26 December 2009

A Christmas Eagle

While walking Bootypants on our trails today, I heard a murder of crows creating commotion in the farm field south of our property. I looked in the direction of the crows and saw something white flying in the distance. As I continued to watch, I realized that what I was seeing was a white tail; I then saw a white head on a dark body and realized that yard bird 103 on our property was a Bald Eagle! I still haven't figured out this digiscoping thing, and the snow and strong winds didn't help. The bird was also quite a distance away, so I had both the camera and scope zoomed in all the way. Below is the resulting photo, which is good enough to document the bird, but not good enough for much else.

There is a deer carcass in the field that I think attracted this eagle (and the crows). At one point, the crows chased the eagle out of the trees; the eagle proceeded to fly directly over our property before flying back to the south into the farm field and eventually back to the line of trees on the west end of the farm field.

25 December 2009

Our Night Before Christmas

Merry Christmas to all, and to all...

... a good night!

20 December 2009

Elephant Head

Were you able to figure out the plant that I was looking at in the photograph in my previous post? Here's a closer look...

... and here is a look at the inflorescence...

If you're still not sure what this is, the title of this post says it all. This is Elephant Head (Pedicularis groenlandica). The common name for this species comes from the spitting image resemblance of the individual flowers to the head of a particular pachyderm. The "trunk" is actually the upper lip of the corolla that is declined and curved upward; the "ears" are two lobes of the lower lip of the corolla (Guennel 2004). Be sure that you're looking at the mature flowers and not the buds at the top of the inflorescence in the photo above, or instead you may be tempted to call this plant Gonzo Flower.

Little Red Elephant, as this species is also known, is a member of the family Scrophulariaceae (for now). In the photograph above, notice the fern-like leaves that are characteristic of most members of the genus Pedicularis. This species is circumboreal in distribution (Beidleman et al. 2000), meaning that it is found in northern regions around the world. In North America, it is found in the western United States, Alaska, and in most Canadian provinces (USDA, NRCS 2009).

A photograph of the habitat in which we saw Elephant Head is shown above. Look at all the color in this subalpine meadow! Elephantella (another common name for this species) grows from the montane into the alpine, where it is found in wet meadows, bogs, and swamps, as well as near streams, ponds, and springs (Guennel 2004).

This is one of my favorite photographs from our Colorado trip, but it pales in comparison to the photograph of an albino Elephant Head on Southwest Colorado Wildflowers at the bottom of the page at this link. Elephant Head has been used medicinally in several ways, most commonly to loosen chest congestion; like other members of the genus, it has also been used as a tranquilizer, muscle relaxant, sedative, and aphrodesiac (Psychoactive Herbs 2009). I'm not sure how this last use fits in with the previous three... I'll leave this to your imagination.

Beidleman, L.H., R.G. Beidleman, & B.E. Willard. (2000). Plants of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Nature Association; Helena, Montana: Falcoln Publishing, Inc.

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2: Mountains. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

Psychoactive Herbs. 20 December 2009. Retrieved from http://psychoactiveherbs.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=123.

USDA, NRCS. 2009. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/, 20 December 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

18 December 2009


Alright... I've had enough of seeing that "tacky sweater" photograph everytime I look at our blog, so I needed to post a more dignified photo of myself.

We have our Christmas Bird Count tomorrow, so I don't have any time now... but I will post about the plant that I'm looking at in this photo in my next post later this weekend.

15 December 2009

And The Winner Is.......

SCOTT! On Saturday December 12th, my work had a Tacky Sweater Christmas Party in which we all dressed up in our best worst sweaters and Christmas gear. As you can plainly see Scott and I looked great. The first words we heard upon entering the party were "are those red pants?". Not only are those red pants but the lovely women's shirt he is wearing was also sporting ornaments made of sequins. Although he won hands down, I came in a close second with my granny hammer pants and New Year's 2000 shirt accompanied by the Santa shirt complete with huge shoulder pads. A big thanks to Kelly for hosting the party. A good time was had by all. I apologize to anyone viewing this blog that may recognize their clothing.

11 December 2009

Parry's Primrose

As you will see as I continue to post photos from our trip to Colorado in July, the subalpine and alpine meadows were painted with a pallette of pigments and hues of every shade imaginable. The plant featured in this post added a unique splash of magenta to the alluring organic canvas.

This is Parry's Primrose (Primula parryi), a plant of the subalpine and alpine life zones in the Rocky Mountains south of Canada (Strickler 1990). We only saw this member of the family Primulaceae in the subalpine, where it can reach heights of up to nearly 50cm (Kelso 2009); it doesn't get as tall in the vertically challenged alpine, but it still towers over most of the surrounding plants. Parry's Primrose grows in wet and often rocky areas, including bogs, seeps, and wet meadows, as well as along streams and waterfalls; a common place to find Alpine Primrose, as it is also known, is in snowmelt seeps (Guennel 2004; Kelso 2009).

