My last blog on Draper Twin Lake Park was in April. So I thought it was high time to return there to share how its lake, wetlands and prairie transform in autumn. I began the first week in November, just before the first hard frost, and ended in the cold, gray days before Thanksgiving. Autumn brings such dramatic changes. Brilliant leaves, hardy fall flowers, migrating birds and insects give way to winter birds and the quiet, brown-and-gray austerity of November.
In the April blog, I explained, with a map, the three sections of Draper – the western lake section, the central large marsh that separates the two hiking areas, and the eastern marsh/prairie section. You can refresh you memory at this link, if you like. So join me for a series of virtual hikes in this unusual tripartite park to watch nature hunkering down for winter.
The Western Trail to Draper Twin Lake: Early November
As you can see above, the lake was beautifully calm one early November afternoon. An angler at the fishing dock that day shared his excitement from the previous day when he’d caught a 25 inch Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)there. In the photo above, you can see the water circles made by something surfacing and by the angler’s line in the water, but luck wasn’t with him that afternoon.
In the distance, a pair of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) floated peacefully along the far shore, apparently unconcerned about the angler and his line.
The grace of these non-native birds is irresistible, but how I wish I could see native Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) in our township parks. In childhood, I saw one on a pond near Orion Road, but they aren’t common. The more aggressive Mute Swans have affected their numbers by commanding the prime nesting sites. And native trumpeter swans were almost wiped out in the 19th century by two forces – the fashion industry that coveted their feathers and the hunting of muskrats and beavers whose lodges made dry nesting places for native swans then as they do for Canada Geese today.
In the water alongside the dock, a few fruits of the Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) remained on their dark stalks. I wish I’d experienced this native plant’s pink blossoms and sweet fragrance when it was in bloom. (Here’s an Illinois Wildflowers link to a photo.) Aren’t the bright crimson spots of the rose hips pretty against the silvery dried grasses in the marsh?
Some yellow and lavender leaves crowded the railing at the end of the dock near the shore. Ben VanderWeide, our Natural Areas Stewardship Manager, identified them as possibly the stems of a small Basswood tree. I wonder if the deer and rabbits that like to eat Basswood saplings during the winter will let this one grow. Basswood is fine-grained and soft so it’s often been used by whittlers to carve small objects like children’s toys.
When I headed back to the western parking lot in early November, many of the autumn leaves along the trail were still russet and golden.
One of the last insects of autumn, a Yellow-legged Meadowhawk/Autumn dragonfly, flitted down the trail, keeping me company as I headed back from the lake. Its clear wings with their brush of orange at the base, as well as its orange-red body provide good camouflage once it lands on a fallen leaf.
After an afternoon shower, I saw a Bur Oak leaf (Quercus macrocarpa) along the trail beaded in silver raindrops.
On the way out of the parking lot, a cheerful “family” of Shaggy Mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) stood at attention at the edge of the parking lot. The overnight appearance of mushrooms on autumn days almost makes up for the thinning out of wildflowers.
The Western Trail to the Lake: Late November
A week or so later, I returned to the lake near sunset and the view had changed quite dramatically but was still very lovely.
The Whorled/Swamp Loosestrife that surrounds the fishing dock had gone to seed. Ben identified this native wildflower for me and called it “a very nice plant to see in wetlands and around the margins of lakes.” It had purple blossoms in the summer and now made a graceful silhouettes against the autumn reflections in the lake.
The pointed male section at the top of Cat-tails (genus Typha) had fertilized the female “brown-suede” section below earlier in the summer. Now huge plumes shed their seeds at the edge of the dock in the rosy light of an autumn sunset.
By late November, the pair of swans had probably departed for points south and one breezy afternoon, a trio of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)took their place on Draper Lake. They drifted with the wind, dipping their long necks below the surface periodically to feed on submerged vegetation.
The Shaggy Mane mushroom family had disappeared, as mushrooms can do so suddenly and completely. But as I got back to the parking lot on my later visit, some orange mushrooms glowed in the distance on a dead branch. My best guess is that they are toxic Jack O’Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens) which cluster on dead wood in the fall. But I’m no mushroom expert so feel free to correct me!
The Eastern Trail to the Marsh and Prairie: Early November
Heading east from the lake section of the park, past the big marsh on the left, you reach a driveway near the crest of hill where a gray building and a small parking lot indicate you’ve reached the the eastern section of Draper Twin Lake Park. As you head off down the trail on the left, in the distance you can see the big central marsh through the trees.
In early November, a few fall wildflowers were still in bloom along this part of the trail. As I set off, I thought I saw a bee probing a blossom of a fall aster (genus Symphotrichum) but on closer inspection, it was one of many Hoverflies (family Syrphidae) that mimic the bee’s appearance, perhaps to ward off predators. Bees were noticeably absent. Presumably non-native European Honeybees (Apis mellifera) had already retreated to their hives inside nearby trees and native Bumblebee queens (genus Bombus) were settling into their individual underground burrows.
Crawling into that blossom above is another insect that was new to me. I got a clearer shot of the Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) as I watched the EasternYellow Jacket (Vespula maculifrons)below foraging for nectar on a Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa). The beetle’s lime green thorax, spotted abdomen and striped antennae make it look like a cartoon insect, but it’s a major pest for farmers. These bright green beetles attack a variety of crops, including cucumbers and soybeans, and their caterpillars (or larvae) drill down to eat the roots of young plants. Here at Draper, though, this one seemed to just be searching for food quite peaceably with its neighbors, the wasp and hoverfly.
As you round that first curve in the trail, there’s a “floating mat” marsh to your right. In the center of this marsh is a tightly woven tangle of plants and roots with water running beneath it – and shrubs as well as individual plants thrive on this mat.
Before the first frost, Ben’s birding group was still seeing a few migrating sparrows on this path. The White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis),which probably raised its young in Canada, was traveling to southern Ohio and beyond for the winter. (Note the yellow “lores” at the corner of the eyes.)
Ben’s group spotted a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) as well. It has longer legs than other sparrows so it can wade into water. It will actually put its whole head under the surface to fish out small invertebrates. It was on its way south, too.
After turning the corner at the north end of this path, you’ll see the prairie that’s being restored from an old farm field. When I went in early November, the trees along the edge were in full color. (See the photo at the top of the blog.) In the prairie itself, some native plants were still blooming this fall. I was surprised to see Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) still turning their bright faces to the autumn sun. Ben identified for me another native plant as White Vervain (Verbena articifolia) which produces tightly packed tiny white flowers in the summer. The Blue Vervain(Verbena hastata) that Ben planted on the prairie last fall will hopefully make an appearance next year.
A female Clouded Sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice)danced among the dry stems on the field, finally landing on a seeding Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), trying to find a last sip of nectar before the first frost.
Nearby, a drab little Skipper (family Hesperiidae)that I was unable to identify had found the same plant for a last minute snack.
As I rounded the curve and headed back to the parking area, I heard a commotion in an adjoining field. And suddenly a small tree was filled with dozens of European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) gathering for their migration. Such a gabble of sound and a fluttering of restless wings!
Eastern Trail: Late November
By late November, most of the color had drained from the trees. Around the marsh edges, the Poplars (genus Populus) created a crisp contrast to the russet leaves nearby.
Poplars are plentiful in many of our township parks, while White Pines (Pinus strobus) are less frequent. These soft-needle, native pines were lumbered off from the late 18th through the early 20th century. The few very large white pines that remain in our township probably reflect where they were found historically, while the smaller white pines most likely spread from planted trees often used in landscaping. According to Wikipedia, White Pines produce new needles each spring which they shed about 18 months later in the fall, creating thick carpets on the ground beneath.
Just off the curve in the trail near the prairie, there’s a remarkable White Pine with seven trunks, five of which are full size! I’ve never seen such a tall pine with multiple trunks. On the left is the base of the tree and on the right is my 5′ 11″ husband looking very small next to the height of this impressive tree – or should I say “trees?”
Birds migrating farther south no longer skittered from limb to limb. Instead, our tried-and-true, hardy, year ’round birds – Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata), Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) – huddled in shrubs to avoid cold winds or basked on bare branches on sunnier days.
And there were the familiar migratory birds of the far north – the American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) and the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) – who think Michigan is great place to spend the winter.
Bare Trees, Early Sunsets, and Acres of Quiet
Autumn turns us inward, I think. The bustle and color of summer has quieted to more somber grays and browns. Windsong is changed by flowing through dry leaves and bare limbs. A woodpecker drills in the distance; a crow or a jay stridently announces your presence. Now that leaves are underfoot, the trees sleep down in their roots. Turtles and frogs drowse in torpor beneath the water surface. In autumn’s quiet depths, the natural world offers us a place to listen, watch, and maybe just…be. A welcome respite from the hurly-burly of our lives.
Footnote: My sources for information,besides Oakland Township's Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide, 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 and the website www.illinoiswildflowers.info; 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.
Autumn’s here and a bit gone, so winter prep begins in earnest at Bear Creek. The hibernators are finding or freshening up snug housing for the winter. Migrating birds stop for a rest and a repast before continuing their journeys, while others arrive to spend the winter with us. A few hearty insects, who survived the migrating birds and the cold nights, hop and fly on warmer south-facing slopes. Leaves rustle underfoot and tumble past so the quest continues to learn their names, to be more familiar with the giants of the plant world. Let’s start with a walk through the Oak-Hickory forest.
Animals Prep for Winter
One of this week’s highlights was discovering a North American Raccoon (Procyon lotor) in the same place I’ve seen them almost every spring or fall – in a huge hole in a white oak halfway down the eastern forest path. On my first walk this week, I could only see a bit of fur at the bottom of the hole, but that brought me back the next morning. At first the hole appeared empty. Disappointed, I approached, crunching noisily through the leaves and surprise! A raccoon was fully visible in the dark of the huge hole, staring intently at me while I took its photo. What a treat to know that once more one of these clever bandits will spend the winter dozing in this cozy home with its ideal southern exposure.
The chirping and dashing of chipmunks and squirrels will accompany your walk through our Oak-Hickory forest again this week. They are eating and storing acorns and other nuts for hibernation or winter meals. Here’s an Eastern Chipmunk ((Tamias striatus) with a mouthful of leaves, evidently planning to refresh its burrow before its long sleep . Chipmunks wake every few weeks in winter, eat a bit from their food stores and snooze some more.
A scratching and scrabbling sound nearby alerted me to a pair of Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) spiraling up a giant tree near the marsh. Fox Squirrels mate between November and March and then again in the summer – so it may have been a practice mating chase. Or perhaps just two young ones feeling their oats, or in this case, acorns! One paused high above on a tree knot. The other used its 180°-rotating ankles to stretch out lengthwise, head down on the trunk. Fox Squirrels prefer winter dens within woodpecker holes, but if none are available, they will build leaf nests in the crotches of trees. They spend the winter days with us – as anyone with a bird feeder knows!
Down at the Pond, Out in the Fields: Migratory Visitors and a Couple of Hearty Insects
When I reached the Center Pond this week (so clear this time of year!), I saw two migrants that I’d never seen before busily flipping over leaves to search for insects in the muddy shadows of the southern shore – a male and female Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus). Cornell lab calls this bird “relatively uncommon” because it is “one of North America’s most rapidly declining species.” I hope this turns around because I was thrilled to see them on their trip from Canada’s far north to their southern destination. My photo of the male in non-breeding plumage is below. I didn’t get a decent shot of the female, who is gray-brown with a black stripe through the eye. This Cornell link has much better photos of both genders.
Up near the Playground Pond, I saw a recent arrival from Canada who’ll spend the winter with us – the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).I’m sure you’ve seen flocks of them under your feeder in the winter. Their black backs and white bellies make them look like Chinese calligraphy on white snow.
I’ve been posting photos of juvenile Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) for the last few weeks but this week I got a good look at a beautiful adult one. Here you can see both the yellow tip of its tail and the bright red wing spots that evidently looked like sealing wax to the person who named this elegant bird.
I had an opportunity to clearly see a Swamp Sparrow after only spotting the head of one at Bear Creek last week! It’s a handsome little bird with slightly longer legs than some sparrows so it can wade in and pull food from the water. (Thanks to Ruth Glass again for the ID!)
Likewise, on October 10, I posted a shadowy photo of a Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) at Bear Creek. Today one grazed a window at our home! I followed instructions found on the web and waited 5-10 minutes before intervening – though I had a resting box ready, just in case. Luckily, it recovered and flew off, but before it did, I got a slightly fuzzy photo of its golden crown taken through the window. This tiny bird, smaller than a Chickadee and not much bigger than a Hummer, has traveled all the way from the Canadian north and can survive in -40° temperatures! So let’s hope its accident won’t prevent this hardy survivor from arriving just a bit further south where it intends to spend the winter.
Insects that Made It Through Very Chilly Nights!
On sunny days, you can still hear grasshoppers in warm spots on the trail – though far fewer than before. I think they are still Red-legged Grasshoppers (Melanoplus femurrubrum)since they usually remain in the fields through October. The female Red-legged Grasshoppers lay their eggs in the ground during late summer or fall. Only the eggs overwinter, I believe, though some species overwinter as nymphs. (If anyone knows more, please share!) I saw a pair mating rather awkwardly on the edge of a path in October last year. The male is the smaller, greener grasshopper.
I always thought that all red dragonflies at Bear Creek were Ruby Meadowhawks. But it seems that there are multiple red Meadowhawk dragonflies. The one I’m seeing on almost every sunny path at the moment is probably a late bloomer named the Yellow-Legged Autumn Dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) or at least that’s my best guess.
Now, About those Falling Leaves…
So why the color change? And how do leaves fall? The shorter days cue trees to reduce the chlorophyll in their leaves, the substance which makes them green in summer and able to feed sugars to the tree through the chemical action of photosynthesis. As the chlorophyll subsides with less light, other pigments begin to show or form in the leaves making the leaves turn yellow, orange and red. In response to less sunlight, a layer of cells gradually forms at the base of each leaf blocking the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf. When that seal is complete, the leaves detach and fall. More detailed info at this USDA Forest Service link.
Two Members of White Oak Group, the Ones with Rounded Lobes
While in the woods, I continue to snap photos of leaves, trying to imprint their shapes in my mind. I can now easily recognize the White Oak(Quercus alba)with its rounded lobes and light gray bark. The fall leaves can evidently be a variety of colors, but are mostly red to brown.
The Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is a member of the White Oak family, too, with rounded lobes but much deeper sinuses (spaces between the lobes) than the White Oak. The bristly acorns are a clue to its name.
Three Members of the Red Oak Group, the ones with Pointed Lobes
Northern Red Oaks (Quercus rubra) have leaves with 7-11 bristle-tipped, pointed lobes. The fall leaves can be red to brown. I loved the deep chocolate color of this one on a deck in the marsh.
The leaves of Black Oaks (Quercus velutina), a member of the Red Oak group, have only 5-7 pointed, bristle-tipped lobes and can be yellow to brown in the autumn.
Another member of the Red Oak group, the Northern Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), has deep sinuses that reach almost to the central vein between the pointed lobes . These trees encircle the playground with color right now and they are in the woods as well.
Acorns, the nuts which contain Oak seeds, are dropping through the leaves and rolling underfoot. Eastern Chipmunks take some of them underground to the larder chambers in their burrows. Squirrels simply dig holes in the ground and cover the nut with earth. They’ll find some to eat in the winter and others will be forgotten. While feeding wildlife (some birds eat acorns too), this burying of nuts also helps replenish the forest with saplings in coming years. (Cool info on acorns at this link that two people sent to me this week! Thanks to Mary and Ben!)
Two Kinds of Maples – there are many more!
Maples are tolerant of shade, so they form part of the “understory” of our woods. They produce winged seeds that we, as kids, called “helicopter seeds,” but that botanists call “samaras.” There’s a photo at this link of samaras from a Silver Maple.
Red Maples (Acer rubrum)are one of the most widespread trees in Eastern North America. I liked how the one on the left below had only partially turned when it fell, so it ended up tri-colored. The scarlet one on the right turned before it fell.
The Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) has a more delicate, deeply lobed leaf whose pearly underside provides its name.
Some other Leaf Favorites
I’m particularly fond of the 3-fingered leaf of the Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum). According to Wikipedia, in the 19th century, Sassafras roots were used for root beer or “sarsaparilla,” a soft drink that straight-arrow cowboys ordered at the saloon in old western movies, a source of amusement to their macho compatriots. You can smell the root beer scent if you snap the stem of a green Sassafras leaf. However, the roots turn out to be bad for your liver, so root beer these days is made with artificial flavorings.
A Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) left a lovely pattern on the path near the marsh. These native trees filled the field behind my parents’ house on Lake George Road so I have a particular fondness for the graceful shape and scarlet color of their autumn leaves.
A New Home for Native Plants at Bear Creek!
This week a team of six volunteers and staff caravanned to Armada to collect two beds of native plants donated to Bear Creek by Nancy Parmenter. She’d sold her house and the new owners needed a larger play area for their children. So we’re very grateful that she gave them a new home at Bear Creek. The crew spent several ideal autumn hours digging up the plants and then re-planting them in a new bed near the parking lot.
The plants may not look glamorous now in late fall, but by spring 25 species of native grasses and wildflowers will be adding more color and diversity to Bear Creek. The garden is just to the right of the pavilion and there’s a wood chip path through it so that in spring you’ll be able to walk close to the flowers. Thank you to everyone who dug and planted and to Nancy Parmenter for this wonderful donation!
So you have lots of reasons to visit the park on these glorious autumn days – watch for migrating birds, laugh at chipmunks during their fall eating frenzy, be escorted by late season dragonflies, spy on a hibernating raccoon or have a first look at our newest native flowerbed. Savor the season!
If you wonder why it’s so tricky to get photos of migrating birds in the autumn, have a look at the colors of the western Old Field above. The bright gold of the goldenrod has now faded to a soft silvery brown. In their subdued winter plumage, small birds can be nicely camouflaged as they feed. Vines full of fruit hang from bushes and trees – with just enough leaves to make a perfect hiding place. So to see these small visitors, a park walker’s best tools are their ears. Birds aren’t singing now but they do click, whistle, chip and cheep as they move through the tall grass and vines.
I’m not expert enough to identify birds by these autumn calls. I can only locate birds by hearing clicks and cheeps and then wait for them to emerge long enough to take a quick photo or glimpse them through binoculars. This week, some chirping sounds in the woods led me to a delightful chipmunk competition as well. So here’s where my ears led me this week at Bear Creek.
Listening for Migrants: Still Here but in Smaller Numbers
This Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) kindly appeared on a bare branch over the marsh. Its field marks in the fall are that yellow spot below the wing and the rectangular yellow patch above the tail visible in the photo below. Yellow-rumped Warblers tend to be quick and noisy while foraging and even make a chek sound when flying. Page down to “Calls” at this Cornell link to hear their fall cheeping. I love the thought that some of these birds spend the winter on tropical coffee plantations!
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) was still here this week, but I only saw single birds, not flocks like last week. This tiny bird is only about 3/4 of an inch longer than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and like the Hummer, can flutter in the air as it picks seeds off of the goldenrod. We spotted this one because of its restless flitting and its call, which sounds a bit like a high-pitched version of the American Red Squirrel’s scold. Click here and page down to “Calls” at this Cornell link.
