Saturday, May 30, 2015

Report on Rail-Trail Visit May 30, 2015

Snapping turtle at Normanskill

Normanskill placid water

Railroad bridge over Normanskill fixing for Rail-Trail
Michael Czarnecki and Sue Spencer were in town for their presentation of ALL ONE SONG at Pine Hollow Arboretum. I decided it was time to check out the progress on the Normanskill Rail-Trail having had the belief that the lower trail from the Delaware Ave Bridge to the Hudson River had been finished. I set as the target of our hike the old railroad bridge across the Normanskill. Last time I had been to the bridge it was not passable with a broken deck filled with large gaps. An idiot teen-ager could make it across but not me. I thought I could access the trail from the dead end of Rockefeller Road in Elsmere but that way was blocked off and maybe in need of some bridge reconstruction itself. We went by way of the 9W Bridge where there is a steep pathway down (one of many “fisherman access” points along the Normanskill. ) It was just a short walk along the wide leveled trail. It looked like the idea was to make a trail wide enough for emergency vehicles to drive on. Pass the Thruway Bridge we met a snapping turtle who was trapped behind a black plastic run-off barrier. We were able to help “snapper” along and the turtle went on to the river.

The railroad bridge was pretty far along in construction but not finished. The decking seemed finished but the steps or ramp that brought the bridge to trail level had not been finished. Not quite there yet. We did see hikers come down the trail from the other side. So sad, whenever will the twain meet?

The walk back was just a short one. Saw turtle and muskrat swimming in the Normanskill. Michael and Sue did a bit of rock-hopping on the near shore. The river was running brown from resent rain but still Summer level shallow. By this Autumn that bridge has to be done, right?

                                                                 --Alan Casline

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Herring Sustainability in Hudson Watershed

Pushed from the Federal level with concern over recent Atlantic Coast-wide decline, New York State has to show biological data for sustainable levels or close all commercial and recreational fishing for herring (alewife and blueback herring) in the Hudson River. What was suppose to be a three year study has been extended to run through 2016. Frustrating, because study is not action — recently read about native tiger populations in Siberia — same rationale– we do not have data which we should have before we act. Good thing is there are limits set for herring harvest again this year. On the main stem of river 10 per angler from Waterford, NY to George Washington Bridge and for tributaries like the Normanskill and also The Mohawk River it is 10 per angler with no use of nets. American shad in same waters prohibited in tributaries and main stem. A different species, hickory shad have a limit of 5 fish which can be caught from August 1 — Nov. 30th. The simplified ecological sketch has the striped bass eating the shad who are eating the herring. Recovery for the Hudson River could be best served by a fishing ban for all three species for at least three years . In the meanwhile, I have not seen any data on current herring populations released.

Little Brown Bat Population News

A summer 2014 set of observations from New York State biologist Carl Herzog had some positive news concerning the massive die-off of the little brown bat species. Once New York State’s most numerous species, it now seems, according to Herzog the steep decline in little brown bats “appears to have abated”. It appears a complete die-off is not going to happen. Herzog also said “I can’t honestly say that there is a measurable recovery or anything that looks like a recovery.” White-nose syndrome has killed 90% of New York State’s population. The population going from 1.5 million to about 150,000 little brown bats.

Worried About the Wrong Bees

It is the 4,000 or more other bee species living in North America, species other than the domesticated (Apis mellifera) commercial pollinator and honey producer, that we need to be concerned about surviving. In 1622 a ship arrived in Jamestown that carried the honey bee to North America..The European honeybee is promiscuous and can reside almost any where. These bees quickly spread through-out Americas. Natives called them “English flies.” According to Charles C. Mann in the book 1493 (2011) so critical to European success were the honeybees that natives came to view them as harbinger of invasion. “The first sight of a bee in a new territory, the French-American writer Jean de Crevecoeur noted in 1782, “Spreads sadness and consternation in all minds”. These bees are now spread through-out the world. There is no doubting their importance as pollinators to current food production but they are in no danger of extinction. Many native bee species are in danger, for example four of our bumble bee species declined 96% in the last 20 years and three species are believed to already be extinct. I admit I didn’t think about wild bees until the problems with commercial bees was publicized.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


