27 June 2014

Frog Monitoring Comes to a Close

During the last two nights I conducted my third of three sets of frog and toad call monitoring for the year at five sites for the FrogWatch USA citizen science program. This year was a pretty good year for my sites, as I logged 10 of the 11 species that could be expected in the South Bend, Indiana area:
  • Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)
  • Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata)
  • Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
  • American Toad (Bufo americanus)
  • Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)
  • Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris)
  • Blanchard's Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi)
  • Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
  • Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans)
  • American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)
I did not hear a Fowler's Toad (Bufo fowleri) at my sites in 2014.

Calling Eastern Gray Treefrog in South Bend, Indiana, June 25, 2014
Chamberlain Lake Nature Preserve is one of just a few places in this area where you can find Blanchard's Cricket Frog.  In the video below, you can hear the "clicking marbles" call of that species, as well as the loud  "Red-bellied Woodpecker-like trills" of the Eastern Gray Treefrog and the "banjo twang" of the Green Frog.


It's always a treat to get to see how these tiny frogs produce such a loud sound.  The video below shows a calling Eastern Gray Treefrog.


Frog and toad calls are starting to wind down a bit for the year, but that only means that the singing insects are just getting started.  Now is the time to start listening for them as they fill the night with their characteristic melodies.

26 June 2014

A Rare Treat

If you follow this blog, you know that I am a big fan of the milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), not only for their unique flower morphology but also for their importance to a long list of insect species.  It is no surprise, then, that on a recent trip to Starved Rock State Park near Utica in LaSalle County, Illinois, I had to stop to snap a few shots of the somewhat uncommon Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata).

Unlike many of our milkweeds that grow in open to partly shaded conditions, Poke Milkweed thrives in rich soils and grows in partly shaded to shaded conditions of woodlands and forests.  Its range includes much of the eastern part of North America, extending west just past the Mississippi River into Minnesota and Iowa.

Although it isn't necessarily considered a species of conservation concern, when you are lucky enough to find Poke Milkweed, you generally don't see it in large numbers.  According to Swink and Wilhelm (1994), Poke Milkweed can be absent or found in very small numbers in a given forest for many years, and then inexplicably it will be found in great numbers in the same woods.

The flowers of Poke Milkweed are interesting in part because they are bi-colored.  The corolla lobes (petals) are greenish-yellow, whereas the hoods of the corona are white to faintly pink.

Although it has opposite leaves with milky sap, the leaves have a texture and venation that can superficially be confused with the alternate-leaved Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), giving rise to the common name Poke Milkweed. This similarity was noted by Frederick Pursh, who assigned the Latin name Asclepias phytolaccoides to this species.  The older name Asclepias exaltata, assigned by Carl Linnaeus, is the currently accepted Latin name.

Swink, F. and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region. 4th edition. Indianapolis: Indiana Academy of Science.

24 June 2014

Scenes from the Hill Prairie

Late May is a spectacular time on the gravel hill prairie.  The gravel provides a low-nutrient substrate that keeps vegetation competition to a minimum, and as a result several prairie species that are generally not as competitive have the opportunity to thrive.  The photographs that follow are from 28 May 2014 on a gravel hill prairie in McHenry County, Illinois.

Viola pedata (Bird's Foot Violet)

Minuartia stricta (Rock Sandwort)

Lithospermum incisum (Fringed Gromwell)

Geum triflorum (Prairie Smoke)

Geum triflorum (Prairie Smoke) in fruit

20 June 2014

Grass Identification and Ecology Workshop to be Offered at The Morton Arboretum

Tired of seeing "unknown grass" and "Dichanthelium sp." on your vegetation sampling datasheets?  Need to know what species that Elymus is to figure out if you're in a wetland or an upland?  Interested in learning vegetative characteristics for some of our more common grasses?  Just want to know more about grass identification and ecology in general?  If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then the workshop discussed below being held on August 21-22, 2014 at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois may be for you.  If you have any questions about the workshop, email Scott Namestnik at snamestnik@orbisec.com.

Learn to identify the grasses that add beauty and interest to the summer and fall landscape. Grasses allow us to read the landscape: from soils, habitat, disturbance and past land uses. They form a critical component of the biodiversity and with nearly 11,000 species, this is the fourth largest plant family. This workshop consists of an intensive, hands-on approach incorporating both classroom work and field study.  Identify warm season grasses in the field and lab, learn the specialized terminology and distinguishing features, discuss their ecology, and practice identifying species from keys. 

Instructor: Scott Namestnik, senior botanist, Orbis Environmental Consulting
Notes: Held both indoors and outdoors. Please dress for the weather each day. Limit 20
Supplies: Please bring a water bottle, a hand lens, and wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes for walking over uneven terrain. Fee includes all workshop handouts, morning refreshments and a box lunch.
Intended audience: Advanced students and professionals.
Certificate information: Can be used as a Naturalist Certificate, WSP elective (14 hours)
Prerequisites: Prior experience with plant identification required
Course number: S318

Thursday, August 21 and Friday, August 22, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Botany Lab, Research Center, The Morton Arboretum

Nonmembers: Fees include admission to the Arboretum.
$150.00 members
$176.00 nonmembers
$50.00 students; call 630-719-2468 or email registrar-ed@mortonarb.org for student rate


CALL: 630-719-2468
IN PERSON: Stop by the Visitor Center during open hours.
ONLINE: REGISTER NOW at http://www.mortonarb.org/courses/grass-identification-and-ecology

20 May 2014

Spring is Mustard Season

In early April I made a trip down to extreme southern Indiana with Mike Homoya and Roger Hedge to see a unique spring ephemeral native mustard in bloom.  Our target was Michaux's Gladecress (Leavenworthia uniflora), and we weren't disappointed.  We met up with Jason Larson and Derek Luchik to see this little gem.

Michaux's Gladecress is a tiny plant, with the largest specimens only reaching about seven inches tall when in flower; most plants are much shorter than this.  As an annual calciphile that can't tolerate competition from other plants, Michaux's Gladecress is restricted to areas with limestone at or near the surface, such as glades, rocky old fields, roadsides, and rocky ledges. In Indiana, this habitat is only found in the southeastern part of the state, near the Ohio River.

Limestone glades aren't common in Indiana, and as a result Michaux's Gladecress isn't common in the Hoosier State.  Even within the glades that are present, this little mustard is really only found in areas of nearly bare soil; it is more common in areas with exposed limestone that are near but not in the glades.  In areas meeting this description, the species can be rather abundant, growing in tiny cracks in the limestone or areas where a miniscule amount of soil has accumulated.

Michaux's Gladecress is only known from Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.  In Indiana, its populations are restricted to Clark County, and as a result it is listed as endangered; globally it is apparently secure (G4).

What a great way to start off the botanical year!

11 May 2014

Cooper at Bendix Woods

Lindsay, Cooper, and I took a quick walk this afternoon at Bendix Woods County Park in St. Joseph County, Indiana for me to prepare for a field trip I am leading there next weekend for Shirley Heinze Land Trust.  Lucky for us, Cooper loves hiking, and he seemed right at home with the blooming Trillium grandiflorum, Enemion biternatum, and Asarum canadense.

Happy dog!!

After hiking at a new park, Cooper seems amazingly more calm when we get home.

05 April 2014

An Uncommon Visitor

I can get used to this working from home gig.  Nearly every day for the past two weeks I've watched Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fly past my office window, including one mature eagle at very close range flying up my driveway being chased by a blackbird.  Just a couple of days ago, we had another visitor that probably would have gone unnoticed had I not been working from home.

The chunky, brown, streaked body, conical beak, and bold white eyeline help to identify this bird as a female Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus).  We've only observed Purple Finch on our property a few times; this is the first female that we've seen.  In many bird species, the females are more difficult to identify because they are less colorful than the males and look similar to females of other species.  In the case of the Purple Finch, the male is definitely more colorful, appearing to have been "dipped in raspberry juice" according to famous American naturalist Roger Tory Peterson, but the female is actually more easily identified.  Male Purple Finches are often confused with male House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus), but female Purple Finches are easily distinguished from female House Finches because of the white eyeline that the House Finch lacks.

Purple Finches are in northern Indiana only in winter; they spend their summers further north of here in moist, cool forests.  Their populations seem to be decreasing, and some think this may be a result of competition with the invasive House Finch.   

I can't wait to see what species I can add to our yard list working from home this spring once songbird migration is well underway.

"Bootypants" by Jason Haney

A nice addition to our living room...

Thanks, Jason!  She looks great!

27 March 2014


There have been some changes at the Namestnik house recently.  First, after over 15 years at JFNew and Cardno JFNew, I left my job and founded Orbis Environmental Consulting with a bat/wildlife biologist and an archaeologist.  Check us out on the web, on Facebook and on LinkedIn.
Then, a week ago, we became the proud parents of an 8 month old Australian Cattle Dog puppy named Cooper.

Wish us luck!!

02 March 2014

2013-2014 Winter Feeder Count Results

Lindsay and I recently completed our sixth consecutive Indiana Audubon Society Winter Bird Feeder Count, an easy and fun citizen science project during which the greatest number of each bird species observed at feeders in your yard on the 20th to 25th of November, December, January, and February are tallied.  Although I mentioned to Lindsay a couple of times during this count how active our feeders were nearly every day, our results show that the number of individuals has been decreasing since we started the count in 2008-2009.  For our results from past Winter Bird Feeder Counts, see our posts here (2012-2013), here (2011-2012), here (2010-2011), and here (2009-2010).

Some of our feeders
Looking back at data from our counts over the years, it quickly becomes apparent that 2008-2009 must have been a standout birding season, as we tallied 27 species at our feeders during that count but have not had more than 23 since.  During the 2013-2014 count, we were just under our average from the previous years of 22.8 species, as we tallied 21.  We had 14 species in November 2013 (the fewest total number of species ever during our counts), 15 species in December 2013, 17 species in January 2014, and 20 species in February 2014.  The 20 species we observed in February was the most in any month of the Winter Bird Feeder Count on our property since the 2008-2009 count, when we had 20 species in December and 25 species in February. 

We get a lot of traffic on the ground under the feeders
The biggest discrepancy in results from this year versus the average of past years was in November and December, as we observed three fewer species than our average numbers during each of those months.  We began feeding a bit later this year than in past years, so it is possible that it takes the birds a little while to find our feeders once we start feeding for the winter and that if we had started feeding earlier in the winter/fall of 2013 our number of species observed in the early months of the count might have been more comparable to our average.

American Tree Sparrow
The list of species observed during our 2013-2014 Winter Bird Feeder Count is found at the end of this post.  Species not observed during this count that we have seen on at least one other count include Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea), and Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus); however, the first four of these were seen on our property (just not at the feeders or during the count period) this winter.  Conspicuously absent from our feeders (and those of others in this area) in 2013-2014 were the winter finches (such as Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin).  We've tallied a total of 31 species using our feeders (or hawks showing an interest in feeder birds) during the six seasons that we've participated in this count.

Dark-eyed Junco (male)
It was much colder and we had more snow during the 2013-2014 Winter Bird Feeder Count than in the past few years, but the temperatures and snow cover during the count periods were similar to those in 2008-2009.  The low temperature during our 2013-2014 count was -7  degrees Fahrenheit in January and the high temperature reached 45 degrees Fahrenheit in February.  The deepest snow cover during the count was observed in January and February (8 inches).

Tufted Titmouse
Species observed most frequently (those present during all four count periods) in 2013-2014 were Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea), Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus),  American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), and House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).

White-breasted Nuthatch
Species observed in greatest abundance during a single month of the count (with the greatest number observed at one time in parentheses) were House Sparrow (17 in December), American Tree Sparrow (16 in December, 15 in February, and 12 in January), American Goldfinch (12 in February), Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) (11 in January), and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) (10 in February).

Blue Jay
The most abundant species based on average over the four months of the count were American Tree Sparrow (12.5), House Sparrow (9.25), American Goldfinch (8.75), and Dark-eyed Junco (7.75). 

Downy Woodpecker (female)
The number of individuals of the most abundant species continued to decrease from those reported in the past few years; two years ago we had four species that averaged over 10 individuals during the four months of the count.
Hairy Woodpecker (male)
Just as in 2012-2013, one of our most notable observations during this count was a lack of White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys).  The decline in number of individuals of this species at our feeders, from an average of 3.0 over the count period in 2008-2009 to an average of 0.25 over the count period during the past two years, may be indicative of their shifting population, as reports show that their numbers are increasing in parts of the continent but decreasing in other parts.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (male) (top) and Black-capped Chickadee (bottom)
Another notable observation in 2013-2014 was the presence of a Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) during three of the four months of the count.  This was only the second time during a Winter Bird Feeder Count that this handsome reddish brown and gray bird has made an appearance at our feeders (also present during the 2010-2011 count), and on days when it was present it stuck around almost the entire day.

Fox Sparrow (top) with Dark-eyed Junco (bottom)
2013-2014 Winter Bird Feeder Count Species List
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow