Well, High Summer in spades, eh? Ninety degrees! In the hot sun, buds are bursting all around Bear Creek, especially on plants that have made the township home for millennia – our native wildflowers.
Small birds venture out in the heat – some to take dust baths and some just practicing their foraging skills. A small adult bird sings farewell, while other small birds are just beginning to nest! The soon-to-be-grown grasshopper nymphs camouflage perfectly in the dust at our feet while frogs bulge with amorous thrums as they start their courtship percussion. So much to see and hear if you can take the heat!
It might be best to come early in the morning and take a stroll down the sloped path on the park’s western side. After a blistering day and a cooler night, heavy dew sparkles at the tip of every plant and bejewels the elaborate webs that spiders wove the day before.
Native “Wet-Footed” Wildflowers Love Park Wetlands
Speaking of jewels, here’s a lovely native flower that flourishes now in moist areas of the park. It’s called Orange Jewel Weed (Impatiens capensis) and here’s one bedazzled with early morning dew.
Jewel Weed is also called Spotted Touch-Me-Not because once it’s mature, the seeds will explode from thin, green-striped pods. Here’s a link to a 47 second YouTube video Ben posted earlier that shows this wild flinging of seeds! Watch to the end to see it in slow motion.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a native shrub that loves wet feet, bursts with sputnik-like blooms near the southern deck in the Big Marsh and in the smaller marsh just north of the playground. Look at all those tempting individual flowerlets for the bees and butterflies!
Close by, on the opposite side of the boardwalk in the marsh north of the playground is one of my favorite native wildflowers, Cardinal Flower/Red Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis), which always blooms in this area of the park in August. It’s pollinated by hummingbirds who love red as much as I do.
Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) sinks its roots in the moist ground near the deck at the southern end of the Big Marsh and this year along the eastern path as well. There are various legends about the origin of the name, which is purportedly connected with a Native American healer. This plant, which I had confused with Swamp Milkweed (before Maryann Whitman set me straight!), has dark purple stems rather than the green ones of Swamp Milkweed which I posted two weeks ago as it was hosting a Monarch butterfly.
Long stems of native Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense) bloom, too, in the moist soil at the edges of wetlands in the park, though as a prairie plant it can grow in drier spots as well. The plant has long curving stems and is a bit leggy:
Now look up close. It’s individual flowers are beautiful. The details in nature are frequently worth a closer look.
I learned from Ben that, happily, the cat-tails we see growing in moist areas and marshes around Bear Creek are native ones, called Common Cat-tails (Typha latifolia). This species grows all over the world, from sea level to 7500 feet! Cat-tails contribute to the cleansing effect of wetlands by absorbing pollutants in the water. Ben tells me that the way to distinguish native cat-tails from invasive cat-tails, which do occur in Michigan, is that the invasives have a space between the male part of the plant (at the top) and the female part (just beneath) which is the part that turns fluffy in the autumn. Our native ones have the male part directly above the female.
Froggy is a-Courtin’ All Right!
At the Center Pond, the male Green Frogs (Rani Clamitans) are thrumming away, establishing little territories and competing for partners. Here’s a view of one of the 50 or so frogs visible on the pond surface this week – and he’s just about to croak.
And now one in mid-croak!
The Center Pond was a peaceful spot for listening on a hot morning. A Muskrat cruised beneath the overhanging branches at the eastern end. The two Wood Duck siblings were still hanging out together, one standing on one leg for reasons which are never clear to me. Bees and hover flies buzzed by, dragonflies patrolled and the occasional trill of goldfinch song made the morning complete. Hope you can hear some of this on my amateur recording. You might want to turn up your volume to hear the birds in the background.
Tiny Avian “Teenagers”
For some reason, the smallest birds seemed to be most evident on a hot morning. On the Walnut Lane, two juvenile House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) took a dust bath, no doubt trying to rid themselves of the mites that pester birds this time of year. Wren adults often put spider egg casings in their nests so the spiders will consume the mites that bother the nestlings. But once out of the nest, the young have to cope with them on their own.
The male wren sings beautifully in the spring and summer when he is courting. Have a listen at this link where it says “Typical Voice.” Once the nestlings are born, his song is much softer and shorter.
During nesting, you’ll see males and females neatly carrying little fecal sacks, like diapers, out of the nest to keep it tidy as they fly back and forth to feed the young. The adults defend the nest, scolding vigorously if an an intruder comes near. Once the nestlings fledge, the pair stays with them and feeds them for a couple of weeks. The female may then head off to start a second brood with her first partner or another. The male cleans out old nests in the area as potential sites and begins singing again. The young, like the dust bathing ones above, are generally hard to see – very quiet, huddling in the leaves in low bushes.
Another tiny fledgling , the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) hopped in the branches along the path leading into the park from Snell. Perhaps you can see how tentative it looks; it may be out on its own for the first time. But no doubt the adults are close by, keeping an eye on their fledgling and feeding as necessary.
Small, Yellow Adults Sing – One Saying Goodbye, Another Still Nesting!
Although not a juvenile, another tiny bird is singing its farewells all over the park. I mentioned the Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) in the spring when its bright yellow breast and black mask are easier to see in the bare branches. I cannot seem to spot it among the leaves now, but I often hear its “witchety, witchety, witchety” call (hear “Typical Voice” at this link) when I ‘ve been near water in the park lately. Listen soon, because Yellowthroats molt in early August and after that, they leave us for warmer climes.
American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are nesting now, when thistle down is available for lining the nest and thistle seed, a preferred food, is available to feed the young. The males are singing shorter songs than they did when pairing up and establishing territory in the spring. But surprisingly, both male and female Goldfinches sing while flying, a rare thing in the bird world. It pays to stop and listen when you see their bobbing, undulating flight or watch them balancing on a thin stalk to eat seed.
August is the time for grasshoppers galore! This week I think I spotted the pale instar (immature stage of metamorphosis) of a Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina). I only saw it because I spotted its black/brown wings in short flight at my feet. Once it landed , it was beautifully camouflaged in the gray dust of the trail, looking like a dry stick among the pebbles and short grass. But if I’m right, before long, it will molt again into the big cinnamon brown body it sports in August. Though I diligently perused the amazing grasshopper reference book provided by a commenter, I still cannot be sure about grasshopper ID’s – so feel free to set me straight!
And what I think are the smaller instars of the Red-legged Grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum) spring here and there in the grass as well. When fully developed later in August, it will have a green head, golden abdomen and bright red legs – if I’ve identified it correctly!
So come out in the earlier morning to enjoy the dew drops or brave the heat at midday if you relish summer sun. There’s always something to surprise and delight you at Bear Creek.
*Quick footnote: My sources for information, as well as Oakland Township Stewardship Manager 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.