Mothers are Special

BabyBull11May17#7590E2c8x10

Little bull and his Mom, an hour after birth

Goldfinch8May17#7184E2c5x7

Goldfinch in breeding plumage

Redbud11May17#7539E5c8x10

Eastern Redbud

BabyBull11May17#7612Ecardc5x7

Photos by NB Hunter, early May, 2017. ©  All Rights Reserved.

Advertisements

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!

Chickadee2May17#6788E5c8x10

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!

Goldfinch4May17#7046E2c8x10

Goldfinch3May17#6953E7c8x10

Female Goldfinch

Goldfinch4May17#7040E5c4x6

Goldfinch2May17#6729E2c8x10

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.

Oriole3May17#6928E7c8x10

 

RbGrosbeak2May17#6832E5c4x6

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Photos by NB Hunter. (May 2 – 4, 2017). ©  All Rights Reserved

 

Photoperiod and Signs of Spring

Spring: the first 20 days!

Gray skies, cold rain, snow and flooding have slowed down the arrival of spring but photoperiod will rule the day. Increasing day length is a powerful force that insures the necessary progression of life stages, regardless of the weather.

Many aquatic species, including this Great Blue Heron, arrived to find traditional wetland habitats still covered in ice (23March2017).

GBHeron23Mar17#4236E2c4x6

Snow geese were reported throughout Central New York during the last week of March. They were refueling on waste grain in corn fields and spread manure before continuing their journey to summer range in the Arctic (27-28March2017).

SnowGeese28Mar17#5051E2c4x6

SnowGeese28Mar17#5032E2c5x7

SnowGeese28Mar17#4974E2c8x10

Wild turkeys were foraging on waste grain too, but increasing daylight was also triggering the mating urge in males; many were observed in full display posture, strutting for uninterested hens (1April2017).

Turks1Apr17#5268E5c5x7

Breeding populations of ring-necked pheasants no longer occur in this region, but some are occasionally released into the wild for recreational purposes. This cock pheasant is crowing and flapping his wings in an attempt to attract a hen (6April2017).

Pheasant6Apr17#5485E2c8x10

Pheasant6Apr17#5488E2c8x10

Red-winged blackbirds arrived several weeks ago and are defending their breeding territories aggressively, despite the elements (7April2017).

RWBlackbird7Apr17#5544E2c8x10

A sure sign of Spring is the transformation of male goldfinches as they molt into their bright breeding plumage (7April2017).

Goldfinch7Apr17#5517E2c8x10

Groundhogs emerged from hibernation in March to find a snow-covered landscape. In the days ahead they faced yet another hardship – the flooding of burrows in marginal habitats. This one seems to have weathered the storms well…but is grazing in the middle of a hay field, a long way from the nearest burrow. Can it outrun an eagle, fox or coyote? Survival is still questionable (8April2017).

Groundhog8Apr17#5577E2c5x7

Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

Early May Highlights, 2016

I’ve captured a sample of early May in Central New York, often dodging rain drops in the process. My mother had more than a passing interest in nature and would have loved this post.

She liked flowers, cultivated or wild, didn’t much matter.

TrilliumRed6May16#0107E2c5x7

Fading glory: Red Trillium in a moist ravine, past peak bloom

Willow3May16#9863E2c8x10

Willow (one of many species of wild willow shrubs)

Serviceberry6May16#0029E2c8x10

Wild Juneberry (also Serviceberry, Amelanchier or Shadbush)

She kept a bird feeder and enjoyed her backyard visitors. Early May was peak migration and full of surprises.

Goldfinch5May16#0011E3c5x7

Goldfinch perched near a Nyjer seed feeder

Of course everyone loves babies. These family photos would have been plastered all over the wall (and the real family photos pushed aside)!

Geese4May16#9964E9c8x10

Family of Canadian Geese (there were 8 goslings in all, just a few days old)

Eagle7May16#0202E5c8x10

Bald Eagle, tearing small pieces from a kill to feed her 3 youngsters

Eagle7May16#0257E3c8x10_edited-1

Raising young is a team effort: parent #2 arrives with a duck in its grasp (determined from another image in the sequence)!

Happy Mother’s Day

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Goldfinches Behaving Naturally

One thing usually leads to another, whether it be home repairs or nature photography. On a recent trip to the local farm stand a scene caught my eye: a field of ripening grain bordered by a freshly minted hops operation.

Hops16July14#047E2c5x7

My best vantage point  for the landscape photo happened to be at the edge of a commercial blueberry patch, now fallow with more weeds than blueberries in the rows. Milkweeds, fleabane and field thistles were everywhere, but the thistles had gone to seed and were the main attraction.

