Adirondack Lean-to Camping and IceFishing

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“The core of mans spirit comes from new experiences” – Into the Wild


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It took a 5 hour drive after work to reach the point of entry into the beautiful Adirondacks before pulling sled a mile or so over land and ice to the planned shelter spot and beacon of lantern light left out at the edge of the water by a friend. The trip was designed originally as a canvas hot tent outing but due to the heavy rains and warmer temps we ended up staying at a nearby location in a lean-to and never took the tent out of the bag. The lean-to made for an easy base camp and was situated 100 or so yards from the waters edge. We woke before the sun and drilled holes through the approximately 10 inches of ice and placed tip-ups according to plans made after reviewing the state water depth maps and considering the fickle habits of our target species.

We caught many Lakers but to be a keeper they needed to hit the 21″ regulation. They bit on jigged lures baited with spikes (aka maggots) as well as tip-ups at varying depth baited with live shiners and later baited with smelt when they were caught. It took till sunset to reel in a keeper the first day and although it wouldn’t have been necessary it was a moment of satisfaction to know that the planning, patience and perseverance before and during the trip paid off handsomely. That fish would make the first dinner for the 4 of us along with an onion, oyster mushrooms found in camp and some black trumpet and chanterelles pulled from the freezer. A cup of foraged wintergreen leaves made a tea that was added to the first nights feast.

It rained all that evening and when we woke, the mist rising off the lake added to the beauty of the Adirondack landscape and kept providing new scenery throughout the day. We fished hard another day catching more Lakers and Smelt as well as small mouth bass but no Brook trout would be had on this outing.  Later in the afternoon a big storm blew in and took the tip-ups with line and bait and blew them down the ice. We scrambled to gather our belongings and take shelter in the comfort of the lean-to. The storm made water collection easy off the corner of a tarp we rigged as both an extended roof and to cover the face of the lean-to at night in order to block the winds.

That second night we fried and ate many of the smelt caught earlier in the day and enjoyed them as appetizers. The main course consisted of venison, wild rice, pierogies and other goodies like Pillsbury wrapped hot-dogs. All of it helped to fuel and warm our bodies after a wet day and during a blustery stormy night. As we got settled in, the temperature began to drop, reaching 20f, the rain turned to snow, winds picked up and when we woke the forest floor was covered in a fresh blanket of snow.

We slept in past sunrise and tidied up making sure to leave the place better then we found it and left behind a pile of split firewood for the next campers in Adirondack tradition. With packed sleds and a final sip of coffee we were off across the ice, using a spud to check for stability and safety and then up the trail to the vehicles for a long ride home.


Making Charcoal Art Pencils on the Campfire & Drawing the Sky Tree

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Winter Nature Campers collected sticks within the forest to turn into charcoal pencils.  We added them to an empty container that once held Pepperidge Farm Pirouette Chocolate Hazelnut Rolled Wafers but you could use any empty cookie tin type container.  Be sure to poke a hole in the container for smoke to escape or the lid will pop-off when roasting. Fill the container with the sticks and place on the fire to cook. The sticks char without completely combusting due to the lack of oxygen and make an excellent artists charcoal.  Take the tin off the fire after it has been smoking for some time and let the container cool completely before removing the lid or the sticks could ignite into flames.   Campers had great fun exploring the textures of the charcoal and making their own free choice art. They observed that the sticks with bark removed made more consistent lines and held their shape better than those with bark still on them as the bark crumbled rather quickly when pressed on paper. Also, campers observed that the charcoal smeared easily when rubbed with a finger.

As an extension campers could use realism and create a winter tree like shown in the story “The Sky Tree, Seeing Science Through Art” by Thomas Locker.   They could listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for inspiration and focus.

Citizen Science – Experiencing the Phenology of New Jersey – Worthy of a Celebration!


To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.
 – John Burroughs

I talk a lot about nature.  As a naturalist, my job is often to introduce participants to the seasonal discoveries they may not be wired to notice or have the time to slow down and recognize. Walking through habitats everyday and recording my observations helps to take notice of what is happening in the natural world. Phenology is the study of the timing of these natural events.  The word comes from a Greek word that means “coming into view”.  Events like the first openings of leaf and flower buds and the first calls of frogs and toads are all considered phonological events.  The timing of these events varies in different locations due to the climate differences.

Different factors affect an areas climate, including temperature, amount of precipitation, and day length at different latitude and altitude.

The occurrence of observed phenomenon may alter slightly from year to year, but is predictable.

If you hike, paddle, hunt, go birding or enjoy nature photography being in touch with the changing seasons brings eager anticipation for the delightful celebrations nature puts forward.  Try keeping your own phenology journal to be ready for each special moment in your neck of the woods.

Tips:  Check the dates of your digital photographs to record past observations!   Add these notes to your calendar so you can plan when and where you want to be far in advance.

Try Sharing your Citizen Science Observations at 

Project Budburst, INaturalist or Project Noah!

Here is a general list of some of my New Jersey nature observations.

Let me know in the comments what  seasonal discoveries you look forward to  seeing.


  • Black Bear cubs (usually two) are born in late January through February weighing around one pound.
  • Great horned owls incubate eggs late January through February.
  • Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks begin to court and lay eggs.
  • Animal tracks are easy to discover after a light snowfall.
  • Eastern Tiger Salamanders begin breeding in vernal pools in southern New Jersey.
  • Long-tailed salamanders mate in underground tunnels near freshwater springs.  The female will secure her clutch of approximately 90 eggs to stones or wood within the water.


  • Screech Owl Courtship is taking place, nestlings take 28 days and they fledge at dusk.
  • Great Horned Owl nestlings are feeding and on branches.
  • Red maple trees flower.
  • White-tailed deer bucks are dropping their antlers.
  • Late-Feb: Bald Eagles begin laying eggs.  Clutches consist of one or three eggs. Incubation lasts approximately 36 days.


  • Early – Amphibian Migration to Vernal Pools, look and listen for for calling frogs like spring peepers and wood frogs as well as eggs in pools.
  • Woodcock Watch (prenuptial flight) is taking place.
  • Skunk cabbage is emerging in wetlands.
  • Bald Eagle chicks begin to hatch.  Hatching will continue throughout March and April depending on when the eggs were laid.
  • Barred owls begin their mating rituals and can be heard calling throughout their wetland territory.  Have you heard the “who cooks for you, who cooks for you allll” song of the barred owl?
  • Note: March 20-21: Equal Day and Night.


  • Look for Morel Mushrooms after a spring rain under mature tulip trees.
  • Wood ducks incubate their eggs.
  • Jack-in the Pulpit begins to grow.
  • Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads are ready for foraging.
  • Wild Leeks are almost at their peak for harvest.


  • Migratory song birds peak in early May.
  • Animal Babies: woodchucks and ducks mid-late May.
  • Rose Breasted Grosbeak and Oriole will eat half orange at this time.
  • Cinnamon ferns are open and covered in a cinnamon colored cotton like material used by hummingbirds for their nests.
  • White-tailed deer fawns are born (usually twins) late-May-early-June.
  • Gray Tree Frogs calling in swamplands.


  • Hummingbirds are visiting feeders and red/orange tube flowers.
  • Green frogs are calling  (listen for clucks like a banjo string being plucked) and laying eggs.
  • Sedum is blooming on roof gardens.
  • Snapping turtles are laying eggs as far as a mile from their water source and wood ducks laying second clutch.
  • Note: June 21-22 is longest daylight period.


  • Milkweed is attracting Monarch butterflies (look for eggs or caterpillars often on the bottom on the leaves).
  • Mid-July Nesting Orioles.
  • Daylilies in bloom.
  • Goldfinches are latest nesting bird.
  • Kingfishers, Herons and egrets active in wetland ditches because swamp is dry.
  • White-tailed deer bucks antlers are in velvet.


  • Marsh Mallow is blooming in swamplands.
  • Early August – Goldenrod blooms.
  • Late August – Peak of Humming Bird Fall Migration.


  • Passerine Migration begins.
  • The last generation of Monarchs are on their way down south.
  • Note: September 21, 22 offers equal day and night.


  • Hawk Migration (Visit a Hawk Watch!).
  • Deer Rut begins in NJ.
  • Wild fruit such as pawpaw, devils walking stick, wild grapes and black gum are abundant.
  • Many fruits and vegetables are ripe in NJ farms and gardens.


  • Early- November – First Frost (get bulbs underground beforehand).
  • Large flocks of robins and blackbirds roost in swamp.


  • Animal Tracking: shoot tracks in shade (your own shadow) and open up a stop or two.
  • Great Horned Owls are setting up their nesting territories, sometimes in an old crow or hawk nest and will be on eggs in February.
  • Note: December 21,22 earth is tilted away from sun so shortest period of daylight.


Finding what you’re looking for! (Focus on New Jersey)

There are many wonderful environmental centers and park conservancies that will help you get closer to nature.  Join your local center for a seasonal walk or consider going out with an organization that focuses more closely on a specific topic of interest.

Butterflies: Take an outing with the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association

Dragonflies and Damselflies: Take an outing with the Jersey Odonate Enthusiasts

Honeybees: Visit a local chapter of the NJ Beekeeper Association

Mushrooms:  Take an outing with the New Jersey Mycological Association

Amphibians: Middle of March is the beginning of the amphibian breeding season.  Join an amphibian crossing with the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program

Birds: Join an outing led by expert naturalists with New Jersey Audubon

Plants: Join programs offered by the New Jersey Native Plant Society

Additional Ideas for Nature Discovery!

  • Create a Photo Journal, sketch pad or nature notebook full of your seasonal discoveries
  • Five Minute Phenology – explore, discover, observe, record once every day for five minutes.
  • Document what is occurring outside  your home or schoolyard.  Let your own kids or students add their own observations.
  • Most Importantly, Share your Discoveries!

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