Summer Meadows: Blooms and Visitors

The wildflower sequence of bloom in summer meadows is a daily reminder of the wonders of nature and, as Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.

This gallery of favorites features a Monarch caterpillar on milkweed and butterflies on knapweed, Joe-pye Weed and goldenrod. The bookends are a bumblebee on goldenrod and New England Aster.

Photos by NB Hunter (Late July – early September, 2021). © All Rights Reserved.

A Great Egret in Central New York

Every now and then a Great Egret wanders into my viewing area in Central New York during the late summer/early fall migration. We are blessed with abundant surface waters and wetlands, ideal habitats for wading birds like herons and egrets. This year, a solitary egret chose the shallow waters and wetland habitats of a small mill pond to feed and rest. I set up in the morning light to observe and photograph this beautiful bird behaving naturally and must share the story. The gallery is a rough sequence of events as the egret left a log perch to hunt and forage in shallow water. It relocated once, hence the flight sequence. Enjoy!

Photos by NB Hunter (Madison County, NY; September, 2021); © All Rights Reserved.

Summer Meadows and Halloween Pennants

There’s so much to see in a meadow on a warm summer afternoon, especially in the world of insects. I love watching dragonflies as they perch, cruise and hunt, sometimes putting on a dazzling display of flight maneuvers that would make any military proud. Halloween pennants are a favorite species, in part because they afford multiple image possibilities from a perched position. Perched atop tall stalks of grass, amber wings in constant motion for stability in a shifting breeze, they put on quite a show. This female Halloween Pennant entertained me during walks on a couple of hot, breezy afternoons in late June.

Photos by NB Hunter (Central New York; late June, 2021). © All rights reserved.

Spring 2021 – In Living Color!

In the snowbelt region of Central New York the tug of war between winter and spring seems endless. We’re teased with mild weather, encouraged by the appearance of a pair of bluebirds in early April. They investigate nest boxes, sometimes commence with nest building, then disappear when the mild weather gives way to cold rain or snow.

Spring eventually wins the battle of the seasons and successive warm days trigger an explosion of activity. Warm, sunny days foster a sense of urgency and a pressing need to be exploring dozens of natural areas simultaneously. Spring ephemerals like hepatica and red trillium are always on the early spring itinerary.

There were lots of cardinals around in early spring and one in particular chose to defend the house and grounds against all rivals. We did everything imaginable to discourage him, but he tried for weeks to run his own window reflection out of town. Regardless of the vocalist, cardinal, towhee or other songbird, the music of spring is as uplifting as anything the season has to offer.

Backyard habitat management, including supplemental feeding stations, pays dividends during the spring bird migration and leads to many unforgettable observations and photos. Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles put on quite a show this year. Prior to 2021, I had only seen orioles feeding on things like jelly, oranges and sugar water in magazines and social media posts. Now, I’m a believer!

I devote much of my spare time to the cultivation of wild apple trees on a 30-acre parcel, so apple blossom time is special. In addition to the beauty and promise of fruit, the blossoms attract an array of wildlife species. Songbirds, like this yellow warbler, forage on the blossoms as well as insects visitors.

Dame’s Rocket, an alien wildflower, carpets open places and disturbed sites in late spring and provides the annual introduction to the world of nectaring butterflies. The Tiger swallowtail is often the first to appear.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold

Photos by NB Hunter; April, May and June, 2021. All rights reserved.

Contact: hunternick160@gmail.com

Hummers 2020

The most interesting and frequent visitors to our backyard feeders and flowers in the summer are hummers – two very different kinds of hummers.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I’ve been negligent in landscaping for hummingbirds so most of my observations and photos center on a sugar-water feeder and adjacent perches.

Diurnal moths. Phlox is one garden flower that thrives despite my neglect. It reaches full bloom in August and another “hummer” visits almost immediately: the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. They buzz around like miniature hummingbirds, feeding on dozens of flowers in the time it takes to lock in on one. Mid to late afternoon is prime time.

