Capturing Mid Summer Memories

Mid summer is a season of extremes, where observations and activities bridge the seasons. One minute I’m in the moment, enjoying the comforting stillness and beauty of cultivated fields of hay and grain. On another day,  I’m watching young animals mature before my eyes or thinking of winter and tossing more seasoned firewood into the pole shed.

The “neighborhood red fox” that I first photographed in late winter snow is now a parent and at least two pups are following in their parents footsteps. We see one or two foxes several times a week, hunting, loafing, eating bird seed or scavenging in the compost pile. They’re crepuscular, so the light is usually poor when they appear. Movement is fast, silent and effortless as they drift through, like a wisp of smoke. There’s at least one adult and two pups in the mix.

Observing whitetails foraging and romping around in cultivated fields in summer and early fall is a treat that rivals the satisfaction of a pail of fresh-picked berries. Antler development in mature bucks gets everyone’s attention, but scenes of fawns in a meadow in late afternoon light is magical.

The wild apple trees are heavy with fruit this year, and deer have taken notice. They’re  already responding, searching for early drops – the hard, green things that only a wild animal can enjoy.

I’m never far from wetlands and open water when out and about with the camera, so a summer story would be incomplete without a foraging heron or, unusual for this area, a wandering egret going “all in” for a frog!.

Happy summer from Central New York!

Photos by NB Hunter (July, 2019). © All rights reserved.

Egret, Immersed in Autumn

I watched patiently as this solitary egret, perched on a distant stump in a shallow pond, groomed in the morning sun.

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After the longest time – I know it preened every single feather on its body – it glided into the water to hunt.

 

 

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Speculating on this image, it appears that both the egrets bill and meal became entangled in a piece of submerged debris.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Stalking the Mudflats and Shallows – Part 2

Large wading birds have broad appeal and a huge following. They have it all – visibility, beauty of form and color, wings spanning several feet in flight, etc. A sighting is an event, even more so when the species in question is uncommon to the area.

Such is the case with the Great Egret (Ardea alba) in Central New York. Its summer range is extensive, including the Mississippi River drainage and the east coast of the U.S., but typically does not include inland regions like ours. We’re not far from several large wetland and lake ecosystems, including Lake Ontario, so are more likely than most to see one of these lovely birds drifting through. 

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I had the good fortune to observe and photograph a lone Great Egret from a ground blind at a reasonable distance, on the same morning that I captured the Great Blue Herons that were featured in the previous post. These two posts represent one of my most rewarding – and challenging – photographic adventures to date. Needless to say, my head was, at times, spinning, as were my camera dials!

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The large size (about 3 feet tall), yellow beak and black legs are diagnostic.

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The feeding behavior of Great Egrets is much like that of Great Blue Herons. They stalk and spear a variety of food items, including small fish, frogs and aquatic invertebrates. The fully extended body that precedes a lunge is a beautiful sight and seems, like the routines of Olympic gymnasts, physically impossible!

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In addition to the Great Egret, there were three Great Blue Herons, a dozen or so Canada Geese on this site in close proximity to one another. I saw some antagonism between the egret and herons initially but, for the most part, they seemed tolerant of one another.

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Great Egrets were nearly exterminated in the late 19th century due to market hunting for their breeding plumage. Fortunately, they’re adaptable to a variety or wetland habitats, both saltwater and freshwater, and responded well to protection and conservation practices. That said, any species that relies on wetland habitats and some degree of seclusion from people and predators should be on our watch list. I for one have had my eyes opened in terms of the importance of a relatively small wetland site with a few pools and open mudflats. 20 or 30 wetland birds, perhaps a dozen species in all, frequent it daily at this time of year.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Stalking the Mudflats and Shallows – Part 1

Earlier in the week I spotted a Great Egret feeding in the shallow water of a partially drained pond. This was my first sighting in years so I stopped and set up as best I could without pushing it off the water…beyond the effective range of my camera.  I got some mediocre “insurance” shots but had more fun watching shorebirds probing the mudflats in front of me and, across the pond, a Kingfisher diving for small fish in the shallow water.

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I didn’t expect to see the Egret again so returned the following morning and set up to try my luck with a diving Kingfisher. This post is the first of two that summarize that adventure.

Soon after I positioned myself in a ground blind near water’s edge, the Great Egret flew in and landed on a log perch in the middle of a pool of shallow water. I was so intent on capturing the moment that I failed to see a family of three Great Blue Herons glide in until they were on top of me.

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After things settled down, the Herons, like the Egret, started feeding in the shallow water. This was the first time I’ve seen what happens when Herons wade in deep, soft mud – it’s a show that has to be shared!

When they got stuck in the muddy bottom, which was often, they simply flapped their wings to pull themselves up and free, then resumed feeding in their classic stalking manner.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.