Hummers 2020

The most interesting and frequent visitors to our backyard feeders and flowers in the summer are hummers – two very different kinds of hummers.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I’ve been negligent in landscaping for hummingbirds so most of my observations and photos center on a sugar-water feeder and adjacent perches.

Diurnal moths. Phlox is one garden flower that thrives despite my neglect. It reaches full bloom in August and another “hummer” visits almost immediately: the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. They buzz around like miniature hummingbirds, feeding on dozens of flowers in the time it takes to lock in on one. Mid to late afternoon is prime time.

Touch-me-not (Jewelweed), a native wild flower, is now in bloom. It’s sought after and guarded by hummingbirds and, with a lot of luck, might lead to a followup post on hummers!

Photos by NB Hunter (July and August, 2020). © All rights reserved.


Winged Highlights from Spring, 2020

Wildlife watching around the house and on local trails has occupied much of my free time this spring. The backyard has been an aviary, with an unprecedented variety and abundance of birds visiting feeders and, now, nesting in adjacent habitats.

I’m posting images in chronological order to illustrate the weather roller coaster and subsequent environmental responses during the last two months of this unusual spring season.

16April2020. While sitting in a ground blind hoping to photograph a turkey that was gobbling earlier in the morning, a male bluebird burst onto the scene. Despite the snow and cold, he appeared to be evaluating nest boxes and thinking ahead to nicer weather! In May, a pair of bluebirds did, in fact, build a nest in one of the boxes, only to abandon it and disappear when yet another spring snowstorm blew through.

29April2020. Spring events, including the arrival of red-winged blackbirds and the bloom of shrubby willows, were about two weeks late this year. After several attempts, I was pleased to capture both the bird and blooms in the same frame. The territorial song and breeding display of the redwing is a sure sign of spring and something we all look forward to. “The redwings have arrived!”.

30April2020. Record numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were seen at feeders this spring. Unmistakable in a splash of bold and vivid colors, they quickly became the main attraction and the talk of the town!

10May2020. As their numbers increase around the country, eagles must adapt to human activity in order to capitalize on suitable habitats and food sources near people. This adult just left its nest in a residential area to hunt for fish and waterfowl in local reservoirs and road-killed animals in agricultural areas.

12May2020. Dozens of Goldfinches swarmed the neighborhood tube feeders for weeks this spring, to the point that Niger seed disappeared from store shelves. The birds far outnumbered the available feeding platforms on my modest feeder, leading to chaos and frequent displays of aggression.

13May2020. All seems right with the world when Tree Swallows arrive to claim nest boxes and showcase their magical flight maneuvers as they pursue air-borne insects. They’re most cooperative and photogenic on bright, chilly mornings when they’re apt to perch and preen in the sun. before take-off.

19May2020. Baltimore Orioles exploded onto the scene in May, dazzling with their vivid plumage and beautiful song. It wasn’t long before they received a red carpet welcome of sliced oranges, dishes of jelly and sugar water (in hummingbird feeders).


20May2020. Indigo Buntings, erratic visitors to feeders, are fairly small songbirds that are easily overlooked when moving about in the shadows and dense foliage of thickets. Due to widespread and lingering appearance at feeders this year, everyone now knows and appreciates Indigo Buntings! Their unique coloration is mesmerizing.

9June2020. For several years now, a pair of House Wrens has occupied a nest box on my garden fence. Their musical talents and voracious appetite for bugs more than compensate for their drab plumage. The garden experience wouldn’t be the same without them.

12June2020. The garden pests have more than a family of wrens to worry about. A pair of cute little tail-bobbing phoebes are nesting on a rafter in the open wood shed, not far from the wrens. They too are feasting on insects throughout the day….I think there’s enough to go around.

13June2020. Caught in an awkward preening position, this feisty male hummer guards the sugar-water feeder early in the morning and again late in the evening. His head is on a swivel as he diligently searches for another male invading his territory. The light is rarely adequate for a sharp image, but sometimes the scene trumps quality!

Photos by NB Hunter (April 10 – June 13, 2020). © All rights reserved.



Bird Feeder Survey, Central New York in Jan. 2020

I enjoy photographing wildlife visitors to our feeders, especially when there is snow in the air! These are some of the birds that brighten our winter days on a regular basis.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Cardinal, female

Northern Cardinal, male

Goldfinch, in non-breeding plumage

Blue Jay, opening a sunflower seed

Tufted Titmouse

White-throated Sparrow

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove, one of about 20 fluttering in to feed on the ground

Photos by NB Hunter (January, 2020). © All rights reserved.

