October is autumn’s transition month. Some days are warm and sunny, creating almost an illusion of late summer or early September. And on those days, a few bees and butterflies flutter across my path, caterpillars bump along through the grass and native wildflowers still bloom in the fields. A turtle in the Draper marsh basks in the thinning light.
Change is in the air. Let’s look back to see what October had to offer as we take the first cold, rainy steps into the austerity of November.
Early October: Late Season Wildflowers Host the Occasional Bee or Butterfly
One Sunday afternoon in October, a Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) fluttered down onto the trail right in front of my husband and I. In the summer, Draper Twin Lake Park hosts a rainbow of butterflies. Some mate, lay their eggs and expire, leaving caterpillars behind in their chrysalises. But this colorful little butterfly migrates south for the winter and returns in the spring. Perhaps it stopped at Draper to sample the various goldenrods, since it prefers yellow flowers. Can you see the slightly bug-eyed expression on its face? I laughed to think it was as surprised to see my husband and I as we were to see it land right in front of us!
Late October: Swaying, Russet Prairie Plants Provide a Fall Feast for Wildlife
The video above may look like a sea of dry brown stems to you. But to the birds, particularly the American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis), it looks like your heavily laden Thanksgiving table. In just the video’s 40 seconds, you are seeing hundreds of thousands of seeds: Indian Grass, Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, Stiff Goldenrod, Little Bluestem and many more. On the August birdwalk, we spent a happy ten minutes or so watching a flock of goldfinches swaying on bobbing stalks as they stuffed themselves with Stiff Goldenrod seed (Solidago rigida). First there were two and then suddenly there were five all scrabbling to feed on the abundant seed heads.
Relishing Autumn’s Transformation
The Draper prairie with its great looping trail really may look dry, brown and lifeless to some hikers. But not to me. At this time of year, I feel a lot like Ratty, a “country gentleman” sort of muskrat in the children’s classic Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, a book I quoted in an earlier blog. Like me, Ratty senses the restlessness of autumn. He heads out into a farmer’s field, much as I waded out into the tall grass of Draper’s northern prairie: “…he thrust into the great realm of wheat, yellow, wavy, and murmurous, full of quiet motion and small whisperings. Here he often loved to wander through the forest of stiff strong stalks that carried their own golden sky away over his head — a sky that was always dancing, shimmering, softly talking; or swaying strongly to the passing wnd and recovering itself with a toss and a merry laugh. Here, too, he had many small friends, a society complete in itself…”
Ratty is a kindred spirit. Autumn also plunges me into the bending and tossing grasses and the whispering of dry stems where I can stand shoulder deep in the prairie and just “be” with it all. Like him, I sense a community of other creatures in the flocks of fidgety birds, the agitated butterflies searching for the last bloom, the relentless plodding of a caterpillar through the grass stems. Autumn’s restlessness urges me to celebrate the change, change and change again of every season. I appreciate that reminder.
Polish up your binocular lenses and head outside, dear readers! The trees, shrubs and marshes are filled with a rainbow of colorful birds. And though some of these visitors may choose to stay and raise young here, others are just passing through. So time’s a-wasting!
The second and third weeks of May are probably the busiest weeks of the spring for those of us who enjoy birds. New birds arrive daily at our feeders and we rush to the window. Flocks gather at birding ‘hot spots” like Tawas Point in Michigan or Magee Marsh in Ohio and we pack up the car and take off to see them. Familiar birdsong in the treetops prompts the birding group to go silent and look up.
Scientists theorize that the tiny warblers, and many other spring birds, may have made long, arduous journeys through the night ever since their ancestors in the tropics experimented with moving north in the spring. As the glaciers retreated, some of the tropical or sub-tropical birds kept pushing on a bit further north each spring, seeking more sunlit hours and different or more nourishing food. Those ancestors liked what they found – longer summer days, an abundance of blossoms and insects and plenty of nesting sites. And lucky for us, they eventually arrived here in Oakland Township and liked what they saw.
