Tag Archives: spring

Babies Abound! Little Critters in State Parks

Spring is in the air and baby animals abound in our State Parks. Look and listen for some of these young critters in our parks. Remember, it is best to watch them from a distance so you do not scare the young animal or its parent. If you see a young animal that looks like it is abandoned, please leave it be. It is most likely fine on its own or has a parent close by and waiting for you to back away. It is fun to explore and watch, but don’t stay in one spot too long so that the animals can go back to their daily activities.

Box Turtle_E Becker
A class gets a close-up look at a young box turtle at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. The turtle was handled briefly and then released where it was found. If you find turtles crossing the road or trail, you can move them to safety by putting them on the side where they were headed.
baby raccoon FNSP
A pair of young raccoons peek out from behind a tree at Fort Niagara State Park.
MonarchCaterpillar3_E Becker
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is one of the monarch caterpillars preferred plants. You can find milkweed in along unmown trail edges and in meadows in many State Parks
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A red fox vixen keeps a watchful eye over a pair of kits at Letchworth State Park.
Drone hatching_Greg Kofsky
Warm weather brings the honey bees back into action. Here, a drone honey bee (at left) is hatching from the hive at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center.
S. Montefinise
Canada geese and goslings at Jones Beach State Park. Adult geese can be pretty aggressive about protecting their babies, so watch quietly from a distance. The goslings can be a lot of fun to watch as they scurry about.
mallard
Mother mallard and her many ducklings.
Fawn_G Lamitina2
A white-tailed deer fawn hiding in the brush at Letchworth State Park. The mother is close by, watching you and waiting for you to move on. You have to look hard and move quietly to get a chance to see these youngsters in the woods.
Red Eft at Thacher -Photo by Lilly Schelling
Red efts are the young stage of the aquatic eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). You can hold this one gently, but keep it close to the ground as it will run right out of your hand. This one was seem at John Boyd Thacher State Park.
BarnSwallow Chicks-Photo by Lilly Schelling
Red efts are the young stage of the aquatic eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). You can hold this one gently, but keep it close to the ground as it will run right out of your hand. This one was seem at John Boyd Thacher State Park.
chickadee
Black-capped chickadees nest in tree cavities or will use birdboxes as seen here.
ecottentail
You might see Eastern cottontails in your back yard, local park or in the campground or picnic area in many of the state parks.
Eaglet
Bald eaglet are really big baby birds. This one has been banded by wildlife biologists. The blue and silver leg bands help identify the bird when it is seen elsewhere over the course of its adult life.
killfawn
Young killdeer on the run at Allegany State Park. They have a really loud call and may be seen in open areas like lawns and parking lots! Killdeer are precocial birds, meaning they leave the nest shortly after they are hatched.
easternphoebe
Eastern phoebe nestlings getting a little too big for their nest. Time to try out those wings.
roughwingedswallow
Northern rough-winged swallow fledgling.
snappingTurtlehand
Young snapping turtle covered in duck weed from its pond. Remember that bigger snapping turtles bite, so keep your distance.
woodfrog
A very tiny wood frog, identifiable by the dark mask on its face. It’s ok to hold them gently for a bit, but let them go so they can grow up in their home in the woods.
wooduckwithmarshmellow
Woodchuck mom and her pups in Allegany State Park. The white one was known as “Marshmallow.”
woodcock
A young American woodcock hides in the underbrush, so well camouflaged and thus seldom seen.
tinydusky (002)
A young dusky salamander found in a wet log at Allegany State Park. It is great to explore and find young animals. Keeping hands off can keep them safe and allow you to observe their behavior in their natural habitat.

Take time this spring to enjoy our State Parks little critters!

Thank you to all staff who contributed to this post.

Trees Spring Ahead

red_maple_buds_JLundgren

Spring is here and the tree buds are starting to pop. Red maple (Acer rubrum) is among the first to flower, revealing little tassles of red and orange. The leaves will emerge a bit later.

