Last Saturday started out quite frosty.


At our annual Thanksgiving event at Audubon, I mentioned to an elementary school teacher that I had been out earlier photographing the hoarfrost.


This led to a conversation about the word and the fact that it has showed up in a second grade reading test. Many of the teachers in her school had never heard the word before.


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word comes from the Old English word har, which means gray, venerable, old, the “gray” referring to a nobleman’s gray hair, I suppose.


Cal Tech has a wonderful website that explains that frost and snowflakes are formed in a similar way when water vapor condenses directly into ice, skipping the liquid water stage. The difference is that snow forms around dust particles suspended in the air, while frost forms on objects on or near the ground.


When frost crystals grow beyond a fine white coating, they earn the name hoarfrost.


Last Saturday, the whole world was covered in the stuff.


If I had been dressed more properly for the cold, I might have stayed out longer to take more pictures!


Google search for hoarfrost images.


All the naturalists share one big office at Jamestown Audubon.  That means, we hear each other muttering to ourselves while working on projects.  When Jeff Tome was putting together the 2013 Natural History calendar, I overheard him muttering about how hard it was to find a good November picture.  “Everybody is out in October taking  fall foliage and other wonderful shots.  Then November comes, and people quit snapping.”

And so, I have been thinking… what says “November”?  What images embody the spirit of this month that stands between the riotous color of early autumn and the bright clean whiteness of winter?


At least that’s what caught my eye the other day when I was out hiking:  a wide variety of plants who move their seeds about by taking advantage of the wind.

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It’s Illegal


Bird nests are not homes. Birds use nests to raise babies. They will not use them in winter. Still, it is illegal to collect them. Except photographically!

I think one of the biggest surprises to people who come on a walk with me is when I tell them that it is illegal to collect nests and feathers from migratory birds.  Yep.  Illegal.

“What is the harm?” they want to know.  Especially at this time of year when the birds are obviously done using the nest.

There was a time when bird nests, eggs, and even the birds themselves were collected to the point that populations were put at risk.  People made room decorations and hats from birds and their nests and eggs.  Yikes.

In 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed to protect birds from this kind of exploitation.

You can’t collect nests.  So, take pictures instead!

Click here to read about Audubon and the use of birds on hats.
Read the Migratory Bird Act by clicking here.

When Nature Calls

This article was published on Jamestown Audubon’s blog, as well as in local newspapers. It is hard for me to speak so calmly about the topic, because it just makes me mad when I come upon piles of poo and toilet paper in the woods. It doesn’t help that both the dogs I walk with enjoy eating the stuff. So gross. I’m guessing anyone who reads this blog is responsible about it, so I am “preaching to the already-saved” as it were. Anyway…

When Nature Calls
by Jennifer Schlick

The spunky little twenty-something facilitator of the workshop asked us all to think about something we all do every day, perhaps even several times a day. In fact, she encouraged us to review in our minds a typical day and count how many times we do it.

Willis Creek Leanto

The Willis Creek Lean-to on the Finger Lakes Trail in Allegany State Park has an outhouse and an artesian spring.

Once upon waking, once after breakfast. Again before lunch, and once before supper. Once before bed and that makes at least five for me.

Next, she instructed us to take marking flags – one for each time we do it – yellow flags for number 1, oranges ones for number 2 – and “plant” them in the surrounding woods.

There were probably twenty of us at the Leave-No-Trace (LNT) workshop – by now all giggling, some slightly embarrassed. When we returned to the teaching circle, we were surrounded by over one hundred yellow and orange marking flags – a visual representation of the impact we might have on an area – just doing what we all have to do.

Allegany Autumn Breakfast-15

There are no facilities along the Patterson and Snowsnake Run trails, so be prepared! These are great trails for hiking – and skiing when there is snow. There are restrooms at the warming hut at the top of the Art Roscoe ski area.

As with any human activity, there are ways to do even this while having less impact on the environment, which, of course, was the whole point of this part of the LNT training.

What prompted me to write about this topic? I recently took a nice long hike along trails in Allegany State Park and found three little piles of toilet paper on top of the fresh blanket of autumn leaves. One was right next to – almost right in the trail. One was within 3 feet of a creek. And the third – of the orange flag variety – was behind the lean-to where campers eat and sleep. Really, people?

What makes someone do that? Is it a disregard for other people’s experience? “I’ll be gone in a few minutes, what do I care if someone has to come upon my excrement while hiking?” Is it a fear of our own bodily functions? “Ew! I don’t want to touch that any more than I have to!” I hope it’s just that they’ve never been taught the proper way. So let me teach you.

The Leave-No-Trace guidelines instruct us to use facilities if they exist. This seems like a no brainer, but I’ve camped at several lean to areas where others have not used the outhouse. If no facilities exist, and you are camping together with several others, you are best to designate a potty area at least 200 feet from trails, campsites, and water sources, and dig your own mini-latrine. If you are hiking, walk 200 feet away from trails, campsites, and water sources. Deposit human solid waste in a “cat hole” 6-8 inches deep, then cover and disguise the hole. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. Read it again: Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.


East Meadow Trail, Allegany State Park

Some of my hiking companions are “grossed out” by this last guideline. It’s not that hard to do. It just takes a little planning. One of the pockets on each of my packs is the potty pocket. In one ziplock bag is clean toilet paper; in another is the dirty stuff that I’ll throw away when I get home.

You may be surprised to learn that there are some heavily visited natural areas that require you to also pack out the human solid waste. Oh, I can hear you screaming, “That’s so gross!” But think about it. Is it less gross to pull your canoe up onto a sandy beach to setup camp only to find that every place you dig brings up someone else’s deposit? That’s what was happening along the Colorado River as rafting became more and more popular. And that’s what prompted organizations to recommend “pack it in, pack it out” – and to have that principle apply to EVERYTHING you bring in. There are products to facilitate the packing out of your own waste.

Next time you are online, do a search for “how to poop in the woods” and see what comes up! In addition to products and advice, you will find a lot of conversation and disagreement about whether it is necessary to cart ours out. Isn’t ours just as natural as the animals’? Won’t ours disintegrate just as the animals’ does?

Turkey Scat

Under the right conditions, animal scat disintegrates and becomes part of the soil. This deposit was left by a turkey.

Sadly, given our diet and medications, ours is not as natural as the animals. And yes, ours will disintegrate over time, just as the animals’ does (or doesn’t depending on the weather and climate)… but as it breaks down (if it breaks down), our pathogens and medications are passed along.

One of the websites I read encouraged people who will be hiking or camping together to have The Potty Talk before venturing out. Don’t make assumptions about what your friends know and don’t know about the proper way to dispose of human waste. Talk about it. Laugh about it. Make rules about it. But for all our sakes, please be responsible about it. The natural world is full beauty and wonder. Let’s not mar it with bad habits. When nature calls, answer responsibly.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is now on winter hours. Trails remain open from dawn until dusk daily, but the building is closed Tuesday through Friday, except when there are special programs, or by appointment. Monday and Saturday the building opens from 10:00am until 4:30pm. Sundays the building is open from 1:00pm until 4:30pm. Even though the building is not open, if we are inside during business hours, we will hang a sign and unlock the door that leads to our restrooms. If you are hiking or skiing, feel free to stop inside to make your deposits, if you know what I mean!

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon.