June: Something for Everyone!

The month of June bridges seasons and showcases the best of two worlds – Spring and Summer. There’s a surprise around every turn that appeals to our senses of beauty and wonder and connects us to the natural world.

My journey through this wonderful month always begins with a camping trip to the Deep Valleys Section of the Allegheny Plateau. An annual renewal of mind, body and spirit begins in this place, where largely forested watersheds and deep, shaded valleys spawn cold springs and freestone streams and a delicious sense of wildness.

Pink Mountain Azalea usually greets us on the approach to our destination.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” – John Muir

Unspoiled, forested watersheds – a threatened natural resource to be sure – support diverse aquatic ecosystems that include mayflies and the wild trout that devour them. In these settings, catch and release fly fishing provides Zen-like experiences where one is completely absorbed in the moment.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in” – Henry David Thoreau

The appeal of small, mountain streams is much more than the drag-free drift of a dry fly and the explosion of a fooled trout. The sights and sounds that envelop and animate these environments enrich and complete the overall experience.

Great Blue Heron foraging in a wetland habitat

A Fisher, our largest member of the weasel family, hunting squirrels in the early morning hours

Upon returning home, I’m still surrounded by the myriad wild things and events that make June so special. But, there’s also a backdrop of civilization and the constant reminder of its profound impact on the natural world.

A Catbird guarding her nest in a nearby thicket.

Tree Swallow at the entrance to her nest, guarding the helpless babies

A young Cottontail from the first litter of the year, looking all grown up

Cultivated farm fields bustle with activity in June. Fields of corn, hay and oats dominate the landscape and animals adapt quickly to the cycles of planting, growth and harvesting.

A whitetail family group foraging in a hay field. The fawns are no more than three weeks old and facing the steep learning curve that is critical for their survival.

A mature doe in uncut hay; her fawns are invisible in the tall grass.

Young animals are vulnerable to the operation of big farm machinery in fields, as well as predation and other mortality factors. However, A carcass in a recently cut hay field doesn’t go to waste. In this instance, several crows and an immature Bald Eagle made sure of that.

We met, eye to eye, on a recent summer evening. While walking along the edge of a developing corn field to set up for pictures, I surprised two antlered bucks munching on the succulent new growth of corn stalks. A mature whitetail buck in velvet is a beautiful thing!

“An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity, but great fulfillment.” – David Attenborough

Photos by NB Hunter (June 1 – June 28, 2020). © All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

“Milking” Summer

Seems like yesterday that I was photographing nests, babies and nurturing parents. Now, a stroll through rural landscapes provides ample evidence of the changing seasons and cycle of life. I always feel a sense of urgency at this time of year: finish projects, prepare for winter and, above all else, capture the moment!

Bird populations and foraging activities are are at or near peak levels. Songbirds like cedar waxwings, catbirds and song sparrows are swarming open habitats in search of nutritious bugs and berries.

A close look at milkweed colonies in neglected fields and along fence rows and forest edges reveals brilliantly colored monarch caterpillars, eating voraciously in advance of metamorphosis and a red-eye flight to the mountains of Mexico.

Farm fields are full of surprises. In one, a small herd of historic American Aberdeen Angus cattle graze peacefully, as though choreographed. In another, a good whitetail buck is feeding non-stop, packing on as much weight as possible before the November rut and the long winter that follows. The fact that he’s changing into his grayish, insulated, winter coat didn’t go unnoticed.

It’s a bumper year for wild apples and deer are taking full advantage of the crop. They aren’t overly selective either, munching on fallen apples (“drops”), regardless of the ripeness or variety.

Photos by NB Hunter (August, 2019). © All rights reserved.

The Great Outdoors in September, 2018

There are seasons, and then there are seasons within seasons. The final three weeks of summer that define the month of September provide vivid proof of the latter.

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Banded Woolly Bear caterpillar, the larval stage of a tiger moth

Sulphur butterflies probing for nutrients in the wet, trampled soil of a cow pasture

Chicken of the Woods fruiting body (fried in butter by the landowner after I captured it alive!)

Monarch caterpillar feeding on Common Milkweed

A “fresh” Monarch nectaring on New England Aster (a September staple) in a weedy meadow

A good crop of Red Oak acorns has this squirrel busy all day long!

A young cottontail, now about half the size of its parents

Gray Dogwood, a favorite fuel of migrating birds like robins and catbirds

Most bucks rub their antlers free of dried velvet during the first three weeks of September, an event triggered by decreasing day length and increased testosterone

Foraging wildlife in a hay field in fading light (September 18 – the same date and location as the previous image)

Lastly, a message from my friend’s milk house kittens: Thanks for visiting!!!

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

Deer Antlers

Regardless of the number of whitetails observed throughout the course of a year, antler growth on large males continues to amaze, entertain and educate. Antlers are shed in late winter and in a few months new ones appear, often larger and more complex than the year before. They’ll be fully developed, calcified and glistening in the sun by late summer.

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Developing antlers grow faster than any other organ in the animal world, sometimes an inch (several centimeters) a day in a healthy, mature buck.

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The key ingredients for this amazing spectacle of renewal are age, nutrition and genetics. The buck in this series, photographed last evening, is sporting impressive antler development but it will be 3 or 4 years before he reaches his peak size. He’s foraging in farm fields, in this case alfalfa, so I doubt that his summer diet is limiting.

BuckAM29June18#5710E3c8x10I hope he sticks around and continues to forage in good light because I’d love to finish his story in September, showing the finished and polished product!

Photos by NB Hunter (29June2018). © All rights reserved.

Whitetails in Early Summer

Recreational interest in deer increases dramatically in early summer. This is especially true in farm country where visibility is good and deer are constantly on the move in response to the growth and management of crops. Patient viewers are often rewarded with sightings of nursing fawns (about a month old now) and bucks in velvet.

Following up on a report of fawn triplets and a mature buck on a local dairy farm, I set out to investigate fields of waist-high corn and uncut hay.

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Damselfly on the tall grass of an uncut hay field

Deer were moving into the fields almost immediately after a tractor and loaded hay wagon left for the day. They grow accustomed to big, noisy farm machinery and know precisely where the most nutritious and palatable crops are located on any given day. The adaptability of whitetails never ceases to amaze me.

This buck, approaching the fields from thick bedding cover, detected me before I was set up and bolted for his swampy retreat cover. He is a large, mature deer and I heard the pounding of his hooves on hard ground before I saw him.

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

Small Farms and Cultivated Fields: Priceless

In late spring patches and ribbons of vivid colors are dominant in open landscapes. The spectacular, multi-colored bloom is Dame’s Rocket, a garden escapee gone wild.

Invariably, my interest in this wildflower opens my eyes to the visual resources beyond the bloom. Fields, mostly cultivated fields on local dairy farms, become a subject of interest.

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Dame’s Rocket in full bloom 

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Front to back: Dame’s Rocket, grain fields and woodlands (8June2017)

The appeal of cultivated fields is much more than the dynamic beauty of line, color and texture through the seasons. They’re wildlife magnets, providing critical habitat for a host of opportunistic birds and mammals.

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Buck in velvet, foraging on new growth following the first cutting of hay (27June2017)

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Hen turkey foraging in a hay field; there might be youngsters underfoot, chasing hoppers {1July2017)

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Lingering storm clouds after days of torrential rains and damaging flood waters (1July2017)

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Red-winged blackbird foraging in a field of barley (1July2017)

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A hay field colonized by wild black mustard (30June2017)

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Orchard grass, a common forage plant in hay fields (27June2017)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

White-tails in Summer

It seems to be much too hot to do this but in the world of White-tailed Deer life goes on; business as usual. I’m sitting in a fence row, my back to a large old Sugar Maple tree. A strip of camouflage burlap draped over a line of parachute cord provides cover. I’m downwind of a huge dairy farm and the powerful aroma of liquid cow manure masks my scent. In this setting, my only predatory weakness is the annoying click of the shutter of my camera. On a quiet evening, with deer in close, it sounds like a chainsaw.

I’m watching a field of cut hay, hoping to see deer and other wildlife; would love to have a close encounter with a fox or coyote.

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Young doe approaching a mature doe and her fawn; submissive posture

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Yearling buck in velvet

Photos by NB Hunter. 22July2016 © All Rights Reserved.

Summer Meadows…and Deer

Wildlife watching is a global sport and ecotourism a major industry. At the local level, in a region where agriculture, deer and an extensive network of trails and secondary roads dominate the landscape,  deer watching is as much a part of summer as strawberries and sweet corn.

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Buck  on the move, swamp to hay field, just before dark; 16July2016

A friend has been seeing does, fawns and bucks on his dairy farm and suggested I set up for photographs. I obliged, telling him it would be a difficult chore, but somebody had to do it. Actually, I was thrilled! It was my first opportunity to  see and photograph triplets, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Triplet number one

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Triplets two and three; mother has my scent and is nervous

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Family portrait, just before mom ran off into the swamp, kids in tow

This doe and fawn appeared an hour later. Highway mortality, long winters and coyote predation take their toll on fawns. One or two fawns per mature doe is the norm, although sightings of mature does with no fawns at all are not unusual.

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“We do not remember days, we remember moments” – Cesare Pavese

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.