Chicory: Eat, Drink, Admire

It is estimated that only about 10 % of the flowering plants in the world are blue. Chicory, a fascinating example of the 10 %, is now in bloom.

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Chicory is sometimes called “blue dandelion,” or “blue daisy,” or “wild bachelor’s button,” or one of various other names. The ones I see in Eliza Howell Park are typically the shade of blue in the above picture, but some blooms, especially as they appear in bright sunshine, are a different shade.

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A plant native to Europe and now naturalized in North America, chicory is valued for a variety of reasons. The roots, roasted and ground, have long been used as a coffee additive and, mostly in times of coffee shortage, as a coffee substitute (chicory does not contain caffeine).

The leaves are eaten as a green (“wild endive”). They are perhaps a little bitter, but if one has never tasted a chicory leaf, I suggest a test bite during the next  observation of the plant. 

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There are other uses of the chicory plant as well, but it is the bloom that attracts me most, just to observe and admire.

Each stem produces several flowers, but an individual bloom opens for one day only. The flower opens up in the morning (the next picture was taken at 7:30 a.m.) and begins to close in the afternoon.

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I don’t know if it is because of the relative rareness of the blue color, but there is something about the chicory flower that seems to call for a close-up look.

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During my walks, I often stop to check to see whether – and which – pollinators are coming during the limited visiting hours.

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Chicory blooms from late June through the rest of the summer. For me, that likely means many more stops and many more looks.

 

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The Lady Has a Favorite

Over the past two to three weeks, I have been noticing the amount of time the American Lady butterfly has been spending around and on Red Clover in Eliza Howell Park. The attraction is obviously very strong.

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The American Lady, which is usually seen with its wings closed or only slightly open, has been present in large numbers this year. It is distinguished from the Painted Lady, in part, by the two large eyespots on the underwing.

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Red Clover, with its pink flowers, is also abundant this year. It is a plant native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, which was brought to North America and has become naturalized here. It has often been grown as a fodder crop and is valued for its ability to enrich soil by fixing nitrogen.

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This has been a great year for both Red Clover and American Lady in EHP. I suspect that the widespread clover is the primary reason there are so many American Ladies. The clover is, without a doubt, the Lady’s favorite flower.

The relationship between the two is not an exclusive one, of course. The clover welcomes other pollinators, not only bees, but other butterflies. I have seen visiting Red Admirals and Monarchs.

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And the American Lady also likes to check out other flowers from time to time. Here it is on coreopsis.

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It is fascinating to observe the American Lady’s strong preference for Red Clover, but I am left with a question: What was the American Lady’s favorite flower before Red Clover was introduced to North America?

Nature Discovery Day Is July 13

On Saturday, July 13,  there is a great opportunity for visitors to the park to become more familiar with the wildflowers, butterflies, birds, mammals, trees — and more – of Eliza Howell Park: 9:00 – noon. Free and open to everyone.

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There will be exhibits, activities, and options of guided walks designed to point out some of the natural wealth of this Detroit park. The park entrance is on Fenkell east of Telegraph. The event also includes an opportunity to learn more about the U-M wildlife motion-activated camera project (which includes Eliza Howell Park).

Among the highlights of mid-July are the meadow/prairie wildflowers. Among those catching my attention recently are these.

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Clockwise from top left: Foxglove Beardtongue, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed, Common Milkweed

The event is organized by Eliza Howell Park Partnership (EHPP), a coalition of persons with different organizational affiliations and a common interest in highlighting Eliza Howell as a place for observing and enjoying nature in an urban environment.

Guides will be present to assist in identifying the varieties of flowers, as well as the specific species of butterflies they attract. These are among the common butterflies at this time of the year.

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Clockwise from top left: Monarch, Common Ringlet, Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent.

While I am often unable to get a picture of a butterfly I see, it is never difficult to find flowers waiting to be photographed.

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Clockwise from top left: Staghorn Sumac, Chicory, Wild Bergamot, St John’s Wort.

Eliza Howell is the kind of nature park it is, in significant part, because the Rouge River runs through it. For those who wish to take it on Saturday, a short walk to the footbridge provides a good view of the shaded river.

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Back in the field, one flower not to be missed is Wild Bergamot, a mint family flower, sometimes called beebalm, that has only recently begun its summer blooming season. It is a magnet for a variety of insects. In this picture, the visitor is a Hummingbird Moth.

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Many mammals are more active at night than during the day. The cameras used in the UM wildlife camera project have located and identified some of the mammals of the night, as will be reported on July 13.

Two that I have recently seen during the day are White-tailed Deer and Groundhog.

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I thank EHPP for providing this opportunity to witness and enjoy the natural wealth of the park.

 

A Damselfly in Sunshine: Ebony Jewelwing

On some of these days in Eliza Howell Park, I can be tempted to avoid going to the river woodland because of the active mosquitoes. This is also the season of the Ebony Jewelwing, however, and the presence of this damselfly has lately been providing me with all the incentive I need to go to the near-river habitat, despite the mosquitoes.

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Damselflies are characterized by very large eyes (in proportion to the head) and a long thin abdomen. Ebony Jewelwing is a quite large damselfly, about 2 inches in length, and is the most common damselfly in EHP, based on my observations.

The size of the eyes always gets my attention.

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The adults that I watch are found fairly close to the river (though sometimes up to 100 yards away). The early stage of life is aquatic. They lay eggs on plant debris in slow-moving water and, after the eggs hatch, the young (known as naiads) spend the first part of their development in the water.

The adults often seek out leaves in one of the few sunny spots found in this habitat, and here I watch. The males and females are distinctively different. The male, pictured above, has dark wings with an iridescent green body. The most distinctive feature of the female is the white spot near the end of the each wing.

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Damselflies are carnivores, both in the larval stage in the water and in the adult flying stage. I watched this female eating another insect.

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A beginning bug watcher quickly learns the difference between damselflies and dragonflies, their near relatives. Both have 2 sets of wings and a long body. It is easiest to tell the difference when the insect is at rest. Dragonflies hold their wings out perpendicular to their bodies while damselflies hold their wings together across their backs.

Here is a resting dragonfly. They have even larger eyes.

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Dragonflies used to get more of my attention than damselflies. But that was before I came to know that Ebony Jewelwings are often resting (ready to be observed) in sunny spots close to the river near the end of June.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Nest: The Rest of the Story

On May 28 this year, I wrote about finding an easily visible Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest in Eliza Howell Park and concluded my comments this way:

“One of my goals each year for the June Detroit Audubon-sponsored field trip to Eliza Howell Park is to be able to point out an active Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest, even if I cannot expect others to be quite as enthusiastic as I am about this tiny bird and its fascinating nest.”

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The field trip took place on June 8, which, according to my estimate based on observed behavior, was about day 10 of incubation (of a normal 11 – 15 day incubation period). When the our whole group stopped to look, the bird remained on the nest, watching us but not threatened enough by our presence to leave. Melissa Francese took this picture at that time.

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A few days later the eggs hatched. By June 18, when Kevin Murphy took the next two photos, the young were nearing the end of their in-nest development.

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It is difficult to tell because they were constantly moving, but my various efforts to count heads led me to conclude that there were probably 4 nestlings. While the female does most of the incubating, both female and male feed the young.

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They are now gone from the nest, successfully fledged as far as I can tell. While Blue-gray Gnatcatchers occasionally brood twice in a year, my nest watching of this species is likely over for the year.

They are nearly halfway through their stay of 4 + months in Detroit (arrive in late April and depart in September), spending the majority of their year far to the south. (Range map from Cornel Lab of Ornithology).

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I will continue to see them foraging in the park for a couple months (photo by Margaret Weber).

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And each time I see one, I will feel a sense of appreciation for weeks of enjoyable nest watching this year and for a highlight of the 2019 June Audubon field trip.

The Call of Coreopsis

In the middle of June I find myself drawn repeatedly to the patches of Coreopsis now scattered in the fields of Eliza Howell Park.

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Coreopsis, also known as Tickseed (a name based on the shape of the seed), is one of the flowers more often called by its Latin name than its English name.*

Coreopsis is a native American wildflower, about 2 feet tall. Each stem has just one flower at the top. The flower has 8 petals, each normally having 4 lobes at the tip.

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I am called to the concentrations of coreopsis in two ways. 

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The first is simply to admire and enjoy the flowers. The second is to check out the visiting insects. Coreopsis calls to them also.

On a recent walk, I came across a Black Swallowtail and a Painted Lady.

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The meadow flowers of the summer provide the best opportunity of the year for insect watching in Eliza Howell and the season starts with Coreopsis. Here are a few I noted in the last couple days.

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The weather has been cool for June, but the silent call of the Coreopsis is signaling the beginning of summertime nature walks, featuring blooming meadow wildflowers and a fascinating variety of insects.

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* For those interested in the meaning of the name: The Latin word “coreopsis” itself describes the shape of the seed, taken from two Greek words meaning “bug” and “appearance.” Most of us, however, don’t think of the meaning of the Greek root words when we think or say “coreopsis.”

 

 

Bird Eggs: Some Quick Looks

Even when someone is able to locate a bird nest, that nest is usually in a location that does not allow for a good look inside; it may be in a tree cavity, high in a tree, or deep in a thicket. In my walks in Eliza Howell Park, I have, however, on occasion found nests that provide an opportunity to take a quick look – and quick camera snap – when the incubating adult is off the nest.

Note: Photos of the birds were all taken by Margaret Weber.

 Barn Swallow

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Barn Swallows regularly nest on little ledges under bridges and other structures. Their nests are mostly of mud, lined with softer material, including feathers. Cream-colored eggs, with dark splotches, represent a fairly common pattern among bird eggs. Each species, though, is a little different in size and coloring, in addition to having quite different nests.

Eastern Bluebird

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Bluebirds nest in cavities in trees or in nest boxes. Their practice of using nest boxes that humans provide has helped them recover from very low numbers a few decades ago and makes it possible sometimes to get a look at the eggs.

Song Sparrow

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Song Sparrow nests are well hidden in grasses and weeds and shrubs, sometimes on the ground and sometimes up a little. They are very skilled at not going directly to their nest when someone (like me) is watching. This year is the first time I have found a Song Sparrow nest and it happened when I was walking through tall grasses and the sparrow flew out at my feet. I looked down, pulled out my phone for a quick picture, then left. The eggs are small and they do not all look exactly the same.

Gray Catbird

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Catbirds nest in thickets and the few nests that I have seen over the years in Eliza Howell Park have been about 6 – 8 feet high. In my experience, the eggs that are only one color, not speckled or splotched, usually have no variation from one to another in the same clutch.

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Often my pictures of the insides of bird nests are not great quality photos. One reason is that I take hurried pictures of bird eggs; I do not want to stress the adults. Though absent from the nest at this moment, they likely know of my presence and I want to be gone as quickly as possible. I have often returned some time later and watched from a safe distance. I have been pleased to note that, in every case, the incubating adult has been back on the nest after my one-time quick close-up.