Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dark-eyed Junco

Every winter an older gentleman from the Spring Lake area phones the nature park to ask about “these birds at [his] feeder.” And every year we deduce that they are Dark-eyed Juncos. He knows the juncos are the same kind of birds he sees every year, but he just can’t seem to remember that name “junco.”

It is an odd name. Some people think it’s an ugly name because it sounds like “junk” and these adorable little sparrows are not “trash birds.” I don’t understand the name, really – even when I know what it means in Latin – but I can offer you this memory tool: “Are they ‘junk?’ No!” (Get it? “Junk No/Junco.” I know, I know. Awful.)

While you try to wash that terrible pneumonic out of your brain, consider how to identify a Dark-eyed Junco:

There’s a bird in your yard (or more probably, a few of them)…
It spends a lot of time on the GROUND around the bird feeder instead of on the feeder.
It’s a bit round.
Its tail is longer than a wren’s tail is.
Its tail is not cocked up like a wren’s tail is.
It has a lot of solid gray or charcoal around the face and head.
Its belly is white, or whitish.
It has white strips along the edges of its tail that you see when it flies.
Its bill is pink.
Its whole eye looks black.
Okay, right here is where things get a little muddled. All of the statements above describe a Dark-eyed Junco, and if you can identify a Dark-eyed Junco you are doing as well as any birder needs to, but there is more…

Dark-eyed Juncos are all over the continent and all over the continent they interact with and interbreed with Dark-eyed Juncos of five separate races. At one time in the history of bird watching, these races were considered separate species. Now – because they so readily interbreed – they are lumped together as one.

Look carefully at the Slate-colored, Red-backed, Pink-sided, Oregon, and Gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco images to see if you can discern the differences. (Photos are in that order).

A flock of Dark-eyed Juncos at your feeder – of any and all races – is a delight. Just imagine! They could have flown all the way from Inuvik!

Check out the Shreveport Bird Study Group's Chart of Seasonal Occurrences to see when the juncos are usually in our area.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas Bird Count Time

There's no better way to become a better birder than by spending time in the field with experienced birders!

Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition - a "Christmas Bird Census" - that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count.

From December 14 through January 5 tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

If you are interested in participating in a Christmas Bird Count for the first time, visit the Shreveport Bird Study Group website or join us on Facebook. We will put you in touch with the compiler who can pair you with an experienced local birder. Or, if you happen to live within the count area, you can phone in the species and numbers you observed on the count day.

Upcoming CBCs include the Claiborne CBC, Shreveport CBC, Natchitoches CBC, and the Bossier-Caddo-Bienville CBC (the BCBCBC).
For more information on what a CBC is, visit

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Weed of Cortez

Caddo Parish parks are crawling with people – and I mean ALL of Caddo Parish’s parks are crawling with people! Noah Tyson Park in Rodessa is so far from the urban center that most people haven’t even heard of Rodessa, let alone Noah Tyson Park. Robert Nance Park in Hosston is usually the same way – usually.

But twice a year the parks get a boost from the treasure hunters. The Holiday in Dixie treasure in the spring, and the Holiday Booty in, well, you know how that goes “Christmas starts earlier every year…” The clues always seem to suggest one of our parks is the treasure site: The treasure is always hidden on public property; it’s always NOT on a busy highway; it’s often away from the hustle and bustle; there are children playing and a proximity to a body of water.

This year there are old coots and the Weed of Cortez.

“Not far off
The weed of Cortez
Knowing where to find it
Would be for the best.”

At first, we scoured the native plant databases and field guides and vascular flora books looking for a native plant named after, for, or by someone named Cortez. Then we realized something: The people who wrote those clues aren’t botanists or horticulturists. They probably have no science background whatsoever, and they are hinting at something more mundane…

So who was Cortez and what is his weed? This naturalist thinks the clue writers were referencing the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez, and “Cortez = Spanish” and “Weed = Moss.” My apologies in advance to everyone who knows better and wants to tell me that Cortez had nothing to do with Spanish moss and Spanish moss isn’t even moss, it’s a bromeliad, hardly a weed.

And where does Spanish moss grow? On cypress trees in the bayous and lakes of South Eastern/Gulf States, of course!

Well, it doesn't grow anywhere in Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park that I know of, but I know you can find it at Noah Tyson Park, Robert L. Nance Park, and Earl G. Williamson Park. You might also check out Horace M. Downs Park, Milton "Hookie" Cameron Memorial Park, the Historic Caddo Lake Drawbridge, and Norris Ferry Boat Launch. Check out for more information, or call the parks office 318-929-2806 for driving directions.

Happy Hunting!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WBJ Park this Late October

As of yesterday, we've received 13.93 inches of rain. We anticipate breaking the monthly rainfall record of 14.00 inches when we check the gauge tomorrow.

Ozark Trail is almost completely submerged. Ouachita Trail sports a dead fish here and there. As it nears the Ozark junction, it, too, goes underwater. Miracle Trail is washed out from the irises to Fordney Bayou. Caddo Trail is under water from Fordney Bayou to Shettleworth Bayou on both the north and south ends of the park. Adai goes under just north of the Yatasi intersection.

Even the paved Audubon Trail shows signs of recent high water, its south bend coated with mud.

This is the "occasional flooding" of a forested wetland. The palmettos and cane are thriving. The frogs and toads are booming. Dragonflies race to keep up with the plague of mosquitoes.

The Louisiana State Fair is in town, and not surprisingly, many folks would rather be down at the fair grounds than here sloshing through the water, ducking spider webs, and fending off ticks and mosquitoes. But, from the picture windows of the Interpretive Building, the fall colors are vivid: Chartreuse leaves frame fuchsia berries; turmeric, terra cotta, rust, and sulphur highlight the forest green, chocolate, and slate palette of evergreens. It seems unfair to have this view all to myself.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Craft Solution

Problem: We’re going to the National Hunting and Fishing Day Wildlife and Forestry Festival to set up a booth. About 500 festival-goers will swim past. What can we bring that will draw them in, that will distinguish us from the other exhibitors, that will send them home thinking “I’m gonna have to check out that Walter B. Jacobs Nature Park?”

The objects we bring overlap with the fur trappers’ exhibit. The animals we bring overlap with the falconers’ exhibit as well as the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ booth with the baby alligators.

Pamphlets and fliers end up lost on the grounds of the recreation area more often than they make it all the way back to the cars.

Solution: Crafts! And more precisely, crafts that directly relate to our traveling exhibits. We have that old alligator on a stick! If we label the craft with the park’s contact information, it might just make it all the way home.

To complement the live owl, I came up with an Owl Mask. It met all the criteria in my wanted ad for a craft: It would be a memento of meeting the live owl; it would illustrate the relative size of owl eyes to human eyes; it would have the park’s contact information on the back; it would be pre-cut and ready to decorate in the interest of saving time; and it could be decorated any way the maker wanted, using markers, crayons, glitter, etc. (Okay, the glitter part wasn’t optional. We painted every eyeball with gold glitter paint.)

The mask was a raving success! All over the festival there were children wearing owl masks.

“Where did you get that mask?”

“At the Walter B. Jacobs Nature Park booth over there!”

Craft Conundrum

We have this craft in ‘the vault’ that comes out from time to time. It’s a cardstock alligator on a stick. It’s cute. It has googly eyes, zigzagged felt strips, and a brass fastener that allows its tail to swing back and forth. It was employed at Earth Camp for a number of years to complement a folk tale about how the alligator got its bumpy, scaly skin.

I took it out of circulation for two reasons: 1) Returning campers were complaining that they remembered and even still possessed the craft from previous summers; and 2) It is a step-by-step assembly that offers little room for creative expression. In fact, campers had to write their names on the crafts in order to tell them apart.

It makes reappearances for three reasons: 1) If you don’t already have one, it is a cute craft; 2) A child is more likely to get all the way home with it than he is with a brochure or flier; and 3) One of my predecessors prepared thousands of alligator on a stick crafts. Someone cut out over one thousand alligator feet, 300 bodies, 300 tails, 900 strips of felt. Someone bagged up sets of 40 crafts that included the exact number of googly eyes and brass fasteners. I do not want to waste that time or materials that were invested.

But, why do we employ crafts at a nature park? What kinds of crafts are appropriate? And how do we balance the need to be economical with our time against the need to express creativity? What a conundrum!

Here are my objectives for doing crafts:

· To create a memento of an interpretive experience
“I made this!”
“I touched a real live alligator today!”

· To reinforce concepts explored in a game, hike or presentation
“Alligators have bumpy, scaly skin that protects them from all sorts of nasty things.”
“Alligators’ eyeballs can look straight even if their bodies are tilted.”
“An alligator’s tail is half the length of its body.”

· To shamelessly promote my site
“Look what I made at Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park today!”

For me, finding or creating appropriate crafts that can be done quickly and still allow participants opportunities to do them their own ways is a constant challenge.

(By the way, if you want the alligator folktale or alligator on a stick craft instructions, send me an email or Facebook message.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Two Checkered Skippers

For the July count, I tried to cram into my brain an inordinate amount of details regarding butterfly identification. After the count I suffered a bit of burn out, and did not revisit the subject until yesterday. Yesterday, we performed a seasonal NABA count. The old adage that says cramming isn’t learning holds true. If you want to do it, you’ve got to do it right.

Two Checkered Skippers

There are two checkered skippers in the Northwest Louisiana area: the Common Checkered Skipper and the Tropical Checkered Skipper. In theory, the ‘common’ one is more abundant than the ‘tropical’ one - but you’re not out there to make assumptions about populations – you’re out there to make observations.

It’s little and light and skips along the ground… It could be a blue… it could be a hairstreak… You track it and watch it land. It’s checkered, so it’s a checkered skipper.

Step 1: Get an up-close look with your binocular. (It may be all you get.)

Step 2: Take a photograph from a distance.

Step 3: Get closer to the butterfly and take another photograph.

How can you tell which checkered skipper it is? I call it “continental drift.”
Take a look at the images.

The top row shows male and female Common Checkered Skippers. The bottom row features male and female Tropical Checkered Skippers.

Look again.

Common Checkered Skippers have a large spot (the continent) about half-way between the body and the tip of the forewing. Sometimes there is a tiny dot next to it, but usually there is only one large spot.

Tropical Checkered Skippers have the same large spot, though it’s often a tad slimmer. Next to the large spot is a second smaller spot. To me, it looks like an island broke off the mainland and is drifting away.

There are a couple other differences: Common Checkered Skippers have a uniformly checkered fringe, whereas the Tropical Checkered Skippers seem to be missing a few patches of white in the fringe pattern. Also, just inward from the fringe, Tropical Checkered Skippers have a row of white spots that extends all the way to the tip. That row is incomplete on Common Checkered Skippers.

I’ve just received word that the trail through C. Bickham Dickson Park was mowed and widened this morning. So, the place that hosted dozens of Tropical Checkered Skippers yesterday is now devoid of any skippers at all. I hope that movie they’re going to film out there is a good one.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Natural Resource Mining

Through game play, participants discover that non-renewable resources are finite, and that a resource is collected until it is no longer profitable to do so.

Concepts covered:

1 pound of mini pony beads in assorted colors
1 pair tweezers per player
1 large bowl with locking lid
11 small bowls with locking lids

How the Game is Played:
· Teams must extract an assigned color from the large bowl filled with beads.
· One at a time, team members use forceps/tweezers to pluck one bead from the larger bowl and transfer it to the smaller bowl.
· The bowl cannot be moved, shaken, or stirred.
· When no target beads are visible, the team can choose to sacrifice a player in order to mix up the bowl and expose more target beads.
· The game ends when the sole surviving teammember runs out of visible target beads, or a team chooses to cease mining activities in order to preserve existing players.
· Points are tallied and the team with the most points wins.
1 bead = 1 point
1 player = 10 points

Wrap up:
The winning team explains how they acquired the most points.

The game can be played again with a different target color. Scores from the second game can be compared with the first to draw inferences about probability.

Sorted beads can be acquisitioned for Water Cycle Game. Don’t you love it! Segue into Renewable Resources.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rainy Day Activity: The Water Cycle Game Reinvented

The water cycle game shows up in a few places, and goes by a few names. In Project WET, it’s called The Incredible Journey. To take an ‘incredible journey,’ participants act as water molecules, start at one of the nine places water can be (clouds, glaciers, oceans, rivers, lakes, underground, soil, plants, and animals), and roll a die to find out which part of the cycle to move to. After a few rounds, patterns emerge that participants can interpret: There’s a lot of water in the ocean; water in the ground tends to stay in the ground; water in a glacier tends to stay in the glacier; evaporation and sublimation into the clouds are how much of the water moves from one stage of the cycle to another; and, the amount of water in the cycle is constant.

Design an adequate record sheet to accompany the activity, provide adequate guidance before and during the activity, and summarize the trends discovered through playing the activity and participants will have a worthwhile experience. But where are the tangible-intangible links? What will participants take home?

The answers are… beads! And a bracelet!

I cannot even take credit for this. One of the Earth Camp counselors got it from a ShrevCORPS team leader who got it from a Project Learning Tree facilitator. But it is so awesome! I have to pass it on:

Instead of having the participants work in teams and record each leg of their journey with a pencil and paper, have each participant work independently and collect a colored bead from each station. When they have enough beads to fit around their wrists, tie it off and it’s done. Each participant has a personalized bracelet to keep, and each bead of the bracelet represents where her water molecule has been. Talk about tangible!

About the beads…

I went to Michael’s and for frugality’s sake I purchased 1 pound of mini pony beads in assorted colors, along with 20 yards of plastic cord for about $7.00. There were 11 colors in the bag. Once sorted, there were over 200 beads of each color. One pound of beads and 20 yards of cord is enough to make at least 30 bracelets.

White = clouds
Red = animals
Orange = ground water
Yellow = rivers
Green = plants
Blue = ocean
Indigo = lakes
Violet = glacier
Black = soil
The assortment included cream and pink beads that were not used in the game.

If you’re doing this with a small group, you might consider purchasing more novel beads. Animal-shaped and plant-shaped beads, seashells, wooden beads, and semiprecious stones like amethyst and lapis lazuli are easy enough to find. It may even be possible to find cloud-shaped beads.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The forest is full of all kinds of creatures, great and small. Ticks are some of those small creatures you’d rather not see! Ticks are in the spider family, but while spiders live respectable lives hunting for themselves and controlling insect populations, ticks are free loaders. They literally sit around and wait for someone to come by and feed them. Don’t let that someone be you:

Tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Ticks can’t bite you and suck your blood if they can’t find your skin.

Spray your clothing with an insect repellent – especially one containing DEET that claims to protect against ticks.

Stay on the designated trails to avoid the dense vegetation where ticks usually hang out.

After your encounter with the natural world, check your body for ticks. Get in front of a mirror, take off every garment, and perform a head-to-toe inspection. Turn your clothing inside-out and carefully examine the seams. Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat to exterminate any hitchhikers.

If you find a tick, don’t freak out. He has to be attached for days in order to transmit any of those nasty diseases he carries, so you have a minute to make sure you get him off right. Use tweezers and extract his little head from your skin. If you are hosting an overwhelming number of these parasites, revert to the chigger solution: one cup of bleach in 4 inches of bathwater.

Take a few precautions and the nuisance of ticks won’t keep you from enjoying the outdoors.


There are more insects than any other kind of animal in the forest. All have a place in nature. Some are quite interesting, like the long-lived cicadas. Others, like butterflies, dragonflies, and fireflies can be beautiful, beneficial, and even awe-inspiring. Wasps too, are part of the web of life.

Wasps are nature’s own pest control service, preying on many insects, including caterpillars, flies, crickets, and others in order to feed their babies. Late in the summer when queens stop laying eggs, wasps start collecting sweets. Their instinct for survival drives them to defend themselves, their nests, and food sources – and they do that with a stinger!

Yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps (also known as red wasps) are the ones most likely to attack humans. To avoid a sting, be observant of your surroundings. When you spot a wasp, watch her. If she lingers in one small area, she may be guarding a nest or collecting food. Imagine there is a ten-foot-wide bubble surrounding that site, and walk around it. If she is traveling along your path, she has somewhere to be. Step to the side and let her pass.

If you do get stung, ouch! You will most likely have a local, non-allergic reaction ranging from burning, itching, redness, and tenderness to massive swelling and itching that may last up to a week. Treatments include ice, vinegar, honey, meat tenderizer, and commercial topical ointments. If you experience hives or rash, swelling away from the sting site, headache, minor respiratory symptoms, and stomach upset, you may want to get an over-the-counter antihistamine.

Very rarely, a person may suffer a life-threatening, systemic allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, which can cause anaphylactic shock (fainting, difficulty breathing, swelling, and blockage in the throat) within minutes of being stung. These systemic symptoms are cause for immediate medical attention. If you know you have systemic allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings, consult your doctor to get a prescription auto-injector of epinephrine to carry with you at all times.

Respect wasps by giving them some personal space, and you can avoid an unpleasant experience and enjoy the natural world. Come visit Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park and see for yourself how awesome nature is!

Home Depot Naturalist Moment

Okay, if this is a bit rambly and divergent, I claim sleep deprivation as my excuse…

Brief background: The door of the classroom at the nature park has a clear glass window. It lets in too much light to do activities requiring darkness – like simulating night vision, showing slide presentations, and facilitating our own version of Mystery Science Theater. Some of the naturalists also find it to be a source of distraction for them and for their audiences to have curious heads popping in and out of the window while presentations are in progress. Until a few days ago, the window was covered with a make-shifted privacy film. This morning, I went to Home Depot to purchase a commercially-produced window film of a botanical, stained-glass pattern (as per the naturalist team’s preferences).

An associate helped me locate the display of window film, and when we only found rice paper, frosted glass, amber glass, and pebbles, he set about to locate the extra stock for wisteria, magnolia, or clematis. As I stood there waiting for him to check in some out-of-site place, and then on a shelf around the corner, I spied the word “Gila,” and then the word “clematis,” about 12 feet above the mini blinds display. He was quite impressed that I found the items when he could not. I explained that the “Gila” brand name was on other window film products, so it caught my eye as I was looking up. Then, of course, “clematis” is one of the patterns I was shopping for, so that, too, got my attention.

When he struggled to pronounce those two words, the naturalist revealed herself. “I think it’s Hee-la, like the venomous lizard the Gila Monster.” Which is, by the way, named after a river and the area around the river where the lizard was discovered. “And it’s Clu MA tiss, A flowering vine.” As he confirmed the connection to the Gila Monster (because doesn’t everybody watch Animal Planet), I realized I may have honed in on those words because they are in my vernacular as a naturalist, whereas they have little to do with window coverings.

So before my first cup of coffee after a long night of mediating conflict between a basset hound and a Virginia opossum (a story for another time), I and the home depot associate learned something new.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Seven Days until the Shreveport Count

I'm feeling the pressure. Jeff Trahan is the Shreveport NABA Count compiler. I've had the privilege to go butterfly counting with him (not for the count) on a few occasions. I've expressed interest in THE COUNT year after year, and then let it slip my mind. This year, I vowed to actually participate in THE COUNT, and to seal the deal, Trahan assigned me a section of the count circle.

My own section.

No pressure.

To prepare for this, I have been studying. Using the Roger Tory Peterson method, I've been comparing similar species and honing in on how to tell them apart. (That man was a genius.) Here are the sets I am scrutinizing:

1. The Dark Swallowtails
2. Two Ladies
3. Two Crescents and a Checkerspot
4. Two Sulphurs and a Dogface
5. Little, Dainty, and Sleepy
6. Two Fritillaries
7. Two Emperors
8. Two Pearly Eyes
9. Viceroy and Monarch
10. Question Mark and Eastern Comma
11. Three Satyrs
12. Three Duskywings
13. Silver-spotted Skipper & Hoary Edge
14. Three Cloudywings
15. Two Broken-dashes
16. Dun and Glassywing
17. Least Skipper and Southern Skipperling
18. Clouded and Zabulon
19. Fiery and Whirlabout
20. Eufala and Tawny-edged

To my credit, I am competent at 11 of these. That leaves 9 sets to study with only 7 days to go, which means I probably don't have time to post my study guides here.

Two awesome sources that I am using are Randy Emmitt's Butterflies of the Carolinas and Virginia, and Will Cook's Carolina Nature-Butterflies. The Carolinas apparently have all the butterflies we have in Louisiana, and then some.

Emmitt's site has a few quizzes you can use to test yourself (be careful with your mouse, though, or you'll spoil the game). He also has pages for each species, and a neat little trick where you can roll your mouse over the image and see identifying features highlighted. There is a list in the left column of each species page that links similar species, so you can click back and forth to compare the forewing spots and hindwing bands and such.

Cook's Site is visually stunning. You can read about identifying features in the little text blurbs to the right of the photographs. Buried in those blurbs are jewels of trivia, like why it is called a "Comma!"

Between these two sites and the Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East book, I might not embarrass myself next weekend!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Ladies

The American Lady and Painted Lady butterflies are both found in Caddo Parish. It seems they are usually found at different times - American Lady in the spring and summer - Painted Lady in the fall. We still have to be able to tell them apart, and here's how:

"American Ladies have big eyes!"

