July Wildflowers: Now Showing

July and August are the best months for enjoying the showy meadow wildflowers in Eliza Howell Park.

Here are some that are calling to me these first days of July.

Resized_20200702_144433St. John’s Wort

Resized_20200701_173313Wild Bergamot

Resized_20200702_215328Black-eyed Susan

Resized_20200702_143618Butterfly Weed

Resized_20200702_143538Hoary Vervain

Resized_20200703_090609Yarrow

Resized_20200703_131653Chicory (in shade and in sun)

Resized_20200703_133224False Sunflower

There are others blooming now, as well, and a good number of additional ones will flower as summer continues.

It is time to walk among the flowers!

Dragonflies: Summer Predators

July and August are the best months to see dragonflies in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park. When I walk among the summer wildflowers, my attention is often focused on the many insects attracted by the blooms. These are the very insects that attract the dragonflies.

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Adult dragonflies capture live prey and do so on the fly. I usually see them flying, but they do find perches. A perched dragonfly gives me an opportunity to get a look and, occasionally, to get a picture. Above is a Twelve-spotted Skimmer (three dark spots on each of 4 wings).

Dragonflies can be somewhat difficult to get to know, in part because it is not easy to get the good looks and in part because many species look similar. My species identification is usually tentative.

Below is one of the several species of reddish Meadowhawks.

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Dragonflies have large eyes and find flying insects visually. They catch smaller prey directly in the mouth and use a ‘basket” formed by their legs for larger prey.

Note the way the legs are prepared for gripping.

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Dragonflies are usually found near water (they are aquatic in the larva phase) and the Rouge River in Eliza Howell helps to account for their presence here.

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This is another Skimmer, a Widow Skimmer, a male, I think.

The next picture is of the head of a  female Widow Skimmer. In close ups like this, one can get a sense that dragonflies are indeed predators, able to grap and consume any flying insect in the park.

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Especially when they are clear, dragonfly wings appear delicate. But they propel an efficient hunter.

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Foxglove Beardtongue: A Current Favorite

Nature’s annual cycle means that, at any given time during the wildflower season, I can rely upon the experience from other years to know which flowers I am likely to find on my walks in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park.

However, while I know what to expect in terms of probable species, no two years are fully alike.

I often find that my attention is drawn to a species that I paid much less attention to in previous years. Right now, I find myself focused on Foxglove Beardtongue more than any other flower and more than I have been in other years.

Resized_20200620_141223(1)Foxglove Beardtongue, sometimes known as Foxglove Penstemon, stands about 3 feet tall and does well both in sunshine and in part shade. It is widespread at present in some non-mowed park fields and in openings among large trees.

I am attracted particularly to the tubular flowers.

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As can be seen from these last two photos, the flowers on some plants have violet lines; on some they do not. I am not sure which I find more attractive. The important question, of course, is which do bees find more attractive. I don’t have the answer to that either.

Resized_20200620_140805Foxglove Beardtongue is native in the eastern U. S. For a late Spring / early Summer flower, it has a relatively long blooming time. It would be, perhaps, an excellent addition to a native flower garden.

Resized_20200620_120724At this time of the year, it stands taller than many neighboring plants in some locations in the park, calling for the attention that, in my opinion, it deserves.

Resized_20200620_155946The field view is attractive, but I find myself repeatedly going in for closer looks at my current favorite Eliza Howell wildflower.

Cedar Waxwings, Welcome Back: EHP Is Serving Fruit

During the last week I have been pleased to see two pairs of Cedar Waxwings building nests in Eliza Howell Park. It is always a thrill to see these late-arriving and late-nesting birds.

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(This photo and the other two of  waxwings below are courtesy of Margaret Weber.)

Cedar Waxwings are somewhat unpredictable in their selection of nesting locations — this is only the 5th year I have found their nests in the last 11 years — but, since the park provides a lot of fruit, I am confident that they will be around for the summer and early fall.

