Earth Day 2014

Earth Day photos; all except the last image captured in central New York on 21April2014; quotes by Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife ecology and management

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?”

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Turkey Vulture, flying low and scanning open landscapes for a meal of carrion

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

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Eastern Bluebird, female, investigating the availability of nest boxes and open feeding grounds

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

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Ruffed Grouse, female

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“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

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Eleven-month-old White-tail buck after a long winter

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on a map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

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Canada Geese at sunrise

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Recent Bird Sightings

I was lucky enough to see a Fisher and an Eastern Wild Turkey gobbler this evening, but have no photos to prove it! Instead, I’ll share photos of random bird sightings from the past week, all species that were covered in earlier posts.

The Eastern Bluebirds are nesting now, and I usually see them feeding in the morning. In their typical “perch and drop” manner, they land on a woody plant near an opening, usually about 3 to 10 feet above ground, then drop to the ground to snatch an insect.

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Eastern Bluebird, male

The Tree Swallows, like the Bluebirds, are now nesting in my custom boxes.

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Tree Swallow

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I have read about Turkey Vultures adopting a residential lifestyle, but until this past week had not observed it. On the western edge of our one-stoplight village is a small stream, field, large Black Willow trees, and a dead-end road with a few houses. A flock of about eight birds has been roosting there, sometimes in the large willows, sometimes on roof tops, and occasionally on one of the large fence posts that frame a garden plot.

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Turkey Vultures

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My property is generally avoided by wild Turkeys in winter due to deep snow. However, they’re here in the spring breeding and nesting season and I often see them in the summer with their broods, feeding on grasshoppers and other insects. This hen is a wild bird, probably nesting within a few hundred yards of the house, that often forages through the yard around mid-day.

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Eastern Wild Turkey

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All photos by NB Hunter

Habitat Management for Songbirds

The management of habitat for non-game wildlife like songbirds can be very rewarding. My management practices are guided by some basic principles that help keep me pointed in the right direction: copy nature, enhance biodiversity, and plan for sustainable, cost-effective activities.

One such plan involves a few acres where I’m attempting to arrest and reverse the natural succession of pasture to fallow field to forest.  The site was last grazed about 25 years ago and is now a mixture of herbaceous vegetation, woody shrubs and young trees. My management goals are to 1-arrest succession on the majority of the fallow field, keeping it in the brushy, shrub stage; 2-reverse succession on small areas within the shrub habitat, creating herbaceous, meadow-like openings; and 3-control invasive plant species. Habitat boundaries are irregular and lack clear definition to simulate nature. Mechanical control is favored over other methods. Songbird nest boxes were installed on posts in the herbaceous openings (six in all).

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Brush-hogging to create an herbaceous opening; nest box on left

These types of habitats are preferred by dozens of wildlife species, from butterflies to deer, and have provided me with countless hours of recreation, nature study and photographic opportunities.

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Part of a family group of White-tailed Deer using an herbaceous opening soon after it was created

This post features a group of birds with broad appeal and interest that are benefiting from my management plan: cavity-nesting songbirds that use artificial nest boxes. The most common nest box in the landscape, one designed for the Eastern Bluebird, was my pattern of choice. I was hoping for bluebirds but was also aware of the multi-use value of nest boxes, especially where natural cavities in trees are limiting. In open habitats, nest boxes are commonly occupied by House Wrens and Tree Swallows, and on rare occasions the Great Crested Flycatcher.

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House Wren

House Wrens can be a bit of a nuisance, stuffing every nest box in sight with twigs, floor to ceiling, to discourage the competition (my father once counted over 700 twigs in a dummy nest – a considerable amount of work – for both parties!)

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House Wren

Tree Swallows in early April, resting, preening, and scouting nest boxes (5)

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Great Crested Flycatchers first claimed a meadow nest box three years ago. I knew that they were cavity nesters, but had never seen them occupy a nest box. The entrance hole to this box had been enlarged slightly by a Red Squirrel, perhaps making it more suitable for the flycatchers.

Great Crested Flycatchers, nest building (4)

 

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All of the featured species consume large quantities of insects throughout the spring and summer months, contributing to ecosystem stability and biodiversity.

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Great Crested Flycatcher with food for its young

Eastern Bluebirds prefer open habitats with low, herbaceous plant cover, such as pastures and large lawns. Without periodic maintenance, fallow fields eventually lose these characteristics and the bluebirds inhabitants as well

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One of a winter (January) flock of 8 – 10 bluebirds, an unusual sighting.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds that claimed a nest box on one of the recently cleared openings; resting, feeding, nest building, and guarding the nest box.

 

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Eastern Bluebird, male

 

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Eastern Bluebird, male

 

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Eastern Bluebird, female

 

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Eastern Bluebird, female, nest building

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Eastern Bluebird, male, guarding the nest box as Tree Swallows swarmed in to investigate.

I’m obviously an advocate of artificial nest boxes for wildlife, particularly when a need is identified. However, I also feel that natural tree cavities should be the highest priority. I  locate and protect den trees when working in the woods and sometimes create potential den or nest trees if natural cavities are lacking. 

All photos by NB Hunter