“Milking” Summer

Seems like yesterday that I was photographing nests, babies and nurturing parents. Now, a stroll through rural landscapes provides ample evidence of the changing seasons and cycle of life. I always feel a sense of urgency at this time of year: finish projects, prepare for winter and, above all else, capture the moment!

Bird populations and foraging activities are are at or near peak levels. Songbirds like cedar waxwings, catbirds and song sparrows are swarming open habitats in search of nutritious bugs and berries.

A close look at milkweed colonies in neglected fields and along fence rows and forest edges reveals brilliantly colored monarch caterpillars, eating voraciously in advance of metamorphosis and a red-eye flight to the mountains of Mexico.

Farm fields are full of surprises. In one, a small herd of historic American Aberdeen Angus cattle graze peacefully, as though choreographed. In another, a good whitetail buck is feeding non-stop, packing on as much weight as possible before the November rut and the long winter that follows. The fact that he’s changing into his grayish, insulated, winter coat didn’t go unnoticed.

It’s a bumper year for wild apples and deer are taking full advantage of the crop. They aren’t overly selective either, munching on fallen apples (“drops”), regardless of the ripeness or variety.

Photos by NB Hunter (August, 2019). © All rights reserved.

Capturing Mid Summer Memories

Mid summer is a season of extremes, where observations and activities bridge the seasons. One minute I’m in the moment, enjoying the comforting stillness and beauty of cultivated fields of hay and grain. On another day,  I’m watching young animals mature before my eyes or thinking of winter and tossing more seasoned firewood into the pole shed.

The “neighborhood red fox” that I first photographed in late winter snow is now a parent and at least two pups are following in their parents footsteps. We see one or two foxes several times a week, hunting, loafing, eating bird seed or scavenging in the compost pile. They’re crepuscular, so the light is usually poor when they appear. Movement is fast, silent and effortless as they drift through, like a wisp of smoke. There’s at least one adult and two pups in the mix.

Observing whitetails foraging and romping around in cultivated fields in summer and early fall is a treat that rivals the satisfaction of a pail of fresh-picked berries. Antler development in mature bucks gets everyone’s attention, but scenes of fawns in a meadow in late afternoon light is magical.

The wild apple trees are heavy with fruit this year, and deer have taken notice. They’re  already responding, searching for early drops – the hard, green things that only a wild animal can enjoy.

I’m never far from wetlands and open water when out and about with the camera, so a summer story would be incomplete without a foraging heron or, unusual for this area, a wandering egret going “all in” for a frog!.

Happy summer from Central New York!

Photos by NB Hunter (July, 2019). © All rights reserved.

Wildlife Recruitment and the Next Generation

I started monitoring wildlife dens, nests and babies in late April. A Red Fox den was my first exciting project but it wasn’t long before there were kids everywhere and I longed for the ability to be set up in multiple locations simultaneously. There were fuzzy little killdeer the size of golf balls scurrying around in cultivated fields (Blog post on May 30, 2019: “The Shorebird Everyone Sees (or Hears!)”, a rabbits nest in the blueberry garden, a vulture nest and chicks in an abandoned hunting shack in the woods, a newborn whitetail fawn in a hay field, fidgety little red squirrels at the bird feeders, eaglets in a huge nest at the edge of town, tiny turkey poults disappearing in the tall grass in search of mom.

Better late than never; I must share the joy of watching the growth and development of these adorable youngsters.

Three of four red fox pups playing under the watchful eye of a parent; 25April2019

Young cottontails (three in all) about to leave the nest that they have outgrown; 29May2019

Just hours out of the nest – one of the bunnies from the previous image; 30May2019

The gang of three, continued: now 17 days on its own, but not far from the nest site; 15June2019

A newborn fawn (one of two), nearly invisible in a field of uncut hay; 27May2019

Fawns wanting to nurse, but mom giving them the boot; 14July2019

Wild turkey poults or chicks, foraging on insects and trying to keep up with mom; 17June2019

Young red squirrel on a threat learning curve: run, hide, or freeze in place?; 19June2019

Eaglets jockeying for position in a crowded nest; 23June2019

Vulture chicks, four weeks after hatching on the floor of a shack in the woods; 28June2019


The vulture chicks with more adult plumage….and hissing loudly!; 8July2019 (flight in 3 weeks?)

Photos by NB Hunter (April 25 – July 14, 2019). © All rights reserved.

The Shorebird Everyone Sees (or Hears!)

It seems everyone knows about killdeer. They’re a shorebird that can be seen without going to the shore! Killdeer are common and widespread, adapted to a variety of human habitats, and noisy! They frequent wet places – mudflats, puddles, flooded fields and shorelines. But, unlike other shorebirds, they are very much at home “wading” in the short grass of grazed pastures, athletic fields, golf courses and similar terrestrial habitats.

