Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mid-May Birds, Bugs, and Flowers

Happy May! I've been doing a lot of wandering outside recently, and there's been so much to see. It certainly is a lively time of year! Here are some assorted sights from the past couple of weeks.

On May 10, during a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Sapsucker Woods, I was happy to see a Brown Creeper alternately foraging along tree trunks and singing his sweet song:


And an Ovenbird was singing (loudly!) from his perch close to the path:


The following day (May 11), I spent some time exploring the paths along fields near our house. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to wander, because it's so close and it seems to always have interesting creatures around. (Bobolinks! Orioles! Warblers singing in the woods!) Plus, the scenery is amazing; I love all the spring colors on the surrounding hillsides:



This male Baltimore Oriole spent several minutes busily feeding among apple blossoms:


I'm still super impressed by the deep orange breast on this fellow:


And the view from underneath was brilliant indeed!



I also love the orange-glowing-through-black effect on the back of this guy's neck when he stretched:


Several Cabbage White butterflies were flying after each other in a nearby field, making a weird swirling swarm that looked more like the result of a computer algorithm than anything I'm used to seeing in nature:



A brilliant Six-spotted Tiger Beetle was hanging out on a bare patch in the path:


When I looked at this beetle from the front, I thought at first that it was munching on something; but no, the bulging white and brown things on the front if its face are just its huge mandibles. I definitely wouldn't want to be a smaller bug with this fast and powerful hunter around:


A few days later (May 14), I was in Maryland visiting my family for a few days, and the wonderfully colorful wildlife sightings continued with a male Scarlet Tanager (a female was nearby as well, but she was even less willing to pose for pictures than the male was):


Back home in Central New York, I went for a walk at the Roy H. Park Preserve late yesterday afternoon, where the fields are filling out with new-spring-green leaves:
 

And the dark coniferous woods are now speckled with pale green as well:


I wandered down into a small gorge to find the loveliest little stream:


All sorts of wildflowers were blooming in these woods, including dainty Starflower (Lysimachia borealis):
 

Tufts of floating Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia):
 

And several Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), which I don't think I've ever seen in person before; this flower was such a wonderful surprise:
 

Lady slipper leaves were sprouting up nearby. I didn't see any flower buds, but I'll be sure to come back and visit these plants in a few weeks in case any blossoms do make an appearance:


It's been quite an eventful spring so far. And it's not over yet!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cold and Rainy, But Lots of Birds!

This past Saturday was chilly and gray and rainy, and I did a dance with the weather for much of the day -- I kept trying to go outside, and then the rain would push me back inside. But I saw so many creatures in the time I was outside. Lots of birds that I hadn't seen yet this year are now back in the area, and they were out despite the wet weather, so I needed to be out there, too!

On Saturday morning, I drove out to a nearby park, and on my way home (after the rain sent me back to my car), I stopped to admire a bunch of swallows gathering on a fence next to the road. Tree Swallows are always beautiful, even in the rain:


I'm not used to seeing Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows hanging out in the same spot like this:


The birds seemed to be taking the rain as a bathing opportunity. Shake off those raindrops, little bird:


When I got home, the rain let up again for a bit, so I wandered outside near our house, where fields of bright yellow flowers make for quite a dramatic landscape, especially below heavy clouds and mist:


I'm guessing these yellow flowers are some sort of mustard, and the Red-winged Blackbirds at least seem to be making good use of them. I saw several male Red-winged Blackbirds displaying in parts of the field, and this female was picking up what looks like nesting material from among the yellow flowers:


So many birds in the area were taking advantage of the halt in the rain to move around. Every few minutes, I'd look up and see a different bird passing by overhead -- a heron, various hawks, vultures, ducks.... An Osprey circled over our neighborhood a couple of times, perhaps eyeing the ponds:


Even a Common Loon flew by at one point, heading toward the nearest Finger Lake, I'm guessing. I'm amazed that this creature could fly with all those damaged feathers on its left wing (and now I know that loons trail their big feet behind them when they fly, how cool):


Lots of birds were moving around in the trees next to the fields, including my first Baltimore Orioles of the year. This handsome male oriole had an especially brilliant breast that was almost red in places. What a sight on a gray day!


I was very excited to see a male Bobolink, too, who was singing his weird robot-song and snacking on flower petals. I've only seen Bobolinks twice before, and that was a few years ago, all the way back at the Connecticut shore. It's so cool to have these funny meadow-dwelling birds nearby:


A few White-crowned Sparrows have been hanging around our yard for the past week or so, and one fellow in particular frequently takes up a post in the blossoming apple tree outside our window to sing. White-crowned Sparrows only pass through this area during migration, and I'm glad to have these pretty birds as neighbors at least for a little while. Here's a picture of our apple-tree-songster from inside the house on this rainy day:


At this point in my life, the place where I've heard White-crowned Sparrows singing the most was at the coastal dunes in Humboldt County, CA (since these birds breed there). It's been very strange to hear those dune sounds again here in rainy, lush, springtime Central New York! Best wishes on the rest of your journey, little sparrow, when you do decide to move on; and thanks for stopping here for a few days:


A Green Frog was also out and about on this rainy Saturday, settled nicely in a puddle next to a field:


Hooray for spring, when even rainy days are exciting and full of things to see!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Two Wonderful April Creatures, And Some Wildflowers

This is my catching-up-with-April post! This month has been so busy that I can't tell whether it's gone by really fast or really slow.... Either way, there have been a lot of good things happening, and in between all the busy-ness, I saw some very cool creatures while wandering outside this month. I can't let May start without sharing some wonderful sights from April!

First: Peepers! I started hearing a few scattered Spring Peepers calling in our neighborhood way back in late February, but these tiny frogs definitely reached their peak activity in April. They called basically all month from the marshy area across the street from our house, and we got pretty good at going out at night and finding the creatures amid their clouds of ear-blasting sound. On April 9th, we first tried looking for the frogs during the afternoon because many of them were already calling, but they were too well hidden in the marshy grass. I found one peeper that jumped out as I walked by, but he wasn't about to call while I watched; still, I got to admire his subtly intricate camouflage:


What a handsome frog, even with his weird baggy throat:


When we returned with flashlights the same night, it took us quite a while to find our first peeper, but we did it. Look, a tiny inflating bubble in the reeds!
 

Sorry, little guy, just one picture with flash, because you're so cool (look at those veins!):
 

We got better at finding peepers every time we went out looking for them: two the next time, then three the time after that. As I'm writing this, only a few peepers are still calling, and I'm so glad I got to see these tiny neighbors up close while they were doing their springtime thing.

Here's my second awesome sight from this month: On the afternoon of April 23, I went for a walk at the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve with friends. It was sunny and warm, and we were admiring the wildflowers and a few birds, when wonder of wonders, a bat flew past over the creek, and even more incredibly, it landed on a tree just ahead of us, right next to the path, at eye level. Oh my goodness, a bat!
 

As best as I can tell, this is a Little Brown Bat. (But I'm happy to be corrected! I haven't had much opportunity to build bat identification skills before now.) This is one of the most common bats in New York, and probably the species we used to get in our family's house every once in a while when I was little. But common or not, I hadn't seen a bat at all in quite a while (even nighttime sightings seem rare now), and this is by far the closest and clearest I've ever seen a bat in the wild. So pardon the small explosion of photos!

The bat took a nice break on the tree (I'm guessing it had been busy hunting over the creek) and it stayed there for a few minutes while we watched. I can't imagine having to maneuver with all those membranes between limbs. There's its tail!
 

Look at that face:
 

The bat even scratched for a bit under its arm with its back claws, so much like a fuzzy little dog:
 

Ah, that looks like a good scratch:
 

Really though, how adorable and beautiful is this creature?
 

The bat took off for another fluttering lap over the creek and came back to land on a different tree for a few seconds (look closely to see a tiny bat tongue!):
 

And then it was off and down the creek and out of sight. What an amazing encounter!

The rest of the walk was filled with lovely ephemeral wildflowers, and I'm so glad I got to be in these woods in early spring. Trout Lilies are some of my favorite first flowers, not only for their yellow lantern-like blooms but also their pretty dappled leaves:
 
 

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) was just starting to bloom:


We were just a bit too early to see Wild Ginger open its blossoms, but I was still happy to see this cute little plant for the first time (at least as far as I can remember):
 

Also new to me (outside of seeing pictures of it) was lovely Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Anemone acutiloba):
 

Spring Beauty flowers with their tiny pink stripes are always a happy sight:
 

And that's April! Today, on the last day of the month, I went for a gray-day walk (not good light, so no pictures) and saw Palm and Yellow Warblers, a female cardinal building her nest, and many Trout Lilies already past their peak. The earliest stages of spring have finished, and now the really intense part of the season begins. Here comes May!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring Beginnings, with a Dash of Snow

We got a sprinkling of snow last night, and temperatures were hovering around freezing when I went with some friends to check out the Etna Nature Preserve this morning:
 

It may not look it, but spring is happening, I swear! Up until today, we've had a streak of rainy and warm-ish weather, and these woods were showing signs of spring. Skunk Cabbage was blooming (although it's probably been blooming for a while) and starting to unfurl green leaves:
 

Tiny Trout Lily leaves were coming up, looking like little spears in the snow:
 

We even found pink flowers on a small leafless shrub that turned out to be a non-native garden escapee, Daphne mezereum:


A couple of Eastern Phoebes were calling and flycatching and working on constructing a nest under the eaves of a nearby house. Hello wonderful birds, and welcome back!
 

So yes, it felt like winter today, but we're well into the beginning of spring. Spring Peepers have been singing loudly every night (except last night) around our house, and I saw this Red Eft (juvenile Red-spotted Newt) wandering across marshy water at the Roy H. Park Preserve earlier this week:


Hooray for amphibians and flowers and returning birds! Hooray for spring!