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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Archive for September, 2008

Check out this caterpillar


What’s black and white and fuzzy all over? Why, it’s a hickory tussock moth caterpillar. I found this one crawling on a bush in my yard. cater.jpg

It seems these guys prefer to munch on, among other trees, elms, hickories and oaks — of which I have plenty in my yard.

The adult moths, I think, are a little less impressive color-wise, as you can see here.

Below is a video of this caterpillar as he crawled across a piece of my daughter’s play equipment.

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Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 at 3:33 pm |

A new owl


Sometime during the darkness of the early morning hours today, say about 3 a.m., I added a new owl to my list of local owls at home. The hooting hooting of a great-horned owl somewhere out in the woods surrounding my house woke me up at that hour. tjndc5-5diah389n9kek5oaa0c_layout-1.jpg

Great-horned owls are one of the most common and widespread owls. That makes it somewhat strange, then, that it’s taken 10 years for me to hear one at home. It’s the third species of owl I’ve heard. Both barred owls and Eastern screech owls are almost routine callers in the night at home.

Occasionally, the, well, screech screech of a screech owl tumbles through an open window, especially, it seems, on summer nights. As for barred owls, we hear their “who-cooks-for-you” song song quite routinely. I’ve even heard two separate owls calling back and forth to each other.

A “tasty” fact about great-horned owls is that they are the only animal that routinely eats skunks. Yum.

The photo above shows a great-horned owl, the one below is a barred owl. Both were taken by TJN photographer Ricky Flores. tjndc5-5diah2mooaaxxei7a0c_layout.jpg

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 at 12:22 pm |
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A massive mushroom


A giant puffball. No, it’s not a super-sized dust bunny but rather a massive mushroom. Eight-year-old Aaron Maniccio spotted the mushroom, actually called a giant puffball, growing in downtown Yorktown, according to his dad. Anthony Maniccio, the dad, is holding the mushroom in the photo. From a distance, he said, it looked like a Styrofoam ball. The fungus, he said, is about as big as a bowling ball with pockmarks that resemble the moon’s surface. mush.jpg

Giant puffballs can be as small as a softball and as large as a beach ball, according to various accounts. Here’s one that was found growing outside a bar in what sounds like Rhode Island.

Thanks to my colleague Brian Howard for tracking down the information about Yorktown’s giant mushroom.

(Photo by Joanne Cariello)

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, September 29th, 2008 at 12:26 pm |


Wildlife feeding frenzy


With winter approaching, deer, squirrels and other wildlife are packing on the pounds to make it through the colder months, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Some of their activities may be frustrating to homeowners, the HSUS points out, such as woodpeckers banging on your house in search of insects or squirrels digging up your lawn to bury acorns. To weather wildlife’s annual “feeding frenzy,” the society offered some tips on how homeowners and wildlife can peacefully coexist. tjndc5-5b5kf8gegxf2dzf4ezi_layout.jpg

“Problem 1: Holes in house siding

Woodpeckers drill mightily on house siding, looking for rotted wood and insects beneath. On cedar, this loud sound — and resulting damage — can be alarming.

Solution: Mylar

Attach silvery Mylar bird tape or balloons above where the drilling occurs, to scare the birds away.

Problem 2: Holes in the lawn

Squirrels are burying acorns and other nuts in the lawn.

Solution: Do nothing

Do nothing! These holes are merely cosmetic and do not hurt the lawn.

Problem 3: Garbage raids

Mammals like raccoons may tip garbage cans and skunks, opossums, crows and gulls may join in the feast.

Solution: Put garbage cans out in the morning of trash collection rather than leaving them out all night for nocturnal opportunists to tip. Use cans with secure lids to keep birds out or purchase an Animal Stopperâ„¢ garbage can which keeps the trash secure by holding the lid in place.

Problem 4: Porch visitors

People who feed pets outdoors are shocked by the appearance of opossums, skunks and others waiting for the free buffet.

Solution: Limit food

Feed your pets indoors only, or pick up and remove any uneaten food after 20 minutes of offering it outside.”

The photo by TJN photographer Vincent DiSalvio shows a downy woodpecker.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, September 29th, 2008 at 11:19 am |
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New trail


There’s a new trail in town, in Southeast in Putnam County, that is. It’s a handicapped-accessible trail and it sits on the Putnam County Land Trust’s Peach Lake Natural Area.

Read about it here. (If you have downloading problems, right-click on the link and choose “Open in new tab.”

After the break, read a story my colleague Marcela Rojas wrote in 2006 about the trail’s inception.

Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Saturday, September 27th, 2008 at 9:32 am |
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Slithering eels


Did you know eels can crawl over land to get to water? Well, they can. Check out this eel information page from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Then view the video below as the eels head straight for the Hudson River once they’re dumped out of a bucket. The fish flopping around in the sand at the end is a brown bullhead.


Both the eels and the bullhead were “borrowed” from the Hudson by Tom Lake of the state’s Hudson River Estuary Program for educational purposes and were being returned to their home. After the break is a story I wrote earlier this year about eels. Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 3:45 pm |


Money to get rid of invasives


One million dollars is available to help municipalities and not-for-profit groups get rid of terrestrial invasive species. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is making the money available and accepting applications until Halloween.

“Invasive species are non-native species that can cause harm to the environment and may result in ecological or economic problems. Some terrestrial invasive plants, such as garlic mustard flower and Giant hogweed, were introduced in New York State by individuals who purposely brought them back from foreign habitats. Various species of terrestrial invasive insects, such as the Sirex wood wasp and the Asian Longhorn Beetle, also “hitchhiked” to New York in wooden shipping crates from foreign points of origin.”

Read the announcment here, which includes information on the state’s invasive-species eradication efforts and how to apply.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 11:14 am |
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Hogchokers and other Hudson River finds


“You could choke a hog with that fish” is actually how the hogchoker, a flat, bottom-dwelling fish found up and down the East Coast, got its name. 1.jpg

Farmers used to feed the fish to their livestock. The small fish’s rough scales could cause them to get stuck in an animal’s throat and lead to choking. Case closed.

A seining expedition along the Hudson River this past weekend pulled up several of the brown fish. See photo. The event was part of the Hudson Valley River Rambles.


Three times, the net was pulled through the river and each time it came up full of flopping, wriggling flashes of silver and an occasional blue crab. My 6-year-old daughter took the crab photo above. I like it because you can really see the blue of the claws against Tom Lake’s shirt.

Lake is a naturalist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program. I mentioned him in this earlier post about wild celery. Want to see what’s in the Hudson? Head to Croton Point Park on Saturday.


Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, September 25th, 2008 at 2:22 pm |

A Rockland rattlesnake


tjndc5-5lwxomzk4bpyk11v7ov_layout.jpgOnly three kinds of poisonous snakes occur naturally in New York, according to SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. Those would be the copperhead, the massasauga and the timber rattler.

Timber rattlesnakes are active from late April until mid-October, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Active enough, anyways, to stow away in a pickup truck, as this rattler did in New Hempstead over in Rockland County.

The photo, courtesy of the Spring Hill Ambulance Corps., shows the rattler slithering out of a truck belonging to a Spring Hill Ambulance Corps medic. The rattler hitched a ride with him Tuesday as he drove from his Orange County home to New Hempstead, where the ambulance corps is located.

Here’s SUNY-ESF’s “Snakes of New York” fact sheet.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, September 25th, 2008 at 12:36 pm |


Westchester Land Trust and others recognized


The Westchester Land Trust and a couple of other land preservation organizations with local ties have been recognized by the independent Land Trust Accreditation Commission. The announcements were made this past weekend at a Land Trust Alliance conference in Pittsburgh. Only 39 land trusts across the country were awarded accreditation.

“At a time when the public is demanding increasing accountability from nonprofit organizations and government, including land trusts, the new independent accreditation program provides the assurance of quality and permanence of land protection the public is looking for,” said Commission Executive Director Tammara Van Ryn. “Today land trusts can join museums, hospitals, universities and other nonprofit institutions that demonstrate that they deserve the public’s trust through rigorous accreditation programs.”

Along with Westchester Land Trust, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Scenic Hudson and the Scenic Hudson Land Trust made the list.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 at 12:05 pm |
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About this blog
The Nature of Things provides a chance to talk about the wild denizens that share the Lower Hudson Valley with us and the natural settings that make this place home for everyone. From Long Island Sound to the Hudson River to the Great Swamp and beyond, almost anything related to the environment is fair game in this blog.


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About the authors
SBenischekJournal News staff writer Greg Clary writes Earth Watch, reporting on environmental issues in the lower Hudson region. Clary has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Journal News since 1988 and has covered police and courts, transportation, municipal government, development and the environment in the Lower Hudson Valley, among other topics.
Laura IncalcaterraLaura Incalcaterra covers the environment, open space and zoning and planning issues for The Journal News. A Boston College graduate, Laura grew up in Rockland, attended East Ramapo schools and has worked for The Journal News since 1993. Laura has written features and covered North Rockland, crime, government and a host of other issues.
SBenischekMike Risinit covers Patterson and Kent in Putnam County, as well as environmental topics touching on the Hudson River and the Great Swamp. Risinit has been a reporter at The Journal News since 1998.
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