Most of the Parry's Primrose that we saw was along streams through wet meadows, but Lindsay snapped the shot below of this species growing on rocky substrate in mixed forest on the other side of a fast-moving snowmelt stream. The flowers are said to have a pleasant odor at first that becomes skunky as they age (Beidleman et al. 2000; Kelso 2009) or when touched (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers).

Parry's Primrose was first collected by Charles Christopher Parry in 1861 in Colorado; it was named in his honor by Asa Gray in 1862 (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers). Parry returned the favor by naming Gray's Peak on the Front Range of Colorado after Asa Gray.

Beidleman, L.H., R.G. Beidleman, & B.E. Willard. (2000). Plants of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Nature Association; Helena, Montana: Falcoln Publishing, Inc.

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2: Mountains. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

Kelso, S. (2009). Primula. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 15+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 8.

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Retrieved December 11, 2009. http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/.

Strickler, D. (1990). Alpine Wildflowers: Showy Wildflowers of the Alpine and Subalpine Areas of the Northern Rocky Mountain States. Columbia Falls, Montana: The Flower Press.

10 December 2009

Snowball Saxifrage

A somewhat common plant that we saw in the alpine life zone in Colorado was Snowball Saxifrage (Saxifraga rhomboidea), a member of the family Saxifragaceae. This species grows in a variety of habitats from the foothills (6000' - 8000' above sea level) all the way up into the alpine (>11,500' above sea level) (Guennel 2004). It is known from many states in the western part of the country (USDA NRCS 2009). Edward Greene made the first collection of this species in 1889 and named it Saxifraga rhomboidea; John Small came up with the name Micranthes rhomboidea - the name currently used for this plant by William Weber - for the same species in 1905 (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers).

Also known as Diamondleaf Saxifrage and Early Saxifrage, this species can often be found in rocky habitats. This is one potential origin for the genus (and family) name, as "saxifrage" is translated to mean "rock-breaker;" another potential origin, as discussed by Gerard in The Herbal (1633), is that plants in this family have been used for hundreds of years to treat kidney stones (Weber 1976; Southwest Colorado Wildflowers).

I took the photograph above at Loveland Pass on the Continental Divide in central Colorado.

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2: Mountains. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Retrieved December 10, 2009. http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/.

USDA, NRCS. (2009). The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/, 10 December 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Weber, W.A. (1976). Rocky Mountain Flora. Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado.

04 December 2009

Sun God

Ahh... the alpine. Before our trip to Colorado in July 2009, we had never seen the alpine. I had images in my mind of short plants topped with enormous flowers. Sun God (Tetraneuris grandiflora) certainly didn't let us down. At approximately 10 inches tall and with composite flower heads up to four inches across, this conspicuous and charismatic alpine wildflower puts on quite a show.

Like other alpine plants, Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, as it is also known, has adapted to the difficult conditions of the harsh alpine environment. Being so tall (relatively), it attempts to keep its flower heads away from the prevailing winds by orienting most of them to face east (Beidleman et al. 2000).

The photograph above is one of my favorites from our trip. We saw this plant in the alpine at Independence Pass (between Leadville and Aspen) at approximately 12,000 feet above sea level. Independence Pass is located in central Colorado on the Continental Divide. A photograph of the habitat and terrain is shown below. Sun God grows on rocky ridges and slopes, as well as in meadows (Guennel 2004), and is found in only five states in North America: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming (Biernier 2006).

If you recognize this plant but don't know it as Tetraneuris grandiflora, maybe you would recognize one of its synonyms. Sun God has undergone several name changes since it was initially collected by John Fremont in the 1840s and named Actinella grandiflora by John Torrey and Asa Gray in 1845; since that time, it has also been known as Rydbergia grandiflora and Hymenoxys grandiflora (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers). This member of the family Asteraceae also has several additional common names, including Mountain Sunflower, Alpine Goldflower, Alpine Sunflower, Rydbergia, Graylocks Rubberweed, and Four-nerved Daisy (Beidleman et al. 2000; Biernier 2006; Guennel 2004).

Beidleman, L.H., R.G. Beidleman, & B.E. Willard. (2000). Plants of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Nature Association; Helena, Montana: Falcoln Publishing, Inc.

Biernier, M.W. (2006). Hymenoxys. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 15+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 21.

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2: Mountains. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Retrieved December 4, 2009. http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/.

02 December 2009

Final 2009 Tick Count

I have always been curious to know how many ticks wind up crawling on me in a given year. This year, I decided to count all of them that I found. To make things interesting, Lindsay and Bootypants participated in my little game as well.

By mid-May, Bootypants had already jumped out to an early lead. She never looked back, pushing her lead to 15 by mid-June. We were still finding ticks in late October and November. With snow in the forecast tonight, I think it is safe to say that the tick ticker of 2009 is complete.

Here is the final tally...
Bootypants: 100
Scott: 80
Lindsay: 9

None of the ticks that Lindsay found on her were attached. I had a few that were attached for short periods of time, but most were found crawling on me. I don't like to use bug spray, and I've found that wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt tucked in with a thin long-sleeved t-shirt over it seems to keep most of the ticks off of my skin; I find a lot in between the two shirts. Many of the ticks we found on Bootypants were attached, with several engorged. The tick shown in the two photos above was the milestone tick, #100, found on November 12, 2009.

29 November 2009

Stay Tuned for Colorado Photos

On 6-7 November 2009, Lindsay and I were in Salem, Missouri for the 8th annual Botany Slideshow Extravaganza. By Thursday evening on our way there, we knew we were in for a great weekend. For some reason, I had a taste for a "burrito as big as your head," the trademark of the Mexican restaurant La Bamba. I hadn't eaten La Bamba, or even seen one for that matter, in probably eight years. As we were exiting I-55 in Bloomington, Illinois to get gas and dinner, I told Lindsay about my craving. A minute or so later, Lindsay exclaimed, "There's a La Bamba!" I looked to my right, and sure enough, by complete chance, I was in luck. It was just as good as I remember it from nights in Oxford, Ohio when I was in college.

The slideshow was excellent... the best ever, actually. For a recap on Get Your Botany On!, click here.

As for the title of this post... I have been holding off on posting plant photos from our trip to Colorado because many of my best photos were going to be used in my slideshow. Now I can begin posting those photos. I will do this as winter approaches and through the winter, both here and at Get Your Botany On!, so check both blogs frequently.

The photograph above shows a bit of the diversity we encountered in the alpine life zone. In Colorado, the alpine, also known as tundra, is a treeless zone from approximately 11,500' to 14,400' above sea level. It consists of a very harsh environment characterized by thin soils (as seen in the photo above) or soils that only thaw in the top few inches, relentless winds, and a very short growing season. To survive in these conditions, many of the plants have developed morphological adaptations, including short aboveground biomass with large flowers, linear and/or succulent leaves, pubescence that is sometimes glandular, leaves that are rolled or folded lengthwise, perennial life cycles, and evergreen foliage.

Much more to come!

27 November 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and is figuring out how to work off that extra holiday cushioning. Lindsay and I spent Thanksgiving at my parents' house in northeast Ohio. Before heading home, we had time for a family photo...

Bootypants couldn't make it for the photo because she had eaten too much...

On Wednesday night, we finally had a chance to see Ninebit perform. My brother, Greg, is their singer, and my cousin, Todd, had his first show with them as their guitar player. They sounded great, and we can't wait to see them again.

18 November 2009

Which End is Which?

Take a look at the caterpillar in the photograph below and see which end you think is the head, and which end you think is the rear.

Many caterpillars have developed defense mechanisms to ward off predators. Some of those mechanisms include camouflage, mimicking other animals in appearance (e.g. snakes), chemical defense, mimicking poisonous caterpillars in appearance, intense and sudden movement, pretending to bite, regurgitating, and hissing; yet another defense mechanism is possessing a "false head" (Wagner 2005). In some caterpillars, like the Spicebush Swallowtail, the false head is located over the thorax. More commonly, the false head is located at the opposite end of the body.

In the Turbulent Phosphila (Phosphila turbulenta) shown in these photographs, the head appears to be at the end facing my camera in the photograph above. However, the shiny, black, true head of this caterpillar is at the end facing my camera in the photograph below, hidden under the black and white prothoracic shield (the shield over the first segment of the thorax).

Predators often attack the head end of a caterpillar (Purser 2003), so possessing a false head is a way to potentially survive an attack. When the false head is attacked, caterpillars that possess them regurgitate, bite, or emit a poisonous substance (Wagner 2005).

Lindsay and I found this caterpillar at Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Illinois a few weeks ago. It was on a handrail along a trail, with a leaf that had fallen off of a Roundleaf Greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) plant. As it turns out, the Turbulent Phosphila feeds on... you guessed it, greenbrier; they often feed in groups, and have been known to defoliate plants (Wagner 2005). You can find this boldly patterned caterpillar in open woods throughout much of the eastern United States (Wagner 2005).

