Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification

Previously I discussed Indiana’s Central Till Region and the odds I might see 60-70 native tree species in the Johnson-Marion county area. So before I start learning them I need a starting point. How many Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification can I currently make? And why?

To begin with I’ve done a lot of reading over the last month on trees. Some of which I’m sure I’ll eventually share with you. But let me say I have never seen so many different names for the same species. I swear each tree has 3 or more common names. For now I’m going to stick with the common names from 101 Trees Indiana Field Guide but include the scientific name to erase any doubt.

Here are the trees I can currently identify in winter without the use of any field guides and how I can ID them:

Eastern White Pine – Pinus strobus  Because I took the time last year to learn it.

Eastern Red Cedar – Juniperus virginiana  Growing up we had one in our yard. Plus the shape and the reddish color of the tree.

Eastern Red Cedar

American Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis  The green-white bark and the large size make them distinctive.

Sweet Gum – Liquidambar styraciflua  The spiny fruit that hangs on the tree in winter is a giveaway.

Northern Hackberry – Celtis occidentalis  The year-round warty, light gray bark is distinctive.

Shagbark Hickory – Carya ovata  The peeling, long curly strips of bark are unique.

Shagbark Hickory

Pin Oak – Quercus palustris The lower branches start right above the ground and droop. Plus it still usually still has leaves.

Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification
Pin Oak

American Beech – Fagus grandifolia  Distinctive by lover’s initials carved in the smooth, gray  bark.

River Birch – Betula nigra  The orange, cream, and near-white peeling bark on the smaller tree make it the easiest Birch to ID.

Honey Locust – Gleditsia triacanthos  Thorns up to 12″. Enough said.

As you can see it’s basically the bark I use for easy winter ID. Eventually I’ll make and share a reference chart for more Indiana Native Trees Winter Identification but for now I’ll just keep it at a simple line for each.

Indiana Central Till Plain Species

Since there isn’t anything to report from the weekend I’ll pick up where I left off on my last post.  The post ended by stating even though there aren’t any unique Indiana Central Till Plain Species, it’s still home to a majority of Indiana’s species.  Which means I don’t have to go far to learn them. And remember to find a rare species you need to know your local species. In fact I can probably see 2/3 of the state’s butterfly and tree species by checking my backyard or local parks.

How did I arrive at the 2/3 figure? For birding I had previously posted my analysis. I concluded that with consistent birding I could locally see 180 – 200 species of the state’s 250 species. Approximately 75%. Of course I would expect a higher percent for birds since my birding skills are higher than my rookie status with other flora and fauna.

Also in the last post I referenced both the Butterflies of Indiana and 101 Trees of Indiana field guides. Both field guides come with maps showing which counties have had species recorded. Of course an argument can be made this isn’t the best way to demonstrate county sightings. The problem is maybe only one sighting might have been recorded in a county. But by studying the maps you can get a sense of whether or not you have a good chance of seeing a species.

Central Till Plain Species
As demonstrated in these maps the odds are good I might see the species on the left in my local Johnson and Marion Counties. But it would be a long shot for the species shown on the right.

After analyzing both books I estimate I might see around 2/3 of the states 101 Native Trees by checking the Johnson-Marion Counties area. And a similar number for the state’s 100 or so reoccurring butterflies.

Which once again shows you don’t have to go far to see and learn the majority of your state’s different species.

Indiana’s Natural Regions – The Starting Point

So where to begin my 2018 Natural History adventure? Well, seeing as the three Field Guides I currently own from the Indiana Natural Science Series begin with an introduction to Indiana’s Natural Regions, I’ll start there.

First the three books:

  1.  Jeffrey E. Belth – Butterflies of Indiana
  2. Marion T. Jackson – 101 Trees of Indiana
  3. Michael A. Homoya – Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests

All are published by Indiana University Press.

Indiana Natural Regions

Did you know Indiana is composed of 12 Natural Regions? But first, what is a Natural Region? From Homoya, et. al. 1985 “A natural region is a major, generalized unit of the landscape where a distinctive assemblage of natural features is present.”

Natural Regions, 1984 – Shows the natural regions and their subsections (Indiana Natural Heritage Data Center, IDNR) – (Lake Michigan and Large Rivers Regions not on key) Marion and Johnson Counties outlined in blue.

