The Color of Winter

We have four months of winter; I enjoy three of them. The earthy colors and vivid contrasts of uncluttered winter landscapes can be very appealing, even spectacular. Winter also affords us the opportunity to observe the behavior and coping mechanisms of resident birds and mammals as they struggle to find sufficient food and cover amidst dwindling resources. The “dormant” winter season is far from static; there’s a lot going on, and much to learn. I’ll share a few winter highlights from Central New York, captured in January, 2017.

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Northern cardinal foraging for grain near a backyard feeder

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Eastern wild turkeys searching for waste grain

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Round bales on a foggy winter morning

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Black-capped chickadee in a lake-effect snow storm

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Hilltop panoramic view of farms and woodlands

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American crow foraging on waste grain

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Morning sunlight on the Chenango River 

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Red-bellied woodpecker feasting on a commercial suet block

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Bird Feeder Survey 18Jan2016

Backyard wildlife activity continues to increase in response to frigid temperatures and accumulating snow cover. This, the second of my “bird” feeder posts, features a few more of the regular visitors to supplemental feeding sites around the house.

At least 6 Blue Jays feed aggressively and often, throughout the day.

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Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata; 1 of 2)

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Most active in early morning and late evening, cardinals tend to visit the feeders throughout the day as the winter weather becomes more severe.

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Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

The Titmouse is an irregular and unpredictable visitor. I usually see just one, and it rarely lingers for more than a few seconds. A dainty eater, it darts in, grabs a seed, and poof! It’s gone.

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Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

Tracks and traces in the snow tell the story of resident cottontails. They’re mostly nocturnal, sneaking into the feeders under the cover of darkness.

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Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Late Winter Faces

Many wildlife stories are unfolding in Central New York as the deep snow and unprecedented cold weather persist.  For now, I’ll pretend the glass is half full, rather than nearly empty, and present selected images from February 28 through today.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © ,All Rights Reserved.

Snowy Landscapes

As is often the case with a narrow band of “lake-effect” snow, today’s weather was a mix of snow squalls and sun. This might be the type of weather that gave rise to the notion that it is wise to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

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Cardinal during a lake-effect snowstorm; 2/25/15

When it looked like the bright skies might outlast the squalls, I took a short, scenic drive to bring myself up-to-date on the local snow conditions and wildlife coping strategies.

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Deer traveling between thickets of food and cover on the sunny, lee side of windswept farmland

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Deer “yarding” in a sheltered, lowland habitat dominated by Northern White Cedar and Eastern Hemlock; cedar (at left in photo) is a preferred winter food

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Back-lit Sugar Maple on on the edge of a pasture

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Birds in a Blizzard: Cardinals

I was up on the roof this morning, chipping ice and shoveling thigh-deep snow in anticipation of the next blast of arctic weather. It arrived this afternoon, and the resident birds swarmed the feeders in response. I photographed some, missed many – in part because the auto-focus couldn’t handle the heavy, falling snow and white-outs.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Shades of Red

I heard a Northern Cardinal singing this morning – a first for 2015. With another foot of snow and another week of subfreezing temperatures in the weather forecast, that was a most welcome sound! The early singing was a response to increasing daylight and perhaps our current heat wave – the temperature was all the way up to 24 degrees F at dawn. The songs, vivid colors, compatibility with humans and human habitats – there are many things to like about cardinals. The value added to a winter landscape is immeasurable.

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This is not a scene that would have been familiar to Native Americans and early settlers. One hundred years ago cardinals were recorded in just 2 of the 62 counties in New York state. Now, they are widespread throughout the state and eastern U.S.; they even range into southern Canada. Deep snow is limiting for these ground foragers, as are long cold spells where the average minimum temperature is 5 to 10 degrees F. Countering these limiting factors are human-altered landscapes and the cardinal-friendly habitat associated with them. Abandoned farmland, forest openings and edges, residential plantings of small trees and shrubs, and supplemental feeding (especially sunflower seeds and similar foods) have all contributed to the widespread success of cardinals. Their range expansion has paralleled that of humans.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Snowy Songbird Portraits

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Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), female

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White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) invading the space of a                   female Cardinal

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American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.