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.




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.


Open wetland with seasonal water


Hooded Merganser in a hardwood swamp


Muskrat feeding on submerged vegetation


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


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



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



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.


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


October Memories


Wisps of clouds and soft colors defined a warm and peaceful sunrise


Natural rhythms were interrupted by unusually warm, dry and erratic weather patterns


Early leaf drop and muted colors in woodlands shifted attention to the landscape underfoot


The Harvest Moon reminded all of the landscape overhead


Harvested fields were crowded with hungry geese


Gulls as well as geese foraged in dense, low fog on cold mornings


Searches for fall landscapes led to familiar haunts, like the old mill pond


Driven more by photoperiod than the tricky warm weather, a mature male beaver prepared for winter by harvesting an aspen tree and stashing branches at the family lodge


Staghorn Sumac was on fire!


A large ash tree, dead for many years, returned to life. An impressive mass of “Chicken-of-the woods” fungus fruited on the base of the snag and lit up a drab woodland scene.


October reflections

Photos by NB Hunter (October 2017). © All Rights Reserved.


Pond Life

Small, warm-water ponds are a nice change of pace and delightful mid-summer escape.


Adult merganser and snapping turtle at rest… young mergansers might be a meal for this snapper!

Last week I was invited to a private woodland pond to observe and photograph a family of beavers. There was plenty of time to spare in between beaver sightings and I soon became entranced with the cold blooded creatures hunting the shoreline and shallow waters. Most prominent were the bullfrogs. Dozens dove into the pond from the weedy bank as I scouted the water.  Soon after I had taken a seat and steadied the camera, they began to pop up to the surface, bulging eyes announcing their presence.



Huge dragonflies were patrolling the waters with grace and beauty. This one stopped on a dime and hovered in front of me, seemingly to show off its amazing flying skills and pose for documentation.


An adult beaver finally appeared on a far bank. It had been foraging in a thicket above the water line and would soon be heading back to the lodge with a freshly cut tree branch to feed its young.



A conversation about beaver and the aquatic habitats that they create is incomplete without mention of the Red-spotted Newt. Two of the three stages of the complex life cycle of this salamander are dependent on clean, quiet waters like beaver ponds. The middle stage, an immature adult (“Red Eft”), is terrestrial. They inhabit the moist, shaded habitat of the forest floor and can be found wandering around at any time of the day or night.



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.







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.



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).


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).




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).


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).



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


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


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).


Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.