Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review: Secret Places: Scenic Treasure of Western New York and Southern Ontario

Now that we're finally getting a prolonged period of warm weather here in Western NY and with restrictions being eased a bit, it would be a great time to get out with the fam' and explore the Great Outdoors.  Perhaps you could even visit some places you haven't been to yet or weren't even aware of.  With that in mind, Mike Radomski has a book suggestion for you to help guide you in that direction!

Secret Places: Scenic Treasures of Western New York and Southern Ontario

Secret Places: Scenic Treasure of Western New York and Southern Ontario is a book written by a local author, Bruce Kershner.  Kershner was an environmentalist, author, high school biology teacher and forest ecologist in Western New York. Mr. Kershner was a renowned authority on old growth forests. He won numerous awards for environmental activism which include “Environmentalist of the Year” from the Sierra Club (Niagara Group) and the Adirondack Mountain Council. 

In 1996, he was awarded “Environmentalist of the Year in New York State” by Environmental Advocates of New York. Kershner lead several ecological studies in WNY at locations such as Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve, Zoar Valley, Allegany State Park, and the Niagara Gorge.  Sadly, Mr. Kershner passed away in 2007 after a long battle with esophageal cancer.
Maps of the Chimney Bluffs on the Coast of Lake Ontario
Mr. Kershner’s love for WNY and the environment is evident in the book. The text is written in a format that makes you laugh. It contains a wealth of little known facts about the secret place along with some whimsical humor mixed in.
Each secret place contains a written description of the location including its history and points of interest. The entries also have a hand drawn map of the location with detailed illustrations pointing out points of interest. You really get a sense of the author’s humor and excitement for the areas.
Zoar Valley Map
The secret locations are all in Western New York and Southern Ontario. They include Zoar Valley, Reinstein Woods, the Niagara Gorge, Little Rock City and Griffis Sculpture Park. There are a total of 25 secret places. One of my favorite entries, though I have not visited the location is “Swallow Hallow and the Frog Orgy Experience”. Apparently in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge you can hear “the bizarre sounds of singing, peeping and chattering frogs (in a state of orgiastic fervor—this is the sexual version of “Spring Break”).” I look forward to witnessing the orgy.
My other favorite entires include:
  • Skinny Dipping Beach at Zoar Valley: “a traditional skinny dipping beach since the 1960s when hippies “liberated” the area from the inhibitions of prudish society.”
  • Directions to Buttermilk Falls: “…turn left into the village of Leroy (the “Birthplace of Jello”)”.
  • About Reinstein Woods: “..Lily Pond reminds many fo the famous Monet painting of water lilies. In essence, the Preserve is a living “million-dollar painting” and raises the question, “Does art imitate nature, or does nature imitate art? 
Mr. Kershner’s descriptions and details add enjoyment to every secret place we have visited this far. We have visited a few locations we would have never found by ourselves. He even reminds us “Bring plastic bags with you so you can clean up the environment!”
Every WNY outdoor enthusiast should own and treasure a copy. 
Although, I have been to several of the “secret places”, I have not visited them all. To honor the memory of the author, I am making it a goal to visit all 25 places listed in the book and do a trip report on each location. The trip reports will include some of Mr. Kershner’s commentary of the location, photos and an updated digitized map. My trip reports are in no way a replacement for the actual book. Every WNY outdoor enthusiast should own and treasure a copy.
Side note: A friend of mine suggested this book to me. When I looked it up, my wife said, “Hey, that’s my high school biology teacher, I think my dad has that book.” My wife remembers Mr. Kershner as a energetic, whimsical and even a little cooky, teacher, loved by all. Her favorite memory is Mr. Kershner dressing up as a mad scientist and feeding his students a Jello brain. She said he really enjoyed teaching, loved his students and the environment. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Doing My Part for Nature

Trailhead Sign at Rolin T. Grant Gulf Wilderness Park
In the era of COVID-19 more and more people are looking to nature as an escape and as a way to get away from just spending time at home. As I've written in previous articles, this is a great thing and I believe it will fundamentally change how we view nature moving forward.

Unfortunately, there is also a downside to this.  As more people explore the trails and options that nature provides, we must be careful to do our part to do no harm to our environment and ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy all that we have today.

