Nature Jewels of Indiana

Shades State Park near Crawfordsville, Indiana

A nippy wintery world is something I haven’t experienced since 2009. At first, I wanted to join the the black bears in their hibernation dens, but now I have acclimated to the snow and the below freezing temperatures. Winter holds it’s own beauty. Glittery snow and ice create the most captivating artwork painted by mother nature.  Exploring nature in its frozen state brings a whole new experience and awareness to flora and fauna, so go immerse yourself in the outside world.

Walking Fern on a vertical rock wall.

On a work trip to Indiana, we took the opportunity to visit some hidden nature preserve jewels: Turkey Run State Park, Shades State Park, Portland Arch Nature Preserve and Fall Creek Gorge.

Shades state park (5 miles from Turkey Run) had excellent hiking trails through ravines and stunning deciduous forest with some colossal trees. An observation deck overlooks a sandstone valley with Sugar Creek flowing through it about 100 ft below.

Tucked away in the glacial till plain between Lafayette and Terre Haute are several impressive gorges carved out by the regions many streams, which plunge into the scenic Wabash River. The region marks the edge of the formerly grandiose tall grass prairie of the Midwest and the eastern deciduous forest with extensive open oak savanna mixed in.

These gorges form oasis’s in a region dominated by industrial agriculture and contain a treasure trove of biodiversity. A few spots contain relics of northern species, such as eastern hemlock and white pine, which established during post glacial times and became disjunct as the climate warmed.

An eastern hemlock living on the edge of a sandstone cliff at Turkey Run State Park

Likewise, songbirds such as blackburnians and green-throated warblers, more typical of the north woods, breed here alongside their southern relatives, like Louisiana waterthrush, worm-eating, cerulean, and Kentucky warblers. These isolated patches are also very important and attractive to migrant songbirds in need of stopover habitat. Also, Bald Eagles congregate here in the winter.

Bald Eagles at Turkey Run State Park

Turkey Run State Park’s most famous feature is Rocky Hollow Gorge, but first we had to slip down 70 ice clad steps into the floodplain and cross Sugar Creek.

Turkey Run State Park after an ice storm

Sugar Creek
Rocky Hollow Gorge
Frozen waterfalls spewing out of sandstone
Admiring a frozen waterfall at Turkey Run
Rocky Hollow Gorge at Turkey Run

 

 

Snowy Owls

Several reports of Snowy Owl sightings across the U.P. have been teasing Ryne and I for a few weeks now. If your lucky, you might spot one near water or in an open field. If your really lucky you might have one land on your car while waiting  in a drive-through line at a bank (Yes, this happened in Iron Mountain).  We were hoping to spot one of these beautiful white owls close to our home on the Stonington Peninsula, but had no luck.

Our luck changed when we finally found not one, not two, but THREE Snowy Owls at the Menominee River Mouth on November 17 at 10AM. (This is on the Michigan/Wisconsin border on Lake Michigan). They were sitting on their densely feathered feet on the break wall tolerating the skin-piercing wind and frigid cold like a clump of snow. These yellow-eyed owls were such a thrill to see! Two were very light with just a peppering of black specs, and the other was more heavily barred with black. Typically, male Snowy Owls are more white and the females and juveniles are darker.

In the summer, Snowy Owls breed on the Arctic Tundra. They scrape a small hollow nest on the ground and lay 3-11 eggs, depending on prey abundance. They mostly eat lemmings, mice and hare, but will also eat songbirds. This year seems like an interruption year with so many Snowy Owls seen already, which means prey numbers were likely high.

In winter, some Snowy Owls (more if its a big irruption year) migrate south and start popping up across southern Canada and Northern U.S., including the Great Lakes Region. Occasionally, they show up as far south as Florida, Texas and even Hawaii.

Good luck spotting your own Snowy or maybe someone will get extremely lucky and spot one of the other Northern Hemisphere owls, like the Phantom of the North  (a Great Grey Owl), Boreal or Hawk-owl.

Khao Yai National Park

People were preparing for the flood by using sandbags
A nice presentation of mole crickets. Ryne wanted to try them, but a lady said they must be cooked or he will die. They were a bit pricey anyway, almost a dollar for one.
Chang Mai Saturday Market. One of my favorite things to do is shop at local markets and see what goods they have to offer. We were the only tourists at this market despite being a few blocks away from a very tourist infested area.

It didn’t take us long to get out of the sweltering heat and high waters of Bangkok (it is as bad as it appears in the media!) and into pristine, lush jungle. We spent the last 5 days camping at Khao Yai National Park where we saw wild elephants, gibbons, macaques, hornbills, an indian rock python and much more. The campground was packed with Thais! We didn’t realize that they liked to camp so much. Although some were pushed out of their homes because of the flood. We took a bus through the floods and people were fishing and boating down the same road as us! Extreme flooding!!

Smooth Flying

The Rutherfords are officially in Asia!! We had a very nice, but exhausting flight. On the plane, we had our first Korean meal and rice wine, very yummy! We saw a red sunset over the arctic that lasted for 4 hours. We also saw snow covered mountains sprawling across the Siberian wilderness.
It is incredibly hot and muggy here. I am still in shock and can’t believe that we are actually here in Bangkok, Thailand! So far, we have had only pleasant experiences with Thais. They are kind-hearted, very helpful and thankfully, speak good English.

Adventure Eve

We are in Chicago enjoying some much needed down time before our 20 hour flight to Bangkok, Thailand. We depart Chicago at noon tomorrow, (Monday) and are scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at 10 pm on Tuesday (Bangkok is 12 hours ahead of us). This will be the longest day of our lives! 36 hours!
Thanks Mom and Dad for spoiling us and packing our backpacks full of a weeks worth of trail food!

AN EPIC ADVENTURE

In 2 1/2 weeks, Ryne and I will be leaving on an exciting  journey to southeast Asia. We will be gone for 5 months as we travel to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and possibly India! WHY? Much can be learned through traveling and we want to support local communities through eco-tourism. The more people that visit wildlife conservation areas, the more likely people will realize that leaving forests intact is profitable because naturalists, like us, will pay to see it.

We plan to explore several national parks and other natural area to soak up as much natural history knowledge as possible. We also plan to volunteer on a local organic farm to learn about the culture, and I would love to learn how to cook authentic spicy asian cuisine.