Tag Archives: Green Darner

THIS WEEK AT BEAR CREEK: Small Surprises as Summer Wanes

Cam at BC1
Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino

Nature is always full of great little surprises.  This week again, nature sprung a few on me – the unfamiliar appearance of a familiar bird, a sky full of dragonflies, and a park visitor who has touched the soft fuzz on a sleeping bee!

But the predictable is comforting, too. Queen Anne’s Lace has begun sharing the Old Fields with tufts of Goldenrod, all of them swaying and dancing in the wind.  Glorious days for a walk in Bear Creek!

goldenrod western path2
Queen Anne’s Lace now shares the western slope with burgeoning Goldenrod.

An Avian Surprise (at least to me…)

The molt that I discussed last week continues.   Groups of young House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) are still hiding in bushes within the park, waiting for the fall migration.  You can hear their persistent scolding as you walk by .

wren in bushes 5
Groups of young wrens hide in bushes around the park, waiting for the fall migration.

An Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) hopped restlessly in a bare tree looking south, as if dreaming of his winter home on the Amazon.

Eastern Kingbird3
An Eastern Kingbird looking south as if dreaming of his winter home on the Amazon.

But here’s the SURPRISE!  Now does this look like a male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) to you?

Male mallard in eclipse plumage
A male Mallard in its “eclipse plumage” after the molt.

If so, congratulations!  It didn’t to me.  This is actually what the glamorous green-headed male Mallard looks like after his mid-summer molt.  It’s called “eclipse plumage. ” The flight feathers are molted at the same time,  so during the molt, he was temporarily flightless.  Courtship for Mallards begins in the fall,  so in a few weeks the reddish- brown head feathers will be molted again into the brilliant green the male needs for attracting his mate.  The clue to gender in mallards, by the way, is the bill,  which is olive green/yellow in the male and orange with black in the female.  Eclipse plumage!  Who knew?

A Surprise in the Woods:  Green Rain!

Last Sunday, entering the Oak-Hickory woods, my husband and I began to hear what sounded like raindrops, pit-patting around us in the leaves and on the ground.  Puzzled, we finally realized that small green chunks were raining down on us. High in a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) sat a black squirrel.  Here’s one NOT at the top of a tree!

black squirrel2
This squirrel is a probably a black Fox Squirrel rather than a black Gray Squirrel since it is not pure black.

Black squirrels are just a color variant of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) or the Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger). Of course, the Surprise –  “green rain” –  was a  shower of green acorn pieces that lasted several minutes as the black squirrel munched high above.  It took us a minute to catch on and we had a good laugh. Here’s an un- chewed Red Oak acorn; the mature ones are nut-brown.

small green acorn
The source of the “green rain,”  pieces of Red Oak acorn, fell around us from the munching of a black squirrel high above.

Another small surprise:  According to Wikipedia, North American squirrels were mostly black before Europeans came here, because forests were huge and shady and being black offered protection against predators and the cold.  With deforestation, the gray and brown varieties flourished. Now black squirrels are appearing more often in northern areas that have colder winters.

A Surprise in the Air:  A Swarm!

A squadron of about twenty-five darners (genus Anax), large dragonflies, swooped and dove over the western Old Field on Sunday, looking like Harry Potter in a quidditch match. Quite a surprise, since we’d never before seen more than two or three darners at a time in Bear Creek.  Probably we were seeing a feeding frenzy since lots of insects were foraging on abundant wildflowers below.    I only managed to photograph  6 in this one small section of the sky.

Squadron of darners
Squadron of darner dragonflies over a field full of insects.

According to an article by Michael L. May in the Journal of Insect Conservation, some dragonflies, including some (but not all) Green Darners (Anax junius), annually migrate in huge swarms, traveling “hundreds to thousands of kilometers north to south.”   Really?  Another small surprise for me!  I wonder if this squadron will migrate with a larger swarm? See Green Darners in an earlier TWBC post.

So what was in the fields below the darner swarm?  Despite the hush from the molting birds, Bear Creek is humming with insects.  The Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina), now full grown ( see the nymph in the July 30 blog),  makes a dry whirring sound as it flies short distances along the trail on its dark wings. It also sings, or stridulates, by rubbing  its rasp-like hind leg against its forewing .

