The Joy of Spring

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Skunk Cabbage leaves unfolding

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Chippy after a field trip to the bird feeder

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The female flower of a Norway Spruce tree

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Eurasian honeysuckle, an invasive shrub, in full bloom

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A mature doe reaching above my protective fencing to nibble on the new growth of a young apple tree; deer are losing their winter coats and look pretty ragged

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Morels in a maple-hemlock woodlot

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A fat and happy Red Squirrel framed in dandelion seed heads

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Osprey after an incredible 30 meter dive into the shallow water of a large pond

Gone fishing………………………………….

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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Farm Fields and Wildlife

An unusually warm and sunny September has lured me to local farms to watch and photograph wildlife. I have to share a few of the highlights from recent trips.

Sulphur butterfly on Teasel

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Young buck, blinded by the late afternoon sun, relying instead on his nose and ears to evaluate my presence.

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The difference between an adolescent, yearling buck and a mature, 4 1/2-year-old breeder can’t be fully appreciated until they’re seen in the same frame!

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An adult doe and her fawn. The first of several deer hunting seasons opens on October 1 and the fawns will have lost most/all of their spots by then.

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Three white-tail secrets for beating the survival odds:

1 — stay in the shadows

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2—never let your guard down

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3—-and, when all else fails, run like the wind!

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A hen turkey and her small flock of youngsters foraging on seeds and insects. They have incredible eyesight but lack a deer’s curiosity and tolerance of humans; in other words, they’re unapproachable! This mother hen knew something wasn’t right, but chose not to sound the alarm and run…totally out of character!

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“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love.”   – Steve Irwin

September sunset

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Odds and Ends

I walk often, usually traveling short distances on local trails. Late Spring is a wonderful time to do this because there’s so much going on in the world of wildlife.

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Wildlife populations are approaching their annual peak as new recruits arrive daily!

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Juvenile Red Squirrel

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Goslings

Songbirds are in various stages of nesting: some are building nests, some are sitting on eggs, some are feeding young. Regardless of the species, males can usually be heard singing on the nesting territories.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler above a dense thicket of shrubs and young trees

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Great Crested Flycatcher nesting in a “Bluebird” box (1 of 3)

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Reptiles and amphibians have come alive in the summer-like heat. This American Toad has claimed my compost pile as home.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

At Water’s Edge: White-tailed Deer

A small stream that flows through nearby village and college properties is one of my favorite haunts. The site is accessible by trail and, though just a few acres in size, is ecologically rich.

I often look for herons, both the Green and Great Blue, when walking the floodplain nature trail. However, as is the case with many of my camera-toting excursions, it’s the unplanned surprises that become the signature events of the trip. In this instance, the surprise encounters involved White-tailed Deer.

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White-tailed Deer in July; yearling buck in velvet and adult doe

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White-tailed Deer in July; fawn, roughly 6 – 8 weeks old

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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

White-tailed Deer and Turkeys Feeding in Deep Snow

The central New York winters of 2007 and 2008 provided many opportunities to observe and photograph wildlife behavior in deep snow. I had my first digital camera, a Nikon Cool Pix 5700, and deer and turkeys were plentiful near home. I managed to get a few photos, but not enough. I didn’t feel a sense of urgency then, because frequent snow storms and persistent snow cover of a foot or more were common. That hasn’t been the case in recent years.  I had to tap into those archived point-and-shoot photos to complete this story!

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Heavy snow in late winter can be very stressful on deer and turkeys, especially when it follows long periods of continuous snow cover. When this occurs, the search for food may override other survival instincts such as the avoidance of humans. In the snow belt, most of the available, naturally-occurring food supply is severely depleted by February. This is particularly true of woody browse for deer within five or six feet of the ground and persistent seeds and fruits for turkeys. Adding to the dilemma is the fact that fat reserves are depleted too, metabolism is increasing with the longer days, and many adult white-tail does are nourishing fetuses.

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Wild turkeys feeding on the fruit of multiflora rose (an exotic, invasive species) in mid-December; for the most part, this food source will be gone within a few weeks

I’ve been pruning several dozen wild apple trees on my property, because they’re badly in need of crown cleaning and structural pruning, but also to feed deer and rabbits. Of the hundreds of branches and twigs on the ground, virtually all have been browsed by deer  and roughly 20% have been browsed and stripped of their bark by cottontails. In some cases, deer have re-browsed the apple twigs well beyond the slender, nutritious twig ends. The rabbits will continue to feed on the twigs and bark for the remainder of the winter.

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Apple twigs after repeated browsing by deer in late winter; apple twigs are a preferred winter food, but most nutritional value is in the small twig end and buds

The remaining photos were taken in late February (23 and 24), 2007, soon after a 20 inch snowfall. Mindful of the need to avoid disturbing deer and turkeys at this time of year and adding to their stress, I stayed in my vehicle. I was over 120 feet away, partially concealed by the local community church and a nearby storage building. Wild animals tend to be tolerant of vehicles and I tried to use that to my advantage.

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The creation of a crater-like hole and feeding site:
an adult doe pawing at deep, soft snow to expose food at ground level

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A dominant doe asserting herself at a hard-earned, crowded feeding site

The following day, a small flock of turkeys joined the deer, searching the small patches of bare ground at the base of the crater-like holes dug out by the deer. It seems that the energy expended by deer to excavate these holes would far outweigh the food value at the bottom. The only apparent advantage to this behavior that I see is the exposure of the dark plants and soil to solar radiation, which would accelerate melting and increase the availability of food.

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A deer and turkey feeding site after a couple of days of digging by deer
and some melting from solar radiation

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Turkeys feeding and walking on top of the snow as they approach
the crater-like feeding sites in the deep snow

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A deer and turkeys working the same feeding holes,
seemingly oblivious to one another