Tag Archives: Hiking

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?

 

First Day Hikes 2019

Whether it’s a much-needed elixir after a long holiday season or a first step in making (and keeping!) a resolution to be active in the new year, the 2019 First Day Hikes (FDH) are sure to draw thousands into New York’s great outdoors.

Each year on January 1, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) host these family-friendly events on public parkland across the State. This year’s line-up of 79 hikes includes some exciting new destinations in communities on the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and many more!

PinkJacket
Hikers at Two Rivers State Park, southern Finger Lakes

The popular, outdoor New Year’s Day tradition is in its 8th year. The first First Day Hikes were held in Massachusetts in 1992, but have since spread nationwide. This year marked the first time the FDH went ‘international’, with events held in neighboring Ontario, Canada.

Here in New York, the event has grown significantly since its inception. The 2019 First Day Hikes will be offered at more than 51 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and locations. In addition, DEC will host 19 hikes at wildlife areas, trails and environmental education centers. Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers, will lead the walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and weather conditions.

RedJacket
Exploring the trails in Moreau Lake State Park, eastern New York

For last year’s event, Mother Nature really tested people’s mettle. With frigid temperatures and snowy conditions across the state last New Year’s Day, a number of parks, sites, wildlife areas and nature centers cancelled or postponed their First Day Hike program, but many soldiered on and welcomed participants all bundled up who were looking forward to heralding in 2018 in the outdoors.

In fact, a pair of intrepid First Day Hikers braved the elements and joined not one, but two (!) First Day Hikes out in western New York. A Miami couple honeymooning in Niagara Falls attended the morning First Day Hike at DeVeaux Woods State Park, and had so much fun they decided to join the afternoon ice-covered FDH program at iconic Niagara Falls State Park (shown below).

NiagaraFalls
A beautiful day for a hike in Niagara Falls State Park.

Some host locations welcome dogs on leashes and several have flat, even surfaces for strollers. Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted. A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, bird count gorge walks, military musicology, canal towpath walk, and other fun options.

Bridge
HIkers pause for a photo in  Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley.

If conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with equipment for rent if available, or participants can bring their own. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways. A map and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are listed at parks.ny.gov and dec.ny.gov.

Taughnnock

This New Year’s Day, be inspired by the Florida newlyweds who attended two hikes in a single day in Niagara, or the hundreds of brave souls who joined the gorge walk at Taughannock Falls State Park in the Finger Lakes (shown above), or the families and friends who embrace the winter wonderland at state parks and DEC sites across our state… and start your own tradition today.

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Trail Work: Excelsior Conservation Corps Helps out at Hamlin Beach State Park

Recently, members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC), an AmeriCorps program, visited Hamlin Beach State Park to help the staff with some major trail maintenance projects. The ECC is a partnership between State Parks, the Department of Conservation, the Environmental Facilities Corporation, and the Student Conservation Association. The members in this program range from ages 18-25, and have learned skills and methods in conservation and preservation of the environment. While working at Hamlin Beach, for nine days, the ECC crewmembers were given projects to work on at various trail sites.

The first area the crewmembers worked on was the Devil Nose Trail. This trail is located right next to some very high cliffs and had been closed off for a while due to storm damage. The team was given the task to help re-route a portion of the trail, so that it would be further from the edge of the cliffs. They also needed to widen the full route to 8 ft. so that a small all-terrain vehicle could drive through it in order to bring woodchips onto the path. The original trail was very uneven and hard to follow, so the goal was to create a nice finished and flatter area to walk on.

After clearing away leaves and moving the dirt aside to widen the section of the pre-existing trail, the crewmembers followed the newly flagged route to create a new trail corridor using chainsaws, and tools such as hard rakes, pick mattocks and Mcleods. The chainsaws were used to cut up fallen trees so they could be move away from the trails or used along the trail edge. The other tools were used to move dirt, sand, leaves and smaller sticks to level the path.

HamlinTrailBefore
A section of Devil’s Nose Trail before they cleared it away, photo by the ECC.

After the trail was cleared away, the Parks’ maintenance staff dumped piles of woodchips throughout the trail, and then the ECC members spread them out with rakes.

