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!

22 October 2009

Check Yourself

... for ticks, that is. Just because it is almost November doesn't mean that the ticks are done for the season. I had become complacent and had stopped routinely checking for ticks after being outside, until recently when we found a few engorged ticks on Bootypants.

This tick is in the genus Ixodes, and I'm pretty sure it is a Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis). Deer Ticks (also called Black-legged Ticks) are notorious for spreading Lyme disease. After finding several of these, I have found a few unengorged adults as well.

The photograph above is an adult female, while that below is an adult male. I found the adult female crawling up my pants just yesterday after walking our trails.

You may recall two posts (here and here) earlier this season on the tick count contest that Lindsay, Bootypants, and I were having this year. I will provide an update once I'm pretty sure we are done with ticks for the year.

18 October 2009

Birding at Indiana Dunes State Park

It had been a while since Lindsay and I had gone birding. We both get so busy during the summer that most of our birding is done from Fall to Spring. This past Saturday, the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society took a birding field trip to Indiana Dunes State Park.

The photograph above shows part of the group on the beach looking at gulls on Lake Michigan. Our first birds of the day were seen here, including a Winter Wren hanging out on excavating equipment. We also saw Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls at this location.

Here, the group is on a platform overlooking a buttonbush marsh near the Wilson Shelter. We saw an Eastern Phoebe perched and continuously pumping its tail, Ruby-crowned Kinglets hunkered down in the buttonbush, and Red-headed Woodpeckers flying back and forth over the marsh. I also heard an Eastern Bluebird at this location.

We also did some birding in the oak savanna and forested dunes. Red-headed Woodpeckers were present in abundance. Other birds of note in the wooded portions include Brown Creepers, a Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and White-throated Sparrows.

Below is our list for the day.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

It's A Dirty Job, But Someone's Got To Do It

Lindsay and I let the weeds in our vegetable garden get a little out of control this year. I'm amazed at how productive our garden was, given that Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), and Giant Foxtail (Setaria faberi) were more prevalent than the broccoli, corn, tomatoes, etc. that we planted. This is a bit embarrassing, but below is a photo of how our garden looked as of yesterday.

Somebody has got to clean up this mess. That's why we've called on the goats from Prairie Winds Farm to help us out.

Here they are... three Fainting Goats and two Nigerian Dwarf Goats. We are borrowing these gluttonous grazers and plan to keep them for about a month, until the water in their trough begins to freeze. Hopefully by that time they will have devoured our weeds and fertilized the garden so that it's ready to go for next year. They really seem to enjoy broccoli; they arrived yesterday in the late afternoon, and by this morning, only the stems remained.

Be sure to check out the Prairie Winds Farm blog by clicking here.

13 October 2009

A Late Season Caterpillar

Last week at a site in Lake County, Indiana, Tony Troche and I observed a very interesting caterpillar climbing on a stem of Flat-topped Aster (Aster umbellatus). I actually thought that the caterpillar was moving up the stem, but in fact, it is moving down. The humped eighth abdominal segment is one of the identifying characters for this colorful caterpillar.

This is the larval stage of a Brown-hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis), also known as the Brown-bordered Owlet and the Brown-bordered Cucullia. An excellent description of this caterpillar can be found in Caterpillars of Eastern North America: "Each individual appears as if it were hand-painted and then glazed." Brown-hooded Owlets are found from Nova Scotia south to Georgia, and west to Minnesota and Missouri. Host plants for this species include asters (Aster spp.) and goldenrods (Solidago spp.).

A photo and description of the Brown-hooded Owlet moth can be found at nearctica.com.

11 October 2009

Our New Pet

Don't worry... Bootypants is still doing just fine...

But now, we've got another furry friend at our house. For at least the past week, this Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia, = Ecpantheria scribonia) caterpillar has been in and around our garage. Giant Leopard Moths are also known as Great Leopard Moths and Eyed Tiger Moths. This species is found in forests throughout the eastern half of the United States and into southern Canada. Giant Leopard Moth larvae overwinter as caterpillars, often hidden under loose bark on a tree, under a log, or in leaf litter. They are polyphagous, meaning that they will eat a variety of food; they are known to feed on oak, willow, banana, orange, cherry, cabbage, dandelion, sunflower, plantain, and violet. They typically stay hidden during the day and feed at night.

At first glance, this caterpillar looks like a large woolly bear caterpillar lacking the brown central section. Its body is mostly black, covered by stiff, black bristles. However, when threatened, the Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar rolls into a ball, exposing red intersegmental rings and spiracles (small openings on the body of the caterpillar that allow air to enter the trachea). This red color warns potential predators that this caterpillar may be poisonous. While its bristles are prickly, this species supposedly does not sting.

While the caterpillar is interesting, take a look at the moth it will become...

This Giant Leopard Moth photograph is from Wikipedia. What a gorgeous moth! With a wingspan of up to 9cm, this is a large moth. We haven't seen this moth on our property, but will definitely watch for them next year.

10 October 2009

Old Man's Beard

Check out this crazy fungus species that I photographed at Miller Woods in Lake County, Indiana...

This edible mushroom is called Old Man's Beard (Hericium erinaceus), and is also known as Lion's Mane, Tooth Fungus, Hedgehog Mushroom, and Pom Pom Mushroom. For more information and a couple of additional photos, visit my post at Get Your Botany On!.

Thanks to Dr. Don Ruch for verification of my identification of this odd fungus.

06 October 2009

Best Wishes, Commander

For the past nine years, I have had the privelege of working with one of the most dedicated and respectful coworkers that anyone could ever ask for. Today marked the official last day for Andrew (The Commander) Blackburn at JFNew, as Andrew has decided to move on to the next phase of his career by working for the Regulatory Branch of the Chicago District Corps of Engineers.

Andrew worked in our Illinois office, so we didn't get to work together on projects as much as I would have liked (probably up to 10 times per year), but I always looked forward to the chance to work with him. Andrew would work tirelessly through unbearable heat and humidity that would have most biologists retreating to the air conditioned office, and downpoors that would cause some people to start building arks. Often times when we would have fieldwork together, Andrew would have already put in an hour or two in the office before we met up in the field. Amazingly, Andrew never complained. He will truly be missed.

Good luck, Andrew, as you begin your career with the Corps!