When I walk outside in the morning, I feel a chill in the air that wasn’t there a few weeks ago. The days are getting shorter, and somehow it’s already September. Where did the summer go?
After hot summer days, I always look forward to the mild temperatures, fragrant cider, and just-barely-changing leaves of early fall. Even without these cues, wildflowers would announce the changing season if I’d just woken from a long summer nap. The timing of flowering can tell us where we are in the annual orbit around our star. By comparing the timing of flowering and other natural events from year to year, a science called phenology, we can learn how plants and animals respond to changes in their environment. Pretty cool!
I found some outstanding wildflowers this week while checking on the progress of our habitat restoration projects at Gallagher Creek Park and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. Check out these photos to see how nature announces fall, then go find some wildflowers in real life! It’s going to be a beautiful weekend.
The last two weeks at Bear Creek gifted me with some exciting moments – seeing previously unseen birds, witnessing unusual nesting behavior, watching a turtle struggling to bury her eggs and being surprised by a little butterfly I hadn’t seen for years. So though the blog just visited Bear Creek two weeks ago, I wanted to share the bounty I’m enjoying before the season changes much.
Unusual Birds and the Usual Ones Doing Interesting Things!
As many of you know, I’ve been walking in Bear Creek for 25 years and I’ve watched for owls all that time. They spend their days sleeping right next to tree trunks on high limbs, and despite craning my neck for years, I’d never spotted one. But on the first June bird walk, a fellow birder, Bob Bonin, spotted one high up in a tree near Bear Creek Marsh. Huge, silhouetted against the morning sky, this Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) wasn’t easy to see, much less photograph. But luckily, I got a few shots before he gave the group an annoyed look, lifted his huge body with his massive wings and flew away. Such a thrill! (Click on arrows for slideshow; use pause button for a closer look.)
A bit earlier that morning, we saw an unusual bird at the other end of the size spectrum. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) perched high on a snag behind the Center Pond and turned his iridescent green back to the morning sun. We saw a quick orange flash at his throat but I missed it. The Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior (Vol. I) indicates that males’ throats look brown or black if the light doesn’t hit their necks just right. When I returned on a late afternoon, there he was on the same snag – but this time the afternoon sun caught the edge of his throat which shone gold rather than ruby red. He’s not the most glamorous hummer, but I’m glad I got to see a bit of his gleam.
Near the Center Pond, the birders also discovered the nest of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) – with the male sitting calmly, tending the eggs or nestlings. Occasionally, he even sang his lovely tune as he waited patiently. I’d read in the Stokes Guides that male Grosbeaks sometime take on this responsibility, but I’d never seen it. On three separate visits, the male was the only one on this nest – though the female may have relieved him at other times. So, Happy Father’s Day to this dedicated Grosbeak dad!
In a willow to the right of the deck in the Center Pond is a beautiful nest. It’s cleverly attached between two vertical branches about 20 feet up, ingeniously woven and quite large – maybe 9 inches long. During my first 3 visits, only the female’s black tail cocked behind her was visible from the observation deck. Finally one afternoon, I waded into the grass at the pond’s edge and caught sight of her hindquarters as she fed her young. And then, I saw a fledgling’s head just above the edge of the nest. Ah, this nest was constructed by a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – a somewhat eccentric one since Red-wings normally build close to the water and weave their nests among cat-tails or reeds. She’s quite an architect! The location of this elaborate nest makes it nearly invisible and unreachable by predators. Clever mama Red-wing!
Two nests appeared high in a tree on the Walnut Lane. The barely visible, masked eye of the female Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) peeked through the leaves that camouflaged the first nest spotted by the birders. Since she sat there quietly every time I visited, I’ve included a photo of a Waxwing from a previous year so you’ll remember how elegant this conscientious mother bird truly is!
Across the Walnut Lane, the birders also discovered the nest of a female Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) who spent several days building her gauzy, somewhat more loosely constructed nest. She proudly stood above it a few days later as it neared completion. The female Kingbird constructs the nest and keeps the male off it until the eggs hatch. Then both parents feed the nestlings. But even during the egg phase, the male stays on a branch nearby to defend the territory for his mate and young.
Another good provider, a tiny male Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) brought a bright green caterpillar to feed his nestlings or mate. In between feeding trips, he’d let loose with his proud song, “Sweet, sweet, I’m a little sweet.” Impressive dad who can bring home the bugs, singing all the while! Bet the female warbler was as impressed as I was.
An Orchard Oriole male (Icterus spurius) serenaded us from a small tree in the middle of a meadow. His long, melodious song sounded much like the third song recorded at this link. A few Orchard Orioles seem to come to Bear Creek each year – but they migrate south by mid-July. So keep an eye out and an ear cocked soon in the meadows to the east of the Walnut Lane!
An invisible bird, high up in the tree tops, repeated its melodious warble continuously one warm morning. I’ve never seen a Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus); they rarely come down from the heights. But fortunately, a great photographer from the iNaturalist website, Steven Mlodinow, has seen one and generously allows others to borrow his photo. Listen for this warbler’s rich melody all summer long, but don’t be surprised if you never spot this elusive summer resident.
Little Surprises Near the Wetlands
At the northeast corner of the Center Pond, a young Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) hurried to cover her eggs one hot afternoon. She’s found a likely spot where Ben had cleared away invasive shrubs a couple of years ago. As you’ll see in the video below, she work really hard with her back legs to get the dirt to move. She’d no doubt have preferred sandier soil! But she was determined to see the job done!
I’ve seen Northern Leopard Frogs (Lithobates pipiens)periodically at Cranberry Lake but never one at Bear Creek. But hearing their snoring call near a wetland, I waded into tall grass and found this one, hiding among the greenery. Glad to know this beautiful frog is at Bear Creek, too.
Ben noticed an Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) toad on the path one afternoon when we went to look at nests. Normally, I only see brown toads, but Wikipedia informs me that “The color and pattern is somewhat variable, especially for the females. Skin color can change depending on habitat colors, humidity, stress, and temperature…Some toads of this subspecies have a more pervasive red and deep brown color, many with red warts on their bodies.” So this little toad is probably female and the red description fits her pretty well. I wonder if the unusually hot temperatures had an effect on her appearance? Hard to tell.
Amazing Insects: A Butterfly I’ve Missed for Years, Favorite Dragonflies and the Skills of Tiny Pollinators
Next year, I’ll be looking for the boldly patterned Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies (Euphydryas phaeton) on June 11 or 12. I’ve only seen them on those two dates, 6 years apart! This year, four of them fluttered at a spot in the trail where water runs under the path – a place I’ve often seen other small butterflies feeding on minerals left by the water. Later in the summer, watch for the communal caterpillar webs of these small butterflies (about 2.5 inches) on the host wildflower Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) where these butterflies lay their eggs during the summer and where the caterpillars first feed.
Interestingly, in the fall, Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars wrap themselves in leaf litter, overwinter and finish developing in the spring. This seems to be a big year for them – so keep an eye out if you see a small, dark butterfly at your feet.
Different species of dragonflies seem to appear each week to dance among the budding wildflowers and over the pond. The dramatic, yet quite common Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)did indeed skim over the tops of grasses in the Eastern Meadow this week. Dragonflies often land, fly, and then come back to the same dry stalk – so if you miss one in your binoculars the first time, wait a moment and you’ll probably see it in the same place again!
A bright green Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) dragonfly clung to a grass stem on the western slope. If it’s a male, it will gradually turn blue over the summer. If a female, it will remain green. Probably this one is newly emerged since it’s hunting in a meadow. When it’s ready to mate, it will rendezvous with others at the Center Pond.
A small Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta) dragonfly posed for a face-on selfie at the Playground Pond before continuing its quest to consume as many mosquitoes, flies and other small insects as possible before the day is out. Love its cartoon-like face and the one yellow dot on its tail that give it its name.
Pollinators are busy all over the park, feeding and carrying the pollen that will bring us next year’s blooms. This may look like a European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)but Honey Bees are fuzzy all over and this one just isn’t. So it’s more likely to be a Dronefly (Eristalistenax), a type of Hoverfly (family Syrphidae), which uses its pattern, slight fuzziness and loud hum to mimic male Honey Bees as a way of protecting against predators. Droneflies cannot sting, but a passing dragonfly probably doesn’t take a chance!
I noticed what looked at first like a tiny wasp on this umbel of a native Nannyberry bush (Viburnum lentago) near the Center Pond. But after a bit of research in Pollinators of Native Plantsby Heather Holm, I’m going to guess it’s a female Leaf-cutter Bee (family Megachilidae). It has a wasp-y pattern and shape and it’s collecting pollen on its abdomen and on the top of its back leg (look at those jodhpurs!). Leaf-cutters cut small, neat circles out of leaves, hence the name. They then roll up a single fertilized egg and a chunk of pollen in each circle, forming a solitary, cigar-shaped nest which is placed in a hole in the soil, wood or other structures. Such an unusual nest!
Bring a Friend – or Friends! – to Visit Your Favorite Park
I’ve always loved walking alone in the township parks. I can listen to birdsong, stop to look at something tiny like the Little Wood Satyr butterfly below, or enjoy the fresh scents of wood, greenery, the earth after a rain in silence. Solitary walks are contemplative.
But this particular blog testifies to the special pleasures of hiking with interested friends and family. First of all, they just bring more eyes! I’m always seeing things with the birders or with my husband, that I’d never have noticed with just my two eyes (in this case, the owl, the hummer, the oriole, the male grosbeak in his nest and more). But also their curiosity piques mine. They bring specialized interests and knowledge. They often patiently help me find the bird hiding in a leafy tree (“The center trunk at about 2 o’clock…). It’s a different kind of delight to walk with nature-noticing friends. So if all of this nature stuff intrigues you, take some nature-lovers with you on your next walk. Or consider joining our friendly birding group on Wednesday mornings year ’round. We’d love to have you join us! (The schedule is under “Events” at the top of the home page.)
Footnote: My sources for information, besides Oakland Township's Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: Pollinators of Native Plants by Heather Holm; Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3; Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; other sites as cited in the text.
Wow! When Ben told me that they’d been removing shrubby, invasive plants and preparing ground for seeding at Gallagher Creek Park, I didn’t picture such a great transformation. When I stepped from my car in the parking lot, I was at first shocked and then, as I explored, really thrilled!
The big changes are that the park is much more open, its gently rolling terrain revealed, and the creek is now visible almost all the way through the park! Where it once was hidden by both summer growth and impenetrable thickets, now the little creek can be observed, meandering across the meadows toward Paint Creek. In this open landscape, a hardy wildflower defied the frost, as did a tiny butterfly and an unfamiliar grasshopper, while a woodpecker drilled away at his winter home. Let me show you.
New Open Spaces
Maybe these photos of Ben’s will begin to give you a feel for how much more open the park is now. The cleared areas in the foreground of these two photos (the upward slope to the west) will be seeded with wildflowers and native grasses or sedges this month. The rest of the area, recently cleared, is scheduled for seeding next year. The native plant seed is being provided through a US Fish and Wildlife grant. (Click on photos to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)
The area beyond the tree line in the distance in the above photos has been cleared all the way to the edge of the marsh that borders Silverbell Road. Eventually, once everything is replanted and the terrain is more settled, there may be paths into this area.
Below on the left, you can see some of the bushes that used to block our view of the creek edge – and on the right, is how it looks now that the shrubs have been removed. Some of these were native shrubs, Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina). When it sprouts in the spring, Ben plans to let some of it grow again. But it needed to be cut back to prevent these aggressive shrubs from taking over the field along with Autumn Olive and other invasives!
