Dunn Woods Memories

Dunn Woods, Natural Heart of IU

April 22, 2016
by mitch
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Squirrel Corn in Dunn Woods!

I found two squirrel corn individuals in the woods today, growing in the densely packed White Trout Lilies. The other dicentras we have around here is Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, and to my experience, they are rarer, or perhaps better hidden from me! There is a strong colony of mixed dicentra at Griffy Nature Preserve, growing on a northwest facing ridgeside.

Squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis growing in white fawn lilies

Squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis

Squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis

Squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis growing in white fawn lilies

Dutchmans Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria

Dutchmans Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria in Griffy Nature Perserve

April 21, 2016
by mitch
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Winged creature homes

Sometime this winter, I think in February, these bird and bat houses appeared in Dunn Woods. Hope someone decides to make these their homes, but I fear the night sounds emanating from Bryan Hall may keep some potential residents away. Also, when I looked up bat houses online, one of the main points about placement that trees are not good due to the shade, as well as access for predators.\

Owl House in Dunn Woods

Owl House in Dunn Woods

Bat House

Bat House

Bird House

Bird House

April 18, 2016
by mitch
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Poke in the mud

Below is a picture of “May Apple Corner”, right in the middle of the woods. For years this has been a prolific growing area for May Apples, and I have harvested at least one each year from here.

But last year, 2015, someone complained about the poke plants, that the berries stained their clothes. They had grown up in the sunny spots that appeared after the big winds hit the woods in 2011. This brought down a lot of trees, and thus a lot of sunlight into the woods. Poke was one of the first plants to show up in disturbed areas, and they grew in profusion in certain areas in the woods. They are native plants, and part of the cycle of succession in regrowth of damaged areas, and can grow 8-10 feet tall. They are useful as a spring green (though toxic when older), and the berries provide a natural red/purple stain/dye that can be mordanted with vinegar. It is this property that caused the complaint that someone had had their clothes stained by the berries while walking along the paths.

May Apples in mud

May Apples in mud


Unforby the grounds crew was to cut a 6 foot swath along the paths, and all the detritus was removed, leaving nothing but exposed earth along the paths. They did not select just the poke and take it out by hand, but rather used a machine to remove all the living plants.

This mud pit may be redeemed by the May Apple rhizomes, but there was nothing else blooming there in early sprint. I think the machines compacted the soil and any seed blown in could not germinate. There are several of these barren strips along the main paths, we shall see if the plants can re-establish now. I think it would have been better had they left a layer of leaves to stem the erosion. You can see the compacted earth on either side of the path in the picture below, no plants, no dead leaves, nothing is there. I would estimate that about 5% of the woodland has been damaged, and I hope that this year’s poke eradication is handled much more carefully (or not all!)

English Bluebells on path

English Bluebells on path, mud on each side of the path.

May Apple-Podophyllum peltatum

May Apple-Podophyllum peltatum

April 18, 2016
by mitch
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English Bluebells in Dunn Woods

Hailing from the western edge of Europe from Britain and Ireland all the way to Spain, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the common European bluebell is well loved whereever it blooms, but it is not native to the U.s.A. There are a bunch planted along the path to north of Dunn Woods, and years ago they escaped into the the woods (in Europe they are considered to be be a sign of old growth wood when they are found wild in a forest).

So I was thinking that as we are willing to cut native plants down in the woods (Poke and May Apple), and to remove the invasive and destructive euonymous, perhaps we should remove some of the English bluebells. I had this thought just as I noticed just last week that they were starting to bloom.

English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta

English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta

So on my way downtown on Sunday morning, I was surprised and pleased to find that someone had read my mind, and done a lot of the work in removing the plants on the east end of the woods! Well done IU Office of Sustainability, along with the removal of the euonymous, a great step forward. Now if we can keep from hurting the native plants and creating sterile mud strips along the paths holes, things be going well.

English Bluebells on path

English Bluebells on path

April 15, 2016
by mitch
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Cooper’s Hawks return to Dunn Woods!

