Category Archives: NY State

Wildlife Reserves, Preserves, Management Areas, etc., in New York State

Honey Bees, Bumblebees and Wannabees!

[Another visit to the NYSDEC preserve at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center at the end of April proved to be an excellent opportunity for watching pollinating insects at work.

The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers
The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers

All of this needs to be considered in light of the fact that there are now major threats facing the survival of bees, worldwide, and heaven help mankind if bees are decimated to the point that crop pollination is badly affected.

How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?
How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?

 

From what I saw, there were apparently two species of bumble bee and one species of honey bee present at the various blossoming willow trees on the Five Rivers’ Beaver Tree Trail but it turns out that individual bumble bee species are very difficult to identify from one another.     I learned this after buying an excellent book some months ago, under the title of Bumble Bees of North America (Princeton University Press).  In the book, it describes the need to study leg joints and other tiny parts of the anatomy, but as I have enough to do in terms of photographing wildlife and I’m also extremely disinclined to kill something I’ve just enjoyed photographing, merely so I could study its leg joints, this is not something I would do.

The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the 'other' species present
The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the ‘other’ species present

Having said that, I did take the liberty of sending a couple of my photographs via Twitter to the Xerces Society,  (@xerces_society) an organisation that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, to see if they could help me with identification.  Note that the name is not spelled ‘Xerxes’ and they have nothing to do with 300 Spartan warriors!  The Xerces people kindly referred me to a group called Bumble Bee Watch (@BumbleBeeWatch) and I’m hoping they might be able to help enlighten me.

And here, a lighter-coloured individual

Apart from the bees that were present there were also a few Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moths (Hemaris diffinis).  As their name shows, these rather dramatic and perfectly harmless insects have clear, see-through wings,  not the coloured wings that we normally expect of moths.  The reason is that their body colouration has been designed by evolution to mimic bumble bees! This gives these otherwise defenceless moths a degree of protection from predators that might otherwise eat them.

On previous visits to Five Rivers – and, indeed, on the same Beaver Tree Trail – I have previously photographed a very close cousin of the remarkable Snowberry Clearwing, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) and for both of these species the final surprise for anyone watching them is that they feed by hovering above their chosen flowers, while feeding on the nectar through a very long proboscis.  Think of it as like drinking through the equivalent of a ten-foot drinking straw!

A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly)
A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly as it hovers)

Anyway, this day’s Snowberry Clearwings were a new species for me, but they weren’t the only one.  In among the bees and the clearwing moths were also a few bombylid flies.  According to my books, they looked most like the species known as Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major)  but as I didn’t actually see any black tails in among them I must assume that they might have been a different but closely related species.  They, too, usually hover over flowers while feeding although that’s not the case in the photograph below.  However, the larvae of the many species of bee fly either prey upon or parasitise the larvae of other insects, including bees.

Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species
Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species

Also feeding from the male catkins on the wonderful but very elderly willow tree that had triggered this insect feeding frenzy were Mourning Cloak and various white butterflies.

All in all, I spent well over an hour under that willow tree, frankly delighted by the amazing display of its flowers and by the wealth of insect life it had attracted.  The air, quite literally, was abuzz with their sounds and as the pesky mosquitos have not yet appeared for the summer, it was uninterrupted enjoyment.

Want to see a wonderful wildlife spectacle in spring?  Go and stand under a mature, flowering willow tree!  There’s probably one not too far from you, particularly on the edge of water courses or other wetlands.

[LINKS here to other topics photographed on the same walk / same day, namely Birds, and Amphibians.]

Eddie

Vosburgh Swamp (NY DEC) 25 April 2015

Vosburgh Swamp is a Wildlife Management Area administered by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation [NY DEC] and the entrance is literally within stone-throwing distance of the right/west bank of the River Hudson, just north of Athens, NY.

