March 2019: Rainy Day Reflections

The tug of war between Winter and Spring, a battle that defines March, offers countless insights into the world of nature. One moment the sights and sounds of March reveal the brutality of winter and the struggle for survival. Within days, sometimes hours, songbirds are singing from territorial perches, cottontails are chasing and breeding in thickets, and ice-free surface waters become an open book to waterfowl migration. Then, it freezes and snows again!

Snow and ice persisted for most of March, resulting in predictable “winter” activity around backyard feeders.

Mourning Dove gliding in to a feeding site

Gray Squirrel feasting on mixed grain and sunflower seeds

Cottontail at rest near dense evergreen cover

Daytime temperatures remained cold, often just above freezing. But, the March sun prevailed and surface waters began to thaw.

Bufflehead: an early migrant, destined for breeding grounds in Canada

Mallards on thin ice

Melting snow creates temporary, but critical, habitat for waterfowl in farm country: small ponds in low-lying fields. Geese, ducks, shorebirds and others frequent these seasonal rest stops during Spring migration.

Black Ducks feeding and resting in a flooded corn field

The more permanent wetlands – swamps, marshes and backwater habitats – burst with life as soon as the ice recedes.

Foraging muskrat in a shallow marsh (the mate is nearby)

Great Blue Herons are quick to capitalize on ice-free wetland habitats

Red-winged Blackbirds, swaying and singing on cattail perches, are true harbingers of Spring. Can’t imagine Spring without these noisy marsh dwellers!

Male Red-winged Blackbird singing on its breeding territory in a cattail marsh

Eat and avoid being eaten. Rarely is the balance of life and the role of predators more apparent than in late Winter and early Spring. Coyotes and foxes are searching for food for hungry pups. Raptors are capitalizing on the visibility of prey and carrion on bare ground. Some, like this Sharp-shinned Hawk, are also hunting bird feeders. To paraphrase Cornell’s “All About Birds” website: “They’re pursuit hunters that surprise prey (mostly songbirds) by bursting out from a hidden perch with blinding speed.” This sharpie did just that!

Sharp-shinned Hawk hunting songbird bird feeders

Some birds of prey are more opportunistic than others. This mature Bald Eagle is heading to roost after foraging on carrion – a road-killed deer.

Mature Bald Eagle

Happy Spring!!!

Photos by NB Hunter (March 6 – March 28, 2019). © All rights reserved.



Survival of the Fittest

For many animals wintering in the snow belt, the Spring thaw can’t arrive soon enough. Bare ground is prime real estate and, when the snow cover persists too long, can be worth fighting for.

A combination of wind, full exposure to the sun, and adjacent retreat cover make some cultivated farm fields favorite wintering sites for deer and turkeys. On this occasion, it was hungry deer, venturing out well before dark, that provided insight into deer feeding behavior in late winter.

Survival of the fittest. Deer expend precious energy digging into the snow to expose plant material, kernels of waste corn, anything edible, and will defend their hard-earned discoveries from others in the herd. These groups are mostly does and fawns, and the mature does usually prevail. They will push, kick and chase competitors away from food – even fawns.

Daytime temperatures have been above freezing and and the snow pack is receding. Hopefully, all will soon have access to forage and squabbling will be unnecessary.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.


A Late Winter Blast

A week of bitterly cold and snowy weather has reduced my outdoor activities and wildlife sightings. But, I still have enough images to get the attention of friends in warmer places, especially those who enjoy winter in the snow belt, vicariously!

The snow pack is several inches deep, with powder over a fragile base. Snowshoes aren’t really necessary, but they provide stable footing and easier travel on the crusty base, drifts and uneven terrain.

Red squirrels have mastered winter survival. When not foraging on a cache of spruce cones or at the bird feeders, they scurry in and out of cozy snow tunnels for shelter and predator avoidance.

Bad weather sends critters to backyard feeders, birds and mammals alike. Mourning doves flutter in and explode away often, consuming large amounts of grain during their brief visits.

March is the most challenging time of year for deer, especially when snow cover restricts mobility and buries food. Deer browse woody plants in winter, but it doesn’t take long for this staple to disappear as well. A five to six foot “browse line”, evident on this Northern White-cedar, indicates that deer have eaten just about everything within reach.

The big picture: a late winter landscape in Central New York.

Photos by NB Hunter, 2019. © All rights reserved.