Roadside Wildlife Habitat

The corridors of lightly traveled, secondary roads often provide important wildlife habitat. Roadsides are open, “edge” habitats that may contain a variety of weeds, seeds, wildflowers and small shrubs that are lacking in surrounding landscapes due to intensive management and development. Deer, turkeys, crows and migrating blackbirds are using these corridors now.


Drainage issues along secondary roads are often managed with a system of interconnected culverts and open ditches. Occasionally, a ditch intercepts a good flow of spring water and produces a micro-habitat that remains ice free through most of the winter.

This spring-fed portion of a drainage ditch, no more than 35 meters long and 2 meters wide, is full of surprises: visitors include muskrats, mallards and Great Blue Herons. Yesterday, I added a new species to the list: Killdeer. A pair were alternately feeding and resting in the shallows and mudflats.


Killdeer are plovers, shorebirds with an identity problem. They like open, flat places but, unlike their relatives, are more at home on dry land than wetlands. Golf courses, pastures, and gravel-covered surfaces like rooftops, parking areas and roadsides are favorite habitats for nesting and foraging.



Killdeer are opportunistic feeders, but their diet is mainly invertebrates – insects, worms, etc.



Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Edible, Delectable Gold

It was very cold last night and the warm sun is now pushing temperatures well above freezing. The sap is flowing!!!  Unique to northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada, Sugar Maple and it’s sweet byproducts are as symbolic of March as the arrival of migratory birds. Native Americans taught early settlers about this natural source of sugar, and it soon became a staple. Today, it helps fuel the economy of an entire region.

The classic bucket collection technique shown here on a row of mature Sugar Maples is a disappearing landscape. Commercial operators now use plastic tubing systems and vacuum pumps to collect sap.


One to three taps are usually installed on each tree, the number depending on the size of the tree. A single tap might yield about 10 gallons of sap.


Many “sugar bushes” have been operated for generations; some trees have been tapped annually for over 100 years.


The Rule of 86: Determine the sugar content of sugar maple sap (assume it’s about 2%) and divide 86 by that number. The result, 43, is the number of gallons of sap that must be boiled down to produce one gallon of pure maple syrup.

About 300 natural flavor compounds have been identified in maple syrup. Those chemical components, as well as soils, genetics, weather and date of collection, all contribute to the the unique taste and appeal of this natural, renewable source of sugar.

Edible, delectable gold!!!


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Morning Sun and Snow

After another night of snow, the warmth of a bright morning sun was greeted with open arms. Today is dedicated to wildlife habitat management : pruning and releasing wild apple trees. However, I couldn’t start the day’s activities without a quick peak at backyard scenes and the obligatory photos!


Black-capped Chickadee


Rose (Rosa rugosa)


Slate-colored Junco perched in a Star Magnolia

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Harbinger of Spring: A Personal Favorite

Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Spring Peepers, ducks on open water – everyone has a favorite indicator species or event that signals the arrival of Spring.

This adorable little critter just might be my favorite.


After hibernating for months in an elaborate underground burrow system, with an enormous cache of my bird seed for occasional snacks, Mr. Chipmunk appeared this afternoon – via a Red Squirrel snow tunnel – for the first time since late October, 2014.



Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

The March Sun

Five days ago I published a post featuring the continuation of severe winter weather and wild turkeys struggling to survive. Within hours of that story, the average daily temperature rose 30 degrees F, deep snow cover began to consolidate and melt, and frozen surface waters started to thaw.  Overwhelmed by the increasing intensity and duration of the March sun, Winter is in retreat.

The first thaw in over two months had an immediate and profound effect on winter landscapes and animal behaviors. One can see it, feel it, smell it — spring is just around the corner!


Geese and mallards on open water in a thawing wetland

Dabbling and diving ducks on a narrow, ice-free section of a small, wooded canal (3):


Mallard drake


Pair of Gadwalls


Ring-necked Duck

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wild Turkeys in Winter

After more than 50 years of successful restoration and management, the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) now occurs throughout the U.S., excluding Alaska. Belonging to a family of chicken-like birds that includes grouse, partridge and quail, turkeys are one of the more common and popular game birds in the country.

Mature wild turkeys average 10 to 20 pounds and can run or fly with surprising speed. They usually look dark, sometimes black, but when viewed in sunlight at close range, are fairly colorful.


In early winter, before the deep snow arrives, fields, openings and edge habitats in close proximity to mature forests are popular feeding sites.


Flock of wild turkeys feeding in a field-swamp ecotone 10January2015


Wild turkeys foraging in a corn field 14January2015

Since turkeys are primarily ground foragers, deep snow that extends into late winter can be lethal. The situation worsens when the snow is soft and the large birds can’t walk freely, wasting precious energy reserves when traveling. Weakened birds are also more vulnerable to predation.


An early winter scene: turkeys feeding on the persistent fruit of tall shrubs in deep snow

Turkeys are incredibly tough and adaptable and cope with long, harsh winters in several ways.

They seek out dense, mature conifer trees, protected lowlands and sunny slopes for a thermal advantage and energy conservation. Their range and activity are greatly reduced in these critical habitats and, in extreme cases, birds will remain on their roosts without food for days, even weeks.

The turkeys in the following 3 images were part of a small flock of undernourished birds, roosting and searching for food in a sunny thicket of small trees and shrubs. Usually wary of people, they were 10 to 40 meters from a secondary road and unwilling, or unable, to flee vehicular disturbances. Hunger trumps fear.


A malnourished turkey searching for food in deep, soft snow 6March2015


A malnourished turkey roosting in the sun on a cold day; it’s fluffing its feathers to enhance their insulating value 6March2015 (1 of 2 images)


Once thought of as a back-country, “big woods” species, intolerant of humans, the Eastern Wild Turkey is adapting to alternate food sources in close proximity to people as a means of winter survival. It is not unusual to see birds in wooded residential habitats visiting bird feeders. In rural areas, waste grain in cow manure is a late-winter staple, and can be the difference between life and death.


Part of a flock of about 25 wild turkeys that have flown in from a nearby roost in mature timber to pick grain from cow manure.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Late Winter Faces

Many wildlife stories are unfolding in Central New York as the deep snow and unprecedented cold weather persist.  For now, I’ll pretend the glass is half full, rather than nearly empty, and present selected images from February 28 through today.







Photos by NB Hunter. © ,All Rights Reserved.