Saturday, May 29, 2010

Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle

This little guy is a Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle. This beetle is often found leading the way down a trail and is shiny and glistening like a new car.

They are the best kind of insect. They eat small insects and spiders. So, as they join you on the path they may eat a few mosquitoes before the mosquitoes eat you.

They lay eggs in the dirt so they don't even bother any plant hosts. Even though this is the Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle, they usually have only four spots and occasionally don't have any spots at all. As far as I can tell the one in the picture is average with four spots.

Source: "Audubon Field Guide to Insects and Spiders"

Friday, May 28, 2010

How about some Stinking Nanny?

Ragwort has all sorts of enemies and all kinds of strange sounding names. It also goes by St. James-wort, staggerwort, and stammerwort.

It was once believed to cure horses of staggers and people of stammers; quite a colorful past.

Google ragwort and you can find all sorts of ways to destroy it and reasons you should. Apparently it is also a slow acting poison.

Some places have even imported a moth to destroy it. Such prejudice for such a bright and sunny wildflower.  

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wild Columbine

Another wildflower that blooms in the Indiana Dunes in the merry month of May is the Wild Columbine. This flower hangs its blossom on a delicate stem. They can be found in a semi-sunny spot underneath trees.

The Columbine is widespread over North America and the world and is cultivated in other colors besides the wild red and yellow.

Even though they are poisonous, they were once used to make medicines for ailments as diverse as poison ivy, heart disease, diarrhea, and sore throats.

Columbines are hosts to at least one butterfly and one moth.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hoary Puccoon

Such a horrible sounding name for such a beautiful sunny wildflower. The Hoary Puccoon blooms at the Indiana Dunes with the Lupines. In fact it is covering areas of the dunes in a mass of yellow.

The Hoary in the plant's name means hairy; it has hairy leaves. The Puccoon is an Indian word that means dye and its roots can be pulverized to make a red dye.

Butterflies and bees love the flowers. I watched many a Red Admiral flutter around the sunny blooms. 

Sources: "The Natural Heritage of Indiana," Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Parsnips, Carrots, and Poison Hemlock, Oh My!

Summer came over the weekend. No--don't look at your calendar just take a walk. Here is a member of the carrot family which includes plants like carrots, parsnips, dill, along with some of the most poisonous plants on earth including the Hemlock that killed Socrates. You know, things that cause frothing at the mouth, etc.

One reason I like this particular plant is that it is over six feet tall and in Indiana that's big. Another reason is that one day you are walking in the rain and see the buds coming out of their cornhusk shaped wrappers and the next day you have flower umbels as big as dinner plates.  Just like opening a summer present.   

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blue Flags

Summer must be near. The first Blue Flag appeared this morning.

Blue Flags appear in poetry and literature. Gene Stratton-Porter, an Indiana author, put them in her books. Anywhere you need a breath of summer you need a Blue Flag.

Just don't eat this delicate looking flower; it's poisonous to humans and animals. And the sap can cause dermatitis.

They grow wild in and near wetlands in Indiana.

Source: Wikipedia

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sunset Hill Farm County Park

A jewel in the Porter County, Indiana park system Sunset Hill Farm County Park offers plenty of places to hike and picnic.

    Donated by a veteran of the first world war, Colonel Robert H. Murray,  for use as a county park, the park was a working dairy farm into the 1970's.  Unfortunately, the historic old farmhouse and a few of the original farm buildings have been lost in the last couple of years. Colonel Murray's grave lies on a hillside under enormous trees.

The park offers wonderful hiking trails where you can enjoy wildflowers in fields and forests. Deer, possum, raccoon, and the usual squirrel and rabbit can be viewed in the park. Bird watchers are in for a real treat; blue birds are abundant. Butterflies are plentiful among the wildflowers and in the forest understory.

Although there are a couple of ponds within the park fishing is not permitted. Dogs are very welcome in the park but they must be leashed. There was a problem within the park last year concerning an unleashed dog; so, please, control your Fido. 

The park has a busy calendar of activities on spring and summer weekends and a beautiful lightshow at Christmas. So, make some time to come for a hike in the park.  

