The Nature Conservancy will be hosting the 3rd Annual Flowers and Feathers Program at Kankakee Sands. on Thursday, May 1 and Saturday, May 17, 2014.

There will be easy walks along the edges of the prairie and wetlands of Newton County, viewing such birds as the Henslow’s sparrow, Blue grosbeak and the Upland sandpiper.  Bring your binoculars and a friend!  The Early-Bird Hike begins at 6:30 a.m. CST,  and the Sleepy-Head Hike begins at 9:00 a.m. CST.

The Friends of the Sands group will have native plants available for visitors to take home for their own landscape plantings.  Native plants will be available from 7 a.m. to noon each day.

This is a free, family friendly event for all ages and abilities.  Hikers will meet at the Kankakee Sands Office located at 3294 N. U.S. 41, Morocco, Indiana.
Contact Alyssa Nyberg at 219-285-2184 with questions or to RSVP for the event.

Photo by Matt Williams, The Nature Conservancy in Indiana.

By Alyssa Nyberg

Conrad Station Savanna in Northwest Indiana, once filled with the of screeching New York Central Railroad cars and the snorts of Jennie M. Conrad’s Spotted Poland-China hogs, is noisy again with the sound of the Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) drumming on the oaks within the old ghost town.

Calls and drumming are used by the Red-headed Woodpeckers to communicate with one another in the open savanna.  They use a (read this next part aloud) wheezy, loud queeah or queerp to communicate to other woodpeckers who are far away and a gentle dry rattle krrrrrr to communicate to buddies who are close by.    Drumming is a seasonal activity and is used specifically to attract a mate.  Typically they rap on a hollow tree with their beaks.  The sound reverberates in the hollow wood and travels over long distances.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is quite a handsome bird.  It has an unmistakable brilliant red head, black back and wings, with a white belly and rump.  Adult males and females look alike.  Juveniles have similar body markings but lack the red head.  Instead they have a brown streaked head.  Novice and veteran birdwatchers can quickly recognize this medium sized (9.25 inches long), stocky, boldly colored bird.

Red-headed Woodpeckers, like all woodpeckers, have bodies well-adapted to a life of foraging, clinging to and hammering on trees.  You can imagine the headache you might have after a day of hammering on a tree with your beak!  To absorb the shock of hammering, the woodpeckers’ brain case is larger than those of other birds and their frontal bones are more folded to act as shock absorbers.  Woodpecker tongues are barbed, sticky and extremely long compared to the tongues of other birds. This sticky, prickly, long tongue allows the woodpecker to reach deep into holes and fish out insects, lessening the amount of drilling they need to do with their beaks.  Its tail is used for support as it moves up and down the tree trunk.  The tail feathers are stiff and attached with large muscles that add strength and agility.  Even their feet differ from those of terrestrial birds who have three toes facing forward and one toe facing backwards.  Woodpeckers have two toes forward and two facing backwards.  As the woodpecker climbs up the tree, one back toe rotates to the side for added leverage.

Both the male and female work to create a cavity nest lined with bits of wood inside the hollow of a tree.  Nests are constructed anywhere from 8 to 80 feet up in the tree.  Females lay four to five, one-inch long white eggs.  Both parents share the incubation duties.  Eggs hatch in 12-13 days, and young hatchlings fledge (leave the nest) in a month’s time.  They often have two broods per season.
The Red-headed Woodpecker’s diet consists of insects, berries, small invertebrates, seeds, nuts, bird eggs and mice.  Using their beaks and long tongues the woodpeckers excavate insects from the bark.  They also capture insects in the air during short flights; it darts off the tree, captures the insect and promptly returns to the tree.  Interestingly, the Red-headed Woodpecker caches insects and seeds, to be eaten at a later time.  The food is stored and hidden in the cracks of wood and bark.  Gruesomely, grasshoppers are wedged alive into tight crevices from which they cannot escape.

Unfortunately, Red-headed Woodpeckers are declining at a rate of four percent annually in the Midwest.  Over a period of just twenty years, a population of 100 individuals would be reduced to 46. That is of course alarming and discouraging, but luckily the Red-headed Woodpeckers are thriving at Conrad Station Savanna.  Their preferred habitat is burned, deciduous woodlands of oak or beech with large open areas between the trees.  This describes Conrad perfectly!  Nature Conservancy staff regularly conduct prescribed burns at Conrad in order to thin the woodlands for our target species. It is not certain why the woodpeckers prefer the burned areas, but it is possibly due to the insect quantity and diversity in the damaged and decaying trees.

The Red-headed Woodpeckers are year-round residents at Conrad.  A walk along the 1.5-mile mowed trail through the preserve any time of year will provide you the pleasure of seeing and hearing them, just as the residents of Conrad would have seen and heard over a century ago.

The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands of Indiana and Illinois is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment.  For more information visit our website or call the office at 219-285-2184. To receive a copy of our quarterly newsletter with events and activities at Kankakee Sands, send an email to

Dreams of Duneland bus tour planned



Visit historic and natural sites on the bus tour.

Visit historic and natural sites on the bus tour.

Chesterton, IN – Dr. Ken Schoon’s new book, Dreams of Duneland, is the inspiration for a sweeping tour that will change the way you think about the region.

An educator, geologist, author and Northwest Indiana native, Dr. Schoon is retired from the School of Education at Indiana University Northwest following a 40 year career. The author of a number of books, Schoon’s latest is a beautifully illustrated introduction to the Dunes region, its history and future.

The Dreams of Duneland tour is scheduled for Saturday, May 17, 2014 from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. CST. The day begins at Dunes Learning Center, located on the grounds of the historic Good Fellow Youth Camp, inside Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Following a brief presentation, a chartered bus will transport participants to historic and natural sites highlighted in the book—including Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm and the Century of Progress World’s Fair Homes.

Tickets for this unique overview of the natural history and ecology of the dunes are just $65 per person. The price includes transportation, lunch and a copy of “Dreams of Duneland” to take home. For information, or to purchase tickets online, click here or phone Dunes Learning Center at 219-395-9555, ext. 4.


Check Out Our New Neighbors



By Ken Kosky

Something cool showed up at here at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center this week: a pair of Killdeer.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher – or just someone who thinks it’s cool when a bird you don’t see every day shows up – you’d appreciate seeing what we saw.  This #DunesBirding photo album has photos of the killdeer and will showcase many other birds that can be found in Indiana Dunes Country.

Killdeer have a unique striping in the area under their beaks. They get their name from their shrill “kill-deer.”  And if you ever see one acting like it has a broken wing, running toward you or otherwise acting up, know that it is probably just trying to create a diversion or deter you from its nest.

Killdeer are just one of at least 369 species of birds identified in the Indiana Dunes area. The Indiana Dunes region is one of the best spots in the Midwest for birdwatching (because migrating birds are funneled along the southern tip of Lake Michigan), and this is the time of year when birders are rewarded with the biggest variety and quantity of birds.

To kick off the peak spring birding season, Indiana Dunes Tourism has launched a special birding webpage which features a list of birding hotspots, a bird tracker and a downloadable birding guide. The webpage also features information about the new Backpacks for Birders program, which allows birders to stop by five great birding spots and use – free of charge – a backpack containing binoculars and guides.

Taltree Arboretum was one of the grant recipients.


Taltree Arboretum is a peaceful place, with the new chimes exhibit being an added bonus.

Taltree Arboretum is a peaceful place, with the new chimes exhibit being an added bonus.

Taltree Arboretum & Gardens in Valparaiso is shaking off old man winter starting with free admission on Tuesday, April 1. This kicks off their new Free First Tuesday program, where guests receive free admission the first Tuesday of every month. April 1 also begins Taltree’s long season hours, and the arboretum will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

“With free first Tuesdays, Northwest Indiana residents and visitors will get a taste of the great escape Taltree has to offer,” said Alexis R. Faust, President and CEO of Taltree Arboretum & Gardens. “Taltree offers a healthy experience year-round with many events, festivals and exhibits to enhance our guest experience.”

Kicking off Taltree’s cultural experience this year is the Spring Chimes Exhibit featuring artistic wind chimes being showcased throughout the arboretum. The chimes will be theme-displayed by material or sound. Themes include Choir Bells, Artistic Winds, Westminster and Island Sounds. The Artistic Winds display in the Taltree Railway Garden was developed with the assistance of the Opportunity Enterprises arts program.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to partner with Taltree on the wind chime Exhibit,” said Carol Loesche, Enrichment Services Manager of Opportunity Enterprises Inc. “It’s the first time that we have made wind chimes and our art participants are looking forward to seeing their wind chimes displayed in such a beautiful setting.”

The Taltree Railway Garden was chosen as the site for the Opportunity Enterprises installation because of its accessibility for mobility challenged guests. The garden features model trains running through a miniature mountain-prairie landscape of small trees and shrubs.

As part of the partnership, Opportunity Enterprises clients and employees will receive free admission throughout the duration of the exhibit. The exhibit will run April 1 through May 31 and is free with regular gate admission. Regular gate admission is $10 (13 to 54 years old), $8 (55+ years old), $5 (5 to 12 years old) and free (4 years old and under). For more information, visit their website or call 219-462-0025.


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