First “Weed Wrangle” in the books, mountain bike trails, and a pollinator patch clean-up

It was a beautiful morning for a “Weed Wrangle” with the Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management & Marshall County Soil & Water! Participants last Saturday learned about invasive species & their management, as well as local & regional opportunities to engage in control efforts. Oak saplings were distributed by SWCD.

After a brief gathering, we hit the trails to uproot the Garlic Mustard and Bush Honeysuckle that have encroached on the area. Several native woodland species were observed, including Downy Rattlesnake Plantain & Pale Corydalis.

Pale Corydalis (Corydalis flavula)
Downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), one of our most common native orchids

Some “wild” cows also made a brief but exciting appearance, but we weren’t fast enough to get a video!

The Wrangle was held at Marshall County Memorial Forest (at SR-17 & 14th Rd). Indiana’s first county forest, it was developed in the 1940’s as a living tribute to the veterans of WW2. Last year, it was put under the stewardship of the Marshall County Parks & Recreation Department.

Speaking of

The mountain bike trail is coming right along. The trail committee has been AMAZING! With an all-volunteer board with no budget (yet), this would not be happening without dedicated volunteers willing to put in time and effort to make it happen. This has to be one of the most unambiguously positive things I’ve ever been involved in the county! Most projects can’t be expected to go this smoothly, but I’ll sure take it when it happens.

To stay up to date, follow The Trails at Mill Pond on Facebook. We are shooting for a soft open next month!

Monday, we came together for a quick spring clean-up blitz at a pollinator patch downtown. This was in coordination with clean-up efforts across the county. Thank you to Marshall County Soil & Water Conservation District and all the other partners who brought this to fruition and are carrying through with maintenance!

sorry, this is my blog so you’re going to have to stand a little dad-brag… I couldn’t be more proud of this little 9 year old!
If you don’t know Allie, you should. Community champion and force for change, she’s one of the brains behind this little pocket park. While other folks busy themselves complaining, she’s busy gearing up to find a way out of no way!

news round-up: spring edition

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) blooms in a cattail marsh at the edge of Lake Galbraith, 5 weeks after a prescribed fire.

Wind Energy Is a Big Business in Indiana, Leading to Awkward Alliances (Inside Climate News, 3/30/21) Hotly debated legislation would open the state to renewable energy projects, trumping local restrictions.

Return the National Parks to the Tribes (The Atlantic) The jewels of America’s landscape should belong to America’s original peoples

… see also: People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years (PNAS journal article) With rare exceptions, current biodiversity losses are caused not by human conversion or degradation of untouched ecosystems, but rather by the appropriation, colonization, and intensification of use in lands inhabited and used by prior societies

Nature Curiosity: What Happens to the Animals During a Prescribed Burn? (Forest Preserve District of Will County) At this time of year, the sight of smoke in the distance is quite common, often the result of prescribed burns being conducted throughout the area to strengthen natural habitats for wildlife. Seeing these fires up close can beg the question: What about the animals? How are they faring in these fires?

Milkweed Pollination: A Series of Fortunate Events (The Prairie Ecologist) Most of us know a friend or relative who isn’t content to follow the standard path in life. Why do things the simple easy way when there’s a more complicated option available? Maybe you’re even that person yourself. If so, you’ll appreciate the pollination strategy of milkweed plants.

Debunking a myth about black walnut trees Or, the reason why growing plants under them is so difficult (Livingston County News) It is difficult to grow plants under black walnut trees, many people know this. Science-based sources including Cooperative Extension for years have blamed a toxic substance called jugalone, emitted from these tree roots. However, a recent literature review by horticulture professor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott at Washington State has determined that this substance isn’t really the culprit.

High-Tech Greenhouse Growing in South Bend (Inside Indiana Business) South Bend-based Pure Green Farms says it is using some of the most advanced technology in the world to create a safe and sustainable environment for year-round farming. In a four-acre hydroponic indoor farm, the company is growing pesticide-free greens that are untouched by human hands until they reach the consumer’s kitchen

Bald Eagle Killer Identified (The Scientist) After a nearly 30-year hunt, researchers have shown that a neurotoxin generated by cyanobacteria on invasive plants is responsible for eagle and waterbird deaths from vacuolar myelinopathy.

Renewables = 20.6% of US Electricity in 2020 (Clean Technica)

Solar Project at North Liberty Elementary School Goes Live Thursday, March 18 (Max 98.3)

What Happened to Pickup Trucks? (Bloomberg) As U.S. drivers buy more full-size and heavy-duty pickups, these vehicles have transformed from no-frills workhorses into angry giants. And pedestrians are paying the price. 

