Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sunday at the Indiana Dunes

Dune Face

On Sunday, just before heading out the door, I posted "Doug is off to the Indiana Dunes" as my Facebook status. A friend in New England expressed surprised that Indiana would have sand dunes, so I decided to take a bunch of photos and blog about the trip. To me, the surprising part about the Dunes is not that they exist in Indiana, but that so much of them has been preserved among the steel mills of Gary and on the doorstep of Chicago.

The Chicago skyline is dimly visible on the horizon

The occasion for our visit was our friend Michael. He had been driven to Dearborn, Michigan to run in a marathon the day before. He and the two friends who drove him out there plant to stop off at the Dunes on their way home. Leon and I decided to meet up with them.

L-R: Kevin, Iva, and Michael
Michael is doing pretty well for the day after running a marathon

There was construction at the park and we couldn't get into the nature trails via my usual route, so we started on the beach.

On the Beach

Duneland ecological succession is the natural process of conversion of shoreline to woodland. You can spend several millenia on the beach watching it happen, or move inland to view successively older vegetation. Beach grasses stabilize the sand. Smaller trees take root. As they grow, they shade out the grasses, which are replaced by a new community of plants under the trees. Each change in the vegetation changes the landscape and sets the stage for its own exit as other species take over. It was here at the Indiana Dunes in the early 1900s that Henry Chandler Cowles developed the theory of ecological succession. Over a century later, it remains a cornerstone of ecological theory.

Prairie Grasses Stabilize a Sand Dune

Further back, the dunes are cloaked with rich woodland. Some of the spring wildflowers were beginning to bloom.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Hairy White Violet (Viola incognita)

We were looking for the Olympia Marblewing, a beautiful early spring butterfly that lives in sandy habitats. The weather was a bit cooler and cloudier than was forecast, so the butterfly was a no show. Its host plant, Sand Cress, was putting on a show. I have a feeling that had we been there on Saturday we would have seen the butterfly.

Sand Cress (Arabis lyrata)

We did see other wildlife. Migrating birds included Brown Creepers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Eastern Towhee. All were difficult to photograph. I got a recognizable image only of the Towhee.

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

The hike ended with a visit to an interdunal pond and a stroll through some fine oak woods. The woods are being managed to help support endangered Karner Blue butterflies that live at the Dunes.

Interdunal Pond

Managed Oak Woodland

A wonderful day was capped off with a delicious dinner (dessert: red velvet cake). Congratulations to Michael for successfully completing his first marathon.

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At 15:19, Blogger Norman said...

Lovely pictures, Doug. I now believe that there are dunes in Indiana. (Though I would have taken your word for it!)

At 16:28, Anonymous Mark H said...

I too was surprised at "DUNES" being where they were....sounds like a fun day.

At 23:34, Blogger Ur-spo said...

I like the Las Vegas Dunes.

At 11:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely photos!
My favorite line is, "You can spend several millenia on the beach watching it happen."
Where we live, over the last 20 years, I've been watching a stream slowly change it's channel, clearly to a place it's been at least once before.
Your post reminds me that geology and ecology are best when you can experience them.

At 20:22, Blogger Homer said...

Have you been to Sleeping Bear Dunes?

At 08:15, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Norman- Welcome to the Tapestry. Glad you enjoyed!

Mark- I'm a bit surprised that you were surprised, given that you come from part of the world with lots of inland dunes. Southern Idaho has some spectacular examples.

Sop- That's such a cool ecosystem! My favorite indigenous species is the lounge lizard.

I Kathy, thanks for stopping by. It's always especially gratifying to be complimented by a writer.

Homer- I've only been once. They were very beautiful. They are just too far for a day trip from Chicago.

At 21:23, Blogger Will said...

I always love your nature photography. Please along my best to Michael on the Marathon.

At 16:41, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, I am equally surprised by dunes in Indianna. It looks quite beautiful there. I'm glad you posted this. I had no idea that dunes would become a forest someday.


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