Thistle17July14#048E2c5x7

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one interested in thistle seed heads. A flock of goldfinches was feeding up and down the rows – and I went along for the ride!

Goldfinch18July14#096E2c5x7

Goldfinch18July14#098Ec5x7

Goldfinch18July14#103E2c8x10

According to Watchable Wildlife, Inc., there are 60 million birders in the U.S. and “viewing” wildlife is a 50 billion-dollar industry. The commercial substitutes for thistle seed, sold for backyard tube feeders, are currently about two dollars a pound and a small part of this phenomenon. It’s refreshing to have the opportunity to observe birds behaving naturally, apart from the continuous offerings of steak and caviar in our backyards!

Goldfinch18July14#077E3c8x10

My first visit to the farm was fairly late in the day and it wasn’t long before fading light forced me to quit – but – not until I captured this late arrival to the weed patch!  One thing leads to another.

BuckThistle16July14#086E2c5x7.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Benign Neglect

Some try to be kind and call it a “farmer’s lawn”, implying that it is functional and economical at the expense of beauty, that real grass is a minority occupant. Others are more blunt and say it’s a badly neglected piece of real estate, a sad reflection of my twisted priorities.

I use the phrase “benign neglect” to justify my imperfect lawn. The many resident cottontails, butterflies, bees and birds are with me on this. Robins are raising a family on the healthy earthworm population that resides under the untreated sod. Indeed, it is a farmer’s lawn — green, friendly and ecologically functional.

DandelionDaisy12May12#005E

Dandelions and English Daisies

I actually worked on the lawn today and, as I pulled, mowed and whacked, decided to photograph during work breaks. I focused on Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and its associate, Speedwell (Veronica spp.). English Daisy (Bellis perennis) was also in the mix. All of the featured flowers are commonly labeled as perennial lawn weeds.

Dandelion25May14#033Ec5x7

Dandelion (and honeybee) surrounded by a carpet of Speedwell

Speedwell26May14#009E2c8x10

The tiny (1/4 inch) flower of Speedwell

Dandelions are prolific generalists, capable of colonizing and carpeting a fallow field. The reproductive potential of the species is enormous: millions of air-born seeds are produced in a field like this; estimates approach 100 million per hectare. Although native to Europe, dandelions are now naturalized throughout the temperate regions of the world

DandelionField22May14#032Ec3x5

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Under different circumstances, it may not be a weed at all. Dandelion root is a registered drug (diuretic) in Canada; the leaves yield nutritious salad greens; the flowers are harvested to make dandelion wine.

Wildlife species that utilize dandelions (leaves, nectar or seeds) for food include deer, rabbits, turkeys, goldfinches, sparrows, butterflies and bees.

RedAdmiral5May12#249E2c5x7

Red Admiral butterfly nectaring on Dandelions

GoldfinchDandelion24May14#046Ec5x7

Goldfinch picking and eating seeds from dandelion seed heads; a White-throated Sparrow was a few feet away, doing the same

DandelionsCows24May14#020Ec3x5

Dairy farm; the fallow fields carpeted in dandelions are preferred feeding sites of White-tailed Deer at night

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Colorful Visitors

When the songbird migration is peaking in early May, interesting and colorful subjects can appear just about anywhere. In fact, a backyard bird feeder can be just as productive as an exotic field trip. Some sightings, like Goldfinches, might be resident birds, more obvious in bright breeding plumage. But many species, the surprise encounters that have us tripping over things to find binoculars, cameras and field guides, are migratory. They’re returning to their summer ranges and breeding grounds, often covering thousands of miles in the process. I’ll never even begin to comprehend that incredible feat of endurance and navigation.

RBGrosbeak4May14#022E2c8x10

Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, in breeding plumage

A year ago, almost to the day, I observed Goldfinches and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at my feeders and published “Finch Metamorphosis” (5/11/2013). There was a repeat performance this year, with one exciting addition: an Indigo Bunting.

GoldFinches8May14#012Ec4x6

Adult male Goldfinches, in breeding plumage

With just 4 platforms on the tube feeder and 2 – 3 times as many finches, little scuffles for access occurred frequently. The mature males prevailed.

GoldFinches9May14#087E2c5x7

The Indigo Bunting, outnumbered and less aggressive than the Goldfinches, perched nearby and fed when the crowd left.

IndigoBunting8May14#024Ec5x7

Adult male Indigo Bunting, in breeding plumage

FinchBunting9May14#091Ec4x6

IndigoBunting9May14#090Ec4x6

The birdseed that everybody’s fighting over is a readily available (and expensive) product trademarked “Nyjer” seed. It is not thistle seed, as I once thought, but the fruit of Guizotia abyssinica, an annual, exotic plant that was first cultivated in Ethiopia.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.