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.

Kids Rule!

In the animal world, late spring is all about raising kids and perpetuating the species. Parents (one or both) are driven to feed, guide, teach and protect their offspring, regardless of the conditions or the associated risks. The large number of animals, naive-te of the young and constant activity of the adults opens a window of opportunity for viewing wildlife that is unprecedented in the annual cycle. That said, sightings can still be extremely challenging when dense vegetation and the need to minimize human disturbance are factored into the equation.

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One of several Tree Swallows that dive-bombed me when I got too close to a nest box full of youngsters

I’ve captured a sample of this exciting season, sometimes by design, more often by accident, and will share the joy!

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Canada Geese, mother and goslings, on a small stream

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Young Cottontail Rabbit

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Great Crested Flycatcher with a bug for the kids to fight over; she fed her young dragonflies, moths and caterpillars while I watched

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Immature Red Squirrel (i of 2)

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Wild Turkey hen loudly and aggressively defending a brood too young to run or fly (1 of 2)

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Hen turkey feigning injury and circling at a distant of about 25 meters, attempting to draw me away from her brood (which I didn’t pursue in the dense vegetation)

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White-tailed Deer fawn, about a week old, instinctively laying low and motionless, for better or worse; I was 2 meters away

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Most does are bred in November and give birth in late May and early June; this fawn may be 2-3 weeks old and reaching an age where running to avoid a threat is possible

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Despite the size difference, these fawns are probably twins

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Discovery Walks

One of my favorite things to do in spring is to grab some field gear and walk, slowly and without purpose. It’s exhilarating, the vivid colors, species richness and animal activities teasing all of the senses. A purpose may materialize around the next bend in the trail, or not. The anticipation alone is a recreational high. And the rewards invariably appear.

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Great Crested Flycatcher, nest-building

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Midland Painted Turtle; searching for a wetland habitat

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Blue-winged Warbler, foraging for insects in a wild apple tree

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Wood Frog in a moist, poorly drained woodland habitat

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Raven

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Flowers and developing leaves of a mature Red Oak tree

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Baltimore Oriole, male, foraging on insects (possibly nectar too) on a wild apple tree in full bloom

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11-month-old white-tailed deer, buck, browsing on the new foliage of woody plants

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The mother of the young buck, feeding on the new leaves of Sugar Maple

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Nest-building Songbirds

In an earlier post (Habitat Management for Songbirds, 4/21/13) I covered the use of artificial nest boxes by cavity-nesting birds. As an update to that, about a dozen boxes are now occupied and most Tree Swallows, Bluebirds and House Wrens are on nests.

However, I first heard the Great Crested Flycatcher just a week ago and yesterday had an opportunity to watch as one brought small bundles of pine straw (shed White Pine needles on the ground) to a nest box. Curiously, of the many boxes distributed over several acres, this same site is chosen year in and year out by the flycatchers.

 

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I also discovered that a pair of House Wrens, perhaps late arrivals, had claimed an empty box in a thicket  near the edge of the yard.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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