I enjoy working on the house and property in mid summer, when the weather is warm and friendly. And, I’m not alone in my fondness for warm weather. Seventeen species of snakes are endemic to New York State. At least three of them – all nonpoisonous and harmless – live around the house (stone foundation; compost pile; deep, leafy mulch; loose stone walls, etc.). July is their month to see and be seen!
I’m tripping over garter snakes, and every so often get a glimpse of the beautiful, but secretive, milk snake.
They’re in the lawn…
The firewood pile…
The blueberry patch…
And, just this morning, inside the cellar ….. at eye level!
This milk snake, a young adult about two feet long, was investigating a shelf in the stone foundation of the cellar where sawdust had accumulated during the installation of a furnace vent. Rodents are a dietary staple, so I’m hoping it eats well (and stays in the stone foundation)!
“The Essence of Wildlife Photography” by Mike Biggs, IN “Whitetail Rites of Autumn” by Charles Alsheimer:
“Wildlife photography consists of a series of repeated attempts by a crazed individual to obtain impossible photos of unpredictable subjects performing unlikely behaviors under outrageous circumstances.”
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.
Garter snakes, our most common serpent, have been underfoot and slithering around all over the place since the warm, dry weather arrived. They add a bit of excitement and interest to the landscape (my dog freaks out over a shed skin!), and are beneficial predators.
The forked tongue is a marvelous sensory organ with multiple functions: taste and smell. It is in constant motion, sampling airborne as well as soil particles.
Old abandoned railroad beds are a centerpiece of our outdoor recreation resources. “Rails-to-trails” projects provide wonderful opportunities for hiking, dog-walking, nature photography, cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities. These long green corridors also connect villages and spur cooperative, community-based conservation efforts.
This morning I had a call from the walker shown below to let me know that there were Snapping Turtles all over the place, digging nests and laying eggs. It was warm, overcast and rainy, a perfect day for turtle activity. In fact, I stopped along the way to remove a Painted Turtle from the middle of the road, reminding me of my post from 2013 entitled “Slow Down for Turtles”!
Abandoned railroad bed converted into a popular walking trail
Abandoned railroad beds attract turtles in late spring because they are often in close proximity to wetlands and provide ideal sites for egg-laying: high, dry and sunny, with coarse-textured substrate.
Snapping Turtle on its nest, laying eggs
These egg-laying snappers, working along the edge of the railroad bed just a couple of feet from the main pathway, are totally committed to the task at hand. They’re more or less oblivious to mild disturbances, tolerating walkers (some with leashed dogs) and curious onlookers (like me) just a few feet away. They don’t leave until the seeds for another generation of Snapping Turtles are secure!
One of my favorite things to do in spring is to grab some field gear and walk, slowly and without purpose. It’s exhilarating, the vivid colors, species richness and animal activities teasing all of the senses. A purpose may materialize around the next bend in the trail, or not. The anticipation alone is a recreational high. And the rewards invariably appear.
Great Crested Flycatcher, nest-building
Midland Painted Turtle; searching for a wetland habitat
Blue-winged Warbler, foraging for insects in a wild apple tree
Wood Frog in a moist, poorly drained woodland habitat
Flowers and developing leaves of a mature Red Oak tree
Baltimore Oriole, male, foraging on insects (possibly nectar too) on a wild apple tree in full bloom
11-month-old white-tailed deer, buck, browsing on the new foliage of woody plants
The mother of the young buck, feeding on the new leaves of Sugar Maple
Yesterday I had a six-hour window to haul firewood from my woodlot to the house before a week of rainy weather would make the old wagon trail too soft for truck access. I had my camera on the front seat of the truck and allowed myself to get sidetracked a few times and capture a bit of the activity around me.
At this time of year, many of the wet, open places in my woodlot are dominated by a coarse, two- to five- foot tall herbaceous plant called Hellebore. (Veratum viride). It has a sturdy stalk and huge leaves but the terminal flower clusters aren’t much to look at. They’re small, yellow-green flowers that rarely seem to attract a lot of insects. Yesterday was an exception: I spotted a White Admiral butterfly working the flowers on a patch of Hellebore next to my work area and captured the moment.
White Admiral butterfly on Hellebore flowers
When turning my truck around in a damp, weedy opening, I happened to notice movement just beyond the front wheel. I had disturbed a Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica), which leaped up from the wet ground cover, landed on a stump and posed briefly for a photo. This amphibian, common in the U.S. and Canada, is easily identified by its dark mask (a “robber’s mask”). Most of my close encounters with Wood Frogs occur in early spring, when they create quite a spectacle, moving to vernal pools as soon as the ice is gone to call, breed and lay eggs.
The humid, 90-degree weather took its toll – coming down the hill to the house with my 5th load of wood, I was desperately in need of a diversion. I walked into a brushy field, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Great Crested Flycatchers feeding their young, but instead found a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched in a Balsam Fir tree, singing. Just the break I needed!