Snakes Around the House

I enjoy working on the house and property in mid summer, when the weather is warm and friendly. And, I’m not alone in my fondness for warm weather. Seventeen species of snakes are endemic to New York State. At least three of them – all nonpoisonous and harmless – live around the house (stone foundation; compost pile; deep, leafy mulch; loose stone walls, etc.). July is their month to see and be seen!

I’m tripping over garter snakes, and every so often get a glimpse of the beautiful, but secretive, milk snake.

They’re in the lawn…

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The firewood pile…

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The blueberry patch…

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And, just this morning, inside the cellar ….. at eye level!

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This milk snake, a young adult about two feet long, was investigating a shelf in the stone foundation of the cellar where sawdust had accumulated during the installation of a furnace vent. Rodents are a dietary staple, so I’m hoping it eats well (and stays in the stone foundation)!

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“The Essence of Wildlife Photography” by Mike Biggs, IN “Whitetail Rites of Autumn” by Charles Alsheimer:

“Wildlife photography consists of a series of repeated attempts by a crazed individual to obtain impossible photos of unpredictable subjects performing unlikely behaviors under outrageous circumstances.”

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Songbirds: the Answer for Cold, Rainy Days!

Several years ago friends gave me a flowering shrub as a retirement gift: a Purple Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus x cistena). It persisted through droughts, monsoons, subzero temperatures, snow, ice and benign neglect, as well as transplant shock, and has finally produced a major bloom. Strategically positioned between two bird feeders, it has been the focal point of backyard songbird activity this spring. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

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Black-capped Chickadee

Goldfinches, the males now sporting their bright breeding plumage, swarm a ‘Nyjer’ seed (thistle-like seed) feeder throughout the day and brighten even the darkest days!

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Female Goldfinch

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The Spring songbird migration is in full swing so any of a dozen species can appear unexpectedly, and disappear as quickly as they arrived. I had about 30 seconds to interact with each of these colorful visitors.

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Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Photos by NB Hunter. (May 2 – 4, 2017). ©  All Rights Reserved

 

The Solitary Doe

White-tailed deer are social animals, and multi-generational family groups of does and fawns are the norm. That said, this young doe has been alone since last fall (I see her once or twice a week while trail walking) and is now including the bird feeders in her daily routine. I suspect the family group was broken up due to hunting season or highway mortality.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Deer in Mid Winter

Deer in this area have yet to be physically stressed by deep snow. However, more snow is on the way and the availability of palatable food resources will soon reach an annual low. In response, deer can be seen searching for food around the clock, especially in habitats where concentrated food sources like standing corn are absent.

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Deer searching for waste grain in a snow-covered field

Deer tend to throw caution to the wind and frequent bird feeders when natural foods are scarce. This one, young and curious, investigated our backyard bird feeders this afternoon. Two or three others, less tolerant of human activity, will visit in darkness.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

The Color of Winter

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.

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Northern cardinal foraging for grain near a backyard feeder

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Eastern wild turkeys searching for waste grain

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Round bales on a foggy winter morning

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Black-capped chickadee in a lake-effect snow storm

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Hilltop panoramic view of farms and woodlands

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American crow foraging on waste grain

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Morning sunlight on the Chenango River 

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Red-bellied woodpecker feasting on a commercial suet block

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

The Winter Solstice

“We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.”     – Gary Zukavteasel16dec168647e5c8x10

“How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!”             – Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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“Kindness is like snow – it beautifies everything it covers.”     – Kahlil Gibran

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“There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.” ― Ruth Stout

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“It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it.”     – John Burroughs

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“When snow falls, nature listens.”     – Antoinette van Kleef

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“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”            ― John Steinbeck

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“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”     – John Boswell

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Photos by NB Hunter; taken in Central New York in December, 2016 © All Rights Reserved.

The White Admiral

I often encounter White Admiral butterflies in late spring and summer because we frequent the same habitats: woodlands and associated openings, edges and wet places. The caterpillars feed on willows and aspens, common woody plants in the region.

They’re a difficult target: adults rarely settle, fluttering and gliding every which way, in an unpredictable manner. This one fluttered from flower to flower for a minute or so, then, with no warning, just disappeared over the tree tops! Appearing black and white in flight, their brilliant coloration can’t be fully appreciated unless they pause for nourishment and the underside of a wing becomes visible.

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White Admiral nectaring on Dame’s Rocket

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.