Wow! When Ben told me that they’d been removing shrubby, invasive plants and preparing ground for seeding at Gallagher Creek Park, I didn’t picture such a great transformation. When I stepped from my car in the parking lot, I was at first shocked and then, as I explored, really thrilled!
The big changes are that the park is much more open, its gently rolling terrain revealed, and the creek is now visible almost all the way through the park! Where it once was hidden by both summer growth and impenetrable thickets, now the little creek can be observed, meandering across the meadows toward Paint Creek. In this open landscape, a hardy wildflower defied the frost, as did a tiny butterfly and an unfamiliar grasshopper, while a woodpecker drilled away at his winter home. Let me show you.
New Open Spaces
Maybe these photos of Ben’s will begin to give you a feel for how much more open the park is now. The cleared areas in the foreground of these two photos (the upward slope to the west) will be seeded with wildflowers and native grasses or sedges this month. The rest of the area, recently cleared, is scheduled for seeding next year. The native plant seed is being provided through a US Fish and Wildlife grant. (Click on photos to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)
The area beyond the tree line in the distance in the above photos has been cleared all the way to the edge of the marsh that borders Silverbell Road. Eventually, once everything is replanted and the terrain is more settled, there may be paths into this area.
Below on the left, you can see some of the bushes that used to block our view of the creek edge – and on the right, is how it looks now that the shrubs have been removed. Some of these were native shrubs, Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina). When it sprouts in the spring, Ben plans to let some of it grow again. But it needed to be cut back to prevent these aggressive shrubs from taking over the field along with Autumn Olive and other invasives!
Now you’d think with all that cut wood and dead grass, the park would feel quite abandoned by wildlife. But no. Despite the frost, my husband spotted Bottle Gentians still blooming on the west side of the park. These somewhat rare wildflowers and others should bloom more profusely now that the shrubs are removed and the Gentian’s seeds can benefit from increased sunlight.
Here are other rare native wildflowers that we hikers can hope to see in greater abundance once the restoration is complete.
The multi-colored wings of a native Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) glowed in autumn light against the deadwood one sunny morning last week. Isn’t the wing pattern beautiful on this small butterfly?
Nearby, we spotted a grasshopper that I’d never noticed before. Its dark brown body and forked “cerci” (area just above the end of the abdomen) make me think it’s a Broad-necked Grasshopper (Melanoplus keeleri luridus). According to the Orthoptera of Michigan (a link sent to me by a kind reader), this grasshopper is around until early November which is another indicator. Nice surprise!
I admit to being a bit worried about the long term survival of this long Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) weaving its way through the drying grass. It’s pretty vulnerable to hawks or owls until the plant life returns!
Up in a snag on the southwest side of the park, a slightly comical Downy Woodpecker was making its repetitive “squeek” as it excavated a series of holes in a snag. Just above its head , you can see the wood chips flying as it tossed them out of the hole. It may have a couple left in its beak as well. Busy bird, popping in and out of different holes.
Of course a group of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) stared curiously at me from the edge of the park. I don’t think I’ve ever come to this park without seeing deer on the eastern side. Watch out for them when driving in November and December as they get quite heedless during the rut!
A couple of oddities showed up, too. Here’s a large Puffball Mushroom (phylum Basidiomycota) that was a bit beyond its expiration date, so to speak – though it appears some animal or bird may have sampled it.
The hole of what was probably a Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) appeared as well. These aggressive crayfish used to live only in the West, but were transported to our area, it’s believed, as bait. This may be the same hole our birding friend Antonio saw in May, but it’s taller now with fresh, wet mud on it.
Gallagher Creek Itself is Now Visible!
My husband and I had fun tracking along as much of the creek as we could once we realized its path could be followed through the park. It enters through a culvert under Silverbell Road at the west and flows down past the viewing platform. In the summer, its current is hidden among tall grasses. Autumn, however, reveals its meandering journey, making multiple pools that join up farther down.
It was impossible to get close to the river before. Both non-native and native grasses grew shoulder high and the thickets of shrubs were impenetrable. Now we can watch the creek find its way along the meadow.
In the “riparian corridor” formed by the stream meeting the meadow, we spotted what I think is an American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), though the stick that was right in front of its eye made it hard to tell before it took off!
Gallagher Creek joins up with two other small streams that cross Silverbell farther east and flow into and out of the marsh toward the creek. They create a more quickly flowing stream by the time the creek reaches the new Pinnacles development to the east where a lovely bridge crosses over it. (Thanks to our birding friend, Nancy Russell, for the tip on where to find it!)
By the way, wasps evidently thought the bridge made a nice location and built across from the bridge. I guess all the houses, even the insect ones, are elegant and huge in this development!
From there, Gallagher Creek flows down behind private homes, until it appears again, to flow from west to east through a culvert under Gallagher Road, just above the Paint Creek Trail.
And once it’s crossed the road, it flows along Gallagher, eventually running through a culvert into Paint Creek near the cider mill.
According to the Southeast Michigan Department of Natural Resources newsletter in 2011, Gallagher Creek was “home to one of the few remaining self-sustaining Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations in southern Michigan.” At the time that newsletter appeared, development around the park had decreased this native fish’s population dramatically. “The brook trout density found in this survey was about 50 per mile, down from 300 per mile in 1990 and 1998. This decline in abundance is likely due to siltation of the stream from the development along the creek.” I wonder if brook trout are still spawning in Gallagher Creek, the young still making their way to Paint Creek. Perhaps the DNR will do another survey that will let us know their fate.
Now we can look with anticipation to next year at Gallagher Creek Park. The land should bloom with new flowers and grasses planted this fall and next spring. Native seeds that have waited in the seed bank below the ground for years may now emerge as sun reaches the soil. With more flowers, come more butterflies and other insects, and then more birds and other wildlife. So keep your eye on this little gem of a park. It’s on its way to being a great resource for families in the south end of the township!
Footnote: My sources for information are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991); 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 insect info; http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info; invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification; Birds of North America Online; Audubon.org; Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich, Winter World by Bernd Heinrich, Savannah River Ecology Lab (Univ of Georgia); Tortoise Trust website www.tortoisetrust.org; An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown; The Ecology of Plants by Gurevitch, Scheiner and Fox; other sites as cited in the text.