Photoperiod and Signs of Spring

Spring: the first 20 days!

Gray skies, cold rain, snow and flooding have slowed down the arrival of spring but photoperiod will rule the day. Increasing day length is a powerful force that insures the necessary progression of life stages, regardless of the weather.

Many aquatic species, including this Great Blue Heron, arrived to find traditional wetland habitats still covered in ice (23March2017).

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Snow geese were reported throughout Central New York during the last week of March. They were refueling on waste grain in corn fields and spread manure before continuing their journey to summer range in the Arctic (27-28March2017).

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Wild turkeys were foraging on waste grain too, but increasing daylight was also triggering the mating urge in males; many were observed in full display posture, strutting for uninterested hens (1April2017).

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Breeding populations of ring-necked pheasants no longer occur in this region, but some are occasionally released into the wild for recreational purposes. This cock pheasant is crowing and flapping his wings in an attempt to attract a hen (6April2017).

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Red-winged blackbirds arrived several weeks ago and are defending their breeding territories aggressively, despite the elements (7April2017).

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A sure sign of Spring is the transformation of male goldfinches as they molt into their bright breeding plumage (7April2017).

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Groundhogs emerged from hibernation in March to find a snow-covered landscape. In the days ahead they faced yet another hardship – the flooding of burrows in marginal habitats. This one seems to have weathered the storms well…but is grazing in the middle of a hay field, a long way from the nearest burrow. Can it outrun an eagle, fox or coyote? Survival is still questionable (8April2017).

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Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

A Beautiful Little Duck

After years of observing and photographing natural events, I’ve learned one thing for certain: opportunities must be seized, because “next time” is wishful thinking in the context of a lifetime. Twenty four years ago we had a 43 inch snowfall in March.  A similar event occurred this year, blanketing the region with about three feet of snow. Since the Spring migration was underway, there was a unique opportunity to learn about the response of wildlife to deep snow, freezing temperatures and frozen surface waters in late winter. When travel advisories were lifted, I began searching rural areas, farms and aquatic habitats in an attempt to capture the moment.

One of my discoveries was the presence migrating waterfowl in small streams and wetlands that were ice free. Wood ducks were in the mix and became my subject of interest.

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The unique beauty of a male Wood Duck has universal appeal. Artists, photographers, nature lovers – all treasure the moment when a drake presents himself in full breeding plumage!

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Wood Duck foraging along the banks of a small stream

By late March, most of the snow had melted and a new and exciting landscape appeared. The vivid scenes with brightly colored ducks and snow were gone, but aquatic habitats were fully charged with melt-water and primed for breeding pairs to explore and occupy.

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Photos by NB Hunter, March, 2017. © All Rights Reserved.

Spring Scenes and Winter Landscapes

A rainy, overcast day with dirty snow and mud seems like a good time to reflect on the month of March and illustrate early spring in Central New York. I’ll emphasize wet places and some of the birds that frequent them.

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Hooded Merganser

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Canada Goose and a pair of ring-necked ducks

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Canada geese grazing in a farm field

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Killdeer grooming at a spring seep

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A pair of mallards under the reflection of deep snow

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Great Blue Heron over ice and Canada geese on open water

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A solitary Snow Goose in a flock of Canada geese

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Migrating snow geese above farm fields, refueling on waste grain

Photos by NB Hunter, March 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

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.