Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Delightful Pileated Woodpecker

A Pileated Woodpecker scans his surroundings.
I don’t believe I’ve ever, in my entire life, caught sight of a Pileated Woodpecker and not stopped whatever I was doing simply to observe the largest of North America’s woodpeckers at work. And if their presence was made known audibly by a loud, ringing cuck cuck cuck, that too was cause to scan the immediate area in search of a dark, crow-sized bird with white neck stripes and a prominent red crest atop its head. Even on the fly there is no mistaking the Pileated Woodpecker’s undulating flight pattern, or those easy to spot white markings on the underside of their wings.
What's for lunch today?
Although we’ve not yet heard their tell-tale call in the winter months spotting them has not been difficult. With zero foliage they are easier to espy, whether on the wing while passing through the open woodlands or alternately probing and hammering away at tree bark.  
This male is taking a brief break from drilling for his next meal.
In recent days, with arctic air invading the area, the Pileated Woodpecker was a sight to behold for sure as evidenced by this male in a large Cottonwood tree. He seemed oblivious to the cold, undeterred by single digit and even below zero temps. Personally, we found him to be a natural delight, both entertaining, amusing and a joy to watch.

Until next time,
Jim & Claudia

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The “Fish Hawk” Makes a Dramatic Comeback

A female Osprey sits in her nest.
High above Windmill Marsh the male osprey soared, alternately circling and hovering as it scanned the water below. Then, in an instant, it plummeted toward the surface of the marsh. The final second of its rapid descent was shielded from our view by towering pines, yet there was no mistaking the loud splash. Moments later the Osprey was airborne once again. Though his talons were empty there would be no returning without food. He continued his search, flying eastward over the marsh.

A quarter mile to the west in Hazard Campbell Marsh, the female of the pair stood guard, her fledglings hidden from sight in the deep confines of a large stick nest.  

It was early May and Claudia and I were hiking the network of trails on Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area. This was not our first sighting of this pair of ospreys. Three other outings had yielded similar results, with the female standing guard over the nest while the male perched in a nearby dead tree.  

AKA the “Fish Hawk”, Ospreys attain a wing span of five feet or better and commonly nest along lakes, rivers and coastal areas, the species’ preferred hunting grounds. Like the Bald Eagle, Ospreys have made a dramatic comeback in recent years. Pesticide use in the 50’s and 60’s led to a drastic decline in their numbers but thankfully, they are once again nesting in areas from which they once disappeared. 

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Green Heron Pics at Long Last


In Recent years our attempts at getting photos of the smallest of North America’s herons resulted in fair to middling results at best. But this past summer that all changed.

Outings this year to the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area proved to be quite fruitful. As we became familiar with the various marshes and the interconnecting network of trails, we came across an ever-growing variety of wildlife found therein. And to our delight, none proved more accommodating at having their picture taken than the little Green Heron.
A Green Heron scans it's surrounding from on high.

While they do perch in trees like the specimen seen here craning its neck, the Green Heron is a stalker of stream and marsh edges, where it hunts small fish and frogs. And yet it is most difficult to spot them in such cover where they tend to be nearly invisible, blending in perfectly among cattails, phragmites and other wetland growth that affords them cover.
One can't help but envy his fishing skills.

At times crafty in its attempt to lure prey, the Green Heron has been known to take a small twig or feather in their sizeable bill and drop it gently on the surface, hoping the slight disturbance will attract a potential meal.  
A waning moon photobombs a Green Heron at dusk.
Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Friday, September 8, 2017

Late Summer on Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area

Wildflowers, Cattails, and flooded timber on Guthrie Paddy.
Late summer and its subtle shift into early autumn provides easy-on-the-eyes scenery. One of our favorite places to take in the sights this time of year is on the wetlands in northwest Genesee County. And that is where we’ve spent a great deal of our time since our last post as our focus this year has mainly been along the trails and marshes of Oak Orchard WMA for our hiking and picture taking. 

A Monarch Butterfly sits atop a colorful cluster of Joe Pye Weed.
A meadow of Purple Loosestrife along the Hazard Campbell Marsh is but one of the  many colorful reasons why this time of year is a favorite not only for us, but many others as well. 
Early morning finds a doe and her fawn in a secluded meadow.

Our nature photography has been interesting this year, with  adventures that evoked smiles, gasps and an overall good deal of satisfaction. Today’s post is just a small sample of what we look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks and months.

Until Next Time, 
Jim & Claudia

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Not So Popular Common Grackle

With the afternoon sun greatly enhancing the Grackle’s iridescent feathers and looking much like a songbird, here the species almost looks appealing. Looks can be deceiving........
We get a good variety of songbirds here, wrens, finches, warblers, etc. Whether it be at the feeders or in our apple tree when it’s covered with blossoms, we often have a plethora of feathered songsters on hand. Then, one day in spring, like clockwork, a flock of Grackles comes flying in and setting up shop in the surrounding trees. As you might guess, they waste no time taking over our bird feeders. Just like that our songbird fest is over – at least until the feeders have been depleted of seed and the marauding Grackles have moved on.

The Common Grackle’s trademark look of sinister defiance.
Whenever I see Grackles, three distinct images come to mind, two of which bring about feelings of disdain. The first instance occurred while doing a landscape job and seeing what I thought was a piece of paper being blow along by the wind. Following close behind was a Grackle, pecking away at the moving object which turned out to be a fledgling Robin, helpless and trying its best to flee its tormentor. The second occurrence was reported by a friend who told me of watching a horde of Common Grackles strutting through a meadow in search of ground-nesting songbirds.  
Imagine what a fledgling bird must feel when confronted by this menacing presence.    
Lastly, I was hiking along Tonawanda Creek one spring afternoon when I heard a commotion in cluster of phragmites. The rustling sound roused my curiosity and as tried to get a closer look a grackle sprang forth from those dead reeds, taking flight with a snake dangling from its beak. That little wildlife drama left me with mixed emotions toward the grackle. On one hand there was just the slightest trace of admiration, after all, here was bird not much bigger than a Blue Jay about to make a meal of a snake. On the other hand I felt no remorse for the snake and no hurrah for the grackle.     

Until next time, 
Jim & Claudia

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