Late Summer Gold, 2019

Wildflowers are the perfect bookends to the growing season! Spring ephemerals like trillium and bloodroot introduce spring, while late summer beauties like the goldenrods and asters provide a colorful transition into the dormant season.

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) dominate fallow fields, forest edges and waste places. There are dozens of species and variations in size and form, some as tall as seven feet. In full bloom, showy clusters of tiny flowers form plumes, wands, clubs and spikes, depending on the species.

The goldenrod bloom creates endless photo opportunities as it frames, attracts and enhances subjects of interest in a single glance. These examples made me smile, and illustrate why I embrace seasons of change.

As August gives way to September, chilly nights and the approach of autumn, the uniform sea of golden yellow is enhanced by the arrival of a vivid palette of asters. And summer’s curtain call is complete.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

 

 

Zooming in on Early Autumn

Early Autumn. A visual definition!

The spectacular bloom of goldenrods and asters fades as plants age to drooping stalks and earth tones.Cool nights give rise to morning dew…. and wet feet. The once daily encounters with cold blooded creatures – bugs, snakes, toads and the like – gradually disappear. Birds and mammals take center stage, competing for nature’s bounty as they instinctively prepare for winter.

Nutritious acorns and other “hard mast” are wildlife magnets and a critical food source for winter health and survival.

Wild turkey hen and her young foraging for seeds and bugs in a hay field.

Antlers free of velvet and polished, this mature whitetail will soon reach his peak weight and be ready for the physical challenges of the rut, the hunting seasons … and winter

Fungi thrive in the warm, wet weather of September. Fruiting bodies are everywhere, appearing quickly and unpredictably in the moist, organic habitats of woodlands.

Happy Autumn!!!

Photos by NB Hunter (September, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Fields of Joy: Painted Lady Butterflies

Unprecedented numbers of Painted Lady butterflies fluttered about in fields of goldenrods and asters this month. They were everywhere, sometimes two to a flower cluster, presenting ample opportunities for environmental portraits. On more than one occasion they actually photo bombed a monarch shoot!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Monarchs in Motion

Warm sunny days are fueling carpets of wildflowers in abandoned fields. Nectaring butterflies – monarchs, painted ladys and others – complete the scene as they dart, flutter and glide about in a continuous and purposeful manner. It all seems right. And September is a wonderful time of year to be alive.

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Photos by NB Hunter (September, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Asters and Goldenrods

Leaves falling, geese honking overhead, frost in the air, deer hunting season around the corner; time for one last colorful meadow story before moving on and embracing autumn.

The aster bloom, a wonderful palette of white, blue, lavender and purple, follows the goldenrod bloom, with just enough overlap to create a memorable finale to the wildflower season…..

The September bloom, brilliant when the sun is just right, frames idle nest boxes,

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Fuels late season butterflies,

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A “Comma”, one of the anglewing group of butterflies

Hides a fawn,

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And its alert mother as well!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

The Arboreal Bloom

Small flowering trees are a beautiful element in spring landscapes, cultivated and wild alike. Their peak blooming periods coincide with, or follow, the traditional flush of spring wildflowers and can be spectacular. Severe winter weather limits our species diversity, but the few that prosper are eagerly anticipated spring highlights.

The first species of note to appear in natural landscapes is Serviceberry, also called Shadbush, Juneberry or Amelanchier. In late June and early July, I’ll be competing with robins, catbirds and grouse for the small, blueberry-like fruits.

Serviceberry in full bloom, weeks beyond normal due to extended cold weather in late winter and early spring

Redbud flourishes in the wild a couple hundred miles to the south. Here, it performs fairly well at lower elevations in cultivated landscapes — when the flower buds don’t freeze.

Eastern Redbud, just beyond peak bloom (flowers generally develop before the leaves; 1 of 2)

The most prominent small, flowering tree in Central New York is, oddly, an introduced species: wild (domestic) apple. There are many varieties in the wild, differing slightly in form, flower color, fruit characteristics, etc. But, as a whole, the value added to our visual resources is immeasurable.

House Wren in a wild apple tree near its nest box

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

September: Summer’s Grand Finale

September in central New York is a story that must be told — and illustrated!

The weeks leading up to the autumnal equinox are an exclamation point on the summer season that will soon yield to autumn. Landscapes near and far showcase a pleasing blend of the best of two seasons.

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Fields of corn and goldenrod

Humid days and chilly nights lead to early morning scenes that sparkle in a heavy coating of dew .

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Asters in morning dew

Diurnal wildlife activity and viewing opportunities are at peak levels. Birds and mammals, adults and juveniles alike, are foraging on the ripening fruits of wild trees and shrubs in preparation for migration, or leaner times.

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Red-panicle Dogwood

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Autumn Olive

This flock of Cedar Waxwings was swooping back and forth between spruce tree perches and a large Autumn Olive shrub that was loaded with fruit:

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Part of a flock of about 20 Cedar Waxwings perched near wild berry food sources in a brushy meadow

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Immature Cedar Waxwing feeding on the fruit of Autumn Olive (1 of 2)

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White-tailed Deer survive long winters in the snow belt by foraging around the clock on high quality foods like acorn mast and the succulent new growth in cut hay fields.

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The weeks leading up to the autumn equinox are transformative for White-tails. Fawns lose their spots; a darker, insulating winter coat (with hollow hair) replaces the reddish brown summer pelage; antlers stop growing and the dead, outer skin of velvet is rubbed off; and males, often in bachelor groups, begin to spar and establish a pecking order.

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Family group of White-tails: matriarch with her 2 fawns and a young doe, probably a yearling

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Mature buck in velvet; 13Sept2014

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Mature buck with antlers rubbed free of velvet; 14Sept2014

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White-tails bucks sparring lightly; the small, immature yearling initiated the friendly contact and received a valuable lesson; the mature buck could be his father.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Chilly Nights and Morning Dew

Characterized by chilly nights and wet, dewy mornings, the seasonal transition from summer to fall has unique qualities that create both excitement and anxiety. The photographic opportunities resulting from dramatic changes in plants, animal behavior and landscapes are exciting. The need to follow the example of the resident chipmunk and prepare for winter, in my case chimney cleaning, equipment maintenance, weather seals, etc. – can cause anxious moments.

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Chipmunk

If asked for a visual summary of the special days on either side of the autumnal equinox, I would sort through recent images and present the content of this post:

A Red Admiral nectaring on one of many species of wild Asters in full bloom at this time of year. This is a migratory butterfly that is widespread across North America. I’ve only seen two on my property this year, well below normal.

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Red Admiral on Aster

Most outdoor enthusiasts are familiar with Jack-in-the-pulpit, a unique spring wildflower. However, the brilliant red-orange fruit often leaves hikers guessing because most of the vegetative portion of the plant has withered away.

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Fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit

An Aster drenched in morning dew.

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Aster

In late August and September, bucks are often seen together, feeding in bachelor groups. This is also the time when the velvet covering of the antlers is rubbed off (look closely at the antlers of the young buck on the left). Their behavior will change dramatically in another month or so when the breeding season arrives.

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White-tailed Deer, yearling bucks.

Red-panicle or Gray-stemmed Dogwood is a native, thicket-forming shrub and a fall favorite. The combination of reddish- purple leaves; a branched, red fruit stalk and ivory-white berries is a visual treat, made even more delightful with a coating of morning dew. Migrating birds are devouring the fruit.

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Red-panicle Dogwood

Backlighting transforms the brown, dead foliage of ferns in a wetland into a point of interest. This is the leaf of Sensitive Fern.

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Sensitive Fern

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.