Small predator furbearers are some of the most fun, and most uncommon, animals to see in the wild. And mink are some of the most secretive in this group! Minks are in the weasel family and can grow to about the size of a housecat. Unlike weasels however, mink do not change color in winter. Mink are generally dark furred, with a distinctive white patch on their chins. Mink seem to be more common in the southern tier of New York State, so keep an eye out for these adorable buggers on your hikes in that area.
Mink were traditionally prized and trapped for their soft, glossy coats. Mink coats were a status symbol in the early 20th century, with most coats made from wild-caught mink. However, the 1950s through the 1970s saw a large increase in the production of farmed mink, especially from Europe, which reduced the burden on the wild populations. Today, trapping licenses for mink are available through the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the season is open when the population can withstand normal trapping pressures. DEC reports that the mink population is stable and able to sustain the trapping that still exists.
Mink are excellent swimmers, and they can also climb trees. Their clawed and webbed feet make them versatile predators. They are opportunistic predators, meaning they prey on crayfish, frogs, lizards, eggs, earthworms- pretty much anything they can find! They prefer wetland, or stream habitats, and will actually use existing burrows for their dens. They prefer muskrat holes, and some individuals have even been reported to evict (and eat) a resident muskrat to use a preferred hole.
Don’t forget to report mink and any other furbearers you see to DEC, to help with annual population data collection on these seldom seen species:
Among the many recreational outdoor activities available in our state parks, hunting is one that many may overlook. Hunting is a long-standing tradition in our nation, both as a necessity and an opportunity to be connected with the outdoors. Hunting is a safe and economically important activity; providing an excellent source of food and promoting family traditions while nurturing an understanding and respect for the environment and the complexity in which it functions. Today, an individual looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities must first complete a hunter safety course, and obtain a hunting license. The hunter safety course will provide instruction on firearm/ bow safety and planning a hunt, by providing information about the biology of the game species in New York State.
During this fall season many New York residents and out-of-staters will venture out into the woods and wetlands to take part in the multiple hunting seasons that New York State has to offer. Among the vast huntable acreage across the state are properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Parks. In State Parks alone there are about 80 parks, 3 historic sites, 3 golf courses and 50 boat launches that provide opportunities to hunt an array of wildlife from small game, waterfowl to big game species like bear and deer.
Being a hunter – what does it take?
Let’s take a step back and investigate what is involved in becoming a hunter. Besides the hunter safety course and a New York State Hunting license, the hunter must understand the biology of the animal and how that animal interacts with its habitat. Hunters have to be keen observers in order to be successful. Let’s learn about some of the signs a hunter looks for when pursuing whitetail deer.
Deer Path: Deer tend to travel through the forest in a path of least resistance – clear of downed trees and shrubs. Over time these paths become visible as the deer travel them regularly, just like a hiking trail.
Tree Rubs: Male deer, or “bucks”, will make rubs on small trees with their antlers to mark their territory, deposit scent and declare their presence to other deer. A hunter must look for rubs in the woods and learn how to tell the difference between and old rub and a new rub. This can be done by closely looking at the tree. A new rub will have the presence of shavings or sawdust on top of the leaf litter that are scraped off when the buck makes a rub. Additionally a new rub will be contrastingly much lighter in color compared to an old rub that is weathered and darker.
Whitetail Buck Rubbing Tree. Photo by Frank Hildebrand
A hunter examines a deer rub, photo by Keleigh Reynolds
Scat: Where deer eat, they poop! A hunter will look for fresh scat (poop) as evidence of recent activity. Fresh scat will be on top of the leaf litter – whereas old scat will be noticeably under leaves and sticks.
Old deer scat, photo by Lilly Schelling
New deer scat, photo by Lilly Schelling
Sounds: Deer make a variety of sounds including a soft bleat, grunting, stomping with their hooves, and blowing air. The varying sounds and body language have different meanings. For example a deer may stomp their hooves and blow air out their nose when they smell or see a person in the woods. Observing how deer interact with each other and the sight and scent of humans helps a hunter better understand deer behavior.
A hunter should look for signs of deer well before the hunting season begins to learn the habits of the animal he/she is hunting. Equally important is practice, practice, practice! To be proficient with a firearm or bow a hunter must hone their skills year round. Hunting isn’t easy, it takes practice, time and a lot of patience to be successful. There are many hunter safety education courses available through DEC including the popular “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) series. Take a look for yourself.
Is kayaking on your bucket list? Have you ever wanted to try it? Paddle sports are on the rise according to paddle sport statistics and kayaking is the most popular form of paddling. Kayaking allows you to experience new things and have your own unique experience with nature. Being only a few inches off the water and a few feet away from wildlife, you gain a new connection and understanding of the natural world around you. Kayaking is a recreational activity that is fun for all ages.
Looking forward, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Kayaking group, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
And the west branch of Twelve Mile Creek at Wilson Tuscarora State Park
Beaver Island State Park Kayak Experience
Escape the daily grind, leave the phones and tablets behind and join us for a kayak lesson. Learn about kayaks, paddles, apparel and how to be safe on the water.
