28 February 2010

2009-2010 Winter Feeder Count Results

Another season of the Indiana Audubon Society Winter Bird Feeder Count wrapped up last week. Although a quick look outside indicates that it is still winter in northern Indiana, frequently hearing the songs of Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, and Song Sparrow leads me to believe that spring is just around the corner.

Downy Woodpecker (male)

Feeder watchers all around the state participate in the Winter Bird Feeder Count, which is conducted by recording the maximum number of individuals at one time of each species present at feeders during the four count periods (November 20-25, December 20-25, January 20-25, and February 20-25). Hawks showing interest in feeder birds are also counted.

American Goldfinch

At our feeders during the count this winter, we saw 15 species during the November period, 17 species during the December period, 19 species during the January period, and 18 species during the February period, for a total of 21 species during the count (our complete species list from the 2009-2010 count is shown at the end of this post).

Dark-eyed Junco (male)

Species observed most frequently (those present during all four count periods) in 2009-2010 were Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, European Starling, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow. Species observed in greatest abundance (with the greatest number observed at one time in parentheses) were American Crow (27 in December), Northern Cardinal (18 in February), American Goldfinch (18 in January), House Sparrow (16 in December), Mourning Dove (14 in November), and American Tree Sparrow (12 in January).

American Goldfinch and House Sparrow (male)

Our numbers were off a bit from what we saw during the 2008-2009 Winter Bird Feeder Count. During that count, we had 19 species in November, 20 species in December, 18 species in January, and 25 species in February, for a total of 27 species during the 2008-2009 count period. Species we missed out on this year that we saw last year were Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, and Snow Bunting. The more northern species (Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin) never made a strong appearance in Indiana this winter as a result of having sufficient food sources available further north. We had one Red-winged Blackbird show up our feeders this winter, but he showed up between count periods and didn't hang around more than a few days. Temperatures during the 2008-2009 count (-10 to 55 degrees Farenheit) varied more than during the 2009-2010 count (20-58 degrees Farenheit), and the very cold temperatures in December 2008 could have caused Snow Buntings to show up on our property to eat the cracked corn we had scattered along our driveway while many of the agricultural fields and roadsides in our area were frozen solid. It was also warmer in February 2009 than in February 2010, possibly leading to an earlier northward migration in 2009 (and causing Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, and Common Grackle to use our feeders earlier than they have in 2010). The number of individuals at our feeders was higher in 2008-2009 as well, possibly the result of very cold temperatures in December 2008 and January 2009.

Mourning Dove

Citizen science projects such as this are important for several reasons. It is good to keep the general public involved in scientific research to promote higher interest in scientific work. It is also much more economically feasible for researchers to obtain important data when volunteer involvement is part of the project. There are obviously drawbacks to obtaining data from volunteers that must be addressed by the researcher. I encourage everyone to participate in citizen science research projects, such as Christmas Bird Counts, the Great Backyard Bird Count, International Migratory Bird Day, FrogWatch USA, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, New York City Cricket Crawl, Project BudBurst, etc. No matter what your interest or location, there is likely a citizen science project for you.

Northern Cardinals (male and female) and American Tree Sparrow

2010 Winter Feeder Count Species List
Cooper's Hawk
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

26 February 2010

The Morton Arboretum

Last weekend, Lindsay and I went to Chicago to visit our friends Mike, Heidi, Ben, and Alex. We met up with them at The Morton Arboretum, where I deposited a package of pressed plant specimens that I had collected in the Chicago Region in 2009. (To see records of my specimens, visit http://www.vplants.org/search.html and type "Namestnik" in the last name search box; hopefully photos of some of my specimens will be available at some point.)

Ben and Alex seemed to have a great time in the Children's Garden and the Maze Garden. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to explore other parts of the arboretum, but February obviously isn't the best time to see flowering plants. I hope to make it back in the late summer to see Schulenberg Prairie, named in honor of Ray Schulenberg, one of the Chicago Region's earliest restorationists.

21 February 2010

Place Your Vote: Cute or Ugly?

One day last week, I arrived home from work to find a Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) feeding on black-oil sunflower seeds under the tree in our front yard from which we hang several bird feeders. We have since seen our new guest on several occasions munching on seeds under the feeders in our backyard, and taking shelter under the stairs behind our house.

Although the Virginia Opossum has more teeth (50) than any other Indiana mammal, members of the species are not generally aggressive. When frightened, opossums often involuntarily act like they are dead, leading to the colloquial phrase "playing 'possum;" however, they will also often hiss or growl and show off their sharp teeth. Opossums will eat nearly anything and are considered omnivorous scavengers. The species is found in Central and North America east of the Rocky Mountains, but has also been introduced along the West Coast of the United States. This is the only marsupial in North America north of the Rio Grande River. As such, newborn opossums live in their mother's pouch for one to three months before they become too large and need to migrate from the pouch to their mother's back.

This leads to my survey question... what do you think? Is the opossum cute or ugly? Personally, I think they are very cute (just look at that face!), but Lindsay disagrees. Please help us settle our debate.


14 February 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

We hope everyone feels "LOVED" this Valentine's Day!

And a very Happy Birthday to our favorite valentine.....

12 February 2010

All Clovers Are Not Created Equal

Here in Indiana, clovers (Trifolium spp.) don't get people very excited. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that a clover of any kind is one of their favorite plants. In fact, these legumes with three leaflets are often shunned as evil lawn weeds, and many a suburban homeowner spend hundreds of dollars per year applying herbicides to remove the clover and cultivate a bluegrass monoculture. Recently, however, there has been a movement to replace or at least enhance turf grass lawns with clovers, which take nitrogen from the atmosphere and make this natural fertilizer available to other plants.

