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!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Grassland Birds at the Airport

I was driving home from Illinois Sunday evening, following I-70, and managed to overshoot my exit by quite a bit. I saw the exit for the Mt. Comfort Airport (Now called the Indianapolis Regional Airport) and remembered a post on IN-bird from Don Gorney about Upland Sandpipers a few days ago. So, to take great advantage of a unfortunate mistake, I decided to give Don a ring and ask him where I was most likely to see them. I am so glad I missed my exit!

Since I was at an airport, even though it was a small one, I was a bit nervous about taking photos. And the birds were a bit too far away to get anything worth showing anyway, so I am going to use good old Wikipedia for the photos. Hope you all don't mind too much :)

Upland Sandpiper, photo from Wikipedia

So here is the star of the show, the Upland Sandpiper, Bartramia longicauda.  I was able to get great looks at three of them, all out in the open at the same time. I also was treated to their wolf whistle call, "Wheet-woo". It always makes me laugh. :) Upland Sandpiper is a state-endangered bird for Indiana.

Savannah Sparrow, photo from Wikipedia

I soon heard the "Take it easy" song of the Savannah Sparrow. Such a pretty sparrow, with its pink legs, yellow lores and speckled breast. I had one right behind my car, not more than 8 feet away. Beautiful! I found a few more during my visit.

Eastern Meadowlark, photo from Wikipedia 

I found about 10 Eastern Meadowlarks scattered about the property. Some were perching on fences, others were flying about and quickly disappearing into the grass. Their brilliant yellow chest with the deep black "V" really stood out in the evening sun.

Horned Lark, photo from Wikipedia

There were two Horned Larks taking a dust bath on the road. They were preening their feathers and tossing about the dust from the road. Many birds use dust baths to help reduce avian parasites, like lice.

Dickcissel, photo from Wikipedia

I heard a sound behind me and turned to see a favorite grassland bird. "Dic-dic-sizzle, sizzle" called a handsome male Dickcissel which was perched up on the fence. I watched him sing for a long while, happily soaking it all in.

Bobolink, photo from Wikipedia

A few birds flew overhead and called. Bobolinks! I love their bubbly call, like a miniature R2D2 from Star Wars. "Spink-spank-spink"! They dove into the grass and disappeared from sight.

I love when I make a mistake and end up with a good result. What a nice ending to the weekend!


Friday, June 3, 2011

Water Day-Baby Cricket Frog

Today was water day for our preschool Wiggle Worms camp. We tromped out to the pond and used dip nets to catch all kinds of critters.

This critter is a dragonfly nymph, the aquatic stage of the dragonfly. Earlier in the day, Linsi read the story Dazzling Dragonflies by Linda Glaser to the campers. This is an excellent book for young children on the dragonfly life cycle. Since they were already prepared by the book, they were really excited to catch these somewhat creepy-looking insects. Many were excitedly screaming " I caught a baby dragonfly!"

This lizard-like creature is a damselfly nymph. Damselflies are in the same order as dragonflies. The abdomens of adult damselflies are more slender than most dragonflies and they hold their wings folded over their backs while dragonflies hold them out to the sides of their body.

This critter is a young crayfish, or crawdad, if you will. Many of the kids thought they were lobsters, which they do resemble. Even though it was too tiny to do any harm, it was a feisty little thing!

We even found part of a fascinating plant. This is Common Bladderwort, a carnivorous plant. The bladders, the dark, round objects in the photo, trap tiny pond creatures and produce enzymes to digest the prey.

Blanchard's Cricket Frog, Acris crepitans blanchardi, a sub-species of the Northern Cricket Frog, posed nicely for a photo. I think its face kinda looks like Kermit, if Kermit was brown. These frogs are masters of camouflage, as you can see on another post. Also, Nothern Cricket Frogs are a Species of Special Concern for Indiana, which means their numbers are declining, so they are on a watch list. I am very pleased they like our pond!

The big excitement for the day was catching these little guys! A young cricket frog, smaller than my thumbnail! Wow!

And then we caught this one. A cricket frog that still had its tail! It was still going through metamorphosis and was even smaller than the last one! It was such a great day out at the pond, exploring and discovering many, many cool things!StumbleUpon