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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Archive for November, 2008

Mercury in bald eagles

November
29

Researchers have found elevated levels of mercury in the feathers and blood of bald eagle chicks in the state’s Catskill Park.

The study, released earlier this week by the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine, has caused some concern, mainly because of what it could mean for the future of bald eagles in the state. From a New York Times story:

“The levels are close to those associated with reproductive problems in common loons and bald eagles elsewhere in the Northeast, although the New York and national populations of bald eagles have been growing strongly in recent years.”

But those involved in the study recognize more research is needed.

“Findings from this research effort provide evidence that the Catskill region is a “biological mercury hotspot” and support the need for a more comprehensive mercury monitoring and assement plan.”

The primary sources of the contaminant are coal-fired power plants, waste incinerators and other smokestack industries.

As The Nature Conservancy points out in its announcement about the eagle study:

” . . . no ecosystem in the eastern United States is free of the effects of air pollution.”

The photo by TJN Photographer Frank Becerra shows a bald eagle above Muscoot Reservoir in Somers in 2007.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Saturday, November 29th, 2008 at 11:57 am |
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Beavers

November
28

Beavers mate for life, can live up to a quarter of a century in the wild and can weigh up to 60 pounds. Just some beaver facts to go with today’s story about the critters running amok in Patterson. Here’s the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s problem beaver page and information from the Humane Society of the United States about problem beavers.

Below is a video of beaver hot spots in Patterson.

beaver1.mov

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, November 28th, 2008 at 1:09 pm |
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A gathering of celestial bodies

November
27

Once you manage to wrest your gaze away from the turkey and all the leftovers, look up into the night sky. Starting tonight, the planets Venus and Jupiter will begin moving closer together and by Monday they will be a finger’s width apart and joined by the moon.

National Geographic News bills the event as a “real showpiece.”

“This is set to be the best planetary gathering of the year, simply because it involves three of the brightest objects in the sky after the sun,” said Geza Gyuk, director of astronomy at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Here’s a map from NASA as to how the sky should look by Monday night.

In case you’re wondering why you should check this out, there’s this argument:

“The three celestial objects come together from time to time, but often they are too close to the sun or unite at a time when they aren’t so visible. The next time the three will be as close and visible as this week will be Nov. 18, 2052, according to Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium.”

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, November 27th, 2008 at 9:07 am |
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You are what you eat

November
26

If you’re a wild turkey, that’s a varied menu: plants, insects, snails, grasshoppers, fruits, beechnuts, acorns, grapes, corn and oats. You can read more about the wild birds in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s family newsletter.

Once widespread across the state and the country, turkey numbers dropped as land was cleared for farming. Restoration efforts here and elsewhere have been considered one of the natural-resource success stories.

From the DEC:

“Today, numbers have increased dramatically to an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 birds. In addition, New York has sent almost 700 wild turkeys to the states of Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and the Province of Ontario, helping to reestablish populations throughout the Northeast.”

Check out this story for information about the turkey success in Minnesota – plus it features a cool photo.

The photo above by TJN photographer Vincent DiSalvio shows some wild turkeys in New City in August.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, November 26th, 2008 at 11:41 am |
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The coming winter

November
25

The winter outlook put forth by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “calls for variability.” How’s that for a prediction?

The Northeast, according to the outlook, has equal chances for “above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and precipitation.”

Actually, what’s preventing a more precise assessment is the lack of La Nina and El Nino climate patterns in Pacific Ocean. Those patterns can give forecasters better clues about upcoming weather.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
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Bluebirds in winter

November
24

I don’t really think of Eastern bluebirds as a winter bird, like chickadees, cardinals, juncoes, etc. But they’re out there, providing a splash of color on the cold, brown landscape.

I spied a few this weekend, flitting among the bare branches in the trees along the edge of my yard. (I know, technically, it’s not winter yet. But did you go outside this weekend?)

Insect-eaters during the warmer months, bluebirds turn to other sources come winter, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“They depend on fleshy seeds during cold periods when no insects are available. Red cedar, Virginia creeper, sumacs, bittersweet, hackberry and hawthorne are all native plants that feed wintering bluebirds.”

The Christmas Bird Count doesn’t mention them in New York until the 1947-1948 winter. The count’s data goes back to the winter of 1900-01.

The photo (by TJN photographer Ricky Flores) shows a bluebird in December 2004 at Muscoot Farm in Somers.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, November 24th, 2008 at 6:16 pm |
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A preserve for the birds

November
21

Upland sandpipers, grasshopper sparrows, eastern meadowlarks, and savannah sparrows — birds that depend on grasslands and that are in decline because of disappearing habitat — will hopefully get a boost from a land deal announced this week over in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“A former tobacco farm stretching across 450 acres of meadows on both sides of the Connecticut / Massachusetts border will be conserved as a two-state Wildlife Management Area, the governors of both states said (Nov. 18).

