About Nick Hunter

Formerly a Professor of Enviromental Sciences at Morrisville State College in New York State, I retired to pursue interests in outdoor activities such as natural area management, hiking, hunting, fly fishing, nature study and outdoor photography. I chose to blog as a means of networking and sharing my passion for the natural world with kindred spirits.

Meadowhawk Dragonflies

Foraging and perching dragonflies are an entertaining – and valuable – component of wetland landscapes in summer. Meadowhawks like this one (Sympetrum spp.) are smallish and very common, but a male under magnification is a thing of beauty. The mosquito population has exploded during this wet summer, so I hope to see lots of plump, well-fed dragonflies in my travels!

Dragonfly8Aug17#1550E2c4x6

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Tree Frogs

Months of unusually wet weather have favored our frog populations. A deafening chorus of slow trills engulfed and entertained me in early June as I fished a favorite trout stream in twilight. They were Gray Treefrogs, breeding males, more abundant and vocal in forested wetlands this year than I can ever remember. Pond edges are now lined with bullfrogs and immature wood frogs are underfoot, even in moist, shaded lawn habitats.

This story centers on the Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) because it’s not well known, is rarely seen, and has the chameleon-like ability to camouflage itself, changing color to match its substrate.

A friend milks his cows on two shifts, the second shift in the dark of the night. The old, neglected milk house (benign neglect of course) is surrounded by weedy shrubs and covered in creeper vines. A small, broken window bridges the exterior jungle with the humid, cave-like environs within. A small stream and wetland habitats are within a stone’s throw of the barn. Textbook frog habitat!

One night a flip of the milk house calendar from July to August exposed a tiny, dark-colored treefrog clinging to August. A Gray Treefrog in typical, drab colors had been exposed!

Days later, I got the call I was hoping for: a green treefrog had been captured in the milk house for me to identify and photograph. It was actually a Gray Treefrog in green camouflage – something I had never seen. Before returning the tiny frog (less than 3 cm long) to the milk house thicket, we placed it on an old wooden silo for portraits. In just a few minutes its feet and lower legs were silo gray! This fascinating little frog is a ninja survivor of the highest order!

GrayTreefrog2Aug17#1344E5c8x10

GrayTreefrog2Aug17#1353E9c5x7

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fields, Knapweed and Insect Visitors

Hopper30July17#1021E2c5x7

Old fields, forest edges and road corridors harbor an impressive variety of summer flowers, many of them alien. Knapweed is one that I have grown to appreciate due to the tremendous insect activity associated with its flowers.  On a hot, muggy summer afternoon it is possible to hear a field of knapweed in full bloom before you see it….bees! I liken the sound to that of the faint hum of traffic on a distant highway.

Bee29July17#0987E2c8x10

I appreciate the importance of this bloom as a food source for bees, and couldn’t walk away from a serving of knapweed honey. However, the main reason I trudge through the matted, thigh-high tangles of knapweed in the mid day heat is butterflies.

Skipper29July17#0952E2c8x10

Skipper

Fritillary30July17#1086E2c8x10

Fritillary

PaintedLady29July17#0937E5c8x10

Painted Lady

TigerSwallowtail21July17#0741E5c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

Viceroy29July17#0918E2c8x10

Viceroy

Photos by NB Hunter (late July, 2017). ©All Rights Reserved.

Snakes Around the House

I enjoy working on the house and property in mid summer, when the weather is warm and friendly. And, I’m not alone in my fondness for warm weather. Seventeen species of snakes are endemic to New York State. At least three of them – all nonpoisonous and harmless – live around the house (stone foundation; compost pile; deep, leafy mulch; loose stone walls, etc.). July is their month to see and be seen!

I’m tripping over garter snakes, and every so often get a glimpse of the beautiful, but secretive, milk snake.

They’re in the lawn…

GarterSnake13June17#9432E5c5x7

The firewood pile…

GarterSnakes22June17#9683E2c3x5

The blueberry patch…

GarterSnake27July17#0872E2c5x7

And, just this morning, inside the cellar ….. at eye level!