This year, I got curious about where our visiting warblers spent the winter. How far had they traveled to reach Michigan from their wintering grounds? I also wanted to be sure which birds you and I need to look for right now, before they fly off to breed further north and which ones we can relax about a bit, because they’ll spend the summer with us, raising their young in our parks and yards. The more I learn about nature, the more I feel myself embedded in the natural world – and I like that feeling.
So here’s what I’ve learned about some visiting warblers so far this month. These birds are all ones I’ve seen this spring. But I’m using some of last year’s photos when they’re better than some of the ones I took during this year’s cold, rainy spring. Next week, I hope to explore the fellow travelers, other beautiful migrators that accompanied this year’s warblers and will be spending the summer with us as well.
Some Warblers are Here Only Occasionally or are Just Passing Through
Evidently for some birds, our area is a good place to get some R & R, but locations further north have charms that lure them on. Perhaps these migrators long for cooler summer temperatures, deeper forests, or a reliable food source that they need or simply prefer.
At Magee Marsh in Ohio, my husband and I saw our first male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), named for the bright yellow robes of Roman Catholic papal clerks. You can’t see this male’s lovely blue-gray wings in my photo because he wouldn’t stop singing his four tweet song. I think his clear golden feathers with a peachy blur are probably the prettiest yellow feathers I’ve ever seen! Prothonotary numbers are dwindling due to a lack of forested wetlands in the U.S. and the loss of mangrove forests along the Atlantic Coast of Central and northern South America, where they spend the winter. They more commonly breed in Missouri, Arkansas and the south but a few do choose to breed in our area. Some were seen along the Clinton River Trail in the last couple of years. So, enjoy a rare treat if you spot this beautiful warbler!
The male Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata) below may look like an overgrown Chickadee, but Blackpolls are avian record-holders! Cornell Ornithology Lab reports that, “This long-distance athlete weighs less than half an ounce yet makes the longest overwater journey of any songbird—nearly 1,800 miles nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean to its wintering grounds.” Imagine! Now they are on their way to mate in Northern Canada; some go all the way to Hudson’s Bay! According to Cornell Lab, to accomplish their monumental autumn flights, Blackpolls have to double their weight! Talk about bulking up!
This male Magnolia Warbler with its black necklace and mask was on its way to Northern Michigan or Canada because he prefers to breed in dense conifer forests. And he’s already traveled a long way since he winters in the Caribbean or Central America.
Blackburnian Warblers (Setophaga fusca) travel super long distances, too. According to Wikipedia, they winter in the mountains from Colombia to Peru at heights of 2,000-8,000 feet. They also prefer to breed in coniferous forests, especially ones with hemlocks. So they’re heading farther north to upper Michigan and Canada. While there, they’ll spend most of their time in the high canopy, plucking moth and butterfly larvae from the treetops. So the best time to see them is during migration when they’re down at eye level.
The Northern Parula(Setophaga americana) spends its winters in Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America. Parulas raise young from Florida to the boreal forests of northern Canada, but according to Cornell, they skip Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and some northeastern states. Why avoid us? Mosses like the southern Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) or northern lichens like Old Man’s Beard (g. Usnea) that droop from branches are important to the Parula for nesting material and neither is common in our area. So since they breed north of us and south of us but not here, try to see them before they move on!
According to the migration map at Cornell, the Yellow-rumped Warbler just barely misses our area during the breeding season. They breed north of Michigan’s “thumb.” The reason may be that, like the Blackburnian, they prefer mature forests with more conifers in them than we have around here. Luckily, during migration, I’ve seen them many times at Bear Creek Park, either around the playground pond or in the oak-hickory forest. They can winter as far north as Indiana and Ohio (rarely in the southern edge of Michigan) because they can digest fruits that other warblers can’t, like juniper or myrtle, but also the fruits of poison ivy, poison oak and virginia creeper, for heaven’s sake! Strong stomachs, eh? This one rested at Magee Marsh this year before crossing Lake Erie.
During migration, I’ve spotted Palm Warblers (Setophagapalmarum) year after year at Bear Creek Nature Park. Their song is a rapid buzzing trill, Look for Palm Warblers on the ground, a location uncommon for most warblers. They also do a lot of tail pumping while they forage. Palm Warblers prefer to nest in the boreal (evergreen) forests of Canada. Their migration north begins in Florida or the Caribbean.
