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Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 9:23 am

Pics from the archives: fins, fur & scales from back in the day:

June 1980, Northern Manitoba -- We had a great fishing adventure and a bit of an education as well. I learned that lake trout and brook trout are actually members of the char family. Note the white piping on the pectoral and ventral fins of the laker pictured above, distinctive markings on all char.                   

We also I discovered that it was wasn't necessary to fish deep for lake trout thanks to the frigid temps of subarctic waters. But those cold waters also make for a slow growth rate, as little as a half pound per year. That means the laker I'm holding in the above pic had been around for 48 years.                    

Winter, 1991 -- Slow but steady wins the race...Nick Calarco's hounds had this coyote on the run for a considerable time before it finally stopped for a breather.       

It may be winded but it's still full of fight -- note the hair standing up on its back. 

A young Massasauga rattlesnake. These are known to exist in two locales in all of New York State -- in Genesee County's Bergen Swamp and in the Cicero Swamp north of Syracuse.               

This is what it will look like when it's all grown up.

Playtime for Bandit..........Bandit and his siblings were discovered living between a wall and a partition in a small barn that served as chicken coop. Concerned for his chickens, the owner urged the mother raccoon to relocate, which she did - one baby at a time. She took the first three and never returned for Bandit. After several days passed Bandit was adopted and nurtured by loving hands.

   Nap time!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 8:30 am

Thoughts and observations on the sleek & sinister-looking grackle

post by JIM NIGRO in grackles, nature, outdoors

There was quite a gathering of grackles around our place recently. Common grackles they were, and over a three day period they alternated between hanging out in the trees, patrolling the lawn and laying seige to the bird feeder.

At first glance, especially from a distance, the grackle appears all black. But depending on the light, they can exhibit a lustrous sheen, displaying iridescent shades of green, blue, purple and bronze.

Despite the brilliant coloration, grackles possess another look, one sinister and menacing in appearance. Looking at this pic I'm reminded of three wildlife dramas involving grackles from years past. My reaction after each varied. The first was not exactly endearing; the second can be described as "WOW!" After the third event my reaction was, surprisingly, a certain degree of admiration.

The first one occurred one summer not so many years ago.

On that day I was thatching the yard with a leaf rake when I noticed a blackbird on the ground, interested in what I first thought to be a small piece of plastic, much like a wadded up bread wrapper, being slowly pushed along by a slight breeze. The blackbird followed after it, striking it repeatedy with its bill. It took a second for my brain to register what I was seeing.

The blackbird was a grackle, and the "piece of plastic" was a fledgling robin that must have either fallen or was robbed from its nest and was doing its best to escape its tormentor.

About that time I let fly with the rake and naturally the grackle took flight. Scooping up the baby robin, I could see it was still alive, but barely. I tucked it in the shade beneath some vines in hopes that its mom was nearby.

Ever vigilant, even during the late March snowstorm.   

A second incident occured when former Batavians Tim Martino, Keith Emminger and I were mowing lawns on Woodcrest Drive. We had just pulled the equipment trailer up to the curb when a small raptor  --  I'm thinking Cooper's hawk  --  slammed into a grackle in midair.  This happened right in front of our pickup truck. The hawk proceded to land atop its fallen prey where it lay in the street. Whether it intended to make a meal of the grackle I can't say as the hawk immediately flew off, perhaps suddenly aware of our presence. 

The third incident caused me to look at grackles in a different light.

It was a spring day when I heard some rustling coming from within a small stand of dry, brittle phragmites. Judging from the sound, it wasn't a large animal but there was definitely something going on. Try as I might, I was only able to see small, dark flashes of movement. Moments later a grackle took flight, a snake dangling from its bill. The snake was limp, and I'm guessing the commotion in the dry reeds was the grackle dispatching its quarry.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 7:25 am

Is the icy grip of early spring beginning to yield? The critters seem to think so!

No sooner had the robins arrived when they discovered it might take a while before any worms were available. With their favorite staple somewhere far below earth's frozen layer, the robins had to make do elsewhere, like chilly sumac drupes.

Likewise, these starlings sampled the sumac.....this was not only the first time I had seen starlings eating sumac, it was the first time I remember starlings eating without making a noisy racket. Several dozen descended on the sumac trees and they hardly made a sound.

As the snow recedes, the whitetails aren't having to work so hard to find a meal.

For now yarding up is still commonplace -- warmer weather and greater food availability will result in herd dispersal.

From a distance I first thought this hawk to be a redtail.....the more I look I'm thinking its a rough-legged hawk.

Here it.s about to take flight.

Mourning doves have been showing up in vast numbers. This pair has been enjoying the spillage from our bird feeder.

With the snow all but gone, the red squirrels can get down to some serious foraging........

Score!!!!..................kinda looks like a meatball cookie with no icing!

