Tag Archives: Orb Weaver Spider

Watershed Ridge Park: A Knee-Deep Immersion in Nature

The knee-deep flowers and grasses of a meadow at Watershed Ridge

Watershed Ridge Park offers an adventurous, challenging hike on a hot summer day. No trails exist yet to lead you through Watershed, since it’s not yet developed. But you can park by the evergreen trees just east of the maintenance shed and explore from there (approximately 1664 W. Buell Rd). This park is named for a watershed boundary, a high point within the park, that causes precipitation to flow in two directions, ultimately feeding both Paint Creek and Stony Creek. The diversity of habitats is remarkable. Large areas of the park have agricultural fields that are tilled and planted by a local farmer, which helps keep invasive plants out until the area can be restored to natural habitat.

Text and photos by Cam Mannino

But once I step out of the farm fields, the magic begins! A forest with vernal pools, a bright meadow, a boggy swamp shaded by trees, a seasonal stream, and a hidden marsh surrounded by a nearly impenetrable circle of native shrubs. So feel free to join me as I walk through some of this  wild and wonderful park on a hot summer day.

The Forest and Its Wetlands

I started down the edge of the farmer’s field to the west of the maintenance shed, walking carefully so as not to damage the Fogler’s soybeans. The field was dotted with wildflowers, like Pale-leaved Sunflowers (Helianthus strumosus) which attracted the attention of the Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis),  a butterfly that seems to be plentiful this year!

Pale-leaved Sunflowers shine in the shade under the trees that line the farmer’s field.
A Red-spotted Purple butterfly rests in the cool shade near the sunflowers.

Once I entered the cooler woods on the north edge of the field, I began to see blue-green wetlands shining in the dim, dappled light.

Blue-green wetlands glow in the distance as you enter the forest.

Oh yes, mosquitoes buzzed, but I patted on more insect repellent and headed for the water, because I knew that’s where I’d see the most wildlife. And sure enough, as I settled on a log near the water, a rustle behind me turned out to be a young White-tailed deer buck (Odocoileus virginianus) peering curiously at me from behind the greenery.

A young buck stares intently at me from the greenery near a wooded wetland in the forest.

I could hear an Eastern Wood-Pewee singing plaintively in the distance, a nice soundtrack for my entrance into a mysterious forest. A plop! at my feet made me aware of a young Green Frog (Rana clamitans), covered in Duckweed (genus Lemno), who’d been basking on a log just moments before.

A young Green Frog cools down among the Duckweed in a shady wetland.

Far out in the water, two Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula pulchellachased each other around a fallen willow until one finally settled for a moment. It was too far away for a good shot, so here’s my photo of a male in Bear Creek marsh several years ago.

A male Twelve-spotted Skimmer settles on a stalk in a marsh.

The forest wetlands were a busy location for courting that afternoon. A pair of Emerald Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes elatus) had evidently mated just before I arrived. Below you can see the female grasping the stem, her abdomen curled inward, preparing to lay eggs on a plant, while the male above keeps a wary eye for predators or other males.

The female Emerald Spreadwing Damselfly curls her abdomen to lay eggs on a plant while the male guards her from above.

It was hard to see how glamorous these Emerald Spreadwings are in the dim light, so I was pleased when a male landed in the sunlight nearby.

A male Emerald Spreadwing stops in the sunlight for a moment.

One of the stumps in the wetland was decorated with the wheel-shaped web of an Orb Weaver Spider (family Araneidae). It glowed in a ray of sunlight. According to Wikipedia, “Many orb-weavers build a new web each day. Most orb-weavers tend to be active during the evening hours; they hide for most of the day. Generally, towards evening, the spider will consume the old web, rest for approximately an hour, then spin a new web in the same general location.” Very tidy, eh? That might explain why I never saw the spider and there was virtually no detritus in the web. I’m not sure what to think about the extensive web on the stump below. A practice run?

The wheel-like web of an Orb Weaver spider

At the water’s edge, three “conks” of  Shelf/Polypore fungi shone white against the tracks in the wood, maybe the feeding galleries of emerald ash borer larvae .

Three shelf fungi “conks) on a log traced by a tunneling bark beetle.

Near another shady vernal pool wetland, I spotted a tiny Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) gazing toward the water from a small piece of wood. Perhaps it was a fond last look since this little creature will soon move uphill a bit from the forest pool in which it hatched. Finding a place to hibernate under the leaf litter, it will freeze solid until spring. No heartbeat, no breathing, no movement. This seeming miracle is made possible by a glucose anti-freeze of sorts produced by its liver. As regular readers of the blog know, this strategy for survival never fails to astonish me.

Perhaps  this  tiny Wood Frog is contemplating its winter hibernation when it will freeze solid.

As I neared the edge of the woods, where it opens to the meadow, familiar plants were there to greet me.  I could have wished for less attention from Enchanter’s Nightshade, (Circaea canadensis) which at this time of the year is producing seed within burr-like fruits. Looking high into the trees, I strayed into a large patch and my socks were covered. For the rest of my walk, I became a transportation vehicle for Enchanter’s Nightshade fruits!

Enchanter’s Nightshade lies in wait for passersby to carry its seeds away to new locations.  My socks, for example, make a fine carrying device.

Another forest edge plant, Jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana), spreads its seed in a different way. Once the seed is mature, any disturbance can send its seeds flying up to three yards!

Once Jumpseed (pink flowers) produces mature seeds, bumping into the plants will propel the seeds up to 3 yards away.

Another native wildflower that hugs the forest edge, Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), is called Spotted Touch-Me-Not for the same reason. Its mature seeds also spring forth from the fruits when they are disturbed.

Jewelweed also throws out its seed when touched, earning its other name, Spotted Touch-me-not.

The Meadow that Slopes Down to the Marsh

The meadow that slopes down to a marsh at Watershed Ridge

Walking out into the hot, moist meadow, I found myself knee deep in dense grasses and flowers. The sunlit field was slashed with long dark shadows from the forest as I waded through the dense growth underfoot.  All around me, dragonflies patrolled the flower tops, since the presence of a meadow in which to show off their colors and flying skills and a nearby marsh full of vegetation is their perfect habitat for mating and laying eggs. Widow Skimmers and Meadowhawks (genus Sympetrum) were everywhere. [I suspect the Meadowhawks were Ruby Meadowhawks (Sympetrum rubicundulum) but I’ve learned they can be confused with others unless you capture them and look closely – which I’m not at all interested in doing!)

A female Widow Skimmer displays against a grass stem.
A female Meadowhawk in bright sunlight cools herself by positioning her wings and abdomen.
A male Meadowhawk nearer the marsh spreads his wings to attract a mate.

Tiny butterflies fluttered through the flower stems adding their bit of color to scene. (Click on photos to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)

As I struggled down toward the marsh, lifting my knees high to get through the lush tangle of stems, I begin to notice the plants near the marsh that love having “wet feet.” Mine, actually, were getting a bit wet, too!

Hearing sharp chipping calls behind me, I turned around to find an adult Song Sparrow  (Melospiza melodia) warning its offspring to stay out of sight. This may be a female since they often begin their molt later than males do. The youngster stayed out of sight within a nearby bush.

The adult Song Sparrow warned its youngster to stay hidden with a chipping call.

Adult birds can be a bit scarce in late July and August because many are molting a whole new set of feathers. They’re generally not a pretty sight in the process, I can tell you! They’re not hiding out of vanity, of course; they’re just more vulnerable as wing feathers are replaced. I could hear the “witchety, witchety” call of the Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)beyond the wall of native Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina) which prevented me from seeing into the marsh. And a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) “miaowed” from the Dogwood as well, making only a brief appearance. So I took the bird photos below in other parks at other times.

Ben’s Balancing Act in a Shady Swamp

Swamps are generally defined by ecologists as a forested wetland. Watershed Ridge Park has a beauty.  Ben VanderWeide, our township’s Natural Areas Stewardship Manager, put on his waders one afternoon and went to explore this habitat at Watershed Ridge while working on a plant inventory of the park. What an adventure! The water may look shallow, Ben told me later, but the muck beneath it can be very, very deep! To explore the swamp, Ben tested each step and only went into the water once he found firm footing. Otherwise, he stepped or jumped from one hummock to another. Some of the hummocks were made by  “windthrows,”  fallen trees uprooted by the wind which had become covered by vegetation. Others were made by stumps of trees that had probably been felled years ago and were now overgrown with plant material.

While moving from hummock to hummock, Ben spotted some interesting and unusual native plants. How about Duck Potato (Sagittaria latifolia), also known as Common Arrowhead? I know I’d never heard of that one before! Ducks and other creatures love to eat its submerged tubers which store nutrients for the flower’s regrowth and/or reproduction.  And since, we humans love our favorite tuber – potatoes –  why not the name Duck Potato?

Duck Potato, so named because ducks and others eat their submerged tubers.

Ben found another unusual little beauty in the swamp, a Wild Calla (Calla palustris). Wild Calla is the only species in the genus Calla which is within the family Araceae. That family includes what are commonly called Calla Lilies (though they aren’t true lilies or in the Calla genus) and our old friend Jack-in-the-pulpit. It appears that the Wild Calla in Ben’s photo below had already been pollinated because, like Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the flowers are disappearing, replaced by green, berry-like fruits that will turn red in the autumn. Such a find!

A Wild Calla whose flowers have already been fertilized .  The resulting green fruits will turn red in the autumn.

Ben also spotted a sedge that he’d never seen in our parks before. Sedges (plants in the family Cyperaceae) are a big family of plants that look like grasses or reeds, but have triangular-shaped stems instead of flat ones. Papyrus and Water Chestnuts are in the same family. What I enjoy about sedges is that they often have such interesting spikes, like the one Ben found, Tuckerman’s Sedge (Carex tuckermanii). It also appears to have finished flowering and started producing fruits.

