Tag Archives: winter

Nest Hunt

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.

Habitat

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.

Height

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.

Shape

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.

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Nest Materials

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:

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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.

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photo by Julie Lundgren

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.

ChippingSparrowHamlin

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.

GoldfinchMaybe

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.

Osprey _WellesleyIsland

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 EvangolaSP (MN)

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.

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photo by Henry T. McLin

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.

Drey

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.

MiceUsingNestbox

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.

Learn more about New York’s winter bird nests:

Boring, Mel. Birds, Nests, and Eggs, Milwaukee, Wis.: Gareth Stevens, 1998.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

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.

Heinrich, Bernd, Which Bird Made That Nest? Northland Woods, 2009.

Massachusetts Audubon Society, Nests in Winter.

West Virginia Wildlife Magazine, What’s That Clump of Leaves?

 

Enjoy Winter – Get the Kids Outside

It’s cold outside, it takes forever to get the kids bundled up and out the door. Is it worth all the trouble? You bet! You don’t need a lot of planning, just a few tips and tricks to encourage kids – and you – to enjoy the outdoors in winter.

Bundle Up

Look for hats and hoods that are not just fun or cute, but that are also warm and comfy (and don’t keep falling over their eyes). Warm and waterproof boots, mittens – not gloves – to keep those fingers warm, and a scarf if it is really nippy or windy out. For the little ones, mitten clips or strings keeps them from getting lost. If it is sunny, don’t forget to apply some sunscreen on the face and ears, and fair eyed kids and adults may want sunglasses.

Build a Snow Sculpture

We all hope for snow! Building snow people or forts or animals, small or large is always fun. My father once built us a snow duck we could sit on. Look for leaves, sticks, and berries on the ground to decorate your snow sculpture with.

Let’s Go Sledding! Snowshoeing! Hiking!

Many parks have places for sledding. Pick the size of slope that is right for the kids and a location without trees or other hazards. Likewise, choose the right size route for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and make it fun. If there is no snow, there are still lots of places to hike. Avoid icy trails. You can find flat trails around a lake or campground or on bike paths that are good for beginner snowshoeing and hiking with or without snow. Some of the nature centers even have snowshoes to borrow. Start small and work up to a longer outing. Older kids may enjoy the challenge of a longer day out; just remember to bring lunch and water and plan for some stops.

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Learn to ski! Photo by Anneli Salo, accessed from Wikicommons

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Sledding is always fun.

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Out for a hike.

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Accessed from Wikicommons

Look for Animals Kids are good at spotting animals and animal tracks. Stop and look and listen for squirrels and birds in the bushes and trees. You don’t need to be able to identify what animal it is, just take the time to look. Where do the tracks go? Are they big or small? What kind of animal do you think it might be? Common animal tracks to see in the winter at the park are squirrels, dogs, birds, snowshoe hare, and deer.

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Chickadees will sometimes come to a little birdseed in your outstretched hand.

Need a little help? Take part in a park-led activity like a snowshoe hike or ice fishing day.

Be an Explorer 

There are all kinds of cool things to see in winter. Take the time to look around, it’s amazing what you can find. Some kids are naturally curious, others may need a little encouragement or direction to get started. If so, make a game out of it like a scavenger hunt for shapes, colors and/or things. Try this: find a sign of 1 animal; a place where an animal might hide; the shape of the letters U,V,X,Y; something green, something blue.

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Ski tracks form nice V’s

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Do you see a ‘U’?, photo by Julie Lundgren

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A hollow tree trunk is a place animals could hide, photo by Julie Lundgren
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Light green lichen decorates this hemlock log, photo by Julie Lundgren

 

Take a Break – Bring a Treat

Bring a little treat and stop outside on a log or a bench to have a snack and water.  Tangerines, raisins, apple slices, pretzels, nuts are some healthy choices but a little chocolate or a cookie doesn’t hurt. Bringing a thermos and having hot chocolate or tea to have outside seems really special after sledding or midway through a hike or ski.19_kid smiling with snowball

Know when to come indoors

If it is really cold or windy, pay attention to signs of getting too cold. Noses, ears, and fingers can easily get cold and frostbite may happen when the temperatures drop. Get out of the cold if any of you can’t feel your fingers or toes or start shivering. And plan your outing so you are done well before the daylight dims, as temperatures drop when the sun goes down.20_winter_painting2_JLundgrenPost by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program.

More outdoor fun ideas:

Appalachian Mountain Club, 20 Outdoor Activities Kids Can Do Anywhere

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become An Outdoor Explorer

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become a Winter Wildlife Detective!

Flies that Know Snow

On a warm afternoon this winter, keep an eye out for snow flies walking on the snow.  Snow flies are typically a yellow brown to light brown fly with a body of about one quarter inch long, not including their long legs. Snow flies are wingless – scientists assume that they lost their wings because it takes too much energy to fly in winter. However, being wingless makes the snow flies more at risk of being eaten by predators. This may be why we see them in winter when there are fewer predators out. Snow flies are similar to woolly bear caterpillars and wood frogs, in that their bodies produce a natural antifreeze that prevents these small insects from freezing during winter.

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Adult snow fly, note the fly’s long legs, photo by Brandon Woo.

Little is known about the life history of snow flies. Scientists have found that females lay eggs in the winter. In the lab, eggs hatch in as little as eight days or as long as three weeks. But where the female lays her eggs, what the larvae eat, how long the larvae take to develop into adults, and where the larvae or adults live in winter remains a mystery.

Giant Eastern Crane Fly on the screen
Giant eastern crane fly clings to a window screen, Bob Travis, accessed from Flickr.

Snow flies are related to crane flies, like the above giant eastern crane fly (Pedicia albivitta).  You may have seen a giant eastern crane fly clinging to window screens in the late summer.  At first glance, you might have thought it was a large mosquito. But if you look carefully, you will notice that the crane fly does not have a proboscis – or tube mouth – like a mosquito. Since they can’t bite you, it is safe to hold them in your hand to take a closer look.

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Chionea scita, photo by Tom Murray, accessed from Bugguide

One common New York snow fly is Chionea scita that was first described in 1848. The translation of this fly’s scientific name is snow (chion in Greek) knows (scita in Latin).

If you see any snow flies this winter, please let us know!

References

BugGuide Chionea scita

 Byers, George W. The crane fly genus Chionea in North America, 1983. University of Kansas Science Bulletin.

Catalogue of the Craneflies of the World

Hansen, Amy. Bugs And Bugsicles : Insects In The Winter  Honesdale, Pa. : Boyds Mills Press, 2010.

Schrock, John Richard. Snow Flies, The Kansas School Naturalist, Volume 38, Number 2 – May 1992, updated 2005.

Wikipedia Chionea

Featured image: Chionea by MUSE, accessed from WikiCommons.

A Real Winter Wonderland

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.

Nicole Czarnecki
Overlooking the frozen Cave of the Winds Staircase, photo by Nicole Czarnecki.

 

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Impromptu snowball fight, photo by Nicole Czarnecki.
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Frozen tree just before the Falls, photo by Nicole Czarnecki.

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 Express Newspaper 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.

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Light show in January 2014 during the Polar Vortex, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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People standing on ice above the Falls 1909, photo from Niagara Falls Pubic Library.

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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.

Post by Kristin King, State Parks

Ice Fishing 101

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Young ice fisherman with a perch, photo by State Parks

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.

Auger
Drilling the hole with an auger, by https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Kairaus_%28edit%29.jpg

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.

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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.

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Proper clothing helps make an ice fishing trip enjoyable, photo by DEC Fisheries

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.

Be sure to look through a current copy of the New York Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide before heading out for regulations on ice fishing.  Be safe and have fun.

Post by DEC Fisheries