HamlinTrailWoodchips
Section of the Devil’s Nose trail completed with wood chips, photo by the ECC.

Once the half-mile long of Devil’s Nose Trail was completed, the ECC crewmembers were asked to work on maintaining a small short loop trail over by the campground. After walking the area, they marked off which trees were hazardous and needed to be taken down with a chainsaw. In the beginning of the trail the team noticed that there was a trail turnpike, but the area right after it was very muddy. Help was needed.

HamlinTrailECCWorking
Two ECC crewmembers working on using the chainsaw to cut the ends of the lumber to match the ends of the lumber on the pre-existing turnpike, photo by the ECC.

The purpose of a turnpike is to raise the trail surface out of a muddy or wet area to make the trail better to walk on. It consists of two short pieces of lumber that are laid down going across a trail. They are buried about 3/4ths down, and serve as “sills”, for the longer lumber to sit on. The long pieces of lumber need to be cut out with a chainsaw so that there are little sections for it to fit the sill. This makes them sitting level with the ground. Once all of the pieces of wood are laid out the open, area is filled with gravel so it will provide a durable surface for hikers to walk on.

HamlinTrailTurnpike
The turnpike in the process of being set into the sills, photo by the ECC.

The ECC members created a new section of turnpike completely from scratch. They searched for the lumber among the trees just cut down and had to actually de-bark the trees before the construction began. They then measured everything out and set up the pieces of wood to match the previously made turnpike. In the end the turnpike turned out to be 14 feet long!

HamlinTrailTurnpikeDone
The finished turnpike. The new addition is the last section furthest away in the picture, photo by the ECC.

This is one of many projects the ECC has worked on this summer. They also helped remove invasive species at Ganondagan State Historic Site and make a new trail at Mine Kill State Park.  State Parks is grateful for the help ECC provides in our parks and historic sites.

ECC is recruiting for the 2019 season. If you would like to join the crew, follow this link for more information.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC

 

Leave No Trace on Trails

Did you know that in New York State Parks alone there are over 2,000 miles of trails? That’s a lot of hiking, biking, running, and riding!  From smooth paved paths, to steep rugged climbs, there’s a type of trail for nearly everyone. Often, trails are the only way we can get to special places like waterfalls, lakes, and mountain tops. Because trails are so popular, it’s important to know how to enjoy them responsibly so we can protect those special places for everyone.

Leave No Trace and the Seven Principles

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a non-profit organization that works to educate people on responsible ways to enjoy and experience the outdoors. To do this, they created the Leave No Trace Seven Principles (below) as guidelines you should follow every time you’re out in nature.

Leave No Trace Seven Principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Here are some examples of how you can use the Leave No Trace Seven Principles next time you head out on a trail:

  1. Know Before You Go

Be prepared! Check the forecast and bring the right clothes for the weather. Use maps to make sure you know the route and you won’t get lost. Bring a water bottle and enough water to stay hydrated. Learn about the areas before you visit to make the most of your trip.

Kiosk
Grafton Lakes State Park kiosk.
  1. Choose The Right Path

Follow the trail!  Going off the trail damages plants and can create trails where they shouldn’t be. Read signs and follow trail markers so you won’t get lost. If you’re camping, look for a designated site to camp rather than creating a new one.

Trash
Remember to carry out your trash.
  1. Trash Your Trash

Pack out what you pack in! Don’t leave litter. Bring a baggie to store your trash and dispose of it properly when you leave. That includes food waste like apple cores and banana peels that don’t belong in nature.

TreeCarve
Carving in tree bark may harm a tree.

4. Leave What You Find

Leave plants, rocks, and other natural features as you find them for others to enjoy. Treat living things with respect; don’t pull plants, break limbs, or carve on trees.

 

 

5. Be Careful With Fire

Follow the rules and don’t build fires where they aren’t allowed. If allowed, use an existing fire ring, keep the fire small, and only use down and dead wood. When done, douse with water to make sure fires are completely out and check the coals to make sure they are cold.

