“Milking” Summer

Seems like yesterday that I was photographing nests, babies and nurturing parents. Now, a stroll through rural landscapes provides ample evidence of the changing seasons and cycle of life. I always feel a sense of urgency at this time of year: finish projects, prepare for winter and, above all else, capture the moment!

Bird populations and foraging activities are are at or near peak levels. Songbirds like cedar waxwings, catbirds and song sparrows are swarming open habitats in search of nutritious bugs and berries.

A close look at milkweed colonies in neglected fields and along fence rows and forest edges reveals brilliantly colored monarch caterpillars, eating voraciously in advance of metamorphosis and a red-eye flight to the mountains of Mexico.

Farm fields are full of surprises. In one, a small herd of historic American Aberdeen Angus cattle graze peacefully, as though choreographed. In another, a good whitetail buck is feeding non-stop, packing on as much weight as possible before the November rut and the long winter that follows. The fact that he’s changing into his grayish, insulated, winter coat didn’t go unnoticed.

It’s a bumper year for wild apples and deer are taking full advantage of the crop. They aren’t overly selective either, munching on fallen apples (“drops”), regardless of the ripeness or variety.

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

The Great Outdoors in September, 2018

There are seasons, and then there are seasons within seasons. The final three weeks of summer that define the month of September provide vivid proof of the latter.

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Banded Woolly Bear caterpillar, the larval stage of a tiger moth

Sulphur butterflies probing for nutrients in the wet, trampled soil of a cow pasture

Chicken of the Woods fruiting body (fried in butter by the landowner after I captured it alive!)

Monarch caterpillar feeding on Common Milkweed

A “fresh” Monarch nectaring on New England Aster (a September staple) in a weedy meadow

A good crop of Red Oak acorns has this squirrel busy all day long!

A young cottontail, now about half the size of its parents

Gray Dogwood, a favorite fuel of migrating birds like robins and catbirds

Most bucks rub their antlers free of dried velvet during the first three weeks of September, an event triggered by decreasing day length and increased testosterone

Foraging wildlife in a hay field in fading light (September 18 – the same date and location as the previous image)

Lastly, a message from my friend’s milk house kittens: Thanks for visiting!!!

Photos by NB Hunter (September, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Milkweed Update

Our Common Milkweed plants are now bending under the weight of rapidly maturing seed pods. The butterflies and moths are gone, but their eggs have hatched and the next generations are foraging aggressively on milkweed leaves.

Monarch caterpillars:

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Milkweed Tussock Moth (or Milkweed Tiger Moth):

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Confession: I was unfamiliar with this creature until recently and my first photos were butt shots. Didn’t realize I shot the wrong end of the caterpillar until it started moving!

Photos by NB Hunter (August, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Monarchs Over Fields of Gold

In recent days the life cycle of monarch butterflies has unfolded before my eyes. My post on late summer white-tails will have to wait.

Monarch caterpillars are feasting on the leaves of milkweed, with several sizes or instars visible. This one is actually on a milkweed pod, in search of a fresh leaf to chew on.

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After feeding, growing and molting for about 2 weeks, the mature caterpillars pupate. This chrysalis was discovered in a large patch of milkweed plants at the edge of a field.

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The pupal stage may last another 2 weeks, but it’s worth the wait. The emergence of the last generation of monarchs in late summer is a defining moment. Their field trip to wintering grounds in Mexico is a miracle.

Monarchs fluttering over fields of goldenrods bring fitting closure to the wildflower season and offer a heart-warming prelude to autumn colors on the horizon.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.