Breeding Bufos!!!

The highlight of recent walks has been a frenzied spring chorus emanating from dozens of American toads in shallow waters. Breeding season! The toads are extremely active in the late morning sun and warmth, perching, calling, chasing and breeding. Sometimes the water is “boiling” with breeding activity as several males battle over a female. The mating calls,  loud trilling sounds lasting several seconds, are one of the more distinct and pleasing sounds of spring.

This is their story, as I’ve observed it, among emerging cattails in the shallow water of the Chenango Canal in Central new York.

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Actual breeding, referred to as amplexus, involves the male grasping the larger, more colorful female and fertilizing her double strand of gelatinous eggs as they are extruded.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wildlife Odds and Ends

I walk often, usually traveling short distances on local trails. Late Spring is a wonderful time to do this because there’s so much going on in the world of wildlife.

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Wildlife populations are approaching their annual peak as new recruits arrive daily!

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Juvenile Red Squirrel

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Goslings

Songbirds are in various stages of nesting: some are building nests, some are sitting on eggs, some are feeding young. Regardless of the species, males can usually be heard singing on the nesting territories.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler above a dense thicket of shrubs and young trees

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Great Crested Flycatcher nesting in a “Bluebird” box (1 of 3)

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Reptiles and amphibians have come alive in the summer-like heat. This American Toad has claimed my compost pile as home.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Amphibians and Frozen Wetlands

Hunkering down on successive mornings of 9 and 14 degrees F, I can’t help but wonder about the impact of a deep freeze on the reproductive cycle of amphibians in shallow water, wood frogs in particular.

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A Central New York wetland; April 5, 2016

I monitor a small vernal pool every year as the warm March sun melts winter ice and wood frogs begin their explosive breeding cycle.

I last checked the pool on April 2, just before the arctic blast and snowstorm arrived. It was a chilly, 45 degree day and the pool was clear of ice. Judging by the presence of several large egg masses, the wood frogs had successfully completed their reproductive cycle.

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Wood Frog egg mass in a vernal pool; April 2, 2016

One frog, lethargic in the cold water, allowed me to experiment with light reflections and shooting angles.

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When spring returns, and the little vernal pool comes back to life, I plan to examine the egg masses to see what, if any, impact the freezing temperatures had on egg survival.

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.

Wetlands: Like a Box of Chocolates

My early summer haunts are mostly wetlands: swampy places, vernal pools, undeveloped canals and small ponds.

Cattails, lilies and swarming insects at the edge of a Leland Pond swamp

These habitats are indeed like a box of chocolates. I never know for sure what I’ll find, and each experience is uniquely rewarding.

One of the more common predators in wetlands and sluggish waters: the Snapping Turtle. This one was foraging in the quiet, weed-choked waters of the Chenango Canal and is heading for shallow water near shore (and me).

A snapper basking in the midday sun along the edge of a farm pond; MSC Equine Rehabilitation Center

Family of Wood Ducks, adult female and young; Chenango Canal

I travel light and walk and stalk a lot, but also stop and get comfortable when things are slow. Detailed landscapes in the foreground then become the center of attention.

Fragrant Water Lily and damselfly (Bluet)

Green Frog in a tiny, seasonal pool

Swamp Milkweed on the edge of a cattail marsh

Following up on a tip from a former student, a midday excursion to a small pond at the Morrisville State College Equine Rehabilitation Center provided me with a rare opportunity to observe the foraging behavior of a Green Heron. Small fish, frogs and tadpoles are dietary staples; in this instance, tadpoles (probably Bull Frog) were the main target.

A happy heron, with fresh tadpole for lunch

Common Elderberry, approaching full bloom; thrives in open, moist habitats

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Late Spring Highlights, 2015

This post is for the eye specialists of Central New York, the surgeons and their wonderful supporting cast who I have gotten to know all too well over the past 6 months. I must be nice to them, because our journey isn’t over yet.

Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)

The month of June began with Dave and I disconnecting from the outside world, tent camping and fly fishing for trout in a “dead zone” in the mountains. We’ve been doing this for a long time. The destination, campsite and length of stay haven’t changed, but the journal entries are never redundant and each trip is better than the last.

Destination: a freestone trout stream in a mountainous, forested watershed

Camp life is a trip treat in and of itself, but the main objective of these adventures is to float a fake bug high and dry so it drifts, bobs and skitters with the current, drag-free….and fools a trout. Fly fishing is a repetitive process, a fluid continuum of false casting, presentation, catch and release (on the good days). The rod becomes an extension of the arm, and the stream an endless source of pleasant sights, sounds and expectation.

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Green Drake mayfly (Ephemera guttulata) drifting along on the surface film; a favorite in the diet of trout

A parachute dry fly, one of many imitations of the Green Drake. To the human eye, an insult to the fragile beauty of the real thing. But, it works, seriously.

We fish for hours on end, especially when the trout are “looking up” and can be tricked into taking one of our flies. However, there are also windows of opportunity for exploring and photographing.

In this part of the world, Wild Columbine thrives in the moist soils and partial sunlight along forested mountain roads. Rocky woodlands, rock outcrops and ledges are also suitable habitat.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Late spring marks the onset of butterfly season, and in these extensive deciduous forests the activity can lead to a sensory overload. Virtually everything in bloom is visited by nectaring butterflies, and swarms of puddling butterflies are a common sight. Damp, sunlit sites with exposed mineral soil – such as roadside mud puddles – sometimes attract dozens of butterflies. Swallowtails are the featured attraction, but a half dozen or more species may be involved. The visitors are mostly males, searching for soil minerals that might enhance reproductive success.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) nectaring on Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Tiger Swallowtails (and other butterfly species) puddling on on a muddy site

A Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) searching for a suitable place to puddle. The iridescent hindwing and spoon-shaped tails are diagnostic.

Spicebush Swallowtail probing damp soil for minerals

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fleabane (Erigeron)

Crazy Weather

I left the house for an afternoon walk knowing that it was highly unlikely that I would intercept rutting deer sprinting around in their winter coats. It was 60 degrees – a 30 degree temperature swing since my snow post 3 days earlier!

I jokingly said that a butterfly sighting was more likely than a deer sighting.

This is my first sighting ever of a butterfly in mid November.

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Red Admiral Butterfly 11/11/14

Wildlife, mostly deer, rabbits and squirrels, have been eating wild apples for almost two months now. Trees with persistent fruit are few and far between.

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A persistent Wild Apple 11/11/14

When freezing temperatures arrive, frogs in shallow pools like this one will hibernate under water, in the organic muck at the bottom. Survival of these cold blooded amphibians in the dead of winter hinges on a slowed metabolism, stored fat and the diffusion of oxygen through moist skin. However, unusually warm, sunny weather can alter that behavior, bringing them up for a breath of fresh air.

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Frog surfacing in a shallow pool 11/11/14

English Oak is best know as an ornamental, landscape tree. It performs well in this area and produces large, nutritious acorns that are devoured by deer, squirrels, turkeys and other wildlife species. This tree has been cultivated in a natural, wild setting in order to augment acorn production from native Red Oaks.

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English Oak 11/11/14

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.