Each of the books goes into detail how each natural region pertains to their particular topic. Be it butterflies, trees, or wildflowers.

But to start my adventure I’ll concentrate on the section where Marion and most of Johnson County are located. Section 5B – the Central Till Plain section. According to the authors “This is the largest natural region in Indiana… and is topographically homogeneous. The section is a mostly undissected plain formerly covered by an extensive beech-maple-oak forest.” The better drained southern section where Marion and Johnson County are located supported American Beech, Sugar Maple, and Tulip Popular. One other point to note from the field guides is because of the section’s location and the scarcity of specialized natural communities, there are no restricted species.

In other words, since there are no unique land formations present as there are in the southern and northern sections of the state, there are no unique butterflies or trees.

But the Central Till Plain contains a large majority of the state’s “common” (I hate that term) flora and fauna. This will give me a great opportunity to learn those species before setting off to search for unique ones in other parts of the state.

And remember the only way to know a unique or rare species is to really know the “common” species.

Increasing Hours in the Field

In 2018 I’ll have goals for birds, butterflies, trees, wildflowers, etc. Even maybe a dragonfly or two. But the number of species of any of those will pale compared to the goal of Increasing Hours in the field to learn Natural History. And really “Getting to know” what I see during those hours. And that is the one main goal for 2018.

Have 5, Need 10+

2017 was a low year for time in the field. I didn’t even average 5 hours per week. For comparison in previous years I have spent up to 12-13 hours a week while working full-time. And these are actual hours in the field which doesn’t include driving time to and from birding.

The majority of those hours will probably be spent in the local Johnson-Marion Counties area. As previously stated I’m embarrassed I don’t know the local fauna and flora. Let alone the rest of Indiana’s. So the goal is learn the local area and hopefully take several trips to start learning the more distant Natural Areas of Indiana.

Increasing Hours
In 2018 I plan to take several small trips to explore the Natural Areas of Indiana.


And by concentrating on butterflies and their associated natural areas I should be able to spend time a day or two a week after work learning a few things. This is possible with birding but there isn’t a very good birding spot on the drive home. However there are a couple of small parks that look good for butterflies.

Work and Free Time

So hopefully changing positions at work last fall has set things up for more time in the field. The current position doesn’t have the travel like the old one. Just the daily 30 minute one-way drive to and from work. Which isn’t bad if I use the time wisely to learn things.

Big Push towards Natural History

As I posted lasted April I was going to move towards learning more things Natural History. And I did to a small degree by learning several butterfly and tree species. But I also found out, again, I need to be “all in” to learn something. I tried to combine “full-time” birding with learning other things. And it  didn’t work. With my “limited” free time I can’t do both birding and learn new things. So 2018 will see the Big Push towards Natural History.

By next fall I’ll hopefully be able to ID a large percentage of these trees at Brown County State Park. 10/21/17

I don’t plan to stop birding. But I do plan to devote the majority of time in 2018 to learning other Natural History items. How much time? I always thought Seth Godin’s blog post 10,000 Hours was a good start on the subject. 10,000 Hours, or whatever the time, is what distinguishes an advanced hobbyist from an expert in the field.

For example over the years I’ve noticed if I work at a hobby, which I have with birding, after 3-4 years I’ve learned about 80-90%. The remaining 10-20% would take several additional years to learn, if ever. I won’t become the expert on the topic but should be in the “advanced” hobbyist category.

For me this relates to 8-10 hours a week in the field plus an equivalent amount per week studying the topic. So approximately 1000 hours a year. In 3-4 years I’ll have put in 3000-4000 hours. Enough time to be good but not an expert.

I think I can reduce the time because of my birding experience. The mistakes I made not knowing a bird’s status and distribution or the taxonomy relationships of species, I can hopefully avoid with other flora and fauna.

And maybe I’ll learn the common wildflowers. Brown County State Park 10/21/17

So this coming year I’m going to put birding on the back burner. The hope is if I hit other Natural History items hard I’ll get a good footing on Indiana’s flora and fauna. Then over the following years tie it all together.

To accomplish this I’m going to use Butterflying as the vehicle for my next learning adventure.

