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Adirondack North Country
Wildlife and Plants

Beaver Lodge

If you paddle to get up close and personal with the wild world, than you've come to the right place. The Adirondack North Country is as varied as it is extensive. Lowland swamp or alpine tundra, grassy meadow or rocky slope, open deciduous woodland or deep coniferous forest, small stream or large river, mountain tarn or big lake—whatever you're looking for, chances are good you'll find it here. And this diversity is matched by an equally wide range of native plants and animals. Here's a sample….

MIGRATORY BIRDS If you're an avid "twitcher" or just a casual birdwatcher, you'll have a field day observing the waterfowl and birds of prey who pass through or nest in northern New York every year.

The North Country lies astride the Eastern Flyway. The Champlain Valley and Eastern Ontario Lowlands, in particular, are excellent destinations for paddling birdwatchers hoping to witness the miracle of the great twice-yearly migrations. Keep your eyes on the sky for distant, shifting Vs of Canada geese making their way to their summer breeding grounds or back south for the winter. If you're lucky, you'll see shimmering flights of black-tipped, white-winged snow geese, too. Listen for their characteristic rasping honk.

Migrating ducks also stop for rest and food on ice-free North Country waterways in the spring and fall. Some—mallards, wood ducks, and common mergansers among them—nest in the North Country, while others, including buffleheads and red-breasted mergansers, continue on to their sub-Arctic and Arctic breeding grounds. Families of common mergansers are a common sight on Adirondack waterways throughout the summer. Look for a train of bustling balls of fluff swimming along behind a harried mother duck—and sometimes jumping up on her back for a lift!

Geese and ducks aren't the only seasonal migrants, of course. Many hawks follow the snow-line north and south with the sun. Watch for red-tails making lazy circles in the air, high in the spring and autumn skies. And while you're out on the water, don't be surprised if you see an osprey diving on a fish, or a bald eagle bolting a meal while standing on a mid-river snag. Long absent from New York waters, these spectacular birds are making a tentative comeback. Young Mergansers

LOONS AND OTHER WATER BIRDS Loons have become symbols of the northern wilderness. If you spend any time on North Country waters, you'll probably hear their haunting calls echoing among the hills. Sometimes several loons will converse throughout the night, calling and responding again and again. Unlike common mergansers, though, these big birds can raise only one or two chicks each summer, and they're struggling to hold their own. Loons are shy. So always keep your a distance, and never linger near a nest!

During the day, belted kingfishers sound rattling calls as they fly low over the water along brushy shorelines, hunting for fish. You may see their nest holes in a cutbank. Great blue herons strut about on long, stilt-like legs, stalking frogs and fingerlings in the shallows. Occasionally you'll hear the ong-ka-chonk of a male bittern calling for a mate in the spring cattail marshes, but his camouflage is so good you'll be fortunate indeed if you ever see him. On quiet spring evenings, listen for the wavering huhuhuhuhuhu of a male snipe soaring over water in a spectacular aerial display. This isn't a call, though. It's the noise made by air rushing over his tail feathers!

WOODLAND BIRDS Do you hear a sound like a hard-starting motor coming from the spring or autumn woods? You're hearing a ruffed grouse advertising for a mate. He won't be alone, either. Thanks in large measure to the restoration efforts of sportsmen's groups, wild turkey populations are steadily increasing throughout the North Country lowlands. So expect to hear gobbling when paddling along rivers like the Grasse or Raquette.

Or do you hear loud hammering, instead? That's a good sign there's a pileated woodpecker about. Look for deep, pit-like excavations in standing dead trees. If you see a large woodpecker with a prehistoric-looking flame-red crest, you've found your bird. Their smaller cousins—the yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and downy and hairy woodpeckers—tap gentler tattoos as they hunt for grubs and insects.

Around camp, chickadees cheerfully flit from branch to branch, often arriving in company with red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, and brown creepers. And no Adirondack day would be complete without hearing a white-throated sparrow's clear, whistling call. Overhead, you may hear the hoarse, rasping kraaak! of a raven, while the flute-like music of wood and hermit thrushes drifts out of nearby woods.

Later, at night, barred and horned owls break the silence with their eerie, hooting cries: hoo, hoo-oo, hoo, hoo!

LARGE MAMMALS Black bears range throughout the North Country, but you'll be lucky to see one. Except during droughts and bad mast years, they keep their distance. That's not to say they won't take advantage of a free lunch, though. Always keep a clean camp, and be sure to hang your food at night. Never approach a cub, however cute you think it looks! Mother bears are very protective, and momma's got much bigger teeth than you have. She's also an excellant climber.

Bears are common, but rarely seen. Moose are rare, but often glimpsed. Killed off in the nineteenth century, moose are now coming back to the North Country. Despite their great size, these big deer are gentle creatures. Still, it's best to watch them from a distance, particularly in autumn, when the males will be belligerent. If worst comes to worst, though, you're in luck—unlike bears, moose can't climb trees!

You're far more likely to see the smaller whitetail deer, especially in open fields and deciduous woodlands in lower elevations. Occasionally you'll stumble on twin fawns huddling in low growth alongside a portage trail, waiting for their mother to return to them. Just leave quietly without disturbing them.

Where there are deer, there are coyotes, and the North Country is no exception. On some nights, these "brush wolves" howl in chorus with the loons. It's a thrilling and spectacular concert. A recent squabble over wolf reintroduction ended in a draw, but the coyotes didn't pay much attention. They knew something that the biologists took a long time to learn: Adirondack coyotes really are part-wolf. The wolf is back in the North Country hills, thanks, and he did it all on his own.

If you're really lucky, you may see bobcat sign. Don't expect to see more than scats or tracks, though. These cats are very shy. And don't plan on seeing any sign of a lynx. An attempt to reintroduce these northern cousins of the bobcat ended badly: most were killed by cars. Raccoons and skunks aren't at all rare, however, and they're not shy, either. (We've had skunks settle down on the foot of our sleeping bag!) Both animals like handouts, and both carry rabies. So keep a clean camp, and keep your distance. Equally bold, but less commonly seen, river otters frolic in some lakes and rivers. They're big, fish-eating weasels, but despite this, they're sometimes mistaken mistaken for a very different animal—the beaver.

BEAVERS AND MUSKRATS The energetic, flat-tailed beaver has done more to shape the landscape of North America than any other animal, including man! The North Country is no exception. Look for beaver lodges—large domes of de-barked sticks—in nearly every pond and lake, and along most streams, as well. And the dams? You won't need to have the dams pointed out to you. On some streams, you'll be hauling your canoe or kayak over one every ten minutes. Don't lose patience, though. Use the time to look around you and get to know the neighborhood. You never know what you'll see. Beaver ponds are enormously productive places. Sometimes a muskrat—a smaller cousin of the beaver—will make its home right against the sloping side of a beaver lodge, and it's not uncommon for ducks or geese to build nests on lodges, too.

You may not ever see any beaver, though. They're active mostly at night. Fresh-gnawn stumps, downed trees, and caches of leafy branches sticking out of the water near lodges are common signs of beaver activity. Beavers mate for life and produce kits in the late winter. On summer evenings, you may see a family emerge from their lodge to eat and do chores—maintenance and repairs on their lodge or dam. Whoever coined the phrase "busy as a beaver" knew what he was talking about! During the day, listen quietly outside an occupied lodge. With a little luck, you'll hear the soft grunts that make up the better part of beaver conversation.

It's easy to mistake a swimming muskrat for a beaver at first glance, but muskrats are much smaller and have a much skinnier tail. Muskrats build domed lodges, too, but theirs are made of grasses and mud, and they're nowhere near as large as beaver lodges. Unlike beavers, muskrats are solitary, and they don't live in extended family groups. They're active round the clock, though. Watch for muskrat kits playing in sheltered shallows. Cheeky Chipmunk

SMALL MAMMALS Just about every established campsite will have resident mice, chipmunks, and (in coniferous forests) red squirrels. Mice and chipmunks dine on berries, nuts, and seeds. Red squirrels eat nuts and seeds, too—they're particularly fond of pine nuts—but they also eat wild fruits and mushrooms. All of these energetic and intelligent animals love the same treats you do, and they'll be happy to poach from your camp stores if you make it easy for them. Please don't. Wild animals are almost always better off without human "help." At nigh, you may hear the plop! of flying squirrels falling softly from the trees, but it's a rare camper who actually sees one of these elusive,nocturnal creatures.

