29 July 2010

Goose Pond Fauna, And A Final Note On The Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey

I've already posted in general about the recent Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey, and in more detail about the results of our vascular plant survey, so this post will be dedicated to the fauna observed during the event.

The bird highlight for me was seeing so many Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) throughout the marsh communities. Aptly named for the black plumage on the backs of their necks and the long, pink legs, this shorebird species was not known to breed in Indiana until as recently as 2005. With the restoration of ~4,000 acres of marsh habitat, Goose Pond is now a hot spot for this otherwise primarily coastal species, as 19 Black-necked Stilts were tallied during the two-day survey.

In the seeded prairies, Sedge Wrens (Cistothorus platensis) were singing constantly. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get photos of the Henslow's Sparrows (Ammodramus henslowii) that were also giving their insect-like "tsilik" songs from the same prairies. Both of these grassland species are listed as State Endangered in Indiana, and without the installation of ~1400 acres of prairie on the preserve, they would not be as successful in Greene County, Indiana as they are today.

A common butterfly, Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), has also benefitted somewhat from the restoration at Goose Pond; however, this species is widespread and often thrives in weedy old-field areas as well as prairies. If you're not watching for butterflies, this one can go undetected, as its wingspan only totals ~1 inch.

The much more conspicuous species shown below is a female Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), which has a wingspan of 3 1/4 to 4 1/4 inches. Black Swallowtails are found throughout the eastern 2/3 of the continental United States, in all sorts of open habitats.

Thanks to Don Gorney and Sandy Belth for verifying my butterfly identifications.

The Smartweed Caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita) is a common species of open, often moist habitats throughout eastern North America. As the common name implies, larvae of this species often feed on smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), but they will also feed on a variety of other plant species including forbs, shrubs, and trees. As an adult moth, this species is known as a Smeared Dagger Moth. Identification in the field was made by Ben Hess.

One of the common dragonflies observed at Goose Pond was the Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia, aka Libellula lydia), a member of the group known as Skimmers. Common Whitetails display sexual dimorphism, as the males (shown below) and females look quite different. This conspicuous species can be found in nearly any wet area throughout the Lower 48, as well as in southeastern Canada.

Another common dragonfly found in abundance at Goose Pond was the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Another "Skimmer," this species is also widespread, found in all types of wet areas throughout most of the contiguous United States and into portions of southern Canada. In the photograph below, the male Blue Dasher is shown in "obelisk" position, a posture taken to reduce the amount of surface area exposed to the sun to prevent overheating. As you can see in this Wikipedia link, the posture of the Blue Dasher below is in fact reminiscent of an obelisk.

For most of the two days, my eyes were focused on the ground, so my fauna observations were limited. However, the article below, printed in the Bloomington Herald Times, gives a nice recap of the wildlife that was observed, and of the biodiversity survey in general.

Portrait of life: Goose Pond biodiversity survey paints a picture of wildlife that call southern Indiana wetlands home
By Dawn Hewitt
Who would have dreamed that bog lemmings live at Goose Pond? The small rodent is found in grassy openings in forests and forest edges, especially where sedges, ferns and shrubs grow, and not in corn and soybean fields. Somehow, the hardy little mammals survived a century of draining, plowing, row crops, pesticides, fertilizers and bulldozing during wetlands restoration.

The critter was one of thousands caught and cataloged July 16 and 17 during the first Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey. The newly restored, 8,000-plus acre state fish and wildlife area is teeming with life. The bird species the wetlands have attracted have been well documented and jaw-dropping at times. But what else is out there?

Scientists from across the state and beyond joined forces to address that question. Organized and co-sponsored by the Indiana Academy of Science and Friends of Goose Pond, 82 biologists, including botanists, ichthyologists, lepidopterists and other entomologists, herpetologists, mammalogists, ornithologists and biogeochemists went into the fields and marshes in an attempt to paint a two-day, summertime picture of all life forms present there.

While the lemming was a shocking find, many scientists were more impressed with the sheer numbers of organisms found.

“We didn’t find anything exceptional, but the abundance is phenomenal,” said herpetologist team leader Daryl Kerns, with the IAS and a biology professor at Hanover College. The school’s Rivers Institute was also a key player in organizing the event.

Goose Pond property manager Brad Feaster provided some preliminary results:
• Vascular plants: more than 400 species identified so far
• Beetles: 79 species and counting
• Butterflies: 47 species
• Moths: 41 species and counting
• Dragonflies: 22 species
• Reptiles and amphibians: 19 species
• Birds: 123 species

Many reports and final tallies are still to come from the 13 teams that were in the field that weekend. Team leaders have until Aug. 16 to submit their results, and some will spend a month sorting, identifying and counting.

The entomologists collected literally buckets of bugs that will take weeks to identify. Some set up bright lights in fields at night, and the insects dove by the thousands onto collecting sheets.

The final results will be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Sciences and will also be made available to the public. Such a list already exists for birds on the web at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3094.htm.

Other species likely or known to be at Goose Pond will not show up in the survey because they are dormant this time of year, or simply weren’t found on the two-day search, Feaster said.

“This one event will significantly expand our knowledge of the biota at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area,” Feaster said.

Barbara Simpson, a member of Friends of Goose Pond and key organizer of the event, said publishing the results will encourage nature lovers to document additional species there. “It will be like an on-going treasure hunt,” she said.

Simpson said the success of the survey includes more than species tallies, but also the enthusiastic participation of scientists, students, nature lovers and volunteers, all of whom donated their time and expertise to the project, including travel expenses. In return, they got free meals and lodging, a chance to socialize with like-minded biologists, and an opportunity to explore the re-established wetlands.

Goose Pond is “well-managed for diversity, and suitable to become a world-class natural resource,” Kerns said.

23 July 2010

Goose Pond Flora Highlights

In my previous post, I provided a bit of background about the Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey, which took place on 16-17 July 2010. In this post, I will point out some of the highlights of our vascular plant inventory during the two-day event.

As I couldn't resist mentioning in my previous post, one of our highlight plants was Purple Fringeless Orchid (Platanthera peramoena), shown below. So common is this orchid in the southern part of Indiana that it is often found on roadsides with Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), which possesses a similar habit and flower color. Like several other orchid species, Purple Fringeless Orchid seems to do well in situations with some disturbance. This colony of 18 individuals was growing along a forest edge with Tall Fescue (Schedonorus phoenix). Purple Fringeless Orchid is known to occur through much of the southern 3/4 of the eastern United States.

Many of you have probably heard the phrase "sedges have edges," a rhyme generally used by students to distinguish the often triangular stemmed members of the sedge family (Cyperaceae) from the round or flattened stems of plants in the grass (Poaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families. The sedge below takes "sedges have edges" to the extreme, as it has not just three edges, but four! Ben Hess (of Ben and Joy) found this population and quickly alerted us to come and see what he found. We were thrilled to see that Ben had found Squarestem Spikerush (Eleocharis quadrangulata), shown below. Until Kirk Roth, working on the butterfly survey crew, showed us Purple Fringeless Orchid, this was our highlight, and it still ranks a very close second. Squarestem Spikerush has an interesting North American range, found from the East Coast to Texas and Ontario, and also in a few counties in California and Oregon. Its Indiana distribution is nearly as odd, as it is known from shallow water wetlands in scattered counties in the northern and southern thirds of the state, but not from the central third. We found one additional population of this species at Goose Pond, and I believe that our collection represents a first record of this unique spikerush for Greene County, Indiana.

As if one crazy sedge was not enough for a weekend, my survey crew was lucky enough to see yet another. As one member of my team pointed out, the inflorescence of the sedge below looks a bit like that of Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), prompting him to state that the Latin name of this plant should be Cyperus eryngiumyuccifolioides. Luckily we don't have to deal with that tongue-twister, as this plant was simply named for its spiny spikes and was given the Latin name Cyperus echinatus and the common name Globe Flatsedge. This was a lifer for me, but it was one of those unmistakable plants that I'd read about and knew as soon as I saw it. In Sedges of Indiana and the Adjacent States: The Non-Carex Species, Rothrock points out that the entire spikelets fall from this plant as intact units, a trait unusual to members of the genus Cyperus. Another likely county record, Clustered Umbrella Sedge, as this species is also known, has been observed in scattered counties in the southern third of Indiana; its North American distribution ranges from New Mexico to Wisconsin east to the East Coast.

Another unique species that I don't recall seeing before the Goose Pond survey but that I recognized at first glance was Roundleaf Water-hyssop (Bacopa rotundifolia), shown below. This species is considered Threatened in Indiana, and represents yet another first record for Greene County, Indiana. With a distribution in the United States from coast-to-coast and country border-to-country border, Roundleaf Water-hyssop grows in shallow water and mudflats, including in and around streams, lakes, ponds, sloughs, swamps, and ditches.

The last flora highlight that I will point out in this post is shown below.

If you're like 95% of the people who have a casual to decent understanding of Indiana's flora, you are wondering why I'm showing a photo of Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) and considering it a highlight. However, if you were part of the Vascular Plant Team at the Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey, you are keen enough to know that there are several species of arrowhead in Indiana. The most common species of arrowhead that we came across was actually Shortbeak Arrowhead (Sagittaria brevirostra), but the species shown above and below is neither Broadleaf Arrowhead nor Shortbeak Arrowhead. Instead, this is Hooded Arrowhead (Sagittaria calycina var. calycina), a species found in the southern 1/3 of Indiana and in much of the United States.

In the photograph below, you can see the identifying characteristics of Hooded Arrowhead. You have to look closely, but you will notice that the flowers are perfect (they have male and female parts). This, in addition to the fruit on recurved stalks and the appressed sepals when in fruit, are the identifying characteristics of the widespread Hooded Arrowhead, which is often found along rivers and lakes and in mudflats, and which probably often goes undetected.

Our total species list for the site will end up north of 375; not bad for a two-day survey of a wetland restoration and prairie planting.

19 July 2010

Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey - A Rousing Success!

