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

 

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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.

Morning Sun and Snow

After another night of snow, the warmth of a bright morning sun was greeted with open arms. Today is dedicated to wildlife habitat management : pruning and releasing wild apple trees. However, I couldn’t start the day’s activities without a quick peak at backyard scenes and the obligatory photos!

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Black-capped Chickadee

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Rose (Rosa rugosa)

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Slate-colored Junco perched in a Star Magnolia

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Cold and Snowy Highlights from Central New York

Winter landscapes are uniquely beautiful and dynamic. They also convey the environmental dramas that unfold, for better or worse, as animals respond to subnormal temperatures and deepening snow cover.

These images are a modest and heavily biased sample of winter scenes in Central New York captured February 8 – 13, 2015. Temperatures were well below freezing and average snow depth was about 20 inches.

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Everyone’s favorite winter companion: Black-capped Chickadee

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Clearing deep snow from a windmill access road

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Red Squirrel emerging from its protective tunnel beneath deep snow

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Farmland

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Red Squirrel, on full alert

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Hay bales (poly-wrapped round bales)

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Deer feeding and grooming in deep snow

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Frosty morning in the hills

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Mature doe, with her two fawns nearby

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Covered in Snow

Friends and relatives often ask why we live in the snow belt. They see news coverage of the winter storms, the monster plow trucks rolling along in tandem generating huge waves of snow, the annual snow totals of 10 feet, the shoveling, etc.  Yesterday it was raining at lower elevations but here, with the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, it snowed all day. Small flakes stuck together to form giant ones that dominated the landscape, in the air and on the plants they landed on. I took a hike in the midst of it all.These photos say something about why I enjoy seasonal change, and snow in particular. .

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Persistent leaf of American Beech

My exploration started at the house. Triggered by the heavy, continuous  snowfall, there was a lot of activity at the feeders and I had to capture a bit of it before moving on.

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Chickadee perched in a Star Magnolia near a feeder

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Gray Squirrel

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Three (?) gray squirrels at a feeder

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Gray squirrel on the alert!

Large flakes of wet snow flying through the air and sticking to everything in sight has a dreamy, surreal effect that can’t be captured in full through a lens.

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Persistent beech leaves

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White Pine

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Fungus on sugar maple

I didn’t see much wildlife on this hike. A freshly killed cottontail (several hours old) in a brushy apple tree thicket caught my attention. The head had been eaten but the rest of the carcass remained. There were also fisher tracks in the area, not yet covered in new snow. I’ve been investigating these tracks for days now, checking the old growth hemlocks and sugar maples in an adjacent woodlot for a den site.

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A whitetail doe disturbed while feeding on pruned apple tree branches

The overall snow depth was about 10 inches, deeper in areas where it had drifted or was supported by shrubs and brush. That’s not all that much, but it was that “in-between” condition where it’s too soft and heavy for good snow shoe travel, and too soft and heavy for comfortable foot travel. So after a couple of hours of walking, I took a short drive to check open waters for ducks, geese and possibly an eagle. I saw nothing on the water, watched two crows in a tree above me for a while and decided to call it a day.

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Common Crow