Spring Sunshine Generating More Clean Electricity Across Marshall County

I realized recently that I had forgotten to share this great press release from MACOG (Michiana Area Council of Governments): “Spring Sunshine Generating More Clean Electricity Across Marshall County.”

It highlights several solar energy projects in the county. And there are more to come!

My hat is off to all the great professionals, installers, and volunteers that made these projects come to life.

This July 2020 photo shows the difference between flower resources inside the boundaries of the solar array vs. outside in the grazed pasture

3 year blog retrospective

Well, this blog has passed it’s 3rd birthday, clocking 166 posts, or about one a week. Let’s look at the numbers.

In total, we are at 7,394 views and 368 comments. Averaging about 5 views per day, though that has crept up to 10/day in 2020 (quarantine, anyone?).

81 subscribers, so it’s good that we saw some growth continuing after year 1, when we had 48.

a freshly-laid Monarch butterfly egg (small white dot with a slight shadow) dries on a Common Milkweed leaf

What were the top posts? This requires a little asterisk. Subscribers get an e-mail notification with the entire text of the post included, so I know some folks just read (or skim) in their e-mail, then delete. This is often what I do with other blogs I follow. If the post is something you want to read, I encourage you to click the title so it opens in a web browser. Sometimes the formatting isn’t right in the e-mail, or I’ve edited the post; additionally, you can’t see the videos I’ve embedded. The official page only count actual page visits from a browser, but should still serve as a relative barometer of what people are reading and sharing.

Year 1 (Jul 17 – July 18): ~53 posts

The top posts were a post on the latest research about the diversity of macrofungi in Indiana (237 views), my summary of what it was like to live with a used electric vehicle for a year (115 views), and our press release announcing our solar energy installation (81 views). We had 48 subscribers after the first 12 months.

Year 2: (July 18 – July 19), ~49 posts

No big hits this year. The top posts were “Integral Ecology comes to TCAD” (70 views); “a wee cold spell,” when we hit -18 deg F (54 views); and “birds!” which was just photos of birds from my Florida vacation (46 views).

Year 3: (July 19 – July 20), ~64 posts

Top posts were the announcement of my eco-ed video series (“Get Outside!”) for kids stuck at home during quarantine (206 views), “immigrants: the essential workers our food system can’t survive without” (154 views), and “do solar panels work in the winter?” (88 views)

I think I’ll keep going!

the wildflowers are really taking off during the 4th growing season of this prairie planting!

2020 avian encounters

Well, it is time for my periodic, irregular update with pictures of birds. Why knot?

Hang with me… it’s a drama in many acts!

Act I: A puzzler! This February Sr. Mary sent me this photo and we were wondering what the heck it was.

I submitted the photo to the iNaturalist community, and user “nsharp” quickly identified is as a leucistic version of the very common Dark-Eyed Junco. Well… I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up: “Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal—which causes white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticles, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it can cause a reduction in many types of pigment, not just melanin.”

As you can see… birding is just how adults get away with playing scavenger hunt!

Act II: May 5th, Sr. Mary and I were walked through a field that was planted to trees in 2018. The growth of annual weeds has made for lots of nectar and pollen for pollinators, as well as grassy habitat for nesting birds. We flushed a Song Sparrow and walked over the area where it sprung up.

See what I mean? This is a view from ~5 ft elevation.
Look harder…

Ground-nesting birds always seem so vulnerable to me. And indeed, nest predation is high. If I recall, only 10-40% of Wild Turkey nests are typically considered successful. But then again, it’s not their first rodeo. Someone, they’ve managed to make it for many millennia with this strategy, so who am I to judge? The camouflage is certainly impressive.

Act III: We were happy to see Eastern Bluebirds nest in our backyard this spring. It’s like seeing old friends. Here they were on April 26:

With as much as we have going on in the spring, I’ll admit my monitoring is pretty haphazard. I checked in again on May 6:

And again on May 12:

Some days later, however, I saw that the nest hole was plugged up with sticks. Uh-oh. Upon inspection, I found a layer of sticks covering the body of the mother bluebird. I’m not sure what became of the chicks, but they were nearly fledged, so I’m hopefully. It is undoubtedly the work of their arch-nemesis: the House/English Sparrow, which competes for nest space & has a physical advantage in combat. I monitor bluebird nests and destroy House Sparrow nests if I find them. The good news is that the bluebirds tried again and appeared to have successfully raised a 2nd brood. The struggle continues.

Act IV: I was walking the roadsides recently, spraying invasive Poison Hemlock. It’s been greatly increasing in abundance throughout Indiana in recent years. I flushed a female Red-Winged Blackbird and made a bee-line to where I thought she emerged from:

Red-Winged Blackbirds are an extremely common site in the Midwest. We often worry if they are too common… but like Canada Geese, they have simply adapted to the habitat we have created, so we can’t really point the finger. And they certainly do play a role in the ecological landscape around us.

Of interest to me was the habitat where the nest was located (the star indicated the nest location).

How resilient! Even in the scraps of habitat we haven’t drained, plowed, mowed, or poisoned, there is something trying to make a living. As I was walking around, I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and type of native plant species that I saw hanging on in the ditch (for now).

This is why ecologists get concerned with the widespread medical condition that flares up in Americans this time of year… Recreational Mowing Syndrome (check out this great Purdue Extension document that details the condition). RMS is characterized by “sudden urge many landowners get to ‘clean’ up their property by mowing the ideal fields, field borders, and road ditches around the farm during the summer months.” There is a legitimate need for roadside mowing in certain rural contexts, but we could certainly be much smarter about it (see Iowa).

A couple days after I took the above photos, the county came by and mowed half of the width of the grass pictured.

Act V: I was picking up eggs and maple syrup at a farmer friend west of Plymouth. As I was waiting outside, I heard a very exciting sound:

Yes, a Northern Bobwhite (quail)! Click on the link if you want to hear the sound clearer than my phone video caught it. Their populations have declined 85% since the 1960’s. Fencerows continue to be removed to this day, continuing to shrink their habitat. But there are a few yet scattered around. Not enough to hunt, but they are there.

Of course, I submitted the observation to eBird. This allows me to see the spectrogram of the call. Pretty cool! The signature is pretty clear for this bird which says it’s own name. “Bob [pause]… WHITE!”

More recently (late June/early July), I’ve also heard Bob White calling around Moontree Studios.

Act VI: While driving into the Moontree parking lot, I flushed a bird off the ground (sense a theme here?). I saw that an adult Killdeer was spooked. Cornell described their habitat like this:

Killdeer inhabit open areas such as sandbars, mudflats, and grazed fields. They are probably most familiar around towns, where they live on lawns, driveways, athletic fields, parking lots, airports, and golf courses. Generally the vegetation in fields inhabited by Killdeer is no taller than one inch. You can find Killdeer near water, but unlike many other shorebirds, they are also common in dry areas.

They frequently nest in gravel driveways. This is, to say the least, perilous, but… it keeps happening. I went back to where the momma flushed and looked down.

see it?

Here’s another angle. Got it?

Two eggs! Turns out my car tires perfectly straddled the nest. Close call! I let Sr. Mary know right away. By the next day or two, she observed an additional 2 eggs

Update June 26: the chicks have hatched and fledged! Onward marches the summer.

Act VII: Sandhill Cranes

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Sandhill Cranes painting themselves with mud behind Moontree Studios. What more can I say? These birds are amazing.