Some Warblers Spend the Summer With Us.
All summer long, we are graced with the presence of other warblers. They are small and can be difficult to see hidden in the summer greenery, though, so it’s a delight to see them before the leaves are fully grown. I have yet to see a warbler nest, but I’ve only become aware of these little beauties since I joined the birding group, so maybe you long-time birders have spotted them raising young. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!
The Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica), one of my favorite warblers, is shown on Cornell Lab’s migration map as nesting here in our area, but I’ve only seen them during migration. Please let me know if you see one during the summer or hear what Cornell describes as their “pleased, pleased, pleased to meetcha!” breeding song. These little birds spend their winters among tropical birds in Central and northern South America. They tend to go back to the same tropical area each autumn and hang out and feed with the same mixed group of tropical birds they hung out with the previous year. I’d love to see that reunion each year!
Happily, the Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) is a common summer resident in our parks. These bright yellow birds are likely to be in shrubs or trees near wetlands. The male’s very quick “sweet, sweet, I’m a little sweet” call can be heard at quite a distance, so keep following that call! This tiny bird is also a long distance migrator. Yellow Warblers fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to spend the winter in Central America or northern South America. Wouldn’t their tropical ancestors be proud of them? (Click on photos to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)
Some of our eastern American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) only travel to Florida for the winter. But many fly on to the Greater Antilles (the large islands in the Caribbean) or to northern South America. Listen for its cheerful song since they mate in our area, as well as over a large area of the country. The Redstart is believed to startle insects out of trees by simultaneously drooping its orange-patched wings and flashing open its colorful tail. It must work, because Cornell says that they excel among the warblers at catching flying insects.
The intricately patterned Black-and-white Warblers (Mniotilta varia) hop along, around, over and under the trunks and branches of trees, much like nuthatches, looking for insects in the moss and bark. They can nest here, though I’ve only seen them during migration and don’t yet recognize their rapid, shrill trill. They build nests on the ground in forest leaf litter, so we’re more likely to see them in parks than on our tidy lawns. They are scrappy little birds that give the Redstarts and Chickadees a hard time when establishing territory. Some travel to Florida for the winter, but others fly on to northern South America where they hassle inhabitants there as well!
The birding group sees or hears Black-throated Green Warblers (Setophaga virens) during migration. The maps at Cornell Lab shows that some breed here, but they’re more likely to nest farther north in forests with mature trees. There they often feed high up in the canopy. So really, the best time to see them is when they’re migrating because they tend to stay further down in the greenery. Though they do have a mating song, we’re most likely to hear their buzzing “zzzzz” territorial song while they’re traveling. The mating song is the first recording at this Cornell link and the buzzing call is the second one. They may have migrated up from the Caribbean. Or they may have traveled from Central America and northern South America, either around or over the Gulf of Mexico.
Birds Flowing Over Us in the Dark Night Sky
Imagine standing on your lawn in the dark on a warm spring night. Though you can’t see them in the dark sky, a river of small birds, dressed in their best courtship colors, are alternately soaring and fluttering as they ride the south wind. Most of the smallest ones travel in large mixed flocks for safety. For hundreds of miles each night, they wing their way beneath the stars. They’re battered by unexpected cold fronts and rainstorms that force them down to the earth, sometimes in places unsuitable for rest or foraging. They rest, try to forage and fly on. They dodge predators like owls or suburban cats that patrol the night and hawks and other predators by day. They fly on. Some are confused by the bright lights of buildings or towers and break against unseen glass or metal, falling to their deaths by the millions each year. But luckily, others manage to tilt their wings, swerve away or over these obstacles and fly on. Driven by the need to find the optimum habitat for raising their young, these colorful small birds persist in the journey defined by their tropical ancestors thousands of year ago.
Now these lovely, hungry, weary travelers have arrived or at least have chosen to stop, rest and eat here before continuing on. It seems only right that we take a little time to appreciate them. Their bustling activity, brilliant color and cheerful song provide a welcome change after the quiet, cold, gray-and-brown landscape of winter. Now that I’ve come to know some of them, late spring is even more of a joy. I wish that for you, too.
