Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Big Year Week 18

May 7 - 13

Spring migration is in full swing here in Northern Indiana, and making appearances to the property a a couple of first of year birds such as this Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula).  Baltimore Orioles belong to the blackbird family, and they are summer residents in Indiana.  Several days prior to taking this picture, I had been hearing Orioles singing in the trees nearby, so I put some oranges out at our platform feeder, and literally 30 minutes later, a male Baltimore appeared and began pecking at the orange.  Grape jelly is another popular treat for attracting Baltimore Orioles.

Male Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

The second fun bird of the week was this male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea).  Here is another bird that summers in much of the USA, but winters in Central and Northern South America.  Indigo Buntings typically don't remain around our neighborhood in the summer months, with virtually every historical sighting that I've documented having come in the month of May.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

I suppose that one never really realizes the amount of moth diversity that exists until you actually start paying attention to what's flying around.  One trick to getting moths to willingly pose is to refrigerate them for about 30 minutes.  This puts them into a state or torpor, and when removed, you have about a minute to photograph them before they "wake up."

This little moth is The Wedgeling (Galgula partita) and it's the only species of its genus that exists north of Mexico.  Like most Lepidoptera, the Wedgeling is a larval food specialist, which means that its caterpillars can only eat a narrow range of plants.  In the case of The Wedgeling, it's larval food source is Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Sp.)

The Wedgeling (Galgula partita)

The latest in the list of non-native species that were planted by the previous owner is Grape Hyacinth (Muscari sp.)  It's another of the spring flowering Eurasion originating plants.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari sp.)

Wow, am I ever confused by Violets.  Apparently, our first flowering Violets are the non-native Viola odorata.  Then a short while  later comes several of the native Violets including Viola sorroria (Common Blue Violet), and Confederate Violet (Viola sorroria var. priceana).  Could this Violet have been something that was a garden variety cultivar, or is it actually a naturally occurring subspecies of Viola sorroria?  My money is on the idea that it was planted.

Confederate Violet (Viola sorroria var. priceana)

Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) is a nice, albeit somewhat weedy shrub that supports a lot of wildlife.  On our property, this species grows in nearly full shade as well as in areas where other things won't grow (beneath pine trees for example). The picture below is that of a Prunus virginiana flower cluster.  It was taken on a breezy day where it was hard to focus on the entire flower cluster, which is unfortunate, because they are quite beautiful.

Flower Cluster of Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

Common Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are flowering abundantly this week.  The bane of lawns everywhere, this introduced species is actually both delicious and nutritious with leaves being high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron and Calcium.  Instead of poisoning it, why not try eating it instead?

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale

Another Eurasian lawn weed that's flowering right now is Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum).  These are not nettles at all, but rather members of the mint family.  The name "Deadnettle" is erroneously implied that they are nettles, but without stingers.   Like the Dandelion, these too are said to be delicious and nutritious.

Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpurem)

Yet another Eurasian weed, which is also part of the mint family, is the invasive Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea).  Used for centuries for various purposes in the old-world, Creeping Charlie can take over huge areas and wipe out native wildflowers.  This is one of those weeds that I'm convinced I'll never fully eradicate, but rather will have to constantly control.

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Speaking of invasive plants, little exists that's more invasive than Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata).  Native to Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, Garlic Mustard was introduced to North America in the 1860s, and has since spread across most of the United States.  Garlic mustard produces copious amount of seed, releases chemicals that are thought to inhibit the growth of other plants, and has no known natural enemies in the new world.  For these reasons and more, this plant has an unfair advantage over native species, which it easily out-competes. The good news is that it's easy to pull, and it can be eaten.  When we first moved to our property, we had an area that was pure garlic mustard, but through diligent pulling, I now only see five or six plants per year on our property. 

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Meanwhile, on the native, non-invasive front, Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is also in flower in our woodland garden (note the deep red flowers).  Unrelated to the "real" ginger, Asarum canadense contains potential carcinogens, so it shouldn't be used as a ginger substitute, but it does make a lovely ground cover, and it's one of the important, indigenous plants of the eastern deciduous forest.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Another native woodland plant is Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).  This particular plant was purchased a couple of years ago at a native plant sale, but it has yet to flower for me.  Very similar in appearance to the closely related Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucularia), the two species are most easily separated by their flowers.  Dutchman's Breeches are said to look like small pants, whereas Squirrel Corn's flower are said to resemble lady's dresses....thus spurning other colloquial names for the two plants "boys and girls."   The common name of Squirrel Corn is thought to refer to the underground portions of the plants, which are said to resemble kernels of corn.

Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)

Our first flowering prairie plant of the year is Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum).  A member of the rose family, the species name "triflorum" indicates that the plant flowers in groups of three, as is evident in the photo.  The common name Prairie Smoke comes from the wispy appearance that the seed heads take on later in the season.

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)

Week 18 running totals:

Birds: 27
Mammals:  4
Reptiles:  1
Insects:  9
Vascular Plants:  24

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Big Year Week 17

April 30-May 6

I was out of town at the Indiana Audubon Spring Festival for three days this week, so my yard discoveries are pretty lame - just of couple of new birds, but pretty good birds at that.

Returning for the summer are Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  These birds overwinter in Central America, and they breed in the Northern US and Canada including most of Indiana.  On this particular morning, I was lucky enough to have four males stopover at our feeders.  I've never found evidence of these birds breeding on the property, but I have founds recently fledged young in nearby Rolling Prairie.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

Another returning migrant is the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys).  Unlike the above bird, White-crowned Sparrows do not breed in the Midwest.  Instead they continue north to northern Canada.  Here in Indiana, we'll see them for a couple of weeks in a spring.  In the fall, they return to their wintering ground, which includes most of the United States, and we do occasionally see them foraging on the roadsides in the winter months.

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Week 17 running totals:

Birds:  25
Mammals:  4
Reptiles: 1
Insects:  8
Vascular Plants:  14