Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowy Owl near Indianapolis

This weekend, many people were treated to looks at a true rarity to this area and a gorgeous creature, to boot, --a Snowy Owl! Those of you who are Harry Potter fans may be familiar with his owl, Hedwig. Hedwig is a Snowy Owl.

The owl had been spotted at the Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mount Comfort, formally known as the Mount Comfort Airport. Don Gorney and other birders kept tabs on the bird all weekend. Eric Martin and I were able to drive out there Sunday afternoon to take a peek. My photo above was taken with a point and shoot camera through a car windshield in the rain. The plastic-bag-like-object is the owl. :) It is hunkered down on the ground taking cover from the rain. Even though it wasn't super close, we were still delighted to watch it turn its head while it checked out the coming and goings of the people who came to visit it.

My friend, Don Gorney, was able to snap a better photo on the previous day, Saturday. Thanks to Don for letting me use his stellar photo. With the light barring on the feathers and the pattern on the tail feathers, Don thinks this is an after-hatch year male. Younger birds and females would have darker spots on their feathers. For a photo of a juvenile bird, check out my post from a few years ago of a Snowy Owl I saw in Cleveland, OH.

To see a Snowy Owl brings up mixed emotions. It is such a graceful flyer, floating effortless along as it hunts. But, most Snowy Owls that visit Indiana in the winter do not make it. Many times these owls get hit by cars and trucks as they are sailing across the highway, looking for a meal. Snowy Owls glide very low along the ground, as they search for food, and this puts them right smack in the path of a vehicle.

The Snowy Owl's normal range is in the arctic tundra, throughout Canada and the Northern United States.  Snowy Owls have a favorite snack of lemmings. Lemmings are cyclic in nature. Lemming populations will grow in number year after year and the predators, such as owls and fox will increase along with them. Eventually, they will hit a population threshold and the predators will apply too much pressure on the lemming population. The lemming population will plummet and the abundant predators will be forced to look for food elsewhere. The Snowy Owl will move southward looking for other food. These cycles seem to occur about every three or four years. A combo of a good breeding season, producing many juvenile owls, and a possible crash in the lemming population up north may force many Snowy Owls to the south.

If a Snowy Owl finds a good food source, and doesn't meet an early demise from a vehicle, it will tend to stick around for quite a while. As of today, the Snowy Owl was still at the airport. Hopefully, many of you will have a chance to view this gorgeous winter visitor!


Friday, November 11, 2011


This morning at Southeastway Park, we were greeted by a dusting of snow. Though I am not a big fan of driving in the white stuff, I do like the way it looks. Here are a few shots from around the park.

 Our bird feeding area looks like it has been generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

 Little tufts of grass poking through the snow reminds us it was seventy degrees just this past weekend.

 Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) adorned with ice crystals.

Mother nature all mixed up-the grass dressed in rich summer green, the shrub in fall colors, and the dusting of snow. Notice the cardinal in the tree on the right?StumbleUpon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Orchid Fest!

Yesterday, we visited Garfield Park Conservatory and Sunken Gardens for their annual Orchid Fest. What a treat! 

We were wowed with stunning floral displays, experts on hand to answer questions and beautiful orchids for purchase.

I honestly was overwhelmed by all the luscious smells and colors, I can't remember what any of the names are of these orchid varieties. So, just enjoy!

Orchid Fest goes through Sunday, Nov. 13th, 2011. Admission is $3 per person or $8 per family.

  And, while you are in the area, after you have wowed your senses of smell and sight, why not go up Shelby Street a bit and visit Claus's German Sausage and Meats and delight your tastebuds?! I just discovered this place. Wow! Delicious sausages made in-house. Well worth checking out!!!StumbleUpon

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monarch Caterpillars

Our nineteenth annual Bug Fest is soon approaching, so last week Miranda and I walked around looking for caterpillars for the monarch butterfly station.

We soon hit a small patch of milkweed, only four plants, that was covered with tiny caterpillars. We found about 20 or so of the minute creatures. The caterpillars were only a few days old. To get an idea of how small they are when they first hatch, I have a paper clip in the photo for reference. Please click on the photo to enlarge it on your screen. The caterpillar is to the right of the C-shaped mark on the leaf.

Here I have cropped the photo so you can see it a little better. Notice the teeny stripes on the body. Soooo cute!!!

These little guys are growing like gangbusters, so I will have to post more baby pictures in the future!