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Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is another early bloomer. Perhaps this tree was named after its silvery flowers.

Beech trees are late comers — the long skinny buds and last year’s leaves are still holding tight. They are easy to spot in the woods before everything greens up.

Beech combined
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud and leaves.

Remember all that snow and how heavy it was? If you find trees arching over a trail or at odd angles in the woods, that may be a sign that it survived a heavy load of snow like these hemlocks. Trees are amazingly resilient and strong.

hemlocks_in_snow1_JLundgren
Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches bent down by the weight of the snow.

Before long the trees will be greening up and a new season of growth, with the sounds of birds, insects, and wildlife, will return. Take a walk through the woods. Look how small we are compared to the trees!

Bennington
Immersed in the woods on a trail at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site.

Do you feel inspired, in awe, empowered or claustrophobic under a canopy of trees? More than 80% of NY State Parks and Historic Sites are covered in forest, so you can find spots like this in a park near you.

COHF_ClayPit_F16LUN20s01_tree_canopy
Tree canopy at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Staten Island.

Perhaps you prefer viewing the trees from a distance or sitting under a favorite tree. NYS Historic Sites are great places for this: Crown Point on Lake Champlain (below), Olana on the Hudson, Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, Lorenzo in Cazenovia, or Hyde Hall at Glimmerglass are a few spots to enjoy big trees.

Crown Pt
Crown Point State Historic Site offers scenic vistas and some beautiful trees.

Take a little time this Arbor Day to appreciate our tall tree friends and spring into action with some walks in the woods or a stroll along a tree-lined path.

Post and photos by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program, NYNHP. NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks to survey and map rare species and natural communities in the parks to aid in stewardship of their natural resources.

American Robin – Nature’s Harbinger of Spring

The last snow on the ground has finally melted away. It’s early spring. The first hints of warmth are beating down from the sun. Life, for as long as you can remember, has been cold and white… has it been 6 weeks? No, maybe 2 months… longer? Who knows how long it has been since you’ve seen green grass, but it is a glorious sight. The bright green of new growth surrounds you. You finally get a chance to sit out on your back deck with a nice cocktail after work when all of a sudden you hear a “whinney” from a tree in your side yard… you know this sound. It means spring is officially here. And as if it knew you were thinking of it, a flash of orange descends onto your yard on a mission for a tasty treat.

The American robin, Turdus migratorius (Latin for migratory thrush), is the first sign of spring for many in northern North America. Though its range stretches south into areas where it can be viewed year around, it is typically one of the earliest birds to lay its eggs during the spring breeding season. These resourceful thrushes make their nest out of anything from paper to twigs. They will smear mud to hold the nest all together and often will make a soft lining out of grass. A protected and safe nesting site can sometimes produce up to three broods with multiple chicks in one year.

American_Robin_Nest_with_Eggs
Robin eggs, photo by Laslovarga (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Common
With a sleek gray to brown back and head and a rusty orange chest and belly, there isn’t any other bird in North America that can really be mistaken for an American robin. When in flight, a white patch under the tail and lower belly can be noticed. Sexual dimorphism, or the visual difference between male and female, within this species isn’t very noticeable, but the female does tend to have a more pale head.

This large member of the thrush family uses a wide range of habitats from wide open spaces like lawns and tundra, to neighborhoods with scattered trees and shrubs, as well as deciduous and evergreen woodlands. Robins are often found hopping along or standing erect on a lawn searching for invertebrates, such as earthworms or grubs, but can also be seen in bushes and trees feeding on caterpillars, fruits and berries. Typically, a robin’s diet changes throughout the day, with more yummy earthworms in the morning — thus the phrase “the early bird catches the worm” — and more delectable berries in the afternoon. During the late fall and winter months, they often gather in large flocks (sometimes numbering close to 250,000 individuals!) to eat berries and roots that are still available. Sometimes, when winter flocks feed exclusively on crabapples or honeysuckle berries, they can become intoxicated due to the fermentation of sugars in the berries! When birds become intoxicated from fermented berries, most are just a bit tipsy and you might not be able to notice any signs. However, when some birds overdo it, they may have trouble perching, hopping/walking, and controlling their flight, often crashing into branches and each other. Sadly, this also includes crashing into larger obstacles, like buildings, which can lead to the bird’s death.

