A Butterfly that Hibernates

The last thing on my mind when I’m hiking this time of year is butterflies…it’s cold and there are few flowers in bloom.  But, I pass through a sunny clearing in the forest on my daily walks and invariably have my day dreams interrupted by the flutter of a Mourning Cloak butterfly. Males emerge from hibernation this time of year and “perch” in a sunny opening to attract a mate and breed.  I’ve cut firewood nearby and the sap oozing from stumps is a likely food source.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

A Different View for Wildflowers

Cold weather has delayed the arrival of traditional, early spring wildflowers. This has led me to look up rather than down, searching for the lesser known flowers of trees and shrubs. They can be stunning, but often require magnification to be appreciated.

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One of the many species of shrubby willows (Salix); a critical food source for bees in early spring

 

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Red maple (Acer rubrum) in full bloom

Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

 

Photoperiod and Signs of Spring

Spring: the first 20 days!

Gray skies, cold rain, snow and flooding have slowed down the arrival of spring but photoperiod will rule the day. Increasing day length is a powerful force that insures the necessary progression of life stages, regardless of the weather.

Many aquatic species, including this Great Blue Heron, arrived to find traditional wetland habitats still covered in ice (23March2017).

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Snow geese were reported throughout Central New York during the last week of March. They were refueling on waste grain in corn fields and spread manure before continuing their journey to summer range in the Arctic (27-28March2017).

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Wild turkeys were foraging on waste grain too, but increasing daylight was also triggering the mating urge in males; many were observed in full display posture, strutting for uninterested hens (1April2017).

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Breeding populations of ring-necked pheasants no longer occur in this region, but some are occasionally released into the wild for recreational purposes. This cock pheasant is crowing and flapping his wings in an attempt to attract a hen (6April2017).

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Red-winged blackbirds arrived several weeks ago and are defending their breeding territories aggressively, despite the elements (7April2017).

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A sure sign of Spring is the transformation of male goldfinches as they molt into their bright breeding plumage (7April2017).

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Groundhogs emerged from hibernation in March to find a snow-covered landscape. In the days ahead they faced yet another hardship – the flooding of burrows in marginal habitats. This one seems to have weathered the storms well…but is grazing in the middle of a hay field, a long way from the nearest burrow. Can it outrun an eagle, fox or coyote? Survival is still questionable (8April2017).

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Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

A Beautiful Little Duck

After years of observing and photographing natural events, I’ve learned one thing for certain: opportunities must be seized, because “next time” is wishful thinking in the context of a lifetime. Twenty four years ago we had a 43 inch snowfall in March.  A similar event occurred this year, blanketing the region with about three feet of snow. Since the Spring migration was underway, there was a unique opportunity to learn about the response of wildlife to deep snow, freezing temperatures and frozen surface waters in late winter. When travel advisories were lifted, I began searching rural areas, farms and aquatic habitats in an attempt to capture the moment.

One of my discoveries was the presence migrating waterfowl in small streams and wetlands that were ice free. Wood ducks were in the mix and became my subject of interest.

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The unique beauty of a male Wood Duck has universal appeal. Artists, photographers, nature lovers – all treasure the moment when a drake presents himself in full breeding plumage!

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Wood Duck foraging along the banks of a small stream

By late March, most of the snow had melted and a new and exciting landscape appeared. The vivid scenes with brightly colored ducks and snow were gone, but aquatic habitats were fully charged with melt-water and primed for breeding pairs to explore and occupy.

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Photos by NB Hunter, March, 2017. © All Rights Reserved.