25 March 2011

Fear Not, Northerners!

Although the calendar indicates that winter has officially ended, the weather in northern Indiana during the past few days hasn't felt very spring-like... and it doesn't appear that the temperature will increase much in the next week or so. Believe it or not, though, the spring wildflowers are preparing to do their thing. There has been an increase in wildflower posts on the blogs that I follow from southern Indiana, southern Ohio, and Missouri in the past couple of weeks, indicating that the spring flora is maturing in those areas. Unable to wait, I headed out in the field both of the past two weekends to see what I could find. On March 13 in Culver, Indiana, Lee Casebere, Scott Holaday, and I saw the spathe and spadix inflorescences of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus, below), our earliest flowering native plant in this part of the state.

There wasn't anything else in bloom in these northern Indiana woods, so the next weekend (March 19) Lee and I drove to southeastern Indiana, primarily in search of Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale), by far our smallest, cutest, and earliest flowering trillium.

We weren't disappointed! After just 30 minutes or so of taking photographs of Snow Trillium, I told Lee that it was already worth the 4 hour drive to the site from my house.

A few of the plants, like the one below, had lightly pink-tinged petals.

Snow Trillium wasn't the only plant in flower in these woods. The diminutive and inconspicuous Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa, below) was also in bloom.

Another early season bloomer, Sharplobe Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta, below) was also in flower. However, we had to wait until later in the day to see the inside of the flowers, as they close up at night.

Finding these species in flower was not unexpected in southern Indiana in mid-March, but the next few surprised me. A few plants of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, below) had started to open.

Another plant that I hadn't expected to see in flower so early in the year was Virginia Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica, below). I can't find much information about the pubescence of the species, but one source that I found said that the stem and leaves are supposed to be glabrous. The plant in the photograph below is distinctly pubescent.

Although not yet in flower, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica, below) already had visible flower buds.

Finally, although it won't be in flower until much later in the year, we saw several plants of Crippled Cranefly (Tipularia discolor, below), an orchid that is found more easily in winter (when the leaves are present) than when the nearly invisible flowers are present (and leaves are absent) later in the year.

Note the green, wrinkled top surface of the leaf (above) and the strongly purlish undersurface (below). This orchid is much more common in the southern half of Indiana than it is in the northern part of the state, so I never tire of seeing it.

So, for those of you north of here that still have snow on the ground, and for those at this latitude who are itching to get out and see plants blooming, hopefully this gives you some hope that shortly after we get past this cold stretch, the forests will be exploding with color.

22 March 2011

You "Mink" my day!

I always knew when I entered my marriage that there would be times that I would have to "compromise" and do things that I was less than eager to do. This week I was pushed to the limit but in return made a young environmentalist's dreams come true. The day started as any other day until I received the following phone call.

Scott: Hey Lindsay, I need a favor... There is a dead animal next to your parents house that I think is a mink. I need you to go and take pictures of it so I know for sure what it is.
Lindsay: You want me to take pictures of a dead animal?
Scott: Well yeah!

Fast forward to a short time later. I have taken a few photos and called Scott with a description of our fallen friend. He confirms it is a mink. Hooray, mission accomplished.

Ring, Ring.. it's Scott again.
Scott: Hey Lindsay, I need a favor. I talked to Jeremy (Scott's co-worker who is a bat and other mammal biologist) and he wants the mink. Can you go and get it and put it in a Kroger bag?
Lindsay: You must be (enter explicit word) kidding me. You want me to go and get a dead animal from the side of the road?
Scott: Well yeah!
Lindsay: You are pushing it! How am I going to pick it up because I surely am not touching a dead animal?
Scott: Put on gloves!
Lindsay: You're crazy, it's gonna be all squishy.
Scott: Don't be a baby, just go get it.
Lindsay: I'll try to pick it up with a shovel but you owe me sooooo big!

When Scott returned home that day I had just gotten over my dry-heaving episode that went along with shoveling the mink into a large plastic storage bin. We put our friend in the car and headed out to meet up with Jeremy and his wife at a beer tasting. Upon arrival, we gave Jeremy the mink. I have never witnessed such enthusiasm (well not since Scott got his vasculum for Christmas). He immediately pulled the mink out of the bag and began checking it out. The mink appeared to have died from "natural causes" so it was in really good shape. Jeremy continued to smile from ear to ear and just kept repeating how much we made his day.

In order to capture the pure joy of the occasion we have attached a picture of Jeremy with the actual mink.

This photo totally made all of my efforts worthwhile! But Scott still owes me big time!

12 March 2011

To See The Forest And The Trees

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Michigan to do a forest and Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis) habitat assessment. Below are some photos of trees that are potential summer roost trees for this Federally Endangered species.

With a high percentage of exfoliating bark, Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is the poster child for Indiana Bat roost trees.

Live or dead/dying trees with peeling bark are considered potential habitat for Indiana Bat. In addition to Shagbark Hickory and other hickories (Carya spp.), oaks (Quercus spp.), maples (Acer spp.), Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), and ashes (Fraxinus spp.) are the most common Indiana Bat summer roost trees. The White Oak (Quercus alba) shown above was greater than 3 feet in diameter at breast height (DBH), had peeling bark and hollow branches, and was located in a landscape position that would allow for roosting bats to access a clutter-free creek corridor. Aside from the fairly dense subcanopy in the immediate vicinity, this tree would make a good bat roost.

The White Oaks shown above and below are also potential Indiana Bat roost trees. All three of these were enormous, old, open-grown trees.

Overall at this site, we saw more than 40 trees greater than 25 inches DBH that were potential Indiana Bat roost trees. In addition, bat foraging habitat and connectivity were present, so it is likely that the next step will be for our bat biologist to set up mist nets and try to capture bats to see exactly what species are present.

06 March 2011

Birding Life List

Recently Scott downloaded a birding life list in Microsoft Excel format for us to keep track of and record all of the birds that we have seen on our various trips. Over the past several weeks we have been entering in the name of the birds we've seen, where we saw them, and the dates they were seen. We finally finished the list and were surprised to know we have a life list of 509 different bird species. That's not too bad but we were even more suprised when we realized that half of the birds on our life list were obtained during the 12 day trip we took to Costa Rica in 2007 for our 5 year anniversary. Going through the list has really made me excited for the fact that we will be returning to Costa Rica in June for a family vacation. I thought I would share a few of my favorite bird photos from the trip we took.

Montezuma Oropendolas feeding at Volcano Arenal. Arenal had a large feeding station and we could sit on our balcony or sit in the restaurant and see multiple different types of birds.

It was amazing luck to have spotted this White-whiskered Puffbird. It was very well hidden sitting not too far from it's mate at Carara National Forest.

One of my favorite birds was this Boat-billed Heron. We spotted him while taking a boat tour from Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero.

Also on the boat tour we saw this Northern Jacana. If you look really close in the upper left of this photo you can also see a Bare-fronted Tiger Heron.

Great Curassow roaming the grounds of La Selva Organization for Tropical Studies.

The hummingbird on the left is a Green-crowned Brilliant and the hummingbird on the right is a Green Violet-ear. We saw multiple different species of hummingbirds feeding here at the park in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

A close up of the Bare-fronted Tiger Heron.

Hopefully our upcoming trip will provide us with even more birds to add to the life list and of course share with everyone on the blog.