THE LIVING LANDSCAPE Turtles can be seen sunning themselves on partially submerged logs and generally enjoying life. Frogs and toads whistle, croak, groan, and sing throughout the season. Dragonflies and damselflies dart about like helicopter gunships, looking for mosquitoes and other prey, while bats sweep along the shoreline in the evening half-light, snatching moths and other insects out of the air. Painted Trillium

While slogging down the carries (the local name for portages) early in the summer, keep a lookout for the large, single flowers of trilliums. Pink lady's slippers, Indian pipe, jack-in-the-pulpit and jewelweed ("touch-me-not") are also commonly seen. Blue flag, cardinal flowers, skunk cabbage, and the carnivorous sundews and pitcher plants all like "wet feet." Look for them in marshy areas and along waterways. In the shadowy recesses among thickets of black spruce and cedar, you'll find lush groves of ferns and multitudes of mushrooms. In areas disturbed by fire or windstorm, you'll find fast-growing poplar and birch—and in autumn, red maples will set low-lying swamps ablaze.

BITING FLIES Sometimes the landscape bites back. You haven't had a true Adirondack experience if you don't go home with a few blackfly, punky (biting midges), or mosquito bites. Some North Country towns attempt to kill off blackflies and mosquitoes with bacterial larvacides and blitzes of poisonous chemicals, but they never succeed in getting them all. Blackflies are usually at their worst during sunny days from mid-May to mid-June. The punkies—who sometimes swarm into tents at night—peak a little later in the year, while mosquitoes keep going till the first frosts of fall. They're at their worst on cloudy, humid days and in the evening.

Deer flies will slice steaks out of your hide, and they know just when you're most vulnerable—expect them to attack when you're on the portage trail. They're strong fliers, too, perfectly capable of following you out onto the water. Sometimes a stiff headwind is a blessing!

Beasties and Biters and Things that Go Bump in the Night

Biting Flies Insect repellant washes off as you sweat, and it's not equally effective against all biting flies. It can also be toxic. Use it sparingly, particularly on children. Wear long pants, a tightly-woven, long-sleeved shirt, and a brimmed hat. On bad days, supplement this outfit with a head-net and a fine-mesh "bug shirt." Avoid floral-scented shampoos and soaps, and use a scentless laundry detergent for your paddling clothes.

Snakes In most places, you won't see anything more deadly than the harmless (and beautiful) garter snake. One exception is Tongue Mountain, on the western shore of Lake George. Rattlesnakes live there, so watch where you put your hands and feet.

Camp Robbers Small creatures will chew through packs to get at food, so double-bag your food to contain odors. You may want to consider using plastic food-safes. Defeating the determined efforts of bears and small mammals can take some ingenuity, especially in popular camping areas. Try hanging your food packs, but don't be surprised if this doesn't always work. Unless you like midnight visitors, never eat in your tent, and always keep a clean camp. Wash up carefully after cooking, and dump gray water and fish scraps at least 150 feet from camp.

Other Animals Wild animals and birds are just that, wild. They're not pets. Do not approach them or feed them. Do not harass their young or disturb their nest sites. Your curiosity can kill. Don't let it.

Loons, in particular, are vulnerable. If you approach them too closely or imitate their calls, you'll distract them from the essential business of finding fish and raising their young. How close is too close? A minimum of 100 yards is a about right. If you hear the wavering tremolo "laughter," you've crossed the line. Back off, and use your binoculars or a zoom lens.

If you're lucky enough to encounter a moose while paddling, give him or her a wide berth. A gentle half-ton animal still weighs 1000 pounds. In autumn, male moose can be dangerous. Keep away!

Rabies Rabies is epizootic throughout the North Country. While all mammals can be infected, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats are the most common wild vectors. Smaller mammals present much less risk. Still, you should never approach, pet, or feed any wild animal, and you should avoid any animal which appears to be ill or seems to be behaving unusually. Don't allow your dog to run free, and be sure your pet has an up-to-date rabies immunization. If, despite precautions, you should be bitten by a wild animal, wash the wound thoroughly, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Wear Bright Colors in Spring and Fall Expect to see hunters on the water and on the trail in spring and fall. Don't expect to see any back-tags, though. They're not required in the North Country. Buy a "safety orange" vest and wear it whenever you go hiking. And don't make plans for an autumn paddling trip to any Wildlife Management Area. Most are closed to everyone but waterfowl hunters in fall.

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Adirondack Guide and all pictures and drawings within are
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.
Written by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

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