MilkSnake28July17#0884E2c5x7

This milk snake, a young adult about two feet long, was investigating a shelf in the stone foundation of the cellar where sawdust had accumulated during the installation of a furnace vent. Rodents are a dietary staple, so I’m hoping it eats well (and stays in the stone foundation)!

MilkSnake28July17#0889E2c8x10

“The Essence of Wildlife Photography” by Mike Biggs, IN “Whitetail Rites of Autumn” by Charles Alsheimer:

“Wildlife photography consists of a series of repeated attempts by a crazed individual to obtain impossible photos of unpredictable subjects performing unlikely behaviors under outrageous circumstances.”

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Pond Life

Small, warm-water ponds are a nice change of pace and delightful mid-summer escape.

DuckTurtle17July12#132E7c5x7

Adult merganser and snapping turtle at rest… young mergansers might be a meal for this snapper!

Last week I was invited to a private woodland pond to observe and photograph a family of beavers. There was plenty of time to spare in between beaver sightings and I soon became entranced with the cold blooded creatures hunting the shoreline and shallow waters. Most prominent were the bullfrogs. Dozens dove into the pond from the weedy bank as I scouted the water.  Soon after I had taken a seat and steadied the camera, they began to pop up to the surface, bulging eyes announcing their presence.

Bullfrog21July17#0778E2c5x7

Bullfrog21July17#0791E2c5x7

Huge dragonflies were patrolling the waters with grace and beauty. This one stopped on a dime and hovered in front of me, seemingly to show off its amazing flying skills and pose for documentation.

DragonflyID20July17#0674E5c5x7

An adult beaver finally appeared on a far bank. It had been foraging in a thicket above the water line and would soon be heading back to the lodge with a freshly cut tree branch to feed its young.

Beaver21July17#0800E2c8x10

Beaver21July17#0805E2c3x5

A conversation about beaver and the aquatic habitats that they create is incomplete without mention of the Red-spotted Newt. Two of the three stages of the complex life cycle of this salamander are dependent on clean, quiet waters like beaver ponds. The middle stage, an immature adult (“Red Eft”), is terrestrial. They inhabit the moist, shaded habitat of the forest floor and can be found wandering around at any time of the day or night.

RedEft10July17#0497E2c5x7

RedEft10July17#0504E5c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

A Summer Moon

Moon7July17#0382E5c4x6

Last week the first full moon of summer teamed up with scattered cloud cover to put on a show. Each evening the moon rose a little later, at first in twilight, then in total darkness. I was told of a 4 AM scene where it was framed by a rainbow in the southern sky; sorry, missed that one!

Moon8July17#0439E2c3x5

Moon8July17#0476E2c8x10

Moon8July17#0483E2c4x6

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

A Milkweed Project

Several years ago I discovered a group of milkweed plants growing at the edge of the property. They were in the shade of a 60-foot-tall Norway spruce and lacked the vigor and floral production of open-grown plants. Mindful of the decline of Monarch butterflies and their habitats, I transplanted about 15 plants to better sites in full sun. This was done in the spring of 2015 and 2016.

Most plants survived the stress of transplanting but they didn’t become fully acclimated and established until this year. I’m now pleasantly surprised with the results, and plan to continue the project. The new colonies are producing root sprouts as well as flowers, and the response of nectaring insects was immediate.

Here is a small sample of milkweed visitors last week – and several plants have not reached full bloom yet! This is a wildlife manager’s dream scenario: one action, with multiple benefits.

HairstreakID5July17#0269E2c4x6

Banded Hairstreak butterfly (milkweed flowers are a preferred food source)

VaCtenuchaMoth6July17#0274E2c3x5

Virginia Ctenucha moth

TigerSwallowtail7July17#0358E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Given the insect activity, I wasn’t surprised to find a common 8-legged predator lurking in the flower clusters: the Flower Crab Spider (I had to gently lift the flower cluster and shoot one-handed to get the image).

FlowerSpider6July17#0312E2c5x7

Flower Crab Spider

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.