Friday, May 21, 2010

Red Admiral

Have you ever walked through a field of stinging nettles? I have. I consider it part of my naturalist's induction. You aren't truly initiated until your legs are burning so intensely that you wish you could take something and scrape your skin off. I tried everything to get rid of the pain. There isn't much you can do. Vinegar worked somewhat.

Ever since that stinging nettle evening I have wanted to not only avoid the plant but felt that wiping them off of the planet would be a great thing.

Enter the Red Admiral butterfly that calls the nettle home. This butterfly has been flittering through Indiana fields and woods for a couple of weeks.  I've seen it up at the dunes and over by the Kankankee river. They migrate south in the winter. The Red Admiral is one of my favorites because of its friendly ways of  leading the way down the trail.

sources: "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies" 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Damsel Days

The last time I was at the marsh I collected a jar of marsh water.  One of the treasures I found in the water was a tiny damselfly larva. This is what she looked like when I first brought her home. She has three feather-shaped gills at the end of her body. These damselflies are somewhat tolerant of stresses like pollution and loss of oxygen in water but they do best in unpolluted and higher water quality lakes, swamps, marshes, and ditches. 

In this stage she stayed in the water hunting tiny microscopic midges and a scud or two that also got collected in my jar of water. She shed her skin about a week after I brought her home and stayed in larva form for about two weeks.

 Here she is all grown up. She climbed onto a stick that I had placed into the water so that she would have a place to shed her last skin. She was so shiny and sleek looking. She tested her wings back and forth for about an hour. I then took her outside and let her fly off to hunt down some mosquitoes and find herself a mate.

 Here is the last skin that she slipped out of; you can still see her gills at the base of her body. She didn't need those anymore, so they were left behind with the skin.  

Source: "A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America" J. Reese Voshell, Jr /Pictures taken with Carson zOrb Digital Microscope   

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fishing report

After a couple of days of rain and cool temperatures the fishing is slow. The fish made me really work for a some bites and a few crappy and blue gill.

The water is still pretty cold for this time of year but it was nice to be out in the sunshine under deep blue skies. I managed to find a spot of water that wasn't covered by cotton from cottonwood trees; I hate picking that stuff off of my line and out of my reel.

On the walk to the fishing hole a turkey and I scared each other; I was looking through binoculars at an egret and almost tripped on the turkey.

The ticks are pretty vicious but the mosquitoes aren't bad yet.The turtles got most of my bait today though but it was a great day to be alive. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lupines and butterflies

Here's a wildflower that feeds an endangered butterfly larva. The Indiana Dunes is full of beautiful Lupines this May. Hopefully it means that there will be many more of the endangered Karner Blue Butterflies.

Lupines are making a human assisted comeback. Lupines need sunny, sandy, open areas. Development and fire suppression made habitat for both the Lupine and the Karner in short supply.

Can you imagine a world without Lupines or the Karner Blue?  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Butterflies and Wildflowers and the Indiana Dunes

The weather was great; a little cool until you start walking up the steeper dunes; nothing like a walk up a dune to warm you up. The sky was amazingly blue.

The lupines are blooming. The woods were full of the purplish blue blossoms.

The berries are promising their summer fruit; big, white blackberry blossoms and the tiny, pink barely there blossoms of the wild blueberry.

Hundreds of butterflies flitted through the flowers. The few visitors out for a wander through the dunes all wore bright smiles that rivaled the afternoon at the Indiana Dunes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pawpaw---The Indiana Banana

I came across a couple of young trees with magnificent blooms like these about two weeks ago. This was my first in person experience with the Pawpaw.

The Pawpaw fruit was once harvested but because of deforestation is rare in the wild. The tree is an understory tree and is cultivated in some areas. Apparently it is felt that to be profitable in cultivation that other uses need to be developed for the trees products besides the delicious, pesticide free fruit.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington ate chilled Pawpaw fruit which is said to actually taste like bananas.

