An Opportunistic Immature Eagle

Yesterday afternoon the March sun was blinding…and deceptive. Temperatures didn’t get out of the teens and strong, gusting winds were bone-chilling. This immature Bald Eagle braved the elements – perhaps a youthful mistake in terms of energy conservation – to rip into a frozen deer carcass.

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Photos by NB Hunter. 22March2017. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Birds in a Blizzard: Backyard Visitors

The blizzard of 2017 arrived on March 14, bringing three feet of blowing snow, frigid temperatures and, eventually, a state of emergency that closed all roads. Not to be denied the opportunity to photograph, I shoveled snow away from the bird feeders every 2-3 hours, replenished the seed mixture and went back inside to observe the phenomenon. Up to 200 birds, half of them a mixed flock of blackbirds, converged on the sites and devoured everything but the spent hulls of sunflower seeds. This went on for three days.

I took many pictures of our common winter visitors during the event – cardinals, juncos, chickadees, doves, woodpeckers, etc.

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However, blackbirds were the featured attraction and satisfied my need to capture something extraordinary that conveyed the intensity of the snowstorm and madness at the feeders.

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There were a lot of red-winged blackbirds in the mixed flock. Migrating birds had arrived prior to the storm and most food sources and nesting habitats were now buried. They bullied their way on to the feeding sites and hogged most of the food; needless to say, I was happy to see them leave when the weather broke.

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Grackles, starlings and rusty blackbirds were also present. After hearing stories from other bird watchers, I learned that the numbers and proportions of species in the mixed flocks varied with location.

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Wait for it……

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Blackbirds in a blizzard!!!

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Photos by NB Hunter on March 14, 15 and 16, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

 

Birds in a Blizzard: Snow Buntings

I ventured forth during the tail end of the Blizzard of ’17, after the state of emergency and travel restrictions were lifted. Despite poor visibility and hazardous travel on country roads, I discovered a favorite winter bird: snow buntings!

The diminutive snow birds, 20 or 30 in all, were foraging on weed seeds protruding above the deep snow. Like their arctic neighbors, snowy owls, snow buntings thrive in winter conditions that force most animals to shelter in place: windswept, snow-covered fields with wicked cold temperatures and wind chills. I don’t ever recall seeing snow buntings when the weather was photographer-friendly, i.e. warm and sunny with blue skies!

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Snow buntings access seeds by walking, perching, jumping and fluttering. It’s a fascinating, sometimes comical scene of constant movement and occasional bickering.

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There are many things to love about these little songbirds, but what impacts me most is their journey, the way it connects me to another part of North America, the realization that the males will soon morph into breeding plumage and be staking out frozen tundra nesting territories in another month. I never cease to be amazed at the wonders of nature and, after this experience, am grateful for snowstorms and weeds.

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Photos by NB Hunter. 15March2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

Winter’s Grip

I’m mindful of migrating waterfowl and have been searching surface waters for an interesting subject. Needless to say, snow,  frigid temperatures and the return of ice have made that close to impossible. Of late, I’ve spent more time in my “truck blind” than afield.

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Mallards in a snow storm

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Canada geese on ice

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Hooded mergansers on a precious spot of open water

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Hoodies

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Streamside ice on a moss-covered rock

Brrrrr!!!

Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

The Solitary Doe

White-tailed deer are social animals, and multi-generational family groups of does and fawns are the norm. That said, this young doe has been alone since last fall (I see her once or twice a week while trail walking) and is now including the bird feeders in her daily routine. I suspect the family group was broken up due to hunting season or highway mortality.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Eagles in Late Winter

I’ve photographed three Bald Eagles hunting and scavenging since the third of March. A friend saw a mature eagle flying with a stick in its talons on March 4 – nest building (or nest enhancement). It’s becoming more and more difficult to remember the Bald Eagle as an endangered species. In 1976 just one nesting pair, a nonproductive pair, was reported for the entire state of New York; today there are several hundred nesting pairs in the state.

Eagles are opportunistic predators and will hunt, steal and scavenge for food. In this region, the carcasses of road-killed deer in farm fields are a dietary staple in winter.

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When eagles discover a rich food source like this, they can gorge, storing much of the ingested meat (up to two pounds) in their crop.

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I wasn’t able to determine the relationship between these birds, other than the dominance of one over the other at the feeding site. The adult plumage indicates sexual maturity and an age of at least five years (longevity in the wild averages about 20 years). The average weight of an eagle is about 10 pounds; females tend to be about 25% larger than males, and one bird does appear to be larger than the other.They could be a mated pair, doing what eagles do – squabbling over food.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.