Gray Squirrel & Crow

Gray Squirrel & Crow
by Sarah Hatfield

The Scene: It is a snow-covered sunny morning, relatively warm given the recent weather. The sky is a cerulean blue and the trees, gray in their winter garb, cast long shadows across the drifts. Breakfast has been set out, a veritable feast of sunflower seeds and corn, and the early birds have arrived. Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and even the Red-bellied Woodpecker have already begun. The Blue Jay mob has arrived and has started devouring the corn on the ground.

Earlier in the morning we had tossed out the corn for the Blue Jays and woodpeckers, we enjoy the scuffles as the jays and woodpeckers vie for the ears. Everyone gets plenty to eat, so it is really a win-win. Red Squirrel hears my footsteps across the crunchy snow and knows that the birdseed has been set out, with a special pile just for him and the entrance to his tunnel. Black Squirrel has just traversed from the board pile to the woods with astonishing leaps.

Gray Squirrel by Martin Pettitt

Gray Squirrel by Martin Pettitt

The Main Characters: Gray Squirrel and Crow.

“Look! Mr. Gray Squirrel is out! What is he doing?”

It looks like he is digging through the snow for something. We figure he must have a cache somewhere down there that he is trying to find. We watch him for a bit, then sip coffee. When we check a few minutes later, he is extracting something from the snow.

“Is that a corn cob?” How did that one escape the hungry beasties? Usually they pick everything clean pretty quick. How did he know it was there?

crow by Tom LeBlanc

Crow by Tom LeBlanc

We grab the binoculars and watch him and sure enough, he pulls a half-eaten corn cob from under the snow. Grasping it in his teeth, he hustles to the nearest tree, a medium-sized maple, awkwardly dragging the corn. Scrambling up the trunk, Crow swoops into the backyard, no doubt making his rounds to the bird feeder. The presence of any large bird makes the squirrels nervous and this time is no different. Gray Squirrel makes a mini leap to the next tree and ascends. Crow dances up the adjacent tree, causing Gray Squirrel to abruptly turn around and head back down. While perching high, Crow surveys the world. Gray Squirrel takes the opportunity to hide the corn cob in the fork of a tree.

Red Squirrel by Gilles Gonthier

Red Squirrel by Gilles Gonthier

As if protecting a treasure, Gray Squirrel quickly looks both ways and scampers away in the opposite direction. Even before he is two trees away, Crow start to dip his wings and drop from the treetops, branch by branch, until he is staring straight and the coveted corn cob. For a different reason, or perhaps the same one, Crow glances one way and then the other, finally determining that it is safe to commit his thievery. With one short flight, he lands on the tree, grab the cob, and takes it to a higher branch.

Triumphant in his theft, he tries to nibble the kernels off the cob, only to find himself dreadfully unstable. He hops, one footed, down the branch until the cob is lodged across a fork. With the added stability he starts to gobble up the corn. Little does he realize that watching him, just as he surveyed Gray Squirrel, is another crow.

Red Squirrel by mwms1916

Red Squirrel by M. Williams

With a few mouthfuls down, Crow looks up to see another crow alight in the branches. Desperate to hold onto his loot, he grasps the cob with his foot and takes off into the woods, all the time being shadowed by the other crow.

We watch this drama unfold before us, and are in wonderment at the relationships among the wild things. Everything, from Gray Squirrel knowing that corn cob was down there, to Crow knowing to watch, to other crow knowing to watch him, hints at a deeper level of awareness. The awareness of the world around us is something that most humans lack. Simple observation, noticing details, anticipating an action and one’s reaction to that action are not skills we oft employ nowadays. Which, to be fair, aren’t skills that many of us need. They may be skills we want, however, as they make life so much richer.

I am better, and happier, for the nature drama the occurred outside the window this past weekend. I learned some things, was impressed by things, and had my perspectives shifted a bit. If you take a bit of time, perhaps find a mini nature drama of your own, you too may open a door to that deeper level awareness.

You can always observe and learn at Audubon Nature Center, located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk for hiking and skiing and snowshoeing. The Center resumes normal hours on March 1, open daily from 10:00am until 4:30pm except Sundays when we open at 1:00pm. More information about upcoming events and happenings can be found on our website, jamestownaudubon.org. Call with any questions, (716) 569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon Nature Center.

Posted in Article, Sarah Hatfield

Tom Erlandson Speaks about Estuaries – March 6, 2015

Tom Erlandson Presenter at Nature Center’s March First Friday

Jamestown, NY – What is an estuary? Is there one in your neighborhood? If not, where can you find one?

