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Jay Mountain Wilderness 2014: Conifers, Paper Birches and a Goshawk on Lot 8

Flatland of Lot 8

Now with both a quick survey and a jaunt along the NYCO Minerals mine under my belt, it is time for a more extensive exploration of Lot 8’s interior within the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area. Since this property will end up sharing the same fate as that of the forest that grew on top of the mine, this is probably my last chance to spend some quality time there before the bulldozers, chainsaws and other mechanical monsters lay waste to this beautiful plot of forest land.

The walk along the property’s border with the mine did its best to leave me feeling depressed and defeated, making it imperative to turn westward away from the mine and once again immerse myself in the beauty of Lot 8’s forest. The time for wallowing in the property’s future now gives way to appreciating its present, including the concomitant therapeutic forest bathing.

Immediately upon leaving the mine property border behind, I interrupt an interlude between two medium-size eastern garter snakes in a sunny spot along the forest floor. The pair attempts a hasty retreat, the amorous spell broken by my lumbering presence. Although one snake slithers off a good distance, vanishing into the leaf litter, the second fails to make any progress, despite some apparent effort on its part. It has no handicap, however, but unintentionally, my foot landed on its tail. Lifting my foot off the poor thing, and it hurriedly slithers off in the direction of its compatriot, but not before, I warn them both about the worse things to come if they do not get as far away from here as possible.

Section Stats:
Date: June 19, 2014
Length: 2.3 miles (2.8 total daily miles; 15.6 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Easy

As I climb gradually uphill toward the flatlands of Lot 8, numerous tree blowdowns block my path. The fallen trees appear in line, as if one windthrow brought about a cascade of trees tumbling down in an apparent forest domino effect. The giant tipups tower over me, the giant stems sometimes crisscrossing on top of each other, perhaps foreshadowing the destruction to come.

Within a short distance, young balsam firs begin showing up in the surrounding forest, the first conifer encounter since I entered the area the previous night. The farther west I precede, the more level the terrain becomes and the more conifer trees I observe, with a concomitant increase in their stature as well. It is like the conifers’ equivalent of band camp.

Initially, I feel like a kid in a candy store. Just as I approach one large coniferous tree, another of a different species appears within view, which distracts me from the previous one. This occurs repeatedly, with an eastern white pine replacing a large balsam fir, which is subsequently replaced by a red spruce, and finally an eastern hemlock. As far as coniferous trees are concerned, these flat lands are a proverbial gold mine.

Seeing the large eastern hemlock, apparently healthy and free of the wooly adelgid, inspires thoughts about the many mature and healthy tree species present on Lot 8 that face peril elsewhere due to exotic pests. Stately white ashes remain currently not threatened by the emerald ash borer, while massive American beech express not a single sign of beech bark disease. Based on these trees’ robust health alone, preservation should be a priority, instead of the threat of chainsaw and bulldozer in the pursuit of an ephemeral profit for a private corporation.

Coniferous trees are not the only distraction that vie for my attention in the Lot 8’s flatlands. Open water to the north pulls me away from the densest portion of the coniferous forest and back along its border with the dominating hardwoods. Leaves fill the surface of the pond, which appears shallow in depth, with a scattering of small islands of moss-covered rocks, logs and other forest debris. At initial glance, it appears quite a mess, but that this is definitely not the case.

Upon closer inspection, leaves are not the only thing in abundance here. Penny-sized tadpoles swim through the pond’s shallow depths, though large groups of them flee into the leaves when I approach too close for comfort. In addition, a lone red eft slowly crosses a mossy log island, though it picks up its pace when I move in closer for a better look.

Vernal pond

How will these tadpoles escape the fate that awaits Lot 8? They will not, not unless they kick their development into high gear and are lucky enough to hop off in the right direction. But, how likely is that? Unlikely for sure.

Before depression sets in for good, I bushwhack southwest along a swampy stream, though it often resembles nothing more than a large seep, chock full of an assortment of different fern species. The coniferous forest just to my south is now behind me, the flat, vegetation-choked flatlands proving just too enticing to resist. By the time I finally stop for lunch, the area is all but dried out, though numerous dry rivulets, with exposed mineral soil completely lacking in leaves, suggests it likely flooded months earlier during the spring melt.

