27 March 2012

Wow... Does This Seem Familiar!

If you're a birder or you've ever been around birders, you've got to watch this YouTube video...


24 March 2012

Frog and Toad Call Quiz - Answered!

I recently posted the following frog and toad call quiz...

Lindsay and I visited several sites over the last few evenings to conduct frog and toad call monitoring as part of FrogWatch USA.  Below is a clip from Chamberlain Lake Nature Preserve.  What species do you hear?

If you turn your volume up to 100%, you'll hear these amphibians at roughly the same decibel level that we did.

Nice job to those who provided answers!  In the video/recording, you should be able to hear both Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) and American Toad (Bufo americanus, or Anaxyrus americanus).  Also calling during the video/recording is Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens, or Lithobates pipiens), but due to the volume of the other two species I cannot here the latter in the recording.

Pound for pound, Spring Peepers (above) are said to be the loudest animals on earth.  At just 2.5 cm long and weighing in at only 3-5 grams, the "peep... peeper" calls of this tiny amphibian measure 110-120 decibels from 10-20 cm away.  For comparison, a jet engine 120 feet away produces a sound measuring 120 decibels!  Considering that Spring Peepers are often found by the hundreds or thousands in wetlands, you can see how a chorus produced by this species can be deafening.

The call of the American Toad (above) is much more melodic and beautiful than you would expect from a creature with warty skin that produces bitter toxins.  The flute-like trill that lasts up to 30 seconds long is belted out at approximately 90 decibels.  For comparison, an average conversation measures at approximatley 60 decibels.  When a group of American Toads is calling at the same time as a group of Spring Peepers, it is nearly impossible to hear anything else, and you leave with the same sensation you would have after leaving a rock concert.

By contrast, the call of the Northern Leopard Frog (above) is much softer and lower pitched, sounding like a slowly opening creaking door or a deep snore; this species also produces a sound that is earily similar to the sound made when you rub your hand on a balloon.  Northern Leopard Frogs are generally less abundant than either of the two previous species in a given wetland, adding to the difficulty in hearing them when other species are calling.  In fact, the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Recovery Plan for Northern Leopard Frogs points out that loud calls of other frog and toad species can make it difficult to hear Northern Leopard Frogs.

It isn't even April yet and I've heard seven frog and toad species calling.  It will be interesting to see how the year plays out as the calendar catches up with the weather.

20 March 2012

Spring Already??

Lindsay and I have been so consumed lately that even with reports from across the state of blooming spring wildflowers, we hadn't had time to just get into the woods across the street to see what others have been raving about.  In fact, without the blogs and list-servs to which I subscribe, I might have lost my mind... at least I was able to live vicariously through the field outings of others for the past couple of weeks.  With a string of 80 degree days over the past week, however, Lindsay and I could not help but to put everything else aside and fall farther behind with our other responsibilities to ensure that we had a chance to get to Potato Creek State Park in St. Joseph County, Indiana on 18 March 2012.

It isn't unheard of to see a few forest species flowering in mid-March.  For example, Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus, above) is usually the first native species to flower in the pre-spring, often sending up its flowering spathe and spadix structure in wet mucky forested areas while there is still snow on the ground, sometimes even as early as mid-February.  Although Skunk Cabbage was still flowering, some plants had already put up their leaves, a sign that the flowering structures will soon shrivel, leaving a dark brown fist-sized fruiting structure into the summer.

As its common name suggests, Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa, above) is often one of the first native wildflowers to begin blooming in mesic forests, but mid- to late-March is usually the earliest that you begin to see the tiny carrot-family flowers of these plants peppering the forest floor.

Another early bloomer, Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica, above) often starts flowering at about the same time as the preceding species.  This is one of our commonest forest wildflowers.  In addition, it can withstand more disturbance than many of its forest associates, and it sometimes can be found in mowed lawns that once supported trees and a rich understory but that sadly have been reduced to a near monoculture of non-native grass.

Limestone Bittercress (Cardamine douglassii, above) is another of the ephemerals that begins flowering in mid- to late-March during normal years.  This mustard is very similar to and often confused with Bulbous Bittercress (Cardamine bulbosa), which often grows in areas that are more damp.  The flowers of Limestone Bittercress are often tinged with lavender, but they can be white like those of Bulbous Bittercress.  One way to tell the two species apart is to look at the upper stems and determine if they are hairy or not... Limestone Bittercress has pubescent upper stems, whereas the upper stems of Bulbous Bittercress are hairless.

One of our most overlooked and underappreciated early-blooming plants is the native shrub American Hazelnut (Corylus americana, above), which can often be found flowering in early March.  As seen above, this shrub has female and male flowers in separate inflorescenses on the same plant.  In the foreground, you can see the fuschia-colored stigmas of female flowers, while the male flowers in drooping catkins can be seen in the background.

A shrub that is much more conspicuous when in flower in spring in mesic to damp forests is Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), shown above.  The yellow clusters of tiny flowers on this species are usually not evident in northern Indiana until early April.  Later in the season, these flowers are replaced by bright red berries.

