Sunday, April 21, 2013

Last Post-New Blog

With lots of careful thought and consideration, I have decided to no longer write the Indy Parks Nature Blog.  Hopefully, one of my co-workers will want to continue it.  Since Eric and I are traveling more and visiting many cool places and I would like to share that with my readers, I have decided to start a  new blog.  When I get it up and running, I will add the link to it here.  I thank all of you for reading and   supporting this blog.  My new blogs name will be "Meanderings". I still plan to cover many Indy Parks items, but it will also cover places abroad.  Check back later for more information.

Finally the new blog is up! My new blog can be found here.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Evening Grosbeaks!

It has been quite a long time since I have posted.  Life has finally settled down a bit, so I decided, since I had some good material, I would put together a post.

We drove for a little over an hour southeast of  Indianapolis to see Evening Grosbeaks. They have been hanging out at some feeders at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville, IN.

When we arrived at 8:30 am, we were told they had observed 6 Evening Grosbeaks around 8 am. Usually, we were told, they come back about every 15 to 20 minutes. So, we waited patiently... And waited...And waited. Finally, around 10 am, five of the flock returned. Four are on the feeder below. Three males and one female in this image. The males have the yellow "eyebrow".

We observed one lonely female that was rejected when she approached the feeder. The others chased her away.  Maybe she chews her food too loudly. :) She patiently waited for her turn at the feeder.

The others left, so she got her chance and the feeder all to herself.  What a beauty!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monarch will NOT Eat Your Tomatoes

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Tuesday, I was going about my day, checking e-mails, Facebook, etc... when I saw a post from my co-worker about monarch butterflies. Miranda loves monarchs and heads up our efforts to raise them at Southeastway Park. We have, over the years, successfully raised and released hundred of monarchs butterflies. Eagle Creek Park, also, raises and tags monarchs. Dawn Van Deman has been doing this for many, many years. I am sure she has probably tagged close to, if not over, a thousand monarchs. And, since their numbers are dwindling, we, as naturalists, feel it is important to do our part.

When I read the article Miranda had posted about Ortho Bug B Gone having a monarch on its label, I was quite upset. It took me a little digging around on the web to find out that this was, indeed, not a hoax by someone against the company, but it was, in fact, true. I searched a few places and found an ad for Bug B Gone for sale at Ace Hardware. I pulled the photo up, cropped it and was shocked to see this-a monarch caterpillar eating a tomato. 
ARRGGHHH! Monarchs won't eat your tomatoes!

Folks, monarchs do not, and never will, eat tomato plants. They consume milkweed and plants in the milkweed family, like butterfly weed. You need not worry about them ever eating your garden plants or your decorative flowers and shrubs. They are driven to eat milkweed only.

A teeny, just hatched monarch caterpillar.
This brings about an important point. At Ortho, someone was hired to create this label. And, at least one person, most likely more than one, had to approve it. Despite efforts to educate the public on the benefits of monarchs as an important pollinator and that its numbers are in decline due to weather, weed eradication programs, pesticides and other perils, this label was put on the market. Since I do not use this product, I had no idea it was out there. How long has this label been subliminally informing the public that monarchs are bad? It doesn't "say it" in writing, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Don't they have entomologists that can advise them about the drawings they choose?

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, a great monarch
butterfly plant for nectar and raising caterpillars.

This label could make someone think this caterpillar needs to be eradicated. My mother likes nature. She likes birds and butterflies, but blindly followed what others have told her. Snakes were bad. Spiders were bad. When she was still able to work in her garden and if she had seen a bug that could possibly kill her tomatoes, I am sure she would have sprayed it, no questions asked. And many of the general public are that way, too. They might even know about monarch butterflies and be familiar with their beautiful orange wings, but do they know what the caterpillar looks like?

A monarch caterpillar, almost ready to turn into a chrysalis. My mother
would surely have squirted this with insecticide during her gardening days!
On a good note, it turns out the story was actually about a concerned citizen, David Snow, who contacted Ortho about the label. According to the article in the Los Angeles Times, he asked Ortho why they had a "good-guy bug on your insect killer? It's like putting an innocent child's picture on a U.S. Post Office'Most Wanted' list." After not getting a satisfactory response from Ortho, Snow posted a petition on three weeks ago. The L.A.Times contacted Ortho this past Thursday for comment, July 5th. They were told the information had been forwarded to their marketing team. On Friday, the L.A. Times was contacted by a spokesman for Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., Ortho's parent company. They said "We're updating that label to ensure there is no confusion with the monarch butterfly caterpillars. Consumer concerns are something we always look into."  A little later, David Snow was contacted by a representative that said they were changing the labels.

How does this affect you, the reader? One thing you can do to help the monarch is sign the petition so Ortho and Scott's know there are many, many concerned citizens out there. They promised to change the label, but let's make sure they do! Also, if you see the product on your local store shelves, tell someone at the store about the monarch and how the label is incorrect. Yes, they may just nod their head, but if enough complaints are made they may pull the product with the offending label.  The monarchs need all the help they can get.

Another thing you can do is educate yourself and others about the natural world around you. One way to do that is attending informational sessions about nature like at the Midwest Native Plant Conference, July 27th-29th.  There are many informative speakers with sessions on conifers, native shrubs, pollinators, butterflies, gardening on a low budget and many more. David Wagner is an entomologist and expert on caterpillars and will be one of our keynote speakers. Fun and informative, so check it out! Only a few spaces left! Hope to see you there!StumbleUpon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Great Find

A hollowed out tree might not look like much to a casual passer-by. But most naturalists know this is a good spot to take a second look. And if you are an owl fan, it might just pay off...

Zooming in with the camera captured the eye of a very well camouflaged Great Horned Owl chick. The chicks are fuzzy and blend in very well with the snag they are nesting in.
Another shot reveals two chicks in the nest. One seems to know I am watching it from afar. Momma and Pappa owl where not seen, but I am certain they were nearby watching, as well!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Flying Valentine

At a recent program, I had a gentleman tell me he calls cardinals "Flying Valentines" What a great description! Not only is the cardinal a gorgeous red color, the perfect shade for any Hallmark card,  the bird has behaviors that can be considered romantic.

Photo via Wikipedia
When the male cardinal has picked a lovely lady friend, he will win her heart by offering her choice seeds. He will feed her, beak-to-beak. And, many times this behavior will continue during nesting. Look for this courting display soon at a feeder near you!StumbleUpon

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cooper's Hawk takes an American Coot

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, panic ensued at the feeding area outside our bird window at Southeastway Park. A tiny titmouse, in its frantic flight to get away, crashed directly into our window and tumbled to the ground below. The reason for all the frenzy soon was evident. A striking male Cooper's hawk landed on a limb above the lifeless bird, hopped down and swiftly flew off with its prey. We stood there, breatheless, watching the entire event unfold.

So you can imagine the surprise when this past week we came across the scene of another male Cooper's Hawk, this time at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, TX. Our guide, Kyle, spotted it under a bush near the board walk. Our birding group quietly walked by, many of us snapping photos, as we watched it feed on an American Coot! I had never seen a Cooper's Hawk take such large prey before! I have seen Bald Eagles take coots, but never a Cooper's Hawk. For those that are not familiar with American Coots, they are a black, duck-like bird that can weigh from 1 to 2 pounds. You can view some photos here. A large male Cooper's hawk can weighs less than a pound. Quite a feat for it to kill a coot and drag it under the bush. Kyle thought a female would be able to fly off with the coot. What an amazing sight!StumbleUpon

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Close Encounter with a Coyote

Recently, I was in the Rio Grande area of Texas. On New Year's Day, we visited Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge near Los Fresnos, Texas, in search of raptors. They have a fabulous driving tour where we viewed many Northern Harriers, White-tailed Hawks, and Crested Caracara. We counted over 25 Osprey, most of them feeding on fish from the nearby waterway.

When we were almost finished with the loop of the tour, near dusk, we noticed a car stopped by the side of the road. We pulled up slowly, thinking they may be watching a raptor or other bird. Suddenly, I spotted a four-legged creature in the road up ahead. A coyote!

My normal encounters with coyote here in Indiana are from afar. They are usually skittish, dashing quickly into the brush by the side of the road. Sometimes, I spot them in the distance in a farm field on my way to work in the morning. And, one early morning, I had the luck of spotting one loping through the park on the edge of the woods. I was pretty excited one was up ahead and was eager to get a good look.

This one seemed unafraid. It trotted by the other car, stopped for a brief second, as if sizing the passengers up, then moved on, closer to our car.

It kept heading toward our car, as if it was a greeter for the park. I carefully rolled my window down, just in case I could take a photo.

By this time the coyote was almost in front of the car. Then, it surprised me and came right up to my side of the car. If I had reached my hand out of the window, I could have scratched it behind the ears! It stopped and looked at me for a minute, as if to say "Hey, there!" then moved to Eric's side of the car.

The coyote silently vanished  into the brush to the side of the road behind the car. Eric backed the car up slowly to take another look. The coyote was lying down, totally unafraid, acting as if it was at peace with us being there. Such an awesome encounter!

Coyotes here in Indiana have an average weight of about 30 lbs, similar to a medium-sized dog. Their food preferences include rabbits and rodents. I usually see them in the rural areas, but there was a good sized population of coyotes at Skiles Test Park on the northeast side of town a few years ago. You could hear them howl whenever a siren sounded! I hope you have the opportunity to see one of these fascinating creatures. Check out this website  for more information on coyotes in Indiana.