Back in 2008 I first noticed a bird call in Dunn Woods that I had not heard in the wild before. (On the All About Birds link I provided in the previous sentence, it was the “begging call of chicks” that I first heard.) I wandered about a bit, and then saw a hawk like bird fly from one tree to another, where the calling had come from. I realized that there was a juvenile calling to one of its parents, who then responded.

I could tell from the size, short wings, long tail, and habit that it was an accipiter, not a buteo. I was standing on an inner path with my eyes fixed on the tree tops when a fellow from Germany asked what I was looking at. As I was telling him I had spotted a hawk, it flew right over our heads. I said I suspected it was an accipiter, but could not tell if it was a sharp-shinned, Cooper’s or even a goshawk. He immediately eliminated the goshawk, they are significantly larger than the other two, and really do not like being near humans.

He then was able to tell from the tail shape that it was a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), which is rounded at the edges, while the Sharp-shinned hawk’s tail is squared off at the edges. So we know we had Cooper’s hawks in Dunn Woods, so I started looking to see if I could find a nest, and sure enough I found one high in the trees. Of course there a dozens of squirrel nests in woods, and they too are high in the trees too. But it is pretty easy to tell the difference, especially with a pair of binoculars. Squirrel nests are primarily leaves (for insulation) with some sticks for structure, while a hawk nest almost all interwoven sticks, they are distinctively different. I think that as the hawks use their nest only in spring and early summer, they do not need the insulation that the squirrels need to keep warm through the long winter months.

So for the past 8 years I have seen them nest in various parts of Dunn Woods; it seems they change nest locations every few years. On May 25, 2011 a strong storm took out the large sugar maple they had nested in that year. Sadly the two babies in the nest did survive the fall and/or the cool night air. I feared they would not nest again the next year, but thankfully they came back and nested in Dunn Woods again.

They have been in the same nest close to Bryan Hall for the past two years, and I feared they would not come back due to the raptor recordings coming from Bryan Hall in the evenings (to scare away the crows who like the roost by the hundreds in the woods during the winter. The sounds are still there in April, even the though the crows are long gone.

So yesterday I was in the woods when I heard the Cooper’s call coming from the trees, and was soon able to spot a pair flying from tree to tree while talking to each other. Steve Hinnefeld happened by just then and saw them too, and we agreed that they were a couple looking for a new nesting spot, or perhaps just courting. So I will be out every day now at lunch to see if I can spot a new nest before the leaves come out fully. After that, it is really difficult to see their nest until fall. But if you do know where it is, then the thrill is to find an angle (there is usually only one) where you can watch them sitting on the eggs. Incubation is done mostly by the female, and it usually takes 34-36 days for the eggs to hatch. The male brings food to female, and then incubates for a few minutes while female is eating. After hatching, he will bring food to the nest, and she will feed it to the fledglings. After about a month, they get restless and can be seen peeking over the nest (if you are lucky), and soon after begin to fly.

This is an especially interesting time. The juveniles will fly from tree to tree, and make quite a racket calling to their parents to bring them food. Fortunately Dunn Woods is filled with the small mammals and birds that the hawks feed upon, perhaps that is why they come back year after year. Several years ago I was watching a juvenile about 25 feet in a tree, calling for food when I noticed one of the parents about 20 feet above with a morsel of mammal in her talons. All of a sudden she called, and the lunch was dropped in front of the fledgling, but he/she just ignored it and it hit the ground. But I know I had just seen a hunting lesson, hawk style!

I do not have the fancy camera equipment of a true birder, so my pictures are less than useful for identification (and the pleasure of a good photo), but they do remind me of what I have seen and experienced in the woods. So here is a link to Google image search that has hundreds of images of Cooper’s hawks.

She's looking for a home

She's looking for a home

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk

April 14, 2016
by mitch
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Red-spotted Purple

I found this guy last July 2015, sunning himself on the path in Dunn Woods. I am not well versed in the world of insects, but I am pretty sure this is a Red-spotted purple, aka Limenitis arthemis. Funny name, as the butterfly is obviously blue, not purple. On the static image below, you can see the red spots on the upper part of the wings. The red-spotted purple is a mimic of the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail, which would seem to be its main defense. It is a member of the largest group of butterflies, Nymphalidae, which are commonly called four footed, butterflies as they stand on only 4 of their 6 legs, the two front one are usually curled up. They are also known as brush-footed butterflies, as the two front feet are often quite hairy. Other members of the Nymphalidae include emperors, monarchs, admirals, tortoiseshells, and fritillaries. It took me a good hour to figure this one out, if you have a favorite site or book for IDing butterflies, let me know!

via GIPHY

Red-spotted purple, Limenitis arthemis

Red-spotted purple, Limenitis arthemis

April 4, 2016
by mitch
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May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum

May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum

May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum

May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum, aka American Mandrake and Ground Lemon, is common in the woodlands of southern Indiana, and is well represented in Dunn Woods. Last week they were just starting to poke their heads up, but this week they have fully popped out their full leaves. May apples typically have one or two large leaves. The two leaf versions produce flowers and eventually (in June) a fruit. They grow in colonies from a single rhizome, or rootstock. As an alternate name (American Mandrake) suggests, the plants are toxic, containing podophyllotoxin, which is used topically to remove warts, and has shown some promise as an anti-cancer and anti-viral agent, but don’t try this at home!

They produce a smooth lemon sized fruit that is edible in small quantities when fully ripe (they turn from green to yellow when ready). Some folks have a bad reaction to them, but I found them delicious, they are sweet/sour, and have the consistency of grapes. But they are very are to find when ripe, it seem the mammals in the woods get to them just as they turn yellow, it is a bit like trying to find a ripe paw paw, the animals know where and when to pick, and don’t leave much for humans!

April 4, 2016
by mitch
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Smoking Hot Rant

{rant} WTF is with folks who toss their filtered cigarette butts in the woods? There is a dirt path into the woods near the Well House, and it cuts diagonally to one of the brick paths, and about halfway through is a limestone marker from 1883, probably to mark the planting of a tree there. So this is the spot someone, or several someones come to smoke. Now this is America, I think people should be able to consume whatever grows out if the ground, it is our goddess given natural right. But to trash the forest as part of the ritual, I just don’t get it. Every time I walk through the woods, I find trash and remove it, water bottles, sandwich wraps, coffee cups, plastic whatevers, I pick them up as I have never seen the grounds crew picking up there. But cigarette butts, with all the DNA, bacteria, germs!? I can’t get myself to do it without gloves. Why do these smokers think they have special rights in the world? Because I am addicted, I can do what i want? I just don’t get it. If you have to throw your butts on the ground, try unfiltered cigs, they will degrade after a short period, but these filters last for years. Anyone know who is doing this? Can you ask them to stop? {/end rant}

Cigarette butts in Dunn Woods

Cigarette butts in Dunn Woods

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum

April 4, 2016
by mitch
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White Trout Lilies

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum

Dunn Woods has a large colony of Erythronium albidum, the White Trout Lily, which is rarer than its cousin the yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum. The white lilies appeared just after April Fool’s day, and are still going strong on April 12. A few yellows have appeared, but the main body of them is still dormant. Both are spring ephemerals, and come out a bit later than the early birds like Harpinger of Spring, Cutleaf Toothwort, and Spring Beauty, all of which have been in bloom for a while. Today I found that the white version blooms fully before the yellow variety. A couple of yellows are out in some sunny spots, but the whole colony of white trout lilies is blooming now. Some folks use the term Fawn Lilies for either type, as it is the leaves that remind one of the mottled skin of brown trout, or a young fawn.

This colony is growing en masse on both sides the path highlighted here. It seems they were planted sometime in the 50’s, in an attempt to bring some native plants back into the woods. They certainly seem to enjoy growing together in a homogenous swatch. Underground the elongated bulbs can be dug (not in Dunn Woods!) and cooked like any root vegetable, or dried and ground into flour. The bulbs are small compared to potatoes, but with with hundreds/square foot, they are an abundant forest crop.

The yellow version is sometimes called dogtooth violet, but this seems to me to be a poor name for it as it is not related to the violet family, even though it appears at the same time of year. But the violets last long into the summer, while the Erythroniums are true ephemerals and will stop blooming in a few weeks. So take a walk through the southeast quadrant of the woods, and you will see these beautiful spring ephemerals.

Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum colony in Dunn Woods

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum colony in Dunn Woods


Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum