On the Way: Local History

A close friend, colleague and hiking companion joined me for a day hike on the Finger Lakes Trail in Central New York. On these adventures, I’m the designated photographer, she’s the navigator. That arrangement rarely ever works as planned. But, after many years and many miles, we’re still walking, reminiscing … and laughing.

This particular hike was special, and travel was deliberately slow. Few of the sights, sounds and smells of a woodland trail in spring went unnoticed. In fact, we even stopped while on our way to the trail access point in order to admire some local history— three scenes, a stone’s throw apart, on an isolated country road.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Broken Water in Sunshine and Shadow

A recent trip to a nature center and wetland complex culminated with me blending into a small willow tree on the edge of the trail, doing my best Great Blue Heron imitation. One of my favorite places, this section of trail is a raised, earthen pathway passing through the quiet, motionless water of a shallow swamp. A small culvert pipe under the trail allows the passage of water, and critters, from one section of the swamp to the other.

It wasn’t long before a wake caught my attention: the telltale sign of a muskrat on the move. Its house was on the back side of an island on one side of the trail and it swam through the culvert pipe in order to graze on aquatic plants on the other side.

With a full belly, the muskrat returned to its house, giving me an opportunity to track its movement through sunshine and shadow and capture the beauty of its wake.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Ornamental Allium

My flower gardens are shabby collections of “survivors” — perennials that persist despite the adverse affects of my neglect and foraging herbivores. Last fall a friend gave me some bulbs to stick in the ground and promised they would be worth the effort. Well, they’ve been blooming for about a week now, and they’re beautiful!

Allium 19May2015

Allium 25May2015 (1 of 5)

As luck would have it, Donna, a landscape professional and excellent photographer, published a great post on Allium this morning — saving me the trouble of trying to discuss a topic that I know little about. I strongly recommend that interested readers visit her post at


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Geese, Geese and More Geese: Goslings!

Canada Geese mate for life and, for the pairs that nested successfully, the 25 – 28 day incubation period is over. There are downy little goslings everywhere. Within a couple of days of hatching they can walk, swim, dabble and eat. Amazing. On land, they motor along, tripping, stumbling, stabbing and pecking like little wind-up toys. The parents are never far away and guard the kids aggressively.

Goose family; shallow, swampy headwaters of Eaton Brook Reservoir; 1 of 4

Goose family; on full alert, with aggressive posturing, due to my presence; swampy headwaters of Leland Pond; 1 of 2

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Catbirds on Sumac

The young will be fed a steady diet of bugs, caterpillars and other invertebrates.  Adult Gray Catbirds are more opportunistic, even foraging on leftovers from 2014: the persistent fruit of Staghorn Sumac. With daily temperatures dipping into the 30’s and 40’s, insect life is scarce and this native shrub provides an important dietary supplement.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wild Turkey Hen

I really enjoy the colorful sights and sounds of songbirds, but don’t often have the unique close encounters that lead to good photos. Recently, I’d grown weary of trying to capture little birds with a little lens, all the while losing a considerable amount of blood to mosquitoes and black flies. Much to my relief, a new avian target and strategy surfaced: a 10 pound bird, less than 15 meters away, shoot-able from the kitchen window!

This bird, an Eastern Wild Turkey hen, is a familiar face. I’ve seen her several times on my nature trail and she’s been scratching around the flower gardens and bird feeders for about a week.

Unlike the cottontail featured in my last post, she has little tolerance for humans. The last time I surprised her on trail, she was nearly 100 meters from me and ran off like she’d been shot at — with a gun. In this photo, it was camera shutter noise that drove her away. I believe she’s nesting within a few hundred meters of the house and hope to see the whole family sometime soon – in late May or early June.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Cottontail Behavior: Nursing Female

I’ve been bumping into this Cottontail a lot lately. I usually see her in late afternoon and evening as I’m working around a section of the yard that is bordered by dense shrub thickets and brush piles. The site is also high and dry and faces the morning sun – an ideal location for a Cottontail nest. Bunnies are generally active in low light or at night, but nursing females are apt to be seen any time of the day, grooming and foraging in close proximity to the nest.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

An Overlooked Wildflower

Fringed Polygala (also Gaywings, Bird-on-the-wing and other common names) reportedly occurs in most counties in New York State, yet I seldom see this colorful, woodland gem. It’s tiny – just a few inches tall – so I have probably overlooked it on some of my field trips. Site preferences may also be a factor. The small colony that I visit each May occupies a well-drained, acidic, upland habitat in an oak-maple-hemlock woodland – an uncommon association in these parts that I don’t often visit.

When I discovered Fringed Polygala years ago, I was sure I was looking at an orchid and couldn’t wait to dig into my field guides to learn more. Apparently I wasn’t alone in my ignorance, because both of my reliable references said “Not an orchid — it’s in the Milkwort family”!

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

The Arboreal Bloom

Small flowering trees are a beautiful element in spring landscapes, cultivated and wild alike. Their peak blooming periods coincide with, or follow, the traditional flush of spring wildflowers and can be spectacular. Severe winter weather limits our species diversity, but the few that prosper are eagerly anticipated spring highlights.

The first species of note to appear in natural landscapes is Serviceberry, also called Shadbush, Juneberry or Amelanchier. In late June and early July, I’ll be competing with robins, catbirds and grouse for the small, blueberry-like fruits.

Serviceberry in full bloom, weeks beyond normal due to extended cold weather in late winter and early spring

Redbud flourishes in the wild a couple hundred miles to the south. Here, it performs fairly well at lower elevations in cultivated landscapes — when the flower buds don’t freeze.

Eastern Redbud, just beyond peak bloom (flowers generally develop before the leaves; 1 of 2)

The most prominent small, flowering tree in Central New York is, oddly, an introduced species: wild (domestic) apple. There are many varieties in the wild, differing slightly in form, flower color, fruit characteristics, etc. But, as a whole, the value added to our visual resources is immeasurable.

House Wren in a wild apple tree near its nest box

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Mother’s Day Gold

Marsh Marigold (Cowslip), a common spring wildflower, is in full bloom now. Scattered clumps of brilliant, golden-yellow flowers protrude above large, kidney-shaped leaves to define wet, marshy sites. The colorful bloom is visible at a distance and brightens wild landscapes where the drab grays and browns of winter persist.

Captured on different sites under a variety of light conditions, these images are an attempt to convey the range of color and beauty of this showy wetland wildflower.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.