Monday, December 17, 2012

Indiana has Lots of Squirrels, and other Naturalist Reflections

[Gray Squirrel, Turkey Run State Park, IN last week. Despite the foxy color of the ears and back, the gray tips to the tail hairs rule out Fox Squirrel, also common in Indiana.]

An expert geologist friend of mine said he always felt anchored in new places by the rocks - which he knew, knew where they came from. Knowing gave him a footing in any region.

Me? My anchor is birds, of course. And squirrels, apparently, because the first natural thing I noticed driving west from Indianapolis along unfamiliar I-74 last week was an abundance of squirrel nests in the bare woodlot trees of Indiana's flat, corn-picked landscape. So, there are a lot of squirrels in Indiana. Those must be oaks and walnuts. Probably Red-tailed Hawks and Great-horned Owls around eating the squirrels. You can't feel at home until you're at home with the landscape. I've often thought that what I'd really like to do is live a while, like a year, in each of the North American biomes, to really get to know them. I've been in all of them, but you need to live in a place a while, experience the seasons, to understand it. From desert to temperate rainforest. . . someday, maybe. You'd think Indiana was in the prairie biome, but it's mainly cut over deciduous forest. The trees were familiar, where I could find them.

Soon a few birds trickled onto my Indiana list, though I think the list remains solidly under 20 species. It was a "life" state, but there on business as I was, and binocularless (gasp), I didn't do too much looking for birds. Redtail, Harrier, White-breasted Nuthatch, chickadee sp., Downy Woodpecker. . . you get the picture. I did visit the very wonderful Turkey Run State Park for too short a visit, highly recommended. Great feeders at the nature center there.

Back at home, this morning the Cape May Christmas Bird Count re-anchored me, starting with the Snow Geese calling overhead as I left the house at 5:00 a.m. Two Sedge Wrens at the end of Pierce's Point Road tschupped with Clapper Rails as the chorus, and a Virginia Rail grunted in response to my screech owl calls at the first marsh you hit on Pierce's Point Road. We hit a field full of sparrows on Cape May NWR in a section seldom birded, along 47 north of Green Creek, which included a Vesper and multiple White-crowneds.

I haven't had much opportunity for photography in recent weeks, but here's a loon that fed close to the 8th street Jetty in Avalon, often coming up with a crab. Crabs seem to be the favorite Common Loon food in winter, at least close to shore.

[Common Loon at Avalon, NJ, December 15 2012. Click to enlarge. I wish my raingear was as water repellent as this guy's.]

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