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.

Birds in a Blizzard: Snow Buntings

I ventured forth during the tail end of the Blizzard of ’17, after the state of emergency and travel restrictions were lifted. Despite poor visibility and hazardous travel on country roads, I discovered a favorite winter bird: snow buntings!

The diminutive snow birds, 20 or 30 in all, were foraging on weed seeds protruding above the deep snow. Like their arctic neighbors, snowy owls, snow buntings thrive in winter conditions that force most animals to shelter in place: windswept, snow-covered fields with wicked cold temperatures and wind chills. I don’t ever recall seeing snow buntings when the weather was photographer-friendly, i.e. warm and sunny with blue skies!

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Snow buntings access seeds by walking, perching, jumping and fluttering. It’s a fascinating, sometimes comical scene of constant movement and occasional bickering.

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There are many things to love about these little songbirds, but what impacts me most is their journey, the way it connects me to another part of North America, the realization that the males will soon morph into breeding plumage and be staking out frozen tundra nesting territories in another month. I never cease to be amazed at the wonders of nature and, after this experience, am grateful for snowstorms and weeds.

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Photos by NB Hunter. 15March2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

Eagles in Late Winter

I’ve photographed three Bald Eagles hunting and scavenging since the third of March. A friend saw a mature eagle flying with a stick in its talons on March 4 – nest building (or nest enhancement). It’s becoming more and more difficult to remember the Bald Eagle as an endangered species. In 1976 just one nesting pair, a nonproductive pair, was reported for the entire state of New York; today there are several hundred nesting pairs in the state.

Eagles are opportunistic predators and will hunt, steal and scavenge for food. In this region, the carcasses of road-killed deer in farm fields are a dietary staple in winter.

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When eagles discover a rich food source like this, they can gorge, storing much of the ingested meat (up to two pounds) in their crop.

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I wasn’t able to determine the relationship between these birds, other than the dominance of one over the other at the feeding site. The adult plumage indicates sexual maturity and an age of at least five years (longevity in the wild averages about 20 years). The average weight of an eagle is about 10 pounds; females tend to be about 25% larger than males, and one bird does appear to be larger than the other.They could be a mated pair, doing what eagles do – squabbling over food.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Canal Waterways and Resources

Many of my posts are linked, directly or indirectly, to the elaborate water transportation system engineered in New York State in the 19th century. The network of canals, reservoirs, feeder canals and associated wetlands that once transformed the movement of coal, agricultural products and people across New York and Pennsylvania are now critical wildlife and outdoor recreation resources that define the Central New York region.

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Wood Duck on the Chenango Canal

A small section of the Chenango Canal (originally a 97 mile long feeder to the Erie Canal that operated from 1836 to 1877), has stood the test of time. It is now listed on the National and New York State Registry of Historic Places. The massive, chiseled stones in this aqueduct provide a vivid historical perspective: Immigrant workers from Ireland and Scotland, aided by mules, oxen and horses, built the entire canal by hand. At the height of the construction, there were 500 laborers per section, toiling for $11.00 a month.

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The remains of a 19th century aqueduct on the Chenango Canal

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

After the Storm

A bright, sunny Valentine’s Day arrived after our latest snowstorm. More snow was on the way, so I had a brief window of opportunity to capture the beauty of a snow-covered landscape in sunshine and shadow.

My search ended with this scene, a small stream meandering through a swampy wetland. Unfortunately, the image is incomplete: I couldn’t capture the surreal peace and calm associated with this beautiful place.

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Photo 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.

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.