It has finally happened. After a half century of tromping and paddling throughout the vast recesses of the Adirondacks, I was finally forced to throw in the towel. I felt like a battered boxer, but I probably looked more like a puffy, cranberry muffin.
It happened just last weekend, while I was fishing on the small ponds near Lake Clear. With a blizzard of buzzing of mosquitoes in hot pursuit, I was actually chased from the woods.
Never before have I experienced bugs so thick, so ravenous and in such abundance. The buzzing was incessant and there was no escape. I was forced to give up.
Mind you, I was prepared, sporting a full arsenal of bug dopes, sprays and other concoctions. I wore long pants, which were tucked into tall, rubber boots and my head net was covered by the tight collar of a turtleneck shirt.
I had taken proper precautions to insure that no patch of skin was available, beyond the fingers I had cut from cotton gloves to allow me to fish. I sprayed on plenty of bug dope, swatted when I could and even considered drinking a bit at the height of the battle. I knew whiskey wouldn't help, but I figured it couldn't hurt either as I already had a buzz going on.
After absorbing as much torment as one could possibly bear, I decided to call it a day. With the cloud of mosquitoes in hot pursuit, I stashed my canoe along the shoreline and turned tail for the trailhead, about a twenty-minute hike.
A buzzing grey cloud accompanied me on the frenetic foray that followed. Mosquitoes filled the car as I quickly slid in through a small crack in the door.
Although fully encapsulated by glass and metal, I was still under fire. There were nearly as many mosquitoes on the inside of the windshield as there were on the outside.
With a lingering scent of Adirondack Aftershave, (Old Woodsman) tantalizing my nostrils, I hightailed it for home.
When I returned to retrieve the canoe, early the following morning, the woods were eerily quiet. It was cool and damp, and very few bugs were in the air. Since I was dressed accordingly, I figured taking a few quick trolls across the pond would be in order.
I made a few passes, without a tap. But as soon as the sun was fully in the sky, I remembered why I came. Quickly, I packed up and paddled to shore, shouldered the canoe and beat a path to the car, before the full squadron could assemble.
I've battled the flying nuisances of the Adirondacks for many years, including black flies, No-See-Ums, deer flies and horse flies and an assortment of bees and wasps. I've never been forced to back down, until now, and I wonder why?
A number of factors may be at work. I'm older now, but obviously not much wiser, or I wouldn't still be subjecting myself to such abuse. I may no longer be thick-skinned, simply thick headed.
However, I believe the already abundant rains, combined with the winter's significant snow pack and the accompanying flooding, has served to raise the threshold. Certainly, the availability of breeding grounds has been increased, with lakes, streams and rivers all overflowing their banks to create vernal pools of stagnant water that are ideal for mosquitoes.
I also wonder if the region may already be beginning to see the effects of White Nose Syndrome, (WNS) a mysterious disease responsible for a significant decline in bat populations throughout the Northeast. It has since spread to seventeen states and four Canadian provinces.
Bats are a primary predator of night-flying insects and they devour billions of them every night. Some species, including the Little Brown Bat, eat 500 to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour.
Current research indicates the cumulative population decline of little brown bats in New York state is now estimated at nearly 95 percent. They have nearly been eradicated. Scientist claim that the extinction of some species "is possible."
The removal of such a sizable population of insect predators from may be result in an explosion of flies, beetles, moths and mosquitoes. Such a significant decline in bat populations will likely trigger a ripple effect throughout the food chain. Insects will be the overall winners, but other species that feed on bats such as hawks, owls, raccoons and skunks will suffer.
Already, scientists have observed negative disruptions in the ecosystem, as bats affected by WNS are forced to leave the caves earlier in the spring, to search for food. Such was the case last spring, when bats were observed flying erratically at midday, near Chapel Pond in St. Huberts. The hunger weakened bats fell as easy prey to the returning peregrine falcons, and the resident ravens.
As usual, the plight of bats, and other such species, is of little concern to most until such time as it begins to affect our pocketbooks. However, that time may soon arrive as a recent study published in Science estimates that insect-eating bats provide a significant pest-control service, saving the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year.
For now, all we have to worry about is being chased from the woods; but possibly, when insecticides are necessary to ensure the delivery of our fresh produce, we will begin to pay attention.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org