This week the native wildflowers are glorious! You can start admiring them right in the parking lot! Since Ben and his crew burned the center circle of the driveway, native wildflowers are sprouting there like crazy! And the native beds on either side of the shed are full of blooms.
I’ve enjoyed learning the common names of wildflowers in the last few years. Knowing names starts a relationship with a plant in the same way that knowing a person’s name makes them more than a casual acquaintance.
This striking, deep violet-blue native plant with long graceful leaves has an unfortunate name, Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). (People who came up with common names seemingly had no poetry in their souls and must have thought it cured spider bites). Look at this beauty up close!
There’s also this golden flower that I’d never seen in the circle until this year after the burn. I love the buttery yellow glow and scalloped petals of Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) and so does what looks like a hover fly whose abdomen is smeared yellow with its pollen.
In the park and in the circle is a happy yellow flower called Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea). It does well after a burn because our part of Michigan used to be prairie. Prairie and other grasslands across North America have burned regularly for thousands of years. Fires were either intentionally set by Native Americans or lit naturally by lightning. This native plant is adapted to fire and loves sandy soil and sun.
And look at the burgeoning overflow of beautiful Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) in the native flowerbed north of the shed! Native plants can take a few years to really get going but once they do it is worth the effort. And clearly this was the year for these beauties. Talk about ground cover!
While you’re admiring them, enjoy the many Hebard’s Green-legged Grasshopper nymphs (Melanoplus eurycercus) springing from leaf to leaf among the Anemone. By August, they’ll have molted into much bigger grasshoppers.
*EDIT: thanks to reader feedback, we’ve identified this grasshopper nymph as Hebard’s Green-Legged Grasshopper instead of Green-Legged Grasshopper. Thanks for your expert critique!
Ben’s reported seeing some great birds in Bear Creek, some I have yet to see. Cornell Ornithology Lab’s allaboutbirds.org wonderfully describes the beautiful deep blue Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) as being “like a scrap of sky with wings. ” This amazing small bird migrates at night, navigating by a single star. The young learn their cheerful song from nearby males in their “song neighborhood” and these local songs can last for 20 years passed on by successive generations. They are tricky to photograph (as you’ll see below!) as they sing high in the treetops near woods in shrubby areas – like the northern end of the steep sloping path on the Southwest side of the park or in the center of the big loop at the northern part of the park.
Ben saw the smaller, darker Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) in Bear Creek. I have a photo of the female at Bear Creek a couple of years ago but the only decent photo of the male I have was taken at our oriole feeder. They’re here only a short time, arriving late and leaving early, sometimes as early as mid-July, for their winter home in Central America. So look for them soon before they are gone!
Ben also saw a bird at Bear Creek last week that I’ve never seen there – but I did hear one today at Marsh View Park. The iris in the eye of the Red-Eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) turns red when it matures so don’t be surprised when you click the link below and see a gray and white bird! The amazing feature of these Vireos is that the male whistles his brief song incessantly from morning ’til night, sometimes repeating a song over 20,000 times in a day! Once you recognize it , you’ll know you’ve heard it in the woods for years. So click here and then go down the page on the left to the “typical song.”
Those Green Frog tadpoles I mentioned last week are now very young frogs! Look for them roiling the water in the pond near the playground. They are still very small, their legs are not fully developed and some of them, as you’ll see in the photo below, still have stubs of tadpole tails that they haven’t yet absorbed into their bodies. Like other creatures born in huge numbers, frogs serve as fast food for a lot of other species. Without lots of little frogs for nutrition, the predators that depend on them for food will be hungry. That’s one reason the declining numbers of amphibians is a concern in native habitats.
Watch for the Snapping Turtle too. At the playground pond last Sunday, we spotted him as a large oval patch of Duckweed moving steadily just under the surface of the water. I imagine that he was using some young frogs as a quick snack. Here’s a photo of one last year basking after a trip through the duckweed.
A sleepy little Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor), strictly nocturnal, snoozed Sunday on one of the platform supports. Once grown it will generally stay high in the trees except when it comes down to breed. I imagine that’s why its skin looks so much like tree bark – good camouflage!
And what about those damsels in no distress? Well I was referring, of course, to damselflies, those slim, elegant cousins of the dragonflies in the order Odonata. Sunday this one flashed like neon blue morse code as it rested with its wings folded near the playground pond. I’m guessing that it’s a Marsh Bluet ((Enallagma ebrium)) but again, don’t quote me. Bluets are a big group of dragonflies and they all have only minor differences.
One of the dragonflies at the playground pond is almost comic in appearance! I swear it has a kind of Mickey Mouse face! Its precise but unimaginative name is the Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta)and you can’t miss them! They’ll even accompany you down the boardwalk.
QUICK REVIEW: New sightings of species mentioned in earlier “This Weeks”
Evidently, the Green Heron is still fishing down at the Center Pond. If you admire patience, speed and accuracy, this bird has it all.
Wow! Have a look at one of the branches hanging low over the pond by the playground. I hobbled over there with my walker last week and we spotted the long narrow tube of an Baltimore Oriole nest among the branches. Watch quietly and you’ll see the orange tail feathers of the female oriole as she goes head down into that tube to feed her nestlings. She and the more colorful male foray out repeatedly gathering food, too and it’s such a close viewing spot, easily accessible for children. Here’s a quick reminder of the nest shape, though the one at the playground pond is more hidden in the leaves. (When I replace the camera I dunked in the marsh, I’ll try for a photo of the current one.)
And last week I featured the male Common Whitetail Dragonfly (Plathemis lydia). Here’s a female Whitetail who has settled on the rocks at the east end of the driveway circle. She’s been there twice in the last week. She lacks his bluish-white tail but has a lovely pattern down the edge of her rich brown abdomen.
Bee balm/Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) will be blooming shortly in the native bed south of the shed, the circle in the driveway and out behind the center pond. Only the leaves are out now but when they bloom, their lavender flowers will look a little like a frizzy hair day. Believed to have medicinal properties (hence the name), native bee balm is indeed a balm to bees and butterflies who feed on it.
The leaves of our native Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) (which unfortunately is not as common as it needs to be) are sprouting everywhere in the park, including the driveway circle. Before long, the leaves sprouting now will create fun landscapes like this:
One reason the number of Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) is dangerously low is that we don’t have enough Common Milkweed in many places. Unfortunately, some nurseries are selling a non-native variety which can’t act as a host plant for the Monarch’s caterpillars. And as meadows become lawns, more of our native Milkweed disappears. We’ll explore a bit more about milkweed later in the season.
Summer is blooming: Birds feed their young, wildflowers unfold, dragonflies and damselflies dart above the ponds. I hope you’ll find time this week to explore and relax in Bear Creek Nature Park.
*Quick footnote: My sources for information, as well as Dr. Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net.; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela;Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels, and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.