Allegany Nature Pilgrimage

Erie County naturalists and podcasters Steve Fleck (left) and Bill Michalek (center) led a nature hike on the North Country Trail in Allegany State Park as part of the 60th annual Allegany Nature Pilgrimage. They recorded the hike and interaction with participants for an upcoming podcast of The Field Guides.

RED HOUSE — Two Erie County naturalists took their podcast to the 60th annual Allegany Nature Pilgrimage in Allegany State Park this weekend.

Bill Michalek and Steve Fleck, both from South Wales in southern Erie County, do a monthly podcast, The Field Guides, which focuses on various evidence-based issues in nature.

They called their first Allegany Nature Pilgrimage nature walk Saturday morning, “The Skeptical Naturalist.” It drew a following of more than 120 Nature Pilgrimage participants to the North Country Trail off ASP Route 1. It was digitally recorded and planned for this month’s podcast.

After Michalek, a second grade teacher at East Aurora who was also an environmental educator at Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in Java Center, and Fleck, a biology major in college, found they both had a deep interest in nature, they came up with the idea of the podcast.

There are 30 episodes into the podcast now. Look for the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage to be their next episode. Michalek said they research the subject they’re going to be talking about on the next program. “It’s a way for me to keep my foot in nature,” Michalek said before Saturday’s nature hike.

The two naturalists have a good chemistry. Michalek tells about eating fiddlehead ferns. “Be skeptical,” warns the bearded Fleck. If not stored or prepared properly one can get food poisoning from fiddlehead ferns. “Don’t eat just anything someone gives you.”

One woman on the walk said she’d heard “everything’s edible once.”

Michalek and Fleck also sought to debunk some myths about removing ticks. Don’t bother using oil or heat. It’s probably going to cause the tick to regurgitate bacterium into the flesh. A pointed pair of tweezers or a tick removal device is advised. Grasping the tick by its head, exert a gentle pull that can take minutes to dislodge the tick.

They also discussed myths associated with poison ivy, such as are some people immune?

One man in the group related his experience of having an early immunity turn into an (expletive) sensitivity that require steroid shots for relief.

“We’ll bleep that,” smiled Fleck. He explained an oil in poison ivy is what causes the contact dermatitis — a rash and itching.

Fleck found interesting the suggestion that repeated exposure by some people to poison ivy results in an accumulation that soon or later results in a rash. “You’ve just given us a podcast,” he said.

By the way, Fleck said that despite all his traipsing about in the woods, he’s never got a case of poison ivy.

Early risers on Saturday headed to the meadows and woods for a bird walk headed by Rick Bacher.

Others settled back to watch Linda Ordiway of Bradford band birds caught in nets set up nearby the Camp Allegany headquarters of the Nature Pilgrimage.

Helping her were Nan Hoffman, the Pilgrimage’s official folksinger, who recorded information, and Julianna Speers of Collins, who helped with the weighing and banding of the birds.

Afterward, Ordiway, a Regional biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society, said her greatest joy from the bird banding at the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage is the awareness and respect people take with them when they leave. “They find it amazing that a 9 oz. yellow throated warbler can fly from here to Argentina.”

Ordiway succeeded Bob McKinnery as the Pilgrimage bird bander about six years ago. Migrating birds need habitat not only in their breeding and summer homes, but stopover places along the migratory route, she said.

One of the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage participants who has been coming the longest is Lon Myers.

He started coming in 1960 with his parents Frank and Joyce Myers. Frank was a president of Burroughs Audubon Society in Rochester. His son, Christopher, led a hike Saturday on cellphone nature photography.

Myers leads some owl hikes at night and brings a telescope for viewing planets, and an XXX adults-only hike. It’s where he can talk about things without kids around.

The first hike he led 45 years ago was beginning birds. “I’ve done over 100 hikes since then,” he said. The one he likes best is the splash hike for kids in the stream in the nearby Bova area, where they look for beaver in the pond and critters in the stream.

Of the 700 or so participants at this year’s ANP, roughly half are children. Many participants who first came as children with their parents are making it a tradition with their children too.

There were more than 90 nature hikes scheduled between Friday and this afternoon when the Nature Pilgrimage pulls up stakes again for another year.

One of this year’s high points was Saturday’s group photo for the 60th anniversary by Buffalo photographer David Gordon, said co-chairman Marcia Morgan Nixon. The other co-chair, Lisa Danko, of Erie, Pa., led a stream adventure walk Saturday.

Everyone also got together for lunch Saturday provided by Erie County Boy Scouts. Saturday night’s meal in the big tent was a chicken barbecue, followed by a folk music concert by Hoffman.

Saturday night’s presentation in the big tent was Joe “Paleo Joe” Kochdl, talking about the dinosaur “digs” he’s participated in across the U.S.

The bird walk and bird banding started early again Sunday and the last round of programming was scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)