This week in Gallagher Creek Park, Ben discovered an uncommon shrub (or small tree) producing its unusual, papery seed capsules. So of course, I had to buzz over and have a look. And there it was in the southeastern corner of the circular path off the parking lot. As I traveled the township, I kept coming across restless, large flocks of birds, some preparing to migrate, others just gathering before cold weather arrives. And I learned a fun, new word for the fall jitters of birds.
A Shrub with Fascinating Seeds
This rare plant should be called Lantern Bush in my opinion. Instead it has one of those prosaic names I always complain about – Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia), for heaven’s sake! Anyway…there’s a scale in botany called the “Coefficient of Conservatism.” That scale represents how tolerant a plant is to disturbances like agriculture and how faithful it is to a pre-settlement natural community. If a plant species is tolerant of disturbance and not very choosy about its habitat, the plant has a lower number on the 10-point scale. Bladdernut, however, is typically found in high quality natural communities such as floodplains and moist woodlands, so it is harder to find, at least in Michigan. Its Coefficient of Conservatism rates a 9 out of 10. Look at these wonderful chambered seed capsules, hanging delicately from the shrub’s limbs, like Chinese lanterns.
The seed capsules are paper-thin. They crush easily to expose their shiny, brown seeds or they can float in water, carrying them to new locations. The inside of this cool seed capsule is as intriguing as the outside.
Evidently, Bladdernut blooms for two or three weeks each spring producing drooping clusters of bell-shaped flowers. The flowers, when pollinated by a visiting variety of bees, produce these lantern-like seed capsules. Fun to see a plant I’d never noticed in all my years of outdoor exploration.
Restless Flocks Experiencing Zugunruhe
You must have noticed large flocks of busy, almost jittery, sometimes noisy birds everywhere in the township right now! This week I learned from the Cornell Lab that there’s a name for this excitement in migrating birds – zugunruhe. It’s a German word that means migratory restlessness. (Zug = migration or movement; unruhe = restlessness.) According to Wikipedia, non-migrating birds sometimes experience zugunruhe too, but at much lower levels. Scientists aren’t sure if it is a stimulus for, or a result of, increased fall feeding. According to Cornell’s excellent website post on bird migration, “Migration can be triggered by a combination of changes in day length, lower temperatures, changes in food supplies, and genetic predisposition.” Bird species respond differently to these triggers, so some species cued strongly by shorter days moved south this fall even with the warm weather, while others are sticking around. So here are some of the restless locals, some migrating, some just flocking for winter, that I came across this week – 3 flocks of them on Buell Road west of Rochester Road.
A recently plowed field on Buell Road was covered with hundreds of feeding Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), no doubt dreaming of warmer climes as they ate.
A flock of European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) filled the top of a small tree and also lined the crossbars of nearby power lines on Buell.
A noisy flock of American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) swooped down onto the road in front of me as I drove along Buell one afternoon. I never saw anything in the road that they were eating, so I have no idea what all the excitement was about. (Sorry for the blurriness – shot through the windshield!)
On Wednesday, Ben and I saw huge numbers of water birds on Cranberry Lake, though they were too far out to get a clear, much less comprehensive photo. Fortunately, Ben identified them through binoculars. So please click on the red links to see their photos on Cornell Lab: Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis), American Black Ducks (Anas rubripes), Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), Pied-bill Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) and of course, some Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).
In the children’s classic, Wind in the Willows, British author Kenneth Grahame creates a wonderful conversation between the non-migrating Water Rat (what we call a Muskrat) and migrating swallows. “No, you don’t understand, naturally,” said the second swallow. “First we feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest; then back come the recollections one by one, like homing pigeons. They flutter through our dreams at night, they fly with us in our wheelings and circlings by day….never shall I forget the blissful feeling of the hot sun again on my back as I sped down to the lakes that lay so blue and placid below me, and the taste of my first fat insect! … ‘Ah yes, the call of the South, of the South!’ twittered the other two dreamily. ‘Its songs, its hues, its radiant air! O, do you remember—-‘ and, forgetting the Rat, they slid into passionate reminiscence.”
A fine, imaginative description of zugunruhe, don’t you think?