Yet another species that can usually be found flowering in moist woods beginning in mid-March is Sharplobe Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta), pictured above.  The leaves of this species are dark purple and persistent through the winter.

Mid-march in mesic forests also brings forth the blossoms of Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata, above).  Typical of mustards, the flowers of this species have four petals in a cross-like arrangement.  Like many of the other spring wildflowers featured in this post, the flowers of this species arrive early to take advantage of the sunlight that can reach the forest floor prior to the overstory trees producing leaves.

Two species similar in appearance that are often mistaken for one another are shown above and below.  Above is Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), a solitary plant of slightly drier woods and slopes that usually begins flowering towards the end of March.  Below is False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum), a colony-forming wildflower that usually begins flowering in moist woods in late March.

The stunning Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, below) usually starts flowering in late March at the earliest, but we saw several nice colonies of this plant on 18 March this year.  Like many other spring wildflowers, the seeds of Bloodroot bear sugary, fleshy appendages known as elaiasomes; as a result, the seeds are dispersed by ants that are attracted to the elaiasomes.

Lindsay and I were pretty shocked to find some Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, below) in bloom, since it normally doesn't begin flowering until the very end of March.  Lindsay really liked the photo below, as it shows a tiny ant on the uppermost flower.  Dutchman's Breeches is similar to another moist forest species, Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis), which begins flowering just a tad later.

One of the most striking spring wildflowers has to be Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), shown below.  The bright yellow blossoms of this buttercup family species can start to show as early as mid-March in normal years.  You can find this one in wetter, mucky areas and along streams, nearly always associating with Skunk Cabbage.

In addition to these native species, we also saw a couple of sedges (Carex communis and Carex pensylanica) in flower, as well as some willows (likely Salix discolor).  To not discriminate against some of the showy non-native species that are in flower right now, below are three that we noted along the woodland trails.

Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor), pictured above, is often regarded as a highly aggressive species.  I won't go so far as to say that it isn't, but I don't know that I've ever seen this species away from a home site, or away from a planted colony for that matter.  It certainly spreads by rhizomes from its originally planted location, and I wouldn't recommend planting it, but I personally don't put it in the same class as invasives like Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) or Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora).

Similarly, Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) will persist for many years after planting, even in at least partly shaded conditions.  I definitely don't consider them invasive, though, as they don't seem to spread and definitely don't outcompete native species, at least in this part of the world.

It is difficult not to have a special place in your heart for the crocus (Crocus spp.), as their opening flowers simply seem to exude spring. 

As you can see, although several plants are flowering prematurely this year, many are within their known flowering periods, albeit at the very beginning of those known flowering periods.  With this extended warm... no... hot stretch, it will be interesting to see how the spring progresses.  I expect that we will still have another snowstorm before we get consistently warm spring weather, but this stretch has sure been pleasant.  If you haven't already, I hope you get a chance to get out there soon to experience the spring flora.

03 March 2012

Great Backyard Bird Count - A Late Recap

The 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count was conducted on 17-20 February, and I'm just now getting a chance to provide a recap of results from my four-day count.  Results can be posted to the GBBC webpage until 5 March; at this point, Indiana has a total of 138 species, a new state record for the count period.

On the first day of the count I spent a few hours at Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area in LaPorte County.  Kingsbury is, I believe, my favorite birding spot in northern Indiana.  The wide array of habitat in this approximately 7,000 acre preserve allows for quite a variety of species, from Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) to Northern Pintails (Anas acuta) to Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla).  The photo above is a shot of the marsh at Kingsbury, a great place for waterfowl in the fall-spring and for shorebirds when the water levels are down in the spring and fall.  Most of the birds in the photo are easily identified as Canada Geese.  Can you name the other species in the photo?  You will probably need to click on the photo to expand it to be able to see the other species.

One of my favorite birds is the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), pictured above and seen at Kingsbury during my Great Backyard Bird Count there.  The bird pictured is a male; a female was also there but didn't make it into this shot.

Often found with Hooded Mergansers are Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa), and in this case both ducks were present in a wooded pond at Kingsbury.  Like the male Hooded Merganser, the male Wood Duck is one attractive creature.

Our most common hawk, especially along roadsides, is the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicense, above).  Kingsbury is a great place to see raptors, especially Red-tailed Hawks and in winter Bald Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus).

On Saturday morning, 18 February, Lindsay and I joined Brian Miller and members of South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society for a field trip and count at the lakes at University of Notre Dame.  As seen above, we had a pretty nice crowd.  St. Joseph's Lake never freezes and has always been a "hot spot" for winter birding in the past because of the variety of waterfowl present.  This year, waterfowl were scarce, and we almost had as many people birdwatching as we had ducks!  Our highlight was the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) shown below.

In addition to counts at these sites, I also did counts on 19 February at our feeders, our property (while walking the trails), and Potato Creek State Park, and on 20 February in Walkerton while driving home from work and on our property while walking our trails.  A list of all birds observed during my count is found below.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Duck
Common Goldeneye
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Horned Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Eastern Screech Owl
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Crow
Blue Jay
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Eastern Bluebird
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow