29 December 2013

The Legend of Bootypants, Part I

No one knows when the legend of Bootypants actually began, but our best guess is that Booty was born around February 1997.  Years later, we decided to make February 14, 1997 Booty's official birthday.  We don't know what she did for the first year-and-a-half of her life, but in the summer of 1998 Booty found her way to Peck Ranch near Van Buren, Missouri, where she met some of the women working on a seasonal bird crew.

As a puppy at Peck Ranch in Missouri (1998), Bootypants hadn't even learned how to sit correctly!  She always sat on her hip with both back legs to one side.
As fate would have it, Scott was working on a seasonal botany crew stationed at Peck Ranch that same summer.  When a woman named Summer from the birding crew brought a scraggly, emaciated blue heeler mix with mange, conjunctivitis, and numerous ticks back to the ranch, everyone immediately fell in love with the goofy dog with the black "bootypants."  The summer wore on, and although Red (the other stray dog that showed up that summer) wandered off, Bootypants didn't.  Each day the crews would return from the field expecting Bootypants to no longer be at the ranch, but each day she was still there.  Eventually, someone bought a bag of dog food and started feeding her.

A scrawny Bootypants as a puppy with floppy ears at Peck Ranch in Van Buren, Missouri (1998).
With the end of the summer came the end of the field crews' stay at Peck Ranch.  Some of Scott's coworkers were going back to college.  Others were moving on to another seasonal position in another location.  A few weren't sure what they were going to be doing after the Ozark seasonal positions ended.  Scott, on the other hand, had recently accepted a job in northern Indiana and expected to be there for a while.  Everyone agreed that Bootypants couldn't be left there after she had become accustomed to being fed at the ranch, so Scott made the decision to take Bootypants with him.  He didn't know it at the time, but this would turn out to be one of the best decisions of his life.

It wasn't a difficult decision for Scott to take Bootypants with him to Indiana!  Photograph by Bryn Scriver (1998).
After making this decision, Scott took Bootypants to the local veterinarian.  A bath, some pills, shots, and eye drops later, Scott returned Bootypants to Peck Ranch with just a few days remaining before the drive back to Ohio prior to moving to Indiana.  Booty apparently didn't care for the bath, because the next day after work Scott returned to the ranch to find Booty covered in engine oil.  Nothing another bath couldn't take care of!  Around that same time, Bryn Scriver bought Bootypants a leash and some hard rubber toys.  Booty responded by taking the toys into a wooded area and burying them.  No one ever saw those toys again.  Those who know Booty couldn't help but wonder if this was a clue as to Booty's life before Peck Ranch, where she might have had to fight for food and hide anything she could get.  On the last day that the field crews were at Peck Ranch, Booty grabbed a shirt from Justin Thomas' bag and chewed a hole in it, and she stole his underwear from the back of his truck.  Again, the underwear were buried in the gravelly Ozark soil, never to be seen again.

Bootypants and Scott on one of their last days in Missouri (1998).
All of these things, as well as vomiting and defecating when she rode in a vehicle, were part of the Booty charm.  However, before the 13 hour drive back to Painesville, Ohio, Scott gave Booty motion sickness medication, and she made it the entire way without an accident.  Scott and Booty spent their first night together in a smoky Illinois hotel room.  Booty must have been scared, not knowing where she was or what was going on, but you never would have known.  Just as with everything else in her life, she adapted very quickly.  Booty then spent the next week with Scott's parents, brother, and sister in Painesville while Scott got settled and found a place to live in LaPorte, Indiana.

Booty often sat like this in her favorite (nasty) chair, as she did in 1998 in LaPorte, Indiana after a bath.
While in LaPorte for the next six months, Bootypants settled into a life of digging holes all day long while Scott was at work and running laps from room to room through the apartment when people came to visit.  Booty was a good student, learning commands such as sit, down, shake, high five, and everyone's favorite, "bang, dead dog," very quickly.  However, she didn't really bark at all for the first several months that Scott knew her, so she didn't learn "speak" until a bit later in her life.  One of Booty's most unexpected tricks occurred on an evening when Scott had picked up a Pizza Hut pizza for dinner.  Up until that time, Booty had never had "people food" and wasn't much of a begger.  Scott put a couple of pieces of pepperoni pizza on a plate that was on the counter a good four feet off the ground.  Scott walked away, and when he turned around Booty leapt up, cleanly took one piece of pizza from the plate, and proceeded to run into another room to eat the pizza.  She never did anything like that again in her life.  During the snowy winter of 1998-1999, Bootypants learned how much she loved being in and playing in the snow, especially when it was so deep that it made it difficult to walk through.

Soon after moving to Indiana, Booty's right ear began to stand up, while her left ear was still floppy.  She loved the snow, and there was plenty during one storm event in winter 1999 in LaPorte, Indiana.
In 1999, Scott moved to an apartment in North Liberty, Indiana.  Up until that time, Bootypants had spent the days outside on a run, with the garage door open and her Dogloo in the garage.  You can imagine Scott's concern in moving to an apartment where Booty would have to spend the entire day in the house, considering that she was so full of energy as to dig holes (numerous holes) during the day when she lived in LaPorte.  On the first day at the new apartment, Scott came home from work at lunch to see what the damage was, but there was none.  From that day forward, Booty seemed to calm down and grow out of her puppy stage. 

In 1999, Lindsay, Bootypants, and Scott hiked frequently at Potato Creek State Park in St. Joseph County, Indiana.  Although Booty was always on a leash during their walks, she was well behaved from the time Scott met her and never really needed a leash.
Booty was always very respectful of others' property.  Aside from Justin's clothes mentioned previously, there was never any damage to furniture, carpets, or other materials.  Apparently, however, Booty had abandonment issues (maybe another sign of her past life).  Scott would occasionally go out of town for work or to visit friends and would leave Booty at home or at a kennel.  Booty quickly figured out that a large duffel bag or a suitcase in the kitchen meant that Scott would be gone for a couple of days.  One day Scott was getting ready to travel and left his luggage in the kitchen while he ran an errand.  Booty didn't know that she was going to go with Scott on this trip, and Scott returned to find a torn up couch cushion.  This happened only once; Bootypants felt bad afterwards.

Booty was a little leery of opening presents at first, as she was in this photograph at Scott's apartment in North Liberty, Indiana (c. 1999).
It was while living in North Liberty that Scott and Bootypants first met Lindsay, and Lindsay quickly became an important part of both of their lives.  Scott and Bootypants would make frequent visits to Valparaiso University on weekends to visit Lindsay while she finished college.  On one of these trips, Lindsay was taking Bootypants in her car and decided that maybe it was a good idea to not feed Booty immediately before the car ride.  Bootypants never vomited or had an accident in a car again from that day forward, and in fact she began to enjoy car rides.  She quickly learned the words "park," "ride," and "Ohio."

By 2000, Bootypants had lost a lot of her puppy tendencies, and she had learned how to sit, as seen here in Painesville, Ohio.
Bootypants wasn't a fan of rumble strips.  On a trip to Ohio, just west of "dead man's curve" on I-90/SR-2, Booty woke from her sleep and jumped into the front of Scott's Dodge Shadow when the car went over the rumble strips, knocking the gear shift from drive into neutral.  Scott and Lindsay then learned to prepare Booty for the rumble strips prior to hitting them, and Bootypants never had an issue with rumble strips again.

Booty stared down the party pig after the infamous party pig night (morning), c. 2000.
While living in North Liberty, Booty met Sidney, a yellow lab who lived downstairs from Scott's apartment.  Sidney loved to chase tennis balls; Booty loved to chase Sidney and herd her back to Scott and Lindsay with the ball.  Scott and Lindsay really enjoyed watching both dogs do what they were bred to do, Sidney without regard to Booty and Booty without regard to the ball.

Booty didn't like posing for photos, but she was always a good sport, as seen here in Scott's North Liberty, Indiana apartment, c. 2000.
It was while Scott was living in North Liberty that Booty first demonstrated one of her other quirks.  When emergency vehicles with sirens would go by the house, Booty would howl along.  However, her "howl" was either at a frequency that humans couldn't hear or it was a mostly silent howl.  The howl was hilarious, dramatic, and difficult to describe.  It was somewhat throaty and airy, and it still isn't clear whether she was doing it to sound like the sirens or just to make people laugh.

Lindsay and Scott thought Booty needed a new toy, so they bought her a near life-sized "Lassie" for Christmas (c. 2001).
In 2002, Lindsay, Scott, and Bootypants bought a house in South Bend, Indiana, where Booty enjoyed having an entire fenced-in yard to herself.  It was here that Booty continued to make lifelong friends with new neighbors who were introduced to her.

