The Walnut Lane in the center of the park is a hangout for avian adolescents this time of year. Every few feet you hear or see another fledgling sparring with siblings, practicing a song or poking about for food on their own as their tired parents retreat from constant feeding. Below I’ve provided links to Cornell Ornithology Lab photos of the adult birds so you can see how the juveniles differ from the adults in appearance.
The numbers of the most successful park predator keep growing – and no, it’s not coyotes! And native wildflowers love the second half of the summer (yes, we’re already there!) and are showing their colors everywhere you look.
Avian Adolescents – and one baby…
I have to begin with a nestling. Remember the female Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) on a nest from last week’s post? Well, this week her nestling stuck its little half-masked head above the nest edge so I got to see a Waxwing nestling for the first time! It sure doesn’t look like the elegant bird it will be in a few weeks! It’s still mostly mouth and that beak still looks soft, doesn’t it?
Amusingly, adolescent birds have the same awkward, gawky, not-quite-put-together look of a human adolescent. And like them, they seem to hang out together – this year, in the lane of Black Walnuts. Here’s a juvenile Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), a bird which when it matures is sleek with gray feathers and a black cap. This youngster is in shadow, but you can see he still has downy fluff that makes him look a bit like he’s wearing baggy pants!
And here’s a young Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). The juveniles look like their brown-and-white mothers, but I believe that little red dot under this one’s wing tells you it will eventually look like the stunning male at this link – black and white with a hot pink bib at his throat.
This young Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) looks a bit scraggly, but seemed to be finding all kinds of things to peck at or eat on a walnut tree. I’m thinking it’s just a gawky adolescent.
Look at the lovely pattern its wing made as it flew off.
And here’s a home photo of an adult Downy to show how much more “together” an adult downy can look!
By the way, if you live in a house with wood siding as we do, you may be frustrated by a male Downy drumming on your house. According to Cornell Lab, the Downy isn’t feeding, which means you don’t have bugs in the siding. This is the Downy’s way of singing; it uses percussion to attract a mate. Of course, they’re still making holes in your wood!
New Fierce but Fascinating Predators Arrive at Bear Creek!
I’m referring, of course, to Dragonflies. Right now, the BIGGEST of these drone-like insects, called “Darners” (after the large needles), are hatching out of the ponds and patrolling the fields of Bear Creek. They can be three to five inches long and have a wingspan slightly larger than their body. I’m quite confident that this is a Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta ) we saw Sunday along the western sloping path. Dragonflies are notoriously difficult to identify, however, so feel free to correct me!
I’m quite sure that I saw a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) zooming over the Old Field off the eastern path earlier this week. Here’s a photo of a non-zooming Swamp Darner from a couple of years ago.
Of course, regular dragonflies are hatching out of the ponds as well. Dragonflies successfully snatch out of the air 95% of their prey, (especially mosquitoes!) and consume them on the wing. Lions, for example, only catch their prey 25% of the time and Great White Sharks only 50%, so we’re talking about very successful predators here! How about this face?! This is a common dragonfly, the White-Faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum.)
On a sweeter insect note, we also were gifted with the sight of two Great Spangled Fritillaries (Speyeria cybele) mating. We couldn’t determine which gender is larger, but there is quite a size difference! Here are two photos, as they synchronized opening and closing their wings.
The second half of the summer ushers in a big bloom of native wildflowers. In the hot sunlight of high summer, prairie flowers flourish, since long ago, much of Oakland Township’s land was prairie. I recommend bringing your lunch, sitting on the hilltop benches at the south end of the park, and just enjoying the Yellow Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata) as they sway in the wind.
And right across the path, another native, Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloom in happy profusion.
Large lavender swaths of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), also known as Bee Balm, keep company with these other two. This wildflower is certainly a “balm” to bees since you rarely see a group of them without seeing bees busily probing the hearts of these fun, “bad hair day” flowers! Like the native plants I mentioned last week, Bergamot has been considered a medicinal plant and was used as an antiseptic by Native Americans.
CAUTIONARY NOTE FROM OAKLAND TOWNSHIP PARKS AND RECREATION: DO NOT pick or consume wild plants in our parks. In addition to being potentially poisonous, many wild plants are endangered because of over-harvesting. Oakland Township ordinances prohibit removal, destruction, and harvesting of plants within parks. Leave plants for wildlife and other park users to enjoy!
In the native flowerbed near the shed, some glorious plants are blooming for your enjoyment as well. Look at these lovely native False Sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides).
And tall plumes of native Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), standing in the sunlight, hum with pollinating bumblebees.
Nearby, a native plant with an exotic flower also grows tall in the flowerbed by the shed. It’s Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) and with a flower like this, it should be called wild!
And look how they grow in profusion along the stalk of the plant!
And here’s one last exotic-looking native shrub that I’ve always loved. My parents backyard which backed up to the Paint Creek Cemetery used to be full of native Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) which always looked to me like it belonged in the tropics! No, it’s not poisonous. Here’s a link where you can see that Poison Sumac looks completely different and lives in wet areas, unlike this sumac that is at the edge of the woods next to the western sloping path.
One of the tallest native wildflowers is just barely starting to bloom among the Yellow Coneflowers at the top of the southern hill. Prairie Dock has HUGE leathery leaves and can reach 10 feet in height. You can see the tall stalk with its round buds towering over the other plants in the sunlit native flower bed near the shed as well.
Here’s the first beginnings of a bloom out by the benches on the southern hilltop.
So bring a lunch and/or a friend and hang out with the avian adolescents on the lane this week or simply sit on the benches at the top of the southern hill and watch the Yellow Coneflowers sway and listen to the hum of bees in the Bee Balm. You deserve to nourish yourself with a lazy afternoon at Bear Creek Nature Park!