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.

 

 

Songbird Migration 2019

The National Wildlife Federation has promoted the creation of sustainable wildlife habitat for as long as I can remember. It maintains that “Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife”. The scope of this mission is broad – residential properties, institutional grounds, urban green spaces, etc. – and the support is equally impressive. Programs include gardening for wildlife (including butterflies and bees), the certification of wildlife habitat, education, current events and photo contests.

The rewards of wildlife habitat enhancement are evident throughout the year, but never more so than during the peak spring migration in May. Songbirds in myriad shapes, sizes and colors are on the move. Some are passing through, perhaps offering no more than a glimpse, while others are settling in on summer range. In either case, the birds need places to rest, feed, shelter — habitat!

Visitors to habitats around a home present opportunities for viewing and photographing that are virtually impossible at other times of the year for many species. This post is an example. Overall, the habitat includes mature trees, shrubs, herbaceous vegetation, water and feeders. The micro habitat for most of the images is a purple-leaf sand cherry and bird feeders next to the house. The sand cherry, a shrubby tree, provides valuable perching habitat and convenient access to feeders.

Male hummingbird guarding a sugar water feeder (1 of 2; May 10 and 15, 2019)

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders in mid May (1 of 2; May 6 and 15, 2019)

Male Baltimore Oriole exploring its feeding options (1 of 2; May 16, 2019))

Male Indigo Bunting (May 17, 2019)

Female Eastern Towhee laying claim to a nesting territory (May 15, 2019)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

May 2018: Colorful Memories

After an agonizingly slow start, Spring in Central New York did not disappoint! The month of May has been a delightful mix of activity in living color, plants and animals alike. I’m posting selected highlights, in chronological order.

Bloodroot4May18#3022E5c5x7

Bloodroot (4May2018)

MarshMarigold7May18#3208E2c8x10

Marsh Marigold (7May2018)

TroutLily8May18#3289E2c8x10

Trout Lily (8May2018)

Amelanchier12May18#3407E2c8x10

Serviceberry (12May2018)

SandCherry15May18#3593E2c8x10

Sand Cherry (15May2018)

RedTrillium16May18#3758E3c5x7

Red Trillium (16May2018)

Goldfinch18May18#3934E5c8x10

Goldfinch on Sand Cherry (18May2018)

 

WildApple20May18#4074E11c5x7

Wild apple flower buds (20May2018)

WildApple20May18#4097E2c5x7

Wild apple blossoms (20May2018)

BaltimoreOriole26May18#4339E5c8x10

Baltimore Oriole on its breeding territory (26May2018)

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!

Chickadee2May17#6788E5c8x10

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!

Goldfinch4May17#7046E2c8x10

Goldfinch3May17#6953E7c8x10

Female Goldfinch

Goldfinch4May17#7040E5c4x6

Goldfinch2May17#6729E2c8x10

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.

Oriole3May17#6928E7c8x10

 

RbGrosbeak2May17#6832E5c4x6

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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

 

Discovery Walks

One of my favorite things to do in spring is to grab some field gear and walk, slowly and without purpose. It’s exhilarating, the vivid colors, species richness and animal activities teasing all of the senses. A purpose may materialize around the next bend in the trail, or not. The anticipation alone is a recreational high. And the rewards invariably appear.

GCFlycatcher25may13#005E

Great Crested Flycatcher, nest-building

MidlandPaintedTurtle14May14#023Ec5x7

Midland Painted Turtle; searching for a wetland habitat

BlueWingedWarbler19May14#050Ec8x10

Blue-winged Warbler, foraging for insects in a wild apple tree

WoodFrog13May14#014E2c5x7

Wood Frog in a moist, poorly drained woodland habitat

Raven18May14#021Ec5x7

Raven

RedOakLvsFls18ay14#077Ec8x10

Flowers and developing leaves of a mature Red Oak tree

BaltOriole19May14#053Ec5x7

Baltimore Oriole, male, foraging on insects (possibly nectar too) on a wild apple tree in full bloom

ButtonBuck17May14#033E2c8x10

11-month-old white-tailed deer, buck, browsing on the new foliage of woody plants

DoeFawn13May14#035E2c8x10

The mother of the young buck, feeding on the new leaves of Sugar Maple

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Songbirds Raising Kids!

Good wildlife photographers invariably capture spectacular images of the large predatory birds – eagles, osprey, herons and the like – caring for their young. I appreciate great photography but sometimes it drives me crazy! I don’t have those shots! I’m just beginning to tackle the challenge and to date my inventory is limited to the more common songbirds that can be reached with a little stealth, some patience and a modest telephoto lens. To paraphrase John Gierach, my favorite fishing author, when asked why he spends so much time catching small trout on a fly rod: “catching small trout all day long is a lousy job, but somebody’s gotta do it”.

My featured species in this post are the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) and Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). Images aside, I’ve learned much and laughed often on these shoots and hope others have a similar experience.

Starlings080E2

European Starling feeding an insect to one of its young (at least three in all)

ChippingSparrow2E

Chipping Sparrow on a garden fence, prepared to feed young birds, invisible in the dense raspberry bushes below

Grackle22June13#055E

Adult Grackle about to feed a fledgling with cracked corn gathered from a nearby feeder (1 of 2)

Grackles22June13#071E2

Fledgling and adult Grackle; the adult has closed its nictitating membrane, an eyelid that lubricates and protects the eye, to prevent injury from the sharp beak of the fledgling as food is inserted into its mouth

BaltOriole20June13#156E

Adult male Baltimore Oriole with an insect morsel for its fledged young below

BaltOrioleIM20June13#140E2

Immature Baltimore Oriole

Catbird25June13#024E

Adult Catbird about to feed fledged young

Catbird9Sept12#032E

Fledgling Catbird

I’ll finish with the photos that I took this morning. A combination of sun, ground fog and heavy dew got me moving early. I was hoping to see the resident White-tailed Deer fawns, but knew that I’d return with something on my memory card even if they couldn’t be found.

SpiderWeb27June13#026E3

I usually check nest boxes from a distance while I’m walking and noticed a head sticking out of one that appeared to be a young Tree Swallow. I got comfortable in the tall grass and weeds and watched. The young swallow in the opening – now nearly the size of its parents – appeared to be restless and about to leave the nest. I thought I could see the tip of a second beak at times, evidence that a sibling had the same urge and perhaps was trying to expedite things. I took many photos as the bird moved back and forth in the opening of the box, as though it would decide to go for it, then have second thoughts. A parent was perched 100 feet away and 30 feet up, in the top of a spruce tree, seemingly ignoring all of us.

TreeSwallowFledge27June13#052E

TreeSwallowFledge27June13#058E

Young Tree Swallow about to fledge

After a half hour of deliberation, the youngster chirped and bolted, just like that. In the blink of an eye, it was out and airborne. It hung up and thrashed briefly in the tall grass in front of the box (the last photo), then soared up, up and away. After sitting for days on end in a cramped, stuffy nest box, and having no tutorial or pre-flight orientation, it just flew. What an amazing feat of nature. Oh, as soon as it soared, the parents swooped in to drive me away. I left, but returned an hour later and found an empty box.

As you might have guessed by now, the fledgling caught me off-guard, flew right at me at point-blank range, and the perfect shot will have to wait.

TreeSwallowFledge27June13#067E

Fledgling Tree Swallow a few feet from its nest box, airborne for the first time

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Baltimore (Northern) Oriole

Most woody plants are now leafed out, making it more difficult to observe and photograph birds. This male Baltimore Oriole was singing, preening  and foraging high in a Silver Maple tree that is sporting fresh, new foliage. At maturity, this tree species is large, with multiple, wide-spreading limbs and slender, drooping branches. It’s the type of tree that a Baltimore Oriole prefers for building its nest, a neatly woven structure suspended from the tip of a branch.

The Peterson Field Guide to Birds refers to the song as “rich, piping whistles”; it’s lovely.

BaltOriole17May13#102E

BaltOriole17May13#114E

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved