping upstream on the incoming tide, sharing summer paddling stories and watching the sky hoping for a glimpse of one of the many eagles which inhabit the shores of the Park.  They passed under the bridges to the sound of a honking horn.  The honking must have come from a sharp-eye paddler who was crossing the bridge in his or her car and spotted us paddling. After encountering a tree across the narrowing creek, they turned around to head south just as the tide was turning and the current carried them back to the launch ramp. No eagles on this trip, but a flock of crows soared over head as we finished our day.

The fabulous fall padding season has wound down. The air temperatures are dropping and so is the water temperature.  Though lots of us summer paddlers put away our kayaks and canoes until spring, many hearty paddlers continue to enjoy the late fall paddling until ice forces them off the water. If that paddler is you, remember to wear your life jacket, let someone know when and where you are paddling, dress to stay warm, bring your safety equipment, don’t drink alcohol while out on the water, and paddle with a group if possible.   The rest of you, we’ll see you in the spring!

Post and photos by Ro Woodard, Marine Services Bureau, OPRHP.

Nature in Autumn: What to Look out for in the Ecological World

The days start getting shorter, the nights are cooler, and the leaves start to turn vibrant colors. Fall is a time of change and when plants and animals start to prepare for the long winter months ahead. It is a great time to get outdoors and observe nature’s seasonal changes.

Broad Winged Hawk. Photo by April Thibaudeau, Thacher Park.
Broad Winged Hawk. Photo by April Thibaudeau, Thacher Park.

One of the Northeast’s finest wildlife spectacles happens in fall, the autumn migration of hawks. Beginning in early September until the end of November, broad-winged hawks, falcons, eagles, kestrels, harriers, and more travel from their northern breeding grounds south due to scarcity of food during the winter. The birds soar on thermal updrafts, minimizing energy expenditure. A group of birds in a thermal is termed a “kettle” and may resemble a spiral of ascending birds. The migrators utilize these updrafts to glide over ridges and down the coast to regions as far as Central and South America where food is plentiful. Thacher Park hosts an annual Hawk Migration Watch at the escarpment overlook where visitors can help count passing birds and learn more about the species they see.

Burr Oak nut showing the cupule of the acorn, which protects the fruit while it grows and matures. Photo by Ben VanderWeide, Oakland
Burr Oak nut showing the cupule of the acorn, which protects the fruit while it grows and matures. Photo by Ben VanderWeide, Oakland

Plants start dispersing their seeds in the fall by way of wind, water, animals, and even explosion or ballistic seed dispersal. It all starts at the end of August when blackberries, mulberries, and other fleshy fruits start to ripen and fall to the ground. These fruits contain small hard seeds and are dispersed after passing through the digestive system of animals, but make a yummy treat for us!  Acorns are theseeds of oak trees and sprout rapidly after falling to the ground. Squirrels can be seen scurrying around this time of year, storing nuts to eat later in the winter. Luckily for trees, squirrels only find about 30% of the nuts they hide – allowing more seedlings to sprout in the spring.

Puff ball mushroom. Photo by April Thibaudeau, Thacher Park.
Puff ball mushroom. Photo by April Thibaudeau, Thacher Park.

A warm summer leading to damp September days is the perfect combination for mushrooms to sprout throughout the forest floor.  Fungi are made up of a vast underground network called mycelia, which helps decompose leaf litter, dead animals, and rotting wood. The mushrooms we see above- ground are the fruiting bodies of the mycelium and are composed of spores that disperse in the fall to continue the growth of their kingdom. Puff balls, hen of the woods, oyster mushrooms, and fly agaric are just a few of the mushrooms to look for on a forest hike. It is important to have a great deal of knowledge on mushrooms before picking any to eat, as some can be fatally poisonous.

For fall hikes happening at Thacher State Park check out our Program Calendar.

 Post by April Thibaudeau, Student Conservation Association Intern, Thacher State Park

For further information about these topics please consult:

Hawk Migration

http://www.hawkmountain.org/raptorpedia/migration-path/page.aspx?id=352

Seeds and Nuts

http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/pages/fruit-seed-dispersal.htm

Fungi

http://www.countrysideinfo.co.uk/fungi/struct.htm

http://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/gtr/gtr_nrs79.pdf

Things That Go Squawk In The Night

Ooo Halloween is just around the corner. Soon you may be venturing outdoors at night for trick-or-treating or a cool evening stroll. While you are outdoors you just might hear an eerie squawk, squeak, or snort coming from the woods. What is making that sound? In the darkness it is impossible to see, but if you pause for a moment and listen, you might be able to figure out what animal made the sound.

Some familiar autumn night sounds include:

Field Cricket, By Cody Hough (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Field Cricket, By Cody Hough (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The male Field Cricket song is a series of short chirps, 2-3 per second. Each chirp consists of 3-5 pulses, which are made when he closes his forewing (front wing). Male crickets call from burrows or cracks in the soil. If Halloween is a warm evening, crickets may be calling in fields and other grasslands. Listen to field crickets.

 

 

 

 

Spring Peeper, Lilly Schelling, NYS OPRHP
Spring Peeper, Lilly Schelling, NYS OPRHP

Male Spring Peeper frogs normally sing their sleigh bell like mating call in spring, but a few will also sing in the fall in woodlands near small ponds or wetlands. Listen to spring peepers.

More unfamiliar sounds include:

Eastern Screech Owl, By Greg Hume (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Screech Owl, By Greg Hume (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Screech Owls are little owls (about 8” long) that pack a loud call! In 1845 Henry David Thoreau described the call of the screech owl as “A most solemn graveyard ditty, the mutual consolation of suicide lovers remembering the pangs and delights of the supernal love in the infernal groves, …… Oh-o-o-o, had I never been bor-r-r-n.”
Our only small owl with ear tufts, both males and females screech owls sing. A common sound is “an even-pitched trill, often called a “bounce song” or tremolo; and a shrill, descending whinny.” (All About Birds, Screech Owl). Occasionally mated pairs will sing to each other. Listen to a screech owl.

White-Tailed Deer, Lilly Schelling, NYS OPRHP
White-Tailed Deer, Lilly Schelling, NYS OPRHP

The otherwise mute White-Tailed Deer will snort when startled. Listen to a white-tailed deer snort. This is one of the few sounds that deer make. Bucks use a series of wheeze-grunt-snort to assert dominance during the breeding season and does and fawns communicate through bleats and grunts.

Raccoon, By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Raccoon, By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Raccoons, those masked, ring-tailed animals, produce a Variety of vocalizations including screams, growls, and whistles. One sound is similar to a screech owl’s call. Listen to a raccoon.

 

 

Red Fox Kit, NYS OPRHP
Red Fox Kit, NYS OPRHP

Adult Red Foxes make 12 different sounds; kits, baby foxes, make eight different sounds. These sounds span five octaves and are divided into contact calls and greeting calls. Contact calls, sounds made when foxes are at a distance from one another; start off as a “wow wow wow.” As the foxes get closer, the call changes to a three-syllable call that sounds similar to clucking chickens.
A submissive fox will produce a shriek or high-pitched whine when it greets a dominant fox. And during breeding season males and females may emit a rejection call – a rattling throaty sound termed “gekkering.” Listen to a red fox.

Sources:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds http://www.allaboutbirds.org/
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library, http://macaulaylibrary.org/
New York State Department of Conservation, http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/263.html
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Post by Susan A Carver, OPRHP.