Strolling through the old farm fields of Cranberry Lake Park in summer is an auditory feast. The canopied paths and wide open fields as well as the shady, moist wetlands celebrate summer with a full-throated chorus of birdsong – the quick sweet notes of the Yellow Warbler, the high-pitched trill of the American Redstart, the melodious song of the elusive Warbling Vireo. Ben’s birding group reports more than 50 different bird species on one spring visit, more than in any other park in the township. So you’d expect this week’s blog to be filled with bird photos, right? Uh, not quite.
Oh, I do have bird photos to share but some will come from other times and places in the township because birding in Cranberry Lake right now is more by ear than by sight. Birds dive into tangled brush or tall grass or disappear among the whispering leaves overhead to make nests, feed young, intent at the moment on propagating their species. So they’re not all inclined to pose for photos. Luckily, dragonflies, butterflies, grasshoppers – all sorts of insects – do. And of course summer flowers are very obliging when a breeze pauses for a moment. So let’s set off together with eyes and ears alert to see what this historic farm has to offer.
The lovely Cranberry Lake Farm Historic District on West Predmore Road is a township treasure and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. If you haven’t explored its beautiful grounds, I recommend you begin by taking a visual tour and learning about its history at this link. We, however, are off to explore the southern part of the 213 acre park that once was a working farm.
Out in the Sunny Old Fields
Old Fields Birdsong!
As we head off along the path from the parking lot that’s west of the historic home, we’re surrounded by knee-deep grasses and wildflowers. Tiny Yellow Warblers (Setophaga petechia) are whisking in and out of the large bushes or small trees nearby, still singing their quick “I’m a little sweet” songs as in Antonio Xeira’s recording here. This male with his rust-streaked breast actually paused long enough for a photo!
And another male Yellow Warbler nearby was busying bringing home lunch for his mate or maybe some nestlings in a distant bush.
On three different visits in the last 10 days or so, I heard or saw a male American Redstart singing in the same tree at a fork in the trail. I’m thinking he and his mate must have a nest nearby. For some reason, I’d never seen this bird before and he’s a beauty. There’s a good closeup of him here at the Cornell Ornithology Lab. His song is thin, high and ends abruptly. Cornell Lab says its sometimes described as sneeze-like! Page down at this Cornell link to hear his song.
In the same tree one morning, I saw a Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) swinging at the tip of a branch as it tried to harvest something from among the leaves. At this time of year, omnivore birds like the Titmouse are probably looking for protein for their mate or young, so perhaps he’d found a caterpillar?
As I crossed the southern old field, going north, two Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) announced their territories, calling back and forth across this grassy meadow.
Yellowthroats have the distinction of being one of the first New World birds catalogued in 1766 by Carl Linnaeus, the famous biologist who created the Latin classification system for all life forms. My photo of the Yellowthroat is below but for a clearer photo of this masked bandit, look here on Cornell Lab’s website.
I rarely see Yellowthroats up close but you can hear their “Witchedy, witchedy” songs all over Cranberry Lake Park. Turn your volume up and you’ll hear the singing competition of two males going back and forth twice on my 25 second recording.
Out in the Old Fields: Wildflowers, Competing for Space
The old farm fields at Cranberry Lake exemplify the changes that happen over time when forage crops thrive in abandoned farm fields which are also surrounded by neighboring gardens filled with cultivated flowers.
Native plants are certainly here – native Canada Goldenrod will burnish the fields in the fall and other pre-development plants hold their own at Cranberry Lake, too. Here’s a gallery of a few of them. (Click to enlarge; hover cursor for captions)
The rosy stems of native Dogbane or Indian-Hemp(Apocynum cannabinum)will soon be topped with clusters of white flowers. This plant is toxic if eaten but I doubt you or your dog will be tempted.
The meadows are full of non-native plants that, over the years, have found their way into Michigan’s former farm fields. Many of them are good neighbors, existing side-by-side with native plants without crowding out the original inhabitants. I particularly like Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), also called Devil’s Paintbrush (not to be confused with Indian Paintbrush). It can be problematic but isn’t at this point in Oakland Township parks. The Wildflowers of Michigan Field Guide explains that the name came from a mistaken belief that hawks ate it to improve their eyesight!
Other non-natives pop up here and there in the old fields at Cranberry Lake. Goat’s Beard blossoms open in the early morning and close about noon. And when its blooming season is over, it makes a huge seed head, like a giant, beige dandelion, which it is doing right now. By the way, the insect on the blossom at left is a Hover Fly (family Syrphidae) which mimics bees or wasps for protection but has no stinger.
Other non-native plants that usually appear singly are White Campion (Silene latifolia) and Rough-Fruited Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) which is easily confused with some of our native varieties (thanks to Ben for the ID help!).
Of course, invasive non-native plants have also moved into Cranberry Lake. Here’s a native House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), singing from within one of the worst invasives, the Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), a shrub which is native to Asia. These large bushes fix nitrogen in the soil, creating soil conditions unsuitable for native plants. Its berries are spread by birds and animals. It leafs out early and keeps its leaves late into the fall, shading out other plants. In short, it’s one problem shrub! But the Wren is a welcome summer resident and his beautiful, burbling courting song (recorded by Antonio Xeira) is much beloved even if it does emanate from an invasive bush.
Another serious invasive shrub grows abundantly in Cranberry Lake, the Multiflora Rose(Rosa multiflora). This admittedly lovely plant loses its appeal when its strong thorns catch your skin, and this gangly shrub happens to be crowding out native plants all over Michigan. That hurts both our plant and wildlife communities by making native species less plentiful and less healthy because they are less diverse. Multiflora Rose was brought to the US from Japan by horticulturists after WWII as a fencing plant and spread quickly from gardens into natural or disturbed areas. Like the Autumn Olive, it unfortunately can grow in sun or shade and has the same means of competing for space – lots of berries spread by wildlife and leaves early spring to late fall that shade out other plants.
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) is beautiful, like many invasives, but has a tendency to spread. It was brought here as forage for animals. It isn’t as invasive as its relative Crown Vetch (Securigera varia), which forms dense colonies that exclude other plant species, but it does form smaller colonies and can be seen along the paths at various places in the park. Here a native Bumblebee (g. Bombus) probes the tube-like flowers with its long tongue.
And nearby, a Seven-Spotted Lady Bug(Coccinella septempunctata), a species introduced repeatedly from Europe to rid crops of aphids, looked for a meal on a fellow European, the Hairy Vetch again! At least it wasn’t the Harlequin Ladybug/Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) that infested homes a few years ago. Unfortunately, our native ladybugs, the Nine-Spotted Ladybug, (Coccinella novemnotata) are now rare and scientists are not sure why that happened.
Out in the Old Fields: Fancy Bugs!
The sun-drenched Old Fields at Cranberry Lake seem to attract unusually interesting insects, including – wait for it – flies! Yes, I’m aware that flies aren’t as immediately appealing as butterflies or as impressive as dragonflies, but some really are pretty cool. Here’s a photo of a Soldier Fly (Odontomyia cincta) exploring the Dogbane. Can you see the black chevrons on his green back and his red head? Pretty fancy, eh?
Or how about these mating Golden-backed Snipe Flies (Chrysopilus thoracicus)? The male is the smaller one with the much bigger eyes (“The better to find you with, my dear!”).
Of course, butterflies float above these fields as well. This weekend we saw our first Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) of the year. This one had a slightly injured forewing on one side, but was still happily fluttering about the field exploring flowers. Viceroys are often smaller than Monarch Butterflies and have a telltale bar on their hindwing that the Monarch doesn’t have.
And of course we saw the common but lovely Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), Cabbage (Pieris rapae)and Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela)butterflies as well.
One afternoon I saw a quick, snapping, short flight of what looked like a big moth with yellow-ish wings. It turned out, after I saw it land, that it was a Carolina Locust in flight. The “Bug Lady” at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee website says that “In The Handy Bug Answer Book, Dr. Gilbert Waldbauer refers to these unexpected wing patterns as ‘flash colors’ which, sometimes in concert with flight noises, attract/distract a predator. When the grasshopper lands and tucks in its flying wings, the pursuing predator suddenly can’t find anything that matches its search image.” That was certainly the case for me. It took me a minute to believe that this brown creature at my feet was the one I’d seen flying. Here’s a link where you can scroll down to a photo of one in flight.
Aaah, Out of the Sunlight: The Lake, Wetlands and Shade
Birds, Amphibians and Reptiles in the Leafy Shade
Walking on shady paths and passing by wetlands, I naturally come across plants, insects, birds and other creatures that prefer that environment to sunny, open fields. Two Cedar Waxwings landed up in a leafy treetop on Sunday afternoon. My photo that day just doesn’t do justice to this lovely bird, so here’s a photo from another summer. The field marks of this elegant bird are its crest, its black mask, the yellow tip to its tail and a red dot on each wing that looks like red sealing-wax. And their color does look like cedar, doesn’t it?
Down near Cranberry Lake, three of the Wednesday birders recognized the melodious tune of the Warbling Vireo, here recorded by birder Antonio Xeira. What a lovely song flowing down from the treetops where it stays out of sight, seeking out caterpillars. I love the contrast in these two song descriptions found at the Cornell Lab website. “The early twentieth century ornithologist William Dawson described the song this way: ‘Fresh as apples and as sweet as apple blossoms comes that dear, homely song from the willows.'” The highly variable song usually ends on a high note, leading the birder Pete Dunne to describe it as sounding “like a happy drunk making a conversational point at a party.” Here’s the closeup photo at Cornell Lab.
Frogs generally love moist surroundings. In summer, though, the beautiful Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)often moves into grassy areas for its meals. One paused at the edge of the trail at Cranberry Lake Park, an emerald green frog with golden eyes and the spots that give it its name. Northern Leopard Frogs have very large mouths and though they usually eat worms, flies and crickets, they have also been known to swallow birds and garter snakes, according to Wikipedia!
One warm afternoon, I came upon a Painted Turtle trundling along the path toward Cranberry Lake.
I thought at first it was a male, because it had extra long nails which males use to stroke their mates. But I’m not sure, since it may have been a female coming back to the lake from laying eggs in sandy soil out in the fields. A few days later, my husband and I spotted a hole in the meadow edge where it appeared a raccoon might have dug up a batch of turtle eggs to feed its young!
Berries in the Shade
Cranberry Lake is of course important because it has a cranberry bog. At the moment, it’s not visible, but the Parks and Recreation Commission’s Master Plan includes construction of an observation deck at the lake in the next couple of years.
But other berries are forming along the shady path toward the pond. The native Bristly Blackberry bushes are blooming under the trees. In fact, their flowers are beginning to fade in the heat and the fruits, the blackberries, are forming.
And very near the lake, Ben pointed out Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) forming in the shade. This is the plant that Native Americans enjoyed and that was domesticated in 1907 to create the blueberries we all enjoy in July. I’m glad I got a photo, because when I went back a second time, some bird or mammal had already munched some of them. They don’t wait until their ripe the way we do! Drat…
Along the Hickory Lane on the west side of the park, I saw fruits forming on False Solomon’s Seal, a native plant that spreads by rhizomes (underground stems) under the trees.
Insects that Have It “Made in the Shade”
Dragonflies patrol along the shady paths as well as the open meadows. I saw one last week that I hadn’t seen for a long time, a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). She’s emerald green all over with brown/black chevrons on her tail. According to the “Bug Lady” at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the male gradually changes from green to blue, starting at the tip of its tail and moving up as it matures! These dragonflies stick close to animals, like us, because we stir up a cloud of biting insects they love to eat. Thanks, Pondhawks! Enjoy an all-you-can-eat feast!
Another dragonfly who seems to frequent moist areas almost exclusively is the Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta). The male looks like he’s wearing a Mickey Mouse mask with his white face and eyes. What I think was his mate landed nearby. I couldn’t see her white face but all of her tail and wing markings and her location near the male would seem to indicate she’s the female.
Damselflies also patrol the paths as you near Cranberry Lake itself. Emerald green seems to be a popular color for creatures who want to disappear from predators in the shade. Here’s one called, appropriately enough, the Emerald Spreadwing Damselfly (Lestes sponsa).
