A cool morning with drizzling rain led me to think I might find deer feeding on apples well past daybreak. I saw a buck at close range, but he stayed in the shadows in dense undergrowth, just beyond the wild apple trees. Another half mile and I was in a brushy meadow bordering an old apple orchard. This time there were no deer to be found, so I checked the goldenrod and knapweed blooms for something of interest.

Today’s discovery was a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), a common Arachnid of gardens, field edges and similar habitats.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

A Snake’s Perspective

Garter snakes, our most common serpent, have been underfoot and slithering around all over the place since the warm, dry weather arrived. They add a bit of excitement and interest to the landscape (my dog freaks out over a shed skin!), and are beneficial predators.

The forked tongue is a marvelous sensory organ with multiple functions: taste and smell. It is in constant motion, sampling airborne as well as soil particles.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Summer Heat

The Central New York weather forecast predicts a high of about 90 today, but extremely high humidity will make it feel more like 95 (F). My outdoor activities tail off noticeably in this type of weather, prompting me to respond with a cheery image captured when the wind-chill temperature was about 100 degrees less than it is now!

Snowy Owl at rest on a cold winter morning; January, 2014

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wild Apples and Deer

The wild apple trees are loaded this year! It’s a bumper crop of fruit that will feed wildlife, especially deer, for several months and help sustain them through the winter. Some varieties start dropping apples in late summer and others retain their persistent fruit well into autumn, even into the winter months. White-tails love apples and are tuned into this cycle. They’re already foraging heavily on the early drops.

This post features a young buck that I first observed in October, 2014 when he was a 4-month-old button buck. We had many close encounters over the next 7-8 months, but he was invisible for most of the summer. Fallen apples lured him back into view, within camera range in good light! Facial markings and notches in his left ear are identifying features. I hope to see him again in a month or so, when his small antlers are polished, in order to complete his story.

Most of our wild apples are too  large to swallow whole and must be chewed with the molars in the back of the mouth. This may be the only thing that a deer does not do gracefully, and the process of getting an apple from the ground to the stomach can be quite entertaining!

The tedious manipulation of large quantities of apples warrants an occasional break to relax and groom ….

before heading off to find another apple tree!

Photos by NB Hunter. 11August2015. All Rights Reserved. ©

Spring Azure

The Spring Azure is a common little butterfly that belongs to a taxonomic group known as the “Blues”, so-called because the upper surface of the wing of males is bluish in color (due to reflected light). Unfortunately, this lovely attribute is rarely visible with perched or nectaring butterflies because the wings are typically held in an upright, closed position.

Spring Azure on Yarrow, an alien wildflower.

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Diurnal Moth in Evening Light

The Common Clearwing or Hummingbird Moth is very active now, searching the summer bloom for nectar. Monarda and Phlox are garden favorites, but I also see them in natural areas on a wide variety of species, including Knapweed and Joe-Pye-Weed.

Clearwing on Phlox

Clearwing on Phlox

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Hunting Quiet Waters

Earlier this summer I was walking the towpath of a small canal, wondering what I might discover in the heat of the late morning sun.

A young couple and their dog on a seldom used section of towpath trail – one of my favorite places

Nothing caught my fancy so I plopped down on a massive stone abutment, the remains of a 19th century aqueduct. The quiet, spring-fed canal water a few feet below soon showcased some of its many treasures. Miniature predators roamed the duckweed, lily pads and surface film. The activity was unpredictable and, at times chaotic – several species flying, darting, swimming, skating and swirling in all directions, in and out of sunshine and shadow.

Bluets are “pond damsels” and are common around still, sluggish waters and wetlands. They perch horizontally and hunt on the wing. Mosquitoes are fair game.

Damselfly (Bluet) at rest on a lily pad

Damselfly (female Bluet) laying eggs on aquatic vegetation

I once discovered a Water Strider while leading a group of 4th graders on a nature walk and paused to ask if anyone knew what it was. Water Strider!!! They all knew it immediately – a large group of 10-year-old kids, common knowledge. Inhabitants of still waters throughout North America, these fascinating insects dart around on the surface film with amazing speed, feeding on tiny aquatic organisms like mosquito larvae.

Water Strider (and reflection) on the surface film

Other common names include “Skaters” and “Jesus Bugs” (of course — walk on water!).

Water Strider on the surface film in bright, reflected light – underexposed for special effects

Oval, blackish Whirligig Beetles motor around on the surface film like wind-up toys on steroids. Compound eyes allow them to see above and below the film, a nifty adaptation for finding prey and avoiding head-on collisions with obstacles.

Whirligig Beetle (bottom center) pausing briefly on the surface film above a lily pad

A whirling Whirligig Beetle causing concentric circles in the surface film

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.