A Pileated Woodpecker Up Close

A declining maple tree with a dead central leader was the stage. Our largest woodpecker, hammering away in decayed wood in search of ants and other insects, provided the entertainment. I see or hear these large, crow-size woodpeckers almost daily, but this was a rare opportunity for me to see one up close, one that was more interested in carpenter ants than the human audience.

The cavity and foraging bird were clearly visible from the edge of my friends driveway. Unsure of the bird’s reaction to my presence, I started shooting immediately.

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Feeding was nearly continuous and moments like this were few and far between. The red stripe on the cheek told us this was a male.

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Excavations by pileated woodpeckers leave cavities in dead and dying trees that are critical habitat for many species of wildlife. Given the location, this exquisite cavity might be claimed by squirrels or owls. Arboriculture (landscape/residential tree care) practices generally call for the removal of dead and dying trees or tree parts in order to reduce hazards and maintain tree health and longevity. However, in cases where wildlife habitat is a priority and the hazard assessment is low, benign neglect might be a viable option.

PileatedExcavation#1 Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

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.

Puddle Clubbing with Swallowtails!

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An exciting tangent to my annual camping and fishing trip in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania is the opportunity to witness butterfly “mud-puddling”.

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Prime habitat for a puddle club of swallowtails: a gravel parking area along a mountain road in a heavily forested area, with plenty of mud puddles and sun.

Many species of butterflies puddle, but aggregations of eastern tiger swallowtails in the endless deciduous forests of this region are spectacular. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the Northeast.

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A “puddle club” of eastern tiger swallowtails

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Most puddling butterflies are fresh males and the event lasts but a few days in late May and early June.

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Do butterflies puddle due to a scarcity of nutrients, as an alternative foraging strategy arising from competition, or a combination of factors? There is still much to learn about puddling, but the most convincing hypothesis supports resource scarcity.

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Sodium ions and amino acids ingested by puddling male butterflies are transferred to females during copulation, enhancing egg production and survival.

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Puddling behavior is well known in gardening circles and there are many published strategies for creating butterfly puddle-clubbing habitat in formal landscapes. Once you’ve been immersed in a wild, surreal scene like this, it makes sense. Totally!

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Photos by NB Hunter (late May and early June, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

The Joy of Spring

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Skunk Cabbage leaves unfolding

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Chippy after a field trip to the bird feeder

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The female flower of a Norway Spruce tree

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Eurasian honeysuckle, an invasive shrub, in full bloom

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A mature doe reaching above my protective fencing to nibble on the new growth of a young apple tree; deer are losing their winter coats and look pretty ragged

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Morels in a maple-hemlock woodlot

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A fat and happy Red Squirrel framed in dandelion seed heads

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Osprey after an incredible 30 meter dive into the shallow water of a large pond

Gone fishing………………………………….

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Tree Snags for Wildlife

This is a story about the management of a landscape tree in decline, management with an underlying theme of benign neglect.

Last summer I heard the unmistakable sound of a Pileated Woodpecker hammering on a large old white pine tree near the edge of the lawn. I was thrilled to see our largest woodpecker so close to home, but also knew that its presence was a sign of a tree in trouble. Sure enough, there was advanced decay at the base of the tree and the Pileated was foraging on carpenter ants. The probability of tree failure and subsequent damage to nearby targets was high. The White Pine was a “hazard tree” and had to be removed.

My contract with a professional arborist for removal included an unusual request. I wanted to minimize the hazard – but leave a large snag for wildlife.

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The decision to create a snag payed dividends almost immediately. A Pileated Woodpecker is a frequent visitor, foraging around new wounds as well as old ones.

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Pitch oozing from the fresh wounds on a warm day provided an unplanned photo opportunity and aesthetic experience. The fascinating world of magnified pitch droplets kept me busy long after the woodpecker had left the scene!

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Pine pitch droplet, fly and spider; the droplet is about 1/8th inch across

 

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Apple Tree Blossoms 2017

May is apple blossom season in Central New York!

I worry like a farmer when the flower buds begin to open. Killing spring frosts are common and they can wreak havoc on new growth. We escaped those this year, but the bloom was greeted by cool, wet weather that greatly reduced the activity of bees and other insect pollinators.

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Warm weather finally arrived! Several days of summer-like weather really perked things up and the bloom peaked.

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We weren’t “out of the woods” yet. A clash of cold and warm air masses produced severe thunder storms, complete with high winds and hail. Wind in excess of 40 miles per hour damages trees, especially those that are predisposed due to poor form and/or location. Of the dozens of wild apple trees that I manage, two were affected. One, on soft, wet soil in a stream bottom, was uprooted completely and will become firewood and cottontail habitat later in the year. The other, pictured below, had poor structure: two large stems separated by a seam of “included” bark rather than solid wood. Lacking a strong connection, the trunks were ripped apart in the high winds.

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Days after the storm, the resilience of nature was apparent. Most trees, as well as their blossoms, appeared to have survived our erratic spring weather and should produce some apples this fall.

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The bloom is fading, the ground now littered with petals, but I’m still looking up. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, singing in the tree tops as they forage on flowers, have my attention!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.