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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Archive for May, 2010

Bobolink update


The Bedford Audubon Society last spring and summer convinced several local landowners to delay mowing their fields. That was in an effort to allow bobolinks, a grassland-loving songbird, to raise their chicks. Wide-open, unmowed fields are in short supply these days.

The slow-to-mow policy, according to Bedford Audubon, was a success.

“The species has declined by 50% over the past decades, one of the reasons being that, with the earlier arrival of spring, the nesting fields are being mowed before the chicks have a chance to fledge. BAS’s study found that from an initial count of 23 male Bobolinks in early June 2009, the population increased to 116 Bobolinks in early July in the same fields—an astounding proof of the success of meadow management through delayed mowing in securing the successful breeding of the Bobolink. Had the mowing taken place as scheduled in June, virtually all fledglings would undoubtedly have perished,” Bedford Audubon said in a press release.

You can read the society’s full report here.

After the break is a story I wrote last year about the bobolink project. Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 at 1:46 pm |

A wren in my garage


There’s a Carolina wren living in my garage. I discovered the tenant when I grabbed a plastic pail hanging from one of the beams in the garage. The mother wren flew out of the bucket. Looking inside, I spotted the nest with five eggs in it.

Earlier that day I was working on the porch and a wren with some nest material in its beak landed on one of the chairs, making me wonder where it was building a nest. Initially, I was afraid the bird had managed to make its nest and lay its eggs during the time the garage doors were open on Saturday and Sunday and wouldn’t have access to its home when they were shut. Turns out, though, the wren has managed to find some way in. It’s an old house and the garage doors are two large, wood doors that swing out. They are by no means critter-proof as evidenced by the numerous mice I catch in traps in the garage.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 at 12:29 pm |

More bad news for bats


Bats continue to take a devastating hit from the mysterious ailment known as white-nose syndrome, a condition that affects bats during hibernation.

From Bat Conservation International: Named for a cold-loving white fungus typically found on the faces and wings of infected bats, White-nose Syndrome causes bats to awaken more often during hibernation and use up the stored fat reserves that are needed to get them through the winter. Infected bats often emerge too soon from hibernation and are often seen flying around in midwinter. These bats usually freeze or starve to death.

The condition was first discovered in several caves in upstate New York and now has spread as far west as Oklahoma.

“The arrival of the WNS fungus in Oklahoma may open a gateway to the West. It certainly puts all the western states on high alert,” said Mylea Bayless, WNS Emergency Response Coordinator for Bat Conservation International. “This may expose a whole new community of bat species to White-nose Syndrome – and we know far less about where these bats hibernate than we do in the east, so tracking and monitoring the disease will be much more difficult.”

Nina Fascione, BCI’s executive director, appeared before the U.S. Senate on May 14 to seek funding for more research into the problem. She pointed out that WNS has already killed more than a million bats. Without it, she said in her testimony, “we may see significant ecological and economic changes that will have a negative impact on America’s taxpayers and the U.S. economy, while adding new species to the ranks of endangered and extinct animals.” A link to her testimony can be found at the top of this page

The unprecedented mortality associated with WNS has caused the most precipitous wildlife decline in the past century in North America, with significant ecological and economic consequences throughout the U.S. In the northeastern U.S., where WNS was first discovered in 2006, mortality rates of nearly 100 percent are reported for some bat colonies. Over the past two years, this disease has spread rapidly beyond the Northeast. This past winter, the WNS-associated fungus has been documented in Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee and Missouri. WNS has already killed thousands of endangered Indiana bats and now threatens some of the largest hibernating populations of endangered gray bats, Virginia big-eared bats and Ozark big-eared bats. Ultimately, more than half (25 of 46) of bat species in the continental U.S. are at risk.
Bats play a critical role in maintaining the balance of nature. They are primary predators of vast numbers of insects, including pests that annually cost American farmers and foresters billions of dollars. Additionally, the droppings of bats that live in caves support unique ecosystems, including microorganisms that potentially could provide invaluable resources for detoxifying industrial wastes and producing safer pesticides and antibiotics. Loss of bats would have serious, potentially irreversible consequences, both ecologically and economically.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, May 21st, 2010 at 10:06 am |
| | 1 Comment »


A butterfly in my driveway


This guy is a red-spotted purple butterfly. I had no luck in identifying it myself and had to turn to Jo A. Roy, NYS Butterfly Identification Coordinator, from the website Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).

