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

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