Friday, March 28, 2008

Falcon Update!

Checking in on my falcon friends in downtown Indy. As of March 23rd, there are four eggs and the anticipated hatch date is between 8:00 PM on April 24th to 8:00 AM on April 25th. Richard, one of the main falcon-watchers, is very accurate on his predictions. Very exciting! I enjoy watching the parents feed the young and it is comical when they start getting ready to fly.

Parent patiently sitting on the nest at around 10:25 this morning.

The nest box view allows one to see the chicks when they hatch and watch the parents during some of the feeding sessions.

Bird's eye view of the circle in downtown Indy. This view is looking out from the nest box.

The ledge view is great to see the parents coming in with food for the young and also to view the chicks when they are getting ready to fly. The little fuzzballs are so cute! I can't wait for them to hatch.

You can view the nestbox cams by going to and clicking on the link on the right hand side of the page. This is a great resource for teachers who are wanting to study a life-cycle of an animal. There are great facts about the falcons that can be found here.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

First Day of Spring!

Since this year is a leap year, today, March 20th, is the first day of spring. Our Maple Syrup Season is over, so we spent the afternoon taking down the spiles and buckets. And while we were out there, Chris and I had an opportunity to look around a bit and see the first signs of spring.

The leaves of Spring Beauty are coming up. Their strap-like bright green leaves were poking through the carpet of dried leaves on the forest floor. The small tubers are actually edible and taste like radishes, if consumed raw, or potatoes if cooked.

Salt-and-Pepper or Harbinger of Spring, Erigenia bulbosa, was a sight for sore eyes. One of the first wildflowers, it always makes me think of spring. It was also used by the Native Americans to relieve toothaches. The condiment name comes from the dark stamens against the background of white petals.

Harbinger-of-Spring, I actually took this picture and it didn't turn out too shabby!

I could not get a picture of this guy, no matter how quietly I tried to sneak up on it. A beautiful Mourning Cloak was flitting around in the forest. It would rest for a bit, I would sneak up on it with my camera and poof, off it went. We played this frustrating game for a while, until I decided to give up. I am always amazed how it can sit perfectly still with its wings closed and look just like a dead leaf. What a great find on a perfect day!

Mourning Cloak, dorsal view. Photo by Wikipedia.

Mourning Cloak or dead leaf? Just quickly passing by, one would probably think it was a leaf.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Peregrine Falcons

Did you know we have a bird right here in Indianapolis that can reach speeds faster than an Indy Car? And, you can see them easily on a camera set up by the nice folks at the Indy Star?

Yes indeed, folks, we have Peregrine Falcons that regularly nest in Indianapolis and (drumroll, please) they have already laid an egg for this season! You can watch the goings on in their nest box, watch an egg being laid, watch one hatch and see the parents feed their young. Be be warned, it can be addicting!

The camera can be accessed by going to this link
and my friend Laura writes an awesome blog with the goings on for the day, answering questions and giving great insight. She has a great sense of humor and one can tell she really is a falconhead!

In a later post I will cover all their unique features. But for now, enjoy the live cam and hopefully you will get to see some amazing behaviors!StumbleUpon

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

American White Pelicans!

American White Pelican. Photo from Wikipedia.

" You have to love the pelican. His mouth can hold more than his belly can."

This was a rhyme my Dad would recite from time to time when I was a child. It always made me laugh and I always think of it when I see a pelican. And if you want, you don't have to go all the way to Florida to see one. We have three that are hanging around Indy at Eagle Creek Park! They are usually found down behind the old nature center, which will soon be the new Ornithology Center this coming summer!

The American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos , is an amazing bird. It has a huge pouch that is flexible and is used to catch fish. The pelican tips their bill into the water and scoops up water and fish with the distensible pouch. The pouch can hold about three gallons of water. They will then tilt their head to empty out the water and swallow the fish. Sometimes gulls will snatch the fish from the pelican before it gets a chance to swallow them. The picture below shows a pelican from a zoo (not sure of exact species) displaying the inside of the pouch.

Would you like a big kiss? Mmmm fish breath! Photo from Wikipedia.

Their hunting style is fascinating. They will get together in a group, usually four or more, then swim side by side, moving in a semicircle toward the shore. Then, with much commotion, they flap their wings drive fish ahead of them into the shallows near the shore. Once the fish are in shallow water, it is easy for the pelicans to scoop them up in their bills.
So if you have a chance go out to Eagle Creek Park and take a look at these amazing birds!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Skunk Cabbage!

Nope, this is not an exotic dish that you would wrinkle your nose up at a fancy dinner party. "Would you care to partake in the skunk cabbage? It has been aged in oaken barrels for 10 years." Nor is it a roadkill specialty Uncle Jethro from way down South makes. It is actually a spring wildflower and a really cool one, at that.

What prompted this post on Skunk Cabbage was an inquiry from my niece, Brenda. She had found an interesting plant on a hike she had taken in southwest Virginia. So she sent me a few pics, one that is posted below.

Of course I was very excited that she had found the plant and sent her a long-winded e-mail about it. And now, I will torture all my readers with some of the same info. So here goes...

Skunk Cabbage is in the Arum family and has other relatives like Peace Lillies and Calla Lillies. They have the strangest-looking flowers that bloom in February and March, and have the amazing ability to produce their own heat or thermoregulate. If you look at the photo below, by my friend John Howard, you can see the various parts of the plant. The hood-like sheath is called a spathe and tucked inside you will find the spadix which is covered with small green flowers. The spathe can generate temperatures around 70 degrees F! This plant is HOT! This ability aids the plant in attracting early pollinators like flies and bees that might be looking for some relief from the elements. It also helps melt snow which is sometimes prevalent this time of year.

Note the yellowish spadix tucked inside the maroon spathe of the Skunk Cabbage. The spadix contains many tiny green flowers that flies and bees pollinate when visiting the warm, stinky flower

Skunk Cabbage produces chemicals called putrescine and cadaverine. Yep, the chemical smells of death or, as one website put it, putrifying flesh. Yuck! Anyway, this also attracts the flies to help pollinate it. The flies think they are getting a great snack and a warm place to stay. What a deal!

Another chemical that Skunk Cabbage possesses is calcium oxalate. It produces a sensation of hot, stinging needles that last for hours if one ingests it. By producing this chemical, it deters animals from eating the plant. It supposedly has some medicinal qualities; some Native Americans would use use the crushed petioles of the plant to heal deep bruises.

In late spring, the spathes will wither and leave behind a pile of round seeds. Up will arise large green leaves, that also impart a skunk-like odor when crushed. These leaves will persist through the summer.

I love scientific names because sometimes they let one see what characteristics the person naming the plant keyed in on. The scientific name of Skunk Cabbage is an interesting one: Symplocarpus foetidus. Symplocarpus means connected fruit, describing the spadix. Foetidus means foul or evil-smelling. Foul-smelling, for sure, and that odd-looking spadix is pretty amazing.

Skunk Cabbage likes to grow in wet places. You can find Skunk Cabbage at the north end of Eagle Creek Park and it is found in a couple of places at Holliday Park near the board walk. Look for the flower of this little stinker until the end of March, then look for the leaves in late spring.