At her first owned house (in South Bend, Indiana), Booty posed yet again (c. 2004).  By this time, both of her ears stood upright, and her body had filled out.
As Booty's 9th birthday was approaching, Lindsay and Scott got the idea that it would be fun to hold a surprise birthday party for her.  They realized that Booty was too smart and would have expected a party on her 10th birthday.  Plans were made, and many of Booty's friends made the trip to South Bend to celebrate with her.

One of the cakes at the surprise birthday party held for Booty's 9th birthday. Photograph by Bryn Scriver (2005).
No birthday party is complete without a birthday cake.  Lindsay ordered a "people food" cake specifically for the occasion (can you imagine what the baker/decorator was thinking making this cake?).  Some of Booty's friends were thinking more of Bootypants and made her a dog food, dog biscuit, Vienna sausage, and cheese stick cake.  Booty enjoyed both of these tremendously.

The dog cake made by Anne and Bert for Booty's 9th birthday party.  Scott might or might not have helped Booty finish the cake.  Photograph by Bryn Scriver (2005).
On the day of the party, Scott kept Bootypants downstairs with the door closed for the hour or so that people were arriving.  Scott and Booty could hear noises upstairs, and Scott could tell that Booty was getting very anxious.  Finally the moment came when Lindsay opened the door.  Bootypants bolted up the steps and first into the kitchen where people had packed the room and were blowing noisemakers and yelling "surprise!" and "happy birthday!"  Booty quickly greeted each one of those people before running into the living room to do the same.  That was one happy dog!

That's one happy dog, at her surprise party when she realized how many people were there to see her.  Photograph by Bryn Scriver (2005).
Scott and Lindsay quickly realized that Booty had more friends than they did.  The states of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, and possibly one more were all represented at Booty's surprise 9th birthday party. 

Another shot of the birthday girl in the scarf that Bryn made for her.  Photograph by Bryn Scriver (2005).
On most occasions when Scott and Lindsay had friends over, Booty would stay awake for a while but she would eventually go to bed before the others or leave them on their own to have fun.  On her 9th birthday, however, Booty understood that it was her party, and as a result she stayed awake and interactive the entire time, until everyone had gone home or to bed.  This was possibly one of the most fun and exciting days of Booty's life.

A favorite Bootypants photograph in South Bend, Indiana (c. 2005).
Bootypants liked having company at her house, but she also often traveled with Scott and Lindsay.  She would join in on regular trips to Ohio and Illinois, always eager to see family and friends.

A Booty Burrito (c. 2005).
Scott and Lindsay went on a lot of camping and birding trips in the early 2000s, and Bootypants always was excited to join them.  Booty made trips to various camping and birding destinations in Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, and Ohio during her life.  She particularly enjoyed hanging out with everyone by the campfire, but also looked forward to going on walks in new places.

Booty loved to camp, as seen in this photograph at Hardin Ridge in Hoosier National Forest in 2005.
Another of Booty's favorite pastimes was going for walks or hikes, especially when they involved going to new places with new smells.  On some occasions, Scott and Lindsay would take Booty off-trail with them, as was the case at Holaday Fen in Marshall County, Indiana.  While Scott investigated the flora and Lindsay looked for birds, Booty enjoyed the fresh air and the animal tracks while marking her territory repeatedly.  Unfortunately, Booty learned the plant Rice Cut Grass (Leersia oryzoides) at Holaday Fen, resulting in her first trip to the emergency vet for a cut on her cornea.

Booty loved to hike, as seen at Holaday Fen in Marshall County, Indiana (2005).
Booty's next emergency vet trip came during a Christmas trip to Ohio in 2005.  While visiting Scott's parents, Scott took Bootypants out for her evening bathroom break and they were rudely greeted by the dog from next door, which was loose.  Scott was trying to fend off the dog while he was unknowingly lifting Booty up by her leash, leaving her belly exposed.  Scott didn't realize that the other dog had bitten Bootypants until they got back inside and saw blood dripping on the floor.  At the emergency vet, Booty's belly was shaved and the wound was cleaned, but the vet couldn't put in stitches because the wound had to drain.  As a result, Booty had to wear a cone for a couple of weeks so that she wouldn't lick the wound as it healed.

Booty hated her cone, but it was necessary to help her belly heal after her encounter with another dog the day after Christmas 2005.
Stay tuned for The Legend of Bootypants, Part II, coming soon.