Tuckerman’s Sedge, a grass-like plant in the Watershed swamp

Along with these rewarding finds in the Watershed swamp, Ben was treated to a snack of High-bush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) as he balanced precariously on top of those floating hummocks!

Ben was also rewarded with High-bush Blueberries as he explored the swamp.

His treat was only fair, really, since he had to carefully avoid the abundant Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) scattered through the swamp. While he came home with a small Poison Sumac rash, it was a small price to pay for discovering cool, new plants and wild blueberries as far as Ben was concerned. Poison Sumac takes the form of a shrub or small tree and  grows only  in very wet places like swamps and bogs. My thanks to Ben for exploring this Watershed habitat. I don’t think I’ll be pulling on my waders anytime soon…but I’m very glad he did!

Poison Sumac, photo by Mawkaroni at iNaturalist.org (CC BY-NC)

When sufficient rain falls, a small stream flows out of Watershed’s swamp and finds its way through the woods westward,  eventually feeding the marsh I spoke of earlier at the foot of the big meadow. It’s not an impressive stream, but it feeds the plants in the marsh, which brings the insects, which feed the birds…you get the idea. Nature depends on connections like that.

A small seasonal stream flows westward from the swamp to the marsh at the foot of the big meadow.

Time to Head Home

By now, my damp feet, my tired knees and my socks decorated with Enchanter’s Nightshade made me aware that it was time to leave.  So I trudged back up the meadow, through the dim woods where the Pee-wee still asked its question,  “Pee-weee?”, along the Fogler’s soy beans and across the lawn to the cornfield beyond the shed.  There a group of young Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) hung out on the cornstalks, moving restlessly like a bunch of rowdy teenagers, while their weary elders probably went on molting while hidden in the bushes and fields nearby.

The cornfield became a gathering place for young Red-winged Blackbirds.

I was standing next to a large tree stump when a juvenile House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) popped out of the vines that covered it.  This young bird  was a bit older than the plush-looking little Wren I’d seen at Stony Creek Ravine a few weeks ago.  But it was clear that the Watershed wren had still not quite grown into its beak. Surprised at how close I was, it hopped nervously for a moment, looked away, looked back – and popped back into the leafy cover. Caution won out over curiosity.

My Watershed adventure complete, I headed home, content that I’d experienced the natural world in the same way I’d relished it as a child growing up on Lake George Road. Yes, my arm had a few itchy spots here and there, my tired knees felt wobbly and water squished in my shoes –   but I’d meandered on paths of my own making,  out of sight of other humans, a quiet part of something wild and much older than I – and yet close enough to the kitchen at home that I’d be there in time for dinner. Thanks for coming along.

Footnote: My sources for information, besides Oakland Township's Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: inaturalist.org; Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University; Wikipedia; 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, A Guide to Bird Behavior Vols.1-3 by Donald W and Lillian Q.Stokes, and others as cited in the text.

 

THIS WEEK AT BEAR CREEK: Birds Who Love “Berries” and Bugs, the Sweet Song of an Invisible Bird and Spider Magic Down Below

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

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.

Morning mist western slope
Morning mist starts to dissipate over the western slope of Bear Creek as summer begins to wane.

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!

Cedar Waxwing3
The gregarious Cedar Waxwing can be seen in flocks throughout the year eating “drupes,” or berry-like fleshy fruits of all kinds, their favorite food.

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.

Gray Dogwood berries
The white fruits of the native Gray Dogwood are a good source of food in the fall for many birds and animals.

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!

worn out cardinal
Cardinals, who also eat fruits in the fall,  have a complete molt in late August or September.

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!

Autumn Olive berries
Birds eat the berry-like fruits, or drupes,  of Autumn Olive which is how this aggressively invasive shrub spreads through Bear Creek!

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.

Jack in pulpit fruit
In late summer,  our native wildflower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, replaces both Jack and his pulpit with bright red berry-like 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.

two male turkeys
WIld turkeys eat lots of fruits, seeds and nuts, including the berry-like fruit of Jack-in the-Pulpit, which is toxic to humans and many animals.

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.

Male grosbeak winter plumage
The adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has changed into his winter plumage. The rosy bib and black-and-white back  of his breeding colors are absent now.

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.

Elderberry
Native Elderberry drupes which are in the woods just north of the parking lot are a favorite “berry” of the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.

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!

Glossy Buckthorn Bear Creek
The berry-like drupes of the highly invasive shrub, Glossy Buckthorn, will turn black and be spread by birds who eat these fruits.

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.

Least Flycatcher
The modest Least Flycatcher, like the American Redstart (see link above)  does its best to help out this time of year by eating lots of insects.

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!

multiple spider webs
Two Orb Spider webs (one bending  in the breeze center, one lower left) and a Bowl and Doily spider web (lower center)  made by a Sheet-weaving spider – plus the superstructure 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.

Spider web w spider in middle

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.

Two basket webs
Possibly two Bowl and Doily  Spider Webs made by Sheet-weaving spiders.

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!

web jewelry fb
An Orb Weaver Spider’s web makes glistening jewelry after a rain.

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.