Proliferation of Purple: A Sunday Walk at Draper Twin Lakes Park

Love lavender?  Passionate about purple?  Consider a short walk at Draper Twin Lake Park –  SOON!  Just start down the nice wide path to the fishing dock and you’ll begin to see one lavender/blue/purple plant after the next – even a lavender and blue insect!  Plus some other very cool species. Have a look:

Obedient Plant  (Physostegia virginiana), which I’m told is not so obedient, is a native plant that can spread vigorously, especially in a garden. Sometimes we need vigorous native plants to compete with aggressive non-native invasive plants. Isn’t it striking?

Obedient Plant Draper Lake

Obedient Plant, a native which quite disobediently spreads like an invasive plant.

And look how much the pollinators love it!  There are three tucked inside different blossoms!

Obedient plant closeup

Pollinators disappearing inside three different blossoms on the Obedient Plant.

Our native Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) is springing up everywhere at Draper Twin Lakes, just as it is at Bear Creek Nature Park.  Such an appropriate name for what I like to call “a bad hair day” wildflower beloved by bees.

Bee balm with bee

A bee appropriately enough on Bee Balm.

Maryann Whitman, a local wildflower expert, informs me that this native plant, Tall Bellflower  (Campanulastrum americanum) is not common in this part of Michigan.  Ben tells me that it was probably part of a native plant seed mix used along the trail by the Parks Commission when they built the path.  It seems to have settled in quite nicely here!

Tall Bellflower Campanula americana closeup

Tall Bellflower is reported to be a bit unusual in this part of Michigan, so what a pleasure to have it at Draper Lake Park!

Down by the fishing dock, right in the water, are two other purple plants .  This one is a native, Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus).  The flowers grow right along the stem and though it’s hard to see here,  even the veins of the leaves are a light pink.

Swamp Loosestrife in Draper Lake

Swamp Loosestrife, a native, has its feet in the water right beside the fishing dock.

Unfortunately, right across the way, on the other side of the fishing dock, is a fierce, Eurasian invasive plant from the same family.  If Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) takes hold, it will crowd out our native plants. Fortunately, a beetle that only eats Purple Loosestrife was introduced to Michigan in 1994 and has done a great job reducing the abundance of Purple Loosestrife. Now, instead of wetlands full of these invasive plants, Purple Loosestrife populations are mostly kept in check.  With the potential to produce 2.5 million seeds per plant each year (!), we still remove any Purple Loosestrife  we find, but we don’t have to worry about it as much as we used to.

Purple Loosestrife

A very invasive relative from Eurasia, Purple Loosestrife can be a major problem in wetlands, crowding out native plants.

Also on the deck, is a color-coordinated damselfly, the Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea).  Really!  A damselfly that matches the flowers nearby!  I’ve seen these lavender and blue damselflies before at an inland lake. They must prefer water deeper than the ponds at Bear Creek.

Violet Dancer damselfly Argia fumipennis violacea male

A male Violet Dancer damselfly. Its mate has a much less flashy color scheme – brown and black.

Down in the water at the end of the deck – what else? Blue Gills, looking very blue and lavender under the water.

Two young Blue Gills

Even the fish are color-coordinated at Draper Lake. Some young blue gills gathered at the end of the deck.

If you learned the complementary color wheel in art class,  you may remember that the complementary color to purple is yellow.  So nature obliged at Draper Twin Lakes.  Near the dock, an Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) stood at attention, its yellow flag flying.

Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis

Common Evening-Primrose provides the complementary color to all the purple flowers and the Violet Dancer  – a bright yellow.

Off in the plants near the fishing deck, a a golden dragonfly, The White-Faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) balanced delicately on a dried flower stem.

White faced Meadowhawk Dragonfly cropped

A White-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly provides its golden/orange color to complement the purple flowers around nearby.

And below, crowds of orange and yellow Jewel Weed (Impatiens capensis) gave the final golden moment to a lovely walk.

Jewel Weed Draper Lake

Yellow and orange jewel weed added a last minute golden glow to a great walk.

