Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fluttering Gems of Late Summer

Often mistaken for a Monarch, this is the Viceroy.
It is distinguishable by the arched black line that crosses the hind wing.
It's late summer and fallow fields and meadows are awash with the color of wildflowers. Likewise, roadsides and hedgerows are speckled with the brilliant hues of goldenrod, purple asters, and chicory to name a few.  

While this landscape is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and enjoyed by many, perhaps nothing appreciates those colorful wild blooms more than butterflies. The weather has been nothing short of spectacular and it stands to reason that this is perhaps the greatest time of year for watching a wide variety of butterflies as they flit and flutter from flower to flower, drawing nectar from bloom after colorful bloom. With that in mind, we thought it a great time to share with you some of our favorite butterfly photos.
This is a Pear Crescent, one of the more common smaller
 butterflies, seen here alighting on some goldenrod.
A Question Mark touches down by the side of the road at Genesee County Park and Forest. This species is so named for the silver marking along the base of its rear wings.
A Mourning Cloak absorbs some mid-morning sunshine. Some believe
 its named for its somber color, much like a funeral shawl worn by widows. 
Flower gardens are equally attractive to butterflies this time of year.  We especially enjoy gazing upon our butterfly bush while it's in bloom to see the variety of visitors it attracts.  

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is busy at work pollinating the tiny
individual blossoms of our butterfly bush.
A White Admiral also enjoys visiting our yard.
While butterflies might not be as fast or efficient as bees when it comes to pollinating, they certainly are a pleasing sight to behold.  Plus, when was the last time anyone got stung by one?

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nonmetaphorical Snakes in the Grass

A close-up of the 2nd largest Northern Water Snake I've ever seen.  
I had my first snake encounter as a youngster in the early fifties, before I ever entered kindergarten. Not knowing what a snake was at the time, I received my intro to reptiles courtesy of a Northern Water Snake along the shore of Little Tonawanda Creek. As a result I became fascinated with snakes for a number of years, and while that fascination has waned a great deal, a water snake never fails to arouse my curiosity. 

Last week I was able to relive that very same first experience.  What began as a nature outing with my grandsons in pursuit of frogs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, etc. turned into something else entirely when my youngest grandson yelled, “Snake!”.  We watched them intently for a time and then set off for more exploring.  

The following morning I decided to return to the same spot alone that we had been the day before, this time with camera in hand in the hopes that some picture taking opportunities would arise, and did they ever!   

This is the same snake, its crossband markings quite vivid, with
 alternating dark blotches stretching from its neck all along its back and sides. 
I had taken several photos when I happened to look down and received quite a surprise. Hardly more than a foot way was a second snake and although its head and tail are hidden, it was easily the largest Northern Water Snake I’ve ever seen. It is looped rather than coiled and as is the case with older water snakes, this one’s pattern has all but faded, giving it an all black or dark brown appearance.   
This is the sight that greeted me when I happened to glance down to my right. 

By now I’m both surprised and curious, and I was intent on locating the head of this jumbo water snake. While trying my utmost to keep my feet stationary and perfectly still, and in the process doing a good impersonation of a contortionist, I twisted and turned my torso trying to locate the head of the second snake in the tall grass. I managed to locate the head of the larger snake and, as you can see, there are no vivid markings, its blotched pattern has definitely faded with age. It is massive for its species.


The milky, opaque coating over the eye indicates the snake is getting ready to shed.  
I was puzzled.  Three mornings in a row both snakes were located in the same location well away from their preferred habitat. There was a pond to the north, maybe twenty yards away, and a small, sluggish stream, forty yards to the south. Judging by the size of these water snakes, their habitat provides a readily available menu, one that is vast and varied. Both locations have frogs, fish, crustaceans and other critters that water snakes readily feed on. But instead, both snakes had stayed away from obvious food sources and stayed put in the grassy meadow and always in very close proximity to one another.  

Could this be the reason for the "snakes in the grass"?
There is one possible explanation I can think of. Each year the meadow and its tall grasses serve as a nesting site for dozens of Bob ‘o Links (pictured above) and a few other songbirds that nest on the ground. I can’t help wondering if, come nesting season, this pair of large and aged Northern Water Snakes take up residence in the meadow – at least on a part time basis – in a quest for bird eggs – a reptilian delicacy.  

Until next time
Jim & Claudia

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spearfishing with Pastor Jeff Bartz

This Mutton Snapper made for excellent table fare. 
(Our camera is on the fritz at the moment so today’s blog post comes from the archives of my mind, reminiscing about a wonderful family outdoor adventure from not so long ago…………….)

It was late March of 2008 and my son-in-law, Jeff Bartz and I were treading water while catching our breath between dives. An Associate Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Batavia, Jeff and I had earlier been discussing the numerous barracudas we’d been seeing while spearfishing and we agreed that it was probably not a good idea to target one of the toothy critters – there’s no telling how they might react.

We were on a week-long family vacation on the Bahamian Island of Abaco and Jeff and I intended to spend as much time as possible hunting for our dinner. By Bahamian law, spearfishing may only be done with a Hawaiian sling and wearing mask, fins & snorkel – no mechanized devices and no scuba gear.  Spearfishing with a Hawaiian Sling is tricky business. Attempting to spear a barracuda with a sling can be a risky proposition. 

With disposable camera in tow, Sammy Bartz displays a sea biscuit. 
Everyone in the family donned mask, fins & snorkel for this adventure.
Our routine was to rent a boat and motor through the Sea of Abaco and then beyond the barrier island of Man ‘O War Cay. A half to three quarters of a mile out, the sea floor is a vast maze of coral reefs, each of them an adventure in itself. This was the home of colorful fish, sting rays, sea turtles, sharks and much more. But each day we hunted for dinner and our intended quarry was grouper, snapper and lobsters. Here, within the confines of the deepest and largest reefs, those farthest away from shore, the sea is the color of several shades of turquoise. Beyond the outer reefs the water becomes cobalt blue and drops off into abysmal depths. 

Anyway, back to Jeff and the barracuda. I had just surfaced after a dive and was catching my breath when I saw this big, toothy critter just below the surface facing the open water to my left. He didn’t appear to be watching me, but with a barracuda’s eye placement being what it is, one never can tell. One moment it was perfectly still, only its pectoral and ventral fins moving ever so slightly, then, in the next instant a silver flash passed by my head – it was the 5 ft. long shaft of Jeff’s sling and I watched as it hit its intended mark.

Pastor Jeff, displaying his Hawaiian Sling prowess!
Was I surprised? Yes sir! Was the adrenaline flowing? You could say that! The Barracuda immediately went ballistic, heading to the surface, then downward, bouncing off coral heads. This went on for perhaps a full minute and all the while I tried to keep the wounded fish in sight. It finally expired on the bottom in 40 ft. of water, the spear still intact. Filleted and grilled with lemon pepper and almonds, it was delicious and enjoyed by the entire family.
The Bartz family in front of the cemetery at Man 'O War Cay.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Jeff is the Associate Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in my hometown of Batavia, NY.  He and Senior Pastor, Donald Shirk are two amazing men of God, following Christ's beckoning from Matthew 4.19; And He said unto then, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Worship Service is every Sunday at 9:45 am and they would love to have you come hear the Good News.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Red-tailed Hawk's "Long" Lunch

The Red-tailed Hawk is a familiar site throughout Western NY.
Not far from our home in the town of Batavia is a tract of land consisting of some large fields, hedgerows, a couple of ponds, a small creek and small woodlots. In one of the fields is a pair of aged oak trees which serve as both a perch and look-out post for the resident Red-tail hawk who calls this place home. More often than not, whenever I drive down the road that leads into the area, the Red-tail hawk takes flight as soon the tires of my pickup make contact with the gravel surface.

But this day was different. For starters the hawk wasn’t perched in either of the towering oaks. Instead, it was situated in a much smaller tree alongside the roadway, and literally within a stone’s throw from my vehicle. I stopped the truck, readied the camera and, much to my delight, the hawk stayed put. What’s more, I could see that it wasn’t paying me any mind whatsoever. It was intently staring at something on the ground, almost directly below. 
The bird clearly had something pinned beneath it.
In an instant, the bird "dropped" to the ground and pounced on it's prey. I was about 40 yards away and couldn’t make out what it was so I continued taking photos, focusing solely on the hawk.    

The raptor takes a quick look to see if the coast is clear.
Getting back to the task at hand, the hawk uses its talons to hold
 the quarry in place  and, as I would soon discover......decapitate it.
The meal in question turned out to be a snake, sans head.
My best guess of this shot is the hawk was having a harder time than
expected swallowing the snake.  Even without a head it was probably
still writhing around on it's way down the hatch.  
While I say kudos to the Red-tail, this was not the first time I’ve seen winged predators of various species and sizes make a meal of a snake. I’ve seen birds like Great Blue herons fly off with a snake dangling from its bill and the much smaller Grackle do likewise.  Has ever a creature of the wild been frowned upon with more disdain than the lowly snake?
   
Genesis 3:14 “And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And dust shall you eat all the days of your life.”

Until next time, 
Jim & Claudia    


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Much Maligned Snapping Turtle

Cute & cuddly, he's not.
While a good many of nature’s creatures have their share of admirers, there are those which the general public, for the most part, hold in low esteem. But like all of God’s creatures, those same critters held in disdain by many, all have a role to play in the natural order.  The Snapping Turtle is one such creature.

The dark green moss covering this turtle's back
 is proof positive he's a sloooooooow moving fella.
His head is larger than a grown man’s fist, characteristics which speak to his longevity. And no, he isn’t much to look at, but he is important to the environment. In addition to dining on plant and animal matter, he is an aquatic scavenger, cleaning up decaying and rotting flesh from its watery environment. 