Cousin to the musical hermit thrush and wood thrush, the robin is also an impressive songster. However, as one of the first birds to sing at dawn – or predawn – they make many a camper grumpy from the early wake-up call. The song is a loud, repeated musical whistle that ascends and descends through a series of notes. They have a variety of calls ranging from an alarm ‘yeep chuck’ to a loud ‘whinney’. To hear their songs and calls, or to learn some more cool facts about American Robins, visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  Get started by listening to robins call below.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Only 40% of nests produce offspring
  • Only 25% of young robins survive the first year
  • The average lifespan is 2 years; longest known is 14 years
  • State bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin
  • They occur across almost all of Canada and the United States
  • Known to winter as far south as Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and Cuba
  • Was featured on the Canadian $2 bill (no longer in use)

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks

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

 

Early Spring Migrants

Signs of spring are beginning to show in the great northeast. The days are getting longer, skunk cabbage is beginning to erupt from the cold ground and birds that have been afar for the winter months are beginning to return to New York State. One may think “What birds? The birds have been here all winter.” True, not all of our native bird species in New York migrate south for the winter months. Birds such as chickadees, northern cardinals, and red tailed hawks tough out the winter, anticipating the spring breeding season (see prior blog post on overwintering birds).  But far more birds winter in South America, Central America, and the southern USA and make the long journey back to NY in the spring. It is an exhausting flight; the birds must make short stops to fuel up on available food and take a quick rest, then up to the sky to continue their journey. Upon arrival at their breeding/nesting grounds, whether in New York State or farther north, there is little time for rest or replenishment of their lost fat reserves from the long journey. The birds must stake out nesting territory, defend it, find a mate and start building the nest that they will care for, around the clock, in the weeks to come.

Keep your ears and eyes out for the early returning migrants, the birds that are first to arrive in the months of March and April. Before describing some of the species one may encounter while bird watching, lets discover the difference between bird calls and songs, primarily applying to passerines or “song birds”. A call is a brief simple sound like a chip note, peep, or chatter. A song is a longer sound segment, usually with distinctive melody such as a series of notes strung together. Calls can be heard all winter from our resident bird population, but in spring the songs begin. Songs are typically related to courtship and establishing territory. Bird sounds (song, hoot, chatter…etc.) are also very useful in assisting bird watchers with identification, as bird vocals are distinct to individual species.

Additional tips that help with bird identification are size, coloration or plumage, and habitat use. Pick a bird you are familiar with, say the American Crow, and think about the size of the bird you are trying to identify. Having an idea of what size the bird is can help you narrow down what the species is from one that may look similar but is larger or smaller than the bird you are trying to identify. Plumage (feather pattern) is very important when identifying birds and can also be very frustrating! However, the more you bird watch, the better you will get at noticing the differences between species.  Habitat type can also help narrow down what species a bird is. For example, if you are observing a bird in a wetland and you think you know what the bird is, but you’re bird guide says that bird is primarily found in dry open fields – you will have to continue looking. All of these factors combined; sound, size, plumage, and habitat use are useful tools in assisting the observer with identifying a bird.

Early Returning Migrants: Meet the Birds!

Passerines or Song Birds

Red-winged Blackbird

These birds often travel in large flocks and can be found nesting in wet marshy or shrubby habitat. A medium sized bird; the male has a distinctive red patch on the upper wing. The female looks very different in color, being a light brownish hue with darker streaking.

Length: 8.75 inches      Wing Span: 13 inches     Weight: 52 grams

Listen to a red-winged blackbird sing –

Martin St-Michel, XC137984. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/137984.