Neonic soil treatment hurts ground-nesting bees, 1st of its kind study finds (CBC) A new study shows the behaviour and reproduction of ground-nesting bees, like those that pollinate squash and pumpkins, is severely impacted when farmers treat the soil with neonicotinoid insecticide at the time of planting.

Madam Secretary (Indian Country) Deb Haaland is confirmed as the country’s Secretary of the Interior, blazing a trail as the first Native American to ever lead a Cabinet agency

Here’s some great drone footage of some prescribed fire that The Nature Conservancy was conducting in NW Indiana.

Armadillos in Indiana? 31st armadillo ever found in the state seen wandering the Toll Road (WSBT, from 2019)

Brood X: Why ‘trillions’ of cicadas set to emerge after 17 years have an ominous sounding name (USA Today) The bugs have been lurking beneath the surface since 2004, feeding on sap from the roots of plants

(see also this 13 min audio piece on Brood X by NPR)

weed wrangle event April 17 + say hi to SICIM

As I’ve shared on this blog, I have the great privilege of working on the Marshall County Parks & Recreation Board.

We are hosting our first event, in collaboration with several local and regional entities for a Weed Wrangle. See important details in this flier:

Weed Wrangles are being coordinated throughout the state by SICIM (Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management). SICIM’s Northwest Indiana regional specialist is Mandi Glanz. If you are a landowner interested in improving the ecological health of your property, give her a call! I’ll share her flier & press release below.

PRESS RELEASE

August 13, 2020

Introducing Mandi Glanz, Regional Specialist for the Indiana Invasive Initiative

The Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management board has hired Amanda (Mandi) Glanz as the new Regional Specialist for Northwest Indiana. She began work on August 10, 2020 for the state-wide Indiana Invasives Initiative project. The counties she will cover include Newton, Jasper, Pulaski, White, Cass, Starke, Marshall, Fulton, St. Joseph, LaPorte, Porter, and Lake.

Glanz is a nature enthusiast who grew up gardening, fishing, and exploring the outdoors in northern Indiana. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology from Purdue University, West Lafayette. Past experiences include environmental positions with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Dunes National Park, and local agencies. Specific experience includes sampling vegetation, removing invasive species, and planning vegetation management programs.

She especially enjoys environmental education and outreach. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” Glanz said she has always been one who cannot. She is looking forward to working for the Indiana Invasives Initiative and collaborating with partners to develop strong Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) that will help conserve land for future generations.

Will Drews, Chair of the Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasive Management group, which sponsors the state-wide Indiana Invasives Initiative, is honored to have Glanz on board. She is one of six Regional Specialists now on board around the state. Drews notes, “We were impressed with the experience and enthusiasm Mandi will bring to the job. She is also familiar with the area and already knew many of the partners that she would be working with.” He adds she is very smart, and her references were stellar. Without exception, Drews noted, “we were told to hire her quick, before someone else hired her. We think she’ll be a real asset to the Indiana Invasive Initiative.”

The board thinks Glanz will do well continuing to strengthen the young CISMAs and be the catalyst to help new ones get started; building teams locally to help increase the awareness of the harm invasive species do to our natural landscapes.

Glanz can be reached at mandi@sicim.info or call (260) 243-2161.

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Whoop, whoop! An endangered crane stops by

We were recently blessed with a brief visit from “#5-10,” one of just 667 Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) existing in the wild. On March 16th, a co-worker and I were driving back to campus after working on the wetland restoration on 9th road

despite the lack of precipitation, the new water feature is filling up nicely!

…We looked out and observed the bright white 5-ft tall federally-endangered bird on “Mt. Baldy,” the grassy knoll that rises to the northeast of Moontree Studios.

photo: Adam Calhoun Photography

Scientists attach uniquely colored leg bands to each of these birds (and many other species), allowing them to gather data from citizen photographers across the country. Telephoto lenses allowed myself and another co-worker to get identifying photos, which I submitted to International Crane Foundation along with data from our observation. It turns out that “#5-10” is an 10 year-old, captive-raised female that recently overwintered in Tennessee and is currently en route to her breeding grounds in Wisconsin (click here to read her full biography). You can see a map of all their recently reported sightings here.

#5-10 was associating with a flock of about 12-20 Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis), with whom Whooping Cranes will frequently migrate and associate. “Whoopers” are slightly larger and are primarily white, except for their black wing tips, which are exposed during flight. It makes for quite the sight!

(Note that very occasionally someone may encounter a visibly white Sandhill Crane, an example of leucism, a condition that affects many birds).

not a White Pelican, not a Swan, not a leucistic Sandhill Crane… it’s a Whooper

These are the only two species from the Crane family (Gruidae) that live in the Americas. Although they are quite visibly simpatico, their evolutionary lineage split about 11 million years ago. According to a 2010 genetic study, our Whooping Crane is more closely related to the Tibetan Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) than it is to the Sandhill.1

The restoration of wetlands and decades of tireless work from federally-funded scientists, volunteers, and advocates have made recovery of this species a possibility. There are only 85 of these birds in the eastern migratory population, which breed in Wisconsin and overwinter in the Southeast. This population (including #5-10) was taught to migrate by following a handler in an ultralight airplane.

After millions of years of evolution and decades of captive-breeding and assisted migration efforts, the loss of this species would be an unconscionable act of negligence. At least 5 have been illegally killed in Indiana alone. Only vigilant, persistent protection in the coming decades will allow this remarkable creature to safely come back from the brink of extinction.

#5-10 stuck around the property for about four days, foraging in the alfalfa and corn fields and (I imagine) roosting overnight in the wetlands with the Sandhills. We have been trying to keep quiet on this until we were reasonably certain it had continued its migration. She has yet to raise a chick that survived long enough to make the fall migration with her. Here’s hoping 2021 is her year!

Works Cited

1) Krajewski, Carey & Sipiorski, Justin & Anderson, Frank. (2010). Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequences and the Phylogeny of Cranes (Gruiformes: Gruidae). The Auk. 127. 440-452. 10.1525/auk.2009.09045.

Other Resources
US Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheet

your input needed for Marshall County Parks & Recreation Department

Marshall County residents: as the Vice President of the Marshall County Parks & Recreation Board, I’d like to invite you in this brief survey to share your ideas of what recreational amenities you think are missing and would like to see added in Marshall County! Your input will help lay the foundation for our local parks system. Please fill out this survey by March 25th.

Survey link >> tiny.cc/MarshallCoParksPlan

And while you’re here, please be sure to like & follow our Facebook page. Thanks!

first frogs calling!

Ok, now it’s springtime!

These are the first Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) that I’ve heard calling this year. The location is a small depression within one of our pastures. The air temperature was 61 degrees Fahrenheit when I heard them. Most of the snow and ice has finally melted, although a few patches remain.

Regular readers may remember that it was almost a year ago that we conducted a nighttime frog survey, right before Indiana entered our coronavirus lockdown.

For a neat audio/visual representation of the different frogs and their calling seasons, click here.

Our own Adam Calhoun recently captured a flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes practicing their dance moves in our corn fields. Apparently this dance involves flinging chunks of manure up in the air. Hey… who am I to judge their culture? It seems to work for them.

Sandhill Cranes dancing (photo: Adam Calhoun Photography)

You’ll notice that the birds are already somewhat two-toned. Only one of the colors is their actual plumage; the other is decoration. Here’s a video from a year ago where we caught them putting on such body paint. Between camouflage and dancing, Sandhill Cranes are obviously great patrons of the arts!

news round-up: spring cometh edition

We’re certainly not out of the chance of blizzard yet, but it sure feels like spring. The Cranes are calling. Prescribed fire season has begun. Spring Peepers should soon follow.

Enjoy reading over my shoulder on pieces I’ve been looking at the last two months.

‘There’s a red flag here’: how an ethanol plant is dangerously polluting a US village (The Guardian) Situation in Mead, Nebraska, where AltEn has been processing seed coated with fungicides and insecticides, is a warning sign, experts say

How the Loss of Soil Is Sacrificing America’s Natural Heritage (Yale e360) A new study points to a stunning loss of topsoil in the Corn Belt — the result of farming practices that have depleted this once-fertile ground. Beyond diminished agricultural productivity and more carbon in the atmosphere, it is a catastrophic loss of an irreplaceable resource.

How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves (Mother Jones) And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.

St. Joseph County Recognized for Being “Solar-Friendly”, Promoting Pollinator Habitat Conservation in Clean Energy Projects (Press release, MACOG)

Indiana Energy Grid Operator Finds “Transformational Change” Required to Integrate More Renewable Energy (IER) Report released by Carmel-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator finds amount of renewable energy in system could double by 2026, but coordinated action by utility members is necessary to achieve more than 50% renewable energy.

I came across this very brief and readable summary of what a typical ecological restoration project looks like, from the Lake County Forest Preserves, and thought it worth sharing.

Climate-Proofing Your Home: How to Electrify (Bloomberg) Replacing your gas furnace, water heater, stove, and clothes dryer promises to lock in long-term environmental and economic benefits—but beware of surprise costs.

The Lepidopteran Life Aquatic (Entomology Today) A new-found wasp that hunts for caterpillars underwater, reported in November 2020 by scientists with an obvious eye for newsy names like Microgaster godzilla, amazed people worldwide, but news reports omitted an obvious question: What’s a caterpillar doing underwater in the first place?

Meeting People Where They Are (The Prairie Ecologist) getting public support is absolutely critical to our success. There’s no way conservation can succeed if the majority of the world doesn’t see it as relevant and important.

After Alarmism (NYMag) The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news

The Climate Crisis Is Worse Than You Can Imagine. Here’s What Happens If You Try. (ProPublica) A climate scientist spent years trying to get people to pay attention to the disaster ahead. His wife is exhausted. His older son thinks there’s no future. And nobody but him will use the outdoor toilet he built to shrink his carbon footprint.

This Week May Turn the Tide on Two Centuries of Emissions (Bloomberg) China will present climate and energy plans that could determine the fate of the planet. If they live up to their promise, we can reset expectations for decarbonization. 

Changing the Global Food Narrative (Dr. Foley) The dominant story about the future of the world food supply is logical, well known and wrong.

Outdoor Elements – Smart Streets (WNIT PBS) Krista hops on her bicycle for a ride around the new smart streets of South Bend and talks with Chris Dressel about some of the new features, what the signs mean, and how to navigate a round-a-bout. Then she rides with South Bend Tribune reporter Joseph Dits to get feedback on what people are saying about the new smart streets.

Top 5 Restoration Ecology 2020 Articles (Society for Ecological Restoration)

Americans Are Moving To Escape Climate Impacts. Towns Expect More To Come (NPR) The impacts of climate change could prompt millions of Americans to relocate in coming decades, moving inland away from rising seas, or north to escape rising temperatures….

talking bees for Little Learners Story Time with the Plymouth Public Library

I recently had the opportunity to share with Miss Kirsten during Plymouth Public Library‘s Little Learners Story Time. She’s done an amazing job of producing videos for children in the Plymouth area. The videos usually include a book reading, an interview, and crafts. We talked about honeybees, as well as Indiana’s native bees. And I got the chance to dust off my insect collection from my college entomology course.

PPL is truly a community treasure.

a few timely items: solar, taxes, and wetlands

Ok, a blitz of several things here at once.

First, our dear friends at the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (who were instrumental in guiding our solar energy initiatives) are crowd-funding for another solar project. Phase 1 was for the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens in Ashville, NC. They are now on to Phase 2, a project designed for St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church. See much more at this link, and please consider donating via the PayPal link. Every little bit helps.

Second, it’s tax time. And you know what that means, right? But of course! It’s time to enter “Nongame Wildlife Fund”, it’s 3-digit code (200), and your donation amount on Line 1 of the Schedule 5/Schedule IN-DONATE form, and then add your amount to Line 17 on the main IT-40 form! (Kinda just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?)

Why would you do this? Well, just try looking at these little turtle eyes and telling him “no”.

An Eastern Box Turtle at the edge of a oak woodland in Starke County, IN, May 2020.

You can’t do it, can you?

Game animals in Indiana and elsewhere have a long-running and well-established system of funding through the sale of hunting licenses and special taxes on ammunition. Non-game animals – like bald eagles, box turtles, whooping cranes, and the like – are equally deserving of protection & scientific study. For every $5 donation to the Nongame Wildlife Fund, Indiana is eligible to receive an additional $9 in federal funds. It’s a great way to show your support for wildlife to policymakers. Read more here.

Thirdly, a brief update on the 9th Road Fen restoration project. We just squeezed in the dormant season seeding this week. It was really difficult to time properly; the soils are rich in carbon and very squishy for most of the year, so in order to get a tractor on site without getting stuck, we have to go during or just after a long, deep freeze. We seeded right on top of the snow as the sun was starting to melt the top layer, within just a couple hours, the seeds were melting their way downward to the soil. By the afternoon, the soils were already getting too soft in places, so we switched to hand-seeding. On this scale, it really doesn’t take much longer and allows some additional control. Here are a few photos:

Lastly, the Provincial Leadership of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ have released a statement on SB 389, the proposed legislation that would eliminate protection for isolated wetlands in Indiana. You can read it here.