The trail to Mine Lot spring has been on my to do list for quite awhile now. As my exploration of the Normanskill watershed continues finding the named springs has been one of the side objectives. There is the bathtub spring on Bennett Hill and I'm aware of a Mine Lot spring. I am also interested in seeing all the confluences of smaller streams into larger and eventually into the Normanskill. For example Black Creek and the Bozenkill merge before the Bozenkill then connects to the Watervliet Reservoir. The Watervlient Reservoir is made from a dammed and flooded valley of the Normanskill. I planned on tracing these spring sources and perhaps finding new ones. I read somewhere the native peoples knew of six sacred springs in the Pine Bush. Anyone have any more information on them? Mine Lot spring starts a creek that is found in John Boyd Thacher State Park. It flows and drops off the escarpment after passing under Thacher Park Road (Rt. 157) On Sunday January 16 it was a clean winter day with little wind and deep powder in the woods. I told my wife I was going someplace wild and dangerous to which she said "Well, I'll guess you'll be leaving Delmar." I and a lot of other people picked Thacher Park as a place to enjoy wonderful winter conditions. My daughter Liz had bought me a new pair of snowshoes and I chose the contemplated but never attempted Mine Lot trail for my walk. The trails in Thacher Park are well packed for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. I followed the packed trails uphill for awhile until I saw one snowshoe path cut off into the woods. It looked like the kind of undisturbed trek I was interested in and I thought maybe this person has a loop in mind that would reconnect with a main trail later on. I traveled towards a steep hill and then along the hill's base. At a not too steep part my leader went up the hill and I followed in the shoe prints going ahead. After about 30 minutes of going deeper and deeper along this other person's trail, I started thinking maybe this other snowshoe walker had more experience and was better conditioned than me. Maybe I should turn around and retrace my steps. I decided, since I did not really want to do that, to go on longer in the hopes of hitting a main trail soon. I didn't but instead I came upon a small flowing winter stream. It did turn out to be Mine Lot creek and as it was headed I felt sure towards the escarpment and road I decided to cut my own trail by following it for awhile. I stayed high on the banks and found a way down the ridge of hill I had climbed earlier. It came out in a snow covered picnic area and from there the main trail was close. I still have not found the spring, which is good because I can come back in the early spring with a clearer idea about the landscape and trail.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


A research report based on a study of brown bats and the continued spread of the fungus infection White Nose Syndrome was released this summer. The study headed by ecologist Thomas Kunz of Boston University found in 115 caves across the United States and Canada where bat hibernate, the numbers of bat have dropped an average of 73 percent since the start of the epidemic. In 2006 the cold loving fungus was detected in Howe Cave about 40 miles from Albany just outside of the Normanskill watershed. The fungus is believed to have originated in Europe. Sanitizing bat caves does not seem effective (or safe). A “best bet” at this point would be discovery of a biological control which could be introduced into the environment to control and/or out compete the fungus. Other hopeful biological outcomes might be the occurrence of more resistant individual brown bats which could breed a resistant population. There is however no evidence that this is happening. An open niche could also possibly be filled by a different bat species. Regional extinction by 2016 as the research report indicates would have unknown effects. Brown bats eat a large amount of insects, including pests. So long term effects of this population lost are unknown. The wild and honeybee declines are still mired in the confusion of what is causing their large-scale death and disappearance (there are many cases of honeybees just apparently flying away to never be seen again, dubbed the “Mary Celeste syndrome” due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives.*) The US government’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS)reports the number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter. Since 2006 billions of honey bees have died worldwide. Potential causes of the bee deaths include mobile phones messing up their navigation, genetically modified crops made to stand heavier applications and stronger poisons which leads to more poisons entering the ecosystem, parasites such as the blood sucking varroa mites, viral and bacterial infections which may be spread by the mites, pesticides and poor nutrition due to intensive non-organic farming dominating the landscape. Commercial honey bees raised in hives and trucked from farm to farm and from State to State in the US are being targeted as disease carriers and their movement is seen as detrimental to wild bee populations. Less studied than the commercial bees however environmental groups are concerned about the well being of these biodiversities, a few species thought to have been already made extinct. By accident my computer printer spit out 14 pages of reader comments on one of the articles I was copying. It was interesting to hear the comments especially the debate over the “bee decline” being just “silly alarmist nonsense” and others reporting in parts of China that no longer support bees, huge numbers of people are trying to pollinate crops by hand. *The Mary Celeste was a brigantine merchant ship famous for having been discovered in December 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean unmanned and apparently abandoned, despite the fact that the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced and able seamen. The Mary Celeste was in seaworthy condition and still under sail.

