Survival of the Fittest

For many animals wintering in the snow belt, the Spring thaw can’t arrive soon enough. Bare ground is prime real estate and, when the snow cover persists too long, can be worth fighting for.

A combination of wind, full exposure to the sun, and adjacent retreat cover make some cultivated farm fields favorite wintering sites for deer and turkeys. On this occasion, it was hungry deer, venturing out well before dark, that provided insight into deer feeding behavior in late winter.

Survival of the fittest. Deer expend precious energy digging into the snow to expose plant material, kernels of waste corn, anything edible, and will defend their hard-earned discoveries from others in the herd. These groups are mostly does and fawns, and the mature does usually prevail. They will push, kick and chase competitors away from food – even fawns.

Daytime temperatures have been above freezing and and the snow pack is receding. Hopefully, all will soon have access to forage and squabbling will be unnecessary.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

 

A Wildlife Smorgasbord, Served Cold

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”   – John Muir

Squirrels, both red and gray, are frequent visitors to our bird feeders. But, they must do more than eat: avoid being eaten! A Red Fox has also been cruising the neighborhood, and small mammals are a dietary staple.

Morning doves, as many as two dozen, flutter in to feed several times a day. But, they too have natural enemies. Cooper’s hawks learn to hunt bird feeders (their fly-through restaurant), and doves are a favorite target.

Coyotes prey on deer, especially young, old and unhealthy ones. However, the greatest threat to deer in winter is a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat. Over time, excessive browsing by hungry deer destroys the forest understory, which has an adverse, domino effect on plant and animal diversity.

The dense vegetation in this scene is misleading. It obviously provides bedding cover, but is virtually devoid of palatable food.

Pileated woodpeckers are thriving in our woodlands, especially where tree mortality from ash decline, beech bark disease and other pests is high. Large dead and dying trees provide habitat for woodpeckers to drill for food and create nest cavities. Later, the excavations become critical nesting habitat for dozens of bird and mammal species – including the Tufted Titmouse.

When winters are severe, with heavy snow cover, a “winter thaw” can be the difference between life and death for wildlife. Turkeys are one species that benefit greatly from a warm spell in mid winter because they mainly forage on the ground.

In winter, blackbirds form large flocks that waste little time finding concentrated food sources. Barn yards and farm fields are favorite dining locations.

Photos by NB Hunter (Jan. – Feb., 2019). © All rights reserved.

Lasting Images of March 2018

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Wood Ducks 6March2018

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Wild Turkey gobbler searching for waste grain 7March2018

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Mature Bald Eagle feeding on a road-killed deer 8March2018

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Desperate wild turkeys searching for seeds in old burdock 8March2018

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Young deer, now relying on fat reserves for survival 11March2018

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Foraging muskrat, seemingly oblivious to the snow and cold 17March2018

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Evidence of the spring thaw at Chittenango Falls State Park 31March2018

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A Rough-legged Hawk hunting over melting snow in the fields

Photos by NB Hunter. © 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.

Mid Winter Memories

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Frozen rain drops on White Pine needles

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A curious White-breasted Nuthatch

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Female cardinal

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Chickadee

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Red Squirrel with piebald coloration (leucism)

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Farmland whitetails foraging in a storm

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A dairy farm at first light

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Snowy Owl gliding toward a late morning perch

Photos by NB Hunter (January, 2018). © All Rights Reserved.

A Deer in Early Winter

The hunters are gone but a new challenge awaits: Winter. Three months of cold, snow and dwindling food supplies. Waste grain is not yet buried in snow and a young doe seizes the opportunity to feed ahead of an approaching storm. Every bite counts now, even if it means abandoning the cover of darkness.

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Photos by NB Hunter (12/23/2017). © All Rights Reserved.

Deer in Mid Winter

Deer in this area have yet to be physically stressed by deep snow. However, more snow is on the way and the availability of palatable food resources will soon reach an annual low. In response, deer can be seen searching for food around the clock, especially in habitats where concentrated food sources like standing corn are absent.

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Deer searching for waste grain in a snow-covered field

Deer tend to throw caution to the wind and frequent bird feeders when natural foods are scarce. This one, young and curious, investigated our backyard bird feeders this afternoon. Two or three others, less tolerant of human activity, will visit in darkness.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Late Winter Highlights, 2016

The late winter weather has been a roller coaster ride. In just the last week or so, seventy-degree swings in temperature were accompanied by snow squalls; balmy, spring-like days; dark gray skies and cold rains; freezing water; melting ice….and anything else you can imagine. This is the week in review, minus all of the bad stuff!

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The Chenango Canal under a thin sheet of ice (Feb. 23)

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Cold rain and runoff formed ice along a small stream

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A Chipmunk appears above ground for the first time in 2016 –  its enthusiasm  dampened by a cold, winter rain (Feb. 24)

 

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A Canada Goose exploring, and defending, open water (Feb. 25)

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Deer moving freely, foraging in the middle of the day;  in most years, movement would be limited by deep snow (Feb. 27)

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Stubby the Red Squirrel, with an exciting discovery on the rapidly melting snow cover (Feb. 28)……..

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Stubby, dozing in the late morning sun on a frigid day

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Eastern Hemlock, “old growth”

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

White-tails: December Update

Finding White-tailed Deer feeding in broad daylight is much more challenging now than it was earlier in the fall. The regular (gun) hunting season is winding down, the herd has been reduced, and the remaining deer are very wary. Natural movement and foraging activities are more nocturnal than diurnal.

A small family unit, an adult doe and her button buck fawn, surprised me today in the midday sun. They were drawn out of hiding by the sweet scent of fermenting wild apples on the ground. I also wonder if the mature doe learned something from the long nasty winter of 2014-15: eat now because good food sources will soon be few and far between.

The 6-month-old fawn was reckless, stepping clear of the thicket and feeding on apples out in the open.

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Its mother, older and wiser, chose to feed in heavy cover.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Backyard Deer

A growing problem in wildlife management involves large numbers of deer living in and around developed areas. Most of these habitats are off-limits to hunting and the resident deer grow tolerant of, even dependent upon, people. A recent study of the deer problem in a small village in upstate New York reported a deer density of 45 per square mile – about four times the recommended, sustainable density. The problem really surfaces in winter, when hungry deer frequent residential and commercial properties to forage. Backyard sightings at bird feeders and the destruction of landscape shrubs like Yew (Taxus) are common occurrences. As are starving and dead deer, mostly fawns, when snowy winters are long and harsh.

These photos were all taken in January, 2014. The deer (about 10 in all) were frequenting a private, residential property and raiding bird feeders. I have watched adult does kick fawns away from winter food but, in this instance, it was the yearling buck demonstrating the harsh reality of “nature’s way”. The young buck would not allow any other deer, adult does or fawns, to feed on birdseed when he was within striking distance.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.