Tag Archives: nature

Taconic State Park, New York – Copake Falls

Around this time last year, I blogged about camping in New York State at Schodak Island State Park. This year we went back to Copake Falls, which we had last visited in 2011. The campground was slightly disappointing, but we had a great time.  Food and friends – the perfect combination. My thanks to BJC for the arrangements!

It didn’t rain!

Our fellow campers were pleasant, and observed quiet hours conscientiously.

Bird watchers reported many sightings, but the most interesting natural phenomenon was a fungus called “dead mans fingers”. This picture from Google Images gives you an idea of what we saw.

 

Dead mans fingers

 

Very strange! And so small (1/2 inch high) I could have missed it. It thrives on dead vegetation and falls in the category of decomposers, along with mushrooms. What would we do without them??

Sometimes I wonder how much longer I will continue to camp. Getting organized is so much work… Then I join my friends, and have so much fun.

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Sahara Sands – “Frog Slog”

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If you Google “Sahara Sands” you will find various businesses, but you won’t find anything about the patch of State (NJ) owned land I visited last Tuesday evening.

A “frog slog” is a specialized nature walk. This one was sponsored by the Great Egg Harbor River Watershed Association, and took place as darkness fell. Around 16 people of varied ages attended. Most (but not all) were dressed for swampy conditions and insect pests. Many carried nets, and there were two portable aquaria.

We were told the walk would be conducted on the principles of CPR. Not the usual medical CPR, but rather

  • Catch
  • Photograph
  • Release

Frogs are, after all, vertebrates, and some are protected by law. We spent a few minutes listening to recordings of frog calls.

We walked along a sand road and crossed through woods to a large, shallow pond. Those wearing high boots slogged out into the pond. The excitement began almost immediately. It was a perfect frog hunting night – warm and humid. Five or six species could be heard singing loudly at any one time. Various specimens were netted and photographed, along with insects, insect larvae and tadpoles.

On our way back, a large bullfrog was caught. In the net, its familiar deep call (jug-o-rum, jug-o-rum) changed to a pathetic whimper, sounding like a human child! We turned him loose, and off he swam.

WHY a frog walk? Because frogs are interesting, ecologically valuable and threatened by development. A frog walk is also a way of asserting the importance of Sahara Sands and other places that support wildlife like frogs. One of the “competing uses” for this land is recreation using off road vehicles (ORVs). Such use is incompatible with protection of wildlife. ORVs tear up the marshes and destroy native plants. The damage is largely irreversible.

At Sahara Sands the conflict between these two uses has not been resolved, and it HAS been politicized.

The more people who understand frogs and enjoy this wonderful PUBLICLY OWNED natural site, the better.

Photos by W Cromartie.

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Schodak Island State Park, Schodak Landing, New York

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I didn’t pick this campground! Flood plain location, built on dredge spoil, near two rail lines AND under a turnpike bridge. Really, who decided to put a state park here? Just as well I didn’t know all of that in advance.

Schodak Island State Park turned out to be great! For starters, it’s close to the mighty Hudson River, so beautiful and historic. The State Park is relatively new, so the bathhouses are nicer than anything I saw in other New York state park campgrounds. The bathhouses were helpfully marked “shelter here in case of inclement weather”. I’ve experienced enough “inclement weather” in my camping trips to be very grateful for clear advice.

After flush toilets and hot showers, what makes a good campground? At Schodak Island, the campsites have been improved with a layer of sand, so securing tent stakes is easy. The camping area is blessed with tall trees and wildflowers. With only 66 sites, the campground felt cozy.

The highway and train bridges near the site are very, very high. I never heard the highway traffic. I heard the train engines moving past, but only once in three days did I hear a shrill whistle.

Management and staffing are important. At this state park, facilities were clean and functional. Our main contact was a friendly campground host, who not only answered questions but also delivered wood and ice for a nominal sum, whenever we wanted it. Delivering wood is smart management, as scavenging by campers can be destructive. The ice delivery was a GREAT luxury in a campground that’s relatively isolated. If there was a convenience store within 5 miles, I didn’t spot it.

So how did we spend our time in the woods? The usual… eat and talk… talk and eat. Plenty of casual hiking and bird watching. Bicycling for the more ambitious.

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A little north of the State Park, I saw my first pileated woodpecker! (Photo from Wikipedia. I was in a moving car…)

Some of us are diehard public transit enthusiasts, and Schodak Island is, in fact, quite readily accessible, by (you guessed it) TRAIN. There’s a station about 20 minutes to the north (Albany Rensselaer) and another a little further south (Hudson). Three campers took advantage of this.

So I take back some of what I’ve said about New York state campgrounds in the past. (It wasn’t nice.) I’ll be happy to return in the future.

PS! Almost forgot something very nice! We found a shelf of books on the outside of the bathhouse – a “free library”, so if it rains and you forgot to bring something to read, there it is! The reaction of most of our group was “I should have brought some books”.

“Looking for Longleaf – the Fall and Rise of an American Forest” by Lawrence S. Earley

(The University of North Carolina Press, 2004, 272 pages plus notes, bibliography and index. Extensive illustrations.)

This is a “must read” book! It’s a highly enjoyable combination of ecological science and regional history.

The longleaf pine forest of the Southeastern US was an astonishing natural resource. It was never truly “primeval”, being influenced by human activity since the original Americans arrived from Asia. But it was vast and rich in ways we can scarcely imagine.

Longleaf pine is “managed” no matter what is done to it. The range of outcomes (from commercial timbering to bird habitat enhancement) is broad and the time scales (from a few years to over a century) are impressive.

To my surprise, I’m currently following the progress of TWO forest management plans.

One covers the campus where I work, specifying practices for perhaps half of the 1600 acre property. It has two purposes. One is to get the campus out from under a misguided state policy that requires one-to-one replacement of every tree that gets cut for construction or other development (like parking lots). The other purpose to keep the forest healthy and enhance biodiversity. A healthy forest can hardly be taken for granted in New Jersey, battered as we have been by storms and insect infestations. (Remember the gypsy moth?) We also suffer from invasion by non-native plant species. So our woods need careful management. So far, one “prescribed burn” has been conducted and some selective cutting is in progress. This is a wonderful accomplishment! Finally we are done with decades of neglect. Leaving a forest alone is NOT the best way to care for it.

The other forest management plan in my life was developed about five years ago, to protect land in North Carolina owned by my husband’s family. Some timber has been harvested under this plan, and other steps may follow. Will this include reintroduction of longleaf pine? I don’t know, but I’m glad that preservation is being combined with management on this rural property, with its beavers, bears, rice field and aged trees.

The only forest on MY side of the family, a seven acre sliver of New England hillside, was sold about fifteen years ago. It was important to my childhood. I miss it. A peak at GoggleEarth recently showed me that it remains undeveloped. Surprising!

I recommend Looking for Longleaf to anyone interested in the fate of nature in our rapidly changing world.

“The Birds of America” by John James Audubon – the most valuable book in the world!

Copies of the elephant folio version “The Birds of America” by John James Audubon are very rare. The Library of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia was a subscriber to the original edition of this mighty work. And you can see it whenever the Library is open, which is almost every working day!

I visited the Academy last week. At 3 pm, it was announced that the daily page turning was about to take place. The folio rests in a climate controlled cabinet. Each day at 3:15, it is opened and a Library employee wearing white gloves turns a page so a new print can be appreciated. To me, there’s something magical about a really old book, especially one that is in such lovely condition.

I was not the only spectator for the page turning. I chatted with another guest and also the employee who turned the page. He was not well informed about the bird revealed (a gallinule), being a historian rather than an ornithologist, but he willingly went on line to check when I asked him if the folio included a picture of the black vulture, the newest bird on my (non-existent) life list. Yes, Audubon painted my favorite scavenger.

Turning one page each working day means the entire collection of 435 prints can be viewed in about two years. Not more than 200 copies of the elephant folio were produced, and 119 can now be accounted for. Thirteen are in private hands. The value of a complete set is about $12,000,000, but they are seldom sold.

What makes this book so wonderful? There’s the artistry. The plates were produced by copper etching and aquatint, followed by hand application of water color. They are detailed and very beautiful. The birds look alive, although they were painted from skins and mounted specimens.

Audubon later produced smaller prints of the original works, and now, of course, all is available digitally on line. But there’s nothing quite like gazing at the old, fragile pages and enjoying their color and detail. Go and see this treasure! It is breathtaking.