Winged Highlights from Spring, 2020

Wildlife watching around the house and on local trails has occupied much of my free time this spring. The backyard has been an aviary, with an unprecedented variety and abundance of birds visiting feeders and, now, nesting in adjacent habitats.

I’m posting images in chronological order to illustrate the weather roller coaster and subsequent environmental responses during the last two months of this unusual spring season.

16April2020. While sitting in a ground blind hoping to photograph a turkey that was gobbling earlier in the morning, a male bluebird burst onto the scene. Despite the snow and cold, he appeared to be evaluating nest boxes and thinking ahead to nicer weather! In May, a pair of bluebirds did, in fact, build a nest in one of the boxes, only to abandon it and disappear when yet another spring snowstorm blew through.

29April2020. Spring events, including the arrival of red-winged blackbirds and the bloom of shrubby willows, were about two weeks late this year. After several attempts, I was pleased to capture both the bird and blooms in the same frame. The territorial song and breeding display of the redwing is a sure sign of spring and something we all look forward to. “The redwings have arrived!”.

30April2020. Record numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were seen at feeders this spring. Unmistakable in a splash of bold and vivid colors, they quickly became the main attraction and the talk of the town!

10May2020. As their numbers increase around the country, eagles must adapt to human activity in order to capitalize on suitable habitats and food sources near people. This adult just left its nest in a residential area to hunt for fish and waterfowl in local reservoirs and road-killed animals in agricultural areas.

12May2020. Dozens of Goldfinches swarmed the neighborhood tube feeders for weeks this spring, to the point that Niger seed disappeared from store shelves. The birds far outnumbered the available feeding platforms on my modest feeder, leading to chaos and frequent displays of aggression.

13May2020. All seems right with the world when Tree Swallows arrive to claim nest boxes and showcase their magical flight maneuvers as they pursue air-borne insects. They’re most cooperative and photogenic on bright, chilly mornings when they’re apt to perch and preen in the sun. before take-off.

19May2020. Baltimore Orioles exploded onto the scene in May, dazzling with their vivid plumage and beautiful song. It wasn’t long before they received a red carpet welcome of sliced oranges, dishes of jelly and sugar water (in hummingbird feeders).

30May2020.

20May2020. Indigo Buntings, erratic visitors to feeders, are fairly small songbirds that are easily overlooked when moving about in the shadows and dense foliage of thickets. Due to widespread and lingering appearance at feeders this year, everyone now knows and appreciates Indigo Buntings! Their unique coloration is mesmerizing.

9June2020. For several years now, a pair of House Wrens has occupied a nest box on my garden fence. Their musical talents and voracious appetite for bugs more than compensate for their drab plumage. The garden experience wouldn’t be the same without them.

12June2020. The garden pests have more than a family of wrens to worry about. A pair of cute little tail-bobbing phoebes are nesting on a rafter in the open wood shed, not far from the wrens. They too are feasting on insects throughout the day….I think there’s enough to go around.

13June2020. Caught in an awkward preening position, this feisty male hummer guards the sugar-water feeder early in the morning and again late in the evening. His head is on a swivel as he diligently searches for another male invading his territory. The light is rarely adequate for a sharp image, but sometimes the scene trumps quality!

Photos by NB Hunter (April 10 – June 13, 2020). © All rights reserved.

 

 

The Tail End of Winter 2018

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Northern Cardinal at the feeders in a snow storm

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Abandoned farm buildings and an active hunting shelter

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Deer foraging in the corn stubble, a common scene in late afternoon

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A matriarch defending her discovery of waste grain

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Doe and fawn foraging in a sheltered willow bottom

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Mature Bald Eagle, just before dark, in the rain

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The resident Red Squirrel with a not-so-red tail

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Thinking of warmer days, fake bugs drifting drag-free, and hungry trout

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Roots of a centuries-old maple tree, undercut by spring water

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Early May Highlights, 2016

I’ve captured a sample of early May in Central New York, often dodging rain drops in the process. My mother had more than a passing interest in nature and would have loved this post.

She liked flowers, cultivated or wild, didn’t much matter.

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Fading glory: Red Trillium in a moist ravine, past peak bloom

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Willow (one of many species of wild willow shrubs)

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Wild Juneberry (also Serviceberry, Amelanchier or Shadbush)

She kept a bird feeder and enjoyed her backyard visitors. Early May was peak migration and full of surprises.

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Goldfinch perched near a Nyjer seed feeder

Of course everyone loves babies. These family photos would have been plastered all over the wall (and the real family photos pushed aside)!

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Family of Canadian Geese (there were 8 goslings in all, just a few days old)

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Bald Eagle, tearing small pieces from a kill to feed her 3 youngsters

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Raising young is a team effort: parent #2 arrives with a duck in its grasp (determined from another image in the sequence)!

Happy Mother’s Day

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Hunting Deer on Thin Ice

Late winter, with a combination of ice and open water on surface waters, presents a fleeting window of opportunity for nature photography. My recent posts on ducks, muskrats and mink were the result of this phenomenon. It was 60 degrees F today, the ice is melting quickly, and the window is about to close. I plan to shoot until it does.

This morning I followed up on a report of eagles feeding on a dead deer on the thin ice of a local reservoir. I found three bald eagles and a coyote in the area. Two mature eagles were on the carcass and a juvenile was a couple hundred feet away, near the distant shore. The coyote made a brief appearance, hunting the far shoreline and ecotone. Much of what I observed was beyond the reach of my gear, but I managed to capture the essence of the experience!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Late Winter Faces

Many wildlife stories are unfolding in Central New York as the deep snow and unprecedented cold weather persist.  For now, I’ll pretend the glass is half full, rather than nearly empty, and present selected images from February 28 through today.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © ,All Rights Reserved.

The Resident Eagles

This is a follow-up to a recent post on a resident pair of Bald Eagles that are cruising the airways for carrion. In this case, I was able to capture one of the pair in flight as it circled prior to coming in for a meal on a road-killed deer. The site is active farmland, planted in a cover crop. It’s not far (as an eagle flies) from a small reservoir.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.

Our National Emblem

Thirty five years ago photographs of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) would have made front-page-headlines. It was then that this magnificent bird of prey, our national emblem and a symbolic, spiritual bird to Native Americans, had to be protected by the Endangered Species Act. Pesticides were a major culprit, accumulating to toxic levels in the food chain and causing reproductive failures in predatory species. Since then, the Bald Eagle has made a remarkable come-back throughout North America and was removed from the Endangered Species list in 2007.

In the late 19th century many reservoirs were built in central New York to provide water for an extensive canal system and today, much of the land adjacent to them is a mosaic of farms and woodlands. This is good eagle habitat and eagle sightings are not at all unusual now, especially when a carcass shows up in an open field not far from a reservoir. Although fish are a dietary staple, Bald Eagles are opportunistic feeders and will spend several days competing with crows, vultures and other scavengers for the meat on a deer carcass.

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Mature Bald Eagle feeding on a deer carcass in mid-November

Earlier in the week, a friend called to tell me about a great photo op near home – a Bald Eagle (sometimes a pair) feeding on a deer carcass. I was fortunate enough to find one bird at the site on two different days. This post, including the photo above and the gallery that follows, features some highlights from that experience.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.