In the previous post, I collected all the gold and black vividness of August at Charles Ilsley Park – in blossoms, birds and butterflies.
But of course, Ilsley in August had lots of other hues. Nature seems incapable of limiting itself to just two colors in any season. So let’s see some of the other colorful brushstrokes from nature’s palette.
Stewardship Pays Off in Shades of Lavender in the Central Meadow
In the last few years, vernal pools have formed in the center of Charles Ilsley Park and a stream suddenly appeared crossing a trail on the east side of the central meadow. Dr. Ben VanderWeide, our township Stewardship Manager, realized that a farmer had once laid tile to drain those ponds. By pulling out some of the broken tiles, Ben restored a wetland area where the water can now seep underground instead of across the trail. As a result, a beautiful variety of lavender wetland flowers now bob and sway above the grass stems there. Tall, erect Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) branches into tapering spikes covered with tiny flowers frequented by many kinds of bees. The smaller, lavender Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) was a delightful new wildflower for me. These seeds were part of the wetland seed mix that were planted as part of the restoration process. After so many years of farming, very few native species remained, so stewardship staff designed a diverse wetland mix to help these areas recover. And nearby where dry, prairie soil begins again, a balding Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) left a beautiful pattern as it shed its petals. [Click on photos to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.]
Birds and a Jazzy Insect Add Blue to the Ilsley Palette
A couple of blue birds made their contribution to the color scheme. A juvenile Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) with just a few of its azure feathers showing, hid deep within the the leaves of a giant oak along the entrance path. My photo attempt was hopeless. But a few days later, another small bluebird perched in an oak in my front yard. In the photo below, it seems to be studying the ground just before it swooped down and picked up a caterpillar. Well done, little bluebird! A tiny Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) popped in and out of the shrubbery along the edge of the meadow. Even adults of this species are only 4-5 inches long and weigh 1-2 ounces! This little flycatcher twitches its white edged tail to stir up insects when surrounded by plants, though as you can see below, it probes bark for insects and their eggs as well.
If you see a large dragonfly helicoptering over the flower tops, it’s probably a Darner (Aeshnidae family. They are the largest dragonflies in North America, with the fastest flight and the keenest eyesight. The female has a needle-like ovipositor at the end of her abdomen so that she can slit open stalks and insert her eggs – hence, the name “darner.” (My husband remembers relatives calling them “sewing beetles!”) They spend most of their time in the air on their powerful wings, so I was glad to find this Green-striped Darner (Aeshna verticalis) resting for a moment on some dried Curly Dock (Rumex crispus). What an elaborate color scheme and pattern on this big beautiful insect!
Stewardship brings Red, White and Blue to the Golden Western Meadow
Ben noticed a moist swale in the western meadow as he was planning for the prairie planting and spread some wildflower seed from plants that love “wet feet.” What a lovely treat to see Cardinal Flower/Red Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis), white Swamp Betony (Pedicularis lanceolata) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) thriving within a low spot in a dry, sunny meadow! Charles Ilsley Park introduced me to a second new wildflower when I saw these Swamp Betony for the first time in August.
One of our eagle-eyed birders took a photo of a third new flower to add to my “life list,” Dotted Mint/Horse Mint (Monarda punctata). This Monarda, in the same genus as our lavender Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), has successive whorls of creamy white blossoms dotted in dark purple growing above one another along its stem. Ben had included this flower in the seed mix when this meadow was cleared and planted as part of prairie restoration. I hope we see more of it! Thanks to Vinnie Morganti for loaning me her photo of this interesting tri-level flower.
Nature Loves Earth Tones
Of course, browns and greens are always the backdrop of nature’s palette. A soft brown fledgling with a striped breast played peek-a-boo with me through some shrubs one afternoon. I could hear its begging chirp from beyond the plants, but it took a while before it really peeked out into the open. Can you spot its tiny head near the center of this photo? (You might need to click on this photo to get a better look.)
Finally, it came out for more than a split second so I could snap a photo. I checked its identification with local birding expert, Ruth Glass. I proposed that it was a young House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and she agreed it was. These little birds drive their parents nuts with begging constantly for hours around our feeder so I thought I recognized that insistent chirp!
A group of little brown House Wrens ((Troglodytes aedon) chattered away in an oak along the treeline, darting here and there among the branches. At last, one came out to look around.
Almost immediately an adult wren appeared to scold me for being there. I snapped a quick photo and departed, so as not to incur more wrath from an annoyed parent!
As fall arrives, nuts and seeds add more rich brown shades and lovely greens. The lime green nuts of Walnut Trees (Juglans nigra) hang like tennis balls from limbs around the park and the Black Oaks sport clusters of bright green acorns with patterned brown beanies.
My candidate for this year’s most beautiful brown, though, are the teardrop-shaped, russet seeds of the Foxglove Beardtongue/Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis). In mid-summer, this native wildflower stands tall, while sprouting graceful white blossoms. Its seeds and dark red stems now are almost as visually appealing as its flowers!
Harvesting the Last of Summer Colors
Isn’t that wetland above a lovely harmony of greens? This wetland extends a long way on the north side of the far west trail that leads to the Wynstone subdivision west of the park. This one is large, mysterious and full of life as most wetlands are. I just “discovered” it after many walks in Ilsley and felt like a visitor to an alien world.
I listened to the raucous begging of a Green Heron fledgling down in the bushes ner the water and caught a glimpse of an adult stuffing food into the youngster’s bill. Just a glimpse, no photo – but I didn’t mind. I just wanted to take in all the green-ness to remember on a black-and-white winter day.
Summer is clearly waning, now. The butterflies look tattered and worn. The summer wildflowers are brown and seeding. But we have lots to look forward to. The meadows now brimming with goldenrods will soon be splashed with purple asters. The migrating birds, wearing more sedate winter colors, and the last of the “super generation” Monarchs will be riding north winds toward warmer climes. Leaves will reveal the dramatic colors they’ve hidden under all that chlorophyll since they “greened up” in the spring. So maybe, like wise stewards, we should store up as much color as we can while the supply is plentiful. We may need the memory of it on a January day.