Small Farms and Cultivated Fields: Priceless

In late spring patches and ribbons of vivid colors are dominant in open landscapes. The spectacular, multi-colored bloom is Dame’s Rocket, a garden escapee gone wild.

Invariably, my interest in this wildflower opens my eyes to the visual resources beyond the bloom. Fields, mostly cultivated fields on local dairy farms, become a subject of interest.

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Dame’s Rocket in full bloom 

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Front to back: Dame’s Rocket, grain fields and woodlands (8June2017)

The appeal of cultivated fields is much more than the dynamic beauty of line, color and texture through the seasons. They’re wildlife magnets, providing critical habitat for a host of opportunistic birds and mammals.

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Buck in velvet, foraging on new growth following the first cutting of hay (27June2017)

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Hen turkey foraging in a hay field; there might be youngsters underfoot, chasing hoppers {1July2017)

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Lingering storm clouds after days of torrential rains and damaging flood waters (1July2017)

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Red-winged blackbird foraging in a field of barley (1July2017)

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A hay field colonized by wild black mustard (30June2017)

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Orchard grass, a common forage plant in hay fields (27June2017)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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Snowy Highlights, Feb. 2017

Most of our snow will be gone by the end of the week. There will be more, but I feel the need to post these wonderful winter snow scenes while they’re still fresh in my memory!

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Harvested corn field in winter

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Eastern Wild Turkey foraging for waste grain

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Spring-fed stream and geese, with a mature oak tree in the center

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Groundhog emerging from hibernation, 20Feb2017

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Woodland trail after a heavy, wet snow

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Young whitetail doe

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Small woodland stream, framed by mature hemlocks and sugar maples

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Mourning doves taking flight

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Woodland trail in sunshine and shadow

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A shed deer antler exposed by melting snow

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Autumn Landscapes in Central New York

Aided by warm sunny weather and the absence of strong winds and precipitation, fall foliage colors were brilliant last week. I love this season and cherish the moments when everything comes together – colors, lighting, moisture, stillness – to support the many “flaming foliage” festivals and “leaf-peeping” activities that occur throughout the Northeast. This type of ecotourism can be simple, cheap and highly rewarding outdoor recreation.

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This year’s theme came to me as I drove the back roads of Central New York, admiring the rural landscapes that still characterize much of the region. These landscapes are not held in the public trust as “forever wild”. They are private lands, lands that are vulnerable to development and changing rapidly. Natural scenes with high visual quality are, in fact, an endangered resource that is disappearing virtually overnight. Hence, my theme: preservation and advocacy via a photographic record.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

September: Summer’s Grand Finale

September in central New York is a story that must be told — and illustrated!

The weeks leading up to the autumnal equinox are an exclamation point on the summer season that will soon yield to autumn. Landscapes near and far showcase a pleasing blend of the best of two seasons.

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Fields of corn and goldenrod

Humid days and chilly nights lead to early morning scenes that sparkle in a heavy coating of dew .

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Asters in morning dew

Diurnal wildlife activity and viewing opportunities are at peak levels. Birds and mammals, adults and juveniles alike, are foraging on the ripening fruits of wild trees and shrubs in preparation for migration, or leaner times.

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Red-panicle Dogwood

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Autumn Olive

This flock of Cedar Waxwings was swooping back and forth between spruce tree perches and a large Autumn Olive shrub that was loaded with fruit:

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Part of a flock of about 20 Cedar Waxwings perched near wild berry food sources in a brushy meadow

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Immature Cedar Waxwing feeding on the fruit of Autumn Olive (1 of 2)

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White-tailed Deer survive long winters in the snow belt by foraging around the clock on high quality foods like acorn mast and the succulent new growth in cut hay fields.

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The weeks leading up to the autumn equinox are transformative for White-tails. Fawns lose their spots; a darker, insulating winter coat (with hollow hair) replaces the reddish brown summer pelage; antlers stop growing and the dead, outer skin of velvet is rubbed off; and males, often in bachelor groups, begin to spar and establish a pecking order.

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Family group of White-tails: matriarch with her 2 fawns and a young doe, probably a yearling

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Mature buck in velvet; 13Sept2014

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Mature buck with antlers rubbed free of velvet; 14Sept2014

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White-tails bucks sparring lightly; the small, immature yearling initiated the friendly contact and received a valuable lesson; the mature buck could be his father.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Fencerows and Edges in Autumn

Forest edges, roadsides, swamp borders and fencerows are all ecotones, places where different communities come together. Ecotones may be large or small, with transitional areas that are gradual and extensive or abrupt and barely noticeable.

The transitional area between communities is often relatively rich and varied due to the presence of organisms that prefer edge habitats as well as cohorts from “each side of the fence”. This natural phenomenon, called “edge effect”, enhances visual resources as well as biodiversity. The variety of trees and shrubs and the good lighting associated with ecotones can result in several layers of colorful foliage capable of transforming a drab landscape scene into wall-hanger.

The rural countryside of central New York is a superb example of the nature and value of localized ecotones. The goal of this post was to capture ecotones in rural landscapes, beginning first with panoramic views, then zooming in to view foreground details. All of these images were taken in central New York within the last few days.

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Dairy farm

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Dairy farm and the headwaters of the Chenango River

 

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A large, fencerow habitat adjacent to cultivated fields

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A closer view of the fencerow in the previous image; the colorful, 5-10 foot tall shrub layer is Staghorn Sumac, a native, thicket-forming species.

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The colorful, feathery leaves of Staghorn Sumac; see my “March Robins” post from March, 2013 for the fruit and wildlife value of this shrub.

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The fall foliage and male flower buds of American Hazelnut, a native shrub

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The ripened fruit of American Hazelnut, encased in bracts that look like dried leaves (the squirrels still find the nuts!)

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Single fruit of American Hazelnut

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Witch Hazel, a native shrub, has the unusual habit of flowering in the fall (the yellow, strap-like petals); see a recent post by “Naturally Curious with Mary Holland” for more photos and a detailed explanation

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The harvested field next to the featured fencerow came alive in the 70-degree sun. At least three species of butterflies – Cabbage Whites, Sulphurs and Variegated Fritillaries – were nectaring on the flowers of residual weeds and legumes.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Autumn Scenes

Peak fall foliage, fall foliage festivals and leaf-peeping tourists characterize the Northeast landscape in September and October. In reality, I rarely see an actual peak where all of the stars align and the foliage colors are all brilliant and in sync. This year, for example, many of the Sugar Maples lost their leaves early, without fanfare, or are more brownish yellow than golden yellow. A warm dry spell followed by wind and rain is their excuse.

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I ventured forth to do some leaf-peeping myself, mostly concentrating on rural landscapes, and have a few images that escaped the delete button.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.