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.