From start to finish, going out and coming back, this short, easy walk  to the fishing dock at Draper Twin Lakes Park is well worth your time – especially if your favorite color is purple!

July Park of the Month: Draper Twin Lake Park

Draper Twin Lake Park hosts Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Meadowlarks, a variety of sparrows, and lots of cool wildlife. This fall we will be planting native prairie species into the field on the northeast corner of Draper Twin Lake Park. Our goal for the July workdays is to remove autumn olive and other non-native invasive plants in the fields on the east side of the park to improve habitat for wildlife and prepare for our prairie planting (learn more by clicking HERE). Hope to see you there!

  • Where: Draper Twin Lake Park. Meet in the parking lot on the corner of Hadden and Inwood, 1015 Inwood Rd.
  • When:  All workdays are 9 am to noon. In the event of inclement weather, the events will be cancelled.
    • Saturday, July 11
    • Tuesday, July 14
    • Tuesday, July 21
    • Saturday, July 25
    • Tuesday, July 28
  • Who: Anyone! These event is free, with no experience necessary. We’ll train you to do the work. You’ll get to work with our stewardship field crew so that you can learn how to manage invasive plants on your own land!
  • Why: Why not? We will be remove non-native invasive shrubs to help the native plants thrive. Come out to enjoy beautiful areas and hang out with great people!
  • What: Bring water and gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. We’ll have extra gloves if you can’t bring your own.

We’ll provide water and light snacks. You will need to sign a release form before we begin working. Families are encouraged to attend! All minors will need permission from a parent or guardian to participate, and minors under 14 will need to have a parent or guardian present. We will have lots of fun, so plan to come and share this opportunity with others! The schedule of upcoming workdays can be found at the Volunteer Calendar.


Friday Photos: Sparkling Snow, Beautiful Blue Skies, and Winter Birds

When  clear, deep blue stretches across the sky in Michigan in January, it is time to get outside. Fortunately, our weekly Wednesday bird walks offered a great excuse to do just that. We started out at Bear Creek Nature Park on January 7 on a chilly morning. The walk began quietly, but as the sun rose birds began to move and call until we were busy hunting down the sources of loud hammering, persistent chip notes, and musical calls. Fresh snow on the ground captured the path of a small mammal forging through the snow.

Paths in the winter snow at Bear Creek Nature Park.

Paths in the winter snow at Bear Creek Nature Park.

On January 14 at Cranberry Lake Park we were treated to a thick frost covering the surface of every twig. Ice crystals hanging suspended in the frigid air sparkled as the sun filled them with light. In addition to many of the usual birds we were treated to the calls of a Great Horned Owl in the distance.

Sun shines through sparkling ice crystals long the shore of Cranberry Lake at Cranberry Lake Park

Sun shines through sparkling ice crystals long the shore of Cranberry Lake at Cranberry Lake Park

The third Wednesday of January we birded in a snow squall at Lost Lake Nature Park, so I didn’t get any pictures. But this past Wednesday, January 28 at Draper Twin Lake Park was another morning with beautiful blue skies. I snapped this picture as we tried to locate some pesky birds hiding in the underbrush along the eastern wetland.

Animal tracks mark the snow and vapor trails from jets cross the sun. People and animals still need to get places when it is cold!

Animal tracks mark the snow and vapor trails from jets cross the sun. People and animals still need to get places when it is cold!

We’ll be out birding again in February. Remember that I do have a few pairs of extra binoculars that you can borrow for the bird walks. If the weather is nice I usually stick around after the bird walk to remove invasive shrubs for a few hours. You’re welcome to join me. Check out the January Bird Report if you’re interested in the complete list of birds we were able to identify this month. Hope to see you out there next week!

Prairie Restoration, Part 1: Preparing the Site

Ever since we were awarded the US Fish and Wildlife Service grant this summer, we’ve been busy preparing the sites at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park for prairie restoration! It is very important to prepare our restoration sites properly before planting. Otherwise our prairie plants won’t establish very well and we will probably have big problems with weeds. So how do we prepare for planting a prairie?

  • Step 1: Figure out what is already growing. Are the plants mostly native or non-native? Are there lots of trees or shrubs, or only herbaceous (non-woody) vegetation? Do we have many invasive plants (glossy buckthorn, autumn olive, multiflora rose, swallow-wort, etc.)? A quick search in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park found 45 plant species, 20 non-native and 25 native (click here to see the list). Only a few of the the native species I found are considered “conservative” species – species that tend to grow in high quality native plant communities. Based on these observations, the existing plant community doesn’t appear to be of high quality.
The current plant community in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park consists mostly of non-native species and "weedy" native species.

The current plant community in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park consists mostly of non-native species and “weedy” native species.

  • Step 2: Make an action plan based on the observations. After we initially look at the site, it was very tempting to just jump out there and start working. However, we took a little more time to develop our observations into an action plan. We also noticed that box elder (Acer negundo), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) were establishing thick stands. Some of the black locust had grown nearly 20 feet tall in the four years since the field was plowed! These needed to be removed before we could even think about planting. Based on our quick botanical survey, we knew that we didn’t have a high quality plant community in the field. Therefore, the best route – the option that will ensure the highest establishment of native prairie species and fewest problems with weeds – was to remove all of the existing vegetation and start over from bare soil. We won’t till the soil, though, as that will expose more weed seeds that have built up in the soil seed bank.
    Black locust at Draper Twin Lake Park.

    Black locust at Draper Twin Lake Park. These trees are not native to Michigan. They sprout readily from stumps and roots, and can be very difficult to control. We think that these grew so quickly because they sprouted from the roots of trees along the edge of the field.

    Box elders at Draper Twin Lake Park

    Box elders at Draper Twin Lake Park. Although a native tree species, box elders are found in many different habitats and often establish quickly on bare soil.

  • Step 3: Remove the trees and shrubs. Based on our observations of the current plant community at Draper Twin Lake Park, we feel confident that we can improve the plant community and wildlife habitat by replanting after removing as much of existing vegetation as possible. For all of the large trees and shrubs in the field, we used brushcutters and a chainsaw to chop them off at ground level. We then daubed the stumps with herbicide to prevent re-sprouting.
Searching for cut stumps to daub with herbicide.

Searching for cut stumps to daub with herbicide.

We stacked the cut brush in piles.

We stacked brush into piles.

  • Step 4: Mow the field. After removing the woody plants, we mowed the field at Draper Twin Lake Park to remove any smaller shrubs and to prepare the field for herbicide application.
Mowing the field at Draper.

Mowing the field at Draper Twin Lake Park.

  • Step 5: Herbicide Application. To give the native seeds the best chance to succeed, we treat the field with herbicide to kill existing vegetation. If we find any special native plants we avoid that area or cover individual plants. Most of the areas we treat have very few native plants remaining.

And that is our site preparation process. Site preparation will change depending on what is already growing  at the site, what your restoration goals are, and what resources you have available. In every case, taking the extra time to learn about the site, develop an action plan, and thoroughly prepare the site will save you time and money in the long run. We’ll keep you updated as we continue this process!

USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grant Jumpstarts Prairie Restoration!

Prairie will bounce back in Oakland Township! We will receive $15,200 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to restore 18 acres of old farm fields at Charles Ilsley Park and 20 acres at Draper Twin Lake Park to native prairie and oak barrens. Currently non-native invasive shrubs such as autumn olive and multiflora rose are taking over the fields. We want to replace these plants that have little value for wildlife habitat with high-quality native vegetation that will be beautiful, attract grassland birds, and help us learn about what much of Oakland Township used to look like. Read on to learn more about this opportunity, and check out the maps below to see where the restoration work will happen. I will be posting information about the restoration process, progress updates, and other prairie news in the next few months, so check back often to learn more.

The field outlined in red at Draper Twin Lake Park was farmed until about 4 years ago, and has been sitting since.

The field outlined in red at Draper Twin Lake Park was farmed until about 4 years ago, and has been fallow since. We hope to plant it to native prairie plants this fall or next spring.

This map shows the phases of prairie restoration at Charles Ilsley Park. We will hope to plant fields 1 and 2 this fall or next spring, and fields 3 and 4 in following years.

This map shows the phases of prairie restoration at Charles Ilsley Park. We will plant fields 1 and 2 this fall or next spring, and fields 3 and 4 in following years.

Why prairie in Michigan? Did we used to have prairie here?

When we think about prairie, we usually think of the Great Plains and the vast expanses of grassland where buffalo roamed and cowboys rode. But grasslands used be widespread in our area of Michigan! Before European settlement in the 1800s, prairie and oak barrens covered about 67% of Oakland Township, making our township a special area in Michigan.  Oak barrens have widely spaced black and white oaks, with prairie plants in open, sunny areas and woodland plants in partially shaded areas. Prairie and oak barrens are fire-dependent, which means that they need to be maintained by frequent, low-intensity fire to keep trees from establishing and shading out the sun-loving prairie plants. As Oakland Township was developed, nearly all of our oak barrens and prairies were lost. Some were plowed because they didn’t have many trees, and other disappeared because the fire they needed to survive never came.

We do have a few pockets of prairie left in the township, mostly along the Paint Creek Trail. The sparks from the railroad lit fires that burned through the prairie grasses. We find many interesting prairie plants and insects in these areas, but most of just barely hanging on. Trees are slowly shading them out, the open patches are becoming smaller and smaller, and the prairie life that depends on those patches is disappearing. Since prairies are part of our natural heritage, it is very important to do what we can to protect and maintain these prairie pockets. One of the finest examples is the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie just north of Silverbell Road.

The orange of the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) flowers is beginning to color the flower buds.

The Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie is one of the few nice pockets of prairie remaining in the township. This picture is from late June, showing the orange of the butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) flowers as it is just beginning to color the flower buds.

When Michigan was originally settled, land surveys were done so that it could be sold to settlers. At each corner, the surveyors made field notes which included locations of lakes, rivers, and streams, and the quantity and quality of timber resources. From these field notes, soil maps, and geology maps, biologists did their best to re-construct what plant communities were present before the area was settled. You can click here to learn more about pre-settlement vegetation maps (website from the Michigan DNR).

Pre-setttlement vegetation map for Charles Ilsley Park. When this area was originally surveyed in the 1800s, the surveyor noted the general vegetation types at each corner. The notes of the surveyors were then used to get a rough idea of what plant communities used to be in the area.

Pre-setttlement vegetation map for Charles Ilsley Park. When this area was originally surveyed in the 1800s, the surveyor noted the general vegetation types at each corner. The notes of the surveyors were then used to get a rough idea of what plant communities used to be in the area. The areas in orange were originally oak barrens.

Pre-settlement vegetation may for the northeast panhandle of Draper Twin Lake Park.

Pre-settlement vegetation map for the northeast panhandle of Draper Twin Lake Park. The areas in orange used to be oak barrens, a grassland plant community with widely spaced oak trees.

What will the prairie look like?

Planting a prairie is like a planting a tree: it takes a while for the prairie to “grow up.” After we remove the existing plants, the fields will be seeded with a mix of native prairie species. The first two years after planting, the prairie plants will be small above-ground as they use most of their energy to grow roots. After the third year prairie plants will become more obvious and you will begin to notice soft pink blossoms of Carolina rose in early summer, orange butterfly milkweed lending a mid-summer splash, purple spikes of rough blazing-star providing fall color, and iconic grasses such as big bluestem and little bluestem swaying in the wind on the hillsides. As the prairie matures, we hope that grassland birds, such as meadowlarks, dickcissels, and bobolinks will discover our prairie.

The grand finale, this milkweed takes the show. A beautiful milkweed for your garden, this species form clumps instead of spreading widely.

Our Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie provides a small taste of the grasslands that used to cover Oakland Township. This butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is common at the Wet Prairie.

How can I get involved?

We have seeds and soil, but we need you to help us establish our prairie! You can help the prairie thrive by collecting native plant seeds at a stewardship workday, assisting with site preparation, and helping with prairie maintenance after planting. No special experience necessary! Contact Natural Areas Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide for more information. To learn more about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, visit