Retired Jamestown Community College natural science professor Tom Erlandson will talk about estuaries at the Audubon Nature Center’s First Friday Lunch Bunch on March 6, 2015, at 11 a.m.

Tom Erlandson @ ANF

Dr. Tom Erlandson will talk about the unique qualities of an estuary habitat at the Audubon Nature Center’s First Friday Lunch Bunch on February 6, 2015. The retired Jamestown Community College natural science professor is pictured here in the Allegheny National Forest.

Does anyone live in an estuary? If so, who? Or what?

Why should New York City be called “The Big Oyster” instead of “The Big Apple?” Why is this topic appropriate for Audubon’s First Friday series?

Learn the answers to these and other intriguing questions at this presentation about the unique qualities of an estuary habitat.

With an MS in Entomology and a PhD in Zoology, Tom Erlandson taught at Jamestown Community College for 27 years and since retiring has written articles for Audubon Nature Center and Roger Tory Peterson Institute as well as co-authored Figure 8 the Lake: A Driving Tour of Chautauqua Lake. Erlandson was the administrator for the Ohio River Consortium for Research and Education and served as an environmental consultant for Forecon, Inc. Over the years he has shared his vast knowledge with the Audubon Nature Center community through various presentations and workshops.

Following the program, coffee and tea will be provided for a BYO brown bag lunch. The fee for attending is $8 or $6 for Friends of the Nature Center. Reservations are not required.

The Audubon Nature Center is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

For more information, call (716) 569-2345 or visit http://www.jamestownaudubon.org.

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Posted in News Release, Program

Loving Winter

Loving Winter & Random Thoughts
by Jennifer Schlick

I usually stand alone in my love of winter.  While others bemoan the cold or the snow, a delighted smile wells up from my heart when a real winter day dawns with snow that is fresh and deep.  While Facebook is plastered with a longing for spring, I’m strapping on snowshoes, eager to explore the winter fields and woods as well as the deep recesses of my own mind.

Goldenrod

A row of dried goldenrod catches my eye.  They aren’t arranged according to the traditional tenets of Japanese flower arrangement with three main stems – shin, soe, and hikae.  Still, their simple, delicate arrangement in a field of white takes me back to the flower arranging classes I took when I was an exchange student in Kanazawa, Japan.  Shin – a tall stem to represent the heavens.  Soe – a middle-sized stem to represent earth.  Hikae – a short stem to represent humans.  I hadn’t thought of that in a long time.

IMG_2835Neither have I thought much about Winter Story by Jill Barklem.  If you have children (and even if you don’t), grab it from the children’s section of your favorite library and see if you don’t love the beautiful illustrations and wonderful rich adventures of the mice who live in Brambly Hedge.  The little mouse footprints in the snow under a bramble brought that book to mind, and suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I’m snuggled on the couch with my two little girls reading.  There’s a Brambly Hedge story for each of the other seasons, and a few other books as well.

A mom and daughters playing in the snow at the Snowflake Festival a couple of weeks ago brought to mind winters from my own childhood.  We’d suit up after breakfast and stay outside until we were hungry for lunch.  Our mittens and hats, soaked through from all the snowballs and fort building, would be hung to dry on a special line dad had rigged in the basement near the stove.  Luckily, we had extra sets of hats and mittens for the afternoon romp, because often these would not be dry in time.

Playing in the Snow!When I think about all the time I spent outdoors in winter as a child, I marvel that I never knew that spiders and insects could be active in the snow.  I often site the dearth of insects as one of the reasons I love winter.  Actually, there are plenty of insects and spiders to be found in winter, a fact I learned after starting work at the Nature Center.  I can’t even begin to tell you all the things I’ve learned by working here!

Spider

Just Me AgainThis morning dawned clear, sunny, and blue after a zero-visibility storm yesterday.  It’s below-zero cold and I’m content to be sitting next to a window typing this article.  Tomorrow, though, when the weather warms up to above-zero single digits – I’ll be back at it.  Loving winter.

Jamestown Audubon Nature Center is a great place to enjoy winter.  Located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania, trails are open from dawn until dusk daily for hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.  The Nature Center building is open Saturday and Monday from 10:00am until 4:30pm and Sunday from 1:00pm until 4:30pm.  Even though the Nature Center building is closed to the public Tuesday-Friday in the winter, office hours are observed, generally from 9:00am until 3:00pm, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.  The restrooms are open whenever you see the yellow sign.  Regular hours resume March 1st.  For more information, call (716) 569‑2345 or visit http://jamestownaudubon.org.

Speaking of March 1st, photographers are encouraged to check out the Nature Center’s nature photography contest at http://jasphotocontest.com!

Jennifer Schlick is program director at the Nature Center.

Posted in Article, Get Outside!, Jennifer Schlick

Photo Club to Meet Feb 12, 2015

“Observing Hidden Details” is Topic of Audubon Photo Club Meeting

Jamestown, NY – “Observing Hidden Details” is the topic at the next Jamestown Audubon Nature Photography Club meeting.

black-capped chickadee - Suzette Paduano

: “Observing Hidden Details” will be the subject at the Jamestown Audubon Nature Photography Club meeting on Thursday, February 12. Shown here is a common winter black-capped chickadee photographed by member Suzette Paduano.

On Thursday, February 12, at 6:15 p.m. member Laurel Austin-Smith will lead a discovery trip inside the Nature Center building that is about finding one’s initials in the displays.  This promises to be a fun time with the hidden agenda of observing and isolating details that may be rotated or even upside down.

“The Color Blue” and “Shoot from the Hip” are the topics for the image review that begins the meeting. The Color Blue is about using a blue subject and finding a vantage point to isolate and emphasize the subject and so encourages people to think about the relationship of objects. For Shoot from the Hip, one keeps the camera at hip level and shoot upwards.  This gives an interesting perspective to your photos, as you don’t look through the viewfinder or at the camera screen.

A social time follows the program.

Visitors are asked to pay $5 that can be applied toward the annual membership of $30 if application is made by the next meeting. Among the benefits of membership are discounts on photography classes, field trips, and the right to show photos at Club exhibits.

The Jamestown Audubon Nature Photography Club meets at the Audubon Nature Center, 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

Contact Club President Suzette Paduano at (716) 763-9492 or suzettepaduano@yahoo.com for more information, or visit the Club blog at www.jasphotoclub.wordpress.com.

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Posted in News Release, Photo Club

A Micro-climate for Ducks

The Perfect Micro-Climate for Ducks
by Jeff Tome

There is a spot outside where it is always 53 degrees, whatever the season.  This is considered a microclimate, a tiny piece of habitat that is different than what surrounds it.  This area may be a few feet across or several miles wide.  The “snow zone” that is affected by lake effect snow is a microclimate.  The warm summer waters of Lake Erie also create the perfect microclimate for growing grapes and cherries.

Spring fed pond at Audubon - winter duck habitat

Spring-fed creeks and pools at the Audubon Nature Center never freeze, creating the perfect microclimate for ducks to survive the winter. – Photo by Jeff Tome

The Audubon Nature Center has swamps fed by freshwater springs.  As I write this article, warm water is seeping out of those springs at a temperature almost 40 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature.  The springs are filled with fresh green plants that are nibbled on by ducks and deer and other animals that stand in the warm water.

The ground by the springs is free of snow, warm and mushy.  It’s easy to sink into the mud if you are not paying attention. The springs feed into warm creeks that empty into pools which fill with ducks and herons through the winter months.  Open water spreads like spider veins through the swamp, surrounded by thick snow.  It is the perfect microclimate for winter waterfowl.

Buffleheads

Buffleheads are just one of the many types of duck you can find overwintering in Dunkirk harbor. – Photo by Jeff Tome

People sometimes create microclimates as well.  The NRG Power Plant in Dunkirk, NY releases warm water into Lake Erie as a byproduct of generating electricity.  This creates open water along the lakeshore in Dunkirk Harbor and an important microclimate for birds.

The open water creates a gathering spot for ducks, gulls and other water birds.  Many of these birds dive into the water to eat small fish.  They crowd in huge numbers into the open water, allowing visitors amazingly close views of birds that are usually much farther away.

The water is packed with birds that have odd names.  Mergansers, scaup, Buffleheads, and Goldeneyes dive with Long-tailed Ducks, which were once known as “oldsquaws” before their name was changed years ago.  Older guides still list them that way.

Wintery Blue Heron

This Great Blue Heron may spend the winter in the area, but it looks for open water to spend time. – Photo by Jeff Tome

Gulls also swarm through the air with lusty cries.  There are Ring-billed Gulls, Black-backed Gulls and every kind of gull but a sea gull.  Sea gull is a generic nickname given to all gulls.  To me, it doesn’t do justice to the huge variety of gulls that are out there.

Hunting the ducks are even larger birds.  Last year there were Bald Eagles on the ice hunting the ducks.  I saw four on the day I was there.  Someone sent a photo to our Facebook page showing fifteen eagles down the road from where I was.  Yet another person went out and saw more than that.  Peregrine Falcons have also been seen in the area, though no reports have come in yet for this winter.

There will be a field trip to go up and see the ducks and, hopefully, the eagles, on February 21st.  The program is called “Ducks and Dinner”.  We plan on leaving from the Park and Ride where Routes 60 and 86 cross one another at 1:30pm and returning at 4:30pm, detouring for an early dinner in Dunkirk at Demetri’s.  The program costs $20, $15 for Friends of the Nature Center, dinner not included.   Reservations can be made online or by calling the nature center at (716) 569‑2345.

The Audubon Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, where there is a building full of exhibits to explore as well as five miles of trails to cross country ski, snow shoe and hike.  Liberty, the resident Bald Eagle, lives outside the nature center, where she doesn’t mind the cold one bit.  For more information on the nature center, go to http://jamestownaudubon.org.

Jeff Tome is a naturalist at the nature center.  He will be leading the “Ducks and Dinner” program to venture out to see the ducks, gulls and other waterfowl in Dunkirk and, with luck, a good number of Bald Eagles as well.

Posted in Article, Field Trip

Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup
by Crin Fredrickson

Maple Syrup

Fresh Maple Syrup

I love to be the bearer of good news, and I have a lot of it for you…that is, if you like maple syrup. But first, a little nostalgia. When I was younger, my sister and I used to look forward to cold, wintry, Saturday mornings when mom would put french toast sticks in the oven and fill small, clear-plastic medicine cups to the top with butter-rich syrup. Now that I have more experience with teaching young children, I understand why mom used such small amounts of the sugary mixture—the hot toasty sticks wouldn’t last long after they made it to the table and eager dippers more than once discovered the sticky mess that accompanied the principle of liquid displacement. If you wanted the syrup to last you had to be careful! That was my earliest memory of “maple syrup” and, until recently, the extent of my experience with it. Back then I had no idea of the enormous difference that exists between store-bought imitation syrup and real maple syrup. I have since had the pleasure of learning all about the syrup-making process from tree to table—and, of course, the pleasure of learning the taste of fresh maple syrup.

My boyfriend’s boyhood Saturday mornings were very different from mine. His family has been in the business of making maple syrup for generations. His weekends were spent collecting buckets of sap from sugarbushes all around town and trying to stay warm by the open fire used to boil the sap into syrup at the family farm. The hard work it took to boil many gallons of sap into a few gallons of syrup was well worth it when the family would get together a few Sundays a year and share a huge breakfast, augmented, of course, with the syrup of their labor. “Fake” syrups were imposters, never to be used on their pancakes!

IMG_2955

Uncle Rick’s sap gets filtered several times.

They don’t collect sap in buckets anymore, and by the time I met them, their production had increased exponentially with the introduction of blue plastic tap lines and a new heated sugar house. With all the new technology, the runs (length of time that sap is collected from the trees in the late winter and early spring) are longer. The new system keeps the trees from healing too quickly, so the maples can be tapped earlier– something that would limit production to just a few weeks when buckets were in the equation. The whole process has evolved into a more stream-lined procedure, complete with ATV’s and reverse osmosis machines. But if you think that means making maple syrup is easy nowadays, think again! The permanent lines require upkeep and updates year-round– and when the run starts it can turn into a 24-hour job of transporting, boiling, and canning hundreds of gallons in just a few days. From tree to table, it’s fascinating!

IMG_2984

Checking the progress of the sap in the evaporator.

So here comes the first of the good news! Some scientists are expecting a very good year for syrup producers. Studies of perennial trees (like sugar maples) have shown that every year, trees either invest their energy in mass-producing seeds and flowers or invest their energy in making sap with a very high sugar content. There are many factors that influence the trees’ “decision”, namely environmental stresses, but if you plot the years historically, a pattern seems to appear: a year of low production of seeds and flowers is followed by a year with very high production of seeds and flowers. In 2014, the maples as a whole seemed to demonstrate low seed and flower production. The maples in my parents’ front yard, for example, annually litter the driveway with “helicopters”; some years the seeds are so numerous they conceal the blacktop completely. This fall, however, I had to look very hard to find even one of the funny-looking, winged seeds. Years like that (low outward production) are commonly followed by a mast year, also known as a year of mass blooms (high outward production)—almost as if the trees take a year to store up energy so they can bloom like crazy the following year. What this could mean is, depending on the cooperation of the weather, very high yields of syrup in 2015.

IMG_2990

Sap is not the same as syrup.

Sap is not the same as syrup. I like to think of it this way, sap is what comes out of the tree; syrup is what comes out of the bottle. It’s amazing how much sap it takes to make a single gallon of syrup. It all depends on the sugar content of the sap. A boiling process is required to produce syrup because sap is mostly water. The more sugar in the sap, the more gallons of syrup can be produced from the same amount of sap. If you had sap with 2% sugar content, you would need over 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Sugar concentration can vary from 1% all the way up to 5%, and in a mast year (like 2015 is predicted to be) the concentration tends toward the higher end of that range…meaning more maple syrup! Good news indeed!

The other part of the good news is that if you want to know more about making maple syrup, you don’t have to wait long! Audubon is offering a fantastic opportunity to learn more about maple syrup production on February 15th. That’s the day after Valentine’s Day! What could be sweeter? “The Art of Making Maple Syrup” will be held at the Audubon Nature Center and hosted by Rick Rupprecht. Come discover the exacting process of evaporating sap, the art of identifying sugar maples in the winter, and the incredible taste of REAL maple syrup. Each participant will also receive a certificate good for one visit to Uncle Rick’s Sugar House: The Home of the Happy Pancakes. But you better hurry! Reservations are requested by Monday, February 9th. (Click here to register onine.)  If you have any questions or if you want to learn more about Audubon and its many programs, call (716) 569-2345 or visit www.jamestownaudubon.org.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The Center is open from 10:00am-4:30pm on Mondays and Saturdays, and from 1:00pm-4:30pm on Sundays.

Crin Fredrickson is a Naturalist-in-Training at Audubon Nature Center.

Posted in Article, Program

Ducks and Dinner – Feb 21, 2015

Enjoy Ducks & Dinner with Nature Center

Jamestown, NY – You are invited to participate in an outing to see an amazing array of ducks and then go out to dinner to warm up afterward.

On Saturday afternoon, February 21, the Audubon Nature Center is presenting “Ducks & Dinner.”

On this getaway to Dunkirk Harbor on Lake Erie you can expect to see a variety of ducks and many more interesting birds, including dozens of eagles.

Buffleheads

The Audubon Nature Center is planning an outing on Saturday afternoon, February 21, to see an assemblage of ducks – and likely Bald Eagles – in Lake Erie’s Dunkirk Harbor. Afterward, participants will enjoy dinner at Demetri’s on the Lake. Buffleheads like these lurk near the pier during the winter months. (Photo by Jeff Tome)

Dunkirk Harbor is one of the few places where ducks can go when the water freezes. The power plant in Dunkirk discharges warm water into the lake, creating the perfect place for ducks to gather. It is not unusual to see a wild congregation of birds there, many of them quite close. Last year, over 30 Bald Eagles gathered nearby to dine on the ducks sitting in the water.

Leading the group will be Audubon Nature Center Senior Naturalist Jeff Tome. Last winter, while taking pictures of the beautiful ice dunes on the lake, he stumbled across the vast number of ducks and eagles waiting out the winter by the pier. He is looking forward to sharing the wild variety of waterfowl that gather there with others.

Participants will meet at 1:30 p.m. at the I-86 Exit 12 park-and-ride to carpool and be at the Dunkirk Pier around 2 p.m. Dinner will be Demetri’s on the Lake before heading back to Jamestown, arriving by 4:30 p.m.

Since the program will be outside, wearing layers is recommended. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars and a bird book if you have one, and be prepared to purchase dinner.

The fee is $20 or $15 for Friends of the Nature Center and children 9-15.

Reservations with payment are required by Monday, February 16, 2015: call (716) 569-2345 to reserve and pay by credit card or click on “Ducks & Dinner” at http://www.jamestownaudubon.org to reserve and pay online.

Nature Center education programs are funded with support from the Carnahan Jackson Foundation, Jessie Smith Darrah Fund, Holmberg Foundation, Hultquist Foundation, Johnson Foundation, and Lenna Foundation.

The Audubon Nature Center is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

To learn more about Audubon and its many programs, call (716) 569-2345 or visit http://www.jamestownaudubon.org.

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Posted in Field Trip, News Release, Program