It is without question that Niagara Falls State Park is one of the most beautiful places our state and country has to offer, drawing an average of nine million tourists every year. People come from all over the world to experience the power and wonder that is Niagara Falls. Designated as a national historic site and the nation’s very first state park, it comes as no surprise the amount of attention it receives.
However, something most people miss out on is the endless beauty of Niagara Falls in the winter. Watching the cascading water crash through the pure white snow and ice creates a unique and memorable experience only attainable during the winter. Visiting the Falls in the wintertime offers tourists stunning views and the beauty of freezing mist covering the landscape.
The newly constructed Cave of the Winds pre-show attraction is now open year-round and offers audiences interactive and virtual exhibits as well as an escape from the chilly temperatures.
Although the Park has received some attention recently pertaining to the beautiful winter wonderland, some articles have mentioned the falls being “iced over” or “freezing over”. It is important to note that the only documented incident of the Falls being frozen completely came in March of 1848 when the Buffalo ExpressNewspaper stated the cause to be ice damming at the mouth of Lake Erie. The installation of an ice boom at the mouth of the Niagara River has made the likelihood of this event recurring very low if not impossible. Even during the infamous Polar Vortex of 2014 the Falls continued to flow.
This does not mean that it has not come very close to freezing since then. During the early 1900’s tourists would often walk out onto “ice bridges” forming across the top of the Falls. This activity proved to be very dangerous and was forbidden after February 1914.
All photos provided by State Parks Naturalist Nicole Czarnecki were taken during the Winter Wonder Photography hike. Look for other events at Niagara Falls and surrounding parks this winter on their Facebook page.
Ice fishing opportunities abound in New York State. Winter anglers can catch a variety of fish; primarily perch, sunfish, pickerel, northern pike and walleye. In addition, many waters throughout the State are open to fishing for trout, lake trout and landlocked salmon.
Ice fishing requires doing a little homework. Learning about the equipment needed, proper clothing, safety precautions, the water you want to fish, and fishing regulations are all part of a successful, enjoyable winter fishing experience. Accompanying a friend on an ice fishing outing or visiting a tackle shop in a popular ice fishing area can be great ways to learn about the skills and equipment needed. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) ice fishing webpage also has some very good information to help you get started and lists some of the waters where you can ice fish. Pay particular attention to the ice safety section. There are also a number of free fishing clinics held in New York each year, including ice fishing clinics.
DEC and State Parks will co-host a free ice fishing clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 17, at Glimmerglass State Park in the town of Springfield, Otsego County. The event will be moved to the public boat launch at Canadarago Lake just south of Richfield Springs on NYS Route 28 if there is not sufficient ice on Otsego Lake. Find out if the clinic is going to run by contacting Glimmerglass State Park at 607-547-8662.
In order to ice fish, you must first cut a hole in the ice. An ice auger is a good way to accomplish this. Ice augers come in a variety of sizes, so try to use an auger that is appropriate to the species of fish you are after. You will also need an ice scoop to clean slush and ice chunks out of the hole after it is cut.
Ice fishing methods include “jigging” with short, light fishing rods and using tip-ups. There are many different kinds of jigging poles and tip-ups available. Jigging involves the use of a jigging rod and either an ice jig or a small jigging spoon which is often tipped with a piece of bait. Spikes and mousies (maggots) are a good bait to use for smaller panfish, while minnows are often used for larger species. By jigging your bait (raising the rod tip up and down a few inches), you help attract fish to your bait. Generally, you will jig the bait a few times, then pause for a few seconds. Fish usually take the bait during the pause.
A tip-up is basically a spool on a stick that holds a baited line suspended through a hole in the ice. When the bait – usually a minnow – is taken by a fish, the pull on the line releases a signal, such as a red flag.
Placing the tip-up, photo by DEC Fisheries
Tip-up ready to catch a fish, photo by DEC Fisheries
Fish in similar areas you would during other seasons: weed lines, humps, depth changes, points, or other structure. Contour maps can help you find some of these places. Early morning or late afternoon tend to be the most productive times of day to fish.
Proper clothing is critical for safe ice fishing outings. Dress warmly, paying extra attention to your head, feet and hands – dressing in layers is essential.
“Ever since I was young, the story about bears was always the same. Bears hibernated all winter long, usually in a cave and would emerge in the spring. I have since learned a bit more about the environment and ecology and have found that there is much more to the story,” said State Parks staff member Patty Wakefield-Brown.
