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.
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!
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.
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.
Canada Goose and a pair of ring-necked ducks
Canada geese grazing in a farm field
Killdeer grooming at a spring seep
A pair of mallards under the reflection of deep snow
Great Blue Heron over ice and Canada geese on open water
A solitary Snow Goose in a flock of Canada geese
Migrating snow geese above farm fields, refueling on waste grain
Spring water splashing and freezing over moss-covered rocks creates one of my favorite winter macros. I often photograph the same site, knowing that these are incredibly dynamic landscapes that never repeat. They’re also fleeting. I had hoped to do more with this particular formation but the next day found nothing but melting snow and rushing water – no ice.
We have four months of winter; I enjoy three of them. The earthy colors and vivid contrasts of uncluttered winter landscapes can be very appealing, even spectacular. Winter also affords us the opportunity to observe the behavior and coping mechanisms of resident birds and mammals as they struggle to find sufficient food and cover amidst dwindling resources. The “dormant” winter season is far from static; there’s a lot going on, and much to learn. I’ll share a few winter highlights from Central New York, captured in January, 2017.
Northern cardinal foraging for grain near a backyard feeder
Eastern wild turkeys searching for waste grain
Round bales on a foggy winter morning
Black-capped chickadee in a lake-effect snow storm
Hilltop panoramic view of farms and woodlands
American crow foraging on waste grain
Morning sunlight on the Chenango River
Red-bellied woodpecker feasting on a commercial suet block
Wind, rain and dark skies have settled in, arriving at the tail end of a beautiful display of flaming foliage in the countryside. I’m searching for the silver lining — while monitoring storm water and the erosion control practices on my woodlot.
“Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower.” -Albert Camus
In the fall we track the changing colors of foliage much the same way that we follow the sequence of bloom with spring wildflowers. Leaf peeping is a big event! Early autumn (late September and the first week or so in October in Central New York) is a time of excitement and anticipation, with everyone gazing into a crystal ball to predict peak foliage color and schedule outdoor activities.
A recent trip to my childhood home 400 miles southwest of here reminded me that wishful thinking has no influence on Mother Nature’s timetable! The river bottom watersheds in western Pennsylvania were still very green, leading me to explore the more detailed landscapes in front of my nose.
Kiskiminetas River, viewed from the Roaring Run Recreation Trail; Apollo, PA
Marbled Orbweaver spider, building a web
A tussock moth caterpillar on the move
After returning to Central New York, I began to see a bit more color but summer greens were still dominant. Warm temperatures, plenty of sun and the absence of a hard frost have resulted in a gradual transition from summer to fall, with a pleasing overlap of the seasons.