Muskrats on Ice, 2020

Central New York is blessed with abundant wetland habitats, many of them readily accessible by secondary roads and walking trails. In Winter, when above -average temperatures prevail, muskrats can often be seen foraging and moving about in ice-free water. They use open water to access feeding and resting platforms on adjacent ice after diving for plant food. In marsh habitats, cattail stalks and roots are preferred foods.

 

Recently, I watched a pair of muskrats harvest cattail stalks and cache them on a feeding platform positioned on ice and partially submerged, woody debris. They alternately fed, groomed and rested at the site for several days.

The open water and visible muskrat activity disappeared at this wetland with the arrival of freezing temperatures and 20 inches of snow. I was forced to complete my story at another wetland, one where spring-fed water kept the ice at bay.

This solitary muskrat foraged aggressively for at least half an hour, repeatedly submersing it’s head in the shallow pool of swamp water to remove subsurface plant material. It would surface with a mouthful, eat, then go down again for more.

In about a month, males will be chasing females and pairs will be defending their breeding territories: muskrat breeding season! I’m hoping for a follow-up story.

Photos by NB Hunter (January and February, 2020). All rights reserved.

Capturing Mid Summer Memories

Mid summer is a season of extremes, where observations and activities bridge the seasons. One minute I’m in the moment, enjoying the comforting stillness and beauty of cultivated fields of hay and grain. On another day,  I’m watching young animals mature before my eyes or thinking of winter and tossing more seasoned firewood into the pole shed.

The “neighborhood red fox” that I first photographed in late winter snow is now a parent and at least two pups are following in their parents footsteps. We see one or two foxes several times a week, hunting, loafing, eating bird seed or scavenging in the compost pile. They’re crepuscular, so the light is usually poor when they appear. Movement is fast, silent and effortless as they drift through, like a wisp of smoke. There’s at least one adult and two pups in the mix.

Observing whitetails foraging and romping around in cultivated fields in summer and early fall is a treat that rivals the satisfaction of a pail of fresh-picked berries. Antler development in mature bucks gets everyone’s attention, but scenes of fawns in a meadow in late afternoon light is magical.

The wild apple trees are heavy with fruit this year, and deer have taken notice. They’re  already responding, searching for early drops – the hard, green things that only a wild animal can enjoy.

I’m never far from wetlands and open water when out and about with the camera, so a summer story would be incomplete without a foraging heron or, unusual for this area, a wandering egret going “all in” for a frog!.

Happy summer from Central New York!

Photos by NB Hunter (July, 2019). © All rights reserved.

A Winter Wonderland in January, 2019

Snowstorms, wind and bitter cold can greatly reduce wildlife sightings in our winter landscapes. Wildlife numbers reach an annual low, most surface waters freeze, and  animals conserve energy by moving less and living in sheltered habitats. Adding to the difficulty of wildlife viewing in winter is the ethical constraint that demands minimum disturbance of animals that are trying to survive four or five months of resource scarcity.

Sometimes I respond to the challenges of winter by photographing wildlife around backyard feeders, then shifting my focus to landscapes when out and about. Such was the case most of this month.

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Wave ice on a partially frozen pond

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The peace, quiet and virgin landscape that follow a heavy snow create the illusion of  the isolation and solitude associated with a wildland journey

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With the right perspective, blue skies dress up surface waters, adding color to otherwise monochromatic scenes

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Over time, spring water seeping and freezing over a limestone rock face takes on a life of its own

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A favorite cattail marsh, the tussocks accented with a blanket of deep, fluffy snow

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A small, nondescript creek morphs into a thing of beauty when buried in snow

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The visual effects of subzero temperatures and morning sun on local waters

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Dense vegetation along a fence row, performing double duty: wildlife habitat and wind reduction; these are drifts on the lee side (1 of 2 images)

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Powdery snow, blown and drifted across corn stubble on the lee side of a brushy fence row

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The sentinel: An old, battered sugar maple tree that refuses to concede to wind, snow, ice, salt and grazing cattle. She still sparkles in a coating of frost.

Photos by NB Hunter (January, 2019). © All rights reserved.

