24 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wherever you may be this holiday weekend, we hope that you and your family enjoy your Thanksgiving feast.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) Thanksgiving dinner at the Namestniks'

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Lindsay, Scott, and Bootypants

18 November 2011


You're probably going to have to think back to high school or college French class for this one... what the heck is a chouette?  Translated from French to English, a chouette is a small owl.  As you will see shortly, it is somewhat easy to understand why the French Canadians, upon first seeing the bird in the photographs below, would have called it a chouette. As time passed and the colloquial name chouette was used by more and more English speakng people, the name eventually became slurred and changed into saw-whet, and later this species was named the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Face-to-face with a Northern Saw-whet Owl
On 5 November, members of South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society were afforded a unique opportunity to see Indiana's smallest owl, the Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus), at Indiana Dunes State Park.  Brad Bumgardner, resident naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, has been banding and collecting data on this species for several years, and because of a recent donation from South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society to help fund equipment necessary for banding, Brad invited our group for a private presentation on Northern Saw-whet Owls during the peak of their migration through the area.

Members of South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society watch intently as naturalist Brad Bumgardner collects data on a Northern Saw-whet Owl
We had a packed house for the event, and we were not to be disappointed.  The initial mist net check yielded no owls.  For the second net check, Dawn and Eric Scarborough and Lindsay and I went with the volunteers and were lucky enough to find that a Northern Saw-whet Owl had flown into the mist net in response to the speakers blaring out the calls produced by this species.  The volunteers bagged the owl and brought it back to Brad, and in front of the group he collected data and put an identifying band on its leg.

On the big screen, Brad collects data on the beak length of the Northern Saw-whet Owl
To allow more people to see what was going on, Brad worked beneath a camera and projected what he was doing onto a big screen.  With the data that were collected, Brad was able to determine that the bird we captured was a hatch-year female.

Reluctantly, the Northern Saw-whet Owl allowed Brad to place a band on her leg
Banding the owl allows it to be tracked as it is captured at other locations along its migratory route.  Later that evening, the volunteers found two more owls in the mist net.  One was believed to have been banded at Whitefish Point; the other happened to be the same hatch-year female that we had captured earlier in the night!

After data collection and banding, Brad took the Northern Saw-whet Owl on a tour around the room
Northern Saw-whet Owls aren't much larger than a can of pop, at 6.7-8.6 inches tall.  Their wingspan, however, reaches up to nearly two feet.  The weight of this nocturnal species ranges from 1.9-5.3 ounces.  Females are a bit larger than males.  Hunting takes place primarily at dusk and dawn, with small mammals (and particularly deer mice) being the prey of choice.  Northern Saw-whet Owls inhabit deciduous and coniferous forests with dense, shrubby understories.  They are found from southern Alaska to as far south as Mexico, and from coast to coast in the continental United States.  The year-round and breeding range is generally further north within this overall range, and they generally spend winters in the southern portion of this range; however, breeding occurs along the west coast as well as south through the Rocky Mountains into Mexico.  In Indiana, this species is primarily here during migration.

Not many people have the opportunity to pet an owl!
Thanks to Brad Bumgardner for an interesting evening and the chance to see this tiny but fierce predator!

05 November 2011

Safe Travels

In the last month, the shallow well that had provided Lindsay, Bootypants, and me with water at our home since we moved here in 2007 began to go dry.  This week, we had a new well drilled that should provide us with water for a long, long time.  What does this topic have to do with this blog, you ask?

Our old well pit
Our old well was located in a pit behind our house, covered by a wooden board.  When we first moved into our house, we looked in our well pit and were excited to find five Eastern Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum).  Thinking I was helping them, I moved three to our pond.  I then read somewhere that this species can thrive in well pits, so I left two of them in the pit.  They must have eaten well for the last four years, because when I removed the board from the pit this week the two salamanders still looked quite healthy.  Looking back at some notes I had taken on these salamanders a few years ago, I was reminded that I once saw one take a Common Pill Bug (Armadillidium vulgare).  In addition to insects, they also commonly eat worms, and large adults have been known to eat small frogs and even baby mice.

Eastern Tiger Salamanders in the well pit (one is beneath the PVC; the other is on the ground in the upper right of the pit (click on photo to enlarge)
Knowing that our well pit would be abandoned and that the drilling company would need to be in the pit to cap the old well, I decided that it was time to move the last two salamanders out of the pit this week.

Eastern Tiger Salamander in well pit
I climbed down into the pit and removed the salamanders from what possibly was the only home they had ever known.  Eastern Tiger Salamanders are known to occur throughout Indiana.  There are several subspecies known from North America; as a species, Tiger Salamanders are known from most of the United States, with the exception of the Appalachians and the lower Mississippi valley.  The subspecies that we have in Indiana (subsp. tigrinum) is known from New York to Florida and west to Texas.

The last two Eastern Tiger Salamanders have been removed from the well pit
Eastern Tiger Salamanders are found in forests and prairies, usually near wetlands or ponds.  Although they require ponds for breeding, this species spends much of its life, especially as an adult, in uplands.  It seems to require loose soils, as its habits are to burrow into the ground or to use the burrow of another small animal.  Unlike many other salamander species, the Eastern Tiger Salamander can persist in areas with heavy anthropogenic influences, such as in cities and in farmland, so long as they have adequate breeding habitat.

One of the salamanders had a more marbled appearance
The two Eastern Tiger Salamander individuals looked quite a bit different, as seen above and below.  One was much more marbled, whereas the other was somewhat spotted. 

The other salamander had a more spotted appearance
So, I took the two salamanders to an area on our property near our pond.  We don't really have loose soil, so I put them near some downed wood so that they would at least have cover.  When I temporarily put them in the lawn for photos, they quickly began to burrow in, and were difficult to get out.  I'm hoping that they quickly burrowed in where I released them as well.  As soon as I walked away, I thought to myself, "that might have been a bad idea... that sure looked like a good spot for garter snakes."

A final look
Now, I can only hope for the best for them.  Good luck, salamanders.