Carolina grasshopper
The Carolina grasshopper now has its copper color and makes short flights along the trail with its dark wings.

Most of the Red-Legged Grasshoppers (Melanoplus femurrubrum) are developing a bit later than usual this summer.  So this male nymph will need to molt into an adult before we hear it singing in September.

Later instar red-legged grasshopper
This is a late summer nymph of a Red-Legged Grasshopper who probably has not starting “singing” yet.

Grasshoppers have short antennae.  Crickets and katydids have lo-o-o-ng ones!  Here’s a female Shieldback Katydid (genus Atlanticus) that may be contributing to the hum in the fields or at the edge of the woods.  Look at the length of both her antennae and that very long ovipositor with which she lays her eggs.  (Hint: it looks like a tail.)

Shieldback Katydid genus Atlanticus
A Shieldback Katydid with the long antennae of all katydids and a very long ovipositor with which she lays her eggs.

Annual Green Cicadas  (Tibicen canicularis) drone in the trees, looking like some sort of alien.   (This one, however, was handily on our garage door!)

Cicada
The drone of the Annual Green Cicada is part of the familiar late summer hum.

Last weekend, bees buzzed from flower to flower in the western Old Field, balancing gracefully on the stems.  Another recent surprise for me was learning that the common Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is a non-native brought here from Europe in the 1600’s.  Here’s one with the “pollen baskets,” (corbicula) on her hind legs bulging after foraging among the goldenrod.

Honey bee with jodpurs
A Honey Bee, a non-native bee,  fills the pollen baskets on its hind legs as it forages on goldenrod.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Honey Bees have fallen on hard times, suffering from  multiple causes of  “Colony Collapse Disorder.” So it’s great to see them buzzing in the sunlight on so many late summer flowers in Bear Creek.

And speaking of bees…

Surprise Information from a Fellow Bear Creek Walker

One of the pleasures of being a Volunteer Park Steward is meeting so many other people with nature knowledge and experience.  A kindly woman named Mavis told me this week that she sometimes sees our native Bumblebees (Genus Bombus) sleeping under Goldenrod fronds or leaves at sunset.  She said she very gently reaches up the palm of her hand and touches their fuzzy bodies! Imagine what that might feel like!

I’ve read since then that a sleeping bumblebee is probably a drone, a male.  The female workers generally return to the hive at night to feed the queen, other workers and the larvae (baby bees). Males don’t even have leg baskets for gathering pollen.  They simply buzz about feeding themselves (thereby pollinating plants) and wait for a chance to mate with the queen – so they have no need to return to the hive.

So now I have another new goal – to feel the fuzz on a sleeping bumblebee.  The female Bumblebee worker below is filling her pollen basket by burying herself in a plume of Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) in one of the native flower beds.

Meadowsweet closeup w bumblebee
A female bumblebee is almost buried in Meadowsweet as she fills the pollen baskets on her hind legs with its pale pollen.

Another Surprise:  Four Different, Very Tall Yellow Wildflowers in the Native Bed.

The native beds near the shed are full of tall yellow flowers – in fact four different ones! Thanks to Stewardship Manager, Ben VanderWeide, I’ve learned to distinguish between these giant beauties rather than seeing just “tall yellow flowers.”  It seems that these plants, like the asters,  have “composite flowers,” i.e.,  each apparent “petal” is actually a separate ray flower (or floret) and at the center are the disk flowers with a seed attached to each.

I’ve featured one of the yellow giants before, Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum). It’s super tall, up to 10 feet,  with a composite flower, ball-shaped buds on bare stalks and GIANT leaves near the ground.

prairie dock flower
Prairie Dock can grow to up to 10 feet high and features ball-shaped buds and huge leaves right at ground level.

Another I’ve mentioned before, False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) also has a composite flower.  It grows about 8 feet high with leaves along the stalk. Here you can see the disk flowers in bloom.

False sunflower flowering
The disk flowers at the center of this False Sunflower are in bloom.

Then there’s the characteristic drooping ray flowers of the Cut-Leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)  that grows 6 to 8 feet high. Here a bumblebee has its proboscis in one of the tube-shaped disk flowers.

green cone flower w insect_edited-1
Cut-leaved Coneflower with a bumblebee enjoying the disk flowers.

And rounding off the group of yellow giants is  Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) which grows 3 to 9 feet tall.  Obviously, Honey Bees and Bumblebees love them, too!

Bees on tall coreopsis
Two bumblebees and a Honey Bee  busily  probe blossoms, pollinating the Tall Coreopsis.

While we’re discussing native giants,  have a look at  the big tufts of Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii) which are now showing the pronged seed heads which gave this tall prairie grass its other name, Turkey Foot.  I remember walking through a field on Lake George Road as a child with these giants towering over my head.  So it’s great to see them back again since the prescribed burns in Bear Creek!

big blue stem1
Big Blue Stem, a native prairie grass that can grow 10 feet tall,  has reappeared in the park since prescribed burns.

Coming Attractions:  Asters!

The purples and lavenders of native Asters are beginning to appear in Bear Creek.  Here’s this year’s first glimpse of three that will be much more prolific in the coming days.  Asters, like the yellow giants above, all have composite flowers as well.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae)near the center pond:

New England Aster
The first dark purple New England Asters of 2015 with their composite flowers.

Smooth Asters (Symphotrichum laeve) on the western sloping path are lighter lavender and have a more delicate look than the New England Aster.

Smooth aster
The more delicate, lavender Smooth Asters have “petals” that are really individual ray flowers with disk flowers at the center.

And finally, I believe these are Panicled Asters (Symphytrichum lancelotaum) with small, white to  lavender ray flowers and yellow to lavender disk flowers.  My wildflower experts will check on this for me next week.

Panicled aster?
The small Panicled Asters have whitish lavender ray flowers (petals) and yellow or lavender disk flowers at the center.

A Fond Farewell:

The striking red Cardinal Flower is almost done for the year.  If you have time, take the path that leads north from the playground and have one last look on the southern side of the marsh boardwalk that’s on your left a short way down.

Cardinal flower end of August
The Cardinal flower is finishing its gorgeous red bloom near the marsh north of the playground.

So, if you like Surprises,  nature always obliges – especially at Bear Creek Nature Park. Literally, never a dull moment!

*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 and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS WEEK AT BEAR CREEK: Winged Beauty Above and Below, Wildflowers Familiar and “Un-” and a Virtual Visit to the Pond

This week the fierce heat subsided and in its wake, earlier blooms, like the milkweed, dried and began to produce fruit and seed.  But late summer wildflowers gloried in the sunshine, lining the paths with dancing color and basking in the dappled sunlight of the woods.

Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino
Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino

Darners patrolled without pause, zooming across their territories while smaller dragonflies hovered and darted in the sunshine.  Young Red-Tailed Hawks soared above and juvenile Northern Flickers explored on their own while some adult birds begin to disappear into bushes and reeds to start their late summer molt before migration.

Wings Below in the Meadows and Marshes: Butterflies Big and Small, Darners, Dragonflies and a Very Cool-Looking Beetle

This week Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) and Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) chased across the Old Fields looking for nectar.  This is a photo from a few years back when a female of both species  met for a sip of nectar on a Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), an invasive plant from Eurasia.  Thanks to hard work by the Parks Commission, most of the Bull Thistle is gone from Bear Creek, but the occasional plant crops up from time to time.

Swallowtail and Monarch
A black morph female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and a female Monarch meet for a sip of nectar on a Bull Thistle.

By the way, if you see a smaller Monarch-like butterfly with a black bar on the bottom of each hindwing, that’s the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus).  I was taught that its coloring mimics the Monarch because birds  find Monarchs distasteful, if not toxic, so the pattern and color offer protection from predators to the more edible Viceroys.  But according to Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden, Viceroys are just as distasteful as Monarchs to some predators.  So it’s apparently just another warning signal to unwary birds that they won’t like the taste, so stay away! Thanks for the information, Seven Ponds!

Viceroy
The black bar across the bottom of its hindwing indicates that this is NOT a Monarch butterfly, a species which tastes awful to birds.  This is the Viceroy butterfly which mimics the Monarch’s coloring and its awful taste.

I tried, I really tried, to get a photo of a flying Green Darner (Anax junius), who was patrolling about 100 yards of wildflowers on the western side of the sloping path on the southwest side of the park.  I had to try because he never stopped zooming back and forth for a full 20 minutes!  I could see his green head and thorax and his blue abdomen but the camera (at my skill level…) only saw this.  But maybe it conveys just how fast this little creature was moving!

blue green darner flying
A Green Darner zipping through the air as he patrols a territory of wildflowers near the sloping path on the southwest side of the park.

So here’s a link to a up-close-and-personal shot of this colorful predator.

On the edges of paths, among the meadow flowers and at the Playground Pond, a smaller dragonfly poses on a stalk or alights on a railing, the Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum).  The four wings of a dragonfly work separately which I imagine explains why the middle of the thorax looks like a complicated set of gears!

Ruby Meadowhawk
A Ruby Meadowhawk dragonfly on the railing at the Playground Pond.

Down near the Center Pond,  Pearl Crescent butterflies  probed a part of the path that was a bit more moist on a hot day. Pearl Crescents emerge in several broods throughout the summer and newly hatched males can gather in groups like this looking for a drink.

Group of young male Pearl Crescents
A group of newly hatched male Pearl Crescents probe for moisture on a path near the Center Pond.

By rights, I shouldn’t like this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) because I’m very fond of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  But it’s such a cartoon of a bug that I can’t resist it – and so far I haven’t seen many on the milkweed in Bear Creek.  Its red and black color is a warning signal to predators that its distasteful, since, like Monarchs and their caterpillars, it feeds on milkweed.  So it can afford to be bright and colorful!

red bug closeup
This Red Milkweed Beetle doesn’t worry about being conspicuous. Its color warns predators that it tastes nasty because it eats Common Milkweed.

Wings Above:  a Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk and a Fledgling Flicker.

High in the air, you may now hear the plaintive, piercing cry of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk whose parents are tapering off their feeding schedule.   Through September, the fledglings screech to express their desire to be fed or perhaps just mimicking the adult scream so beloved of movie-makers,  available for listening at this link.  The tails of juveniles are not red like their parents; they’ll get those feathers in their second year.

young redtail hawk soaring closeup
A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk gives its cinematic scream as it flies. It will acquire the characteristic red tail in its second year.

Incidentally, twice on one walk this week, a dark gray Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) dashed across the path in front of me heading for the “runways” they make through tall grass.  These small rodents need to run fast!  Hawks like this one as well as  owls, foxes and even snakes use voles as a food source, keeping their abundant population under control.  Here’s a link to a photo since they ran past way too quickly for me to get one! (Best photo is further down the Wikipedia page.)

Though they drum in trees like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus ) spends most of its time  probing the ground for ants, its favorite food.  You can spot them easily in flight; they have bright white patches on their rumps.  Flickers begin a complete molt sometime during August or September before moving south.  While they replace every feather, they are vulnerable and seldom seen.

flicker hunting1
An adult Northern Flicker in a characteristic pose as it probes for its favorite food, ants!

This week, though, look for a juvenile.  See how much thinner this one is than the adult and the soft tuft of down still on his leg?

flicker juvenile
A juvenile Northern Flicker with a little nestling down above its leg and a much smaller head than the adult flicker.

Wildflowers: Swaths of Lace, A Shy Flower in the Woods, and Arrowheads in the Marsh

If you’ve been to the park, you know ’tis the season of a favorite non-native wildflower, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota).

Queen Anne and meadow
Queen Anne’s Lace lines the paths and elegantly swathes the hillside during late July and early August.

Queen Anne’s Lace is the ancestor of our cultivated carrot.  It probably came to the US from Europe as a garden flower and though prolific, it co-exists with our other native wildflowers.  Lots of insects visit these plants.  Here a blossom hosts both an Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Everes comyntas)  and a Pennsylvania Leatherwing Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus).

Eastern Blue Tail on Queen Anne w Soldier Beetle
An Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly and a Pennsylvania Leatherwing Soldier Beetle visit a blossom of Queen Anne’s Lace, a member of the carrot family.

This week, along the eastern path,  I saw a rare form of Queen Anne’s Lace  – one with a pink corolla.  I’ve seen pink in Queen Anne’s that are opening, but never one before that was completely pink when open,  which the Michigan Flora website says is rare!

pink queen anne
A pink form of Queen Anne’s Lace, which the Michigan Flora website tells me is rare, was blooming along the eastern path this week.

Out in the field next to the eastern path, a native plant I’d never noticed before is blooming.  Look for the tall purple stalks of Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) swaying in the wind.

Blue Vervain Verbena Hestata
Blue Vervain, a native plant that was new to me, is blooming now near the eastern path.

In the woods near the southern deck of the marsh, a modest native woodland flower nods its shy head.  Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata), a native plant (unlike the invasive Purple Loosestrife) presents simply green leaves and two yellow flowers with their heads bowed.

Fringed loosestrife Lysimacchia ciliata
The modestly bowed heads of Fringed Loosestrife in the woods near the southern end of the marsh.

But when you look underneath to see the blossom’s face, it’s rippled petals and brownish red center are lovely.  I’ve never noticed this flower in the woods before.  Maybe it’s bloomed because of the prescribed burn in the spring.

Fringed loosestrife closeup native
Fringed Loosestrife has nodding blossoms, so you have look closely to see its rippled petals and dark red center. It’s a native woodland flower that may have bloomed because of this year’s prescribed burn.

And while you’re at the southern deck in the marsh, have a look at how the heat has brought on the fluffy blooms of  native Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) which were only in bud a week ago.

Joe Pye in bloom
The heat has brought out the blooms of native Joe-Pye Weed in the southern part of the marsh.

In the northern part of the marsh, a lovely “wet-footed” native is blooming, Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia).  You can easily see where it got its name in a time when arrowheads were part of everyday life!

Arrowhead
It’s easy to where this “wet-footed” plant in the northern marsh got its name, Common Arrowhead.

A Virtual Visit to the Center Pond

At the Center Pond, the water was clearing, as plant life sinks beneath the surface toward the end of the summer.  It occurred to me that a photo and sound track might be a treat for anyone too busy to get to the park.  So, if you were sitting on a bench there on a lazy summer afternoon, this is what you might see:

Center Pond
A view of the Center Pond which is finally clearing again, as it usually does as summer wanes.

And this is what you might hear.  The 30 second recording (Turn up your Volume!) includes, I think,  the singing of an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis),  definitely  the trilling a Northern Cardinal  (Cardinalis cardinalis) at the very end and the occasional banjo sound of a Green Frog (Rana clamitans).

On a nearby log, you’d see a  grumpy-looking, but probably content, Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), eyes closed and all four legs and neck extended basking in the sun.  Such a treat for a reptile that can’t produce its own body heat!

basking turtle
A grumpy-looking, but probably happy, Painted Turtle extends all four legs and his neck and head to catch as much of the sun’s heat as this cold-blooded reptile possibly can.

Nearby, the incessant scolding of an American Goldfinch could draw you, as it did me, to a nearby tree, where a busy Eastern Gray Squirrel (Ciurus carolinensis) jumped through the branches.  The birds must have thought he was looking for their eggs, but Gray Squirrels only do that when nuts and seeds are hard to find – and that’s not the case now in Bear Creek!  He was too far up for a good shot but here’s a link to a photo.

And if you wandered down the boardwalk on the eastern edge of the pond , you’d see the results of the work that Ben VanderWeide, our stewardship manager, and his summer crew have done clearing away  invasives like Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), and Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) from that side of the pond.  Once the saplings that try to re-sprout are treated, Ben plans to plant some native seeds there.  But right now, it’s wonderful to have a clearer view of the pond without all those invasive trees and bushes crowding the shore!

Stewardship work at park
Ben and the summer stewardship crew this year and last have cleared away invasive trees and shrubs at the eastern end of the Center Pond. And a lovely natural view emerges!

I hope to bring you other “virtual visits” to Bear Creek because I know some of you can’t get to the park as often as I do.  But I hope you’ll take the time to spend at least a few hours in Bear Creek while the trees and ponds are still alive with song and wildflowers grace the fields.  Slow down and see what a half hour walk can do to make your day a bit more mellow.  Treat yourself to a bit of nature.

*Quick 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 and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.