Just Another Breeding Season for the American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher takes flight over the Atlantic Ocean on breeding grounds

The American Oystercatchers had started to return to the northeast coast sometime around mid-March from their wintering grounds in the southern states somewhere between South Carolina and Florida. I wandered the beach from Jacob Riis and Fort Tilden in Queens, NY on April 4th and enjoyed the company and curiosity of a number of pairs and a couple of single oystercatchers.

It is not possible to distinguish males and females by appearance as they look alike. They are also hard to confuse with a different shorebird species with the bright red to orange bill and yellow eyes rimmed with red on that black head with a brown and white body.

Scanning the ocean

Woodland Waddle in Minerva, NY

The Hewitt Pond trail in Minerva, NY leading out to Barnes Pond in Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest is an old path found on maps dating back to 1901. The date for the stretch to Stony Pond is unknown. Not many visit this section of the forest as we saw no one during the 6 hours we were out. The 8-mile area we traveled is a very small part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest network of trails, lakes, and mountain peaks.

Don’t let that lovely boardwalk that Jeff and Zoe are walking ahead of me on fool you as it soon came to an end. The builders had a long way to go in replacing the moss-covered and rotted old logs that had once been a help for footing above the marshy 550-foot bog path.

Blue-bead Lily enjoys the company of Indian cucumber root, red trillium, hobblebush, and striped maple.

When I hike, I like to photograph things as they are rather than capture a perfect specimen for a perfect image. I remember photographing a clump of plants once when someone I was with decided I had no idea how to take an image and began ripping the adjoining foliage out! Terrors!!! Like people, plants and wild ones exist as part of a community. In that community are so many close neighbors along with a mix of predators and prey.

A single Pink Lady’s-Slipper beauty we almost did not see
Painted Trillium, Trillium undulatum, is a member of the Lily family with three leaves and wavy edges

Balsam fir, red spruce, Eastern Hemlock, sugar maple, yellow birch, northern red oak, American beech, eastern hemlock, hobblebush, striped maple, leatherleaf, Labrador tea, Blue-bead Lily, Pink Lady’s Slipper, Painted Trillium, Bunchberry, Starflower, Interrupted Ferns, wood ferns, and so much more was along our path! Even the isolated plant hides a thread of spider web or insect if we look close enough. Stop and smell the flowers and also take a closer look at what may be hiding. There were numerous beaver dams, some moose prints, a variety of birds, dragonflies, and swarms of mosquitoes if one dared stop for too long.

Painted Trillium with a tiny insect wandering inside

Painted Trillium bloom in May followed by a red berry fruit in early fall. Insects pollinate the plant while ants take the seeds to their nests where the plants later germinate. These trilliums are found along a number of the trails of the Adirondacks in beech-maple mesic forest and pine-northern hardwood forest.

Blue-bead Lilly has larger leaves that do not have the spots of Trout Lily, has multiple flowers, and lacks, bright reddish anthers
Blue-bead Lily is named for the berries which change from green to white to deep porcelain blue. The berries appear in mid-summer and are neither poisonous or tasty to people but chipmunks and birds seem to enjoy them.
Pink Lady’s-slipper with hints of spiderweb

Pink Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule, is an orchid that is loved by many. Often too many. Too often those who see them try to take a plant home not realizing that it is not legal nor worthwhile as they do not survive without its symbiotic relationship with the fungus that is found in the soil. The plant may live to be 20 years old and it takes many years for the seeds to produce the plants. Enjoy them in nature during their bloom as the bees do which are lured in for pollination.

Hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides, is a native shrub can grown 6 to 10 feet.

Hobblebush is named for its pendulous branches’ ability to form obstacles to trip or hobble, those who wander past. The fruit of Hobblebush is a cluster of scarlet to deep purple berries from August through September. The fruit is edible, tasting a bit like raisins. Deer enjoy browsing on the twigs and leaves and birds and mammals enjoy the fruits. Hobblebush is found in the understory of a mesic beech-maple forest community along with Sugar Maple, Eastern Hemlock, Red Maple, and Yellow Birch. There may be an occasional nest of the Black-throated Blue Warbler found in the shrub.

Hobblebush with some of the fragrant May flowers

Some of the members of the community, like lady’s-slippers, once removed will not survive as they require the fungus with which they exist in their natural habitat. Soil is a fascinating subject with a vast assortment of so much more than textures, moisture-holding capacity, and earthworms. There are multitudes of insects, bacteria, fungi, and many other microorganisms that make this a food web worth exploring! There is an amazing book by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis called “Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web” that is worth a read.

Pink Lady’s-Slipper is part of a community of maples, wood ferns, birches and so many soil microbes.
Yellow Birch showing its age

Yellow Birch, also known as curly or silver birch, had grown large in the moist and dense woodland. The trunks grew straight and tall in the canopy with Eastern Hemlock, Red Maple, Sugar Maple, and American Beech. Mature trees can grow 60 to 80 feet and have a diameter of 2 to 3 feet! Yellow Birch may reach 100 feet and have a 4 to 5-foot diameter making it the largest of the birches and the wood is also the hardest and most valuable of our birches. Many of the birch trees had bark that had peeled and turned thick and brownish-black with age. Yellow birch is a valuable resource as it is used in making furniture, flooring, paneling, plywood, broom handles, clothespins, popsicle sticks, toothpicks, and much more. For backpackers, yellow birch makes a good fire starter.