Touch-me-not (Jewelweed), a native wild flower, is now in bloom. It’s sought after and guarded by hummingbirds and, with a lot of luck, might lead to a followup post on hummers!

Photos by NB Hunter (July and August, 2020). © All rights reserved.

 

Summer Thrills and Musings

In the midst of an oppressive heat wave with high humidity, even a trip to the extensive, unbroken forests of the Allegheny Mountains offered little reprieve. Cold, freestone streams remained cold, but the waters were low and the trout sluggish. A good rain would bring them out from their hiding places but it wasn’t to be!

Sunrise over the forested ridges and fog-laden valleys of the Allegheny Mountains

A freestone trout stream, protected from the summer heat by the canopy of a forested watershed

My attention quickly shifted to a world where heat and humidity were a blessing: wild flowers and butterflies. The trees and shrubs of deciduous forests provide a smorgasbord of host plants for the caterpillars of many butterfly species and the adults are apt to swarm floral blooms for nectar. Swallowtails are the main attraction.

Tiger Swallowtails on milkweed

Bee Balm (Oswego Tea; Monarda), escaped into wild places from cultivation and a favorite food source of butterflies and hummingbirds.

Spicebush Swallowtail on Bee Balm

The white variety of native Rhododendron, in full bloom in early July on a moist, shaded site near a mountain stream.

The limiting weather and stream conditions in the mountains led me to break  camp early and return to the comforts of home and the rich, natural world that I know so well. Summer is a time when everyone seems to let their guard down as they go about the business of nurturing young and foraging on Nature’s bounty.

Red Fox pups frolicking in a hay field and playing keep-away with food (1 of 2 images).

The resident groundhog (woodchuck) foraging on dandelion leaves.

A “bachelor group” of whitetail bucks in velvet, heading for a field of corn.

July is our peak butterfly month and they have no interest in the “golden hour”. Mid day is their time to flutter. Depending on the species, the goal might be flower nectar, tree sap or minerals in a carcass or mud puddle!

Sulphur butterflies “puddling” in the mud on a nature trail.

Photos by NB Hunter (July, 2020). © All rights reserved.

June: Something for Everyone!

The month of June bridges seasons and showcases the best of two worlds – Spring and Summer. There’s a surprise around every turn that appeals to our senses of beauty and wonder and connects us to the natural world.

My journey through this wonderful month always begins with a camping trip to the Deep Valleys Section of the Allegheny Plateau. An annual renewal of mind, body and spirit begins in this place, where largely forested watersheds and deep, shaded valleys spawn cold springs and freestone streams and a delicious sense of wildness.

Pink Mountain Azalea usually greets us on the approach to our destination.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” – John Muir

Unspoiled, forested watersheds – a threatened natural resource to be sure – support diverse aquatic ecosystems that include mayflies and the wild trout that devour them. In these settings, catch and release fly fishing provides Zen-like experiences where one is completely absorbed in the moment.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in” – Henry David Thoreau

The appeal of small, mountain streams is much more than the drag-free drift of a dry fly and the explosion of a fooled trout. The sights and sounds that envelop and animate these environments enrich and complete the overall experience.

Great Blue Heron foraging in a wetland habitat

A Fisher, our largest member of the weasel family, hunting squirrels in the early morning hours

Upon returning home, I’m still surrounded by the myriad wild things and events that make June so special. But, there’s also a backdrop of civilization and the constant reminder of its profound impact on the natural world.

A Catbird guarding her nest in a nearby thicket.

Tree Swallow at the entrance to her nest, guarding the helpless babies

A young Cottontail from the first litter of the year, looking all grown up

Cultivated farm fields bustle with activity in June. Fields of corn, hay and oats dominate the landscape and animals adapt quickly to the cycles of planting, growth and harvesting.

A whitetail family group foraging in a hay field. The fawns are no more than three weeks old and facing the steep learning curve that is critical for their survival.

A mature doe in uncut hay; her fawns are invisible in the tall grass.

Young animals are vulnerable to the operation of big farm machinery in fields, as well as predation and other mortality factors. However, A carcass in a recently cut hay field doesn’t go to waste. In this instance, several crows and an immature Bald Eagle made sure of that.

We met, eye to eye, on a recent summer evening. While walking along the edge of a developing corn field to set up for pictures, I surprised two antlered bucks munching on the succulent new growth of corn stalks. A mature whitetail buck in velvet is a beautiful thing!

“An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity, but great fulfillment.” – David Attenborough

Photos by NB Hunter (June 1 – June 28, 2020). © All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Winged Highlights from Spring, 2020

Wildlife watching around the house and on local trails has occupied much of my free time this spring. The backyard has been an aviary, with an unprecedented variety and abundance of birds visiting feeders and, now, nesting in adjacent habitats.

I’m posting images in chronological order to illustrate the weather roller coaster and subsequent environmental responses during the last two months of this unusual spring season.

16April2020. While sitting in a ground blind hoping to photograph a turkey that was gobbling earlier in the morning, a male bluebird burst onto the scene. Despite the snow and cold, he appeared to be evaluating nest boxes and thinking ahead to nicer weather! In May, a pair of bluebirds did, in fact, build a nest in one of the boxes, only to abandon it and disappear when yet another spring snowstorm blew through.

29April2020. Spring events, including the arrival of red-winged blackbirds and the bloom of shrubby willows, were about two weeks late this year. After several attempts, I was pleased to capture both the bird and blooms in the same frame. The territorial song and breeding display of the redwing is a sure sign of spring and something we all look forward to. “The redwings have arrived!”.

30April2020. Record numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were seen at feeders this spring. Unmistakable in a splash of bold and vivid colors, they quickly became the main attraction and the talk of the town!

10May2020. As their numbers increase around the country, eagles must adapt to human activity in order to capitalize on suitable habitats and food sources near people. This adult just left its nest in a residential area to hunt for fish and waterfowl in local reservoirs and road-killed animals in agricultural areas.

12May2020. Dozens of Goldfinches swarmed the neighborhood tube feeders for weeks this spring, to the point that Niger seed disappeared from store shelves. The birds far outnumbered the available feeding platforms on my modest feeder, leading to chaos and frequent displays of aggression.

13May2020. All seems right with the world when Tree Swallows arrive to claim nest boxes and showcase their magical flight maneuvers as they pursue air-borne insects. They’re most cooperative and photogenic on bright, chilly mornings when they’re apt to perch and preen in the sun. before take-off.

19May2020. Baltimore Orioles exploded onto the scene in May, dazzling with their vivid plumage and beautiful song. It wasn’t long before they received a red carpet welcome of sliced oranges, dishes of jelly and sugar water (in hummingbird feeders).

30May2020.

20May2020. Indigo Buntings, erratic visitors to feeders, are fairly small songbirds that are easily overlooked when moving about in the shadows and dense foliage of thickets. Due to widespread and lingering appearance at feeders this year, everyone now knows and appreciates Indigo Buntings! Their unique coloration is mesmerizing.

9June2020. For several years now, a pair of House Wrens has occupied a nest box on my garden fence. Their musical talents and voracious appetite for bugs more than compensate for their drab plumage. The garden experience wouldn’t be the same without them.

12June2020. The garden pests have more than a family of wrens to worry about. A pair of cute little tail-bobbing phoebes are nesting on a rafter in the open wood shed, not far from the wrens. They too are feasting on insects throughout the day….I think there’s enough to go around.

13June2020. Caught in an awkward preening position, this feisty male hummer guards the sugar-water feeder early in the morning and again late in the evening. His head is on a swivel as he diligently searches for another male invading his territory. The light is rarely adequate for a sharp image, but sometimes the scene trumps quality!

Photos by NB Hunter (April 10 – June 13, 2020). © All rights reserved.