House Wren

The House Wren is smaller in size than the Red-winged Black Bird, weighing about 41 grams less. Both female and male House Wrens have similar plumage (meaning they look the same). Wrens in general are noted for the characteristic pose seen in the picture, with their tail feathers and head up in the air. The House Wren nests in dense brushy habitat, usually within woods. They will also take to bird boxes.

House_Wren_-_Colombia_S4E0879_(16980757130)
House Wren, By Francesco Veronesi from Italy (House Wren – Colombia_S4E0879) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Length: 4.75 inches      Wing Span: 6 inches    Weight: 11 grams

Listen to the song of a male house wren: 

Antonio Xeira, XC305012. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/305012

Common Yellowthroat

The Common Yellowthroat is a warbler and one of the first warblers to arrive in New York. The Common Yellowthroat is a small bird, similar in size to the House Wren. The male has a distinctive black mask, outlined in white – which the female lacks. Warblers in general are very colorful and eye catching. The Common Yellowthroat nests in wet marshy and brushy habitats.

Length: 5 inches      Wing Span: 6.75 inches     Weight: 10 grams

Listen to a male common yelllowthroat sing: 

Jorge de Leon Cardozo and Susan Hochgraf, XC181589. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/181589

Plovers

Killdeer

The Killdeer is an interesting bird, in that it has the unique behavior of displaying a broken-wing act to draw predators away from their nest. So if you see the act, consider yourself lucky, but do not approach! Killdeer are in the plover family, which primarily are a shore bird. However, the Killdeer can be found nesting on open ground in many habitat types, such as agricultural fields, parking lots, and sandy/bare ground areas. Their vocals sound similar to “Killdeer” and they have two distinctive black rings on their chest. Killdeer are larger than the song birds previously discussed, but smaller then a crow.

Length: 10.5 inches     Wing Span: 24 inches    Weight: 95 grams

Listen to a killdeer call: 

James Bradley, XC302258. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/302258.

Herons

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Herons have long legs for wading in water and can be over three feet tall! These birds have a diet composed of fish, frogs, and invertebrates (organisms lacking a spine, such as bugs and insects). Therefore they rely on open water to forage and find food and can be found anywhere from marshy wetlands, rivers, lakes and flooded areas to the shores of the ocean. Look for Herons as the waterbodies began to thaw in spring. These birds nest in rookeries with dozens of nests built of large sticks in a single tree or group of trees, usually within a wetland.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron, OPRHP

Length: 46 inches     Wing Span: 72 inches    Weight: 2,400 grams/ 5.3 pounds

Listen to a great blue heron call: 

Ian Cruickshank, XC210126. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/210126.

Raptors

Osprey

Ospreys are a large raptor – meaning they are carnivores. Primarily eating fish, they hover high in the air over water and then dive, talons first, at their prey. They can be found along the shores of river, lakes, and the sea and build huge nests compiled of sticks. The nests can be built on the crotch of a tree, utility poles, or platforms specifically installed for osprey nesting. Typically these birds mate for life, meaning once a pair bond is formed; it lasts until one of the birds dies. Ospreys will return to the same nesting site year after year, adding more to their nest as they see fit. Look for these birds as the water bodies begin to thaw, and their characteristic hovering behavior.

Jason Kazuta hancockwildife.org
Osprey, Jason Kazuta, http://www.hancockwildlife.org/forum/viewtopic.php?showtopic=756&page=55

Length: 23 inches     Wing Span: 63 inches    Weight: 1,600 grams/ 3.5 pounds

Listen to an osprey call: 

Paul Marvin, XC145834. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/145834

Now that you have learned about some of the early returning migrants, grab a good bird field guide, a pair of binoculars and a birding buddy and head to your local State or Town Park! Remember that these birds are under physical stress from their long migration, so avoid flushing or pushing them with your presence (don’t chase them). View with binoculars from a comfortable distance and maybe you will observe courtship behavior or the gathering of nesting material.

*Bird length, wingspan , weight and habitat preference obtained from The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America by David Sibley.

Post by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP, Wildlife Specialist