Wildflower Favorites

Early spring wildflowers, the spring ephemerals, are vivid reminders of the fragile beauty and existence of life on earth. They tease and please with spectacular, short-lived blooms. They always leave us wanting more, and we’re quite willing to wait another year for another show. It never gets old.

Amelanchier30Apr17#6676E2c5x7

Serviceberry (Amelanchier), a small flowering tree

MarshMarigold1May17#6699E2c5x7

Marsh Marigold in the wet soil along a small stream

WhiteTrillium1May17#6703E2c8x10

White Trillium, a woodland wildflower favoring rich, moist soils (1 of 2)

WhiteTrillium1May17#6726E2c8x10

RedTrillium30Apr17#6683E5c8x10

Red Trillium in filtered light on a rich woodland site

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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.

Toad26Apr17#6354E7c4x6

Toad27Apr17#6556E2c8x10

Toad26Apr17#6388E2c8x10

Toad26Apr17#6391E2c8x10

Toad27Apr17#6547E2c8x10

Toad27Apr17#6546E2c8x10

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.

Toad26Apr17#6331E2c3x5

Toad26Apr17#6346E2c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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).

GBHeron23Mar17#4236E2c4x6

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).

SnowGeese28Mar17#5051E2c4x6

SnowGeese28Mar17#5032E2c5x7

SnowGeese28Mar17#4974E2c8x10

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).

Turks1Apr17#5268E5c5x7

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).

Pheasant6Apr17#5485E2c8x10

Pheasant6Apr17#5488E2c8x10

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

RWBlackbird7Apr17#5544E2c8x10

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

Goldfinch7Apr17#5517E2c8x10

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).

Groundhog8Apr17#5577E2c5x7

Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 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.

HoodedMerg20Mar17#3938E5c5x7

Hooded Merganser

RingNeckDucks23Mar17#4207E2c5x7

Canada Goose and a pair of ring-necked ducks

Geese21Mar17#3966E2c3x5

Canada geese grazing in a farm field

Killdeer18Mar17#3789E3c5x7

Killdeer grooming at a spring seep

Mallards21Mar17#3957E7c5x7

A pair of mallards under the reflection of deep snow

GBHeron23Mar17#4247E9c8x10

Great Blue Heron over ice and Canada geese on open water

SnowGooseCG18Mar17#3806E5c4x6

A solitary Snow Goose in a flock of Canada geese

SnowGeese26Mar17#4573E9c4x6

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!

SnowBuntings15Mar17#3290E2c8x10

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

SnowBuntings15Mar17#3354E2c4x6

SnowBunting15Mar17#3311E2c5x7

SnowBunting15Mar17#3360E2c8x10

SnowBuntings15Mar17#3374E5c8x10

SnowBuntings15Mar17#3366E2c5x7

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.

SnowBunting15Mar17#3382E2c8x10

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.

eagles3mar171923e5c3x5-copy

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.

eagles3mar172008e3c8x10_edited-1-copy  eagles3mar171871e2c8x10

eagles3mar171874e2c8x10-copy

eagles3mar171858e2c8x10-copy

eagles3mar171995e2c5x7-copy

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.

eagles3mar171941e2c5x7-copy

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.