Turns out the red-spotted purple was nominated as the official state butterfly in 2008.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
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NASA, Google data show North Korea logging in protected area


Something from Google mapping that might be the wave of the future:

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Using NASA satellite data and Google Earth, a Purdue University researcher has reported finding evidence that North Korea has been logging in what is designated as a protected United Nations forest preserve.

Guofan Shao, professor of geo-eco-informatics, studies the Mount Paekdu Biosphere Reserve, a 326,000-acre forest preserve in North Korea. Since many researchers are unable to visit North Korea, Shao studies changes in the forest using remote sensing data.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization operates the Man and Biosphere Programme, which tries to understand the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and reduce that loss in 551 sites worldwide. Shao said Mount Paekdu – together with an adjacent biosphere in China – has the world’s highest plant biodiversity in a cool, temperate zone and is the habitat for many wildlife species, including the endangered Siberian tiger.

“This mountain is significant in terms of biological conservation,” he said.

Shao and his collaborators started noticing through NASA satellite data that there were some changes happening to the land in North Korea. NASA images didn’t have the resolution Shao needed to pinpoint what those changes were or how they were occurring, so he used Google Earth, which has a clear resolution down to 1 meter.

“Particularly in the core area, there should be no human activity – no deforestation,” Shao said. “But when you look at the data with Google Earth, you can see the forest is no longer intact.”

Google Earth images show that extensive logging has taken place in the North Korean biosphere. Shao estimated that as much as 75 percent of the forest in the core area had been removed in large strips.

“It’s kind of a disappointment,” said Shao, whose results were published in the journal Biological Conservation. “Hopefully more organizations, including governments, will pay more attention to the conservation issues there.”

Without communication with North Korean officials or the opportunity to visit the site – both of which Shao has requested – there is no way to tell why the trees had been removed. Shao speculated that the land may be used for agriculture since Korea
suffers severe food shortages.

“I don’t really understand what’s going on in the nature area,” Shao said. “They may want to grow something, or they may just want the timber.”

Forest on the China side, in the Changbaishan Biosphere Reserve, also was damaged, but not by logging. Overharvesting of pine nuts damaged nearly every pine tree in certain zones of the reserve and all but eliminated a food source for about 22 species of forest wildlife. Pine seed harvesting in the biosphere was banned in 2007, but pine tree populations declined because of the harvesting.

Shao said he would continue to monitor the biospheres for changes in the landscape using remote sensing data and that he hopes the study will shed light on deforestation issues in East Asia. He said it is urgent to develop cross-border strategies that can combat both detectable and hidden degradations to preserve forests of ecological importance.

Shao collaborated with researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Jilin Changbai Mountain Academy of Sciences and Arizona State University. 

For more information on the UNESCO biosphere sites or Guofan Shao, visit this site

Posted by Greg Clary on Monday, May 17th, 2010 at 3:44 pm |

John Jay High School places third in Hudson Valley Regional Envirothon; seven Westchester schools participated


Student teams from seven Westchester public high schools competed and demonstrated their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management at the 19th annual Hudson Valley Regional Envirothon on April 30.
John Jay High School in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District placed third in the competitive field and now will go on to represent the county at the New York State Envirothon in Keuka Park in June.
Other high school teams competing from Westchester were from Ossining, Hastings, Yorktown, Greenburgh, Harrison and The Tech Center (BOCES) in Yorktown.
Twenty-eight high school teams, representing nine southern New York counties, participated in the regional competition held at the Sharpe Reservation in Fishkill. The other winners were regional teams from Hudson and Chatham High Schools in Columbia County, who placed first and second respectively.
Co-sponsored by the Westchester Department of Planning and the County Soil and the Water Conservation District, the competition challenges high school students to think critically about the natural world and their role in it.
The winning John Jay team was coached by teacher and advisor Linda Burke. Its team members, Lauren Allen, Hunter Camps, Derek Racine, Travis Winter and Alexandre Zarookian, are all environmental enthusiasts who participate in Westchester’s Citizens’ Volunteer Monitoring Program to test and collect data to monitor the water quality of county streams.
If the John Jay High School team wins the New York State Envirothon, a five-student team, culled from the ten students from the two John Jay teams, will have the opportunity to compete in the next phase of the competition, the Canon National Envirothon in Fresno, California, in August.

Posted by Greg Clary on Saturday, May 15th, 2010 at 11:06 am |
| | 1 Comment »


State park officials: 55 parks, historic sites will not open starting Monday


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — State parks officials said Friday they’ll start shutting down or keeping closed dozens of parks and historic sites next week because of New York’s budget crisis.