Now you’d think with all that cut wood and dead grass, the park would feel quite abandoned by wildlife. But no. Despite the frost, my husband spotted Bottle Gentians still blooming on the west side of the park. These somewhat rare wildflowers and others should bloom more profusely now that the shrubs are removed and the Gentian’s seeds can benefit from increased sunlight.
Here are other rare native wildflowers that we hikers can hope to see in greater abundance once the restoration is complete.
The multi-colored wings of a native Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) glowed in autumn light against the deadwood one sunny morning last week. Isn’t the wing pattern beautiful on this small butterfly?
Nearby, we spotted a grasshopper that I’d never noticed before. Its dark brown body and forked “cerci” (area just above the end of the abdomen) make me think it’s a Broad-necked Grasshopper (Melanoplus keeleri luridus). According to the Orthoptera of Michigan (a link sent to me by a kind reader), this grasshopper is around until early November which is another indicator. Nice surprise!
I admit to being a bit worried about the long term survival of this long Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) weaving its way through the drying grass. It’s pretty vulnerable to hawks or owls until the plant life returns!
Up in a snag on the southwest side of the park, a slightly comical Downy Woodpecker was making its repetitive “squeek” as it excavated a series of holes in a snag. Just above its head , you can see the wood chips flying as it tossed them out of the hole. It may have a couple left in its beak as well. Busy bird, popping in and out of different holes.
Of course a group of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) stared curiously at me from the edge of the park. I don’t think I’ve ever come to this park without seeing deer on the eastern side. Watch out for them when driving in November and December as they get quite heedless during the rut!
A couple of oddities showed up, too. Here’s a large Puffball Mushroom (phylum Basidiomycota) that was a bit beyond its expiration date, so to speak – though it appears some animal or bird may have sampled it.
The hole of what was probably a Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) appeared as well.These aggressive crayfish used to live only in the West, but were transported to our area, it’s believed, as bait. This may be the same hole our birding friend Antonio saw in May, but it’s taller now with fresh, wet mud on it.
Gallagher Creek Itself is Now Visible!
My husband and I had fun tracking along as much of the creek as we could once we realized its path could be followed through the park. It enters through a culvert under Silverbell Road at the west and flows down past the viewing platform. In the summer, its current is hidden among tall grasses. Autumn, however, reveals its meandering journey, making multiple pools that join up farther down.
It was impossible to get close to the river before. Both non-native and native grasses grew shoulder high and the thickets of shrubs were impenetrable. Now we can watch the creek find its way along the meadow.
In the “riparian corridor” formed by the stream meeting the meadow, we spotted what I think is an American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), though the stick that was right in front of its eye made it hard to tell before it took off!
Gallagher Creek joins up with two other small streams that cross Silverbell farther east and flow into and out of the marsh toward the creek. They create a more quickly flowing stream by the time the creek reaches the new Pinnacles development to the east where a lovely bridge crosses over it. (Thanks to our birding friend, Nancy Russell, for the tip on where to find it!)
By the way, wasps evidently thought the bridge made a nice location and built across from the bridge. I guess all the houses, even the insect ones, are elegant and huge in this development!
From there, Gallagher Creek flows down behind private homes, until it appears again, to flow from west to east through a culvert under Gallagher Road, just above the Paint Creek Trail.
And once it’s crossed the road, it flows along Gallagher, eventually running through a culvert into Paint Creek near the cider mill.
According to the Southeast Michigan Department of Natural Resources newsletter in 2011, Gallagher Creek was “home to one of the few remaining self-sustaining Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations in southern Michigan.” At the time that newsletter appeared, development around the park had decreased this native fish’s population dramatically. “The brook trout density found in this survey was about 50 per mile, down from 300 per mile in 1990 and 1998. This decline in abundance is likely due to siltation of the stream from the development along the creek.” I wonder if brook trout are still spawning in Gallagher Creek, the young still making their way to Paint Creek. Perhaps the DNR will do another survey that will let us know their fate.
Now we can look with anticipation to next year at Gallagher Creek Park. The land should bloom with new flowers and grasses planted this fall and next spring. Native seeds that have waited in the seed bank below the ground for years may now emerge as sun reaches the soil. With more flowers, come more butterflies and other insects, and then more birds and other wildlife. So keep your eye on this little gem of a park. It’s on its way to being a great resource for families in the south end of the township!
Footnote: My sources for information 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; 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.
Ben and I thought we’d do some shorter pieces in between the longer blogs, just to keep Oakland Township residents up-to-date on special birds, blooms and such that are here for a short time and shouldn’t be missed. Hence the title: Now Showing. So when Ben called to alert me to beautiful native wildflowers blooming at both Gallagher Creek and the Wet Prairie on the Paint Creek Trail, I hustled off with my camera to explore.
Wow. At both places, a rare and beautiful plant is blooming where it’s sunny and moist. Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is most commonly pollinated by native Bumblebees (genus Bombus), because they are one of the few insects that can thrust themselves inside these closed petals that never open. Bumblebees are effective pollinators because of their fuzzy bodies. This Gentian’s tiny seeds float on the wind so it doesn’t appear en masse. It’s a lovely surprise when you find one!
Here’s Ben’s photo from last year of a native Bumblebee emerging from a native Bottle Gentian. Nice that natives evolve with other natives and help each other out, eh?
Both the Wet Prairie , Gallagher Creek Park and Bear Creek also now feature another wetland wildflower with the prosaic name, Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)which, in fairness, it does resemble. According to the Illinois Widlflower website, that extended lower “lip” of the blossom makes a nice landing pad for insects. This wildflower blooms from the bottom to the top so this one was just getting started last week.
The Wet Meadow features two more beautiful wildflowers right now. Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) is quite a rare beauty. When it first blooms, its name becomes obvious.
And when its bloom opens, its petals form a rectangular opening that attracts native Bumblebees just like the Bottle Gentian does. It also reseeds on the wind, or sometimes water.
Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassus glauca) is having a spectacular year! These white blossoms striped in dark green shine out from among the taller plants all over the Wet Prairie. They must have loved the downpours of early August.
I also couldn’t resist showing you a sort of “candelabra” of Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). It’s not rare and it generally blooms in dry prairies. But this adaptable native plant was putting on such a show as it seeded on the Wet Prairie near the Paint Creek Trail that I thought I’d share it with you.
So, keep a sharp eye out! Autumn wetland wildflowers like the gentians bloom for only about a month and they’ve already been beautiful for 2 weeks! Like the bees who appreciate their late season nectar, we have only a short time to enjoy their vivid colors and elegant designs.
*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; 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, http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.
Off the western side of the Paint Creek Trail just north of Silver Bell Road, a sign indicates that you’re passing through a “wet prairie.” Big Blue Stem grasses bend in the wind while all kinds of beautiful wildflowers flourish in the grass below. If you ever thought “native wildflower” just meant Canada Goldenrod or Black-Eyed Susans, you’re in for a treat.
As many of you know, most native plants in this area are adapted to fire because of thousands of years of natural fires and regular burning by Native Americans for purposes of clearing and fertilizing the land. Once the trains came through in the 19th century, the sparks from the tracks, where the trail runs now, regularly started fires in the area. Native prairie and savanna plants survived because they had adapted to fire; non-native plants were less likely to do so.
Once the trail replaced the train tracks, stewardship was required to preserve this very special environment. Over the years, the Parks Commission has worked to restore this patch of wet prairie and its beautiful native plants. Last year, Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide and his crew worked long hours from Silver Bell Road to the Wet Prairie, removing Autumn Olive and other non-native plants, trees and shrubs that lined the trail and crowded the field, shading out native plants. We thought you might enjoy seeing a small sampling of the beauty that’s begun to flourish in this special area because of those efforts.
Native Wildflowers of the Wet Prairie
Flowers in wet prairies like this are special – and very lovely. Bring binoculars so you can scan the field since the area is too fragile for hiking or paths at this stage.
I was lucky enough to be introduced, very carefully, to this magical place by Dr. Ben who let me take photos so we could share the native beauty that exists in this special area.
We saw deep sky blue Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita)in several stages of unfurling.
And finally, an open one! Look at the square opening made by the four leaves!
Another deep blue beauty, Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii),never opens its blossoms, but Ben saw a native Bumblebee pry one open and climb inside to get at the pollen!
And here’s Ben’s photo of a bumblebee emerging from a Bottle Gentian at Gallagher Creek Park. Quite a moment to catch, eh?
Tiny orchids appear here and there in the Wet Prairie as well. Who knew we had orchids? You can see where it got its name, Prairie Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum).It looks like a spiraling french braid.
One of my favorite Wet Prairie wildflowers is Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia glauca) but until this week I’d only seen one or two blooms. Here’s a closeup from a few years ago of one with its dark green stripes.
Now, thanks to the stewardship efforts of the Parks and Recreation Commission, they’re sprinkled all over the prairie! They’re a bit beyond their peak now, but they’re still lovely.
White Snake Root (Ageratina altissima) grows in the prairie and it’s plentiful on the east side of the trail, flowing downhill toward the creek.
Cylindrical Blazing Star (Liatris cylindracea), another native plant that was plentiful a couple of weeks ago on the Wet Prairie, is finishing up now, but here are a few late blooms and then its very lovely fruit in the photo just below.
The fruits of the False Asphodel (Triantha glutinosa) add a touch of fall color to the prairie.
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), with its descriptive if not very elegant common name, is another special plant in the Wet Prairie. It can also be found in other high quality wetlands in our area.
Of course, familiar native wildflowers are present in this prairie as well, like Canada Goldenrod. But there are other kinds of goldenrod here too, like Riddell’s Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii) which is much less common because it frequents wetlands, including wet prairies, rather than dry fields and roadsides.
And across the trail from the prairie, we saw Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida).I love the way the soft leaves clasp the stalk.
The dry Old Fields in our parks tend to have non-native Cinquefoils but the Wet Prairie hosts a native Michigan species, called Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) which is often used in landscape settings as well as being found in wild wet areas.
We saw another old friend, one late bloom of the gorgeous orange Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Most of the the Butterfly Milkweed plants, though, are past blooming and are producing their elegant tapered pods, the fruits that contain their seed, seen below spilling onto the ground to be carried by the wind for next year’s crop.
Although its small white flowers are done for the year, I love the deep purple stems of Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale), which are still standing among the flowers.
Creatures of the Wet Prairie
A Monarch butterfly(Danaus plexippus)rested in the shade of a tree after flitting across the Wet Prairie.
A curious European Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) paused on a Little Bluestem stalk where she might have been planning to lay eggs, as these non-native insects do in September.
A Green Darner (Anax junius),a large, very agile dragonfly, took a break from patrolling for insect pray and rested in the shade.
And a tiny Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) hatchling, about the size of a 50 cent piece, tried to make it across the trail. We gave it a little lift to the grass in the direction it was heading.
Native Grasses of the Wet Prairie
Native grasses thrive in the Wet Prairie as well. Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii), a classic native prairie grass, towers over everything with its characteristic turkey foot.
But Dr. Ben made me aware of other native prairie grasses that I’d wouldn’t have noticed without help:
Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis) bobs in the breeze below the Big Blue Stem.
According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the scientific name of this grass, Sorghastrum nutans, means “a swaying, poor imitation of Sorghum.” I think I prefer the common name, Indian Grass!
It’s not difficult to see where native Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix) got its name!
Restoring and preserving the very special habitat of the Wet Prairie is a way to preserve our history for future generations and to encourage plant diversity. But it takes a lot of effort! Please keep an eye on the “Stewardship” tab on our home page here at the Natural Areas Notebook for volunteer opportunities. Perhaps you can help Dr. Ben with the PRC’s ongoing effort to care for the Wet Prairie with its unusual selection of beautiful wildflowers and graceful grasses.
*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.