As previously stated I see butterflying demands you know butterflies, larval hosts such as plants, shrubs, and trees, and the natural areas where they occur.

Big Push towards Natural History
Since I’ve learned a few butterflies I know this is a Red Admiral. But I can only guess at the plant it’s on… Brown County State Park 10/21/17

This learning adventure will be a zigzag path. I’ll continue birding, especially the BBS routes. But the emphasis for the next year will be on learning butterflies and their associated nature groups.

And I’ll share those travels as I travel along.

Top 5 2017 Highlights

What would a blog be without the Top 5 2017 highlights for the year? Actually these will be highlights from the first 8 months since I didn’t get out much after Labor Day.

#5 Western Tanager

Top 5 2017 Highlights
Western Tanager

There is something about finally seeing a bird I should have encountered years ago. Seeing the Western Tanager in Colorado wasn’t like seeing the Golden Eagle. I expected the Golden Eagle would be hit or miss. But I have made numerous trips out west and should have seen Western Tanagers previously.

#4 Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Johnson County Park

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Over the years I have seen numerous Yellow-billed Cuckoos but never one that stayed out in the open like the one at Johnson County Park last July. As Mike suggested it might have been a young bird or a hungry one.

#3 My First Butterfly ID – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Once I started on my Nature Adventure I wondered what would be the first butterfly I’d ID. Appropriate enough it turned out to be an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I came across it last May at the end of birding at Laura Hare Nature Preserve. And for a newbie it wasn’t an easy ID. If I hadn’t taken numerous photos I wouldn’t have been able to make the call.

 #2 Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

I can’t emphasis enough the surprise in coming across a shorebird in an arid environment. It just floored me. And especially a large shorebird. Seeing the pair in Western Colorado last June was easily the visual highlight of the year.

#1 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Routes

Turkey Vulture – Western Colorado

Nothing else I do can compare to the long-term good the BBS routes do for birding. I only wish I was in a position to run a couple more. This was the second year I ran them in Central Indiana and the first year in Western Colorado. My only question is why I didn’t start running them sooner??

Central Section JC CBC Recap

With some of the usual participants having prior commitments and with the additions of some new members, we slightly shifted areas on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. This meant I birded about 2/3 of my usual territory. And with the weather I really don’t think it mattered much. As a group we ended up with 64 species, slightly above our average of 62. The difference this year was lack of waterfowl. So here is my Central Section JC CBC Recap.

As usual I was out listening for owls. I don’t have any problems hearing Great Horned or Eastern Screech-Owls but Barred Owls are problematic. And I missed them again this year. Luckily Mike heard one on the military base side of the count.

About an hour before sunrise I’m out listening for owls. The first time I exited the car I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. And if that was all I heard or saw all day, it would have been enough.

Upon sunrise I saw the small ponds throughout Atterbury FWA had a layer of ice. So no waterfowl. I changed plans and decided to start at Driftwood since it had open water.

The daylight portion started with a Cooper’s Hawk about 15 feet from the car.
Driftwood SFA did have open water but very little waterfowl. A couple of Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes were it.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos perched up high in the early morning light. Trying to warm up?
For the second straight year I found a Field Sparrow mixed in with the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Remember to always look through flocks of sparrows!

After spending the allocated time at Driftwood I headed to Atterbury to check the deeper woods. And yes, I donned my orange vest with the hunters around.

After the Field Sparrow my next best find was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Not a great photo but you can see the yellow on the belly.
The lunch recap showed we were missing Belted Kingfisher. So back to the river where I spotted one on my first stop. I would say I’m good but really just dumb luck.

I did notice on the day the numbers of the more numerous resident winter species like Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were higher. And I counted one or two Pileated Woodpecker at every stop.  Which was unusual.

I ended the day with 42 species in my territory which is about normal without the country roads of the 1/3 part I didn’t cover this year. My goal is always 40 which is a little less than the 85-90 I average on the May count for the same territory!

Central Section JC CBC Recap
The daylight potion of the count ended the way it started. With a hawk. This time a Red-shouldered Hawk, which flew in about 50 feet for good looks.

Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017

Work still consists of Saturdays and long days so only one bird outing last month. At least next weekend I’ll spend the day birding on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. The long days also mean I don’t have time to write before work which was my usual practice. So I continue to use my free time to catch up on photos from last summer’s Western Colorado trip. And I finally found time to identify (as best I could) the Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017 I encountered one afternoon on a high meadow.

The view SE from Divide Road on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Mesa County, CO..
Next to an Aspen Glade was the meadow where I spent the afternoon photographing butterflies.

I think I saw more butterflies than I photographed but I didn’t take notes. Following are the ones I did photograph and think I’ve identified correctly. A couple of these I have already posted about.

A Checkered White – note the dark bar on the forewing.
I’m going with Common Checkered-Skipper on this overexposed photo. The size and markings fit pretty well.
Painted Ladies were the most numerous species on the day.
This Variegated Fritillary took some time to ID. I kept trying to turn it into a Checkerspot. The black-rimmed orange cell spot on the forewing finalized the call. I need to learn to ID in the field and write the photo number in my note.
Another photo I should probably send to a butterfly identify website. I have tentatively identified this as a Sagebrush Checkerspot but that’s a tentative ID.
Later in the week I was birding along the Colorado River and noticed this Silver-spotted Skipper perched on a branch. (Is “perch” the correct term for butterflies? Still lots to learn.)
Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017
This is the same Silver-spotted Skipper as the previous photo.

This will probably be the last post on the 2017 Western Colorado trip. I don’t think I can get any more mileage out my photos!

Late Flying November Butterflies

Over the Thanksgiving break I took a couple of longish walks mainly to get out but also looking for late flying November butterflies. With temperatures around 55 degrees I knew it would be a long shot. But I figured the shining sun would improve my chances.

On my first walk I didn’t have long to wait before I came across a Painted Lady flying along the edge of the local park pond. As a side note the local beaver has wrecked havoc on this pond like it has to the one in my “backyard”.

This Painted Lady was spending time flying back and forth between a couple of spots but always staying in the warm sun.

I thought maybe I was in for a good day but the only other butterfly I saw was an Orange Sulphur that went up and over the tree line before I could get a photo.

On Sunday I walked basically the same route and was rewarded with two Clouded Sulphurs. Both were in a field that had Yellow Dandelions Taraxacum officinale I assume were still providing nectar.

The Clouded Sulphur flew up from the ground into the brush to sit in the sun. Luckily I caught its flight or would have missed it camouflaged in the yellows and greens. It really is in the center of the photo.
Not looking too bad for this time of year.
Late flying November butterflies
The other Clouded Sulphur looked a little ragged.

Unusual for this time of Year?

So are these unusual sightings for this time of year? According to Belth’s Butterflies of Indiana both Orange and Clouded Sulphurs can be seen through the end of December. So nothing unusual there. But Painted Ladies are usually done flying the first weekend in November. So a little late but with the huge movement of Painted Ladies this year it isn’t surprising.

What the heck?

With work and the holiday I still haven’t put in any time birding. But I have gone out and taken non-birding walks at the local parks. And I have checked my “backyard” pond off and on to see if Mr. Beaver has everything backed up. Which he has and now there is a nice little pond. But Saturday when I checked all I could say was “What the heck?”

There have been Mallards and Wood Ducks and Canada Geese back on the small pond. And I often thought other waterfowl might show up but the pond freezes very early in the winter. So I never counted on it.

When I checked Saturday there was a smaller bird on the water. My first thought was a Hooded Merganser. But it didn’t take long to see it was a Pied-billed Grebe. On this little pond?

What the heck
There wasn’t a break in the shrubs to take a photo without walking down and disturbing the Pied-billed Grebe.

Now maybe I’ve always had this wrong but I thought grebes needed a decent length of water to take off and land.  From Cornell’s All About Birds “Pied-billed Grebes need a long running-flapping start to take off from water.” But they don’t say how long. Maybe the alterations Mr. Beaver made have lengthened the little pond enough for takeoff. But the grebe would still have to maneuver through all the dead trees to have a long runway.

The grebe didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave. It was preening on both Saturday and Sunday.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it sticks around. With the mild week it probably won’t be in a hurry to take off.

And even though I never expected it I’ll take it for the “yard” list.

I don’t think I ever had a stare down with a grebe before. (FYI – The grebe won.)