22 December 2013

Bootypants Namestnik, c. February 14, 1997 - December 22, 2013

Lindsay and I lost a family member and best friend today when Bootypants passed away.  More posts and photographs from throughout Booty's life to come.  In the meantime, if you have a memory or story about Bootypants, please comment here.  If you have a photo of Booty that you would like us to add to a blog post, send it our way.

07 December 2013

More Magical Milkweeds

Over the past several years I've dedicated a couple of posts to a unique and functionally important group of plants, the milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) (see the past posts here and here).  I've also included milkweeds in several other posts focusing on other topics (see posts here, here, and here).  Based on the number of occurrences on this blog, it's pretty clear that plants in the genus Asclepias are amongst my favorite plants for various reasons, many of which are outlined in the second link above.

Here, I add two additional milkweeds to the collection on this blog: Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) and Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis).

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia)
To begin our June botanical excursion in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Brad Slaughter and I stopped to botanize a barrens that was a known location for Oval-leaf Milkweed.  We didn't expect our foray to begin so easily, but as we drove up to the barrens we immediately spotted our target species in the low vegetation before we even exited our vehicles.  In fact, in trying to count (and eventually settling on estimating) the number of individuals, we tallied hundreds more plants than had ever been seen at this location in the past.  This stunning species of the Upper Midwest and Canada is currently listed as endangered in Michigan and Illinois and threatened in Wisconsin.  It is considered a conservative native that grows in dry, coarse soils of prairies, savannas, barrens, and openings in oak woodlands.

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia)
The leaves of this milkweed are generally oval in shape (hence the specific epithet "ovalifolia") and the entire plant is covered with downy pubescence. The relatively large flowers are creamy white or greenish white with a pinkish hue to the corolla lobes.

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) habitat
Growing in a very different habitat and with a more southern distribution is Aquatic Milkweed, a species of swamps, bottomlands, floodplains, and pond margins.  This milkweed is found near the coast in the southeastern United States as well as in a zone following the Mississippi River north from the Gulf of Mexico and the Ohio River east a short distance from its confluence with the Mississippi River, ending in Illinois and Indiana.  I was working in a floodplain in southwest Indiana with Bruce Behan this past July when I came across this attractive species.

Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
The leaves of Aquatic Milkweed taper at both ends, a characteristic that can be used to help distinguish this species from the white-flowered form of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata forma albiflora).  In addition, stems of Aquatic Milkweed are often decumbent and rooting at the lower nodes before growing upright.  The flowers, which are smaller than those of Oval-leaf Milkweed, are crisp white, often with a hint of pink (reminiscent of the color of the flowers of Swamp Smartweed [Polygonum hydropiperoides]).

With the recent emphasis on the decline of the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/03/why-are-the-monarch-butterflies-disappearing/), milkweed conservation will likely become an even hotter topic in the near future.  Since Monarchs and milkweeds are large, showy, and charismatic, they have our attention right now, but the problem is much greater than it superficially appears, and extinction will soon take hundreds of other species that are more inconspicuous and that most of us never even realized existed.  A major shift in our conservation and sustainability practices needs to happen now, before it's too late.

26 October 2013

Anniversary Birding

One year ago today, Lindsay and I were celebrating our 10th anniversary sipping hot chocolate while sitting on a deck watching hummingbirds in the Ecuadorian highlands at Tandayapa.  A few of the more interesting species we saw that morning were Western Emerald, Brown Inca, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Booted Racket-tail.

Western Emerald
Brown Inca
Violet-tailed Sylph
Booted Racket-tail
Today we celebrated our 11th anniversary with a group from the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society on a birding field trip at Potato Creek State Park.   We were greeted by two mature Bald Eagles and a variety of other good birds including Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow.

Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles
Not quite the same as birding in Ecuador, but a good morning of birding nonetheless, and a great way to spend the morning of our anniversary.

07 October 2013

Dreaming of the Tropics

On a recent field outing with the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society in northwest Indiana, we had an experience that reminded me of times I've spent in places like Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.  How is northwest Indiana anything like an amazing tropical/subtropical paradise, you ask?  
Yeah, that's a parrot, one of about 20 species of feral parrots present in the United States.  It sure isn't often that you see a brightly colored green, gray, and blue bird making a complete racket in the Hoosier state, but in northwest Indiana and northeastern Illinois, there are several populations of Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) present in the wild.  This clearly isn't a native species, but after having been brought into the country in the 1960s for the pet trade, Monk Parakeets began to be released into the wild, either intentionally or unintentionally.  Since then, they have been able to make use of our grains, berries, nuts, and insects, as well as the urban habitats into which they were released, and their populations have survived and grown.  Monk Parakeets are also present as introduced species in South America and Europe.  They are considered native in southern Brazil and Bolivia into central Argentina.
Although they are unique, charismatic birds, there is question as to how their introduction might affect native bird species such as the Blue Jays and American Robins with which they compete for resources.  There is also concern that they may negatively impact crops when they are present near agricultural areas.  For that reason, there are laws prohibiting owning, selling, and breeding Monk Parakeets in several states.  That said, it's been shown in New York that Monk Parakeet presence can reduce the number of Rock Pigeons.  More recent research seems to point towards less impact as a result of the Monk Parakeet introduction, but the verdict is still out.
Monk Parakeets are the only parrot species that build their nests... er, apartments... out of sticks (all other parrots nest in cavities).  Instead of living in pairs, they live and breed in large colonies in nests that can be bigger than a Smart Car.  Each pair has its own entrance into the colonial nest.  Below is a photo I took almost nine years ago of one of the nests from a residential area in northwest Indiana... I apologize for the awful photo quality.  This nest is said to have been knocked down in a storm since I saw it. 

You can see that these Monk Parakeets are hanging out on electrical power lines, and in fact, we were at an electricity substation to see them.  The utility company continues to remove their nest, but these birds are persistent, and they keep trying to rebuild.  As we were watching them, a chatter of eight parakeets flew off and came back carrying sticks (all but one, that is... the supervisor, we assumed).  Unfortunately, these large birds and their enormous nests can cause a lot of damage.  As recently as this year, a Monk Parakeet nest knocked out power in New Jersey by restricting air flow to a transformer, causing it to overheat.  They can also lead to fires as they heat up as a result of being exposed to the electrical equipment.
Regardless of the fact that this is a non-native bird, it's still interesting to see how introduced species adapt to new settings, and to see such a colorful bird that can instantly take my mind away to the southern hemisphere.

15 September 2013

Sights of Summer on Schulenberg Prairie

Recently, I visited Schulenberg Prairie on the grounds of The Morton Arboretum in preparation for a workshop I will be leading there on 21 September 2013 focusing on asters and goldenrods.  This 100-acre created prairie consists of a rich mix of obligate and conservative prairie species and represents the fourth oldest prairie restoration/planting in the country.  The restoration of Schulenberg Prairie began in 1962 with the installation of plants grown from locally collected seed from existing Chicago region prairies.  Prior to that time, the 100 acres was dominated by a single species, as it was used as an agricultural field.  Since 1962, Schulenberg Prairie has been regularly maintained by volunteers and staff from The Morton Arboretum through herbicide, hand-pulling invasive plants, and fire, resulting in the most diverse and natural-looking prairie conversion that I have ever seen.
Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum) are common in Schulenberg Prairie

Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum)

Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera) adds a touch of pinkish-purple to the prairie backdrop

Cream gentian (Gentiana alba) is surprisingly abundant along the trails through Schulenberg Prairie

A bumblebee (Bombus sp.) forces its way into a Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba) flower in search of a sweet snack

Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), a real show-stopper

Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta)

Schulenberg prairie was originally planted with a 1:1 ratio of grasses and forbs, and excellent structural diversity still exists 50+ years later thanks to the tireless efforts of staff and volunteers

The expanse of Schulenberg Prairie

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) adds vertical aspect within an otherwise short-grass portion of the prairie

Schulenberg Prairie was named in honor of Ray Schulenberg, former curator at The Morton Arboretum, and one of the true pioneers in prairie restoration at a time when the few remaining prairies of Illinois were being rapidly transformed into agricultural lands and subdivisions.  It was Ray who, in 1962, was given the task of rehabilitating the land that agricultural activities had degraded for decades through the removal of native vegetation and topsoil.  Ray passed away in 2003, but his memory lives on in this spectacular prairie planting that literally bears both his name and the fruits of his labor.

24 August 2013

Photobombed by a Skipper

While taking the photograph below of a Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) plant in one of our native landscaping gardens, a skipper flew into my photograph at the last second...