A few things to keep in mind as you explore parks, trails and all that nature has to offer.
  • Let someone know where you are going, when you will be home and your plans for the outing.
  • If you are going out, have a backup plan.  The backup plan should account for weather, full parking lots, etc.
  • If a parking lot is full when you get to your destination, find another place to go or try another time of day.
  • When you get on a trail, if it is muddy and you are having to walk off to the sides of trails or turn around, come back another day.  Let the ground dry out and recover.
  • Practice the principles of Leave No Trace:
    • Plan ahead and prepare
    • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
    • Dispose of waste properly
    • Leave what you find
    • Minimize campfire impacts
    • Respect wildlife
    • Be considerate of other visitors
  • If taking a pet with you, clean up after your pet and keep your dog on a leash.
  • Practice Carry In, Carry Out - If it wasn't there before you came, take it with you.
  • Leave nature in a better place than you found it.
The Rolin T. Grant Gulf Wilderness Park is a small park that I recently discovered nearby and I've found myself going back at least a couple of times a week to get away.  Usually there are a few people in the park, but everyone that I have met has been wonderful.  

Unfortunately, the parking areas, trail heads and the trails themselves have become a favorite spot for people to discard their unwanted items.  

Even the trash cans that are provided are full beyond capacity.
As you descend into the park, you see even more discarded items,such as tires, clothes, food containers and more.

I decided that my hike on this day would have additional purpose, to make the park more enjoyable for everyone.  I showed up after work with my gloves, mask, tools to pick up trash and a number of empty trash bags.  I know I may not get all of this cleaned up today, but I can start (and that is usually the hardest part).  

I spent the next three hours walking the trails and picking up everything I found.  The tires and large items will have to wait until another day as I'll need more help to remove them, but I will be back for those.

As you are out enjoying nature, take some gloves and a spare bag with you.  If we each pickup just a few items along the way, you will be surprised at the difference it makes.  

At the end of my walk, this is what I found.

Yes, that is a chainsaw bar.
This is what the areas above look like now.

Yes, I took the bags with me after taking the picture.
If we each do our part, everything that we are taking comfort in and enjoying in these difficult times will be here for generations after us to use and seek solace in during their own challenges.

Stay safe and enjoy all that nature has to offer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Feathered Friends: May could bring a bounty of Baltimore Orioles

Author: Hanz Kunze (article originally published in the Livingston County News)