Purser, Bruce. Jungle Bugs: Masters of Camouflage and Mimicry. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2003.

Wagner, David L. Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005.

09 November 2009

More From Utica

As Lindsay explained so well in her recent post, we spent the weekend of our 7-year anniversary in Utica, Illinois, visiting several state parks (Starved Rock, Matthiessen, and Buffalo Rock). These parks are interesting in part because of some of the plant species that grow in the steep ravines. For example, we saw Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis), two conifers that are typically found further north. These evergreen trees are relicts from a time when the climate was colder than it is today, and they persist in Illinois and Indiana only in ravines and bogs were the substrate is constantly cool and moist.

Thuja occidentalis on steep cliff

A few spring-blooming plants that have colorful leaves that persist throughout the winter were also obvious amongst the orange and brown leaf litter. One of these is Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba).

Hepatica acutiloba

The geologic features in these parks are also quite interesting.

Sandstone cliff

At Matthiessen State Park, we came across an interesting trail map. I guess the map wasn't as interesting as the rant that that someone had written on it. A bit ironic, too...

As Lindsay mentioned, we did some birding while we were on our trip. Our trip list of 49 species follows:

Canada Goose
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

As we drove home on Sunday, we tallied 18 Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) between Utica, Illinois and North Liberty, Indiana! That's approximately 6 per hour!

Thank you, too, Lindsay, for a wonderful 7 years and a great weekend!

05 November 2009

7 Years of Bliss!

Scott and I celebrated our 7 year anniversary last weekend by making our annual 3 day trip to an area with parks, hiking and a bed and breakfast. This year we went to Utica, Illinois. Utica is unique because it is a small town but if offers 3 state parks all within an 8 mile radius of each other. We got to Utica on Friday afternoon and after a quick lunch and check-in we went to Starved Rock State Park.

The quality of the above picture is not great but any time you start out on a trail and get to the first overview and see a bald eagle you have to post it. You don't have to be a birder to appreciate how amazing the bald eagle is. One of the coolest birds our area has to offer. Starved Rock has a pair of eagles that winter and nest in the park.

Starved Rock was beautiful. As you can see the park is made up of many (18 to be exact) canyons. There are trails that allow you to hike into the canyons and get great views of the waterfalls and tree covered sandstone bluffs.

We were a little late in the year to see the peak of fall colors but the trees still had quite a few leaves and the rain held off all weekend so it made for great views, hiking and birding.

We wish we would have had more time to spend at Starved Rock. We only walked about 4 of the 13 miles of trails that the park has to offer. I heard the park is especially beautiful during wildflower season. We hope to return and take in some wildflowers and hike more of the trails.

Saturday we went to Matthiessen State Park. Matthiessen is also a park that is full of canyons and streams. It did not take long for us to realize that the recent rains had caused the streams to flood. Scott and I didn't care. We decided to "take the plunge" anyways and follow the trails as best we could.

Many bridges led us through the canyons and dells. It was also crazy to see how these relatively large trees could root and prosper in an area that was pretty much stone. As you can see from the below picture the trees have very little dirt to root in.

The next picture is just comical because you can see the trail (wooden boardwalk) that is completely under water. Scott was not up for a swim so we found a new way around that part of the trail.

In addition to our hiking we also enjoyed a couple of nights out with good food and good company. Although I don't have an pictures, I have to give a shout out to Cajun Ron from the Cajun Connection. Great restaurant with authentic Cajun cuisine. The atmosphere was fun and Cajun Ron even chatted with us and gave us complimentary pecan pie for our anniversary. Some of the best food I have ever eaten. The second night we ate at a local steakhouse restaurant and then enjoyed a couple of drinks while taking in some football and the World Series.

As you can see, Scott upheld tradition and upon arriving at the bed and breakfast there were 7 red roses (1 rose for each year we've been married) waiting for me.

Long story about the bed and breakfast but to summarize we have renamed it the "bed-n" because we never got breakfast and the above picture is us locked out of the bed and breakfast on Sunday morning.

We would not recommend the Lander's House to anyone in the Utica area but we did have a wonderful time in the area. Utica is a great town with lots to do for the nature lover. Thanks Scott for a fun and memorable anniversary. You make "til death do us part" seem too short.

29 October 2009

Instant Habitat

Back in September, I was at one of my mitigation wetlands in northcentral Indiana when I noticed that a 5-foot section of PVC that we had previously installed to mark a sampling transect was inhabited by an Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).

Who knew that creating wildlife habitat could be so easy?

24 October 2009

Goats Got Game

Under the cover of darkness on Thursday night, we shipped the goats back to Prairie Winds Farm. In less than a quarter of the time we expected, they decimated the vegetation in our garden.





A job well done, goats!