White-throated Sparrows on their way south bounced and swayed among the goldenrod, looking for seed, or rested, perching in short trees and shrubs nearby. The yellow dots in front of their eyes (their “lores”) make them easier to identify than some sparrows. Cornell describes their call as a “high, level seep”; I’d say a small, soft cheep, but you can listen here under the second “call” and see what you’d name it. This one seemed a bit annoyed at my camera!
A smaller group of young White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys)moved into and out of the tangles of brush along the paths. These brownish youngsters, like the ones in last week’s post, were born south of the Arctic circle this summer. When they return in the spring, their heads will be boldly striped black and white. They’ll have a lovely song then but right now they make a rather simple sparrow “chip” as they forage among the greenery.
The cheek pattern on this brown and gray sparrow means it might be a Swamp Sparrow,but since it refused to emerge from its hiding place in the goldenrod, I can’t be quite sure! If it is, it’ll have longer legs so that it can actually put its head under water to capture aquatic insects. This one was clearly hiding so it didn’t make its metallic “chip” call.
Our summer Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are departing and ones from farther north are arriving here for the winter. Jays are members of the very bright Corvidae bird family, like Crows. Here’s a curious winter migrant exploring a standing dead tree (or “snag”) in Bear Creek. You’ll hear lots of raucous Jay calls in the park right now, as they flock in from the North. The familiar call is at this link at the third recording under “Calls.”
Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) make good use of “snags” for drumming when courting or making holes for nesting in the spring. Now they make only a soft tapping sound as they search for insects and the occasional seed. Their quick vertical/upside-down/every-which-way acrobatic trunk hopping serves as a better clue to finding one. Downies travel in mixed flocks during the winter. According to the Cornell Lab, they get more warning of predators and find more food that way. Females (no red head spot) evidently feed on larger branches or the trunks of trees because males (red spot on back of head) prevent them from feeding on smaller branches and weed stems which females seem to prefer when males are absent! So here’s an “oppressed” female Downy on a large limb.
A Noisy Chipping Competition with an Unimpressed Audience!
The fall colors in the marsh are lovely and I have always loved this big willow that floats like a cloud above the reeds at the south end. Male mallards flutter in the water in an effort to impress the females and find a mate for the spring. Since many of them have not finished molting and still have brown feathers mixed with the iridescent green, the females aren’t paying much attention yet.
In the woods at the edge of the marsh, though, I came across the auditory dueling of EasternChipmunks (Tamias striatus). They each “chipped” steadily for long minutes, presumably defending their cache of nuts and seeds from possible snitching by the other. With winter approaching, it happens! So these chipmunks loudly defended their territories – presumably from me as well as other chipmunks. I saw one of the noisy characters, its whole body throbbing as it “chipped” loudly from a fallen limb.
I wasn’t able to find the answering chipmunk on the other side of the trail, but I did spot a listener nearby.
But evidently, the listening chipmunk found whatever was being communicated quite distasteful – or perhaps it was just having digestion problems! But its expression changed and made me laugh out loud.
Here’s a 30 second recording I made of the two dueling chipmunks warning each other – and me probably – to respect their territory!
Seeds in the Wind!
This week the slender pods of native Butterfly Milkweed (Ascelpias tuberosa) broke open and the wind took the ripe seeds dancing through the air. Whenever we find milkweed seeds of any kind on a mowed or limestone path, some place where it would be difficult for them to grow, my husband and I pick them up and release them into the wind. (We don’t break open seed pods! The seeds aren’t mature until the pods open and the seeds start flying on their own.) We toss or blow them into the air because we want more of milkweed next year. And besides, watching the seeds sail across a meadow, competing to see which one goes farthest and highest, is a good game!
So if you come to Bear Creek this week – or any week – perhaps you too can discover how your ears, as well as your eyes, can help you spot birds, especially small ones, that you’ve never noticed before. And if you see some milkweed seeds that have landed in unfortunate places, toss them skyward and watch them fly!
*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);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; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification;Birds of North American Online; Audubon.org