Monday, March 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm

A gathering of late winter woodpeckers

The past couple of weeks we've seen an incredible amount of avian activity taking place, species ranging from songbirds to raptors. Among the wide variety were a number of woodpeckers, like the red-bellied woodpecker pictured above. He had been hard at work before sensing my presence and then abruptly snapped to attention.  

After several minutes he decided it was safe to get back to the business at hand.

Pileated wood peckers have been frequent visitors throughout the winter. This is the first frontal pic I've taken - quite by accident as it turned in my direction just as I took his picture.  

Moments later he provided the angle I wanted. Here he's perched on a dead limb of a towering cottonwood.    

Downy woodpeckers have been showing up daily to feast on suet.

It almost seems as if he stopped to check out the falling snow.

Another red-bellied woodpecker investigates the spillage below the bird feeder.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 9:39 am

Winter 2014 was a beauty at Genesee County Park & Forest

Depending on who you ask, the winter has been judged somewhat lengthy and at times harsh. While Old Man Winter threw us a curve ball or two, the aftermath was sometimes asthetically pleasing to the eye. And nowhere was this more evident than at the Genesee County Park & Forest.

A trail into the hardwoods. Claudia and I logged several hours at the park this winter, trying to cover every bit of the more than 12 miles of trail.

The hike was always exhilarating, even if the air was frigid at times. Even on the coldest of days, we ran into hikers, cross country skiers, snowshoers, and even two or three hearty souls who were jogging.

Of course we met a good number of people out exercising their dogs, like Batavians Dan and Debbie Barone pictured above.

A cross country skier glides along one of the well-maintained trails.  

Gotta love the Boy Scouts. The park is in great shape thanks to many volunteers.

Snow-covered spruce trees as seen from the Turtle Pond trail.

Surrounded by needled giants, this tiny spruce sees limited sunlight.

Friday, March 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

Turtle rescuer in trouble with DEC

post by Howard Owens in animals, Attica, DEC, nature

CORRECTION: It turns out there are two people from Attica named John Volpe who rescue turtles. There is John P. Volpe, who was arrested, and John K. Volpe, who is the person we met on Creek Road in 2012. We apologize to John K. Volpe and his family for the mistaken identity.

We met John Volpe two years ago after spotting a snapping turtle trying to cross Creek Road by Baskin Livestock.

Now Volpe is in quite a bit of trouble with the Department of Environmental Conservation for his collection of turtles and birds of prey.

When we met Volpe previously, he had stopped his car on Creek Road to carry the turtle out of the road. A short time later, Volpe's wife arrived and the couple took the turtle to their place in Attica.

Volpe explained to me that he and his father often rescue turtles. He said they would take the turtle home, ensure she (or he) is healthy. If healthy, and a female, they would hold her until she laid her eggs, then release her back into the wild, then raise the babies.

"Turtles mean a lot to us," said Volpe, who is Native American.

He is now facing state charges on alleged unlicensed possession of more than 100 live native turtles, including one live wood turtle, which is currently listed as a "species of special concern" in New York State.

Volpe is also accused of having numerous live birds that require a license to possess, including screech owls, great horned owls, a snowy owl, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, gulls, a blue heron and numerous other birds.

He was also allegedly found to possess taxidermy mounts of more than a dozen species of protected birds of prey including: screech owls, great-horned owls, snowy owls, barred owls, saw-whet owls, red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, kestrels and turkey vultures.

The  62-year-old also faces possible federal charges for taxidermy work on migratory waterfowl as well as possessing bald and golden eagle mounts and parts.

Volpe was allegedly found in possession in 2005 of two birds of prey. The birds were placed in a licensed facility, according to the DEC, and Volpe was given a chance to obtain a property license, but did not complete the process, the DEC said.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 10:14 am

Furred and feathered visitors come calling in search of a meal

We had a couple of unexpected visitors to our place last weekend. Being February and given the sort of winter we've had, it was more than a bit of a surprise to see a pair of bluebirds come calling last Saturday morning.            

A male and female alit in the apple tree and I never thought they'd sit tight with the powerful wind gusts whipping the branches about. But sit they did and I was able to get several shots of the male while the female was obscured by branches.

A female cardinal seems to be shrieking with delight, perhaps celebrating the sunshine and blue sky

This cardinal seems content to sample a snow-capped frozen apple.

A chickadee sticks close to brushy cover.......

while another helps itself to sunflower seed and millet.

Pileated woodpeckers have shown up quite regularly this winter......we often hear their raucous call long before they come into view.

How did this gray squirrel get a snow hat?

He and some friends were digging for the walnuts I had tossed into the briars last autumn. I knew the squirrels would find them, but I never thought they would wait till there were several inches of snow on the ground before doing so.

This guy, meanwhile, appears to be rubbing his paws in anticipation while eyeballing the bird feeder. 

Prior to last weekend, the last bluebird I saw was just before Thanksgiving. Winter set in on us right after that. I've never seen one this early in the year. I've heard or read somewhere that bluebirds sometimes winter here, it all depends on the weather and availability of food. Regardless, I know we've got some single-digit lows coming later this week, but I've always felt Mother Nature was pretty good at predicting the weather.....here's hoping!

Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 6:15 pm

After a brief respite, wildlife on the move once again

This cardinal is no doubt making up for lost time by gorging on what's left of last autumn's wild grapes. Having hunkered down for a few days during last week's blizzard, the usual cast of characters is back in action in and around our neighboring woodlots.

With a poplar directly behind it, a pileated woodpecker knows decaying wood is a better place to find insects, so it pounds away on a dead sumac. There were two pileateds in close proximity on this day, but getting them into the same frame proved futile.

This pileated seems to have found the upper reaches of a dead poplar to its liking.

As the storm descended on us late last Monday afternoon, the last flurry of movement I saw was that of a red squirrel scurrying into our barn. This guy is tightly clutching a dead nub as if expecting the high winds to return at any moment.....

In the next instant it turns and sticks tail high in the air...a bit sassy maybe or perhaps it's suddenly sensing an intruder. If on alert mode, it's with good reason....

Like everything else, this redtail didn't eat for a few days during the storm...    

Hawks have been showing up with greater regularity, what with cottontails, squirrels and, in the warmer months, chipmunks, to prey on.   

Here's the cardinal again...in this photo note the bit of grape stain on his beak.

A gray squirrel gives the once over to a tiny abode that has housed baby wrens for the past few summers.

Sometime before last week's blizzard and after December's flood, we had some freezing rain.....this house finch doesn't seem deterred by the results.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Residents flocking to see snowy owls at airport

post by Howard Owens in animals, Genesee County Airport, nature

Jason Berne, manager of Parmenter Tire near the airport, sent in this picture of a snowy owl that he said a researcher brought into the shop for he and his staff to see.

"They are beautiful," Berne said.

TV news crews have been out to the airport today. Jay Terkel, in comments on our story from yesterday, said there are so many cars driving slowly around the airport "it's like Lion Country Safari" out there.

Photo by Jay Terkel.

Photo by Dylan Brew.

Monday, December 30, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Population of snowy owls at airport drawing birders and researchers from throughout the region

post by Howard Owens in animals, batavia, Genesee County Airport, nature

Snowy owls have become Batavia's latest tourist attraction. Birders are driving out to the Genesee County Airport from miles around to see the majestic raptors.

"It's very special to come out and see such an unusual bird," said Leslie Phillips, a Rochester resident who read about the "irruption" of snowy owls in Batavia through an e-mail discussion list for birders.

Irruptions are the irregular southern migrations exhibited by bird species that typically winter in Canada and the extreme northern United States, according to Cornell University's Project Feederwatch.

She was among six or seven birders who were on State Street Road this afternoon with scopes and binoculars watching the owls perched on snow banks or fence posts.

David Genesky, a conservationist who specializes in raptors, spent much of the day trapping the owls on behalf of a national snowy owl research program.

By 5 p.m. he had caught eight and believed there were at least two more in the airport area. (CORRECTION: It's eight for the season, three on Tuesday.)

Genesky collected a feather, for a DNA sample, and weighed each bird before banding it and releasing it. The whole process took about five minutes per bird.

"Personally, I just want to make sure the species is OK," Genesky said. "There's a lot of talk about global warming and climate change and how it would effect their nesting areas, and for me personally, that's what I'm concerned about."

Genesky said the collection of snowy owls at the airport is a great opportunity for the public to see one of the great birds of the wild up close.

"They've been as steady as can be for the last month," Genesky said. "People have come from miles away and gotten good looks at them."

Sharon Leising hasn't had to travel far this winter to see the owls. She lives on State Street Road, and when she heard about the trapping project today, she had to meet up with Genesky and learn about what he was doing. She was at the Emergency Training Center when Genesky brought one of the birds in for cataloging (inset photo; photo courtesy Sharon Leising).

"This is so exciting, to have something like this happen in our area," Leising said. "They're such beautiful birds."

Typically, snowy owls make their homes in the Arctic and don't often congregate in such numbers in the northeast.

"This year is probably is biggest number in 40 years," Genesky said. "It's very rare to get this many birds in the Northeastern United States.  The Western states have fewer birds. They seem to have concentrated here."

Genesky said the local snowy owl population seems to be in good shape.

"Believe me, these birds are all healthy," he said. "They're not starving."

While there may be as many as a dozen snowy owls in the airport area, that number will thin soon to one or two as the birds establish their territories for the rest of the winter. Grenesky said anybody interested in seeing the birds should get out to the airport soon.

Leslie Phillips

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