Usually in the summer we have a three day camping trip together as a Department, which we combine with collecting specimens to replenish our living collections. Unfortunately this year, everyone's schedules were so crazy that we were never able to find a three day gap that suited all of us. I sent a couple of my staff out on a one day collecting trip, mainly to collect native fish species for our Riverworks Exhibit but that was about all we had done in the way of getting out in the field.
Last week we finally managed to get our entire Department together for a quick trip to Indiana Dunes State Park. As if to continue the theme from last years trips, the day started with dark skies, thunder, lightening and heavy rain. We all studied the weather sites closely and determined that at the time we had planned to arrive in Indiana, the rain would have just about stopped. So we loaded into several vehicles and headed out.
One of the local rangers had kindly agreed to meet up with us and give us a tour of an environmentally sensitive area which is usually not open to the public, Pinhook Bog. Indiana’s only true bog it is a special geologic feature of this region. The Bog is a glacial kettle. At the end of the Wisconsin Glacial epoch, (14,000-15,000 ybp) a large chunk of ice remained buried at this location as the ice retreated northward. When the ice melted, the clay soil sealed the basins. The runoff from higher ground around the bog is the only water source. There are not streams or groundwater inflow or outflow. Evaporation from the open water and plants is the only loss of moisture. A bog is different than swamps, marshes or ponds because of this limited exchange of water. The water in the bog is stagnant, acidic, and nutrient-poor.
The outstanding feature of Pinhook Bog is the tree covered mat of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is a stringy, delicate moss of a light-green color. The mat floats on top of the water and can become three to six feet thick, yet it can have a pocket of a few inches in the middle. As the mat thickens, larger and larger plants take root and grow. Under the mat a peat bed develops. The acidic water slows the decay of the sphagnum moss and other plants. In its current state the plants that are growing there have to be tolerant of an acidic environment, like the magnificent Pitcher Plant.
Although it was a little late in the season for orchids there were still a number of Orange-fringed Orchids in bloom and their characteristic shapes and delicate blooms were very appealing.
There was also an occasional Touch-me-not or Jewelweed peeping out from amongst the foliage. Called Touch-me-not because when the seed capsule is ripe, the slightest touch will cause it to eject it's seeds.
There were very few signs of vertebrate life, except for us but this one Green Frog did hang around long enough for me to grab a quick photo.
After having walked around the bog we headed out through some dense woodland and it was then that I began to realise just how much rain we have had in recent weeks. Apart from the obvious, copious quantities of mud, there were so many fungi of every shape, size and colour.
Having left the Bog, we headed to a nearby picnic area to have some lunch. Vincent, our department culinary expert was in charge of getting us all fed and in spite of the fact that somehow none of us had remembered to pack cooking utensils (!) A solution was found and soon we were all fed.
Even the picnic area had it's own crop of fungus but don't worry, we weren't tempted to add them to the menu!
One little visitor who spent a long time hanging around was this pretty little Hackberry Butterfly.
Our boss had gone all out on the treats! We had a choice of chocolate, red velvet or vanilla! This is the real outdoor life!!!!
Before we all fell asleep from a sugar coma from the cup cakes, we decided that another walk to explore some more of the local habitat would be a good idea. By now I was on a mission - fungus hunting!
It is a fascinating life form because it really does come in a seemingly endless array of forms.
There were a lot of Stink Bugs around too but I totally failed to get a clear picture despite numerous attempts (and one or two swear words thrown in for good measure.)
After we were done with the dark, dampness of the woodland, our last stop was the shore of Lake Michigan so that some of us could roll up our trousers and wade in the water.
It wouldn't be strictly true to say that we didn't collect anything on this trip (apart from the obligatory mosquito bites of course.) I made sure that no one left the beach without carrying at least a couple of nice flat stones with them as they always come in useful when we are setting up habitats for our animals at the Museum.
All too soon it was time to head back into the city but it was lovely to have spent the day outside, and the best part of all? It didn't rain on us!!
Photo Credits - CJT
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