Fields, Knapweed and Insect Visitors

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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.

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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.

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Skipper

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Fritillary

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Painted Lady

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Tiger Swallowtail

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Viceroy

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

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

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Virginia Ctenucha moth

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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).

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Flower Crab Spider

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

A Butterfly that Hibernates

The last thing on my mind when I’m hiking this time of year is butterflies…it’s cold and there are few flowers in bloom.  But, I pass through a sunny clearing in the forest on my daily walks and invariably have my day dreams interrupted by the flutter of a Mourning Cloak butterfly. Males emerge from hibernation this time of year and “perch” in a sunny opening to attract a mate and breed.  I’ve cut firewood nearby and the sap oozing from stumps is a likely food source.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

Early Autumn 2016

“Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower.”   -Albert Camus

In the fall we track the changing colors of foliage much the same way that we follow the sequence of bloom with spring wildflowers. Leaf peeping is a big event! Early autumn (late September and the first week or so in October in Central New York) is a time of excitement and anticipation, with everyone gazing into a crystal ball to predict peak foliage color and schedule outdoor activities.

A recent trip to my childhood home 400 miles southwest of here reminded me that wishful thinking has no influence on Mother Nature’s timetable! The river bottom watersheds in western Pennsylvania were still very green, leading me to explore the more detailed landscapes in front of my nose.

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Kiskiminetas River, viewed from the Roaring Run Recreation Trail; Apollo, PA

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Marbled Orbweaver spider, building a web

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A tussock moth caterpillar on the move

After returning to Central New York, I began to see a bit more color but summer greens were still dominant. Warm temperatures, plenty of sun and the absence of a hard frost have resulted in a gradual transition from summer to fall, with a pleasing overlap of the seasons.

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Woodman Pond and resting geese

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Woodland ferns and a hint of autumn

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Chenango Canal and the canal towpath trail

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Sulphur butterfly on asters

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Asters and Goldenrods

Leaves falling, geese honking overhead, frost in the air, deer hunting season around the corner; time for one last colorful meadow story before moving on and embracing autumn.

The aster bloom, a wonderful palette of white, blue, lavender and purple, follows the goldenrod bloom, with just enough overlap to create a memorable finale to the wildflower season…..

The September bloom, brilliant when the sun is just right, frames idle nest boxes,

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Fuels late season butterflies,

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A “Comma”, one of the anglewing group of butterflies

Hides a fawn,

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And its alert mother as well!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Farm Fields and Wildlife

An unusually warm and sunny September has lured me to local farms to watch and photograph wildlife. I have to share a few of the highlights from recent trips.

Sulphur butterfly on Teasel

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Young buck, blinded by the late afternoon sun, relying instead on his nose and ears to evaluate my presence.

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The difference between an adolescent, yearling buck and a mature, 4 1/2-year-old breeder can’t be fully appreciated until they’re seen in the same frame!

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An adult doe and her fawn. The first of several deer hunting seasons opens on October 1 and the fawns will have lost most/all of their spots by then.

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Three white-tail secrets for beating the survival odds:

1 — stay in the shadows

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2—never let your guard down

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3—-and, when all else fails, run like the wind!

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A hen turkey and her small flock of youngsters foraging on seeds and insects. They have incredible eyesight but lack a deer’s curiosity and tolerance of humans; in other words, they’re unapproachable! This mother hen knew something wasn’t right, but chose not to sound the alarm and run…totally out of character!

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“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love.”   – Steve Irwin

September sunset

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Meadows on Fire: Monarchs and Goldenrods

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Many of the goldenrods are going to seed now and temperatures are falling 20 – 30 degrees at night. Fall is arriving .. and butterfly season is coming to an end. Monarch sightings in September are now a special treat. Warm, sunny afternoons find them nectaring with a purpose and sense of urgency, fluttering from flower to flower, goldenrod to aster, in a fast-paced and unpredictable manner.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.