The tree is the only known larva host of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly.
According to the field guide "101 Trees of Indiana" by Marion T. Jackson this tree is also called the Indiana Banana; making it truly an Indiana find.  

sources: "101 Trees of Indiana" Marion T. Jackson; Wikapedia; National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees

Friday, May 14, 2010


Baneberry has two varieties in Indiana; a red and a white. The difference is the color of the berries that poke out of long stalk giving this plant a common name of Doll's Eyes.

The berries are Audubon guide says very poisonous.  So why would this poisonous plant be important? Well, it's a food for birds and a house for at least one moth. This plant is blooming now in Indiana.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Kankakee River

The Kankakee River bubbles up from a place in the center of northern Indiana and widens as it flows into Illinois. At one time it created one of the largest swamps and wetlands in North America; a wetland that rivaled the Florida Everglades. The swamp was drained in an effort to bring progress to the region and create more farmland.

Northwest Indiana was the last bit of Indiana to be wrestled from the Native Americans because of the Kankakee. Kankakee is a Native American word meaning wolf river; reminiscent of a time when there were actually wolves in Indiana.

There is abundant historical documentation of the extent of wildlife that thrived off of the Kankakee. Huge flocks of birds and big game flourished in the wetland. Rascally human characters moved in and trapped beaver and muskrat for a flourishing trade. The summers were hot and clouds of mosquitoes swarmed the waters.

On a warm spring evening you can still find areas where a muskrat swims by with a branch of green; a deer stops to drink; as a fish takes your is still good on the Kankakee.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The ultimate tweeter

Birds find all sorts of original ways to get along with us humans.

 Each morning for the last two weeks this bird has sat on the speaker. He sits there guarding his nest in that speaker.

The baby birds inside tweet and the tweet gets amplified creating the all tweeter network of Northwest Indiana.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stepping on egg shells

The other day I found egg shells underneath the ceder tree outside my front door. The shells were a light robin's egg blue, although I doubt they were actually robin's eggs; more likely they were one of the many pushy sparrows that frequent my bird feeder. 

On my nature hikes over the last few days I've discovered additional egg shells, each a treasure of it's own and such a delight to find.

One was very tiny, the size of my little finger nail, and speckled brown and tan. Another was a deep blue with a very oddly pointed oval shape. It's sad when I find an egg that has fallen out of the nest full of its failed promise.

I hear the urgent tweet of the tiny birds in the tree outside my door each time I walk by. They are hungry to be fed and all too soon they will be gone and all will be quiet. But for now, in exchange for a tiny bit of seed, I've been given the gift of egg shells and a communion with a bird family.    

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sweet Williams

The Sweet Williams or Wild Blue Phlox are blooming in the woodlands now. The purpley-blue flowers grow in small bouquets under the trees. They need rich soil to grow in. The flowers shown at the left are wild but there are several hybrid garden varieties. Sweet Williams are said to represent gallantry.

The closest thing I could find to a reason behind the name was a story about a Scottish lass; Janet, the daughter of Lord Lundy. Her Sweet William went off on a journey. In the meantime Lord Lundy discovered the budding romance and did not approve. Lord Lundy ordered Janet to marry another; but, just in time to pre-empt the wedding, Sweet William gallantly shows up and weds Sweet Janet.  

Sources: Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers; Wikipedia      

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring at Coffee Creek

Small wildlife parks are the gems of travel.  Coffee Creek is one of those gems and it's right in my own Northwest Indiana backyard.

The park is just off of I90 or  a short skip south of I80/I94 so if you find yourself in need of a break while traveling through northwest Indiana I highly recommend that you stop and stretch your legs.

The park is large enough for a 30 minute walk through wildflowers and wildlife along a meandering creek. It is pet friendly; just be sure to have them leashed and clean up afterwards.

The best time of year for Coffee Creek is fall when the fields are covered in golden wildflowers but spring's flowers are beautiful and you just might see a fawn. My favorite time is the quiet of winter.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring Peepers

Thunderstorms passed through northwest Indiana and this afternoon the spring peepers are out in the forest and wet areas.

Peepers travel on rainy spring evenings to frog get-togethers at local ponds and puddles. I am told that they travel quite a distance and many are run over trying to cross streets when moving to different ponds this time of the year.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crescentspot confusion

Being recently and rather late in life a naturalist, I have been amazed at the tiny, imperceptible differences that go into classifying butterflies. Most of the characteristics can only be determined by killing a specimen; which to me as a naturalist sort of defeats the purpose. So I take my picture and note the general area where the specimen photograph was taken and hope that I can make some sort of identification.

Characteristics, though seemingly trivial, prove to be important in most cases. For example, one species darker below may have a completely different host plant from a species that is much paler below. Unfortunately, the picture with this post is not of the "below" view. Therefore, I cannot tell you if this is a Pearly Crescentspot or a Painted Cresentspot with any degree of accuracy.  I did, however photograph it the two days ago in Indiana, so chances are pretty good that it is not the Painted variety as it is found mainly Nebraska and west.

Crescentspots as a group have a diverse group of host plants; asters, goldenrod, thistle, and sunflower. They are generally a butterfly of grasslands and open fields.

No butterflies were injured or harassed in the making of this post. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fishing report

The fish are being  persnickety nibblers. I caught  a number of fish on yesterday's trip to the Kankankee but I had to work hard for the catch.

Being a fisherwoman who fishes mostly by myself I have been questioned by other women who find it incredible that I would fish. It is difficult to translate the feeling that I get when I fish. It is like asking why I breathe.

Every fisherperson knows that fishing is one of the most intimate ways that you can participate in nature. Fish are no dummies and they will outsmart even the pro's. Even young fish can be witty. Several times yesterday I lost my bait to what I thought was a smart grandfather fish but came up with a baby not much bigger than a minnow. Then there was the grandfather fish, big as my arm,  who swirled up out of the water to take my bait only to spit it right back at me.

When fishing you can forget that the rest of the world and its problems exist. It is only you and the fish on equal footing; neither of you is at a disadvantage when you're fishing with a rod and a reel. And the fishing after-glow can last for days...until the next time you can visit those fish again.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day in the Marsh

Spent the day in the marsh today checking out the life all around and getting in some fishing. The geese are still sitting on nests which is strange; most of the time there are goslings by mid-April. They seem late this year. Things are really dry this year and there aren't as many frogs as the last couple of years of flood.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Wild Geraniums

Wild geraniums started blooming around May 1st, although in sunny locations there were early flowers. This wildflower is very easy to grow in gardens. My home came with a bunch in the front. After a couple of years of bloom I cut out a bit of the edge of one plant and moved it to another shady location in the yard. I transplanted after the plant had bloomed. The next year I couldn't tell where the first plant had been reduced and the moved portion is still doing really well in its new spot. The plants bloom copiously for a couple of weeks and then the foliage dies back making room for summer flowers.        

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spring Beauty

The dainty flowers of Spring Beauty are scattered throughout the Indiana woods. The flowers are small but numerous. My Audubon guide says that the tubers of this plant have a sweet, chestnut flavor. Native Americans and colonists used this wild flower as food. Maybe I'll try some and let you know...    

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day and it's Apple Blossom Time

April left us overnight with a gentle rain. This first morning of May brought flowers that seemingly appeared overnight. The forest floor is covered in gold and pink and white and blue.  Bees buzz. Robins carry bits of nesting material in their beaks. The sound of the bird song is different in May than it will be in August after all the babies are raised and out of the nest and the leaving time has almost come again. The promise of the season is in the air. Anything can happen.

Apples are members of the rose family. Most apples are not indigenous to Indiana, nevertheless, they are particularly beautiful against a brilliant May sky and where would we be without the apple trees? The smell of the apple blossoms is intoxicating and the bees were busy early this morning gathering the sweet pollen.  

As promised in April, the May apples produced numerous blooms today as if on cue. You are required to stoop and look underneath the big leaves of this wildflower if you want to gaze at its flower. Most May Apples produce only one blossom. The blossom looks quite loved and protected underneath those big leaves.