Looking at the ventral sides, you can see that American Lady butterflies have two large eye spots, whereas Painted Lady butterflies have four smaller eye spots.
If you miss the botttom view somehow and only get a glimpse of the dorsal side, American Lady butterflies have two blue spots flanking two dark spots on each hindwing. Painted Lady butterflies have four dark spots with no blue.
There are eleven more days until the Ninth Annual Shreveport Butterfly Count. I will try to distinguish between as many of the tricky ones as I can between now and then...

Black Swallowtail Clarification

It is worth noting that the field guides I read suggest altogether different field marks for the Black Swallowtail. Also, my pupil-in-the-iris shortcut only works because here in Louisiana we do not have the other western swallowtails with that same marking.

Many people who know more about butterflies than me (as there are many many people who know more about butterflies than me), point to the parentheses-shaped markings and the second row of spots as diagnostic.

These field marks are helpful when they are all there, but sometimes they aren't.

Moreover, sometimes, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail dark morph has markings that could be mistaken for Black Swallowtail parentheses.
As for the pupil-in-the-iris, it is also found on the Anise Swallowtail, Indra Swallowtail, and Old World Swallowtail. The Old World Swallowtail has a subspecies called Baird's that looks remarkably similar to a Black Swallowtail. These species are western and are not found in Louisiana.
There is a section of the U.S. where their ranges overlap with the Black Swallowtail. If you live within the red rectangle, then you certainly cannot count on the pupil-in-the-iris to be diagnostic.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Four Dark Swallowtails

According to Butterflies and Moths of North America, there are 926 species of butterflies known to live on the continent. Jeff Trahan – with help from Rosemary Seidler, Terry Davis, and me – has found 97 of them in Caddo Parish.

So far.

Four of those species are commonly called “the dark swallowtails,” and those four species can be tricky to tell apart. They are the Pipevine Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and the dark morph female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

To distinguish between them, let’s look at them at the same time.

Dorsal View
Ventral View

Okay, look at them again. This time, focus on the field marks, or things that define each species.

Dorsal View
The top left is a Black Swallowtail. Males are unmistakable because instead of white spots, they have yellow spots, and they have an extra row of them. The female is pictured here. Male and female Black Swallowtails can always be identified by the black dot inside the orange dot. There are also some differences in the size and shape of the white spots on the forewing, and some other distinctions, but "pupil-in-the-iris" orange/black spot is a dead giveaway.

The top right is the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, dark morph. Notice the white spots on her forewings are really dashes. Also notice the white spots on her hindwings have a little orange in them, especially the ones on either end of the row. Sometimes you can still see a little yellow and maybe even a tiger stripe, but the dashes and the extra orange is always there. She's a bit bigger than the other dark swallowtails, too.

The bottom left is a Spicebush Swallowtail. There are some differences between males and females, but both sexes always have those fingertip-shaped spots on the hindwing that are bluish-white.

The bottom right is a Pipevine Swallowtail. There are subtle differences between male and female Pipevine Swallowtails as well, but both sexes have blue tails. Also, the blue color on Pipevines does not seem to be compartmentalized the way it is on other dark swallowtails, but rather blended looking.

Ventral View

The pupil-in-the-iris is still visible when viewing the ventral side of the Black Swallowtail. There are pretty much two rows of orange spots, and the row closest to the body has a double spot.

"Tigers do not have spots!" At least female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails do not have spots on their bodies. All the other dark swallowtails do. Also, the dashes are still visible.

Often you can see some of the dorsal side when Spicebush Swallowtails' wings are closed, and when that happens, you can still see those bluish-white fingertips. With only the ventral side of the hindwing showing, you can see that Spicebush Swallowtails have two rows of orange spots, minus one. That absent orange spot is diagnostic.

Sometimes you can still see the blue of the Pipevine Swallowtail's tail on the ventral side. Sometimes you can tell that the body is a bit blue (the others are pretty much black). Regardless of whether you can see that blue or not, you can always identify a Pipevine Swallowtail with its wings closed by counting the rows of orange spots. There's only one row.

To test out these identification short cuts, grab your binoculars and head out to the park for some butterfly watching. Swallowtails fly fast and high, so you may have to let some go uncounted.

But it's the thrill of the hunt, right?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nature Camp Songs

I've been a camp counselor, a camp instructor, and a camp director, but I must confess that I've never been a camper. All the camp songs that I know I learned from Michelle Balfe Keefer, who taught them to me in preparation for the camp we co-directed in 2001.

I followed her example and included the lyrics to several camp songs (that I deemed to be appropriate for a nature-oriented camp) for my counselors at Earth Camp. But I couldn't get her on the phone to sing the songs to me, and if I can't sing them, I can't expect the counselors to, so I've been scouring the internet for AUDIO files of camp songs.

First of all, the Ultimate Camp Resource pages are certainly enough to keep a camp planner busy, and they have thousands of song lyrics (no audio).

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has an extensive collection of children's songs - WITH AUDIO - several are 'camp songs' and the rest are Old MacDonald kind of stuff. It's been an invaluable resource for me for years, since I didn't really know that many children's songs either (I was able to solve the mystery of the tune of the beeping crib toy that was driving me crazy by going one-by-one through the list. Luckily, the NIEHS list is in alphabetical order and the song was Animal Fair, because it's a really big list.)

The song Gray Squirrel or Brown Squirrel or Squirrel Squirrel is performed on You Tube here - hillarious!

The song Acorn Brown or I'm a Nut is demonstrated on You Tube by Cullen's ABCs, which I just discovered. It appears to be a how-to for parents and teachers of preschoolers. (Kind of wish I'd found that sooner.) But I couldn't help but think I'd heard that tune somewhere before...

The National Wildlife Federation has a page of camp songs WITH AUDIO (you can tell I find that to be an important detail). Specifically, it has Mmm Mmm Went the Little Green Frog One Day.

Then there's the Girl Scout Music site with The Frogs, The Bear Song, Ants Go Marching, and Lion Hunt (I'm hesitant to include that one in a nature camp), and the Latter Day Saints Girls Camp Songs - some of which work for nature camp.

And, if you want to dust off your bell bottoms, tie-dyed shirts, and tambourines, Ally Ally Oxen Free may just be the song for you. I, personally, can't stop laughing through it, so I'm crossing that one off my list.

The Birdie Song is sung on the Camp Sea Gull and Camp Seafarer page. If you've got a coastal site, then the other songs may be of interest to you, as well.

I've found a few versions of Peanut Butter (And Jelly), but none quite so funky as the one sampled here.

Now I'm off to practice so I'll be in tune for my staff training tomorrow morning. Happy Camping!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making Ice Cream at Summer Camp

Here's the recipe per pair of campers:

1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon flavoring
1/2 cup rock salt
2 cups ice
1 quart-size freezer bag
1 gallon-size freezer bag
4 full sheets newspaper
1 strip of duct tape

(I am reversing the assembly line this year, so instead of the counselors delivering the ingredients to each pair of campers, the pairs will go around to stations to receive their stuff.)

Table 1: No counselor needed. Pairs pick up one of each type of freezer bag.

Table 2: One counselor pours milk into quart-size bag. One counselor pours ice into gallon-size bag.

Table 3: One counselor adds sugar to milk. One counselor adds salt to ice.

Table 4: One or more counselors add desired flavor to milk and sugar. (I'm using baking extracts from The same extracts are used in a scent sense game earlier in the day. The extracts relate back to the idea that plants are food sources for people. We have peach, lemon, blackberry, spearmint, and coconut, because they are all clear and cannot be identified by color - which would spoil the scent game.)

Table 5: One counselor inserts milk bag into ice bag, seals outer bag, and passes to one counselor who wraps the bag in newspaper like a Subway sandwich (I knew that job experience would come in handy somewhere), and passes to one counselor who tapes the package. (These tasks can be done by one person if there are not enough instructors, counselors, or chaperones to fill all the stations.)

The pairs shake their packages vigorously, trading off as one tires. After 10 minutes, campers can unwrap the packages, extract the ice cream bag from the saltwater bag, and split the portion into two bowls.

There are science lessons that accompany this activity at, and chemistry, if you need to justify making ice cream.

Here's something I think you might find useful:

Regular bags of granulated sugar are 4 pounds, which works out to about 9 1/2 cups, so each bag serves 19 pairs of campers.

Regular boxes of rock salt weigh 4 pounds. 4 pounds of rock salt = 6 1/2 cups, so each box serves 13 pairs of campers.

You can find both granulated sugar and rock salt in larger packages, and buying in bulk is usually more economical. Remember, y'all aren't eating the salt. It isn't actually coming into contact with food, so it doesn't really have to be "ice cream" rock salt. The dirty-looking street salt works just as well, and is even cheaper.

I'll have to post a follow-up to let you know whether or not the campers liked peach, lemon, blackberry, spearmint, and coconut flavored ice creams. (I do have vanilla extract in reserve just in case).