Below the huge Shagbark Hickories (Carya ovata) on the lane at the western edge of the park, a Virginian Ctenucha Moth (Ctenucha virginica) sailed past and settled on a leaf. I was quite excited to see this moth (which caused a slight blur in the photo), since Ben had helped me identify its spiky caterpillar earlier in the spring. It’s quite common and likes goldenrod nectar. This one might have hatched a bit early in the heat, since the goldenrods won’t bloom for another month. This elegantly shaped moth with an orange head flashes its metallic blue body when it flies.
A Park for All Seasons
Improvements continue at Cranberry Lake Park. The northern most part of the central trail that connects with trails in Addison Oaks county park is being renovated this year (and possibly next) to make it less damp so that hikers, bikers and horseback riders will have an easier time accessing the park. That northern section is full of wetlands, those precious resources that clean our groundwater, store flood waters, feed our wildlife and give shelter to exhausted migrating birds – but they make for wet trails in the spring.
But most of the park is open for your enjoyment year ’round with migrating warblers in the spring, breeding birds in the summer (and summer concerts on the farmhouse porch), a bright orange glow in late summer and fall as Canada Goldenrod bloom and Monarch butterflies fill the fields traveling south. In winter, its gently rolling meadows might be a place to try out your cross-country skis. And then there’s all that history near the Flumerfelt Barn and historic home. So branch out. Try a new park this summer and see what you and your children can find to love at Cranberry Lake Park.
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.
Well, we’re at the tail end of summer. The signs are there. The small yellow leaflets of Black Walnut trees are littering the path. (I always think black walnuts are sleepy trees – the first to lose their leaves in the autumn, the last to wake in the spring.) Frogs skitter across the mud at the pond, but frog song is almost gone – only an occasional croak.
Families of Canada Geese are flying again after their molt, their honking bringing a bit of the wild to our ears. Some cat-tails still wear their brown velvet, but others are seeding into white fluff. And fruit eaters, like the Cedar Waxwing, are in their glory, sampling berry-like fruits all over the park! Come savor the slightly wistful sweetness of late summer as Bear Creek gets ready for autumn.
Berries (or rather “drupes”) and the Birds that Appreciate Them!
Fruiting continues apace and this week I noticed what we commonly call “berries.” Dr. Ben VanderWeide, OT’s Stewardship Manager, informs me that “berry” is a term that refers to a specific type of fruit in botany. The botanists’ general term for fruits we would normally call “berries” is “fleshy fruits.” Many of our invasive bushes, for example, have fruits called “drupes” that are constructed like a plum or peach – thin skin, fleshy layer and then a pit that holds the seed. In botanical terms, a grape for example, is a real “berry” because the seeds are within its soft skin and flesh without a pit. Being a logophile, I’m quite taken with these new terms.
Anyway, the birds have noticed these fruits on the bushes as well! One of my favorite fruit-eating birds is the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) and it seems as though almost every bush and vine in Bear Creek is bearing fruit for the gregarious Waxwing right now!
You may remember that I discovered a female Waxwing on her nest and later her nestling in late July. Cedar Waxwings, very social birds, are flocking wherever their favorite fruits are available. Bring your binoculars to the park because these birds are spectacular in close-up! The red tip at the edge of their wing is what gave them the name “waxwing” since it looks like it’s dipped in red wax. And I love the yellow tip on its tail and its pale yellow belly!
Cedar Waxwings like the native Gray Dogwood’s (Cornus foemina) interesting white “drupes” on their bright red stalks.
Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) eat Gray Dogwood fruits as well. You may notice you’re not seeing or hearing as much from the Cardinals lately. They molt in late summer/early fall. I saw this poor fellow during the molt a few years ago. What a look for such a glamorous bird!
A highly invasive shrub, Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), that is aggressively displacing native plants all over Michigan, is in Bear Creek, too. Unfortunately, the birds eat its attractive red drupes, which of course is how it spreads!
Over in the woods near the marsh, our native wildflower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), has exchanged Jack and his pulpit for a bright red stem of berry-like fruit. Mature Jack-in-the-Pulpits have male and female parts on the same plant, like native Common Cat-tails do, in order to produce this scarlet fruit.