No fires
Check with the park office or park map to learn where you can have a fire.
  1. Respect Wildlife

Observe animals from a distance; never approach, feed, or follow them. Human food is not healthy for animals and feeding them starts bad habits. If you bring a pet, make sure to keep them on a leash.

Wood Turtle 1 - Lilly Schelling
Watch a wood turtle from a distance, photo by Lilly Schelling
  1. Be Kind To Other Visitors

Share the trail and say hello! Have fun, but let others enjoy nature as well. Avoid loud noises and yelling. You’ll see more animals when you are quiet!

Jennifer Natali
Share the trails, photo by Jennifer Natali.

Trails are one of the best ways we can all get outside for fun, exercise, and adventure. Following the Leave No Trace Seven Principles is a great way to do your part and protect our trails and outdoor spaces for the future. To learn how you can plan for your next trail adventure, visit the State Parks Trail Tips page. For more information on Leave No Trace, visit their website.

See you on the trail!

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Reference: © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

Building Bridges: the Excelsior Conservation Corps Lend State Parks a Hand at Mine Kill

Members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) (an AmeriCorps program) recently visited Mine Kill State Park to help the State Parks staff with a few projects.  The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association. The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods on conserving and maintaining the environment. The ECC crewmembers were given the tasks of building a bridge and creating a new trail.

The members started off their workweek by focusing on rerouting the trail. The original trail was on an old tractor road. It was dangerous due to the steep slope, and would also become muddy and slippery when it rains. The ECC members chose to create a new trail that led uphill into a woodsy area.

When making a new trail “from scratch”, there are a few guidelines to follow to identify good areas for foot travel. Prior to the ECC arriving, Park staff confirmed that no sensitive resources like artifacts or rare species were present along the route. Then the ECC crew could move forward on the project.  One of the key factors is to make sure the path is a fairly flat surface with no obstacles in the way. When you’re in the middle of a wooded area, finding a natural path that meets these standards can be difficult, but the crew was able to fix a majority of the problems with the tools they brought. Another factor to keep in mind is to avoid putting a trail at the bottom of a slope, because water can collect and make it muddy and hazardous. If there is no other option than putting a trail in an area where the water pools, trail features can help diminish the impact of the water.

After the team marked off the proposed path with flagging tape on tree branches, they reviewed the route and identified needs. They brought out their tools and began digging up the dirt to make a more obvious trail. Shovels, pick mattocks, loppers and hoes are normally used for digging dirt up, picking out rocks and roots, and cutting down tree branches that are hanging over the path.

In certain areas, the path would hit a steeper slope. In order to even it out, the work crew needed to “bench” it. This required digging out a flat wall in the steep slope and dragging the dirt out to make it flatter for foot travel. This can help reduce erosion of the soil too, to make for a more durable and lasting trail.

ECC Benching
Two members of the ECC “benching” a steep path to make it flatter for hikers, taken by an ECC member.

In the end, the rerouted trail was measured to be a quarter of a mile long!

ECC Chainsaw
An ECC member using the chainsaw to cut notches into the cedar tree, taken by another ECC member.

The other project was building a 14-foot long bridge. The ECC team began the task by cutting down two cedar trees in the woods to use as an under support system for the planks. After the trees were cut down, they carried them over to the site where they used knives and axes to “debark” the trees. Cedar is resistant to rot and by peeling off a few outer layers of the cedar trees, it delays decay even further in the future, which would potentially destroy the bridge.

ecc-cedar-logs.jpg
The cedar trees cut flat so they can support the planks And you can see how Red cedar get its name

After they took off the bark, they used chainsaws to split the logs lengthwise to create flat side to lay the planks. Once the trees were flattened out and put into place, the planks were drilled and bolted to lock them onto sturdy blocks of wood on either side of the creek. Finally, they placed each short plank on the cedar rails, spaced them out evenly and drilled the planks in, completing the bridge.

Now, thanks to the work of the Excelsior Conservation Corps, Mine Kill State Park has a new improved trail route and bridge crossing ready for patrons to enjoy.

ECC Bridge
The finished 14-foot long Bridge, ready for hikers., photo by ECC members.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member