Hibernation occurs when an animal’s body temperature drops and its breathing and heart rate slows, thus lowering the metabolism of the animal, and conserving the animal’s energy. Bears are not “true” hibernators. They sleep for long periods of time but are easily awakened and, if the winter is mild, bears may wake to eat. This behavior is termed torpor, a state or inactivity achieved primarily by a greatly lowered (reduced) body temperature for hours, days or months. Only woodchucks, jumping mice, and cave bats are the “true” mammal hibernators in New York State.
Taking a long winter nap when food is scarce and weather is bad is a great adaptation for bears. While in a state of torpor, a bear will not urinate or defecate in the den. Their bodies absorb the urea and turn it into protein, which is needed during the long winter months.
During hibernation, female bears (sows) give birth and nurse their cubs. Females have delayed implantation, meaning that the egg is not implanted in the uterus unless the female bear has the energy, weight, or does not have the physical requirements to provide for the cubs during pregnancy and just after birth, the egg is released and there is no pregnancy. That is amazing. While in the den, sows wake up in January or February to give birth, generally 2-3 cubs. Black bear cubs are born altricial, which means helpless, hairless, and blind. Cubs remain with the mother for a year and a half or more before they disperse or she forces them out.
Bears generally emerge from their dens in late March and early April and are primarily interested in two things; eating and reproducing. Mating occurs in May or June. Males and females are sexually mature at around four years of age.
With the human population increasing and more and more land being transformed to accommodate this increase, the natural habitat of the American Black Bear is being minimized. Because of this, there is a greater likelihood that a person will have an encounter with a black bear. Wildlife biologists collar and collect data from bears to learn about their populations, home range, health and preferences for den sites. Like all wildlife that we share our environments with, keeping track of this data helps to create local and regional management plans.
Collecting Data on Sows and Cubs
“While a college student, I took a two- semester black bear management class. We worked with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to assist in the creation of a database regarding den site criteria. We were able to accompany DEC staff on bear den visits in mid-March and collect data about the bears. The bears were outfitted with telemetry collars which enabled them to be found when they were in their dens during the winter months,” noted Patty Wakefield-Brown.
‘Photo 1’ below shows the DEC staff gently removing the tranquilized bear from the den; the entrance was on quite a steep slope.
The bear was a female that had been previously collared. The purpose of the den visit was to change collars and to collect data including weight, visual appearance, take blood samples and note whether any cubs are present. DEC staff also inspected the den, described its location, (i.e. old log, brush/thicket, hillside, under porch, etc.), took measurements of the den’s interior, what materials den was comprised of, and the amount of cover, and noted the den’s proximity to humans, houses, and roads.
“On this day there were three cubs in the den with the sow. As the mom was being ‘processed’ we got to hold the cubs to determine their age. The way to age young cubs was to measure the hair on the tops of their heads (between their ears) or inside their ears, from the tragus to the tip of the ear (Photo 2) (Bridges et al. 2002). When all the data was collected, the mom was placed back into the den comfortably with her cubs (Photo 3)” recalled Patty Wakefield-Brown.
Photo 2, by Patty Wakefield-Brown.
When bears disperse, they sometimes wander into populated areas creating human-bear conflicts. That was the case in October 2010, when a young male bear wander onto the Rochester Institute for Technology campus in Henrietta. The DEC natural resource managers ‘captured’ the bear and took him to a facility to collect data on him before he was relocated (Photo 4). The bear management class was invited to observe the event. After the bear was tranquilized, a patch was put over the bear’s eyes, so that they don’t dry out (the bears don’t blink when anesthetized). Blood samples were taken, ears were are tagged and a tooth was taken to age the bear, also the inside of the lip was ‘tattooed’ with a number and a radio collar was placed on the bear (Photo 5).The process was done very methodically and quickly. The bear was then released into the Hi-Tor Wilderness Area.
Photo 4, by Patty Wakefield-Brown.
Photo 5, by Patty Wakefield-Brown.
Winter slumbering bears are an essential part of the the ecosystems found in New York State parks. They are part of the splendor of the natural world that mesmerizes us and holds us captive in its magic. If you are lucky, you might get a chance to capture some of that magic if you see a bear in a New York State Park next summer.
Post and photos by Patty Wakefield-Brown, OPRHP.
Bridges, A.S., Olfenbuttel, C Vaughan, M.R. (2002). A Mixed Regression Model to Estimate Neonatal Black Bear Cub Age . Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 4.
Get outside to a State Park this New Year’s Day! New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) is putting RECREATION at the top of this year’s New Year’s resolution list with First Day Hikes. Now in its 5th year, First Day Hikes are a great way to help you get your New Year’s resolutions started on the right foot.
On January 1st State Parks is hosting 41 First Day Hikes in parks and historic sites across the state from eastern Long Island and Staten Island, to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, and much more. Hikes range from accessible, level walks; a leisurely stroll across the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, explorations of historic landscapes or quiet forest; dog-friendly rambles, mountain hikes, family-orientated activities and more. If there is snow, bring your skis or some parks have snowshoes you can borrow.
During your hike you’ll be able to meet new people, see new places, spend time with family and friends, get a bit of exercise, and enjoy time outdoors. Could there be a better way to spend the first day of 2016?
Remember to dress in warm layers, wear appropriate footwear, and bring water and a snack for your group. Most hikes range from one to three miles in length.
Remember your camera and please share your photos on State Parks’s Facebook Page!
Click here for a complete listing of “First Day Hike” events and registration guidelines.
Here delicate snow-stars, out of the cloud, Come floating down in airy play, Like spangles dropped from the glistening crowd That whiten by night the Milky Way.
Snow is that magical precipitation that turns our stark winter landscape into a winter wonderland; gives school children joy at the possibility of a day off – SNOW DAY; and gives commuters white knuckles as they navigate home on slippery roads. Snow is what we expect to see each winter here in New York State. But what is snow? How is it formed? Is it true that no two flakes are the same?
Snow will form in clouds between the temperatures of -39˚F and 32˚F. Clouds are mostly filled with tiny water droplets, tiny meaning that thousands can fit in a period. Microscopic dust and salt particles from the land and sea are also found in clouds.
As the dust and salt cool in a cloud, they attract the tiny water droplets which stick and freeze to the particles – beginingthe formation of a snow flake (or the scientific term snow crystal). These tiny snowflakes grow by collecting more water molecules. When they get too heavy to be in the cloud they start to fall to the ground. As they fall, they bump into other snowflakes causing pieces (tiny crystals) of the snowflake to break off which become new snow flakes. The humidity and temperature inside the clouds will determine which type of snowflake is formed. If the air is moist and warm (25o-32o F) large flakes will form. If it is cold and the cloud has little moisture, the snow that forms resembles tiny columns. Figure 1 illustrates how different types of snowflakes form in different cloud conditions.
Why do snowflakes have a six-sided symmetry? Snowflakes are six-sided because of the way that the individual water molecules connect together – they form hexagonal lattices which give the snowflakes six-sided symmetry.
Eight common types of snowflakes are:
Hexagonal Plate Crystal:
Six-sided flat crystals with various amounts of surface patterns. Largest of these can be just under ¼” across. Hexagonal plate crystals are found in most snow falls.
Stellar Crystal or Dendrite:
Stellar crystals are six-pointed star shaped snowflakes. These flakes can be up to 1/2″ across. They can be found in low numbers in most snow falls. Formed in the low atmosphere when the temperatures are not too cold and the humidity is high, sometimes the stellar crystal flakes join together to form large flakes that are 2” across. The gentle drifting of the stellar crystal flakes gives a tranquil feeling to snowfalls.
Forming in cold clouds and low moisture, column crystal flakes are six sided and can be hollow inside. During the winter, column crystals are commonly found in the high, wispy cirrus clouds. They help to create a halo around the moon on winter nights. The halo is created by moonlight streaming through these ¼” crystals. Rarely do these crystals fall to the ground.
Asymmetrical Crystals are another common snowflake. They appear to be many hexagonal plates stuck together and have been mistaken for stellar crystals. They are about 3/8” across.
Bullet crystals are column crystals that look like one end was sharpened with a pencil sharpener to form a hexagonal pyramid. They can be seen either singly or in groups of three, attached by the points of the pyramid.
Named for the Japanese drum of the same design, Tsuzumi crystals are column crystals with hexagonal plate crystals at each end. They form when the column crystals bump into the hexagonal plate crystals as the snow falls.
Needles are fine, six-sided columns with a point at each end; they range in length from ¼” to ¾” long. This is one of the most common types of snow flake in a snow storm. Sometimes the needle flakes freeze together during the descent forming conglomerate flakes. These conglomerate flakes quickly break apart as soon as the flakes hit the ground.
Stellar Hexagonal Plate Crystals:
Stellar Hexagonal Plate Crystals are some of the most stunning snowflakes. They form when either a stellar crystal goes through a hexagonal plate crystal cloud condition or a hexagonal plate crystal goes through a stellar crystal condition. These are some of the most common snowflakes in a storm.