Bunchberry Dogwood is a woodland ground cover in the Dogwood family

Bunchberry is flexible in growing requirements and is common in coniferous and mixed forests and some wetlands. The flowers produce clusters of red berries in July and August that are edible by people, bears, chipmunks, martens, rabbits, and hares, while deer and moose enjoy the foliage. Some of the birds that may eat the berries are Veeries, Ruffed Grouse, Philadelphia Vireos, Warbling Vireos, and White-throated Sparrows.

A perfect picnic spot

The mosquitoes were kind enough to leave us alone for a lunch and, on the return a snack and water break. The Tree Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Eastern Kingbirds, and White-breasted Nuthatch did their best to serenade and entertain. The area is reported to have an assortment of 147 species of birds breeding in the assorted habitats. It was nice to see signs of beavers in their lodges and freshly chewed trees as they are the best landscapers around! I’m sure our dog Zoe had a lot to do with our not seeing any of the moose, bear, dear, beavers, muskrat, river otter, fox, coyote, bobcat, raccoon, fisher, marten, mink, porcupine, and rabbits that may enjoying living in the woods and waters we passed through.

Signs of beaver activity

The Chalk-fronted Corporal is easy to recognize with the distinctive pale front thorax and abdomen base of older females and males. They were numerous but not willing to settle for too long for photos.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

The Chalk-fronted Corporal is a large skimmer found that is numerous in the habitat of woods and waterways. They may be rather aggressive toward each other and defending their grounds and mates from other skimmers. There were many busy flying about but not too many that were willing to pause for long. Possibly our dog Zoe was a bit of a deterrent as were we.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Our Covid year gave many a reason to get outside and wander. Keep the trend going! There are many places to enjoy and much to be learned from simply taking a walk in the woods.

Flowers in Cyanotype

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine

British botanist and photographer, Anna Atkins, learned cyanotype printing from a family friend, the inventor of the process, Sir John Herschel. Atkins created albums and a book of her prints for use as a scientific reference. The New York Public Library had an exhibit of Atkins’ book and prints from October 2018 – February 2019. It was amazing to see them all.

Today converting an image into a cyanotype is an easy process if you have the proper computer programs and some time to play with them. The images of the Eastern Red Columbine were originally intended for use as part of my World Views: Insects and People, ultraviolet photo exhibit. I rather like these versions as something just a little bit different.

Eastern Red Columbine under Ultraviolet Light as seen in the world of insects, birds, and mammals. The glass glows green due to the Uranium in the glassware.

This image was taken with an ultraviolet light so that the viewer can have an idea of what the world may look like to the insects that would be attracted to the flowers and in turn pollinate them.

Eastern Red Columbine with strong back lighting and front lighting.

This was done to indicate how little we actually notice the plants in our landscapes and also to entice you too look closer at some of the details.

Megaptera novaeangliae – a fitting name for the majestic “big wing” Humpback Whale

Humpback Whales feeding off the coast of Cape Cod

So many whales! So little time! The weather was not predicted to be the best that day and thoughts of an early return were lingering in the background. We saw one lone fishing boat early on and upon reaching our reported whale feeding area found ourselves alone in the waters. Except for being surrounded by whales in every direction! There were water spouts, fluke and pectoral fin flaps, and bubble nets near and far!

Near as in that moment when you realize you really don’t need a 600mm lens! Jonah going down!
This Humpback was just a little further away! The view of the baleen was incredible through my camera and lens!
Follow the birds and they will lead to the feeding whales. The birds were awesome but, as much as I love the gulls, cormorants, terns, petrels, jaegers, gannets, and others, my sights were on the whales for this trip.
The gulls do add a bit of humor at times when they are caught in a spray rinse with some whale breath added for good measure.
Whale skate does look like a fun activity!
The magical moment when the research team realized that it was Salt with a new calf! S

Salt is one to keep tabs on as she has a nice long family tree with 14 calves dating back to 1980, grandcalves, and great-grandcalves! You can rather easily recognize Salt as she was named for the white streaming off her dorsal fin that you can see in the image above.

Could that be a wave goodbye from the “big wing” for which it was named?

There were so many images taken that June 16th trip with New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance. Such wonderful memories that the cloudy day with spatters of rain and spray from the waves were not even a thought. Except for the wiping of camera filters!

Alas! There is a lecture at the end of a happy story!

2019 is a year of numerous dead sea mammals washing up on shores in too many places. So much so that places for them to rot are becoming scarce. Since the warning signs of plastic becoming meal items for sea birds and sea life has not been enough, the slap of sights and odors of death of these huge majestic lifeforms should be our awakening. Do Not Buy Balloons! They are a menace to all wildlife! They travel long distances, last extremely long periods of time and degrade into tiny pieces and particles, and wildlife become tangled, and many, such as, turtles and whales ingest them. They are not a symbol of a celebration but rather represent a death sentence. Please celebrate responsibly!

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