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Cooling Down for the Summer

After three months of being at Big Oaks, I've finally made it to my last week of work! Being here at the refuge has been lots of fun for sure, but it hasn't been all butterflies and ice cream.

Well, except for specifically this past week!

With all of our primary seasonal projects being finished, there hasn't been much to do aside from processing all of our data and setting up for public events at the refuge — namely our Butterfly Survey and our Ice Cream Social.

Some finds from our survey! A pipevine swallowtail (top left), a monarch (top right), a zebra swallowtail (bottom left) and a great spangled fritillary (bottom right).

Out of the two, my personal favorite was definitely the butterfly count! Not to knock the free frozen treats of course, but getting out onto the refuge with the public and looking for pretty critters was just lots of fun! When you're out every day working in nature, sometimes you can lose sight of what it's like to just enjoy it casually. While we were still technically collecting data, getting to socialize with some like-minded people while exploring the refuge was just very pleasant!

Snapping some pictures of swallowtails on the flowers of a butterfly milkweed!

Since I don't have a very extensive background in entomology, many of these butterfly species were very new to me. Many of these butterflies I've seen out in the field almost every day without giving them a second thought, (apart from "aww! it's so pretty!") and so I really enjoyed learning about their ecology and how to identify them from our guests!

We take pictures of butterflies out in the field in order to confirm our sightings. If we are unable to identify a species or are ever unsure of our finding, we compare our pictures of the butterflies to our field guides.

The data that we collected during the survey will be sent to and published by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) as part of an ongoing program to census the butterflies of North America.We're still in the process of counting up how many total species we found here at Big Oaks, but I'm already prepared to chalk it up to a smashing success! Our own group counted 34 separate species of butterfly on our trip through the western perimeter of the refuge, including some uncommon ones such as the Giant Swallowtail, Southern Cloudywing, and Question Mark butterflies. Combined with the other species the other groups may have found, we may have observed upwards of forty species in total!

A beautiful luna moth we discovered while doing the butterfly count! We weren't able to count it because it technically isn't a butterfly, but it was an amazing find nonetheless.

Regardless of our results, the best thing about this event is just bringing people out onto the refuge to experience nature together. Our Ice Cream Social, which we had at the beginning of the week a couple of days later, was also going to be out on the refuge before it went and rained on our parade.

The weather may have prevented us from having the social out in front of the Oakdale Schoolhouse, but we were still able to enjoy our ice cream at the field office from the comfort of our garage bay!

Rain or shine, we still had plenty of guests come out to enjoy some delicious homemade ice cream and chocolate desserts! We had vanilla, lemon, peppermint, and — my personal favorite — black raspberry! We also had some chocolate muffins and fudge brownies to go with them too.

Somehow I still found some room for dinner afterwards, but you can be sure I was out cold not too much later that night!

In the moments when the rain let up, we were still able to run some shuttles over to the school house for the kids to watch aan early 1900s schoolteacher presentation delivered by Linda Cheatam! She taught us about the history of the land that the refuge now sits on before it was taken by the government and became the Jefferson Proving Ground.

Linda giving a lesson in local plant biology and identification! This student is using clues to help match plants with their correct names with some help from the teacher.

Linda also prepared a few interactive lessons for the kids that were representative of what kids from the time might have been learning in the school house. Identifying native plants, reading and reciting poetry, doll-making, and solving basic arithmetic were all on the lesson plan for this evening! Many of the kids that we had at the event had just come from a full day of school themselves, so I'm personally proud of them for sitting through another lesson so late in the evening, as interesting as it was! Although even as an adult, I'd probably go anywhere or do anything you told me to as long as you promised me some free ice cream.

The social and the butterfly count were the last two public events that I'll have helped with this summer at Big Oaks. I have just under a week left here at the refuge, so I'll most likely be helping out around the office and doing some odd jobs before I go.

Of course, if I get up to anything blog-worthy, I'll be sure to post it here before I leave! I may be helping some friends from the Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as they perform their projects on the refuge this week, which sounds like it'll be lots of fun! Or at the very least it'll get me out of the office!

In either case, thanks so much for reading our blog this summer, and be sure to stay tuned for our next post!

- Maeve


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