“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.

Aquatic Habitats in Summer

Late July in Central New York is usually hot and dry and this year is no exception. Water levels in wetlands and surface waters are at a seasonal low, exposing habitats and life processes not visible at other times.

Dragonflies like this male Widow Skimmer are extremely active, foraging on the wing for tiny insects.

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Avian predators – shorebirds, herons and kingfishers – capitalize on the availability of prey in exposed mud flats and shallow waters.

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“Soft Landing”

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Another avian predator can be seen hunting for prey above the water’s surface rather than below it. Clouds of tiny mayflies (“Tricos”, short for the genus Tricorythodes), pulsating over the riffles of cool, alkaline streams, are fair game for small flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

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A “Trico” trapped in a spider web during the morning hatch; the Trico body is 3-4 mm long

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Tricos in a web

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“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond the point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.”   – Sandra Postel

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Birds at the Marsh

Tall cattails, small, weedy ponds choked with lilies and an old beaver dam characterize a local wetland that I often visit in the morning. Like most healthy wetlands, it is teeming with life and full of surprises!

A flock of Cedar Waxwings, perched briefly on a snag at the edge of the beaver dam; they were feeding on air-borne insects above the adjacent pond.

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Cedar Waxwings

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Cedar Waxwing

I was set up in the woody shrub thicket colonizing the inactive beaver dam, in the midst of a family of Song Sparrows. This one was a bit upset with me, but not to the point of leaving its perch.

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Song Sparrow

The main attraction at the marsh has been a family of Common Gallinules. They’re fascinating, chicken-like, aquatic birds that like the dense cattail marsh and weedy pond habitats for feeding, nesting and raising their chicks. I prefer the Old World name, Moorhen, which was discontinued in the U.S. in 2011 in favor of Gallinule.

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Common Gallinule, adult

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Common Gallinules, adult and chicks (grooming)

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Gallinule family retreating into the cattail marsh after feeding in open water.

Dressed in brilliant spring breeding colors, the male Wood Duck is one of the most popular subjects for photography and art in the world. In summer however, it looks much like the female Wood Duck, adorned in what is called “eclipse” plumage.

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Wood Duck, male, eclipse plumage

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.