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.

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.

WoodDuck21Mar17#3985E9c4x6

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!

WoodDuck21Mar17#3993E5c5x7

WoodDuck21Mar17#4003E5c4x6

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.

WoodDucks24Mar17#4304E2c5x7

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.

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.

Winter’s Grip

I’m mindful of migrating waterfowl and have been searching surface waters for an interesting subject. Needless to say, snow,  frigid temperatures and the return of ice have made that close to impossible. Of late, I’ve spent more time in my “truck blind” than afield.

Mallards2Mar17#1787E2c5x7

Mallards in a snow storm

Geese11Mar17#2448E3c3x5_edited-1

Canada geese on ice

HoodedMergansers12Mar17#2464E2c3x5

Hooded mergansers on a precious spot of open water

HoodedMergs12Mar17#2469E2c5x7

Hoodies

IceMoss10Mar17#2383E2c8x10

Streamside ice on a moss-covered rock

Brrrrr!!!

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.

woodduck3apr14123e2c4x6

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.

chencanal1mar171767e5c4x6

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

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.