The Wilderness Lodge

LASSesBack in October, the LASSes scheduled a hike for today totally forgetting that it would be deer season in both New York and Pennsylvania.  We also didn’t anticipate the amount of snow we have!  So we had to find a place where we could cross country ski and be safe from hunters.

The Wilderness Lodge turned out to be the perfect place.  Located just west of the border between Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, this privately owned land had several miles of groomed trails.  The lodge is cozy and warm and serves wonderful soup, chili, hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, and – of course – ALWAYS:  Chocolate cake.

It was a picture perfect day.

Gorgeous Snow!

Perfect Day

Concetta   Emily on Skis

SueHere is where there should be a picture of me, except I forgot to hand the camera to someone else to take my picture… I also forgot to take pictures inside the lodge. But if you click here, you can go to the Wilderness Lodge website and see one.





Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is one of around a hundred trees and shrubs that make up the Witch-Hazel family (Hamamelidaceae).  Sweetgum Range map from WikipediaTechnically, it’s not supposed to live around here – the northern most part of its range being southeast New York State.  It’s such a pretty tree, though, that people have engineered several cultivars and plant them as ornamentals.  We have one in the yard near the parking lot at Audubon.

I love the star-shaped leaves and I’m looking forward to the day when our little tree, which supposedly could grow as tall as 80-120 feet, will be mature enough to produce the funny round burr-clusters of seeds.  That could be a while, as they don’t usually produce fruit until they are 20-30 years old.

(There will be those who have Sweetgum trees who will be amused by my “looking forward” to the fruits…  nasty little clusters that wreak havoc with the lawnmower and children’s bare feet!  UPDATE 12/6/08:  In fact, read this blog post about the Not So Sweetgum.)

I became curious about Sweetgum after photographing it in the snow the other day.

Sweet Gum

In his book, Trees of New York, Stan Tekiela claims that Sweetgum is “an important tree commercially, surpassed only by oaks.”  The wood is used for furniture, veneer, barrels, and more.

Sweetgum fruit from WikepediaThe resin (or liquid amber) has been used for a variety of purposes.  Mixed with tobacco, it was smoked.  It has formed the base for some perfumes.

Learn more:

Featured in Festival of the Trees #30.

Still Practicing…

Well, I’ve taken a lot of flack about my “Practice Snow” post. Turns out, this snow is pretty serious. I think we have crossed over from “practicing” to “over-achieving.”

Still Practicing...
The neighbor had JUST brushed this car off, not two minutes before the picture and it was already covered again…


Still Practicing...
Here is the White Spruce in my back yard… getting whiter by the minute!

Short-eared Owl Update

Last February, I posted a story about going with Tom LeBlanc to help out with a Short-eared Owl banding project.  You can read about it by clicking the picture below:

What an Exciting Day!

Chuck Rosenburg from the Department of Environmental Conservation sent this email update recently:

Hi. Here’s an update about the short-eared owl project. Please see the attached map showing the general route our satellite-monitored owl traveled from the time of its capture in Niagara County on Feb 9, 2008 through to its probable breeding area in Labrador. It was tracked in the same general location in Labrador from May 30 through the end of September. Unfortunately, we lost contact with the owl in late September, when it was still in Labrador. It looks like the owl perished or the transmitter went dead for some reason, which is disappointing of course. But we are thrilled about the wealth of location data it provided. We hope to get at least one more satellite transmitter to use this winter, so it will be interesting to see what new data we can gather.

 They have been spotting Short-eared Owls in our area already this winter.  If you live near large fields or grasslands in Central New York and would like to help out with the study, contact Chuck.  His contact information is on the PDF file which you can download by clicking here.

Practice Snow

I wanted to stop about a hundred times on my 9-mile drive to work to take a picture of the beautiful snow…  But I didn’t.  After parking and climbing out of my car though, a couple of flocks of Tundra Swans flew directly overhead.

Tundra Swans
Now, if that isn’t an invitation to take a snowy walk, what is?

Winter won’t officially start for more than a month.  This snow?  This is just practice snow.  And all along the way, reminders of autumn were abundant.

Sweet Gum
The Sweet Gum still clings stubbornly to its leaves.


Winterberry Holly
Winterberry Holly is brilliant against the whiteness.


The leaves of alien Honeysuckle sport their bright green-yellow.


A few stragglers remain on the branches of the Apple Tree.


Lost leaves reveal patterns and shapes where the Grape vine twists around branches.


Woodland Pond
WinterWoman is happy for the Practice Snow!!

Birthdays, Burdock, and… Velcro?

Ryan Restivo Holding BurdockRyan is lucky. He’s connected to nature. For as long as he remembers, his parents have arranged for him to celebrate his birthday at Audubon. He also comes when he can to Audubon’s Little Explorers’ program on the second Saturday of every month. And, he is in the second grade at Fletcher Elementary school in Jamestown, NY, where his teachers partner with naturalist Jeff Tome to offer place-based education throughout the school year. Based on the enthusiasm he shows at Audubon programs, I would guess his parents give him plenty of other opportunities to explore the natural world as well.

As a result of all this, Ryan is conditioned to love nature and to be curious about the things he encounters. At his most recent birthday party, he brought me a tight little ball of seeds from a tall plant that was growing next to the trail.

“What’s this,” he asked.

Burdock Seeds

I gave him my standard short answer, the one that satisfies most seven-year olds. “Those are seeds from the Burdock plant.”

He kept looking into my face, waiting for more. So I went on… “If you look closely, you will see that the end of each seed has a little hook on it. When you – or an animal – brush by the plant, the hooks grab onto your jacket – or the animal’s fur.”

