Road Hunting in Winter

I often travel on personal “auto” tours to view and photograph wildlife in winter. More often than not, this is the only practical way to capture wildlife images while minimizing hardship – to photographer and wildlife alike. My loops incorporate secondary roads and parking areas near good wildlife habitat (ideally, a variety of food sources in close proximity to dense evergreen cover; sunny, south-facing slopes are critical winter habitat as well). Specific routes depend on snow depth, time of day, road conditions and so on. Valley farms are the key component of most loops.

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Rough-legged Hawk hunting farm fields (my first photo of this stunning species)

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Mature Eastern Wild Turkey gobbler searching for wild apple drops in a storm

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Wild turkeys foraging for waste grain (corn) during a January thaw (1 of 2)

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Snowy Owl at rest in corn stubble (1 of 2)

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A failed Snowy Owl search – but a landscape memory for the trip home

Photos by NB Hunter (January 4 – 11, 2018). All Rights Reserved.

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A Wintry Scene

Significant snow hasn’t arrived yet, giving us a fleeting opportunity to appreciate the full palette  of colors in late November landscapes. I love the stark contrasts and simplicity of these scenes.

I hoped to find turkeys, but this cold, dark and wintry morning found me sitting roadside, watching hundreds of geese foraging on waste grain in harvested fields. They’d probably been feeding for an hour or more so it wasn’t long before they left, en masse, to roost on a nearby reservoir. Their exit was deafening and seemingly chaotic; geese being geese.

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Photos by NB Hunter (27Nov2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Partly Cloudy

I don’t look up as often as I should. Yesterday, in the midst of whacking away at multiflora rose invading my trail right-of-way, I received a call from a friend: “Where are you?” half mile from the house, clearing trail, trying to avoid hornets. “Do you have your camera with you?” of course, in a fanny pack. “Look up – you can thank me later!”.

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Minutes later, the entire scene was gone. I never got to where I needed to be, in order to do what I wanted to do. Love the way mother nature presents and teases with these fleeting spectacles.

Photos by NB Hunter (9/13/2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Small Farms and Cultivated Fields: Priceless

In late spring patches and ribbons of vivid colors are dominant in open landscapes. The spectacular, multi-colored bloom is Dame’s Rocket, a garden escapee gone wild.

Invariably, my interest in this wildflower opens my eyes to the visual resources beyond the bloom. Fields, mostly cultivated fields on local dairy farms, become a subject of interest.

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Dame’s Rocket in full bloom 

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Front to back: Dame’s Rocket, grain fields and woodlands (8June2017)

The appeal of cultivated fields is much more than the dynamic beauty of line, color and texture through the seasons. They’re wildlife magnets, providing critical habitat for a host of opportunistic birds and mammals.

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Buck in velvet, foraging on new growth following the first cutting of hay (27June2017)

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Hen turkey foraging in a hay field; there might be youngsters underfoot, chasing hoppers {1July2017)

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Lingering storm clouds after days of torrential rains and damaging flood waters (1July2017)

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Red-winged blackbird foraging in a field of barley (1July2017)

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A hay field colonized by wild black mustard (30June2017)

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Orchard grass, a common forage plant in hay fields (27June2017)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wild Daisies

In the summer months the fragile spring flowers of moist, shaded woodlands give way to hardy species that thrive in open, disturbed sites. They colonize places that are inhospitable to most of our native plants, including nasty roadside habitats. Daisies are a group of plants that occupy that niche and their flowers, en masse, are now a pleasing sight.

Oxeye Daisy in full bloom, field – road ecotone (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum; Composite Family).

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

Forested Watersheds

This is an excerpt from my photo journal after an annual camping and fly fishing trip in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania in late May and early June.

A seven mile descent into a narrow stream valley typifies the terrain and landscape of the Allegheny Plateau. This particular watershed of about 50 square miles is a tiny window into a much larger, mostly forested region of over two million acres of public land. Advocates of eco-tourism call it “Pennsylvania Wilds”. Decades of camping, fly fishing, sightseeing and research in PA Wilds have given me a foundation and perspective for virtually all matters of conservation and environmental health. That will no doubt be evident in this post.

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The sweltering heat wave blanketing much of the U.S. and the latest issue of Nature Conservancy magazine (“Blue Revolution: Rethinking Water on a Thirsty Planet”; Summer 2017) led me to focus on one aspect of my annual trip that is becoming more and more precious with the passage of time: the clean, cold surface waters of forested watersheds.

Upon our arrival, we were not surprised to see that weeks of cool, rainy weather had resulted in water levels a foot above normal. But, the turbulent waters were nearly free of sediment due to the absence of development and continuous forest cover.

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Small, freestone mountain streams recovered quickly and were well on their way to “normal” after just two days without rain – another wonderful feature of a pristine watershed.

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Mayfly activity … as well as dry fly fishing … followed a more predictable pattern when temperatures rose and water levels receded.

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A Green Drake mayfly spinner (Coffin Fly)

Spring seeps trickling over exposed rock enhanced the visual experience and supported lush growth of ferns and wild flowers.

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Virginia Waterleaf thriving in the moist, shady microsite of a spring seep

“Hydrologists estimate that if all the water on Earth filled a 5-gallon bucket, just one drop of it would represent the clean, fresh water accessible to humans.” – Nature Conservancy magazine, Summer 2017.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.