The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp
The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp

I first found out about Vosburgh from the 1981 book, ‘Where to Find Birds in New York State’, by Susan Roney Drennan and published by the Syracuse University Press.  The book had been in print for over 20 years when I bought a copy at exactly half of its then-$25 cover charge, but despite it being ‘long in the tooth’ I got a great bargain!

In the book, the location is referred to as Vosburgh’s Marsh and was described back then as being “entirely on private land” and that “there [was] really no public access to the area.” Clearly, the change of ownership since that time is just one more thing for which we should thank the NY DEC. (See my recent post about Five Rivers, for example.)

EWr-T3i-150425-001_TreeBud_(600px)©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-Reserved

It also states that the marsh/swamp “is an especially good place to bird in spring, when one can see and hear Great Blue, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons, Least and American Bitterns, a large variety of duck species, several rail species, Marsh Wrens, and marsh-breeding sparrow species.”

Perhaps surprisingly, virtually none of the bird species listed above were evident but I would certainly anticipate seeing and photographing at least some of them within the next few weeks.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

One migrant that was very visible during my latest visit, though, was the Palm Warbler, always an enjoyable bird to watch as it returns north each year.

This was my first visit back to the swamp since all of the ice and snow melted in March and early April, and now, of course, spring is starting to show itself, especially in the form of tree buds.

Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone

A few Rue Anemones were in flower, some with their green leaves still unfurling despite the flowers being wide open.  A good clue to their identity is the three-lobed tip of each leaf.

During the walk, I saw my first Spring Azure butterfly of the year (but not close enough or static enough to get a shot of).  I did, however, manage to get a shot of a tiny, fast-flying micro moth that was considerate enough to pause for just a few seconds, within range of my lens.

A micro moth
A micro moth

As much for fun and a challenge as for the potential images, I also enjoy photographing the insects that Americans call water striders and the British call pond skaters. The ones I found at Vosburgh were members of the Gerris genus (of which there are about 20 species in North America).  The one in question had what appeared to be an olive- or green-coloured thorax but beyond that fact I have no idea of its precise identification. (Anyone who can put me right, please submit a comment, and the same request applies to the above photo of the micro moth, too.)

A Gerris sp. 'Water Strider' with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby
A Gerris sp. ‘Water Strider’ with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby

Water striders, being insects, have three pairs of legs although from a distance it looks like just two pairs.  The front pair are kept tucked up, beside the head, almost praying mantis like, and as this pose suggests they are used to grab and hold the smaller insects that form the striders’ prey. The middle pair of legs are used to ‘row’ the strider along and the hind pair are used to steer.  The speed at which they can catapult themselves forwards and change direction has to be seen to be believed.

A 'Water Strider' (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus
A ‘Water Strider’ (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus rubbing it’s 2nd and 3rd right legs together.  Was it cleaning them?  Or maybe it was performing some type of ‘stridulation’ to send a vibrating message across the surface of the water.  Does anyone know the answer?

Also present in some of my Water Strider photographs were what appeared to be dark grey springtails (Collembola sp.), which are hexapods, not insects.

Photographically-speaking, I am also getting more used to the Canon            equipment I’ve recently added to my armoury: A 7D Mk2 camera together with the newly redesigned 100mm-400mm zoom lens and a 180mm macro lens, all of which are performing brilliantly.

Tree Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To end my afternoon at Vosburgh, I couldn’t resist a shot of a rather pleasing reflection of trees.

Eddie

Dastardly Deeds on the Delaware River?

THE MYSTERY OF THE DEPOSIT DEPOSIT!

A few days ago, I met up with my Swedish fly fishing buddy Peter Bjorkman, at Deposit, New York, for a day’s fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware River.  On this occasion, though, I had left my own rods at home and took my cameras, instead.

After a morning fruitlessly ‘swinging a streamer’, Peter switched to one of my own favourite techniques, that of ‘Czech nymphing’, and started to have success.

The 'scene of the crime' - The West Branch of the Delaware River, at Deposit, NY. All of the bodies were in the bottom-right corner of the photo!
The ‘scene of the crime’ – The West Branch of the Delaware River, at Deposit, NY. All of the bodies were in the bottom-right corner of the photo!

In the meanwhile, I was moving along the bank and occasionally in the shallow edges of the river, and while doing so I spotted the waterlogged body of what appeared to be a cormorant, floating among grasses.

The neck and skull ow what I believe to be a cormorant were bare bone but, as shown here, the body and feathers were just below the surface
The neck and skull ow what I believe to be a cormorant were bare bone but, as shown here, the body and feathers were just below the surface

Having gone closer, to take a look, I then found an equally sodden duck’s wing nearby.  And then some relatively dry, breast feathers from a lighter coloured bird — possibly also a duck.

The green 'speculum' on the dead duck's wing
The green ‘speculum’ on the dead duck’s wing

All of this was in an area no more than 12 feet in length, and it seemed too much to be coincidence.

Feathers, apparently from a third 'victim'
Feathers, apparently from a third ‘victim’

I changed my search and started looking for signs of a perpetrator, and almost immediately I got what I presumed was a result.  On a rock a few feet out into the water was some scat (about 1½ inches in length).

“That’s not otter,” I thought (though I’m only aware of what Eurasian otter scat looks like, not their American cousins, and I merely presumed it would be similar).

Scat on a prominent rock - typical behaviour for riverside hunters
Scat on a prominent rock – typical behaviour for riverside hunters

“Maybe it’s mink,” seemed like a reasonable conclusion, so I took photographs of all the bits of the various birds and of the scat, so that I could check my animal tracking books when back home.

My sleuthing didn’t pay off though, because according to my books the scat looked absolutely nothing like that of otters or mink, or of any other riverside predator I could think of.  If anything, it looked most like that of the humble musk rat — to my knowledge not a creature that’s likely to be inclined or able to kill and eat large birds.

If any reader happens to belong to that elite group of people who can recognise creatures by their after-dinner deposits, could you kindly let me know what the scat might have belonged to and thereby hopefully solve the question as to whether this was likely to have been murder most ‘fowl’ (sorry!) or simply a coincidental gathering of body parts.

Peter with a beautiful, very light coloured Brown Trout (which was immediately returned to the water, unharmed - 'catch-and-release' fishing)
Peter with a beautiful, very light coloured Brown Trout (which was immediately returned to the water, unharmed – ‘catch-and-release’ fishing)

And as for my friend Peter, he just kept on fishing, not at all interested in whether or not I had discovered the crime of the century. (And I can’t say that I blame him really!)    {;-)

Renewing acquaintance with the excellent Five Rivers NYS DEC wildlife preserve

Back in 2012, while living in Albany, I was able to visit the Five Rivers EEC/preserve several times and came to like it greatly, so now that we are back in the Capital District I’ll be renewing my acquaintance with this delightful location.

One of Five Rivers’ greatest advantages is its broad mix of environments – from grasslands and scrub, to pine and deciduous woodlands, the seeps and streams, and – last but by no means least – a variety of ponds.

My first photo, here, is simply a snapshot that I took with my cell phone to use on Twitter, and it’s a view of one of a cluster of the smaller ponds – a great place for Belted Kingfishers and Green Heron.

Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve - April 2015
Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve – April 2015

At the above pond, a large Snapping Turtle was basking on the sloping bank until a couple of people nearby spooked it and it launched itself back into the water with a tremendous splash.  Plenty of Eastern Painted Turtles were out basking, as well, but a gaudy interloper in the next photo looks to me like an entirely different species (unless it is just in mating colours).  It’s front legs had yellow stripes on a blackish background. It eventually gave up trying to get onto the ‘sun deck’ and slipped back into the water, so I never got a look at its upper side.  Can anyone help me identify it for certain, please?  My books aren’t helping!

Eastern painted Turtles basking, but what's the one that's pushing in?

Moving on from amphibians to reptiles, the only snake I saw was a tiny, 7-inch-long juvenile Garter Snake, and he was too far under a thorny bush for me to want to go crawling after his portrait!

A dead oak literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers - April 2015
A dead oak leaf,  literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers – April 2015

For those with botanical interests, all was visibly starting to stir.  There were still a few dead leaves left on some branches but there were also plenty buds in various stages of development and – for me – the first flowers of spring: the delightful Coltsfoot.  (Yes, I know that sadly this is one of many introduced species, here in North America but for giving us the first bright glow of spring, I still can’t resist it.)

So who can resist or ignore the sights and sounds of spring?

Bud Light!
Bud Light!

 

Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers - April 2015
Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers – April 2015

On slower sections of the streams and in among dead cattails on the ponds, Water Striders were busy whizzing around, looking for other insects trapped in the surface layer.  These fascinating creatures of the genus Gerris use their short front legs to grab prey, their middle pair of legs to ‘row’ at great speed, and their back legs to steer.  If you want a lesson in patience and frustration, try getting a sharp, close-up photo of them!

A 'Gerris' species of Water Strider - insects that we Brits refer to as 'Pond Skaters'
A ‘Gerris’ species of Water Strider – insects that we Brits refer to as ‘Pond Skaters’. Five Rivers.

 

 

The last photo I’m posting here is of another creature that often will not stop still long enough to have its photograph taken, but this time it’s the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) a tiny (4¼-inch) bird which, along with its North American cousin the Golden-crowned Kinglet, is closely related to the very similar Firecrests and Goldcrests in Europe, in the same genus.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers - April 2015
Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers – April 2015

 

Here the ‘ruby crown’ is deliberately hidden away by drabber feathers on the top of its head, but when it has cause to display, just watch the dramatic change!

As for Five Rivers, I’ll be back… as often as I can!

Eddie Wren

Braddock Bay Raptor Research Center, NY — Part 2: Raptor Watching

(Part 1 of this article — Songbird Banding — may be viewed here)

 

Our Wildlife Watchers and Nature Photographers group trip to the Braddock Bay Raptor Research center [BBRR] was primarily about the annual springtime phenomenon of mass migration involving birds of prey.  By happy coincidence, many of our friends from the Buffalo Ornithological Society were there at the same time.

A few of the many people on the viewing platform at Braddock Bay.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
A few of the many people on the viewing platform at Braddock Bay. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Like many hawk-watch locations, success at Braddock Bay is very dependent on the weather, with the optimum opportunities coming on days when the wind is from the south west.  On the day of our visit, it seemed as though the wind, at various times, came from every direction except the south west!  Such is life.

A small part of a 'kettle' of over 200 broad-winged hawks, together with a few accipiters.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
A small part of a ‘kettle’ of over 200 broad-winged hawks, together with a few accipiters. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Even so, for those with the patience to wait on the viewing platform, there was still plenty to see.  Sightings while we were there included:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Golden Eagle
  • Broad-winged Hawk (in ‘kettles’ of 30-200)
  • Rough-legged Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Turkey Vulture

The lakeside location plus the nearby bushes and woodland also provided plenty of interest with relevant species.

Eddie Wren


Other sections of this topic:

Part 1: Songbird Banding

Part 2: Raptor Watching  — you are currently on this page

Part 3: Captive (i.e. Injured) Raptors

Part 4: Photo Gallery (submitted images)

 

Braddock Bay Raptor Research Center, NY — Part 1: Songbird Banding [BBBO]

The Braddock Bay Raptor Research center [BBRR] is located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario near the north west corner of Rochester, NY, a city famous as the global headquarters of Kodak, and BBRR was the primary reason for today’s visit.

More will be written in Part 2 of this four-part article (see foot of page for links) regarding the excellent opportunities to watch migrating raptors at BBRR, and the reason they come here in high numbers but our group visit, on 27 April 2014, started with an owl prowl which  disappointingly drew a blank, then we continued with a visit to the nearby Braddock Bay Bird Observatory [BBBO] banding station.

Golden-crowned Kinglet.  Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.
Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.

In my own opinion, one of the best things to come out of the banding visit was the chance to see North America’s two kinglet species, side-by-side.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) has, as its name makes clear, a golden or yellowy-coloured crown, front-to-back on its head, but when seen in the wild, it differs most visibly from the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) in having full-head-length black and white stripes above its eyes, whereas the the Ruby-crowned has only a white ring around its eyes. The ruby-crowned also has the ability to hide its bright red pate under the surrounding drab olive feathers, to help with camouflage when predators are about (see photo, left).

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Birders travelling between North America and Europe might wish to check Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) against the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and  the Firecrest (R. ignicapillus).

The numbered band or ring.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The numbered band/ring. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

The most remarkable fact of all is that Golden-crowned Kinglets — tiny, 4-inch long insect-eaters — overwinter not only throughout the USA but also in southern Canada and even in Alaska.  The obvious question is how do they find their tiny insect prey species in frozen north woods in winter.  When I have the time, this will be the subject of a separate post in this blog.

Ruby-crowend Kinglet's wing. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Ruby-crown’s wing. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Back to the subject of the BBBO station, it is always a pleasure to watch the deftness and gentleness of experienced bird ringers/banders — the way they can hold tiny and relatively fragile creatures securely without causing any harm — and the three ladies today were no exception.  I even asked them whether women are better at handling tiny birds than are men but was told it is not a gender issue, it’s just down to the care and to some extent the hand-size of the person in question.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet's tail. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Ruby-crown’s tail. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Each bird brought in is checked to see whether it is already wearing a band (referred to as a ‘ring’ in British birding circles), in which case the number is noted so that the bird’s movements since it was first ringed may be recorded.  If that’s not the case then obviously a ring is fitted and the number on such is noted and entered into the system. Over the last 25-30 years, how much must computerisation and the Internet have done for bird banding research, around the world?!

Blowing on the breast feathers so the bander can check the bird's fat reserves.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Blowing on the breast feathers so the bander can check the bird’s fat reserves. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

The bird is also checked in relation to gender and physical condition. Measurements are taken and — perhaps the strangest sight for first-time viewers — the breast feathers are gently blown back so that the amount of fat the bird is carrying can be estimated.  This is crucial to the bird’s ability to migrate.  If it isn’t carrying enough fat (fuel!) it will not survive the long journey.

Listening to the remarkably fast purr of a kinglet's heartbeat.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Listening to the remarkably fast purr of a kinglet’s heartbeat. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

When it came to releasing these remarkable little creatures, one was gently held to people’s ears so that we could hear the heartbeat — so fast that it could best be described as a purring noise.

Thank you to the BBBO banding team for the demonstration.  It is always a privilege to see this ‘up close and personal’ side of birds and the research work.  Without the efforts of banders/ringers over the decades, it is frightening to think how little we would still know about birds… period!

Eddie Wren


Other sections of this topic:

Part 1: Songbird Banding — you are currently on this page

Part 2: Raptor Watching

Part 3: Captive (i.e. Injured) Raptors

Part 4: Photo Gallery (submitted images)

More Photos from the WWNP Group Visit to the Iroquois N.W.R. on 13 April, 2014

Esther Kowal-Bukata has kindly sent me some photos to add the the Iroquois ‘collection’, as posted below.  (The the original Iroquois NWR post and photographs may be viewed here.)

Osprey. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014.  All rights reserved.
Osprey. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Bluebird.  Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014.  All rights reserved.
Eastern Bluebird. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree Swallow.  Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014.  All rights reserved.
Tree Swallow. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree Swallow.  Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014.  All rights reserved.
Tree Swallow. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Shoveller.  Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014.  All rights reserved.
Northern Shoveller. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Teal.  Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014.  All rights reserved.
Blue-winged Teal. Copyright, Esther Kowal-Bukata, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View the original Iroquois NWR post and photographs here.