Still not fully satisfied, he waited to see if I had more to say, “Those seeds are little hitch-hikers. They use you – or an animal – to catch a ride to a new location. When the seed is eventually brushed off, perhaps it will land in a place where there is soil, water, and sun. Then a new Burdock plant will grow. Isn’t that clever, spreading your seeds by hitching a ride? Getting animals to plant you in a new garden?”


Ryan pondered this in silence for a moment while deciding to wear several Burdock seed clusters as adornments on his jacket and mittens. He started to move on down the trail. “Do you want to hear something interesting about Burdock?” I teased.

He stopped dead in his tracks and turned. “What?” he asked.

“The man who invented Velcro got his inspiration from Burdock.”

As we continued down the trail, Ryan marched and chanted, “Bur-dock, Bur-dock, Bur-dock…”

I realized as we walked on and I listened to Ryan’s chant that while I have been telling about Burdock being the inspiration for Velcro for at least 8 years – since the first time I heard another naturalist say it to a group – I really didn’t know the whole history. So, I looked it up!

Burdock w BldgIn 1941, a Swiss man named George de Mestral took a hunting trip in the Alps with his dog. One day when he returned, he became curious about the burrs sticking to his clothes and his dog’s fur. As he looked at the hooks under a microscope, he wondered if he could use a similar structure to fasten other things together. After eight years of experimentation with various materials and techniques, he finally hit on something that would work. It would take another two years to find a way to mechanize the process. De Mestral applied for a patent in 1951 and received it in 1955. The name Velcro comes from two French words – velour (velvet) and crochet (hooks).

Velcro was not used widely until after the aerospace industry used it for astronaut suits and designers of ski clothing, seeing a similarity between astronaut suits and their winter gear began using it in their fashions. Over the years, hook and loop fasteners have turned into a multi-million dollar industry and are used in industry as well as fashion. George de Mestral died in 1990, so he never knew about his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999.

Just think, all that inspiration from a plant whose seeds are little hitchhikers. So, keep your eyes open, Ryan. Keep exploring and being curious about nature. Maybe something you see will inspire you to start a multi-million dollar industry… Maybe you, too, will be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

Bur-dock. Bur-dock. Bur-dock!

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the season when it’s already dark by the time I leave work… no time for photographs even before dinner, let alone after.  ‘Tis the season when I dig into the folder upon folder of photos I have taken over the last year and “mess with them” in Photoshop…  I still don’t know what I’m doing in that package… but I’m having fun:

Take me away...
My Boots

Cheers in Color
Celebrating with Friends

Brambles and Blow-downs and Baby Beeches

Street LampAn inevitable condition of my age and gender coupled with a full life has left me too exhausted for romps in the woods for the last month. Today, I have a bit of time and a bit of energy.

I leave before sun-up, which isn’t very early at this time of year. Even if there were sun, the clouds are thick and gray, threatening rain and allowing very little light to reach me. I take the camera anyway.

Lolli is delighted that last night’s promise of a romp in the woods was not idle chat.

It doesn’t seem like it was THAT long ago that I walked this trail.  Wild things grow fast.  I adopt a strange gait using the outside of my boot in an attempt to crush down the brambles that tear at my gloves and scratch my legs through the thin denim of my old jeans.


In my effort to avoid brambles, I wander off the old trail where I must lift my heavy-clad feet high over blown down tree trunks and branches.


I find myself temporarily lost – a giant towering over a new forest of baby beeches…

Baby Beeches

The exursion makes me realize I have dressed in too many layers… and I can’t unzip my jacket, because it protects the camera.  I take off my hat and enjoy the sensation of near freezing raindrops on the top of my head and on my flushed cheeks.  I take off my gloves and stuff them in my pocket.

Lolli walks randomly, weaving this way and that with nose to the ground, sniffing here, there, everywhere.  A rustling off the trail causes her ears to perk up and she is gone – purposefully bounding toward… whatever it was…  I wonder what she would do if she ever caught up with her quarry?

What’s that flash of white on the right side of the trail up there?  Deer?  No.  Too low to the ground.  Lolli sees it, too, and makes chase.

It turns, crosses back over the trail and runs off into the woods on the left.  Not quite as tall as Lolli, the fur is the color of the downed beech and oak leaves… but the tip of the tail is bright white.  Red Fox.

I wonder how long I’ll be waiting for Lolli to return… and what she’ll smell like when she does…  But she doesn’t keep me waiting long… and she smells just fine.

I don’t see foxes very frequently and I always feel quite honored when I do.  This the second time I’ve seen Red Fox in these woods.

(I don’t have a fox photo and I hope that Flickr contact Églantine doesn’t mind that I borrowed hers.)

First Snow

Technically, our first snow was back on October 29th – the day this photo was taken.

Building Front - First Snow

But the scene today is pretty similar!  And other locales further north – closer to Lake Erie, are getting many inches of lake-effect snow.

WinterWoman is smiling.

Peter Pan Opened Last Night

Twenty four years ago, I played Peter in a production of Peter Pan at the Little Theatre of Jamestown.  It was the role of a lifetime and I had the time of my life.  This month, a whole new generation of folks are experiencing the magic of mounting a production at Jamestown Community College.  I went to opening night, expecting the show to be a little shaky, based on the rehearsals I had seen and photographed…  But I was pleasantly surprised to find it is rock solid.

To Neverland!




Lost Boys

For me, the story of Peter Pan is the story of what all childhood should be:  imaginative, creative, and outdoors.  Frosty MorningIn my current job at Audubon (Neverland) I get to encourage children to be “lost boys” (and girls) all the time – exploring nature and getting connected to our beautiful planet.  In this regard, I’ve never stopped being Peter Pan!

If you have never seen a live production of Peter Pan and you live anywhere closeby, treat yourself to this one!  Click here for show times and ticket information.

Then, of course, after the show – take your inner child out to the woods for a little exploration of your local Neverland.