The cycle of life for the herring of the Hudson River found at the estuary waters of the Normanskill begins with a new hatch in the Spring. These new herring grow through the Summer months before swimming downstream and out into the ocean. If herring survive for three years or so, they can return to spawn. New York State DEC reports the size and age of Hudson River herring have been decreasing for at least 20 years. They once averaged about 11 inches and now days they only reach about 9 inches. These smaller and younger fish produce fewer eggs when they spawn. All the east coast ocean bordering states are being asked by the federal government to survey herring numbers and if, as expected, the numbers are declining in a few years there may be federal restrictions on the annual herring catch. Kind of slow moving process but there it is. I think the major problem is found out in deeper ocean waters although over fishing the Hudson River and an invasion of zebra mussels who eat plankton, a herring food source, may be contributing. Unsustainable numbers of anchovies, herring, sardines, menhaden, squid and krill are being taken by commercial harvesters from ocean locations. both inside and outside the 10 mile limits of US fishing laws. 90% of this catch is converted to fish meal and fish oil for livestock or aquaculture feed. These forage fish now comprises almost half of the wild marine global fish catch. Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science has issued this warning: “Forage fish are key players in the ocean’s complex food web. Their excessive removal from the oceans threatens to cause a breakdown of a very complex ecosystem in which species are interconnected.” Obeeduid and I traveled to Belfast, Maine for the August 21, 2010 “Sardine Extravaganza” which was part cultural arts festival and part community education event. Poets Gary Lawless and Karin Spitfire and the mostly Belfast crowd of divas and poets put together an event of consciousness raising. “For lack of a better word” Karin said in an interview for a local newspaper, “I believe in the power of prayer. We’re going to sing and dance. It’s a prayer for the power of herring” Gary Snyder in his book of essays Back On The Fire (2007) writes on how human song and dance might be perceived by the animal world: One time in Alaska a young woman asked me, “If we have made such a good use of animals, eating them, singing about them, drawing them, riding them, and dreaming about them, what do they get back from us? An excellent question, directly on the point of etiquette and propriety, and from the animals’ side. I told her, “The Ainu say that the deer, salmon, and bear like our music and are fascinated by our languages. So we sing to the fish or the game, speak words to them, say grace. We do ceremonies and rituals. Performance is currency in the deep world’s gift economy.” I went on to say I felt that nonhuman nature is basically well inclined toward humanity and only wishes modern people were more reciprocal, not so bloody. The animals are drawn to us, they see us as good musicians, and they think we have cute ears. --- Alan Casline originally appeared in RD Newsletter Vol.4, No. 4 November 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I took Nott Road off of State Farm Road in the Town of Guilderland looking for river crossings and views of the Normanskill on November 2, 2010, a fall feeling day. There was a breeze and color remaining on green hills but with leaves fallen from maples, birch and understory brush the bones of the earth were beginning to show. I turned into Nott Road Park and found the Normanskill followed one boundary of the property. This is a Town of Guilderland Park of soccer and ball fields without a trail system for hiking although there is plenty of opportunity for a formal set-up. I enjoyed the rough going. There seem to be quite a bit of ditching which I think is to help drainage of the ball fields. It looks like flood plain in the flat areas closer to streamside. I sat still and wrote some small poems then walked downstream till I came to a ditch/stream too big to cross.

steady stream

oak leaves floating

wind brings some upstream

towards me

ghosts seep from cracks in the world

Back in my vehicle, I turned left at the junction with Foundary Road (right turn) and Grant Hill Road (left turn) There was a iron-decked bridge to add to my collection of Bridges of the Normanskill. There were so many State Police cars driving by, coming from the nearby shooting range (National Guard Training Center) that I didn't climb down under the bridge as I usually do. The piece of the Normanskill that runs through the shooting range has steep sides and as I climbed up Grant Hill there were nice views of the deep valley at this place. Here are some photos from the day. steep banks upstream from Grant Hill Bridge

downstream from Grant Hill Bridge
There is a Normanskill down there some where

Thursday, October 21, 2010


deep shaded bank
seeing blue water
the MIGHTY stream
great spot for a board meeting
A poem by Matsuo Basho
All night long
I listened to the autumn wind
Howling on the hill
At the back of the temple
On a beautiful fall day my wife and I took a short walk along the Mohawk-Hudson Land Trust Land Normanskill trail that starts near the Delaware Ave bridge in Bethlehem. Seeing a wagging tail we decided to make a dog happy and brought our dog Charlie along too. The clay soil make the steeper parts of the trails a bit slippery but still easily managed if you took a little care.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Normanskill with mud flat (May 2010)
The last few weeks have sent me around and about some different environs of the Normanskill. A hike I took of Mount Trember in the Catskill Mountains on May 2, 2010 was at the peak of Spring wildflowers which made me think I should visit some old and new haunts in the watershed while the new green of spring was still present. I explored the kill (creek) south of State Farm Road in the Town of Guilderland. Then I walked along a small tributary of Black Creek beneath the escartment in the Town of New Scotland. Finally I visited the Pine Bush State Unique area south of the East Old State Road also in the Town of Guilderland. I am posting some photos. Such enjoyable variety with so much to explore and see.--- Alan Casline Spring green of ferns
Spring waters fill the Creek
tributary clouds come by for a quick visit
hayfield below escartment
at Pine Bush Unique Area
pitch pine loaded with cones
note: click on any photo for a full screen view