Though toxic to humans, livestock and pets, some birds and animals eat these fruits, including the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). Turkeys have recovered from severe population declines in the first half of the 20th century. According to the Cornell Lab, turkeys were brought north from Mexico in the 1500’s, but turkey fossils have been found in North America “dating from more than 5 million years ago.” Here couple of males are eating during the winter near our home.
The Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) are finishing their molt and sampling the fruits of Bear Creek as well. The males’ plumage now looks very different from the striking black and white and rose pink bib of their courting colors. Here’s an adult male with his winter plumage. You might see him high in the trees near the marsh where he can be spotted in the spring in his breeding colors.
One of the fruits preferred by Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks is the native bush, Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), which produces these beautiful drupes. You can see them just north of the parking lot.
This week I heard another bird that eats Elderberry. Wednesday Ben and his birding friends helped me identify a song near the marsh below the hilltop benches. They told me I’d heard a Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) but that it was doubtful I would get to see it. Evidently, one may hear vireos, but it’s rare to see one. They were right on both counts. So here is its photo at the Cornell Lab and here is its lovely warbling song at Bear Creek this week, with a buzzing backup band of grasshoppers and katydids! (Remember to turn up your volume and click on the arrow.)
Another aggressive invasive has taken over large sections of the north side of Bear Creek. Here are drupes of Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) which turn from red to black as they mature. You can see why birds find them appealing and consequently spread this invasive shrub everywhere!
Birds Who Appreciate Late Summer Insects (Good for them!)
We all have just a bit too much attention from insects in late summer. Beetles munch on our gardens, spiders spin webs in every quiet corner, Yellow Jacket wasps dive bomb our outdoor lunches and mosquitoes can be a plague at night. But some Bear Creek birds are doing their best to help us out.
This week, Ben and his frequent birding companions, Mark and Akiko, spotted a female American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). I didn’t see one, but here’s a link to a photo at Cornell Lab. These little guys eat fruit in the winter too, but they eat more insects (including wasps) than any other warbler. According to Cornell, they flash those jazzy feathers as a way to startle their prey out into the open. Very clever use of their Halloween colors, eh? I’ll be on the lookout for this little bird!
The Redstart evidently competes with the Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) for the same prey, those abundant bugs. But the modest flycatcher with his gray and white feathers must have to work harder since he can’t flash those Redstart colors. This one was low in the bushes across the pond this week.
Ben frequently sees another insect lover, Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) in Bear Creek and he and his birders spotted them this week. They continually elude me. Another social bird like the Waxwings, Chimney Swifts spend almost the whole day in the air, feeding on insects. They can’t perch like other birds; they have to hold onto a vertical surface! Here’s a link at Cornell Lab. Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking!
Early Morning Spider “Lace”
Meanwhile, down among the Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace, the spiders are weaving webs of all kinds. Their lacy creations sparkle in morning light after a rain, or when there’s heavy dew. All of the webs pictured here, but one, graced the western slope path between 8 and 9 in the morning this week. (I’ve used the website of the University of Kentucky Etymology department for general identification purposes.)
First, here’s a group of webs, which include two webs of Orb Weaver Spiders (Aranaidae), who make the classic wheel-shaped spider web – and re-make them every morning (!) – and Sheet-weaving Spiders, who make a cup-shaped web with a sheet below through which they pull their prey. Notice all the superstructure of lines!
Here’s a look at this week’s web of an Orb-weaving spider. The spider is hanging head down which is typical for this family of spiders. These webs are spun afresh each morning, but this one seems to have suffered a tear.
Here, if you look closely are two webs probably made by Bowl and Doily Spiders (Frontinella pyramitela) who are members of the Sheet-weaving Spider family (Linyphiidae). The bowls are above and the sheets or “doilies” are just below each one.
And here’s a favorite photo of an Orb Weaver web after rain in Bear Creek a few years ago. Some mornings’ webs are particularly lovely, so let me know if you see a beauty!
The heat can make it feel like summer but tell-tale signs of autumn remind us to savor the color, hum and occasional birdsong of late summer mornings. Enjoy the last sweet dregs of summer!
*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 http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info, and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.