This week the fierce heat subsided and in its wake, earlier blooms, like the milkweed, dried and began to produce fruit and seed. But late summer wildflowers gloried in the sunshine, lining the paths with dancing color and basking in the dappled sunlight of the woods.
Darners patrolled without pause, zooming across their territories while smaller dragonflies hovered and darted in the sunshine. Young Red-Tailed Hawks soared above and juvenile Northern Flickers explored on their own while some adult birds begin to disappear into bushes and reeds to start their late summer molt before migration.
Wings Below in the Meadows and Marshes: Butterflies Big and Small, Darners, Dragonflies and a Very Cool-Looking Beetle
This week Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) and Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) chased across the Old Fields looking for nectar. This is a photo from a few years back when a female of both species met for a sip of nectar on a Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), an invasive plant from Eurasia. Thanks to hard work by the Parks Commission, most of the Bull Thistle is gone from Bear Creek, but the occasional plant crops up from time to time.
By the way, if you see a smaller Monarch-like butterfly with a black bar on the bottom of each hindwing, that’s the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus). I was taught that its coloring mimics the Monarch because birds find Monarchs distasteful, if not toxic, so the pattern and color offer protection from predators to the more edible Viceroys. But according to Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden, Viceroys are just as distasteful as Monarchs to some predators. So it’s apparently just another warning signal to unwary birds that they won’t like the taste, so stay away! Thanks for the information, Seven Ponds!
I tried, I really tried, to get a photo of a flying Green Darner (Anax junius), who was patrolling about 100 yards of wildflowers on the western side of the sloping path on the southwest side of the park. I had to try because he never stopped zooming back and forth for a full 20 minutes! I could see his green head and thorax and his blue abdomen but the camera (at my skill level…) only saw this. But maybe it conveys just how fast this little creature was moving!
So here’s a link to a up-close-and-personal shot of this colorful predator.
On the edges of paths, among the meadow flowers and at the Playground Pond, a smaller dragonfly poses on a stalk or alights on a railing, the Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum). The four wings of a dragonfly work separately which I imagine explains why the middle of the thorax looks like a complicated set of gears!
Down near the Center Pond, Pearl Crescent butterflies probed a part of the path that was a bit more moist on a hot day. Pearl Crescents emerge in several broods throughout the summer and newly hatched males can gather in groups like this looking for a drink.
By rights, I shouldn’t like this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) because I’m very fond of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). But it’s such a cartoon of a bug that I can’t resist it – and so far I haven’t seen many on the milkweed in Bear Creek. Its red and black color is a warning signal to predators that its distasteful, since, like Monarchs and their caterpillars, it feeds on milkweed. So it can afford to be bright and colorful!
Wings Above: a Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk and a Fledgling Flicker.
High in the air, you may now hear the plaintive, piercing cry of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk whose parents are tapering off their feeding schedule. Through September, the fledglings screech to express their desire to be fed or perhaps just mimicking the adult scream so beloved of movie-makers, available for listening at this link. The tails of juveniles are not red like their parents; they’ll get those feathers in their second year.
Incidentally, twice on one walk this week, a dark gray Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) dashed across the path in front of me heading for the “runways” they make through tall grass. These small rodents need to run fast! Hawks like this one as well as owls, foxes and even snakes use voles as a food source, keeping their abundant population under control. Here’s a link to a photo since they ran past way too quickly for me to get one! (Best photo is further down the Wikipedia page.)
Though they drum in trees like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus ) spends most of its time probing the ground for ants, its favorite food. You can spot them easily in flight; they have bright white patches on their rumps. Flickers begin a complete molt sometime during August or September before moving south. While they replace every feather, they are vulnerable and seldom seen.
This week, though, look for a juvenile. See how much thinner this one is than the adult and the soft tuft of down still on his leg?
Wildflowers: Swaths of Lace, A Shy Flower in the Woods, and Arrowheads in the Marsh
If you’ve been to the park, you know ’tis the season of a favorite non-native wildflower, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota).
Queen Anne’s Lace is the ancestor of our cultivated carrot. It probably came to the US from Europe as a garden flower and though prolific, it co-exists with our other native wildflowers. Lots of insects visit these plants. Here a blossom hosts both an Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Everes comyntas) and a Pennsylvania Leatherwing Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus).
This week, along the eastern path, I saw a rare form of Queen Anne’s Lace – one with a pink corolla. I’ve seen pink in Queen Anne’s that are opening, but never one before that was completely pink when open, which the Michigan Flora website says is rare!
Out in the field next to the eastern path, a native plant I’d never noticed before is blooming. Look for the tall purple stalks of Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) swaying in the wind.
In the woods near the southern deck of the marsh, a modest native woodland flower nods its shy head. Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata), a native plant (unlike the invasive Purple Loosestrife) presents simply green leaves and two yellow flowers with their heads bowed.
But when you look underneath to see the blossom’s face, it’s rippled petals and brownish red center are lovely. I’ve never noticed this flower in the woods before. Maybe it’s bloomed because of the prescribed burn in the spring.
And while you’re at the southern deck in the marsh, have a look at how the heat has brought on the fluffy blooms of native Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) which were only in bud a week ago.
In the northern part of the marsh, a lovely “wet-footed” native is blooming, Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia). You can easily see where it got its name in a time when arrowheads were part of everyday life!
A Virtual Visit to the Center Pond
At the Center Pond, the water was clearing, as plant life sinks beneath the surface toward the end of the summer. It occurred to me that a photo and sound track might be a treat for anyone too busy to get to the park. So, if you were sitting on a bench there on a lazy summer afternoon, this is what you might see:
And this is what you might hear. The 30 second recording (Turn up your Volume!) includes, I think, the singing of an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), definitely the trilling a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at the very end and the occasional banjo sound of a Green Frog (Rana clamitans).
On a nearby log, you’d see a grumpy-looking, but probably content, Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), eyes closed and all four legs and neck extended basking in the sun. Such a treat for a reptile that can’t produce its own body heat!
Nearby, the incessant scolding of an American Goldfinch could draw you, as it did me, to a nearby tree, where a busy Eastern Gray Squirrel (Ciurus carolinensis) jumped through the branches. The birds must have thought he was looking for their eggs, but Gray Squirrels only do that when nuts and seeds are hard to find – and that’s not the case now in Bear Creek! He was too far up for a good shot but here’s a link to a photo.
And if you wandered down the boardwalk on the eastern edge of the pond , you’d see the results of the work that Ben VanderWeide, our stewardship manager, and his summer crew have done clearing away invasives like Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), and Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) from that side of the pond. Once the saplings that try to re-sprout are treated, Ben plans to plant some native seeds there. But right now, it’s wonderful to have a clearer view of the pond without all those invasive trees and bushes crowding the shore!
I hope to bring you other “virtual visits” to Bear Creek because I know some of you can’t get to the park as often as I do. But I hope you’ll take the time to spend at least a few hours in Bear Creek while the trees and ponds are still alive with song and wildflowers grace the fields. Slow down and see what a half hour walk can do to make your day a bit more mellow. Treat yourself to a bit of nature.
*Quick footnote: My sources for information, as well as Oakland Township Stewardship Manager Dr. Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991). The viceroy butterfly is not a Batesian mimic; 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; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for beetle info and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.