 

 

Holiday Greetings from Central New York

Wetland in late evening; 2Nov2018

A mink, busy hunting frogs in a nearby stream and caching them in a den under tree roots; 2Nov2018

Winter arrives early, triggering a frantic search for recently buried red oak acorns; 15Nov2018

A wintry scene on the river; 23Nov2018

Shallow ponds are freezing quickly, leaving little open water for foraging muskrats; 28Nov2018

The main whitetail rut is winding down, but not over;  he’s tending an estrous doe; 29Nov2018

Eagles weathering the storm, with a watchful eye on ice-free surface water; 7Dec2018

After the storm: a red-bellied woodpecker probes dead wood high in the crown of a declining sugar maple; 9Dec2018

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

Happy Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day with images from April, 2018.

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Starlings searching for spilled grain on an active farm

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Mallard at rest on a wintry spring day

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Ring-billed Gull foraging in a flooded field

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Mature whitetail after a long, cold rain

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Turkey Vulture cleaning up a road-kill

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White-throated Sparrow with a kernel of corn

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Breeding Wood Frog in a vernal pool – today – a month behind schedule

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Wild turkey (a young gobbler or “jake”)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Melting Ice and Snow

Early Spring means melting snow and exposed fields, melting ice and open water. Wild animals, many struggling to survive, seize the opportunity to feed and recover. Others continue their journey northward as habitats and food sources become available. Photographers are also recovering and more mobile. After months of donning multiple layers, feeding the wood stove and hunkering down in storms, seeing winter in the rear-view mirror is a joyous occasion!

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Melt water enhancing a small stream and waterfalls in the hills

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Gull foraging in puddled melt water in a harvested corn field

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A pair of Wood Ducks at rest in a temporary pond (same as above)

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Canada Goose  heading for its nesting territory in a cattail marsh

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Canada geese at rest

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Great Blue Heron silhouette, one of two flying northward

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Open water in lakes and ponds means Osprey can go fishing!

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Large numbers of hungry deer are foraging in cultivated fields; these were alarmed by a barking dog but won’t go far.

Photos by NB Hunter (March – April, 2018). © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Diving Ducks

Faced with nasty weather, I took a short road trip in search of wildlife that might be out and about in freezing rain: perhaps an insulated, waterproof species, at home in the icy water. To my surprise, that turned out to be dozens of ring-necked ducks on a local reservoir. They were feeding, sometimes diving in unison. These little ducks are always a treat, but especially so in a cold and dreary landscape.

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Photos by NB Hunter (3April2018).

Hoodies

While digging out from the third Nor’easter in two weeks, my thoughts drift to recent wildlife sightings and survival in the wild. Hooded Mergansers are popping up wherever surface waters are free of ice and seem to be weathering the storms well.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wetlands in Ice and Snow

Deep snow, rising melt-water and stressed animals have caused me to observe and photograph from a distance, often using my truck as a blind. Two storms and forty inches of snow blanketed the landscape in early March, leaving an interesting mix of “signs of Spring” … ice … and a blanket of snow.

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Open wetland with seasonal water

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Hooded Merganser in a hardwood swamp

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Muskrat feeding on submerged vegetation

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Hardwood swamp teaming with wildlife (location for the remaining images)

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Muskrat in a hardwood swamp, browsing Northern White Cedar (1 of 2)

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Wood Ducks cruising along in a hardwood swamp; 1 of 3

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Great Blue Heron Anomaly

Wind chill temperatures have been below zero. The weather forecast predicts a week of daytime temperatures below 20 degrees (F) and bitterly cold nights. It’s Winter, surface waters are freezing and Great Blue Herons are supposed to have left most of New York State for warmer, more hospitable places.

I discovered this bird this morning, perched in the sun on the edge of a small, spring-fed pool. I quickly photographed it from my truck and left. It had to be stressed by the loss of foraging habitat to ice and I didn’t want to compound the problem. Would love to know the rest of the story.

Note: the light brown fluff in the upper part of the heron image is an out-of-focus plant, not abnormal plumage.

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Photo by NB Hunter (12/26/2017). © All Rights Reserved.

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