Benign Neglect

Some try to be kind and call it a “farmer’s lawn”, implying that it is functional and economical at the expense of beauty, that real grass is a minority occupant. Others are more blunt and say it’s a badly neglected piece of real estate, a sad reflection of my twisted priorities.

I use the phrase “benign neglect” to justify my imperfect lawn. The many resident cottontails, butterflies, bees and birds are with me on this. Robins are raising a family on the healthy earthworm population that resides under the untreated sod. Indeed, it is a farmer’s lawn — green, friendly and ecologically functional.

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Dandelions and English Daisies

I actually worked on the lawn today and, as I pulled, mowed and whacked, decided to photograph during work breaks. I focused on Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and its associate, Speedwell (Veronica spp.). English Daisy (Bellis perennis) was also in the mix. All of the featured flowers are commonly labeled as perennial lawn weeds.

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Dandelion (and honeybee) surrounded by a carpet of Speedwell

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The tiny (1/4 inch) flower of Speedwell

Dandelions are prolific generalists, capable of colonizing and carpeting a fallow field. The reproductive potential of the species is enormous: millions of air-born seeds are produced in a field like this; estimates approach 100 million per hectare. Although native to Europe, dandelions are now naturalized throughout the temperate regions of the world

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A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Under different circumstances, it may not be a weed at all. Dandelion root is a registered drug (diuretic) in Canada; the leaves yield nutritious salad greens; the flowers are harvested to make dandelion wine.

Wildlife species that utilize dandelions (leaves, nectar or seeds) for food include deer, rabbits, turkeys, goldfinches, sparrows, butterflies and bees.

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Red Admiral butterfly nectaring on Dandelions

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Goldfinch picking and eating seeds from dandelion seed heads; a White-throated Sparrow was a few feet away, doing the same

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Dairy farm; the fallow fields carpeted in dandelions are preferred feeding sites of White-tailed Deer at night

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Wild Apple Tree Bloom

The wild apple trees are in full bloom and attracting the attention of even casual observers during rush hour. With rain and the possibility of thunderstorms in the forecast, I decided to seize the moment and create some memories before the blossoms become airborne.

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For more photos and a more detailed natural history of our wild apple trees visit my post from last year: “It’s Apple Blossom Time!” May 17, 2013

http://nicksnaturepics.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/its-apple-blossom-time/

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Discovery Walks

One of my favorite things to do in spring is to grab some field gear and walk, slowly and without purpose. It’s exhilarating, the vivid colors, species richness and animal activities teasing all of the senses. A purpose may materialize around the next bend in the trail, or not. The anticipation alone is a recreational high. And the rewards invariably appear.

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Great Crested Flycatcher, nest-building

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Midland Painted Turtle; searching for a wetland habitat

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Blue-winged Warbler, foraging for insects in a wild apple tree

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Wood Frog in a moist, poorly drained woodland habitat

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Raven

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Flowers and developing leaves of a mature Red Oak tree

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Baltimore Oriole, male, foraging on insects (possibly nectar too) on a wild apple tree in full bloom

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11-month-old white-tailed deer, buck, browsing on the new foliage of woody plants

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The mother of the young buck, feeding on the new leaves of Sugar Maple

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fiddling with Fiddleheads

The developing fronds or fiddleheads of ferns are always a point of interest in spring. Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) is an easy target because it’s abundant in most wetland habitats and the root stalks, fiddleheads and fronds are all prominent.

Dense clusters of fuzzy fiddleheads, each with a unique configuration, present one of the more pleasant spring scenes in a wetland habitat.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

A Back-lit Day

The better part of my Mother’s Day walks were spent looking into the sun, sometimes by design, but often due to circumstances beyond my control. Needless to say, the effects were transformative and the experience enlightening!!!

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Red Squirrel (hiding from me)

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Marsh Marigold

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Warbler (foraging for insects on the new foliage of Sugar Maple)

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Marsh Marigold

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Birch tree and clouds in evening sun

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Red Trillium

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Black Willow trees (light green color) in a wetland

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Colorful Visitors

When the songbird migration is peaking in early May, interesting and colorful subjects can appear just about anywhere. In fact, a backyard bird feeder can be just as productive as an exotic field trip. Some sightings, like Goldfinches, might be resident birds, more obvious in bright breeding plumage. But many species, the surprise encounters that have us tripping over things to find binoculars, cameras and field guides, are migratory. They’re returning to their summer ranges and breeding grounds, often covering thousands of miles in the process. I’ll never even begin to comprehend that incredible feat of endurance and navigation.

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Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, in breeding plumage

A year ago, almost to the day, I observed Goldfinches and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at my feeders and published “Finch Metamorphosis” (5/11/2013). There was a repeat performance this year, with one exciting addition: an Indigo Bunting.

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Adult male Goldfinches, in breeding plumage

With just 4 platforms on the tube feeder and 2 – 3 times as many finches, little scuffles for access occurred frequently. The mature males prevailed.

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The Indigo Bunting, outnumbered and less aggressive than the Goldfinches, perched nearby and fed when the crowd left.

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Adult male Indigo Bunting, in breeding plumage

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The birdseed that everybody’s fighting over is a readily available (and expensive) product trademarked “Nyjer” seed. It is not thistle seed, as I once thought, but the fruit of Guizotia abyssinica, an annual, exotic plant that was first cultivated in Ethiopia.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Mother’s Day Gems

Spring in the North, you gotta love it! Galleries of world class images can’t fully capture the moments; there are too many intangibles whirling around, evading descriptive words and fancy gear. The last 72 hours have left me with a flood of memories, some made a bit more lasting with visual reminders. Mom would have loved this post!

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Trout Lily, with insect pollinators

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Red-tailed Hawk

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White (Large-flowered) Trillium

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White Trillium

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Chipmunk

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Red (Wake-robin, Birthroot, Purple) Trillium

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Red Trillium

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Turkey Vulture gliding in to its tree-top roost

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Spring Colors in Macro

Many of the early spring wildflowers can be found on short walks in woodland habitats where soils are reasonably moist, fertile and undisturbed.

In this immediate area, the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) bloom has peaked, Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is approaching full bloom, and the flower buds of Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) are just starting to open. The vivid colors of these species are a welcome contrast to our extended period of overcast skies and cool, rainy weather!

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Trout Lily 1May2014

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Bloodroot 3May2014

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Trout Lily 1May2014

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Bloodroot 1May2014

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Red Trillium 3May14

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Vultures to Roost

A week or so ago I was on the road just before sunset. The sky was clear and blue, the evening light warm and golden. I noticed several vultures circling in tight formation, indicating they would soon be roosting. By the time I maneuvered into position for  photographs, they had settled in on the upper branches of a dense stand of spruce trees. I stood and watched, thinking that I had missed a “golden” opportunity. Then, I saw another gliding in and circling the roost, and another, and … about 8 or 10 more birds arrived over the next 15 minutes.

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I knew what I wanted to capture, but didn’t realize how much the odds were stacked against me. Even with birds circling overhead at fairly close range and me panning like a spinning top, the times when everything came together – posture, lighting, my lens – were all too brief. I quickly realized that the window of opportunity was just a second or two, or a few degrees, out of the full 360 degree circle.

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My goal was to capture the golden evening light on the wings. I failed to freeze most of the fast, wing-beat shots, but got a some of the gliders.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.