Around here, our most common clovers are Red Clover (Trifolium pratense, above), White Clover (Trifolium repens, below), and Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum). While the individual flowers are humbly attractive when viewed up close, most people do not give them a second glance when in their heavily degraded and anthropogenically altered habitats of old field, pasture, roadside, and lawn.

Enter the clovers of Colorado. Never before had I really been "wowed" by a clover, nor did I think I could be, but these fantastic Fabaceae seemed like they were from another world. All three of the following species are native to Colorado and endemic to the Rocky Mountains.

Parry's Clover (Trifolium parryi, above) is a plant found only in a fairly narrow band through the Rocky Mountain states (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010) that can be found growing commonly in the subalpine and alpine life zones (Guennel 2004). This species often grows in dense clumps or cushions with leafless flowering stalks (Beidleman et al. 2000). While the "plainest" looking of the three clovers that we saw on our July 2009 trip, this clover puts all of the Midwestern clovers that I've seen to shame.

The next most impressive clover species that we saw was Alpine Clover (Trifolium dasyphyllum), shown immediately above and below. Like the previous species, Alpine Clover is common in a fairly narrow band through the Rocky Mountain states (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010), found growing in tundra and on rocky or gravelly slopes in the subalpine and alpine life zones (Guennel 2004).

The flowers of Alpine Clover can sometimes be all rose or violet-purple (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010), but the more common bicolored form shown in the photos above is quite stunning, especially for a clover.

Finally, Dwarf Clover (Trifolium nanum), which puts all other clovers to shame in terms of appearance, in my opinion, is shown above. Another species of restricted range similar to the previous two species (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010), this clover has only 1-3 flowers per cluster; each flower is approximately 2 cm long, but the entire plant lives up to its common name and grows in a cushion up to only 6 cm tall (Beidleman et al. 2000). Dwarf Clover is found in meadows, on gravelly slopes, and on rocky ridges in the subalpine and alpine life zones (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.

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

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Retrieved February 12, 2010. http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/.

05 February 2010

Colorado Castilleja

Last May on Get Your Botany On!, I posted about Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) that I had seen recently in Lake County, Indiana. Although I had witnessed this species with bracts of three different color morphs (red, orange, and yellow) over the years, until July I had only seen one of the approximately 200 worldwide species (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010) from this showy genus. That quickly changed when we went to Colorado in July, as I multiplied my life list of Castilleja species by five.

In the photographs below, you will see that Castilleja possesses showy "flowers." I put "flowers" in quotes because the showy structures are actually bracts, which are modified leaves. The corolla (petals) are actually inconspicuous and mostly greenish yellow, and are hidden beneath the large bracts. If you look closely, you'll be able to see the true flowers in some of the photographs below.

The first new paintbrush that we saw was in a prairie at Jewel Mountain near Boulder. The photograph above shows Orange Paintbrush (Castilleja integra). This species is known in the United States only from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado (USDA, NRCS 2010). Known also as Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush, the leaves of this species are unlobed; in fact, the specific epithet integra means "whole" (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010). Orange Paintbrush can be found growing in the plains, foothills, and montane life zones of Colorado, and is said to be the most common paintbrush in the plains of Colorado (Guennel 2004; Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010). The densely tomentose stem is a key feature used to identify this species (Weber 1976).

Along the road near Independence Pass, we stopped the car to photograph Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata), also known as Giant Red Indian Painbrush. This species is known from the western United States, and from Canada east to Ontario (USDA, NRCS 2010). In Colorado, it grows in the foothills, montane, and subalpine life zones (Guennel 2004). This species is said to be the most common and variable member of the genus Castilleja in Colorado (Weber 1976).

My favorite paintbrush of our trip was Rosy Paintbrush (Castilleja rhexiifolia), shown above. This photograph was taken at Independence Pass. Also known as Splitleaf Indian Paintbrush, this species is known from states west of the Rocky Mountains (except California and Arizona), as well as from Brittish Columbia and Alberta (USDA, NRCS 2010). You can find this beautiful paintbrush with bracts of indescribable colors in the subalpine and alpine life zones of Colorado (Guennel 2004). This species, as well as others in the genus Castilleja, is well known for its propensity to hybridize with other members of the genus (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010).

Also at Independence Pass, we saw one of the two whitish-bracted species of paintbrush that we saw on our trip, Western Paintbrush (Castilleja occidentalis). Western Paintbrush has a similar range to the preceding species, but is more confined to areas along the Rocky Mountains (USDA, NRCS 2010). This species grows in the subalpine and alpine life zones of Colorado (Guennel 2004), and is distinguished from the next species in part by its shorter height (up to 20 cm tall) (Weber 1976). Like other paintbrushes, this species is hemiparasitic, meaning that it sometimes obtains nutrients from the roots of nearby plants (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers 2010).

The other species of paintbrush that we saw with whitish bracts was Yellow Paintbrush (Castilleja sulphurea). This photograph was taken at Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Sulphur Indian Paintbrush, as it is also known, has a similar range to the two preceding species (USDA, NRCS 2010). It can be found in the plains, montane, and subalpine life zones of Colorado, and is distinguished from the previous species in part by its taller height (20 cm to 40 cm) (Weber 1976).

Now that I've seen approximatetly 3% of the known species of Castilleja, I can't wait to see the diversity and colorful bracts of the other 97%!

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 1: Plains and Foothills. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

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

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Retrieved January 16, 2010. http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/.

USDA, NRCS. 2010. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/, 10 January 2010). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

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