Discovering Nature

Tag: sapsucker woods (page 1 of 2)



We went to the Cornell Lab for their Migration Celebration today. It was pretty chilly for outdoor activities, but they had lots of fun exhibits and activities inside. Outdoors, we saw a bird banding demo as well as a number of raptors up close — including E3, the offspring of Big Red and Ezra that was injured, rescued, and rehabilitated at the Lab.



Here are just a few of the others.


Golden eagle.



American kestrel.



Falcon mix.




Eagle owl.




Harris hawk.



Barred owl.


And a very talkative great horned owl!



There were some other raptors as well — a spectacled owl and a screech owl, and perhaps some others after we left. They are all captive birds that can’t live in the wild, but you still get a glimpse of their beauty and ferocity.

Sapsucker Heron

heron1 heron preen heron scratchWe saw that the male heron had made an appearance on the nest cam a few days ago, and when we walked around the pond at Sapsucker Woods we figured this was him. He was fishing in an alcove and we were quite close. I got some pics of him with one of the unfortunate fish he caught, but none of them are stellar.

It was kind of a man and wife who were watching him to invite the girls and me in to take their spot so that we could see the heron doing his patient, alert work. We passed on the favor to the next walkers who appeared.

Sapsucker Hawk

hawk1sm hawk2sm hawk4sm

We’ve seem this redtail before at Sapsucker Woods. It’s a rehabilitated hawk that was released nearby, and it has adopted the pond and its environs as its territory. It’s somewhat tolerant of people, but as I was photographing it another photographer walked up and spooked it — so it’s still got at least some vestige of its wild “boundaries.”

We saw it several more times during the day. Once as it hunted high in a tree, it decided to move on and simply spread its wings. It was a windy day, and the breeze lifted it like a kite so it was soaring in seconds.


How I’d love to be able to do that.

Lab Mascot

This was an appropriate sight in the parking lot at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

I learned from a person at the lab that this hawk, which we’ve seen before around Sapsucker Woods, was rehabilitated and released nearby, and he’s just stayed around. People don’t rattle him. It made me wonder if the hawk we saw yesterday might have been a rehabilitated hawk as well. That would help to explain his lack of fear around people.

I notice that when hawks launch, they always go down before they go up. Food for thought.

Autumn state of mind

The woods are so much quieter now than they were in the spring and early summer that it’s easy to lose the sense of expectation. But it’s a good exercise in faith to remain attentive; invariably we are rewarded with wonders large and small.

It was a little eerie on a recent walk in Ithaca. My husband and daughters and I were coming to the end of a stroll on an overcast day when our paths intersected with some characteristically cheerful sounding chickadees. My daughter, the bird-whisperer, sounded her chickadee call to attract them, and it seemed they were responding with more and more vocalization. Then we rounded a corner and saw the silent silhouette of a hawk.

No doubt the chickadees were sounding the alarm. It may have been the redtail that haunts Sapsucker Woods, but it seemed a little small for a redtail. My guess is it was a broadwing. It clutched a chipmunk in its talons.

How typical of us humans to think that we were controlling the scene, when all along a life and death drama that had nothing to do with us was playing itself out.

Another hawk has been making unwelcome appearances in our area: a Cooper’s hawk. Our feeder is situated next to an evergreen so that the birds have cover, but I think this hawk is attracted by the busy chatter of the goldfinches and the two or three chipmunks who feed on the ground beneath. We haven’t seen it successfully catch anything yet, but here it is perched in the middle of the food court.

No wonder the chipmunks hide!

See it in the log?

I’ve seen some tiny warblers in recent walks in the woods, but few have rewarded me with photo-ops. I did manage to get a shot of this one, tentatively identified as a Nashville warbler.

It was a treat to see this red-eyed vireo feeding with some chickadees, too. Vireos are so much more easy to hear than to see; they are so like the leaves themselves.

The white-throated sparrows are coming through on their way southward.  We have four or five of them hanging around our yard this week, but this one was spotted in a nearby preserve.

Last but not least, the deer have been everywhere, and they have actually seemed to pose for me.

Green herons

It’s been pretty quiet around here lately. I’ve reduced my screen time quite a bit this summer and experienced corresponding benefits. But I’ve continued to observe and enjoy some favorite haunts during this all-too-brief (here in the Northeast) warm season.

One bird I started really noticing last summer is the green heron, and I’ve had some good opportunities to photograph some this year. At one pond here locally, there must have been a successful nesting pair, because young herons have been marauding together, discussing everything and everyone. In the process they’ve posed nicely for some pictures.

This bird took a break from looking lordly atop its snag, and scratched an itch. You can see its nictitating membrane in this pic.

Then it flew away. It looks awkward in flight, maybe because its tail is so short.

Another bird that posed for photos was this next green heron, which the girls and I watched through the windows at Sapsucker Woods. It seems almost too easy, this kind of nature study. In this setting, the bird’s small size next to the crowd of talkative ducks was striking. It was hunting with great concentration.

Like any good fisherman, it posed for a moment with its catch. Then it turned the minnow neatly and swallowed it, head first. It was interesting to me to see the disturbance in the water’s surface increasing as the heron waited and then snatched. I’m not sure if the minnows were reacting to the heron, or if the heron was merely watching the minnow activity as the group approached it under the water.

So much of “nature study” involves watching animals simply eating or taking care of young. They are just surviving, doing the same ordinary things we humans do. But they have the intrigue of being different species, highly skilled and adapted.

Sapsucker Woods Walk

I saw only one other person on the trails at Sapsucker Woods on Wednesday, and I saw more birds than I photographed. It was brutally hot, but I was in town and couldn’t resist a quick walk.

This fellow was fishing — and scratching an itch.

Immediately across the small bay was an unexpected sight — a deer cooling herself in the water, the first of two I saw.

There were bees busy in the wildflowers.

Quite a number of these pretty flowers poked through the rails of the first boardwalk. I believe it’s called pasture rose.

As usual, there were many chipmunks to be seen. This one was climbing rather than scurrying across the trail, squeaking.

I haven’t been out and about much this week due to a bout with what I believe was tularemia, a disease transmitted through a deer fly bite. It was an unpleasant experience involving a bull’s-eye like irritation around the bite, a high fever, and achiness. Thankfully antibiotics did the trick.

Celebrity Herons

We went to Sapsucker Woods the other day and saw the bowl-full-of teenagers (a.k.a. herons’ nest) chatting and looking around out in the pond.

Then we noticed what they were viewing from their balcony seats. Down in the pond, one of the adult herons looked to the right…

…and looked to the left…

…and looked at us.

"Oh goody. Another photographer."

So very patient. We waited and watched and were eventually reminded that all things come to those who wait.

In addition to its children watching from the nest, there is a dragonfly watching the whole show in the right foreground. Someone else was watching, too.

Who was in his turn being observed by others…

Frog Paparazzi

One of the funniest things I saw was a frog literally racing across the lily pads directly in front of the hunting heron. I saw at least two frogs do this. Were they adolescents daring one another to ring the doorbell of their grumpy neighbor? The stakes were pretty high for the frogs! But apparently the heron had an appetite for fish.

While watching the heron, several different dragonflies demanded our attention as well. There were this one,

this one,

this one,

and these two shameless exhibitionists. The female is laying eggs, we guessed.

We heard many more birds than we saw. But this is a new one for me, a great crested flycatcher.

The other new sighting for me was a pair of American redstarts. I’ve seen the male before, but not the female.

We were very hot by the time our stroll ended, so we ate the lunch we’d brought and drank gallons of water before heading back home. Older Daughter enjoyed the heron fishing the most, Younger Daughter liked the frogs, and I liked the redstarts. So there was something for everyone and more besides — as usual!

Scenes from Ithaca

On the way to Ithaca the other day, we saw this American kestrel hunting beside the road. They are such beautiful little birds! It was perched on a lightpost, then it fluttered to the power line, studying the ground in search of lunch.

He’s so beautifully colored; he looks painted. We see them sometimes hovering as they hunt, but this one put on no such show for us.

Having survived the decision to stop beside a busy thoroughfare to snap pictures of a kestrel, we went on to Taughannock Falls for a hike.

We took the trail up to the top of the falls and looked down on some of the smaller falls from above.

We met some turkey vultures along the rim.

It was a walk of a few miles, and though the overcast wasn’t great for photos, it made the heat much more bearable. The girls were ready to wade when we got back to the bottom, so we joined the rest of the multitude of people and polliwogs there, splashing around.

We hadn’t seen any songbirds, though we’d heard a few insistent warblers up along the rim. But after we packed away the cameras and went across the road to use the rest rooms before leaving, the trees were full of birds: cedar waxwings, warbling vireos, and I even caught a glimpse of an American redstart.

We visited the hawks after that, and as we were leaving Ithaca we made a brief diversion to Sapsucker Woods. The Visitor Center was closed for the day, and though the trails were still open, it all had the peaceful atmosphere of a place being reclaimed by its inhabitants. A squirrel sunned itself on a railing and watched us drowsily. A ruby-throated hummingbird — a species I have seldom seen in any other mood than territorial fury — shook out its feathers and rested. Turtles eyed us from the grass. A couple of orioles caroled from treetops. Everything about the scene radiated a quieting spirit.

No visit would be complete without a look at these guys.

This guy ran full-tilt toward my daughter -- then turned and high-tailed it away when he saw himself being photographed!


Smile, friend!

This turtle was sunning itself in the middle of the pavement, so we moved him.

All in all it was a full day, rich in beauty. We always have the sense of barely scratching the surface when we visit Ithaca.


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