This level area, with its woodland grass and scattering of paper birch logs, provide a nice spot for my lunch. The paper birch logs suggest some sort of disturbance from times past, which renews my reflection on the property’s future fate once again. Even after rehabilitation, if such a thing is possible, it take many years before paper birches take root again in this area.

After lunch, I continue southwest, following the obvious path of the spring melt, where the increased moisture emanating from the ridge to the west creates a continuous stream once again, which eventually turns southeast. The frequent rocks lining the stream bank provide another ripe opportunity to once again search for salamanders. The prize I search for, a spring salamander remains elusive however, but I manage to add both dusky and redback salamander onto my Lot 8 wildlife list, before throwing in the proverbial towel and moving on.

Stream on Lot 8

As I climb west away from the stream and the flatlands it flows through, many flat rocks jut out of the nearly leaf-less mineral soil. These rocks provide perfect shelters for woodland snakes, so I shed my backpack and begin the back-breaking task of looking under many of them; unable to pass through the area without a stop to overturn a few rocks for a look-see.

On one rock sits the scat of a ruffed grouse, which I pass on overturning; as there are plenty of unchristen ones for me to choose instead. Unfortunately, not a single rock yields even a garter snake or salamander, so I give up, reunite with my backpack and continue my sojourn westward, leaving the abundant flat rocks behind.

As the late afternoon hours approach and my time on Lot 8 starts to wane, my mind slowly begins contemplating where to locate my campsite for the night. Water being a priority, only two viable options present themselves, an unnamed stream potentially within the interior of the property and Derby Brook, which is off to the south and probably off Lot 8. I head for the closer unnamed stream, as I want to stay in Lot 8 as long as possible.

Imagine my surprise, when as I enter another coniferous area, with young firs within the towering hardwoods, I find an orange-flagged property line, where none should be present. Had I stumbled onto the southern border of Lot 8 already, despite all the maps on the Internet that indicated otherwise? Apparently so.

Orange-flagged boundary

An immense American toad leaps into the brush left over from the cutting of the property line. Unfortunately, it is going into Lot 8, which is obviously a more dangerous route than in the other direction. My attempts to dissuade it fall on deaf years, so I leave it with the warning I gave every other animal I encountered on Lot 8, and finally wish it well. It will need all the help it can get.

The cut border makes an easy route southward, where I hope it will eventually cross the stream. Unfortunately, it leads all the way to the NYCO border, with the stream just a short distance on the opposite side, where it taunts me with its cool and refreshing wetness. Luckily, the property border slowly edges closer to the stream as I continue west along it, until they finally cross one another and I search for an adequate place to filter enough water for the rest of the day.

My water needs met, I return to the orange-flagged Lot 8 border and cross back onto Lot 8 in search of a campsite for the night. Boulders emerging from the ground are common here, and though not immense they give the area a more aggressive feel than in the other portions of Lot 8 I visited earlier today. Instead of a continuous increase in elevation to the west, short but steep rises alternate with level areas, one of which I decide makes an excellent area for a campsite for my last night on the property.

Stream near boundary

Hours later after camp setup is complete and my dinner is slowly breaking down in my bloated stomach, I stand around for long periods of time observing the activity of forest as early evening gives way to the twilight hours. As the mosquito activity heightens and my Adirondack wave develops into a constant motion, I start contemplating calling it a night.

Just as I start heading for my tarp, the sound of a northern goshawk rings out just overhead in the tree canopy. There on a branch not too far off from me is a northern goshawk, shrieking its displeasure with my presence. As I attempt to draw closer to get a better view, the large accipiter flies off downslope to the east, finally disappearing from view within the canopy.

After the sense of awe finally dissipates, the mosquito onslaught becomes apparent again. As I head back to my tarp for the night, I reflect upon the northern goshawk’s designation as a Species of Special Concern in New York State. Just one more example of why Proposition 5 was a massive mistake.

Too bad it changes nothing as the fate of Lot 8 is now in the hands of NYCO Minerals thanks to the ill-informed and ignorant majority of New York State voters.

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