Freshly sliced oranges are a great way to attract Batlimore Orioles.
May is such a wonderful month with the many beautiful and interesting birds returning and migrating through – along with the fascinating rejuvenation of so many trees, shrubs and flowers.
To me, the month of May is like Christmas as God gives us so much beauty to enjoy and it’s all gift-wrapped in so many beautiful colors and ways! I’m especially interested in the many bird species that will be appearing this month – many of which will be nesting in our region and several that will continue their northern trek into Canada. But I love and admire the awesome flora as well.
We are all quite familiar with the more noticeable and colorful favorites such as the rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, indigo bunting, purple finch, ruby-throated hummingbird, and scarlet tanager. Will it be another banner year for the orioles coming to the feeders such as last year’s unprecedented invasion?
If May is cool like it was last year, we could have just as much Oriole activity – so if you haven’t yet, make sure your grape jelly, oranges, and other goodies are ready for them. Last year it seemed like May 2 was the day that most of the orioles returned. It was like they just fell out of the sky and everyone had them, but it could be later this year. Certainly, as the days followed several more arrived and they all seemed to be going crazy at the feeding stations.
Based on our very cool April weather and the forecast into early May, I think the oriole action will be robust.
Now, if we ever get a really normal or much warmer May, the action at the feeders would be less – as in most past years – because warmer temperatures promote more insects and earlier blossoming of trees that have nectar that also attract insects.
Speaking of insects, it is these that dictate the arrival of so many bird species in May and even into June. Birds rely heavily on insects, and most of those that do are not seed eaters. The coming wave of birds will consist primarily of warblers, vireos, swallows, flycatchers and shorebirds – all insect eaters.
Though there are about 30 species of warblers coming through, it is difficult to find all of them as many migrate right through heading further north and may only stop over for a day or two to rest and to eat. Many birds migrate at night as well.
Still, many species of warblers will nest right here in Western New York. Those will find their preferred habitats rather quickly. Some warblers like nesting in the bushy thickets, some prefer staying high up in deciduous trees, some like the moister sections of woods, some like bogs, some like rushing water, and some like staying low in the understory of woodlots. Some prefer evergreens and others like mixed woodlots. Finding nesting warblers can be a challenge, but also very rewarding.
Some of the most common warblers that you may see or hear include yellow, yellow-rumped, common yellowthroat, ovenbird, blue-winged, American redstart, chestnut-sided, magnolia, northern and Louisiana waterthrush, and several more – all of which nest around here.
Many nature enthusiasts try to see how many warblers they can identify in the month of May and June. And since many are only migrating through for a few days or a week or so, one needs to be birding steadily.
Obviously knowing the songs of the warblers and other birds helps immensely. Even if you don’t know all of them, knowing a few helps. If warblers weren’t singing or calling, we would miss most of them!
I always dread hearing the song of the Blackpoll Warbler later in May as that signifies the end of the warbler migration. They have a distinct call, and my ears are tuned to them. The warblers come in so many beautiful colors and I only named a few above. If you take the time to explore a little and to really identify those warblers passing through all month long, you will be rewarded!
Once you’ve identified a few it can become infectious!
While you are looking for warblers, you are going to see several other neat birds. It can become a bit overwhelming but great fun learning and seeing the array of birds that most people will never see. We have our own “Wild Kingdom” right here in Western New York with an awesome variety of birds and animals to enjoy.
If your yard work always has to come first, you won’t make it out in the woods and thickets to see some great birds. Though I can’t do large-group bird walks right now, I can lead a few people, keeping social distancing in mind, on a walk here and there. If you are interested in joining me for a one-hour walk just let me know. You can call or text me at (585) 813-2676.
I know that I have a lot of work to do, but that will not stop me from fitting in as much birding and nature enjoyment as possible during this most beautiful month of the year. Make yourself a May bird ID list and add to it each day.
Until next time enjoy and be thankful for the beauty of this earth! Merry Christmas – I mean Happy May!
Hans Kunze is an avid birder and nature enthusiast who has been writing about birds and nature for more than 30 years. He writes for The Daily News twice each month. Write him at 6340 LaGrange Rd Wyoming, NY 14591 or call (585) 813-2676.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Hiking at the Iroqouis National Wildlife Refuge

As we celebrate "Earth Day" in 2020 Let's join ACO Raft Guide Mike Radomski and his family on their most recent outing, shall we?  

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Finding a Silver Lining

Time for some "social distancing" inner peace!
As we enter another week of social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine and things that we didn't anticipate for this year it may be difficult to see past the darkness. Yet, despite everything that is happening now, I remain positive that we will get through this.  It might take some time, but we will get there.

I've been lucky enough to continue working my full-time job throughout everything that has happened and while I'm not going to the office each day, I am still working on projects, ensuring that my children are keeping up with schoolwork and not becoming stuck to their electronics and keeping up with the tasks around the house.  Overall it can be exhausting.  So I decided to take the day after my birthday off to enjoy some much needed me time. 

The morning started out chilly and there was some rain, snow and wind in the forecast, but I was anxious to get out on the trails. My plan for the day was to take in Tifft Nature Preserve, Reinstein Woods, Knox Farm and Hunters creek.  I wasn't in any hurry, if I made it to all of the trails, great, but if not, I'd enjoy a day in nature.

Nature did not disappoint on this morning. After fighting the wind on the way up the mound trails at Tifft and finding the back trails underwater and closed, I followed the grass along the stream. 

I'm not alone.
As I walked down the trail, I saw a deer standing in the middle of the trail just looking at me.  I stood there watching this deer for several minutes and it didn't move.  Was I seeing things? Was this really a deer or had someone put a decoy in the path. 

Slowly, I approached the deer and still it didn't move.  As I got closer, I realized it wasn't just one deer, but now there were 4 or 5.

I kept walking, but none of the deer moved.  As I got a few feet closer, the deer did finally move, but they didn't run.  Instead they simply moved to the side of the path and continued to feed.  I was convinced they they would start running as a got closer. 

One deer seemed to be the lookout for the group, as I walked by the group (within a matter of yards) this deer would look up and make sure I was okay and then return to eating.

"I'm watching you, watching me."
I wandered the trails for a few more hours and found geese and other wildlife, but nothing impacted me as much as the deer. 

