Tag Archives: migration

Snow Geese at Point au Roche State Park

snow-geese-at-point-au-roche-photograph-by-larry-master
Snow Geese at Point au Roche, photograph by Larry Master

The most abundant species of waterfowl in the world, snow geese or snows (Chen caerulescens), breed in the high arctic and spend winters in the eastern U.S., primarily along the Mississippi river and Atlantic coastal states. In our area, during both their fall and spring migration, snow geese tend to linger in the Adirondacks for a month or more, often times in huge flocks of thousands of birds. You are apt to hear them before sighting them. They sound like a huge throng of baying hounds moving slowly but steadily into your range of hearing, and then you may spot them flying way overhead. If they are close enough, you immediately recognize their snow white bodies and jet black wingtips. You can see them on Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, and the large lakes and marshes in the Finger Lakes region. Point au Roche State Park is a great place to see them up close in the fall as the birds linger on Lake Champlain.

Strong, graceful fliers, snows come down to land by performing a falling leaf maneuver—all of a sudden they seem to lose their balance and start tumbling out of the sky. To watch a large flock of them tumble out of the blue can be pretty amusing. They rank as one of the noisiest birds, barking continually as they fly and vocalizing even as they feed.

You might notice a dark goose or two. Snow geese occur in white or blue colormorphs or forms which ornithologists considered different species until DNA evidence in 1983 confirmed them as one.  They tend to mate with their respective colormorphs and they also segregate somewhat geographically, with most blues breeding and wintering in the middle of the continent and most whites in the east.

Snows feed almost exclusively on plants, preferably in wet areas such as marshes, lakes, impoundments, and waterlogged soil.  They eat everything from stems to leaves to rhizomes and tubers, and have a decided weakness for agricultural fields, which they work for waste grains and seeds.  Their primary method of feeding involves grubbing for rhizomes, tubers and roots by pulling the entire stem of the plant from the soil, with the result that a large flocks can entirely denude an area of vegetation.

Snow geese mate for life and develop strong family bonds, with young birds staying with their parents until their second or third year. Snow geese populations in North America have increased exponentially and in some regions by as much as nine percent a year, which most ornithologists and wildlife managers consider unsustainable.  Essentially victims of their own success, snow geese degrade the habitat in their nesting colonies by eliminating most plant matter and leaving only exposed peat or bare mineral soil, a situation that not only puts pressures on them but also on other species, such as semi-palmated sandpipers and red-necked phalaropes.  But for now, this boom in the population makes for good chances to see snow geese. So get out and enjoy these beautiful birds.  Enjoy the show.

Post by John Thaxton, Northern New York Audubon

Follow these links to learn more about snow geese, snow geese sounds, and a PBS special on snow geese at Point au Roche State Park.

Amphibians on the Move!

As temperatures rise, spring rains roll in, and the ground thaws, the amphibians of New York are preparing themselves for a great migration. On the 10th of March, a group of about 30 volunteers congregated near Hop Field at Thacher State Park armed with flashlights and buckets. With great excitement they looked along the road edges for salamanders and frogs, hoping to help them cross the road as the amphibians migrated to woodland pools. Throughout most of the year, mole salamanders and woodland frogs spend their time burrowed under rocks and leaves on the forest floor, but each spring salamanders and frogs can migrate up to a quarter mile to woodland pools to breed. The mass migrations to the vernal pools occur during spring rainstorms with temperatures above 40 degrees.

The rain was intermittent that night, and although spring peepers and leopard frogs were escorted across the road, no salamanders were found. The migrations typically happen in late March and early April, so there is still hope! On nights when the conditions are right, many nature enthusiasts can be seen on roadways close to wetlands helping the amphibians safely cross the road. If you are interested in getting involved in preventing vehicle related deaths during these mass migrations, contact your local State Park or local DEC office. These organizations sometimes coordinate volunteers to come together on rainy nights to help salamanders cross busy roads. The more volunteers there are to help, the more amphibians will successfully breed! Before you help the amphibians, be sure to brush up on your identification! Here is a sampling of the native amphibians that you could see in New York.

Mole Salamanders:

Blue Spotted
Blue spotted Salamander, By Greg Schechter [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The blue spotted salamander is black with pale blue flecks all over its body. It can grow from 3.5 to 5.5 inches long. They are frequently seen in woodlands.

The spotted salamander is black and has yellow spots. It can grow up to 8 inches long. It is one of the most common salamanders in the area, and if you go out on a migration night there is a good chance that you will see it!

Jefferson salamander
Jefferson Salamander, By Unspecified (Vermont Biology Technical Note 1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Jefferson salamander is dark brown and has pale blue spots on its limbs and lower sides. The blue speckling is best seen on younger salamanders. It can crossbreed with the blue spotted salamander and usually grows to 4.5 to 7 inches long.

Red eft
Red Eft, By Jason Quinn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
This red eft/ red spotted newt can secrete poisonous toxins. When it is on land in its juvenile stage, it is orange. However, in its aquatic adult stage it is an olive brown color and has a wide paddle like tail.

Frogs:

Wood Frog
Wood Frog, By USFWS Mountain-Prairie (Wood Frog) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The wood frog has an extremely high freeze tolerance and can live in a variety of habitats including forests, tundra, and bogs. It has the nickname “Lone Ranger” because the coloration on its face resembles a mask. Last year a bill was proposed by a class of 3rd graders to declare the wood frog the State Amphibian of New York. To see the bill’s progress check out this website.

Peeper
Spring Peeper, By Justin Meissen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The spring peeper has large vocal sacs that it uses to create high pitched tones during the spring mating season. It typically grows to about one inch long and has a dark X marking on its back. Listen to the call of a male spring peeper.

Leopard frog
Leopard Frog, By Douglas Wilhelm Harder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The leopard frog gets its name from the irregularly shaped dark patches on its legs and back and can grow to be 3 to 5 inches long. They were once the most abundant frog species in North America, but they suffered large population declines in the 1970s.

Recommended Links:

Salamander Migration Extraordinaire” Check out this naturalist’s blog post  that has videos of spotted salamanders and Jefferson salamanders migrating to a vernal pool. There is amazing underwater footage of the salamanders at the breeding site!

Check out this video of Ranger Eric Powers from Your Connection to Nature to learn more information about vernal ponds and the animals that rely on them!

Post written by: Emily Crampe, SCA Member, Thacher State Park

Sources for text:

http://www.vernalpool.org/inf_mol.htm

http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/82722.html

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/northern-leopard-frog/

https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12201-32988–,00.html

 

Golden Opportunities at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park

Park OfficeOn February 24, 2009, two visitors to Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park were enjoying a sunny walk on Davis Road when two BIG birds flew overhead, going north.  “Golden Eagles!” exclaimed these experienced bird watchers.  Both were volunteers at the Delaware Otsego Audubon Society’s (DOAS) Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch which is known for its number of migrating Golden Eagles during the late fall.  The Golden Eagle is one of the largest raptors (birds of prey) in North America, not that common in eastern New York, but well worth keeping an eye out for.

During spring and fall migration, raptors use prominent ridges to save energy by riding updrafts that lift and/or push birds toward their destination.  On sunny days, warm air may spiral upward, creating thermals (columns of warm air) that lift birds to higher elevations.  Raptors soar and glide as much as possible, saving their own energy resources during the long journey.  In early spring, they are on their way to nesting territory.  For Golden Eagles coming through New York, that Destination is in Labrador, Quebec and Ontario, Canada.  Some Goldens stay the winter in our state, so in February it is hard to say if these were birds headed north or had been here all winter.

DOAS conducted Golden Eagle surveys at Davis Park in the spring of 2010, 2011, and 2012 with an average of 35 Goldens heading north each March.  Since then, area hawk watchers have counted raptors there when conditions seemed favorable, averaging 16 Goldens each March.  Data is collected by the Hawk Migration Association of North America and can be viewed at hawkcount.org.  (Look for DOAS-Davis State Park.)  It’s interesting to look at daily accounts to compare wind direction, wind speed, temperature and number of raptors identified, along with non-raptor sightings.

Diane_Graf photo
Wind break at sunset, Diane Graf, DOAS volunteer

Site supervisor Joe Ritton has been an enthusiastic supporter of the counting efforts at Davis Park.  He built a wind break for the team near cabins 4 and 5 in early March.  It provides shelter from the ever-present wind, and prevents spotting scopes from blowing over.  The view to the south, west and north are wonderful with the park elevation being 1971 feet.  Here’s a 360 panoramic view from a point above the wind break:

Take the virtual tour!

Golden_Eagle_1
Golden eagle in flight, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Golden_Eagle_1.jpg

Hawk watching requires patience, watching the sky until the exciting moment when a bird appears as a tiny dot in the distance and approaches, bringing many possibilities: Is it large or small? What type is it: a Buteo, Accipiter, Falcon, Harrier, Eagle, Osprey?  How many species are in a group of birds?  Is the bird an adult or is it immature?  The questions are many, and finding the answers is challenging.  Wind can keep birds far away, lighting can make colors seem to change, and birds show different shapes when seen at certain angles.  Practice is necessary to learn identification skills.  Spending time with an experienced counter at an established hawk watch is a wonderful way to learn.  Although Golden Eagles have been highlighted in this article, there will be many other species of raptors during migrations, too.  Look for Bald Eagles, Northern Goshawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Ospreys.

Aquila_chrysaetos_USFWS

Bring a chair, good binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one.  A beautiful, calm day is most appealing to the potential hawk watcher, but without wind there will be few raptors.  Good visibility is important and raptors don’t migrate in the rain, so look for snow, fog or rain in the forecast when planning whether or not to come for raptors.

Those who are interested in spending more than one day looking for raptors at the Park may wish to rent a cabin.  Barred Owls have been heard during the night as well a late in the day.  Peace and quiet prevail.

Post by Becky Gretton, DOAS member and golden eagle watch volunteer