On the same note, Naturalist Linda Gilbert from Geauga Park District, up near Cleveland, OH, posted this amazing video of a monarch caterpillar hatching from an egg. The egg is about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen.  Thank you, Linda for taking the time to film this miraculous event through a microscope and for allowing me to share this video!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Would You Eat This?!?!

Game show time. We are going to play "Would You Eat This?!?!" The following delicacies were offered to our Survivor Camp participants during the Eating Challenge. Tribe members would face off against the other team, each member having to pick what concoction they would have to partake by drawing a number from a cup. Points were awarded when a team member successfully choked down, errr I mean, eagerly gobbled the goodies. And it had to stay down. 'Nuff said.

A favorite of my father's, canned oysters. Looks gross, smells questionable and the texture is weird. These qualities make the perfect combo for the Eating Challenge.

Psyching out the opponent is part of the game. This looks like intestines and you could easily tell the other team it tasted terrible and pretend you could barely choke it down because it is soooo horrid. What is it really?

Simply dried bamboo shoots. Easy to eat, no bad flavors. Just looks intimidating...

Another psych out food. Snow fungus. No foul taste, but a weird appearance and texture.

This winner is truly appalling. Salted Snake-head fish. Very, very salty, fishy and stinky. Triple yuck.

By far one of the worst foods on earth, in my opinion. Silkworm pupae. Yep, the pupae of a silkworm moth and a by-product of the silk industry. Not sure why anyone would crave these, but if popping these in your mouth while you relax and watch sitcoms tickles your fancy, more power to you!

Squid in natural ink. The added element of tentacles combined with the putrid smell makes this food a real challenge for the campers to surpass.

I was intrigued when I found these bad boys at the Saraga Market. Preserved duck eggs. Eggs are not supposed to be black! And, yes, they taste as bad as they look.

So, there you have it. Some of the offerings for our Survivor Eating Challenge. Have I tried all these foods, you may ask. Yes, it is my policy that if the kids have to eat it, I do too. I will eat it right in front of them at the end of the challenge to assure them the foods are safe. Do I dread doing so, you betcha! But the campers do have a blast trying the different ethnic foods and psyching out the other team. All in good fun! :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Something to Make You Smile...

The summer day  camp at Christian Park put together a super cute video to the Selena Gomez "Who Says" song. Great job Rickey Knox and crew!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nature Journals

In our Nature Explorers camp, the kids made nature journals. Each day they were supposed to write and draw a picture about their favorite activity for the day. Here are a few for your viewing pleasure...

On one of the hikes, we found a raccoon in a tree. I like the disclaimer-"Not my best drawing." :)

We took the kids out to our bluebird boxes to see the nests. One had five baby bluebirds inside.

One of our activities on Bug Day was to go out in the woods, roll over logs and look for millipedes, centipedes, worms, rollie-pollies and other assorted critters.

On Thursday evenings, we have a cookout and night hike. We let the kids travel a section of the trail by themselves in the dark. A few of the counselors are positioned on one end of the section and the rest are on the other, sending the children one by one. They love the thrill of walking by themselves in the dark without a flashlight.
This post was about the Thicket game, a hide and seek game that involves a child posing as an owl finding hidden mice.
This is one of my favorite posts. If you are having trouble reading it, it says " My favorite part of the day was when I found a slug and I named him Sticky and he was my friend. "  Cracked me up.

It was so much fun reading what activities they enjoyed and their interpretation of them. I always look forward to taking a peek into their world.StumbleUpon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Interesting Illinois Insects (and other stuff)

Summer Tanager
Last weekend I took a road trip to Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. My friend, Jim McCormac, was working on his upcoming warbler book and asked if I would like to come along. Jim is one of my favorite people to join on a foray. He is extremely knowledgeable, well versed in almost everything out there, and gifted with incredible sight and hearing. Very little misses his radar and many cool things are always encountered.  And, I also enjoyed getting a sneak peak into his book writing process. Jim is visiting all these sites so he can experience them first hand.

Summer Tanager
We checked out the LaRue Pine Hills area. There we encountered lots of warblers, which was what the trip was all about. Worm-eating Warblers were thick and there were also lots of Hooded Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Northern Parula and Prothonotary Warblers. I did not get any photos of those. But, there were also lots of Summer Tanagers around. We had great views of quite a few of these gorgeous scarlet birds that flew very close, chattering and whistling  all the while.

Orb Weaver Spider
Besides the birds we found lots of interesting insects and other creepy crawlies. Jim spotted this Orb Weaver which was hiding within this leaf curl. She was guarding an egg sac, the fuzzy white blob to the right of her.

Jumping Spider with prey
I spotted this tiny jumping spider. It was completely fixated on its prize, so I was able to get a few shots off without disturbing it too much. Like all the pics, you can click on the photo to enlarge it and see its cute little face.

Flea Beetle, Lupraea picta
While Jim was photographing a dragonfly, I found this tiny Flea Beetle to photograph. I think this is Lupraea picta. Thanks to Ted MacRae from Beetles in the Bush for letting me know it was a type of flea beetle. They are called flea beetles because most in this tribe are good jumpers, like a flea.

Jim spotted a few of these tiny beautiful red and black beetles. These are Eastern Babia, Babia quadriguttata, making more little Babias.  

We were watching a dragonfly cruising the area when I spotted this beetle on a leaf. This is a Dark Flower Scarab Beetle, Euphoria sepulcralis. The adults nectar on flowers and overwinter in the ground. The young larvae of this beetle feeds on decaying organic matter.

I think, but am not positive, that this is a Dance Fly from the genus Rhamphomyia. Dance Flies are fascinating creatures. Their common name comes from the males flying up and down in a sort of dance. They carry with them "nuptial balloons", which are silk wrapped prey that they offer to a potential mate. But there are some shysters in the midst that will offer empty balls of silk to the ladies. The ladies will select the mate with the best gift.

Lots of interesting insects in Illinois, plus gorgeous scenery, to boot. With Shawnee National Forest only about 3 hours away from Indianapolis, I would suggest it as a great weekend or day trip!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some Cool Bugs

Summer camp brings lots of energetic little bodies with sharp eyesight-they do not miss anything! And since I am the go-to-person for bugs, they always come running to me with their prize in tow. This week, we found scads of spiders, daddy-long-legs, dragonfly nymphs, beetles, wasps, crickets, moths and much more. Here are a few of my favorites.

T.J. found this beautiful moth on the bark of a tree. This is a Waved Sphinx Moth, Ceratomia undulosa.

Such a pretty, camouflaged little moth, and when I took a few photos from the side, I noticed something. With its big eyes, long antennae and fuzzy face...

It looked remarkably like a bunny! Who would have thought!

I am not positive who found this next critter. We were on a hike in the woods and I saw a pile of boys huddling around a log, all fixated on a small yellow and black creature. At first glance, I thought it was a wasp and made the boys slide back so they wouldn't get stung. Then I realized it was a borer, a type of beetle. No wonder I thought it was initially a wasp, the beetle's name is Wasp Mimic Beetle, Clytus ruricola. Imitating another more dangerous animal, in actions and color, help keep predators at bay. Another name for this beetle is Round-necked Beetle, for the rounded bulge near its head. The larvae feed on decaying hardwoods, especially maples.

This last bug landed on Linsi's water bottle. A beautiful metallic blue Cuckoo Wasp. Cuckoo Wasps are difficult to key out to species, so I will stick with the genus. I think this is Chrysis sp. Even though this critter is a wasp, I have never had a problem of them. They are never aggressive or try to sting. If they feel threatened, they will curl into a protective ball. Linsi thought it was so cute. But don't be fooled. In the wasp world, they are pretty vicious. Their double life is better than any horror movie. They are cleptoparasites, parasites that lay their eggs in another wasp's nest, stealing their food. The tiny larvae will emerge before the host species's young, then eat its eggs or larvae and the remainding food within the nest. Talk about an appetite!

Always cool things to see everyday. Look forward to finding more great things next week to share!StumbleUpon

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Baltimore Oriole Nest

High in a Silver Maple tree, Miranda found a Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula, nest. I have been looking for it for a couple of weeks and was very excited to finally discover where Mr. and Mrs. Oriole had built their nest. For at least a month, the male has been flying around our building at Southeastway, all the while loudly chattering and whistling.

Here is a little closer look at the nest. It is a magnificent piece of construction, mainly created by the female oriole. She expertly weaves grasses and plant fibers with her beak into a hanging pouch that suspends below the branches, safely cradling the nestlings.

The female oriole, mistress architect, perched in a branch above the nest.

Unfortunately, sometimes junior gets a bit adventurous and falls out of the nest. Since I witnessed Mom and Dad feeding it, I left it alone. There is always the urge to rescue a young bird, but the parents know exactly what a young oriole needs. Though tempting, I realize I could never provide for it like the parents. 

This brilliant orange blaze, although somewhat blurry, is the gorgeous male proudly announcing his presence. He darted around so quicky, it was difficult to get any decent shots of him. This is the third year in a row we have found an oriole nest near our building. I hope they continue to nest at our park for many years to come!