This past weekend (16-17 July 2010), I participated in the Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey near Linton in Greene County, Indiana. This event, sponsored by Rivers Institute at Hanover College, Amos W. Butler Audubon Society, Indiana Academy of Science, Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Division of Fish and Wildlife, Friends of Goose Pond, and Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District, was created in the general mold of a bioblitz. The purpose was to collect baseline data in a variety of disciplines, and a total of 98 scientists and college students from around the state and beyond attended to provide their expertise. Data were gathered on everything from fish to macroinvertebrates to mammals to butterflies; there was even a biogeochemistry team on hand. The plan is to hold another similar event at Goose Pond in five to ten years to document how conditions have changed and what impact these changes have had on the species that call Goose Pond their home. My role in this year's event was to serve as team leader for the vascular plant survey team.

Goose Pond (including Beehunter Marsh) is an approximately 8000-acre property that was farmed as recently as within the past five to ten years. Restoration efforts have focused on marsh, tallgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie, and upland forest communities. Trees were planted and prairie species were seeded in locations with appropriate hydrologic regimes; however, all wetland restoration (4000 acres worth) has occurred through natural regeneration of the seedbank and recruitment from nearby wetlands. The results so far are very encouraging.

The vascular plant team consisted of Don Ruch, Paul Rothrock, Kevin Tungesvick, Chris Reidy, John Taylor, Ben Hess, Bruce Behan, Ed Paynter, Grace Chapman, and me. We were joined by other individuals at various times.

Although we were not able to intensively cover the entire property in just two days, we think that we've recorded at least 75% of the plant species present on the site. It will be very interesting to see what management decisions are made for the property long term, and how these decisions will shape the biodiversity of the site over time.

I plan to post one or two more entries about the results of the biodiversity survey, including photos of some of the plants and animals that I observed, in the next couple of weeks. One of our highlights, though, that I can't resist mentioning now, was Purple Fringeless Orchid (Platanthera peramoena), showed to our team by Kirk Roth, who was inventorying butterflies during the event. Below is a photograph of several members of our team photographing and observing this attractive plant. For more photos and more information on Purple Fringeless Orchid, see my post on Get Your Botany On!.

So, what are the preliminary results of the biodiversity survey, you ask? Take a look at the sheet below...

Final results will be submitted for publication in Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. In the meantime, be sure to check out the post about the biodiversity survey on the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society blog.

11 July 2010

Birding By Ear

I love my ears. They aren't especially attractive, or unattractive either, but they play a very important part in my bird and insect observations. When botanizing, the only way for me to know what birds are around is to hear them singing or calling, as I am intently focused on what is on the ground, not what is in the trees.

Yesterday, I ran 6.5 miles with Lindsay and her dad on the country roads near our house. I don't find running particularly enjoyable, but it was a nice morning, and the birds were singing, making the run much more pleasant. During our run, I tallied 30 bird species, mostly by song, but a few by sight. My list is attached below. Notable in this list are two state endangered species in Indiana: Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis) and Marsh Wren (C. palustris). I heard the Sedge Wren singing from a prairie/old field area a few miles southwest of our property. The Marsh Wren was singing from a cattail marsh along the road at Potato Creek State Park.

Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Oriole sp.*
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

The bird photos above were not taken on our run; we took them on our property in the last couple of weeks. From the top, they are: Rock Pigeon (Columba livea), House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), and American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).

* Not sure if this was a Baltimore Oriole (Icteris galbula) or an Orchard Oriole (I. spurius). I used to feel confident distinguishing the two by song, but lately I don't feel like I know the difference well enough... time to listen to the bird song CDs again!

03 July 2010

Thank Goodness For Pharmaceutical Television Advertisements

When I talked to my mom this past weekend, she told me about a very large green butterfly that she had seen recently in northeast Ohio. All that it took for me to identify this insect was to receive an emphatic "yes!" when I asked if it looked like the one on the Lunesta television commercials. In fact, this isn't a butterfly, it is a moth... a Luna Moth (Actias luna), named for its moon-like eye spots.

The photograph above shows a Luna Moth that I saw several years ago in LaPorte County, Indiana. Although they are common, I've only seen a handful of these mysterious-looking moths, so I always consider it a treat when I do get to see them. With a wingspan of approximately 4 1/2 inches, Luna Moths rank amongst the largest moths in North America. They are found thoughout most of the eastern United States and in the southern portion of eastern Canada, usually in forested areas.

Here is another photograph that I took of a Luna Moth, this time through a screen in Arkansas this past spring. Caterpillars of Luna Moths feed on Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), alder (Alnus spp.), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), hickory (Carya spp.), walnut (Juglans spp.), and sumac (Rhus spp.). Adult Luna Moths, however, don't have fully developed mouths and don't eat. As a result, they only live for about a week, and their sole purpose is to mate and reproduce before they die. Luna Moths have from one to three generations per year, depending on latitude (with more generations further south and fewer further north).

Keep an eye out for these large, lime-green moths from March to September in the southern part of their range and May to July in the northern part of their range.