The gates at 41 parks and 14 historic sites will be locked starting Monday, said Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee.

Included locally are Frederick Philipse’s Yonkers home and the Stony Point Battlefield, while swimming pools at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Yorktown and Tallman Mountain State Park would be closed or have reduced hours until the state gets on top of its finances.

Most of the properties were closed for the winter or had reduced services, but typically would be preparing to reopen for the Memorial Day weekend, she said.

Larrabee said employees that had been assigned to the affected parks and historic sites are being transferred to others that are remaining open.

The Legislature has voted to restore $11.3 million in parks funding cut from Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposal, but there’s no agreement yet on a spending plan that’s already more than 40 days late.

Paterson and parks Commissioner Carol Ash announced earlier this year that dozens of the state’s 178 parks and 35 historic sites would have to be closed and others would have their services reduced because of New York’s budget deficit, now estimated at $9.2 billion.

The cuts also include canceling the annual July 4th fireworks display at state-run Jones Beach on Long Island.

A parks advocate called the situation a “slap in the face” to taxpayers.

“It’s just preposterous that New Yorkers are being locked out of their parks,” said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks & Trails New York. “Of all things they pay taxes on, parks is what they feel like they get the most back from.”

Lawn mowing, trail upkeep and other basic maintenance work had already been suspended at the sites. Starting Monday, restrooms at those properties will stay locked and picnic tables will remain in storage, Larrabee said. Those and other cost-cutting moves are expected to save the state several million dollars.

“Now that we are approaching Memorial Day, our high season, we do have to take these more affirmative steps to make sure we can secure those savings,” she said. “We do consider these closures to be temporary, whether it be a year or less.”

While the warmer weather has brought out people to parks that aren’t officially open, starting Monday they’ll be asked to leave for safety reasons, Larrabee said.

“We close parks all the time,” she said. “We close parks at night, during the offseason. We close areas of parks at a certain time, so it’s not unusual. When people are at a closed park, we will ask them to leave.”

For more information log on to the department’s website

Posted by Greg Clary on Friday, May 14th, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
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DEC’s “Field Notes” Bring Fish and Wildlife News To Your Inbox


Anyone interested in wildlife viewing opportunities, recent fish stocking activities or proposed changes to trapping regulations can keep current by signing up for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s “Field Notes” e-mail list. Subscribers can receive timely, helpful and educational updates about the state’s fish and wildlife programs directly to their e-mail accounts.

DEC’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources will send an e-mail newsletter on a regular basis that will feature items such as fishing forecasts, tips on where and how to view peregrine falcons, updates on hunting seasons and important DEC initiatives throughout the state. Field Notes will also cover regulatory proposals posted for public comment, sporting license information, tips on preventing the spread of invasive species and upcoming public events.

“Our dedicated staff is constantly working on interesting projects and important policies that will impact the future of New York’s fish and wildlife management,” said Patricia Riexinger, DEC’s Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. “Field Notes will help subscribers keep on top of issues that matter to them. And, hopefully, it also will educate young and old alike about the diverse species and habitats that make up our great state.”

For more information about Field Notes and how to subscribe, go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/63801.html on the DEC website.

Posted by Greg Clary on Friday, May 14th, 2010 at 3:02 pm |

No more robins


I won’t offend you with pictures of the crime scene, but the robin’s nest that was near our porch is no more. I found the nest on the ground last night with two of the three baby robins dead nearby. There were also a whole bunch of gray and orange adult-sized feathers, which makes me think mom was also somehow a victim.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 at 10:24 am |


Ice at the bottom of the sea?


Reports about ice hampering efforts to plug the leaking oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico had me a bit confused. I figured whatever was coming out of the Earth was too warm to be frozen and with all that water down there . . . well, how would ice form?

The ice involved, it turns out, was more than just frozen water.

“It was methane hydrate or gas hydrate, a solid compound of freezing-cold water and natural gas that is well known in the deep seafloor and in polar permafrost regions.”

The Washington Post explained it this way:

But deep-sea chemistry foiled the effort. The dome became clogged with methane hydrates, an ice-like slush created when pressurized gas from the well mixed with cold seawater. The hydrates, which are lighter than water, stuck to the inside of the dome and made it buoyant . . .

From the U.S. Geological Survey:

Gas hydrate is a crystalline solid consisting of gas molecules, usually methane, each surrounded by a cage of water molecules. It looks very much like water ice.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

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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