We’ll start our journey by launching off the EZ Dock Launcher, where you just put your kayak (which we supply) down on the rollers and roll off into the water.
As soon as you’re floating on the water, chances are you will float right into a patch of fragrant water lilies, which are scattered all throughout the lagoon.
Water lily in flower, photo by Tina Spence, State Parks
Water lily patch, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Along with the aquatic plants, there is an abundance of wildlife. You can witness Great Blue Herons wading in the shallow waters or flying overhead, while common terns are diving next to you trying to catch their next meal!
Great Blue Heron are common in the marshes and shores, photo by State Parks
Common Terns can make a lot of noise, but are fun to watch in flight, photo by State Parks
In the lagoon, we have an Osprey nesting platform. From our kayaks below we have had the pleasure of seeing the parent birds keeping watch over their chicks.
Osprey nesting platform, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Oprey in flight near our kayaks, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Swimming right below our kayaks is a diverse group of aquatic life such as fish and turtles, while flying around us are dragonflies and damselflies.
Our evening kayak classes are often accompanied by the ever telling song of the bull frog, singing along with the cicadas which are heard all throughout the park on any given summer day.
Bull frog, photo by State Parks
Cicada, photo by Matt Nusstein, State Parks
Getting out on the water with us can give you a chance to see all of this; but also give you a new understanding of kayaking as a sport, learn more efficient ways of paddling, and a few tricks of the trade. So what are you waiting for? Find a kayak class near you and see where your next adventure will take you. We are here. Where are you?
Post by Tina Spencer and Kelly Sieman, OPRHP, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, Park Naturalists
Twenty miles east of New York City, on Long Island, over six million people every year head to Jones Beach State Park for some fun in the sun. This popular beach also happens to be one of the most popular spots in New York State for the endangered Piping plover to nest. The Piping plover is a small, sandy colored shorebird with yellow/orange legs, and a black band strapped across its neck. After they arrive, they chow down on a diet made up of mostly invertebrates (think insects and mollusks), and make their homes at the base of the dunes. Unfortunately, due to extensive hunting in the 19th century for their feathers along with increased beach recreation post-World War II their populations have seen a steep decline. Plover stewards are tasked with reversing this downward trend and protecting these shorebirds from the bevy of visitors. Every summer, the conservation efforts begin with the construction of a “symbolic fence.”
Symbolic fence is erected all along the beach in areas where plovers nest and is a simple combination of metal posts, orange string, and orange flagging. Once the fences are built and the plovers arrive, it’s up to the plover stewards to find the nests. Unlike a songbird, piping plovers nest on the ground in round, shallow depressions called “scrapes.” To create a scrape, male plovers walk around the dunes finding locations they would like to nest, then simply scoop out the sand with their feet. They make several scrapes, so females have a variety of spots to choose as a nest. Once they choose a scrape, the plovers will line the pit with shell fragments to reinforce the ground where the eggs will be laid. Plovers will leave and return to their scrape via the same routes forming “Highways.”
Piping plover broken wing display. Photo by Kim Rondinella.
A newly hatched Piping Plover chick! Photo by Kim Rondinella.
Running piping plover chick. Photo by Kim Rondinella.
Plover stewards use observable highways along with sightings of broken wing displays to determine how close they are to a nest. Plovers feign being injured to draw attention away from their nest and chicks. They lure the predator to follow them by stealthily walking out of the nest and pretending to have a broken wing. As they parade, they tempt the potentially voracious animals away from the nest, only to fly away at the last second before being captured! Even though they use sneaky tactics, the plovers still need some help. So, every year plover stewards build shelters called exclosures around the nests which keep out hungry animals. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry is conducting a study to assess the effectiveness of exclosures. They do this by comparing predation of exclosed nests versus non- exclosed nests.
Come June, the exclosures become obsolete as the eggs begin to hatch. Newly hatched chicks can’t fly and are still in danger of being crushed by vehicles driving on the beach. Public vehicles are therefore not allowed on the beach during this time. At State Parks there is still a need for park vehicles to travel the beach for daily tasks, such as trash removal and maintaining the mounds of sand in front of the lifeguard chairs. Plover stewards escort the vehicles to help keep the chicks safe. It takes chicks between 28-35 days to fledge, or to learn how to fly. During this time the chick will transform from looking like a cotton ball on sticks to an almost identical version of its parents.
Long walks on the beach watching these plovers grow- up may sound glorious, but there are some occupational hazards to being a plover steward. During a plover survey walk it’s impossible to avoid another shorebird nesting in the dune habitat: the threatened Least tern. Unlike plovers, Least terns guard their nests viciously: dive-bombing, squawking, and even defecating on anything that comes near including a plover steward. Yet there are strategies that a plover steward can use to happily coexist with the Least terns! These are including but not limited to walking slowly and confidently and placing a long stick in his/her backpack.
By the end of August, the plovers along with the Least terns will fly thousands of miles south for their annual migration. For many plover stewards it is hard to see these tiny shorebirds leave after months of meticulous observation. But they will be back next year!
Post by Keegan Mobley and Allison Philpott, Jones Beach State Park Plover Stewards and Student Conservation Association members