Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Return to Normalcy at Our Local Wildlife Refuges

A trio of Tundra Swans gain altitude as they depart from the
Cayuga Pool at the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge in late February.

By late summer last year, the drought of 2016 had taken a toll on a good number of the marshes at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge as well as the state run Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas. Waterfowl and other migratory species were forced to look elsewhere for sustainable water. 

Thankfully, the water levels are back up at all three locales and by late winter this year the usual cast of characters began showing up once again. A series of trail hikes in late Feb. and again last weekend resulted in these pics we’d like to share with you.
Mating season is underway and the gander on the right is sending a clear
 message to his would-be rival; "Three's a crowd and you're outta here, fella!"
A drake Mallard at home in the cattail marsh makes for a classic waterfowl photo.  
Hey, what do you know? There's a coot!
A member of the Rail family, the American Coot is a marsh-dwelling bird with a short, rounded body and long toes. Unlike other members of the Rail family, the coot likes open water, often feeding alongside ducks. Excellent swimmers and divers that feed on a variety of aquatic plants, Coots are the most aquatic members of the Rail family. 

We shall return for more visits to the refuges as spring turns to summer and then on to fall.  We look forward to sharing those journeys with you as the cycle of life continues here in the marshes.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Woodpeckers - Percussionists of the Avian Kingdom

Taking a break from the rigors of its normal routine, a Red-bellied Woodpecker
opts for an easy meal at our suet feeder.
 
Estimates show that, between foraging for insects, mating displays or for purposes of territoriality, the average woodpecker will strike trees – and sometimes man-made structures, in excess of 12,000 times daily. If you’re even a casual birdwatcher, chances are that at one time or another you wondered how woodpeckers can rapidly and repeatedly hammer away on trees and not appear to suffer any ill effects. Studies have shown that the woodpecker’s brain is encased in a rather spongy bone casing that absorbs the shock of repeated pounding while extra muscle along the back of the woodpecker’s neck provide much needed support for their daily task.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker has a firm grip on the trunk of an aged Cottonwood.
As the photo above shows, Woodpeckers belong to the avian group classified as tree-clingers. It is on trees such as this where the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s tongue serves it well. It’s barb-covered tongue is nearly two and a half times the length of its bill, enabling it to better apprehend prey hiding in the cracks and crevices of thick bark.   

Don't let his diminutive stature fool you.
Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are quite similar in appearance.  Both readily dine on berries, nuts & seeds but, most importantly they will aggressively seek out insects, including beetle larvae, adult beetles, ants, caterpillars, etc. 
 
It won't take long for him to find his next meal.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the heavy duty excavator of the tree-clingers, capable of busting out a large rectangular cavity in dead or decaying trees in search of their favorite food, carpenter ants. Whereas the Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are quiet, the Pileated is often heard prior to being spotted, its presence given away by a raucous CUK-CUK-CUK-CUK.

It has been a long while since we’ve wondered whether woodpeckers get headaches from their daily workload. Along the way we’ve not only come to appreciate their role in nature, we also came to realize that every species comes into this world equipped to do the job for which it was intended. Nothing was overlooked because ...........................God saw that is was good.


Until next time

Jim & Claudia

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Closer Look at the Northern Flicker

A Northern Flicker enjoying our backyard.
In late January we posted this picture of a Northern Flicker on our Facebook page. The picture was taken last may. The only members of the woodpecker family that commonly feed on the ground, we also went on to say that, due to their diet, which consists mainly of ants and beetle larvae, we weren’t expecting to see them until late spring. Then, two days later, and much to our surprise, Mother Nature threw us a curve ball.

A male Northern Flicker in Western NY in February?
February 1st we noticed a winged visitor in the sumac trees on the edge of our property. Nothing unusual there, as we’ve seen variety of birds attracted to the sumac drupes. But this time something seemed a bit different. Amid the flutter of wings, we saw a splash of yellow. And that splash of yellow is what made me go for the camera. Imagine my surprise when I zoomed in on the object of our curiosity and watched as a male Northern Flicker feasted on the sumac drupes. 

