Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shtinky Puddin' the Stinkpot Turtle

Over the weekend, I visited the Upper Fall Creek Loop trail. While there, I was exploring around some of the rocks and found this critter. This is a Common Musk Turtle, otherwise known as a Stinkpot, Sternotherus odoratus.

Shtinky Puddin' (a character from the Mutts cartoon) is what I decided to call her. Oh, she looks innocent enough, looks almost sweet. Don't let her fool you! Yep, after checking her out for a bit, she let loose a foul stench not unlike one you would find at a frat party chili cookoff. Whew! Not very lady-like...
How do I know she is a female, you might ask? Well, her plastron, or bottom shell is flat. Males will be slightly concave. Also, I found her on land. Stinkpots are usually aquatic except when the females venture on land to lay eggs.

After a few minutes of torture from the paparazzi, I let Lady Gag Me loose to finish her egg laying business. She was quite happy to wander off and my nose was quite happy she was on her way!StumbleUpon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oriole at Southeastway

The last week or so has been great for migrating birds here at the park. Some are just passing through, while others have come back to stay for the summer and nest. One of the latter is our resident Baltimore Oriole. I never tire of the chattery bird with the brilliant orange and shiny ebony feathers.

Unfortunately, the nosy bird decided to come INSIDE the building. We scooped him up with a butterfly net and after he voiced a bit of protest, we took him outside and off he flew. Almost every morning he does a fly by, calling out with his deep whistles and prattle. "Whoot... whoot... at,at,at,at,at." Not sure if he is saying "thank you" or iterating a much different message! ;)

Photo by wikipedia

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pipevine Swallowtail

A stunning Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly emerges from its chrysalis on a warm, sunny day. I always love these magical moments in nature, when you capture a snippet of life unfolding right before your eyes. The colors on a brand spanking new butterfly are so vibrant, so perfect, so breathtaking.

Pipevine Swallowtails, Battus philenor, rely on members of the pipevine family or birthwort family, Aristolochiaceae, for their main larval food plants. One of the members of this family that lives in Indiana and Ohio is Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria.

To view the strange flower of Virginia Snakeroot, one must brush aside the leaves on the forest floor. The odd reddish flowers are designed to mimic carrion and are believed to be pollinated by flies.The pollination method of these flowers are interesting. The corolla or tube of the flower is lined with hairs that point inward. This allows entry, but no exit. Once inside, the fly is trapped. The flower will shed pollen onto the insect and then the hairs will wilt. The fly is given its freedom so the process can happen all over again with another flower. Virginia Snakeroot does not live in Indianapolis, yet Pipevine Swallowtails do, so I was puzzled about how that was possible...

Then I recently found out that Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense, is another alternate host plant. It is also in the Birthwort family. Mystery solved! Wild Ginger, with its pretty heart-shaped leaves, is fairly widespread in woodlands throughout Indiana and Ohio and there are even large patches here at Southeastway Park.


Queen City Bird Festival-Sat. May 15th, 2010

Looking for something to do this weekend? Take a road trip to the Queen City Bird Festival! About two hours away is Hueston Woods State Park. The festival is going on Sat. from 7am-6pm at the nature center. And, the best part for those with a limited's FREE!

This free event is hosted by Audubon Miami Valley of Ohio and the Avian Research and Education Institute. Come out and celebrate the beauty of spring, birds and nature!

Activities for the entire family, including:
Numerous activities for children and a wonderful way to introduce children to nature
Guest speakers on bird migration, bird banding and where to bird watch
A variety of food and merchandise vendors
Local conservation groups
Live music
Hourly bird walks
Bird banding demonstration

We would like to welcome our 2010 special festival guest Thane Maynard, Director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Thane is an avid author and the world has benefited from his many wildlife programs at the Cincinnati Zoo. He is known for his radio series The 90-Second Naturalist on public radio which airs nationally to enhance public awareness of biological diversity, natural history and wildlife conservation.

Also, the lovely Susan K. Williams will be there from Raptors, Inc. with some of her bird friends. See owls and hawks up-close!

You’ll also enjoy many great classes such as “Birds in the Classroom” by Seven Hills School teachers Karen Glum and Jennifer LiCata. Sr. Marty Dermody of Mt St. Joseph will cover “Birding in Southwest Ohio.” Casey Tucker of Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics of Ohio will help you master “Birding by Ear.” “The Basics of Birding” will be covered by Bill Heck. Don’t forget to catch “Photographing Birds" with nature photographers Jim and Deb Chagares and don’t miss Rick Lee’s experiences while “Birding Antarctica

Jill & Dave Russell, Directors of the Avian Research and Education Institute, P.O. Box 555, W. College Corner, IN 47003 are co-organizers and sponsors of the Queen City Bird Festival. They are federally licensed bird banders and long-time birders who regularly provide educational seminars and lead birding trips internationally. Dave and Jill have spent untold hours encouraging the young and old to get out and explore their natural world. Their patience with the early birder and enthusiasm for bird research makes them the dynamic duo of avian awareness and research. Bird banding lists and bird sightings from previous festivals are available on the AREI website. For further information please contact Jill Russell at 513-244-4783,, or Debbie Gross,


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hackberry Gall

Ever notice these grayish-brown blobs on the hackberry trees? These structures are galls. A gall is an abnormal growth of plant tissue. It can be caused by fungi, bacteria, mites or insects. In this case, it is produced in the plant when an insect lays an egg in the plants tissue. The adult insect that deposits the egg may inject chemicals that change the plants growth. In some instances, the developing larva controls the plant with physical or chemical ways.

The gall protects the developing critter from the elements and from some predators. (Some predators, like woodpeckers, have learned to look for the galls and the tasty treat that lies inside.)

Hackberry petiole gall. Photo by John Howard.
Hackberry trees have many types of galls associated with them. This one is called a Hackberry Petiole Gall . It is caused by a plant louse called a Hackberry Petiole Gall Psyllid, Pachypsylla venusta. The adult stage looks similar to a small cicada.

Hackberry Petiole Gall Psyllid by John Howard

Below is a close-up of the little critter. You can see its tiny orange wing buds on the sides of its body. As many as 13 nymphs can live inside the gall separated by compartments of wax.

The hackberry galls are very thick and tough. The Hackberry Petiole Gall Psyllid has sclerotized teeth on its abdomen that it scrapes across the inside of the gall until it is cut open. They emerge in the spring and molt into adults when new leaves are forming on the trees.

Photo by Osten-Sacken, University of Florida

One can never know what you may find when you start to look. This little creature is just one of the many amazing things that are out there in nature.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Honey Honey, ah, Sugar, Sugar

This was a song by the Archies we were singing because of our big find. I was also singing "Honeycomb's BIG, yeah, yeah, yeah, it's not small, no, no, no." Can you guess what we found?

A tree fell down in the park and inside we found it was chock-full of honeycomb and wild honey.

It was delish!!! I was a happy camper until Miranda mentioned the botulism risk and then I was a bit freaked out. There is botulism spores found in wild honey, but it is only a risk to infants. We looked this up and found out adult stomachs can take care of the spores. Whew!!! Potential death averted!
Here is a closeup of the honeycomb. Truly amazing! To think that they made this with their mouth and no rulers or protractors were involved. I can't even make cookies uniform and I use my hands for that.
The honeycomb is made out of wax. The wax is formed from special glands on the bees abdomen. Bees consume honey and the sugars from the honey are converted to the wax. The wax is produced in thin, transparent flakes that are chewed to form the pliable wax that makes up the combs. It takes 6-8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax!

Truly amazing little architects. :)

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I have always been fascinated with camouflage. It astonishes me how an animal will adapt and change over time to blend in with its surroundings. Many of these cryptic creatures also have behaviors that allow them to become practically invisible. Here are a few from the last couple months that have blown me away.

This one baffles me. The Tulip-tree Beauty Moth, Epimecis hortaria, blends right in with the tree bark. But how does the moth know this?!? It is right out in the open, completely exposed. In case you haven't spotted the moth, it is right in the center of the frame. Follow the vertical cracks in the tree and its body interrupts them.

This one put up a chase, while I was trying to take a photo of a Birdsfoot Violet and find a Pine Warbler that was singing in the tree above me. Talk about multi-tasking! Can you spot the grasshopper in the photo above? It looks just like a stick.
How about now that I have cropped the photo? Using this photo for reference, you can see it is to the left of the tan leaf and above the darker leaf in the left corner, between the two blades of grass.

The grasshopper is a Carolina Grasshopper, Dissosteira carolina, and has a beautiful yellow and black wing that it flashes as it flies. It folds its wings when it lands and then scurries a few steps away. This leaves the predator (or naturalist) baffled as to where it went.

Another moth, this one green. My friend Tricia West spotted this one. It is arched up on top of a leaf. Again, it is exposed, not hiding under a leaf, but sitting right on top in the open. John Howard and I didn't see it at first even though Tricia told us right where it was! This is called a Bad-wing Moth. I read that the reason it is called a Bad-wing Moth, Dyspteris abortivaria, is not because it is a member of a gang or because it has a hot temper, but because its wings tend to shred when entomologists go to pin them. If you can't find the moth, it is in the center of the photo, with its head about an inch below the red stem.

Such impressive adaptations like camouflage truly fill me with wonder. I can never get enough of it. Nature never ceases to amaze!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Environmental Adventure Day

Wednesday was our spring Environmental Adventure Day at Southeastway Park. This is an event we have for schools in Franklin Township. We invited nineteen presenters and nineteen classes of students. Each class visited five stations and learned all about various nature and environmental subjects.
Frank Rouse, a naturalist from Holliday Park, is pointing out a nest in our parking lot of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Their nest is a wonder of construction, made of spiderwebs and lichens. Frank taught the class Birds and Binoculars.

Donna Rogler, State Coordinator for Project Learning Tree, is showing the students a leaf. She taught the children all about the trees at our Park.

Jackie Hill(in the bright blue shirt), children's librarian from the Franklin branch of Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, led the program Wolves, Chickens and Pancake Fun. All were entertained with a story, then they flipped pancakes as the ran across the field.

Fritz Nerding, a cool cat from Garfield Park, allowed everyone to get up close and personal with some slithery friends. He taught the class Super Snakes and educated the children about all the cool adaptations snakes possess.

Recycling Relay got the kids moving while learning about recycling. Jenny Woolsen-Helrigel with IDEM office of Pollution Prevention and Technical Assistance led this session.

Leland Kinnett with Project Wild showed children all the amazing creatures that live in our soil. They also had an opportunity to head into the woods, roll over logs and look for millipedes, roly-polies, worms and other critters.

Adam Barnes from Holliday Park showed children fossils and taught them what it might be like to be a paleontologist.

The kids were all given cookies and instructed to carefully remove all the chocolate chips and M & Ms using only toothpicks! Then they were instructed to give them to all to me for sampling. No, I am fibbing. :)

Dawn Thomas, Brad Shoger and Judy Aikman from Eagle Creek Park brought their birds of prey for a visit. Judy is holding a demon Barred Owl straight from the depths of Hades. Or maybe my flash made its eyes appear red. I think the first explanation makes for a much better story. ;)

I want to thank all of my terrific volunteers for helping us pull off this fun event. We couldn't do it without all your help. Thanks soooo much!!!!