By Noelle Connors
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied a petition to put the Bicknell’s thrush on the federal list of endangered species. The Bicknell’s is a medium-size (6-7.5 inches) thrush—brown on the back with a white, spotted underside—that dwells in dense balsam-fir forests in high elevations in the Adirondacks.
New York State designated the Bicknell’s as a species of special concern because of its small population and limited habitat.
“Special concern” is the least protective of three designations for the state’s wildlife that face some sort of threat. The other designations are “endangered” (most protective) and “threatened.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) maintains the list. Following is a primer on other wildlife in trouble in the Adirondack Park.
DEC’s website says species are labeled as endangered if they are “native species in imminent danger of extirpation or extinction in New York State.” Of the fifty-three species that the department has identified as endangered, only eight live in the Adirondacks:
- Indiana bat. This small bat (two inches long) hibernates in caves in Essex and Warren counties. The bats hibernate in clusters of three hundred to four hundred per square foot. About 85 percent of the nation’s Indian bats hibernate in seven caves, making them especially vulnerable to threats. In the past decade, white-nose syndrome has decimated populations in the state and across the country.
Round whitefish. These medium-size fish (eight to twelve inches long) feed on the bottoms of freshwater lakes. They once were found in more than sixty lakes in the Adirondacks. They are now found in only nine. Acid rain, overfishing, and predation by invasive species are among the possible reasons for their decline.
- Spruce grouse. In New York State, spruce grouse dwell primarily in the Adirondack foothills of Franklin and St. Lawrence counties in mid-successional coniferous forest with an understory of berries and with openings in the canopy. The grouse’s habitat has shrunk drastically over the years. Recently, DEC began reintroducing the grouse to the Park.
- Peregrine falcon. The fastest bird in the world, the peregrine can reach speeds of two hundred miles an hour when diving at prey. It dwells on cliffs in Clinton, Essex and Warren counties. They all but vanished from the state in the early 1960s, due to pesticide poisoning. They have been making a steady comeback since the 1980s.
- Short-eared owl. Of all northeastern owls, these are the most active during the day and often can be observed during the late afternoon. They can be found in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties in open wetlands or fields. The owls are at the southern edge of their breeding range in New York. Biologists believe reforestation has contributed to its decline.
- Tomah mayfly. This is the only carnivorous species of mayfly: it eats larvae of other mayflies. It has been documented only in New York State and Maine. In New York, it is found on the western fringe of the Adirondacks and in the Tug Hill region. It lives in sedge-filled meadows along streams.
- Persius duskywing butterfly. This brown butterfly can be found in much of the country, but it is more common out west. It lives in mountain grass habitats and pine barrens and has been seen in Essex County.
- Karner blue butterfly. This small dark-violet or blue butterfly is found mostly south of Adirondacks, but it has been seen in Warren County. It dwells in open woods and fields with blue lupine. Its decline is attributed to habitat loss. The butterfly was first identified by the novelist Vladimer Nabokov.
Of these eight species, only the Indiana bat is on the federal list of endangered species. Daniel Rosenblatt, a DEC biologist, said the bat and the spruce grouse are the most endangered species in the Adirondacks.
DEC designates as threatened “any native species likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future in New York State.” DEC has identified thirty-six species as threatened. Nine of them are found in the Adirondacks.
- Lake sturgeon. One of New York’s largest freshwater fish, lake sturgeon can grow to over seven feet long and three hundred pounds and can live for fifty years. It exists in Lake Champlain on the eastern edge of the Park. On October 12, DEC introduced a plan to restore lake sturgeon populations so it can be removed from the threatened species list by 2024.
- Timber rattlesnake. The longest venomous snake in New York can grow to more than four feet long. The snake was killed indiscriminately in the past. It is still found in the Lake George region and on Split Rock Mountain in Essex County.
- Bald eagle. One of the largest raptors, it can live for thirty years in the wild. Eagle populations plummeted in the 1960s due to pesticides. DEC began reintroducing eagles to New York in the 1970s. The bird is now found in a number of Adirondack counties.
Pied-billed grebe. This small, secretive waterbird recognizable by its two-colored beak. Found in marshy areas in Essex, Franklin, Clinton, Herkimer, and Warren counties. Because of the pesticide DDT, grebe populations dropped throughout the country in 1960s to 1990s.
- Least bittern. This is the smallest heron in North America, weighing less than three ounces, with a bright yellow eye and beak. Found in cattail marshes in Essex, Clinton, Franklin, Herkimer, and Warren counties.
- Northern harrier. Formerly known as the marsh hawk, this pale-gray, acrobatic raptor can fly up to a hundred miles in a day. Habitat destruction and pesticides are factors in its decline in many places. However, populations are stable in Herkimer, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Franklin, Essex, and Warren counties.
- Upland sandpiper. This mid-size sandpiper lives in grasslands in Essex and Washington counties. In the nineteenth century, the sandpiper was hunted. In recent times, the biggest threat is the loss of grassland habitat.
- Sedge wren. This small, dark-brown wren with a distinctive white eye stripe dwells in wet meadows and fields in Clinton and Franklin counties. The wren has experienced declines throughout its range, due mainly to the draining of wetlands.
- Northern long-eared bat. This dark-brown bat with a wingspan up to nine inches is also on the federal list of threatened species. Since white-nose syndrome first found in New York in 2006, its population has decreased by 98 percent.
Species of special concern
DEC defines species of special concern as “any native species for which a welfare concern or risk of endangerment has been documented in New York State.” Of the fifty-eight species identified by DEC as of special concern, twenty-seven are found in the Adirondack Park, including insects, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
- Osprey. Osprey return to the same nests every year and can build nests up to ten feet tall. The population has rebounded in recent decades. The fish-eating raptors are now found on many Adirondack waterways.
- Spotted Turtle. Black with yellow polka-dots that gains more spots as it ages. These turtles can live up to fifty years in the wild and are found in Warren county.
- Eastern Hognose Snake. A non-venomous snake that’s black with yellow spots in an irregular pattern that varies by snake. When approached by a predator it plays dead or puffs out its throat and hisses like a cobra. Found in Warren and Saratoga counties.
- Common Loon. An icon of the Adirondacks, easily recognizable by the black-and-white checkerboard pattern on its back, its black head, and red eyes. Loons live on lakes with little noise pollution and high water quality. They are found in Franklin, Essex, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Hamilton, and Herkimer counties.
- Small-footed bat. A golden-brown bat with a black face and black ears. Spends winters in Adirondack caves and mines.
- Blue-spotted salamander. Black with blue spots, this salamander grows to three to five inches long. It’s found in damp forests in Essex, Warren, Washington, Herkimer, Fulton, and Saratoga counties.
Other avian species of special concern in the Adirondacks include the grasshopper sparrow, vesper sparrow, golden-winged warbler, horned lark, red-headed woodpecker, whip-poor-will, common nighthawk, red-shouldered hawk, northern goshawk, cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk and American bittern. Reptiles and amphibians on the list include the wood turtle, eastern box turtle, and Jefferson salamander. Insects on the list are the extra-striped snaketail, common sanddragon, and pygmy snaketail.
The New York State list of endangered and threatened species complements the federal list. That is, all species on the federal list are on the state list. State law protects species on the list. Among other things, it is illegal to kill them. The state also takes steps to re-establish populations. For example, DEC is working with landowners and other scientists to reintroduce spruce grouse to the northwestern Adirondacks. The department is also stocking round whitefish in ponds.
Daniel Rosenblatt, a DEC wildlife biologist, noted that many species are in trouble as a result of human activity and thus we have a responsibility to help them recover. It’s also in our interest.
“When we see a species declining toward the extirpation, the underlying cause is frequently something of significant concern to people, even if we don’t realize it at the time,” he said. “Raptors [such as eagles and , peregrine falcons] declined largely due to the side effects of pesticides such as DDT. In part, the link made between pesticides and reproductive impacts in eagles led to the reduction or removal of compounds from the environment that also have long-term negative impacts on people. Ultimately, when we protect endangered species we are protecting ourselves and our future in the long run.”