As the day went on, I did complete the four trails I set out to complete, but I noticed something. While the trails were not crowded, there was more people out that I would expect to see on a dreary Friday morning.  So I started thinking, how I'm hopeful that more people will feel a connection with nature and from those experiences will want to do more to support and save our environment.

The waters and skies around us are clearing up and there are reports in the news almost daily of people seeing things in nature that haven't been reporting in years.

While it may be dark and dreary now, the skies will open up and the sun will shine on all of us again.  When we come out on the other side, maybe we will have a better appreciation for those things we have lost over time and will fight to keep them as our new traditions moving forward.

Until next time, stay safe and enjoy all of the options that are out there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Some Coping Skills in an Uncertain Time

Today's post is a bit different than what we usually write about on the blog but, we believe it's a rather important topic right now so here goes.  Our sincere thanks to ACO Trip Leader Brian Swart for his professional input.  More importantly, our undying gratitude for his being one of the millions of Americans on the front lines right now dealing with this global crisis.
Brian Swart
Most of you know I am a nurse. A psychiatric nurse. As such I am seeing the growing issues facing all of us. To help I will put my chosen profession to work. Instead of giving you all of the regular stuff you are hearing about to take care of yourself. I am going to attempt to help those of you that I can with your fears and anxieties.

One of the biggest things psychiatric nurses help others with is in coping skills. Reality is everyone needs them. Some are better at it than others. Ultimately it takes practices. I have heard so many over the years tell me I don't have time for that. Well great news now many have more time than they know what to do with
1. Deep Breathing - This is one of the greatest of the skills that most would say "I've tried that," or, "I do that all the time." In martial arts you will perform a single action a thousand times before you become a novice, and a thousand more before you become adept, and so on. I dare to say most have not practiced deep breathing to this level. Then there is the point to practice in controlled, "quiet" environments and then the uncontrolled, chaotic environments. Body position is everything. Sit with your back straight. This allows the greatest use of your diaphragm so you utilize your lungs to the fullest. Feet flat on the floor. You can do with your eyes open or closed, but I recommend closed. Take a full breath in through your nose (about three seconds), and blow out through pursed lips slowly and controlled. Focus on your breath throughout. This will help to calm the body. It also leads us to...

2. Mindfulness - Being mindful or focused on your actions takes concentration. Use all of your senses to "explore" what you are doing in the moment. What to you feel, see, smell, hear, and taste? By focusing your thoughts like this it helps to quiet the mind.
3. Spirituality - Of all the training's, classes, and evidenced based research I have been through those that develop their spiritual aspect of life are shown to have better coping skills, and health, than those that don't. I will be biased on this one because I am a Christian with such beliefs. Praying is part of it. Prayer is seen as a healthy coping skill. It doesn't take rehearsed verses or sayings. It can be just an honest, private conversation that does not even need to be spoken out loud. It may be done anywhere, and at anytime.
I am with you, always.
4) Don't isolate - Wait what? Pure isolation is harmful to us as people. Although we are unable to gather or come together, spending time on the phone, online, texting, or what ever source you use for at least fifteen minutes a day is recommended by the Mental Health Association. Make it a point to set aside fifteen minutes a day for some form of interaction with another person. Not a pet,or TV, a real person. It is shown to help ground us in reality, interacting with another in times of stress. 
"Max" the ACO mascot and his little buddy gettin' ready for bed!
5) Sleep - The best thing you can do for your body and mind is to get the recommend amount of sleep for your age. This helps allow your body to maintain homeostasis which is needed to regulate your emotions. Try to limit day time napping to half an hour in the afternoon. Getting a full night sleep is preferable. If you are truly unable to do this please contact your primary care provider to discuss options.
6) Exercise - Whether you feel like it or not our bodies need exercise so that we may handle the various stress in our lives. If your thing is to lift hundreds of pounds and complete intense workouts then that is good for you. The rest of us can do with simple exercises such as walking, yard work, yoga, ti chi, or lighter work outs. As always consult your primary care provider if you have other medical/physical issues before beginning a program.
7) Hobbies - This may be a little harder to do if these include kayaking and white water rafting. Consider this, sitting around doing nothing will not only hurt our bodies, however also has negative effects on our minds as well. Find an activity you like or are interested that allows for learning, concentration, and the ability to complete something. We feel better when we do this as it provides distraction from our fears and anxieties, while allowing us to grow in person.
There you have it. Some basic tips that you have probably heard over and over again in your life to manage yourself. As much as I have so many laugh at these things, so much of it has been know to work for years and years. Find it silly? You don't even have to tell someone else that is what you are doing. It is all on you to decide if you will utilize these tips when so many have new found free time on your hands. Even if this post only helps one of you out there I am happy I did it. As always the nursing side of me will reiterate talk to your primary care provider before undertaking new challenges, especially if you have various issues going on.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Staying Active and Feeding the Soul in the COVID-19 Era

John Swan
This is not an article I ever thought I would write, but the fact is that we are living in a time that most of us never envisioned.

Maybe you are sick, maybe not.
Maybe you have lost your job with no notice or maybe you're staying home.
Maybe you have loved ones you are worried about or maybe you are worried about yourself.
Maybe you find finding yourself at home being a teacher to your children.
Maybe your duties have been deemed essential or maybe your just working from home.
Maybe your are dealing with all of the things above.

Normally when we get stressed we have something that we do to relax and get away.

Some of us go out with friends, others spend time in gyms or spas, or any number of options.  Unfortunately, if you are like me and living in New York State, many of these choices are not available due to the protections in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The upside is you do not have to stay indoors and wait to be taken over by cabin fever.  You can practice safe measures and get outside for exercise and to get some fresh air.

For me, I love being outdoors.  Normally at this time of the year, I would be preparing for the upcoming rafting season, ready to spend hours with our guests and sharing the beautiful sights of Letchworth State Park or the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY.

Unfortunately, this year, these plans are on hold, so I don't have my go-to activity to wind down from a long week. If you have read my previous posts, you know that I have been doing a lot of hiking over the last few months. So today, after spending the last week plus at home with my family, I decided to take a day for myself. I made a plan to do several hikes, some at old favorites and a few at new parks and trails.

Lockport Nature Trail - Waterfall
I started my day hiking my favortie, the Lockport Nature Trail and then proceeded to Royalton Ravine.
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge - Mohawk Pool
My next stop was the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and then to a new trail (one that I think I will be visiting frequently in the future), the Genesee County Park and Forest in Bethany, NY.  If you are not familiar with the park, it is located next to the Rolling Hills Asylum (a story for another day).

The main roads into the park were closed to automobile traffic today, so I walked in from the main parking area and found a fitting trail to hike.

Death Row Hiking Trail - Genesee County Park and Forest
Despite the name, the trail was relatively easy and was a fun break from this week.  After completing the trail, I returned to my car and onto my next trail for the day, Golden Hill State Park.  The trails were muddy and the wind and waves were crashing into the shores of Lake Ontario.
Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse Cottage - Golden Hill State Park
The lighthouse and the views are amazing.  Five trails down, and I had intended to stop here, but I still feel good and it is spring, so the days are getting longer.

Bond Lake 
Bond Lake County Park is the next stop.  I wandered the trails for a little more than an hour, but there is much more to explore.  I had planned to come here over the winter to snowshoe, but the snow was never quite deep enough. I will be back though.

River's Edge Trail - Artpark State Park
One last stop for the day. Artpark State Park isn't far from Bond Lake so I chose to end my day here exploring the Rivers Edge trail and the Ridge trail.

At the end of the day, I completed a total of 8 trails in just over 8 hours of hiking.  I'm exhausted, but I feel so much better than I did at the start of the day.

Being outside, engaging my senses and feeding my spirit.

If you can safely venture out I encourage you to take advantage of the trails spread out all across New York State.  For me being outside always grounds and re-energizes me.

However, if for any reason you are unable to venture out, I'd love to share some of my experiences with you.  Check out the videos below for some of the things that impacted me the most on my adventures today.

I hope you enjoy them as well.

30 Seconds of Meditation - Lockport Nature Trail - Waterfall

30 Seconds of Meditation - Golden Hill State Park - Sounds of Nature

30 Seconds of Meditation - Golden Hill State Park - Stream

30 Seconds of Meditation - Artpark State Park - Percussion Garden

Here's to hoping that all of us can get back to "normal" lives again soon. Until then, I hope to see you on the trails.  

Book Review: Secret Places: Scenic Treasure of Western New York and Southern Ontario

Now that we're finally getting a prolonged period of warm weather here in Western NY and with restrictions being eased a bit, it would ...