Albany Pine Bush Preserve
|Description: An expanse of brush-covered sand dunes, pitch pines and scrub oak, this globally
rare pine barrens, more than 150 miles from the nearest seashore, formed
at the end of the last Ice Age. This unique landlocked ecosystem is the remnant
of an ancient glacial lake that left behind sandy soils as it drained.|
Despite the fact that the preserve is little more than 3,000 acres in size, the Pine
Bush holds a remarkable 45 varieties of wildlife classified as “Species of Greatest
Conservation Need,” including 16 bird, 12 reptile and amphibian and 17 insect
species. It also supports more than 20 at-risk species that are either state or
federally listed as rare or endangered. Its most famous endangered resident is
the Karner blue butterfly, a small silvery-blue insect dependent on the wild
blue lupine that grows only in dry, sandy, open woods and clearings. More
than 90 bird species have been counted at the preserve, which was designated
a Bird Conservation Area in 2008. Hundreds of more common species of plants
and animals also call the Pine Bush home.
The Pine Bush is a wild oasis surrounded and, in places, bisected by houses,
buildings and shopping malls. To maintain the preserve’s mix of scrubby
vegetation, fires must periodically be set to burn off undergrowth, create
clearings for lupine, and release seeds tightly bound within pitch pine cones.
The Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center is located at the main entrance to the
preserve. This free attraction has interactive displays providing a fascinating
introduction to all of the preserve’s unique natural features, flora and fauna, as well as maps and other information for enjoying a hike on its many miles of
trails. Most of the protected area of the Pine Bush is near the Discovery Center,
but nearby Rensselaer Lake (also known as Six-mile Waterworks) is also part of
the preserve. Visitors can access the lake by a separate entrance.
Wildlife to Watch: Sighting the preserve’s signature species, the Karner blue butterfly, on a hike
during the spring and summer is a special treat for any visitor. Each year, a
Lupine Festival is held in late May, when this favorite food of the insect is in
full bloom. A visit around this time will increase your chances of seeing the
butterfly among the dunes, pitch pines and scrub oaks. If you visit in the fall,
look for the inland barrens buckmoth.
Though the landscape is dominated by conifers, occasional stands of hardwood
forest are scattered throughout. Both habitats provide food and shelter
for mammals like fishers, white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, and red and
gray foxes, as well as coyotes. Songbirds like eastern towhees, prairie warblers
and indigo buntings as well as raptors like great horned owls and red-tailed
hawks also find the mix of pine punctuated by hardwood forest to their liking.
Spring snowmelt leaves numerous vernal pools and swampy areas throughout
the preserve. Deep ravines and hardwood swamps of red maple provide shelter
for American woodcock. In the evening, you can watch the males perform
their elaborate aerial mating flights. Amphibians like the eastern spadefoot
toad, and reptiles like spotted turtles and the eastern hognose snake, can also
be found in the swampy and sandy habitats of the Pine Bush, as well as along the shore of Rensselaer Lake. Canada geese, mallards and great blue herons are
seasonal visitors to the lake during the warmer months as well.
Special Tips: Admission is free, but there is a small fee for educational programs.
The Discovery Center is open year-round except on Thanksgiving,
Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hunting, fishing and
trapping are allowed during their prescribed seasons
Other Activities: Throughout the entire preserve, including Rensselaer Lake, there are about 18
miles of trails with 9 separate trailheads offering hiking, bicycling, horseback
riding and cross-country skiing. Most trails are not difficult, and a 0.25-milelong
trail at the Discovery Center is wheelchair accessible. Interpretive signsabout some of the preserve’s natural features are located on the trails near
the center. Trail information and maps are available at the center and on the
preserve’s website (see Contact section below).
518-456-0655, 195 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205,
Ownership: Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission
Size: 3,100 acres
Closest Town: Albany
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: