This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. Look for weekly posts from them throughout the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!
On Thursday the stewardship crew helped host the grand opening of the new playground and safety paths at Gallagher Creek Park, which is on Silverbell Road just east of Adams.
In July 2018 parks staff, our contractor, and volunteers from the community gathered for a workday to install the playground. This year, the stewardship crew will be planting an interactive children’s garden around the newly constructed playground, using plants native to this area.
Before they start planting next week, the crew has been prepping the site by placing logs to border of the garden and adding stepping stones to encourage children to explore the planting. Stay tuned for updates on this project!
The nutrient-poor conditions of bogs and fens present a challenging environment for plant growth, so some plants have evolved mechanisms to obtain extra nutrients in interesting ways. The three special plants found in these habitats in Michigan are pitcher plants, bladderworts, and sundews. Carnivorous plants have always been a favorite of mine because of their ability to live in extreme environments and thrive by eating insects! It is also really fun to watch slow motion videos of flies being captured by the infamous Venus flytrap!
Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) can be found in bogs or fens all over the great state of Michigan, including the bog at Cranberry Lake Park. The highly modified leaves are curved into a pitcher-like shape, thus giving the unique carnivorous plant its name!
Pitcher plants in particular attract insects with their brightly colored, highly modified “pitcher” leaves that mimic flowers. Insects crawl down into the leaf and get trapped! Downward pointing hairs and a waxy coating on the inside of leaf prevent the insect from escaping, and enzymes produced by bacteria in the liquid at the bottom on the leaf digest the insect. A “pitcher” perfect ending for the plant, but not so much for the insect!
Have you found a carnivorous plant while walking through a fen or bog in your area? If you have, comment below! We would love to see your photos and hear about your experiences with cool carnivorous plants!
Plant information was gathered from Michigan DNR and NOHLC websites.
So far in this blog, I’ve paid a lot of attention to migratory birds and I’ll talk about one this week because we want to see them before they’re gone, right? But I want to periodically focus on the “ordinary” birds, some of whom turn out to be not quite so ordinary!
Thinking of Birds
I thought we’d start this week with a year ’round bird that I’ve taken taken for granted for too many years, The Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).
Like me, you probably thought this little bird was just another cute face – but we were wrong! At Cornell Ornithology’s website, allaboutbirds.org, I discovered these alert, bright little birds have astonishing capabilities. For example, they hide seeds and other bits of food in separate locations and “can remember thousands of hiding places.” I can’t even find my glasses half the time! Remember how Harry Potter had a “pensieve,” a magical bowl that could strain out unnecessary memories? Well, according to Cornell, every autumn Chickadees literally “allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons” so they can adapt to change in the next season!
Chickadees’ calls are described by the Cornell Lab as “complex and language-like,” full of information. For example, you’re probably familiar with this tiny bird’s “Chicka-dee-dee-dee” call. It turns out that the more “dees” you hear, the more dangerous the threat level. Their alarm calls are responded to by many other birds, even those with no similar call. They sleep in individual cavities that they carve out of rotten or soft wood like birch and willow, even without the sturdy beaks of the woodpeckers. Which just goes to show that looks, brains and (a kind of) brawn are part of the package for the tiny puffball we call a Black-Capped Chickadee. Who knew?
Since the breeding season is off and running, you might come across an occasional fledgling near bushes in the park or hopping awkwardly on a boardwalk like this little American Robin (Turdus migratorius). Not to worry. When baby birds get too big for the nest, the parents stay with them and feed them, though you may not see them at the moment. (See our earlier post on “Saving Creatures (seemingly) in Distress.“)
[Edit: Thanks to the comment of a knowledgeable reader and local expert birder, I now know that this is a fledgling Wood Thrush!]Many people still think of Robins as harbingers of spring, but they are generally here year round; in cold weather, they roost in trees and eat berries. I’ve seen them in Bear Creek during the winter eating berries covered in ice! In summer, they tend to eat more worms in the morning (which can make them vulnerable to pesticide poisoning) and more fruit or berries in the afternoon. (Cornell Lab says if they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively they can get tipsy!) Males sleep in roosts but females tend to sleep on the nest until the end of the breeding season. Robins can produce three broods per season and they need to because unfortunately less than half the robins in any given year survive to the next year. But a lucky one can live to be 14 years old!
The Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is about to start its second brood. The male, who in the early spring can be heard singing “Fee-bee,” will now care for the first brood, while the female starts freshening up the nest and laying a second set of eggs. They’re not easy to spot now that the male is not singing, but if you see this modest gray bird twitching its tail in a shrub or darting down to the ground to snatch a fresh bit of moss, there’s probably a nest nearby. The Phoebes are migrants who arrive early and stay late, sometimes into October, so you’ve got time.
I have to mention one of the our native ferns (which I love) that has no doubt unfurled on the left side of the Snell Road path into the park just before it opens into the field. It appears to be Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), a name that pleases me, because although they may be fully open now, when they are unfurling, they remind me of a group of elegant ladies in plumed hats having a confab.
Native vs. Non-Native vs. Invasive?
Speaking of plants, perhaps like me, you’ve heard the terms “Invasive and “Native” plants and thought all plants fell into those two categories. But Ben, Oakland Township’s Stewardship Manager, has taught me to consider one more category. Non-native plants that peacefully coexist with our native ones are simply called “Non-native. ” So I thought I’d start sharing what I’m learning here this week.
“Invasive plants” in our parks are obviously not native to Oakland Township and present problems for our native plants and the creatures that depend on them for food and shelter. They limit the wonderful diversity nature provides for us by either releasing toxins that prevent the growth of native plants, shading them out, or simply taking over large areas of land with their aggressive growth. Let’s consider a beautiful but highly problematical invasive, the Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora),blooming now at the southern edge of the small meadow west of the center pond.
Pretty flowers, right? – but super aggressive growth! This rose, originally from Asia, was probably brought here for just that aggressive tendency, to make sturdy fences for livestock, and is still being used some places on divided highways to block light from the opposite side. Its flower is lovely, but then, so is our native pink Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina) which is also blooming right now!
Pasture Roses are hardy. Like many native plants, they are adapted to fire and come back vigorously after a burn. They tolerate drought and resist the usual diseases that afflict cultivated roses – and they smell like a real rose! Long-tongued bees like the Bumblebee (see below) feed on them, as do the caterpillars of a variety of moths. Native birds like the Meadowlark andBob-White and the Non-native Ring-Necked Pheasant, birds we used to see more commonly in Oakland Township, eat the red rose-hips that develop when the petals fall. In Bear Creek, I’ve only come across Pasture Rose on the path through the Western Woods (not an ideal location for this sun-loving plant), just beyond the bridge at the south end. Perhaps, with the informed restoration that Ben and the Parks Department are doing, this remnant will eventually return to the edges of the meadow where the Multiflora Rose now dominates.
So, what about the category of “Non-native” plants that aren’t invasive? Well, how about everybody’s favorite, which is blooming right now, the Ox-eyed Daisy?
Ox-eyed Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) originated in Europe and Asia, so they’re not native, but they aren’t considered invasive here. Their presence usually indicates land that’s been disturbed by human activity; in the old fields of Bear Creek that would simply be farming or perhaps gardening in nearby homes. They aren’t native plants but their presence generally does not disturb or decrease the population of native species, like invasive plants do. In some parts of the country, Daisies can be invasive, but here they peacefully coexist with our native wildflowers.
We’ll come back to exploring these three plant categories as different ones bloom over the summer. But having mentioned the Pasture Rose, the ubiquitous Bumblebee (genus Bombus) , who frequents it, deserves a bit of attention. Here’s one approaching a native Campanula, probably Harebell ( Campanula rotundifolia). Notice its long tongue which it uses to go deep into flowers.
Queen bumblebees hatch in early spring and bluster about looking for an underground burrow in which to nest. They gather pollen, lay their eggs on it, cover them with wax and incubate them – like birds! – for four or five days. When the larvae hatch, they eat the pollen and construct cocoons from which caretaker females emerge to tend the later broods of fertile bumblebees. Only the Queen survives the winter to start the cycle again. Here’s one with the pollen pouches on its legs nicely filled on a Non-native plant, Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa). Those pollen pouches always remind me of jodpurs.
I’m wondering if this beautiful dragonfly might be spotted in the large marsh on the northeast part of the park near Gunn Road. I’ve only seen this big beauty (about a 2 inch wingspread) when the water is high there , but with all the rain, perhaps it will appear again! It’s called simply the Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella).
And how about this elegant insect, the Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (Calopteryx maculata)! The glamorous male should appear now at the back of the big loop in the northern part of the park or in the woods near the large marsh, where the female, modest brown with “smoky wings with white dots near the tips” lays her eggs in the “soft stems of aquatic plants.” Thankfully, someone with a poetic sensibility named this one, with its gauzy black wings and electric blue body. (Quotes from Wikipedia)
And that humble little brown butterfly that appears all over the park in June? That’s the little Wood Satyr (megisto cymela) who loves to bask on tree leaves in the early morning and late afternoon sun.
So despite the rain this year, June rolls on, bringing on many more nectar-drinking butterflies and the flowers they love. Let us know below what intrigues you on your next visit to Bear Creek Nature Park.
*Quick footnote: My sources for information, as well as Oakland Township Stewardship Manager Dr. Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: 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, www.and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.
Many of the Oakland Township parks have landscaping beds with native plants. Look for the native plant beds at Bear Creek Nature Park, Marsh View Park, along the Paint Creek Trail at Gunn Road, and in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.
Why native plants? The short answer is that these plants provide food and habitat for wildlife including pollinators like butterflies and bees. We also know that since these plants are native to the area, they won’t become problem invasive plants if they escape from the gardens. And native plants are beautiful! You can learn more about native plants and find out where to buy them at the Michigan Native Plant Producers Association website.
This morning I found this swallowtail caterpillar in the native plant beds at Marsh View Park. It was crawling on a little bluestem plant. I’m not sure what species of swallowtail it is, but the caterpillar looks most similar to the images of black swallowtail or anise swallowtail caterpillars I found at the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. I’m curious to learn the species, so let me know if you identify it!
Here is a picture from the native plant bed at the Paint Creek Cider Mill.
If you are a gardener, or would like to learn more about native plants, you can help with upkeep of our native plant beds. You would be trained to recognize the native plants. You would also get to help us design and continue to develop the native plant landscaping. Contact me (Ben VanderWeide) if you’d like to learn more!
Come to Bear Creek Nature Park this weekend to help with natural areas stewardship! This popular park has many unique habitats, but these areas need our help to keep invasive plant species out and native species in. After a brief tour of our native plant beds to learn a few plants, we’ll be tending to the native plant beds, preparing an area for native plant installation, and removing non-native, invasive shrubs (think buckthorn).
Where:Bear Creek Nature Park. Meet in the parking lot at the south end of the park off Snell Road. Remember that the bridge on Orion Road between Snell Rd and Collins Rd is closed.
When: Saturday, July 12 from 9 am – noon. In the event of thunderstorms, the event will be cancelled.
Who: Anyone! This event is free, with no experience necessary. We’ll train you to do the work. Most tasks are relaxing and do not require an Olympic athlete.
Why: Why not? We will be remove non-native invasive shrubs and preparing an area for planting native plants. Come out on Saturday to enjoy beautiful areas and hang out with great people! And food after we finish working!
What: Bring water and gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. We’ll have extra water and a few gloves if you can’t bring your own.
Around noon we’ll get out the grill and share some food! We’ll bring some basic food (hot dogs/veggie burgers, buns, condiments, chips), so you can just enjoy what we bring if you’d like, or bring food to share. 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.