Wilson Tuscarora State Park, located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County, is just 12 miles east of historic Fort Niagara State Park and the mouth of the Niagara River. Established in 1965, the park, encompasses 386 acres bordered by the east and west branches of Twelve Mile Creek, and has approximately four miles of trails.
When you choose to hike the red Interpretive Trail at Wilson Tuscarora, you will experience several amazing things, particularly if you choose to visit in late spring. Along the trail, you will hike through many different habitats, including wetlands, successional fields (a field transitioning to a forest), shrub lands, ending in a mature beech-hemlock forest.
Your journey begins at the marina parking lot heading toward the large weeping willow tree, with its bright yellow green leaves drooping toward the ground.
Once past the old weeping willow tree you will find the trail and the real journey begins through a successional field and into shrub lands as you follow the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek. Along the trail, you will notice red-osier dogwood shrubs forming thickets on each side. Quaking aspen trees are found along the way as well, revealing their name’s origin as each breeze cause the tree’s leaves to quiver or quake in the wind.
Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides
Keep your eyes on the wetlands too. You may see a beaver, or at least signs that they are active in the area. If you are lucky enough you may catch a glimpse of the pileated woodpecker. Look for pileated woodpeckers in the mature beech-hemlock forest area of the park. Chances are you will hear them before you see them. Listen for a deep, loud drumming and shrill, whinnying call.
This trail is best known for its spring wildflowers; especially trillium. New York’s largest flowered trillium, the white trillium, blankets the forest floor in May. The name trillium refers to three, the number of leaves, sepals (bud covers), and petals.
If you haven’t gone down Wilson Tuscarora’s Interpretative Trail yet, be sure to head there this late spring to see these unique natural features!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
Here are some examples of how you can use the Leave No Trace Seven Principles next time you head out on a trail:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.