You might say February 1st was a day of firsts and a bit of avian education for Claudia and myself where the Northern Flicker was concerned. Prior to that day we had never before seen a Flicker so early, at least not that we noticed. It also was the first time we had noticed them feeding anywhere other than the ground.

This Northern Flicker is listening for an answer to his mating call.
While we learned a thing or two this month regarding the Northern Flicker, we aren’t total strangers to its habits. A few years ago we were rousted from sound slumber bright and early each morning for several days. Come to find out, it is part of the Flicker’s courting ritual and also to proclaim its territory to hammer away on dead limbs and also tin roofs. We didn’t have a tin roof but at least one male Flicker found the aluminum flashing above our sun porch suitable for his early hour courtship reverie.    

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rethinking the Ways of the Blue Jay


A Blue Jay attempting to "rule the roost".
Claudia always chooses to see the good in something, just one of her many fine traits. Suffice it to say, she has never shared my disdain for the Blue Jay. There was a time in the not so distant past when I regarded Blue Jays as nothing more than plunderers and pillagers. Unlike Claudia, rather than seeing their beauty, I chose to see them as pirates of the bird feeder, bullies who chased smaller songbirds away.   
                 
A pretender to the throne, perhaps?
Moreover, I considered the Blue Jay a noise maker of raucous shrieks and harsh cries. While the non-stop squawking of a single Blue Jay was bothersome enough, it was those occasions when several banded together in a single tree producing a relentless non-stop cacophony that was particularly annoying. Then a strange thing happened. I learned to appreciate and admire Blue Jays. First and foremost, they photographed quite nicely. However, that was hardly the sole reason for my attitude adjustment toward the Blue Jay. 

Equal in size, a Red-bellied Woodpecker is
unfazed by the Blue Jay's presence.
Sometime after we got involved with nature photography we began taking the time to observe and study Blue Jays. Though I had long known them to be aggressive and pesky rascals, I also discovered them to be curious and intelligent and, at times, quite beneficial. In fact, they are even known to serve as nature’s tree planters, albeit unwittingly. One can only guess how many oak trees exist east of the Mississippi River as a result of forgotten acorns stashed underground by hoarding Blue Jays.   

Singing it's own song of Joy to the Lord, and all who care to listen.
They can make a variety of sounds, including the rather gentle and musical sounding queedle-queedle. As a songbird it may not produce the rich sound of warblers and wrens, yet for sheer looks the Blue Jay can hold its own against anything the avian world has to offer.   

A striking bird, against a similarly striking sky.
I am no longer a detractor of the stately-looking Blue Jay. After all, who am I to argue with their Creator? In the first chapter of Genesis we find these words: “He created every winged bird according to its kind….And saw that it was good.”  

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Avian Melody: the Cardinal’s Song of Joyful Praise

This male Cardinal is taking a respite in our apple tree between trips to the feeder.

We enjoy feeding the birds year round, but in winter, when the surroundings can be rather drab, the Northern Cardinal certainly brightens the landscape. But these days it’s much more than simply watching the birds at the feeder. Watching the songbirds, particularly the wintering Cardinal, has raised questions. Is the Northern Cardinal, like others of the avian world, something more than simply a vividly-colored songbird? They forage, they procreate & raise their young. They do their utmost to survive, oftentimes in cruel and unforgiving elements. And still, they see fit to fill the air with a sweet melody.
A female Cardinal belts out a tune, much to our great delight.
The Cardinal’s cheery song is easily recognizable and while most songbirds are heard only during the mating season, Cardinals can be heard any time of year. The Cardinal’s delightful song is often heard while the songster itself remains hidden out of sight.
Such vivid imagery!
Other times they are spotted quickly thanks to a backdrop of blue sky. In the case of the Cardinal, such a contrasting background only serves to enhance nature’s palette.  
Winter serenity.
There once was a time when we didn’t give a whole lot of thought to their existence. Eventually, there came a day when we were perhaps more than a bit in awe of their ability to cope with and survive the harsh conditions of winter. Pondering this, it occurred to us that Cardinals, like all songbirds, are something special – a Godly handprint if you will, a gifted species of creation that sing of the majesty and wonders of their Creator and send their lavish praises skyward. One can't help but believe that perhaps they have ample reason for doing so.

