Talons Up Close

Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to see a master falconer and environmental educator at work. The program, “Talons! A Bird of Prey Experience” by Lorrie Schumacher, featured several species of hawks and owls, native and exotic. I locked in on one bird in particular, a Barn Owl, because it’s a native species that I have yet to see in the wild.

Meet “Oliver” the Barn Owl.

Lorrie, Master Falconer, and Oliver the Barn Owl

Barn Owls hunt open habitats at night for mice and other small mammals. Daytime retreats and nesting sites include natural cavities and abandoned barns, silos and other structures. Despite their worldwide distribution, they, like many wildlife species, are vulnerable to habitat degradation and loss.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.


Patrolling the airways with uncanny maneuverability and precision, foraging dragonflies provide entertaining insights into the world of insect predation throughout the summer and early fall.

Warm, sunny afternoons in August and September are prime time for Meadowhawk (Sympetrum spp.) activity. This one, perched on the tip of a blackberry cane, darted away so quickly that I couldn’t follow its flight. In a second or two it returned to the perch, munching on a tiny winged insect – in all likelihood a mosquito.

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Summer’s End

Some memories of late summer, fresh and vivid as ever; memories of fields, forests, streams … and precious friends along the way.

An Anglewing butterfly, Eastern Comma, on Panicled Aster

Eastern Chipmunk perched high up in a wild apple tree

Wild apples; a bumper crop with limbs bending, and sometimes breaking, under the load

Perching dragonfly (Meadowhawk), highlighted by a background of New England Aster blossoms

Thistle in a slight breeze

Monarch butterfly visiting New England Aster

A mountain stream, dead for decades from coal mine acid pollution, now with a heart beat due to massive, long-term clean-up efforts.

Cow elk, part of a family group of 4 (excluding the rutting, 7 x 7 heard bull that is keeping an eye on them); Pennsylvania’s wild elk herd.

“Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”   – Pope Francis

“Pennsylvania Wilds”

Ralph Harrison 1928-2015: forester, conservationist, forest historian; the father of the Pennsylvania elk herd; a friend and mentor for 43 years. ……………..   In loving memory.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Asters and Monarchs

Our late summer sequence of bloom in the wild finds goldenrods going to seed as asters reach full bloom. Coincidentally, this is when I’m most likely to see migrating Monarch butterflies. In a field of goldenrods and asters, they’ll usually be found feeding on the latter.

Aster in morning dew

Migrating Monarch feeding on asters (1 of 4)

Monarch and Aster

Monarch and Aster

Monarch and Aster

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Busy Bufos

Reptiles and amphibians are very active this time of year, foraging and searching for suitable wintering habitat. This morning I intercepted 4 toads, 2 frogs and a snake as I dug and hauled loads of coarse soil and stone for hardening the tread of my nature trail.

All of the toads were small; 2 could sit on the end of my thumb with room to spare. This one was less than 2 inches long and much smaller than a full-grown adult.

American Toad (Bufo americanus); 1 of 2

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wetland Visits

A small, shallow pond and wetland a few miles south of home supports a variety of wildlife in late summer: shorebirds, herons, turtles, muskrats and, occasionally an egret. I haven’t been on site early enough to beat the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret to their feeding grounds, but have had some interesting observations and encounters.

Stump viewed through a patch of Joe-Pye Weed in full bloom

Green Heron

Broad-leaved (Common) Arrowhead; wetland wildflower

Foraging Muskrat

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Meadow Macros

Flower Spider (Goldenrod Spider, Red-spotted Crab Spider) on Knapweed

Sulphur on Chicory

Red-tailed Bumble Bee on Goldenrod

Wood Nymph on Knapweed

Jewelweed (Touch-me-not)

Sulphur on Goldenrod

Cucumber Beetle on Aster

Viceroy on Goldenrod

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.