Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Bloodroot sprouts just starting to open
Today is the last day of the year. Time to reflect on the old and hope for the new. 2009 has brought many, many good things. New friendships, renewed friendships, new family members, new opportunities, new life birds, mammals, herps, insects, plants and fungi. What all will 2010 bring?

Bloodroot-I always look forward to seeing it bloom in early spring
I think that is why I like spring so much. So much promise. Everything that looks dead and lifeless is suddenly renewed. Beneath a carpet of crumbled, dry brown leaves emerges fresh green leaves and tender blossoms. Each tightly wrapped sprout that pushes through the ground and gloriously unfurls is an affirmation of life itself.

Ohio Buckeye bud
2010 is at the surface, just about to burst forth. One can choose to wander aimlessly through life and miss it all or one can eagerly await it and drink every moment of it in. I have decided this year to choose the latter.
Ohio Buckeye, when first opening, looks almost like a flower
Here is wishing all my readers a year full of beauty, wonder and joy! Don't let it pass you by.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Northern Bobwhites

About a week ago, we had some visitors in our birdfeeding area at Southeastway Park. Four adorable Northern Bobwhites!

Two male and two female Northern Bobwhites, Colinus virginianus, visited our bird feeding area and hung out for a couple days. We have heard them call a few different times in the last couple of years, their classic "Bob-white"call announcing their presence. Once, we spotted them scurrying into the grasses near the wetland. This is the first time we had a opportunity to really look at and study them. There are three of the four in this photo.

Our birdfeeding area has lots of native grasses and wildflowers for cover and natural food. They seemed to enjoy scratching around in the grasses under the bird feeders. This male is all puffed out perched up on the log.
Here is a better shot of the male. The male Northern Bobwhites have a white eye-stripe and throat patch, while the females are more buffy. There has been a documented case where a female has expressed male plumage, but this seems to be an anomaly.
Here is a nice back shot that would make Dave Lewis proud. (His site features birds' backsides because they always take off when he is trying to get a shot.) I love the pattern on the Northern Bobwhite's back. This helps it blend in with the dead leaves and grasses.

I am utterly amazed at how well their camouflage works. Can you see all three Bobwhites? The male in the center stands out, but the one in the bottom right corner is a little hidden and the one near the top blends into the background.

They are also quite adept at hunkering down. This one is hidden in a clump of grass about a foot in width and six inches high. Do you see him?

How about now?! Right there in the center of the grass are the white horizontal stripes of its face. From the bird window, I could not tell where he was hiding, but could spot him after I looked at the picture on my computer screen.
Northen Bobwhites are found year round in Indiana and neighboring states. They are just a bit tricky to observe due to their cryptic plumage and habits!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Be Snoody and Get Your Caruncles in a Wattle!

Let's talk turkey. Besides being delish, and being the centerpiece of many families' tables the next few days, turkeys are native birds to the Indiana and Ohio region. You can view them right here in Indianapolis!

Photo by John Howard from Adams Co., OH.
So where is the best place to see Wild Turkeys in Indy? They are spotted regularly in open fields near sizeable woodlots around the Eagle Creek area on the northwest side and around Cottonwood Lakes on the southwest side of Indy.

Photo from Wikipedia

The young are called poults and are cute little buggers. I saw a group of poults with mama turkey on a hike in Shawnee forest. Almost stepped on one. They are very camouflaged and will hide amongst the leaves and detritus on the forest floor.

The female turkey is called a hen.

An amazing thing I just learned-turkeys can have virgin births. Yep, called parthenogenesis. This has been discovered in domestic turkeys. This is uncommon and I am uncertain if it occurs in our Wild Turkeys. All the poults coming from the unfertilized hens were male.

Turkeys have weird names for their parts. Hence, the title of my post. The snood hangs over the beak, the caruncles are the warty protuberances on the head and the wattle is the flap of skin under the neck. If someone says you have nice caruncles, it is not a compliment.

Three bearded males strolling for hens. Photo by John Howard.

The male turkeys also have beards that could make ZZ Top jealous. The long hair-like feathers grow from the center of their chest. They can grow an average of 9 inches long with a record of over 18 inches long. Ten percent of females can grow beards, too. These may be the poor hens who have to resort to parthenogenesis :)

Male gobbler strutting his stuff. Photo by John Howard.
The scientific name for the turkey is Meleagris gallopavo. Very appropriate name if you look at the above photo. Meleagris in Greek means guinea-fowl, gallo means cock and pavo is Latin for peacock. The turkey above is strutting with his tail all fanned out just like a male peacock.
Males will display and fight over the hens. My friend John Howard captured this epic turkey battle down in Adams county last December. They will fly up and charge each other to "impress" the ladies. ; )

So I hope you learned a few more facts about the everyday turkey. I sure did. :)
A special thanks to John Howard for all his wonderful photos.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Surprising Things About Gulls

I love to learn new things. And this past weekend, I learned some interesting facts about gulls and what they eat.

