Wild Turkeys Foraging in Snow

Late winter is a time when the terms “wildlife carrying capacity” and “limiting environmental factors” are defined and illustrated. It is a time when populations of resident wildlife species, those that remain active through winter, reach an annual low.This is especially true in the North where accumulating snow cover limits mobility and access to dwindling food supplies.

Flocks of wild turkeys, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, are sometimes seen foraging in open areas adjacent to evergreen cover at this time of year. Cultivated farm fields, southern exposures and spring-fed wetlands are favorite habitats. I’ve had an opportunity to observe a small flock of turkeys, a “bachelor” group of toms or gobblers, for several weeks and will share some highlights.

These birds move into the stubble of a harvested corn field every afternoon, when  bright sunlight warms and softens crusted snow. Turkeys will feed on the persistent fruit of small trees and shrubs but they’re big, bulky birds and not built for that. They prefer to scratch and dig for food on the ground. In this case, the food of choice is waste grain.

Repeated scratching and digging exposes bare ground and small feeding sites. Occasionally, activity at a feeding site draws the attention of a nearby bird and he’ll run over to get in on the action. At this point the feeding behavior appears to be cooperative, with little aggression or fighting.

It won’t be long before these gobblers disperse to stake out breeding territories and locate hens. But, for now, the priority is winter survival.

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

 

Muskrats on Ice, 2020

Central New York is blessed with abundant wetland habitats, many of them readily accessible by secondary roads and walking trails. In Winter, when above -average temperatures prevail, muskrats can often be seen foraging and moving about in ice-free water. They use open water to access feeding and resting platforms on adjacent ice after diving for plant food. In marsh habitats, cattail stalks and roots are preferred foods.

 

Recently, I watched a pair of muskrats harvest cattail stalks and cache them on a feeding platform positioned on ice and partially submerged, woody debris. They alternately fed, groomed and rested at the site for several days.

The open water and visible muskrat activity disappeared at this wetland with the arrival of freezing temperatures and 20 inches of snow. I was forced to complete my story at another wetland, one where spring-fed water kept the ice at bay.

This solitary muskrat foraged aggressively for at least half an hour, repeatedly submersing it’s head in the shallow pool of swamp water to remove subsurface plant material. It would surface with a mouthful, eat, then go down again for more.

In about a month, males will be chasing females and pairs will be defending their breeding territories: muskrat breeding season! I’m hoping for a follow-up story.

Photos by NB Hunter (January and February, 2020). All rights reserved.

Bird Feeder Survey, Central New York in Jan. 2020

I enjoy photographing wildlife visitors to our feeders, especially when there is snow in the air! These are some of the birds that brighten our winter days on a regular basis.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Cardinal, female

Northern Cardinal, male

Goldfinch, in non-breeding plumage

Blue Jay, opening a sunflower seed

Tufted Titmouse

White-throated Sparrow

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove, one of about 20 fluttering in to feed on the ground

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

The Whitetail Rut, 2019

As is often the case, the whitetail rut was the signature event of the last four to five weeks.  Typically, the primary breeding season begins in late October and continues well into November. It is a time when deer are on the move and can appear unexpectedly at any time of the day or night.

In late October I was inspired by a seductive blend of morning sun, fog and colorful foliage.  A short walk led me to an opening where a clump of golden-yellow aspen trees caught my attention. I positioned myself for a landscape shot, all the while harboring a greedy thought: in a perfect world, the scene would include one more element: deer. At that instant, a doe burst into view and very nearly ran me over. The chaotic scene was soon followed by another: the soft grunts and quick pace of a rutting buck, following the scent of the doe. He immediately filled the camera frame with a blurry, brown view and rendered me helpless. As luck would have it, he saw me twisting in a knot in a desperate attempt to record the moment, spun around, and ran.

His route was a half circle across an opening, giving me a chance to collect myself and capture my dream for all to see!

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Photos by NB Hunter (late October, 2019). © All rights reserved.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

When winter weather and deep snow cover arrive, chipmunks retreat to their burrows and cached food and more or less disappear from the landscape (they’re not true hibernators). This year, mild weather and the absence of continuous snow cover have kept them above ground, foraging and storing food later than normal. Chippies are a joy to watch and just one of the many things I’m thankful for at Thanksgiving.

Photos by NB Hunter (Nov., 2019). © All rights reserved.