Hide and Seek with a Great Blue Heron

I often encounter the resident Great Blue Heron when walking a canal towpath. On this occasion, we came eye-to-eye at 75 meters and it tolerated my advance, for awhile. It eventually tired of the game, took flight, and headed for its preferred wetland habitat – straight up the canal past me!

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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.

 

 

 

 

Wetlands and Fiddleheads

Although mostly cool, overcast and rainy, the month of May is yielding a rich assortment of scenes and subjects. Where to begin?! I’ll start with a recent trip to a small, swampy site where fiddlehead ferns and marsh marigolds were the dominant visual element.

A common wetland scene like this has marsh marigolds carpeting the low, waterlogged places, while dense clumps of cinnamon ferns occupy the high ground – raised tussocks of dense roots and emerging fronds.

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Young ferns with developing fronds aren’t limited to swampy sites….there are many species adapted to almost any site imaginable.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wildflower Favorites

Early spring wildflowers, the spring ephemerals, are vivid reminders of the fragile beauty and existence of life on earth. They tease and please with spectacular, short-lived blooms. They always leave us wanting more, and we’re quite willing to wait another year for another show. It never gets old.

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Serviceberry (Amelanchier), a small flowering tree

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Marsh Marigold in the wet soil along a small stream

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White Trillium, a woodland wildflower favoring rich, moist soils (1 of 2)

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Red Trillium in filtered light on a rich woodland site

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.

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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.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.