Deer Antlers in Velvet

The yearly growth of antlers on White-tailed Deer bucks is noticeable in early summer, even on younger bucks. Triggered by day length and its influence on growth hormones in the pituitary gland, antler development begins in spring and continues through the summer. In this stage, antlers are a mix of cartilage, blood vessels and nerve tissue covered in a hairy skin or velvet, growing at an astonishing rate that may be unequaled in the animal world. Incredibly, these complex structures are transformed into hardened, polished, bone by early fall.

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Buck in early June

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Buck in late June (1 of 3)

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Antler development and size are a function of age, nutrition and genetics. The deer in these photos are probably immature yearlings sporting their first set of antlers, so antler mass will be trumped by the physiological demands of body growth.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Young Red Squirrels

Three juvenile Red Squirrels – about a third the size of their parents – have discovered the bird feeders and no doubt concluded that this habitat is the key to a long and happy life. Yesterday they fed off and on all day long, in the rain, and I just couldn’t say no to the photo op.

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Two of the young squirrels made their way to the same grain pile and tensions mounted. One chattered incessantly, apparently to claim the feed and intimidate its sibling into moving elsewhere.

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The feeding stopped, they posed like tightly coiled springs, and…

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All I remember is taking pictures of a brownish furry ball flying every which way but loose!

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Sibling rivalry and pecking order settled, they continued feeding.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Common Yellowthroat

For the most part, canopy-dwelling warblers are beyond my reach. However, there is a small warbler that operates at my level, foraging for insects in the thickets and brushy fields where I often ramble: the Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas). I encounter this songbird almost daily, more often by sound than sight: their “witchity-witchity-witchity-witch” voice is unmistakable.

These images are male Yellowthroats on nesting territories in early summer.

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Male Yellowthroat on a rainy day in late June

The perch in this last photo is Garden Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) , an herbaceous perennial native to Eurasia that is spreading like wildfire in my locale. So many open, natural habitats are becoming  invasive species laboratories; frightening.

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Male Yellowthroat perched on Valerian in late June

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

House Wrens

The ubiquitous House Wren is a seasonal favorite: they’re energetic, bug-eating machines, and apt to sing throughout the day. Of the three nest boxes near the brushy borders of my lawn, two are occupied by wren families. The third was claimed and filled by a male during the mating season, but rejected by his mate in favor of of a box nearby, the one anchored to a garden fence post.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Kids Rule!

In the animal world, late spring is all about raising kids and perpetuating the species. Parents (one or both) are driven to feed, guide, teach and protect their offspring, regardless of the conditions or the associated risks. The large number of animals, naive-te of the young and constant activity of the adults opens a window of opportunity for viewing wildlife that is unprecedented in the annual cycle. That said, sightings can still be extremely challenging when dense vegetation and the need to minimize human disturbance are factored into the equation.

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One of several Tree Swallows that dive-bombed me when I got too close to a nest box full of youngsters

I’ve captured a sample of this exciting season, sometimes by design, more often by accident, and will share the joy!

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Canada Geese, mother and goslings, on a small stream

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Young Cottontail Rabbit

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Great Crested Flycatcher with a bug for the kids to fight over; she fed her young dragonflies, moths and caterpillars while I watched

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Immature Red Squirrel (i of 2)

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Wild Turkey hen loudly and aggressively defending a brood too young to run or fly (1 of 2)

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Hen turkey feigning injury and circling at a distant of about 25 meters, attempting to draw me away from her brood (which I didn’t pursue in the dense vegetation)

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White-tailed Deer fawn, about a week old, instinctively laying low and motionless, for better or worse; I was 2 meters away

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Most does are bred in November and give birth in late May and early June; this fawn may be 2-3 weeks old and reaching an age where running to avoid a threat is possible

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Despite the size difference, these fawns are probably twins

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Dead Zones Beckon

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“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

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White Pine tree and Appalachian Mountains

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”  – John Muir

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Mature Eastern Hemlock trees on the floodplain of a mountain stream

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

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Puddling swallowtails seeking moisture, nutrients and enhanced reproductive success from the mud near a mountain spring

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Maidenhair Fern after a rainy night

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains.” – John Muir

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Wild Columbine

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Wild Mountain Azalea

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the      universe.” – John Muir

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Free-stone mountain stream

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American Merganser on an early morning perch above a beaver pond

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Newly hatched mayfly dun on the surface film of a mountain stream

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Mergansers

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Dame’s Rocket

It seems that whenever I search for flowering plants to photograph I find myself having to “man up” and admit that I’m fond of aliens. The blooms of Wild Domestic Apple, Autumn Olive, Black Locust and, now, Dame’s Rocket, have all been impressive — and not one of these plants is native to this area.

Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis; Mustard family) is everywhere now, especially on disturbed sites with moist soils – abandoned fields, forest openings and edges, the neglected borders of lawns, etc. Native to Eurasia and introduced over 200 years ago, it is now widely distributed across most of North America. Extensive, nearly pure stands are common and, in late spring, a dominant landscape feature.

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A naturalized stand of Dame’s Rocket, showing the wide range of flower colors typical of the species

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A nearly pure stand of Dame’s Rocket on the moist floodplain of a small stream

Dame’s Rocket is easily mistaken for a garden Phlox. An alternate leaf arrangement and 4 petals distinguish it from this plant group, which has opposite leaves and 5 petals.

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The Forest Invasive Plants Resource Center is keeping a watchful eye on the spreading Dame’s Rocket, monitoring the “invasion” to determine threats to native flora and fauna.  I monitor Dame’s Rocket for it’s natural beauty and, more importantly, the impressive array of colorful wildlife species that are attracted to the prolific, fragrant bloom.

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Giant Swallowtail nectaring on Dame’s Rocket, 9June14; an unusual, if not rare, sighting in the Northeast

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Flower Spider, an ambush predator, on Dame’s Rocket

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Tiger Swallowtail nectaring on Dame’s Rocket

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

The Snappers are Laying!

Old abandoned railroad beds are a centerpiece of our outdoor recreation resources. “Rails-to-trails” projects provide wonderful opportunities for hiking, dog-walking, nature photography, cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities. These long green corridors also connect villages and spur cooperative, community-based conservation efforts.

This morning I had a call from the walker shown below to let me know that there were Snapping Turtles all over the place, digging nests and laying eggs. It was warm, overcast and rainy, a perfect day for turtle activity. In fact, I stopped along the way to remove a Painted Turtle from the middle of the road, reminding me of my post from 2013 entitled “Slow Down for Turtles”!

http://nicksnaturepics.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/slow-down-for-turtles/

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Abandoned railroad bed converted into a popular walking trail

Abandoned railroad beds attract turtles in late spring because they are often in close proximity to wetlands and provide ideal sites for egg-laying: high, dry and sunny, with coarse-textured substrate.

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Snapping Turtle on its nest, laying eggs

These egg-laying snappers, working along the edge of the railroad bed just a couple of feet from the main pathway, are totally committed to the task at hand. They’re more or less oblivious to mild disturbances, tolerating walkers (some with leashed dogs) and curious onlookers (like me) just a few feet away. They don’t leave until the seeds for another generation of Snapping Turtles are secure!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.