I knew gulls eat fish and will steal fish from other birds, like ducks. I knew they eat garbage, carrion, popcorn, bread, etc... But what I didn't know was that some of the bigger ones will eat large birds and even rabbits! Yes, it is true.
John Pogacnik, who was one of the leaders of the pelagic tour, witnessed a Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus, kill and eat a starling a few years ago. Grabbed it by the head. I am guessing it killed it by breaking its neck. I thought this was interesting, so I did a little research.

What I learned was a larger gull, the Great Black-backed Gull, Larus marinus, will take even bigger prey. From Wikipedia I found the following quote "They generally target chicks since they are easily found, handled, and swallowed. They can swallow puffins, terns[5] or small ducks whole."

After reading this, I thought, surely not. I was very skeptical. But then I followed one of the links showing a Great Black-backed Gull devour a tern whole. Nope, didn't pull it apart. It couldn't, it was on the water. The article from the Manchester Bird Watching Examiner is here and has a slide show to go along with the article. Amazing!

The powerful beak of the Great Black-backed Gull

Digging a little more, I found this. The following link will show a Great Black-backed Gull kill and start eating an American Coot. The American Coot may look small in the photos compared to the gull, but they weigh a little over a pound and are 16 inches in length. This is not a tiny bird by any means.

And finally I found a photo from Flickr by Recycled Teenager of a Great Black-backed Gull munching on a bunny. I had no idea they would take that large of prey.

So I learned something new about gulls! Hope you did, too!

Photos from Wikipedia and by Recycled Teenager on Flickr.StumbleUpon

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lake Erie Pelagic-"I'm on a Boat!"

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to participate in a pelagic trip on Lake Erie. A pelagic trip is when you venture out on the open water. The trip, sponsored by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Discovery Tours of Cleveland, left from Cleveland, OH on the HOLIDAY with around 50 aboard. It was a wonderful time with friends and many great birds. I was very pleased to get a lifer-Purple Sandpiper! Other great finds were Horned Grebe, White-winged Scoter, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Pomerine Jaeger, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Snow Buntings.

Searching the horizon for rarities are left to right Ben Warner, Michelle Leighty and Andy Jones.

The ever-moving cacophony of gulls took on a life of its own. I could still hear and see them that night in my sleep! Some called these birds seagulls, which is a misnomer. These are more appropriately called lake gulls or bay gulls. (Get it? Bagels? Sorry... that was bad.)

So why was this paparazzi of gulls following the boat? Were there celebrities on board? Not exactly, but quite a few of the Ohio Young Birders were attracting them by chumming. Chumming is when you throw out treats like bread, popcorn or fish for the birds. Unfortunately, fish tend to sink and leave an undesirable smell that deters the ladies... :)

There were a few birding celebrities on board. The young man in the green hat is Malkolm Boothroyd. Malkolm was the keynote speaker for the Ohio Young Birders Club's annual conference Saturday. He and his parents cycled 13,000 miles to raise over $25,000 for bird conservation. Utterly amazing! There is another celebrity in this shot, as well. Who is that dude in the gray sweatshirt? Is that Chuck Norris?

None other than Kenn Kaufman! I think Kenn is keying in on a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull in this shot. The bird was spotted at 6 o'clock, and since it was only two in the afternoon, we were going to have to wait a while to see that one. (A little birding humor and in my defense, that was Kenn's joke.)
Kenn's better half, Kimberly, was on board, as well. Kim is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory. She is spotted here chatting with Kathy McDonald. Kim just won the prestigious Naturalist of the Year Award from Toledo Naturalist' Association. The award was presented to her Saturday evening. With all of her projects and all the great things she does with young birders, she is very deserving. Congrats!

My Nerodio buddy, Ben Warner was also on board. A self-proclaimed chum lord, Ben, demonstrates his special chumming technique. You drizzle the popcorn out, bit by bit. Make them wait for it...

Very little slipped past this birding power trio who were stationed at the front of the boat. Left to right is Dan Sanders, Jim McCormac and John Pogacnik. I got on every bird since these three were close by.

We had a bit of a detour at the end of our voyage. The bridge was down and could not be raised to allow us to pass. But happily, since the docking plans were altered, we were treated to excellent views of a Merlin. (The bird, not the wizard :) )

There were speculations floating about as to what happened with the bridge. Some said it was old and rusty, in dire need of repair. But some believed the bridge mishap was due to a jinx. Sometimes trouble just follows people about, they can't help it. It just happens. They are present at every disaster. Just like poor Schleprock. There were some fingers pointing to a certain jinx that was present on our boat Sunday. But since he has gone into protective custody, he will remain unnamed. :)

There will be another pelagic scheduled for sometime in December or January, so stay tuned!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Send Christmas Cards to Noah

Okay, guys, I don't normally do this. But I am really touched by this story. And, I will admit, I am a big softy. But this story really got to me and I need to pass it on.

My friend and co-worker Jay Powell let me in on this story. Jay's good friend knows a little guy named Noah. Noah is five years old. He is looking forward to Christmas and getting lots and lots and lots of Christmas cards. Noah is in the last stages of neuroblastoma cancer. Nasty stuff and horrible for a little guy to endure.
Noah wants to get lots and lots of Christmas cards. I can totally identify with this. I loved getting Christmas cards when I was a kid. I remember patiently watching out the window for the postman. Then, racing down the driveway to the mailbox to see how many Christmas cards we received that day. I was especially excited to find ones address to ME. That made me feel very important. And I would carry these brightly colored pieces of cardboard around with me wherever I went. (Yes, I was a weird little kid, I know.) These special cards would be dog-eared and crinkled, but they were still highly prized possessions. Someone took the time to let me know they were thinking of me.

If you want to learn a little more about Noah, here is a video. Also a piece about the story on

So, if you have a few minutes, drop him a card. Doesn't have to be fancy, can be one from last year, even. I think it would be great for him to get cards from all over the world. Let's give Noah a great Christmas. Hopefully, if a miracle happens, one he will remember for a long, long time.

This is Noah's address: Noah Biorkman, 1141 Fountain View Circle, South Lyon, MI 48178

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Holliday Park Hauntless Halloween

Take one talking tick. Add in a boisterous box turtle. Throw in an outgoing opossum and what do you have?!?! A post just slightly more far-fetched than the last one Janet put up (how cool is that herbivorous spider, by the way!)

These creatures were part of the recipe for the annual Hauntless Halloween event put on at Holliday Park this year. Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday families braved central Indiana's first blast of autumn air to hike the candlelit trails and meet some woodland creatures who had come alive for the evening.
Tyler T. Turtleweather- check out my carapace!

Opal Opossum- silly humans, I don't hang by my tail! That's what my hallux is for.

Sally Salamander- always wanting to show off pictures from when she was a larvae.

American Dog Tick- no Lyme disease here. Those Deer Ticks give us all a bad name.

After learning about each creature (a turkey vulture also shared her natural history- the kids loved hearing how she goes to the bathroom on her legs to stay cool), participants headed back up to the nature center to warm up by the campfire, roast marshmallows and test their creativity with some fall crafts.
Over 400 people were able to enjoy the event thanks to help from dozens of volunteers and Indy Parks staff. A huge thanks to everyone- we couldn't do it without you!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Herbivorous Spider and a Carnivorous Butterfly

Yes folks, sometimes life throws you for a loop. You have a handle on how things are "supposed" to work and then BOOM, you find out something new that shatters that whole idea. Has this ever happened to you?

Just the other day, I came across an article that had to be a hoax, somewhere up there with newborns singing Christmas carols. I figured it was probably put out by The Onion, but was intrigued to find out more. After reading the story in a few more reputable sources, I realized it was indeed true. There are spiders that are herbivorous, meaning their primary diet is......PLANTS!

I am a lover of spiders, an arachnophile, if you will. I am not an expert, but thought I knew quite a bit about the critters. In all my life, I had NEVER heard of a spider that ate plants. I was quite excited about it.

And here is a picture of said critter. The species is Bagheera kiplingi, a type of jumping spider. Its name comes from The Jungle Book. Bagheera was the name of the black panther and kiplingi is in reference to the author, Rudyard Kipling. This species of spider has been found in Costa Rica and in Mexico. The population that is causing all the recent fuss is located in Mexico and is believed to have a diet of 90% plants. This is unheard of in the arachnid world.

Bagheera kiplingi ©2008 Robert L. Curry

So what is the spider in the photo above eating, you may wonder? The small orange item looks much like an aphid, but actually it is the spider's favorite food called Beltian bodies. Beltian bodies are scrumptious parts of the acacia tree. They are located on the very tips of the leaves and are guarded by ants. Beltian bodies, named after their discoverer Thomas Belt, are rich in proteins and lipids (fats). The spider spends most of its time scurrying around stealing the Beltian bodies and avoiding the ever wary ants.

The picture above shows some ants guarding the Beltian bodies. There is a symbiotic relationship between the acacia tree and the ants. The ants protect the tree from predators and destroy any neighboring plants. In return, the tree gives the ants housing within the thorns, tasty Beltian bodies and nectar .

Besides feasting on Beltain bodies, Bagheera kiplingi also eats nectar from the tree and a few ant larvae. Ant larvae look very similar in shape to the Beltian bodies. I wonder if ant larvae primarily made up the spiders diet at one time and then, maybe by accident, a spider started eating the Beltian bodies. Just a theory... Nature truly ceases to amaze!

For more info on this amazing little spider, visit these sites.

U.S News and World report

And, not to blow your minds all in one day, there is also a carnivorous butterfly in existence and it lives right here in Indiana. One of my friends even had one visit his back yard. This is a horror story that will curl your toes people! You will never look at those cute little butterflies in the same light. But I will cover that story in my next post. (How is that for a teaser? ; P )

For more Camera Critters from all over the world, go here.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Indy Big Sit 2009!

A day to bird, eat and socialize. What could be better!
Where: Next to the brand spankin' new Eagle Creek Ornithology Center within Eagle Creek Park on the northwest side of Indianapolis, IN
When: Sunday, Oct 11th from 8am-6pm.
Bring a dish to share, if you would like. Come for all day or just hang out for a little while.
We will be birding within a 17 foot circle, counting whatever birds we see. Plus, getting to know other birders and having a grand ol' time. Also, check out the new Eagle Creek Ornithology Center. Fabulous! Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Snake vs. Toad ---Snake 1-Toad 0

My nephew-in-law, Mike Heindl, sent me some interesting pics this week. He and my niece, Brenda, live in Hockessin, Delaware at the Oversee Farm, a Nature Conservancy Property. They are currently acting as caretakers and helping restore the buildings on the property.

While out walking, Mike found an American Toad, Bufo americanus, in a load of trouble. Apparently, an Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, had snuck up on the toad and was proceeding to eat it alive. WARNING-The following pictures are a bit graphic.
I have never seen a garter snake eat a toad, and never imagined they could swallow a toad that large. Amazing! (Mmmmffff, delicious toad burger.)
This pic really shows the toad puffed up. One of the toad's defense mechanisms is to inflate himself to appear larger and to make it difficult for the snake to swallow him. The toad has its legs spread out to further deter the snake. (I am gianormous, you cannot eat me, snake.)

Here the snake has really expanded its jaw to swallow the toad. They can unhinge their jaw to swallow prey much larger than their head. If we could do this, we could swallow a melon whole. It also looks like the toad has given in to its fate.

This photo is great because it looks as if the snake has arms. By now, I would think the toad knows it is a goner.

This photo shows the large lump the toad has made in the snake's belly.

This last look shows the toad's leg pushing against the side of the snakes belly. Is he kicking? Waving goodbye? Or possibly another common American hand signal... Poor toad!

Thanks, Mike for the great pics!

For more critters from all over, visit Critter Camera.StumbleUpon

Friday, September 25, 2009

Praying Mantis

We had an insect program earlier this week. What a blast! We found all kinds of great bugs. Caterpillars galore, beetles, black-legged meadow katydids, and tons of spiders were found. The most popular find of the day was this little lady-a very pregger praying mantis. If you look at her abdomen, it is very swollen with eggs. I would guess she will be laying her egg mass sometime in the next few days.

When I first picked her up, she tried to nail me. She reared up and threw her front legs toward my hand. If you look at her front legs, she has wicked raptorial spines on her legs. She uses these to reach out with lightening fast quickness and snatch her prey. Then she will squeeze it like a pair of pliers while the spikes impale the hapless victim. She usually eats the critter while it is still alive, struggling to get free. What a way to go! Large Chinese mantids, like this one, can even kill hummingbirds with those spines.

Here is a closeup of the raptorial spines on the legs. If you

are a bug, you are NOT escaping those.

I let her go on my hand and after she realized I wasn't going to eat her, she calmed down and just explored. Such a curious animal! I then let the kids take turns holding her. When I explained what she was doing and how to react to her, they were no longer afraid of her. It was great to see so many of them that had never held a big insect like that, grin with delight. It was great to see them conquer their fear of bugs.

After the program, I snapped some pics of her and set her free behind our building on a False Sunflower. I hope she lays her eggs back there, so I can watch for the little praying mantises this spring!

For more Camera Critters, go here.StumbleUpon

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

A couple a weeks ago, we had a few visitors at our pond at Southeastway Park. They were Blue-faced Meadowhawks, Sympetrum ambiguum, and they were the first ones I had seen at the park. So beautiful! I just love their little blue "noses". At the time I had shot a few pictures, but sadly they all turned out blurry. When my friend John Howard sent me a shot he took in Ohio, I was delighted and knew I needed to share these amazing creatures.