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

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Sensationalized headlines speaking of impacted and impaired water start off this report on a meeting I attended at 5-Rivers Nature Center in Delmar, New York on February 25, 2010. Historically, the general water quality of the lower portion of the Normanskill's main stem has been deemed impacted. Which on a 5-point scale of stream quality scores a 4, meaning stream life (fish stock) are able to survive and most species reproduce but on the most sensitive end of the scale aquatic life does not thrive. The urban landscape the Normanskill tributary named the Krumkill flows through produces a stream water quality of much more negative quality like a 2 on a 5-point scale. There is a Federal Code for this: the 303d waterbody list, which is not a good list to be on. Nonpoint source nutient, municipal, and toxic additions are the most likely impacts affecting water quality according to the Watershed Report card. This is not really surprising data but does have importance because of the development pressures the watershed faces. Nancy Heinzen of the Stormwater Coalition of Albany County ( introduced Kelly Nolan of Watershed Assessment Associations ( who conducted bio-montoring testing at a number of spots in our watershed. It was the Hudson River Estuary group that funded the study (Thank You!). For the Normanskill the spots chosen "bracket" the potential run-off pattern of the large to-be-developed Vista Tech Park. They are important measures of undisturbed bio-systems that will predate major construction. On "one long harsh and foolish day" Nolan and his associates visited five sites. Three on smaller unnamed tributaries anf two at actuall Normanskill sites. The difficulty was getting to the sites which were not close to roads or other easy access points. Bio-monitoring is a "tool" that looks at the biological community that is living at a certain measurement site. A set of standards have been developed that attempt to take into account different stream conditions. The situation as it is found is compared to ideal criteria and an assessment of water quality can then be made. One problem is there is no NYS or National criteria developed for assessing small tributaries such as the three tested here. A second problem that I see is the specific nature of a steam such as the Normanskill, the high mud banks and silty water conditions seem difficult to account for in an idealized model. Kelly Nolan was confident the question of local biological system uniqueness was adequately covered despite slitation problems that at times physically change streambed features in the Normanskill. Bio-monitoring is a simple form of testing that is analogous to a doctor's medical health assessment. A dead stream or severely impacted one could be obviously discovered. Chemical testing is expensive and slow and thus not usually a first choice. I'd would like to learn more about chemical testinging as time goes on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


trout lilly Shiffendecker Farms Preserve, Town of Bethlehem This account appeared before on Rootdrinker's blog. I thought I'd post it here with some updates. The Shiffendecker Farms Preserve is one of five located in the Town of Bethlehem, NY held by Mohawk-Hudson Land Trust. The site remains undeveloped with conditions being such that an established trail system is needed. Lots of thorns, steep hills, run-off ditches, thick brush and a small stream at the bottom of the hollow which is too big to jump, filled with soft mud and too deep to wade. There are some tree covered hills and old roads that provide easy pleasant hiking. Some planning still needs to be done before the volunteer workcrews are asked to cut brush and shovel mud but as I found out on my April 2009 visit this site has a nice wild and protected environment. An area that can be seen when driving on Route 32 (The Delmar By-Pass) is interesting at all times of the year. When driving towards the east and the connect to 9-W you can look down into an inviting small valley with stream, shaped by mounds of steep-hilled terrain. During hunting season, I'll see trucks parked off the highway and I expect the deer walk a little more wary on their paths in and out of the brush. I've often thought I'd like to venture into those hollows to perhaps find an unknown spring or wildlife inhabitation in a sanctuary area created by geology more than by man. I wasn't sure where Shiffendecker Farms Preserve was exactly but I was hoping the property was within the Normanskill watershed. Those hunters (if they were such) will have to find others fields because, yes, the land I had looked at for so many years (thinking that land should be a park or something) is actually now Shiffendecker Farm Preserve held by the Mohawk Hudson Land Trust. I went on a hike on those lands today led by Dan Driscoll of the Land trust. "Wear boots" and be ready for rugged terrain was the advise given to those who had an interest in getting out into the fresh air. photo: mushroom colors photo: hike leader Dan Driscoll photo: beaver craved totem photo: thick and hilly terrain

Monday, February 15, 2010


Laura DeGaetano has passed on the link to the Normans Kill Corridor Study. (Please note I won't be separating the word Normanskill into two words except when it is officially presented as such. I guess either is correct but to me Normanskill is correct!) For anyone interested, the Normans Kill corridor study can now be viewed on the Office of Natural Resource Conservation's website. for information contact: Laura DeGaetano , Sr. Natural Resource Planner Albany County Office of Natural Resource Conservation 112 State St. Room 720 Albany, NY 12207 (518) 447-5670 Notes from Executive Summary of Normans Kill Corridor Study including recommended actions This study of a 1-km corridor on either side of the Normans Kill in Albany County was conducted in order to highlight the value of the stream and surrounding land as a buffer and habitat as well as to explore the opportunities for passive recreation both in the stream and on adjacent land. The resulting document is meant to serve as an overview of natural and recreational resources in the corridor and a basis for moving forward toward protecting habitat and enhancing recreational uses. *** An analysis of the information collected for this study revealed that there are many valuable environmental features along the Normans Kill corridor, a healthy diversity of plants and animals, as well as several opportunities to improve access to the stream and expand passive recreational uses in the corridor. Land use mapping indicated that there are over 11,000 acres of forest, oldfield, agricultural land, and other undeveloped land in the corridor, in addition to concentrated areas of residential development and several large residential subdivisions recently constructed and proposed along the stream. There is some concern about the impact that development will have on stream bank stability and water quality as the currently developed areas appear to be more impacted by erosion and sedimentation problems. Previous studies of the Normans Kill documented landslides and areas along the stream that are slippage-prone due to soil type and slope. While an analysis of current planning and zoning laws found that there are some protections provided to riparian areas and steep slopes, there may be room to enhance local plans and laws to further protect the Normans Kill and the adjacent land that buffers it. In order to preserve important habitat and species diversity; prevent erosion, landslides, and flooding; and protect water quality, it appears that the best use of the riparian corridor is for passive recreation such as kayaking/canoeing, hiking, fishing, and wildlife observation. Toward this end, recommendations for improved recreational access and use include the following: Explore the possibility of a footpath connection between Western Turnpike Golf Course in Guilderland and the Pine Bush Preserve trail network Connect trails at the Normans Kill Farm in the City of Albany to other proximate trail systems Look for ways to extend the City of Albany’s trail network beyond the municipal golf course into Bethlehem possibly using easements along the creek from new developments Work with the Department of Environmental Conservation to establish public fishing access points and easements. Establish formal canoe/kayak launch sites and consider developing a water trail Pursue possibilities for facilitating public use of the area currently limited by conflicts associated with the National Guard Rifle Range in the Town of Guilderland. Encourage and facilitate formation of a Normans Kill Watershed Council consisting of interested stakeholders including residents, government agencies, businesses, and private not-for-profits to examine the potential for trail connections, boating and fishing access, and habitat protection in the corridor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The Tri-Village Greenway Committee of the Mohawk-Hudson Land Trust hosted members of our fledgling Normanskill Roundtable at their February 9, 2010 meeting. As Chaired by Dan Lewis and attended by MHLC Executive Director Jill Knapp and a fair number of Land Trust members the meeting was an opportunity to inform and learn about mutual interests and activities. There was a general understanding of the concept of watershed associations and an appreciation of the small steps the Normanskill Roundtable and the other organizations associated with us have accomplished in developing a "voice for the Normanskill". Laura DeGaetano, Tim Lake and Dan Driscoll were present to contribute their knowledge and insight into the need and possibility of watershed management and planning. The Town of Bethlehem is home to five Land Trust Preserves including Normanskill East and Normanskill West. There was discussion on trail links especially the lower river using the proposed rail trail, Graceland Cemetary, Albany's Normanskill park, the MHLC Preserves, and the Albany Public Golf course. After the meeting Laura DeGaetano mentioned to me there was a linked trail potential in the Town of Guiderland for the Normanskill's path through Tawasentha Park crossing Route 146 towards (and perhaps along) the Watervliet Reservoir. Canoe access and use of the Normanskill was also discussed with downstream trips starting at Krumkill Road or State Farm Road bridges, depending on waterlevels and pulling out at park near the first Route 85 round-about where there is a launch point. It would be a good task to collect water recreational access information from those with the experience to tell the tale. Other news from the meeting includes the June 5, 2010 Trails Day to be sponsored by the Tri-village Committee. Also the Stormwater Coalition of Albany County has a meeting on the Normanskill Watershed on February 25, 2010, 7 pm at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, 56 Game Farm Rd. Delmar and on Krum Kill Watershed, February 18, 2010, 7pm at Holiday Inn Express, 1442 Western Ave. Guilderland. Thanks to this meeting the voice of the Normanskill got a little louder. THE NEXT NORMANSKILL ROUNDTABLE Open to all with an interest in the Normanskill Watershed TOPIC: Vital Signs of the Normanskill Watershed DATE: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 PLACE: Pine Hollow Arboretum, 16 Maple Avenue, Slingerlands, NY TIME: 5:30 pm for Arboretum Tour led by John Abbuhl 7:00 pm Roundtable Begins Contact Alan Casline at ACASLINE@AOL.COM Please comment insection below.


The Normanskill watershed is a near perfect example of how political boundaries divide and obscure natural systems. While it doesn’t appear to me these divisions are insurmountable, they do leave watershed concerns without an obvious policy structure or forum with which to focus attention. In some parts of the world, there are river systems shared by different countries. There are also rivers that serve as boundaries or move water from one country or state to another. The Normanskill does neither. The Normanskill is found entirely in New York State. As a major tributary, the watershed receives recognition as important to advocates and friends of the Hudson River. Not crossing national or state boundaries is an advantage to political management and a few less layers of government hopefully simplifies land-use planning and the watershed protector’s landscape. There are still global and bio-regional concerns which should be on the Normanskill watch list but these concerns reflect local problems and solutions with the harm and benefits to be derived locally as well. The political divisions of Counties, Towns, City and Villages are the divisions that largely remove the bio-regional view of this 170 square mile territory from the local population’s concerns and the local planning agency’s priorities. Which is not to say there are not concerned citizens, workers, and officials with a green environmental, open space, natural resource awareness, smart planning perspective; who recognize the importance of understanding and sustaining the whole living system they live in. I see two major divides of this river system. One is the Watervliet Reservoir. The watershed above the dam has interested parties concerned with water quality and by extension development, drainage, and pollution control. A second major biological divide is the estuary at the river’s confluence with the Hudson River near the Port of Albany. The landscape there is industrialized and like much of the Albany shore filled, dredged, and drowned to the point that its natural and human history is difficult to discern. Castle Island is no more, now you have a fill enlarged peninsula with obscured historical boundaries. From the Watervielt Reservoir downstream through Towns of Guilderland and Bethlehem the Normanskill and tributaries drain a mixed urban and suburbanized area. Maybe because my own property drains off onto this part of the watershed, I here find more permutations and interesting areas to still explore—from the recognized uniqueness of the Pine Bush Barrens; the availability of a surprising amount of green space due mostly to steep banked riversides, the Hunger Kill and the other small urban streams that move through the City of Albany and on to major malls and the campus of SUNY Albany. I see this portion of the river as our “European Watershed.” Common sense says over a hundred years of industrializations, denser human habitation, and major levels of pollution have made the health of this part of the river irretrievable. That is unless the cultural and societal change of the next hundred years decides differently. What is my proposed agenda for the Normanskill Watershed? First I would say to celebrate what we already have. A resource guide should be developed, eco-tourism encouraged, a sense of place, nature, seasonal activities; all to be encouraged. The publication NORMANSKILL can continue to be an anthology that networks and explores the depth of our bio-regional identity. Next would be preservation, eco-system enhancement, renewable “green”industries, increased food production, sustainable forestry, locally marketed locally produced products and crafts. No new ideas here but as a friend said recently, “We don’t need ideas. We need action.” I think there is a lot going on in these areas already. We need a catalog for access to what is available, perhaps included in the larger resource guide. On the political and planning level getting away from the “Big Pipe” mentality and seriously implementing water quality conscious decisions that involve different (and proven) technologies. Unless you live on a mountain peak, everyone is downstream from someone else. Alan Casline

foot bridge at French's Hollow