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.

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