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ON THE SCENE: Planning for the neighbors

August 30, 2013
NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Larry and Nancy Masters want to hold a block party for their neighbors for the creepy, crawly, fuzzy, slimy, flapping, humming, tweeting, buzzing, and screeching kind. Yup, for the birds, bees, dragonflies, snakes, raccoons, turtles, salamanders, deer, coyotes, trees, bushes, grasses, and other kinds that live on, in, under, out of, and over their land many of whom are seasonal residents or spend at least one third of the year buried in mud, curled in a cave, or in some other hideaway.

None of these neighbors use email, Twitter, WiFi, cell phones or even snail mail. It is not like one can call them up on the phone or send them a note. So their first questions were, just exactly who are their neighbors, how many of what are they living with, and what are they doing about climate change. Their goal is to determine which species are facing especially challenging circumstances and develop recommendations to help private homeowners to become better neighbors to the wild life with whom they share this region.

Climate change to this set of neighbors is of more immediate concern then taxes and our dysfunctional congress is to us or at least equally so, though they probably think of us, or at least react to us as an invasive species of the worst kind. Be as that may, here we all are jammed together in this place called the Adirondacks.

Since one cannot just ask a bird, so what did you think of that monsoon we used to call June, the best way to find out is to see what they and all these other living beings are doing about it. Are they heading north? Having to deal with plants, such as Poison Ivy not normally found here? Are they dying like the brown nose bat and the Monarch butterfly, or gleefully digging through your compost heap like a raccoon.

The Masters and the Wildlife Conservation Society decided to find out, first by determining who all was here, and to do that by taking a snapshot of the neighborhood. Greatly assisted by Ezra Schwartzberg, they decided on organizing a bioblitz, basically a 24-hour count and look see of whatever they could find on the Masters 167 acre property. All it takes is finding around 70 wildlife fanatics willing to gather and look at anything and everything all at once. A free meal helps.

The experience was not unlike hanging out in the Olympic Village during the 1980 Games, as I did as part of the team that provided activities for the visiting athletes. Just as the jumpers were thrilled to meet the lugers, figure skaters and downhill skiers so too were the dragonfly people thrilled to meet those experts on moths or crickets. One learned that a butterfly net and a dragonfly net were as about as similar as a tennis racquet is to badminton racquet, while they each are oval, strung and have handles a tennis player would not want to use a badminton racquet at the US Open. Also netting a dragonfly takes reflexes an Olympic fencer would envy.

"I started working on dragonflies in 2006," said Stick Lapan of Lake Placid holding up an Eastern Least Clubtail for me to see. "This is from the circumpolar northern species, very rare found around here only in Lake Placid, at least so far. I think I am up to having seen 108 different species in Essex and Franklin counties. We are up to about 190 species of dragonflies in the state. We use extensions on our nets at least 15 feet long to let us reach way up into the sky. They are very quick."

The Masters property was once owned by the Lake Placid Club and mostly used as farmland, though now largely overgrown. Zoned for 30 lots, the Masters were able to acquire it keeping it intact and turn it into a nature preserve, which included building a LEED house that actually returns more energy to the grid than it uses. In his welcoming remarks Larry told the gathered that as a first step they need to determine what's living here and thanked them for their willingness to help.

"We are starting a long term monitoring plan to determine what is the impact of climate change," said Ezra.

Jerry Jenkins described the landscape to those gathered that they were standing on glacial till, silts and clays the remains of a glacial lake. He said that this alluvial plain was both wet and dry, which was quite unusual. "We think everything dry on the property was cleared for settlement and farming," he said. "This was once a white spruce corridor. We do not have a tree over 65 years old. What we see is trees coming back scrambling for cover. The most rowdy, messy action amongst the vascular plants is taking place in the ditches." The vascular plant people nodded their heads and rubbed their hands.

"When you make an observation, please mark it down on the maps giving the location within the grids," he said. Then Ezra told everyone what to do about documenting their observations and uploading them to the web, and then they were off.

"We didn't get a monarch in our census this year," said Lewis Rosenberg. "Don't mind my face. It is swollen from a wasp sting, an occupational hazard. We counted only twenty-five different species, one below the lowest census. I think all the heavy rains and unusual weather patterns account for it. Yesterday in the Loon census I found what looked to be a two-day old chick, which very late in the year for such a young chick. I think that also is the result of the high waters."

"We are from Westchester and New York City by way of Blue Mountain Lake," said birder Gail Benson. "My husband Tom does the rare bird alert for New York City. This bioblitz is exceptional."

"I am ready to seek the wily newt, salamander, frog, snake and turtle," said Magdalena Porycki from Potsdam. "We are excited. It is like a treasurer hunt for us."

"We have found thirty-six different mushrooms so far, kind of a low number for us," said Paula DeSanto. "The recent hot weather has dried them out. It was better right after all the rains."

"I found some Spotted Knapweed, an invasive species," said Carol Gates down near the beaver pond. "Larry told us to pull them out."

"I'm looking for ground beetles," said Benjamin Derr poking along the shore of the Ausable. "It's a pretty cool event. It will be interesting to see the species list when everyone is done and learn what is going on."

"I'm a Jack of all trades," said Peter O'Shea down near the pond showing me a spittlefly.

"Missed it," said Jan Trybula making a swipe with his net at a dragonfly.

"I think that was an emerald," said Peter.

"Got it. It is an emerald, I need help ID'ing it," said Jan.

"Holy crap, it's a ring!" said Stick Lapan, "I suspected that."

"Write down, 'Holy gee said Stick Lapan,'" said Matt Schlesinger to me.

"I didn't say that," said Lapan. "No one from Placid believe it if I said 'Holy gee.' We didn't find this species when we did the survey."

"This species has not been seen in the Park since the 1950s and up at Lake Tear at that," said Paul Novak. "It has never been seen in a state survey, it is only listed in the state records. This is one for the record books!"

"Holy crap!" said Lapan.

"This doesn't happen often," said Stephen Diehl photographing it.

"I don't how many times I missed it, " kept trying," said Jan Trybula.

"Wait, I think it is a Lake, still very rare," said Lapan. "I think it is too large for a Ring."

"I think Stick is right," said Vici Zaremba looking in a field guide. "The tail seems a little off. It has a tip going up not out. We will have to take it in and check."

"This is what this kind of work is like," said Trybula. "You get the excitement and emotions involved, but even so you can see how careful everyone is. We are committed to being accurate and double checking our findings."

While a full count of the total species was not available by press time, they added many to their baseline, made significant headway in the taxonomic groups and were able to able to document several interesting and relatively rare species. Stay tuned.



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