They are very skilled at flying out and snagging insects, a sight that I have often witnessed along rivers, but they seem to prefer small fruit whenever that is available.

Song birds regularly feed insects to their young in the nest, but Cedar Waxwings add fruit. One of the fruits they eat in Eliza Howell in breeding season is mulberry.

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Some studies of Cedar Waxwings report that when cowbirds lay their eggs in waxwing nests, the cowbird hatchlings usually do not survive because young cowbirds cannot tolerate that much fruit in their diet.

Later in the summer, the waxwings are attracted to the Black Cherries that are common in the park and ripen in Auguest.

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Except when they are nesting, waxwings are typically in small flocks and I often stop to watch them feed in the cherry trees, impressed by their ability to reach the fruit without losing  their perch.

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One of the waxwings building a nest in the park this year has orange instead of yellow at the tip of its tail (unfortunately, no photo). I have not seen this before, but have heard of it. It apparently results from eating Morrow’s Honeysuckle berries while molting the previous year. Morrow Honeysuckle berries contain red pigment and when the new tail feathers grew in, they were orange.

Eliza Howell honeysuckles ripen later and often keep Cedar Waxwings around into November. The most common honeysuckle here is Amur Honeysuckle.

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Waxwings migrate, but Michigan is in the area where the winter range and the summer range overlap. Some few are around all winter, if they can find late fruit.

20200617_102833Stories are often told about Cedar Waxwings eating fermented fruit late in the season and getting falling down drunk!

They are attracted to fruit trees already in the spring when there is no fruit to eat.

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The extensive blossoming on the cherry trees and honeysuckle bushes this spring suggests a good berry crop in the park this year, enough to keep the lovely and graceful Cedar Waxwings around for the next 4 months or more.

 

 

Ebony Jewelwing, Moth Mullein, and More: A Mid-June Morning

The weather was cool and sunny as I wandered in Eliza Howell Park today.

These photos were taken on a few of the many stops during in the walk.

Ebony Jewelwing (damselfly)

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Moth Mullein

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Rouge River (looking upstream from the footbridge)

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A Skipper (butterfly) on Red Clover

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Developing Staghorn Sumac flower head

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Widow Skimmer (dragonfly)

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Ox-eye Daisy

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Mulberries just beginning the process of ripening

20200614_124857Another lovely day in the park.

It’s Coreopsis Season – and the Pearl Crescents Are Ready

I think of the beginning of the meadow wildflower season in Eliza Howell Park as the first part of June, when patches of blooming Coreopsis appear.

It is happening now.

Resized_20200609_094847There will soon be a variety of other showy blooms in the wildflower fields, but, for now, Coreopsis claims our attention. The bright yellow flowers, one per stem, 2 feet tall or more, are loudly announcing the beginning of the summer wildflowers.

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They each have 8 petals, but can look a little different, one flower from the next, because of the number of lobes at the tip of the petals. Compare this one to the one above.

Resized_20200607_174723Coreopsis is a native of Michigan and another Michigan native is ready and waiting for them to appear.

Pearl Crescent is a small orange and black butterfly that is found from late spring through the summer in Eliza Howell. I noted the first one this year on May 26. Now they are present in abudance and definitely attracted to the bright Coreopsis flowers for some serious nectaring.

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Butterflies often don’t stay long enough in one place to be photographed — except when they are nectaring. This week the crescents let me get close emough to take all the pictures I wanted.

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Pearl Crescents will nectar on a variety of other flowers in the coming weeks, but right now Coreopsis is by far the most attractive option.

Other pollinating insects, especially bees and flies, are also attracted to Coreopsis blooms….

20200609_215551… but nothing else decorates the Coreopsis flowers like Pearl Crescents.

Together, this flower and this butterfly inaugurate a whole new season in the park.

Wild Oyster Mushrooms: On a Dying Cottonwood Tree

Almost exactly a year ago I found Oyster Mushrooms growing on the broken off trunk and a fallen log of an Eastern Cottonwood tree in Eliza Howell Park.

With that in mind, I have recently been stopping by that trunk to take a look. In the last few days, the fruiting bodies of the mushrooms have again appeared.

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  • CAUTION: While I make every effort to identify correctly a mushroom that I name, I am not a mycologist / fungus expert and might well be mistaken in identifying the species. My naming or description is not a safe basis for consuming a particular mushroom. One should be 100 percent sure of the kind of mushroom one is harvesting and my knowledge is much too limited to provide that.

I am taking advantage of this second year of observation to get to know this species better as part of the Eliza Howell.

On this particular cottonwood, the mushrooms are plentiful, appearing in clumps, not individuals. The mushrooms shown here cover, from top to bottom, about 15 inches

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Oyster Mushrooms grow on dead wood and are decomposers, breaking down the wood. In this location, they are on the standing trunk and on the fallen  logs on the ground.

Most of this particulat cottonwood has fallen  and the trunk that remains standing has only one living branch.

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The biggest log on the ground has a long row of Oyster Mushrooms on both sides (only a small part of one side shown here).

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I am learning that one way of getting to know mushrooms better is to look underneath. Oyster Mushrooms are gilled mushrooms, with relatively wide spacing between the gills.

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Oyster Mushrooms are considered one of the most desirable eating mushrooms among  the wild mushrooms in Michigan, right behind morels. Morels grow on the ground and I have not seen any in Eliza Howell Park. Oysters grow on at least this one nearly dead cottonwood.

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Until last year, I knew very little about Oyster Mushrooms and did not know where to look for them.

But, based on these two years, I will now be looking for them to appear on dead or dying cottonwood trees/logs when the weather heats up in late spring in Eliza Howell Park

Orchard Orioles and Eastern Kingbirds: Nesting Neighbors

This week I have watched a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and a pair of Orchard Orioles builiding nests high in the same Eastern Cottonwood tree. What makes this observation noteworthy is that this is not happenstance. These two unrelated species have often chosen to be nesting neighbors.

It was just one year ago, in 2019, that a few of us had the first opportunity to watch this behavior in Eliza Howell Park. At that time, they nested in a smaller American Sycamore tree, which had not yet fully leafed out, making observation relatively easy. The pictures here are from last year. (The nest positions in the cottonwood this year are very difficult to see.)

20200603_183203(Photo by Kevin Murphy)

Construction began on the Orchard Oriole nest first (at least as I observed the sequence; I noticed their nest a few days before the Kingbird nest). Though the male is pictured here, the female Oriole does most of  the nest making, weaving the grasses to make the suspended pouch.

Eastern Kingbirds built their nest only a few feet in from the Oriole nest, and just slightly higher.

20200603_181725(Photo by Margaret Weber)

Kingbirds are considerably larger than Orchard Orioles and the nest, built mostly of twigs, plant stems, and bark, is about twice the size of the Oriole nest.

Kingbirds are very active defenders of their nests against Brown-headed Cowbirds (who lays eggs in the nests of other species for hatching and raising) and against predators. A common hypothesis is that Orchard Orioles choose to be close to Kingbirds to benefit from the Kingbirds’ strong protection.

From what I could see last year, it did appear that both species were successful in hatching and fledging their Sycamore broods.

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Another interesting aspect of Orchard Oriole nesting is that unattached males sometimes assist in caring for the young. The bird bringing food to the newly hatched in this picture appears to be a year old male that is transitioning from the first year yellow to the adult red.

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(Photo by Margaret Weber)

The Kingbird eggs hathed slightly later.

I wonder whether the relationship between these two species is one-sided (the smaller Orioles choosing to live under the protective umbrella of the larger Kingbirds). There have been some fascinating studies in recent years of bird behavior, leading to a recognition of more complex behavior  and more cooperative relationships than we had previously thought.

I highly recommend Jennifer Ackerman’s new book to those interested in bird behavior.

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It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Kingbirds are as interested in being neighbors as the Orioles are. Perhaps some ornithologist will soon do a serious and extensive study and provide additional insight.

Meanwhile, I will observe what I can and, no doubt, continue being impressed by the behavior of these two and other species

Monarchs Are Back: The Stages of Life

I saw the first-of-the-year Monarch butterfly in Eliza Howell Park on May 24, 2020, a typical time for its arrival.

As is well known, Monarchs need a milkweed species for food for their caterpillars. In anticipation of the coning Monarchs, I had been checking + the site of the earliest patch of Common Milkweed. On May 17, the milkweeds were just inches tall.

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Less than a week later, the milkweek leaves were fully open. Female Monarchs lay hundreds of eggs, one at a time, on different milkweed leaves.

On May 26, I watched a Monarch flying over the fields, pausing at different milkweed plants. (I didn’t get a picture that day; this one is from last year.)

20190531_172032(1)I also visited a few milkweed plants. It didn’t take long to find a newly laid Monarach egg, a whitish pinpoint on the underside of the leaf.

Resized_20200526_125729If all goes well, the eggs will hatch in 3 – 5 days and the tiny caterpillars will start eating the leaves.

This picture is also from last year.

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The caterpillars spend most of their time eating and, in about 10 – 14 days, they will have grown to full size.

Resized_20190921_110008(1)I don’t (yet) have an Eliza Howell photo of the next stage of the Monarch’s life, the pupal stage, the 8 – 15 chrysalis days during which the caterpillar develops into the adult butterfly.

The whole process from the deposit of the egg to the emergence of the adult is often completed in less than a month. Many of the Monarchs that will be nectaring on the lovely summer wildflowers in the park are now eggs on milkweed leaves.

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Adults (except for those late in the season that migrate to Mexico) usually live only 2 – 5 weeks. In that time, they can visit and pollinate hundreds of  flowers and the females can lay hundreds of eggs.

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It is a joy to see that the Monarchs are  back in EHP and I look forward to their presence (in different generations) over the mext 4 months.

Seven Days in May

As I was thinking about some of what has been happening in Eliza Howell Park in Detroit in the last week (May 15 – 21), the title “Seven Days in May” came to mind. After googling, I recalled that that was the title of a thriller novel and movie from the early 1960s.

It was an exciting week in Eliza Howell, a thriller for people like me

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Scarlet Tanagers were around on two of the 7 days. The female (next photo) looks very different from the male (above).

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(Note: All the pictures here were taken in the park during these 7 days, the bird photos by Margaret Weber.)

The middle of May is the peak time to see migrating warblers, most of which  pass through quickly on their way from Central America to their breeding grounds further north.

I recognized 19 different species just of warblers in the park this week, some of them very colorful, as they energetically sought out insects during their refueling stop.

Two examples are Blackburnian Warbler and Cape May Warbler.

Resized_blackburniann_flies_17941380818044Resized_Male_Cape_May_warbler_16636056805310The other category of migrants, species that return to breed here,were also active. I was able to observe as two of the more intriguing nests, those of the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Baltimore Orioles, were being built.

Gray Catbirds build a more typical looking cup-like nest, but usually in a very-difficult-to -find location1 in a thicket. This week I frequently stopped by a more accessible one as nest construction was completed and the first 2 eggs were laid.

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Also this week, two early blooming meadow wildflowers were annoucing that the prolific blooms of summer are coming soon: Yellow Rocket (mustard family)) and Lupine.

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These seven days included a major Rouge River flood (the water flowed over the footbridge), the surprise late appearance of breeding American Toads when rain again provided standing water in their pond, and the rapid leafing out of many of the deciduous trees.

The first Common Milkweed plants emerged, a reminder that another year of Monarch butterfly breeding in Eliza Howell is about to begin.

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Definitely,  an exciting week.