by SC Reporter Reese Holiday
In the often cold, icy area of Nurse Hallow Swamp near the small town of Bainbridge, New York, Rick Bunting captures the still moments of swamp creatures with his Sony camera.
But one year, he photographed a creature unfamiliar with the wetland.
“Two years ago, I went to the swamp one morning and I looked out and toward the other side was a white bird,” Bunting said. “I waited and waited until I could see it and I said, ‘it’s a swan!’ What is a swan doing in this swamp?”
This story of a swan in the swamp was one of many shared by Bunting in a Thursday Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society lecture. Bunting, who is a professor emeritus from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, said Molly the trumpeter swan escaped from her home five minutes up the road from the swamp.
While swans aren’t usually found in swamps, Bunting said Molly enjoyed the time she had in the wet tundra before she was recaptured and sent back home.
“Not only did I see it, but many, many people saw it, and we followed Molly for an entire summer,” Bunting said. “She enjoyed that swamp. She played, she fed, and she had it all to herself.”
However, Molly was not alone in the swamp as she was joined by another large bird. Bunting said the great blue heron is his favorite bird of all time and fell in love with Nurse Hallow Swamp when he saw a great blue heron nest.
He said once the big blue birds find a mate, the male and the female have many different courtship gestures. One of these is building their nest together, something Bunting admired one year as a great blue heron male worked tirelessly.
“Last year, I took the time to photograph a Great Blue Heron nest that was in construction,” Bunting said. “I wanted to see how many times I could get the male coming back with a stick consecutively. At 37 times, I had to go home and have lunch.”
After building the nest and raising their young, Bunting said the male and female still remain very close. He said even as the young start to get as big as the parents, the male will still come and give the female everything it needs.
“Even when the young are getting to be pretty good size, you can see that he will continue this wonderful courtship that goes on between them all season long,” Bunting said. “He’ll bring her sticks. He will come and cuddle her. It’s a marvelous thing to follow if you ever get to follow a blue heron nest.”
However, these great blue herons aren’t the only birds of the swamp that show affection for one another. Bunting said the Canada geese are one of the first nesters at the swamp with a male and female sharing loving gestures once a nest is picked out.
“They also go through a very interesting set of courting gestures,” Bunting said. “One of the main ones is this dipping that they do where they stick their heads down in the water.”
Another flying creature of the swamp is the phantom crane fly. This fly is one of Bunting’s favorite swamp dwellers, who said they have an ability unlike any other.
“The phantom crane fly has a very unique ability,” Bunting said. “It can inflate the lower portions of their legs which allows it to drift on the air. Seeing these little creatures drifting about like miniature space craft’s floating in space is something I wait for every year at the swamp.”
For the swamp’s plants, Bunting said the ground comes to life with color towards the beginning of spring. He said wildflowers will find a home in the swamp, including the bright yellow coltsfoot.
“The plant that we really wait to see as the beginning of our wildflower year at the swamp is the coltsfoot,” Bunting said. “This is the plant that comes very early, as early as the first week of April sometimes, and sometimes even the last week of March. It’s always a welcomed guest.”
With all of the unique creatures and colors located in its biome, Bunting said Nurse Hallow Swamp has become a popular destination, even for those who may not be able to walk its grounds.
“One of the great delights about it is it’s also a swamp that people can be brought to that are having ambulatory problems and maybe can’t even get out of the car,” Bunting said. “You can pull the car up alongside and they can sit and share in this wonderful place.”
The accessibility and uniqueness of this cold New York swamp has Bunting coming back more and more to soak in the wildlife. While enjoying the swamp, he reminds other birders and wildlife enjoyers to absorb as much as they can and to not look at things differently.
“In our birding, we always have to remember that if you’re always looking for something different, you may never see things differently,” Bunting said.