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them”….. Matt. 6:26

Until next time,
Jim & Claudia

Monday, December 26, 2016

J.D. BARRETT: AVID PADDLER FOR ALL SEASONS

J. D. Barrett - has canoe, will paddle
J.D. Barrett sets out each year to match his age with the number of times he goes canoeing during the calendar year. Four years ago, at the age of 87 his 87th trip entailed paddling Black Creek as it flows through Genesee and Monroe Counties.  It was December at the time.  

Canoeing in December? Was there ice on the water? You bet, but not enough to deter J.D. and some well-wishing fellow paddlers who were on hand to help commemorate the occasion. On that day the group of seven launched their solo canoes in Churchville Park and paddled upstream a few miles before stopping for a celebratory hot lunch on shore.

The man in his element.
One might figure that given J.D. Barrett’s yearly quest, last year, at age 90, he would make ninety paddling trips on the waterways he so enjoys. Not quite. “God was willing” as J.D. might say, to see him complete 105 canoe outings on the lakes, creeks and rivers he favors. 

Some years J.D. meets his “quota” and other years, well, let’s just say age throws unforeseen snags in his path. This year shoulder problems prevented him from pursuing his outdoor endeavors as much as he would have liked. Still, he put in ample time both canoeing and fly-fishing.

Regardless of the weather, there's nothing better than being on the water.
In addition to paddling, J.D. has fashioned many a canoe and kayak from scratch and is well known for his custom paddles which he often presents as gifts to friends.  A skilled and meticulous craftsman, the time J.D. has spent making canoes and kayaks or helping friends do so is considerable, yet it is surpassed by the time he spends on the water in pursuit of one of his favorite pastimes. 

J.D. doesn’t spend all his time on the local lakes and streams or in his woodworking shop. A Stafford resident who is highly regarded in both the canoeing and fly-fishing communities, he has also been a member of Grace Baptist Church in Batavia for the better part of six decades.  In addition to serving as a deacon and on various committees, J.D. has used his musical talents as an accomplished pianist as part of the worship service for many years at Grace. 

The look of genuine contentment. 

A devoted family man, J.D. and his wife, Dorothy celebrated their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary earlier this year. To those who know him best, his attributes are many; good husband & father, adept canoeist, skilled fly-fisherman, talented musician, and a faithful servant of the Lord. A diverse and laudable repertoire indeed, one befitting a great American and a Godly man.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Voice of The Lord

Psalm 29:14 “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty."

Have you heard the voice of the Lord?
From His throne on high He directs the world.
With a powerful voice full of majesty
He brings seasons of blessings for you and me.

In spring comes the rain to water the ground.
In fields and gardens new plants abound.
Cute baby animals are born every day.
God calls forth new life in so many ways.

In summer He brings forth the radiant sun
To warm the ground and everyone.
Summer flowers and beautiful skies
Rejoice the heart and delight 

In autumn God paints the leaves as the air turns cold.
Red, orange and yellow – beauty untold.
The harvest begins and His blessings we reap.
Animals tore food or get ready to sleep.

In winter God calls forth the ice and the snow.
We light warming fires; our faces aglow.
Children sled on hillsides of white,
Snow sparkles like diamonds in the bright sunlight.

Reflect on the ways you’ve heard God’s voice;
Sounds that bring peace and help you rejoice.
A world full of wonderful sights on display
To call forth our praise and worship each day

(Poem courtesy Sally Barrett Fry)

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia