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.

PileatedWp16June17#9584E2c4x6

PileatedWp16June17#9586E2c5x7

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.

PileatedWp16June17#9570E5c5x7

 

PileatedWp16June17#9539E5c8x10

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.

The Joy of Spring

SkunkCabbage17May17#8054E2c8x10

Skunk Cabbage leaves unfolding

Chipmunk28May17#8717E2c8x10

Chippy after a field trip to the bird feeder

NSpruce15May17#7848E2c5x7

The female flower of a Norway Spruce tree

EurasianHoneysuckle27May17#8680E2c4x6

Eurasian honeysuckle, an invasive shrub, in full bloom

DoeAppleTree24May17#8634E2c5x7

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

Morel29May17#8775E5c4x6

Morels in a maple-hemlock woodlot

RedSquirrel27May17#8709E2c8x10

A fat and happy Red Squirrel framed in dandelion seed heads

Osprey10May17#7514E5c4x6

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.

WhitePineMay2017#8554Ec8x10

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.

PileatedWp18May17#8133E2c4x6

PileatedWP22May17#8551E2c8x10

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!

SapWP21May17#8505E2c4x6

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

 

SapWP21May17#8499E2c8x10

Sap19May17#8217E2c5x7

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.

WildApple14May17#7704E2c8x10

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

WildApple17May17#8097E2c5x7

WildApple16May17#7958E5c8x10

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.

AppleTreeStorm20May17#8329

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.

AppleTreesTrail20May17#8299E2c4x6

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!

RbGrosbeak20May17#8322E2c4x6

RbGrosbeak20May17#8310E2c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Spring Greens

As I chase Spring in search of wildflowers, critters and other natural phenomena, I am reminded of something special that is often a backdrop for more popular subjects rather than the main attraction. Artists and photographers know it well, and they also know the challenge of capturing its stunning, ephemeral beauty at the right time and place. I’m referring to the palette of fresh, spring greens that appears as plants emerge from dormancy.

These images, in chronological order over a period of about two weeks, are my most recent attempt to capture “green-up” in Central New York.

Aspen4May17#6979E2c8x10

Aspen clone (May 4)

AppleBloom10May17#7483E5c4x6

Wild apple tree bloom and woody plant leaf development (1 of 2; May 10)

AppleBloom10May17#7446E2c8x10

Farm12May17#7674E9c3x5

Dairy farm (May12)

SugarMaple14May17#7791E2c5x7

Sugar maple foliage (May 14)

GeeseFamily15May17#7853E2c8x10

Canada geese in a field of barley (a gang of newly hatched goslings at her feet; May 15)

SugarMaple16May17#7910E2c4x6

Sugar maple form and foliage (May 16)

RedOak17May17#8074E5c8x10

Red oak flowers and foliage (May 17)

Photos by NB Hunter (May 4 – 16, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

A Different View for Wildflowers

Cold weather has delayed the arrival of traditional, early spring wildflowers. This has led me to look up rather than down, searching for the lesser known flowers of trees and shrubs. They can be stunning, but often require magnification to be appreciated.

ShrubWillow18Apr17#6084E2c8x10

One of the many species of shrubby willows (Salix); a critical food source for bees in early spring

 

RedMaple18Apr17#6109E3c8x10

Red maple (Acer rubrum) in full bloom

Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.