The claws of the Snapping Turtles come in handy when excavating a nest
 in gravel and hard ground where they like to deposit their eggs
The Snapping Turtle also has earned a bad rap for eating ducklings. While they do on occasion take unwary birds, to be fair, their own young offspring suffer a high mortality rate. Whereas the adults have few predators to contend with, mink, raccoons, opossum, fox, skunks and crows will readily unearth a Snapping Turtle nest and feast on the eggs.  Last weekend, while hiking atop one of the berms on Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area, we counted no less than a dozen or more nests that had been unearthed, all within a half-mile stretch.  The threat doesn’t end there for the young. Hatchlings are subject to the same predators in addition to herons, bitterns, hawks, owls and fishers just to name a few.      

This turtle uses every inch of his long neck while scanning his surroundings. 
Longer than most people realize, the turtle's neck is also heavily muscled and quick as lightning, able to strike in the blink of an eye. He’s an excellent swimmer and while he may move slowly along the ground. many a would-be Good Samaritan attempting to “help” one across the road has learned the hard way just how fast and how far back they can extend their neck.

Lastly, the Snapping Turtle has no choice but to tough out our long northern winter. It was once believed that all Snapping turtles go into a semi-hibernation called torpor, buried in a layer of mud and silt. While some indeed do spend the winter beneath a layer of muck, telemetric studies have shown some specimens fitted with transmitters to be active beneath the ice – nowhere near as active as in the warmer months, but barely moving about and using minimal oxygen.

For sure the Snapping Turtle is frowned upon by many, yet he has been on the scene since time immemorial and he has endured. He is a touch customer a verse from the Good Book comes to mind.  

Job: 41:1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?”

Until next time,
Jim & Claudia 


Friday, June 10, 2016

Killdeer Memories

The Killdeer can often be heard calling out it's name
 as it flies across the countryside.
It was May of 1962 when my family moved from the South side of Batavia to a newly constructed home on North Spruce St. in the Northeast corner of the city. Prior to moving there I had experienced feelings of trepidation, the angst of leaving old friends behind. However, any misgivings I might have had dissipated while we were still unloading our belongings.

A young lad the same age as me; his name was Pete Tierney, my  neighbor as it turned out to be, stopped to say hello. What’s more, just beyond our new home was a large stubble field and beyond that a swamp, both of which were bordered by a vast woodlot. Pete and I became fast friends from the start, exploring the woods, swamp, and fields as any curious and nature-loving twelve-year old boys would. 
      
It’s been fifty four years since my first spring on Batavia’s Northside, to a time when my attention was drawn to a number of strange-looking birds with a shrill call. Pete told me they were Killdeer, and together we discovered how they would feign a broken wing if you happen to get too close to their nest and/or young. One or both parents would run quickly in the opposite direction of the nest while holding one wing askew, as if to say, “come get me, I’m easier pickings.”     
 
These eggs are easy to miss, a natural defense mechanism.
Here lies one of the more remarkable examples of camouflage in nature. The female Killdeer deposits her eggs in nothing more than a slight depression out in the open, usually in a gravel and/or stubble field. Though easy to spot in this photo, chances are, if you were within a mere five feet you would never know it was there.  

These photos were taken last week while hiking one of the trails at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. On this day, while watching the Killdeers run along the ground and then hearing their shrill, airborne cry, they brought back recollections of Pete Tierney and our days of nature discovery. In those years the shrill cry of the Killdeer was heard on a daily basis from May thru August.  But that’s no longer the case.

The stubble field, the swamp and the wood lots are gone now, long since replaced by apartment complexes, condominiums and housing developments. Gone too is the cry of the Killdeer. Still, I’m grateful for those early years and sun-filled days of discovery and a companion like Pete to share it with. I’m thankful too, that the Lord saw fit to allow us to enjoy it long before the developers laid their eyes on it.

Psalm 84:3 - Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia



Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Nature's Babies Are Here!


Spring of the year is a time to welcome nature’s babies into the world, and while some youngsters of the wild tend to look both adorable and helpless, for the most part wilderness parents are excellent protectors and providers.   

A newborn fawn will spend most of its first few weeks lying very still, trying not to be seen.
We were doing yard work when we came across this fawn lying in a flower bed. Probably born the previous evening, it already knew enough to remain motionless and it never so much as twitched while we finished our task. We were also aware that its mother was close by, watching our every move. 

With dad in the lead, these goslings swim right alongside mamma's side.
"I wonder what's over here?"
A tad bit older than the goslings pictured above, and perhaps feeling a wee bit more independent, this youngster puts a little bit of distance between himself and his mom – but not too much.  

"Stay away from my babies, or you'll be sorry!"
Momma Goose is never too far way and always on the alert, ready to repel threats if necessary.  If by chance a person gets too close to her young, she’ll rear her head up, open her bill and hiss loudly. If, while in this mode, she starts to spread her wings and move toward you, it’s a good time to be someplace else!

This young squirrel was orphaned when a utility company
downed the tree its family called home.
Squirrels have two litters a year, the first taking place approximately sometime between February and April while the second occurs in August and September.   Interesting tidbit; they are one of the few mammals that can climb down a tree head first.  

Gen. 1:24 - Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures…….and it was so.”

Until next time
Jim & Claudia