Friday, July 31, 2015

This Leaf Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us - Red Milkweed Beetle Meets Monarch Caterpillar

Just a photograph from this morning...

"Stop eating the ground out from under my feet!"
This Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) and Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) were sharing the same leaf on a Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) this morning in the field behind the office.  The beetle kept having to move as the caterpillar ate the leaf out from under its feet.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Nature Geek Vacation Destinations - A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum (Houghton, MI)

One of my favorite destinations in the state of Michigan is the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum at Michigan Technological University.  Michigan Tech and the Seaman Mineral Museum are located in the city of Houghton, MI.  Located on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Houghton is approximately a seven hour drive from Mid-Michigan. 

The Seaman Mineral Museum is named after Arthur Edward Seaman, the museum's first curator.  Seaman was the head of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy at the Michigan College of Mines (now known as Michigan Technological University) and became curator of the museum upon retiring from teaching.  His personal mineral collection was donated to the museum upon his death.

The Seaman Mineral Museum is the official mineral museum of the State of Michigan and contains the finest collection of Michigan minerals in the world.  A large portion of the museum is dedicated to copper and iron ores that can be found in the western Upper Peninsula.  During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Michigan was the copper capital of the world with an estimated 11 billion pounds of copper being mined.  Much of this history is preserved as part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Photos from the field (28 July 2015)

These three photographs were taken in the field behind our office.  I needed a few minutes away from my desk so I wandered outside with my camera.

My footprints through the waves of grass

One of many Red Milkweed Beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) peers over a Common Milkweed (Ascleipas syriaca) leaf
A Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis) on the underside of a Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) leaf

While these photographs may not be the best in the world, any time spent outside is quality time. 

Get outside and see what you can see!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Like a moth to a flame...

Disclaimer:  There were no actual flames used in the writing of this post. Moths were attracted using lights, not flames.

Last week was National Moth Week

On Saturday night (25 JUL) a group of eleven members of the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club gathered at Mission Creek Woodland Park for a moth hunt. 

For many people the word "hunt" implies active pursuit - visions of specially trained dogs, and small bore shotguns; the smell of waxed canvas, gun oil, and leather; hours of walking and then seconds of pulse-pounding excitement as the moths are flushed from cover by the dogs! 

This "hunt" is nothing like that.

For those that have never hunted moths, this actually more of a moth "wait".  We set up a series of lights and sheets and stand around waiting for moths and other insects to appear out of the darkness.

Waiting for moths

This is the second time that we have attempted this activity.  When we did it at the end of June in 2014, we mostly attracted a bunch of nondescript small brown moths that were very hard to identify.  We had a lot of that again this year, but we also had several distinctive species that we were able to identify based on their characteristics.

One of the first moths to show up at the lights was the Painted Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia fucosa).  Several of these moths showed up over the course of the evening.

Painted Lichen Moth

The most distinctive moth of the evening was the Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene). This moth was easily identified by the cross-shaped pattern on its wings.  Although it can't be seen in this photograph, this moth has bright yellow underwings.

Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene)

Another moth that we identified in the field was the Cherry Scallop Shell (Rheumaptera prunivorata).

Cherry Scallop Shell moth

The next moth is one that I photographed, but did not identify in the field.  A quick internet search reveals this to be a Lesser Maple Spanworm (Speranza pustularia).  The small brown spots on the leading edge of the wings are the identifying characteristic of this species.

Lesser Maple Spanworm moth - note distinctive brown spots on edge of forewing

We were able to identify several other species, but unfortunately I did not get photographs of all of them: Grapevine Looper (Eulithis sp.), Grapeleaf Roller (Desmia sp.), Emeralds (various genera).

Moths were not the only animals attracted by the lights.  We had a single female dobsonfly or fishfly that showed up.

One of the kids at the moth hunt found a green-phase Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor).  These frogs are able to change color based on habitat.  This one just happened to be green when it was found.

A green Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor)

My favorite photograph of the night was of a daddy long-legs or harvestman silhouetted against the sheet.  Although these arachnids resemble spiders and are often confused with them, they are actually in a separate Order (Opiliones).

Daddy Long-legs at night - not a spider.

If you missed out on this moth hunt, you have another chance.  This Friday (31 July 2015) I will be leading another moth expedition.  This time it will be at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve.  This hunt is being done to commemorate a "blue moon".  The moon will not actually turn blue.  the term is used to describe a month with a second full moon.  For more information and to register for this event please visit the CWC website.  The event is free, but a donation to the CWC is encouraged.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nature Geek Vacation Destinations - Horicon Marsh (Waupun, WI)

Yesterday I shared photographs taken at the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI.  Just a little over an hour to the east of ICF is another must-see destination for nature lovers - Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Located about 6.5 hours from Mid-Michigan, Horicon Marsh consists of two adjacent units.  One is the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge which is operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Connecting to this is the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area which is administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  Both the USFWS and the Wisconsin DNR operate visitor centers on their respective parcels (the WDNR visitor center opens in August 2015).  There is also a private non-profit nature center called Marsh Haven that is located just outside the refuge.

Our planned visit to was short, we were passing through the area on our way to the Aldo Leopold Foundation and only left time in our schedule to drive down the refuge's aptly-named "Ternpike" Auto Tour - a three mile drive through the northern edge of the refuge.

Along the drive there are several parking areas and pullouts with interpretive signs that explain both the human and natural history of Horicon Marsh.

At the second stop, we saw the highlight of our visit.

Whooping Crane at Horicon Marsh

That white bird way off in the middle distance is a Whooping Crane (Grus americana)!  We actually saw it from the first stop on the auto tour, but it was so far away that I assumed it was an egret without looking at it closely.  However at the second pullout on the auto tour there was a crowd observing the bird through through binoculars - later we learned that this group of was from Zambia and was visiting Horicon Marsh as part of a tour sponsored by the International Crane Foundation.  At this point we realized it was not an egret.  The black wingtips give it away as a Whooping Crane.

Whooping Crane displaying its distinctive black wingtips.

Why is this so exciting?  

The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest birds in North America.  There are less than 500 of them in the wild.  The adult population in the eastern United States is less than one hundred birds.  To see one of them in the wild is pretty amazing.  

So what was next after seeing a Whooping Crane?

Next stop, a floating boardwalk in the marsh!

Dozens of swallows were using the boardwalk as a landing pad

Swallows on the boardwalk
Swallows resting on the boardwalk - some of them (like the one in the foreground) were lying on their sides enjoying the sunshine

Most of the swallows were Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica).  Other swallows included Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), and Northern Rough-winged Swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

A Barn Swallow resting on the boardwalk

Some of the Barn Swallows were nesting on an elevated observation platform in the marsh.

An adult Barn Swallow feeding an eager youngster

Other birds that we saw from (or on) the boardwalk included Black Terns (Chlidonias niger), Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), and Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus).

A pair of Black Terns on the boardwalk at Horicon Marsh
Double-crested Cormorants

In addition to the birds, the marsh seemed to be full of dragonflies including Halloween Pennants (Celithemis eponina) - unfortunately I was never able to get a photo of this species.  Every stump and scrap of wood in the swamp had its resident group of sunbathing Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta).

Painted Turtles enjoying the sun

On the day that we visited, there were just enough clouds in the sky to cast interesting reflections in the water.

The floating boardwalk at Horicon Marsh

A view from the boardwalk at Horicon Marsh

After leaving the boardwalk, there were a few more stops along the drive.  At the final stop, we saw this small flock of American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).  Although not as exciting as the Whooping Cranes, we were still excited to see this species - they rarely occur in Mid-Michigan.

American White Pelicans at Horicon Marsh

Despite not being a birder, I probably could have spent all day exploring Horicon Marsh.  As I mentioned earlier, we never made it to the USFWS or WDNR visitor centers.  There is also a large network of foot/bike paths that crisscross the refuge.  If we return to the area in the future, I definitely plan on allowing more time to explore this beautiful, interesting place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nature Geek Vacation Destinations - International Crane Foundation (Baraboo, WI)

One of my favorite experiences from our recent vacation was a visit to the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI.  The International Crane Foundation is approximately seven (7) hours away from Mid-Michigan by car.  It is located near several other must see sites for nature geeks such as the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and the Aldo Leopold Foundation (more to come on these sites later in the week).  Visits to these three places can easily be combined during a long weekend trip.

The Internation Crane Foundation (ICF) is the only place in the world where you can see live specimens of all 15 of the world's crane species.  They maintain a captive flock of approximately 100  birds at their headquarters.  These birds are used as breeding stock to for young birds that are released back into the wild.  Here in North America, ICF has been especially active in leading the way toward the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes (Grus americana).  Worldwide, ICF works with local people and governments to restore and preserve crane habitats.  Cranes are far from the only species helped by the habitat projects, but because they are large charismatic species, cranes serve as emblems for these projects.

From the ICF website:

The International Crane Foundation (ICF) works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. ICF provides knowledge, leadership, and inspiration to engage people in resolving threats to cranes and their diverse landscapes.

If you want to visit the International Crane Foundation, their facility is open to the public from 9:00AM to 5:00PM between April 15th and October 31st.  Admission is currently $9.50 for adults, $5.00 for ages 6 -17, and free for children age 5 and under (2015 rates).  The center offers guided tours  of their exhibits three times a day but you may take a self-guided tour at any time during their open hours.

Here is copy of their visitor guide which is available on their website.


If you decide to visit the International Crane Foundation give yourself at least an hour to walk around the exhibits and more if you plan on exploring their trail system.  When we arrived at the center, we were the only visitors.  Several other families arrived during our stay, but we never felt crowded at any time.

The exhibits are set up in three sections: Spirit of Africa, a pie-shaped section of habitats called the Johnson Exhibit Pod that houses ten species, and finally the Whooping Crane Habitat.

First up is the Spirit of Africa exhibit which houses four species:

Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) - This bird was inside when we first walked past its habitat, but soon came out and called.  We quickly went back to observe it as it foraged near the fence.

Grey Crowned Crane

Another photo of the same Grey Crowned Crane

Black Crowned Cranes (Balearica pavonina)

A pair of Black Crowned Cranes

A Black Crowned Crane foraging at the International Crane Foundation

Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus)

The best photo i was able to get of the Wattled Crane

Blue Crane (Anthrpoides paradisea) - The background of the Blue Crane habitat was painted with a scene to look like their habitat in southern Africa.  This species is actually the national bird of South Africa.

Blue Cranes against a painted background of cranes dancing

A closer view of one of the Blue Cranes

After leaving the Spirit of Africa Exhibit our next stop was the first part of the Johnson Exhibit Pod.

Brolga (Grus rubicunda) - This species is native to Australia and New Guinea.

This Brolga came right up to the fence and eyed us

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) - The Sarus Crane is native to India, Nepal, and Pakistan.  This is the tallest crane species with a height of six feet (and a wingspan of eight feet)!

The Sarus Crane was another bird that approached right to the fence

White-naped Crane (Grus vipio) - While many species approached the fence as we walked by their enclosures, other species such as this one were uninterested by our presence.

At this point, we took the path to the Whooping Crane Exhibit.  The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is native to North America.  It is currently on the Endangered Species list with fewer than 500 being found in the wild.  Most of these birds have been reintroduced from captive breeding stock.  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as of February 2015, the flock that migrates from Wisconsin to Florida consisted of only 93 birds.  On a positive note, this population was zero birds as recently as the year 2000.

The path to the Whooping Crane exhibit passes through a sculpture that depicts a single crane taking flight.

Whooping Crane sculpture at the International Crane Foundation

This sculpture depicts steps in a single bird taking flight

The sculpture of the bird continues across the path as it gains altitude

Inside the exhibit is a pair of Whooping Cranes.  Most of the birds are in exhibits that include fine mesh "roofs" to prevent the birds from flying out, but this enclosure (and the Wattled Crane habitat) did not have any overhead cover.  I expect that these birds probably have the feathers on their wings clipped to prevent escape.

A pair of captive Whooping Cranes at ICF

These cranes seemed to be wary of our presence and moved further away as we entered the viewing area.

After leaving the Whooping Crane exhibit, and returning to the Johnson Exhibit Pod, the next species that we encountered was the second North American crane species - the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis).  This is the most abundant crane species in the world.  This is the species of crane that can be seen regularly in Mid-Michigan, especially during their spring migration.

This picture shows just how close you can get to the cranes
A Sandhill Crane viewed through the fence

Each crane at the center is banded with an aluminum band around its leg that identifies it.  This band was on one of the Sandhill Cranes.

An aluminum band on the leg of the Sandhill Crane

Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus)

A Siberian Crane at ICF

White-naped Crane (Grus vipio)

This White-naped Crane was very interested in us

A second picture of the same crane peering through the fence

A third and final picture of the White-naped Crane

We ended up seeing and photographing ten of the fifteen species of cranes at ICF - two species could barely be seen inside the building at the center of the exhibit pod. Three of the species couldn't be seen at all.  The five species that we missed photographing were the Demoiselle Crane (Anthrpoides virgo), Eurasian Crane (Grus grus)Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricolis), Hooded Crane (Grus monacha), and the Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis).

After touring through the exhibits, we stopped at the center's excellent gift shop to purchase momentos of our visit - including a pair of mobiles for Shara's classroom and t-shirt that I am wearing as I type this.