The Conservation Fund, a national organization dedicated to preserving land and protecting natural resources, facilitated the purchase, working with the two states and former property owner Swedish Match Co., the successor to Culbro Tobacco and General Cigar.

Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said the $4.4 million purchase mitigates the loss of grasslands elsewhere along the Connecticut River corridor.”

There’s a map at the end of the post to give you a general idea where this is.

To learn about the struggles such grassland birds are facing here in New York, check out Audubon New York.

Learn about meadowlarks and use the link to “Species Accounts” on the page’s left side to look up the other species.

As for tobacco farms in the Connecticut River Valley, go here for more information.

<iframe width=”425″ height=”350″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ src=”http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&amp;hl=en&amp;geocode=&amp;q=southwick,+mass.&amp;sll=37.0625,-95.677068&amp;sspn=43.799322,79.013672&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;ll=42.540939,-72.498779&amp;spn=2.580237,4.938354&amp;t=h&amp;z=8&amp;output=embed&amp;s=AARTsJo0DLegKay8_2Y6m-cef5mj2yCTFg”></iframe><br /><small><a href=”http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&amp;hl=en&amp;geocode=&amp;q=southwick,+mass.&amp;sll=37.0625,-95.677068&amp;sspn=43.799322,79.013672&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;ll=42.540939,-72.498779&amp;spn=2.580237,4.938354&amp;t=h&amp;z=8&amp;source=embed” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map</a></small>

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, November 21st, 2008 at 3:36 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

Too many black vultures

November
20

“They vomit all over the place, urinate on themselves to cool off, and feed on the dead. Now they’re disgusting and even frightening suburban homeowners.”

That’s the start to a story in the November-December issue of Audubon magazine about hundreds of black vultures who have decided to call part of Leesburg, Va. home.

The birds gather next to a home on Cornwall Street, lounging on the home’s roof during sunny mornings and hanging around a nearby cemetery.

“At first just a few dozen settled each sunset into a pair of tall pines. Evening by evening, more joined the roost. Their numbers climbed to 100, then 200, then 300. They filled the pines until boughs sheared off with their collective weight. The roost trees were slathered in excrement, white as candles.”

The Green Chimneys School in Patterson has its own vulture problem, black vultures who come to the school in Patterson and hang out with caged vultures. The freeloading birds are looking for a handout during feeding time, dirtying cages and water troughs with their excrement and damaging structures.

I wrote a story about the GC vultures earlier this year and I’ve pasted it after the break. When I talked earlier this fall with Paul Kupchok, the school’s wildlife center director, the black vultures were still a hassle and Kupchok was trying to figure out what to do about them.

Photo is by TJN photographer Stuart Bayer.

Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, November 20th, 2008 at 1:33 pm |
| | 32 Comments »

Cougars, bobcats, etc.

November
19

A reader from Carmel shared this photo with me after reading the story about mountain lion sightings. Be forewarned, it shows a dead bobcat. I’m assuming it was struck by a car. 

Susan Day of Kent said she found this dead bobcat back in October, on Route 52 in Kent just north of the Kent Recycling Center. She said the animal was on the opposite side of the road.

To read more about bobcats, go here.

As to the photo that ran with Monday’s story about mountain lions: it was taken recently by an automatic camera popular with hunters. Typically, the cameras have an infrared sensor and are triggered by body heat and motion. I wrote a story earlier this year about a research project at Teatown Lake Reservation in Yorktown utilizing the cameras.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
| | 137 Comments »

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No fish?

November
18

Here’s a disturbing thought for the future of food and the world’s oceans: ” . . . most of the fish we’ll be eating will be farmed, and by midcentury, it might be easier to catch our favorite wild fish ourselves rather than buy it in the market.”

That’s according to Mark Bittman, a no-nonsense, straightforward chef, writer and PBS host. He had a piece in Sunday’s Week in Review section in the NYT, pondering, as the headline said,  the future of fish.

While the future could be bleak when it comes to wild seafood, a recovery of depleted fishing stocks is possible. Possible, he writes, but not easy.

“It will be a considerable undertaking nonetheless. Global consumption of fish, both wild and farm raised, has doubled since 1973, and 90 percent of this increase has come in developing countries. (You’ll sometimes hear that Americans are now eating more seafood, but that reflects population growth; per capita consumption has remained stable here for 20 years.)

The result of this demand for wild fish, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, is that “the maximum wild-capture fisheries potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached.”

One study, in 2006, concluded that if current fishing practices continue, the world’s major commercial stocks will collapse by 2048.”

The fish in the photo are mackerel, which are mentioned briefly in Bittman’s essay.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 at 4:56 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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