A friend called in mid May to tell me about killdeer nesting on his farm. He had discovered one  family of newly hatched chicks near a muddy farm lane and pasture. A second nest site, with an adult still on the nest, was found in the corn stubble of a nearby field.

When we visited the site where the brood of four chicks was last seen, the empty nest was the first point of interest. Nothing more than a slight depression lined with a bit of dried plant residue, it had served its purpose and was already disappearing into the landscape.

Killdeer nest #1, immediately after hatching (May 17, 2019)

The behavior of the parents – noisy and feigning injury – told us the day-old chicks were close, hiding in the grass and weeds. One parent fluttered in the opposite direction, exhibiting the classic “broken-wing” display in order to divert our attention and draw us away from her helpless chicks. She was very convincing and we played along to avoid unnecessary disturbance. I photographed her as we left.

At the second nest site in the field of corn stubble, the adult was sitting on eggs that we assumed were near the end of their 25-day incubation period. Turns out, there were four eggs and they would hatch before our next visit.

Killdeer nest #2 (May 17, 2019)

Five days later, it was time to cultivate the corn field. Fortunately, the chicks had hatched and were mobile, able to scurry around and avoid a photographer as well as tractors. The downy little golf balls with disproportionately long legs and big feet were captivating to say the least.

Killdeer chick, 4-5 days old (1 of 2 images; May 22, 2019)

I was relieved to see the entire family a few days later, foraging in a secure micro-habitat at the edge of the cultivated field. Large puddles and a strip of dense grass and weeds was now home for the brood of four chicks.

Although the fluffy little chicks lacked the wings, tail and double neck band of their parents, their posture and foraging behavior mimicked that of adults.

The parents were never too far away and always on guard, even when grooming! I sometimes lost sight of them, but the arrival of a threat brought an immediate aerial attack. I saw this first hand when a grackle flew in to forage near the chicks. It was attacked and driven away before it s feet touched the ground.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.


Hummingbird Highlights

Having a hummingbird feeder suspended in front of a kitchen window, adjacent to a sand cherry perch, affords an opportunity to observe and photograph the nuances of daily behavior that might not be possible in a more natural setting. Despite the many obstacles to quality images – the haze and imperfections of glass in small windows, undesirable background elements, the ever-present contrast of sunlight and shadows – I sometimes shoot scenes just to capture the fascinating behavior that results from several hummers visiting the same feeder.

We see males and females throughout the day, probably two mated pairs.

The typical sighting is a single bird, male or female, at the feeder at any one time. On this occasion (2 images), a female was on the back side of the feeder when a second female arrived. There was obvious tension in the air, as the feeding bird stared menacingly while the incoming hummer put on the brakes and hovered, not sure whether to feed, fight, or fly.

Unlike the females, males are notorious for their aggressive defense of feeders and flowers. There is a feisty little male in our group, and he has an abundance of attitude. He defends the feeder aggressively, often poised for combat until it’s too dark to see him. When perched near the feeder, his head is on a swivel, looking in all directions for an intruder. Should one show up, a spectacular chase ensues and, in the blink of an eye, the feeder is ours again.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.


Songbird Migration 2019

The National Wildlife Federation has promoted the creation of sustainable wildlife habitat for as long as I can remember. It maintains that “Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife”. The scope of this mission is broad – residential properties, institutional grounds, urban green spaces, etc. – and the support is equally impressive. Programs include gardening for wildlife (including butterflies and bees), the certification of wildlife habitat, education, current events and photo contests.

The rewards of wildlife habitat enhancement are evident throughout the year, but never more so than during the peak spring migration in May. Songbirds in myriad shapes, sizes and colors are on the move. Some are passing through, perhaps offering no more than a glimpse, while others are settling in on summer range. In either case, the birds need places to rest, feed, shelter — habitat!

Visitors to habitats around a home present opportunities for viewing and photographing that are virtually impossible at other times of the year for many species. This post is an example. Overall, the habitat includes mature trees, shrubs, herbaceous vegetation, water and feeders. The micro habitat for most of the images is a purple-leaf sand cherry and bird feeders next to the house. The sand cherry, a shrubby tree, provides valuable perching habitat and convenient access to feeders.

Male hummingbird guarding a sugar water feeder (1 of 2; May 10 and 15, 2019)

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders in mid May (1 of 2; May 6 and 15, 2019)

Male Baltimore Oriole exploring its feeding options (1 of 2; May 16, 2019))

Male Indigo Bunting (May 17, 2019)

Female Eastern Towhee laying claim to a nesting territory (May 15, 2019)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.