Butterflies of Eliza Howell Park: A Review of 2021

The butterfly season is over for 2021 here in Detroit and a snowy November day seems like a good time to review this year’s observations.

I recorded 34 different butterfly species in the park this year, not including a number of small skippers that I did not identify in terms of specific species. As I review the year, however, I find myself thinking not about the number of species as much as about the many enjoyable hours spent watching them.

Perhaps the best way to report on 2021 Eliza Howell butterflies and to share the enjoyment they provided is to post a sample of the many photos I have from 2021.

Mourning Cloak

Clouded Sulphur

Tawny Emperor

Common Wood-Nymph

Great Spangled Frittilary

Pearl Crescent

Red-spotted Purple

Red Admiral

Sliver-spotted Skipper

American Lady

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Monarch

I continue to be impressed by the diversity in this urban park and by the relative ease of seeing it up close (these pictures were all taken with a cell phone camera).

I like this time of the year, as fall moves into winter, but reviewing 2021 butterflies puts me in the mood to start planning 2022 nature walks.

Cedar Waxwing: Masked Frugivore

On my walks in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park each year at this time, I look for Cedar Waxwings. Lately I have been seeing this splendid species nearly every day.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

Fruit constitutes an amazingly large part of the Cedar Waxwing diet, 84% according to the species description in the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas. Many other bird species eat fruit when berries are plentiful in the fall, but I know of no other local bird with such a year-round focus.

In November they can often be found in Amur Honeysuckle.

As dedicated fruit eaters, Cedar Waxwings are nomads, going in flocks wherever ripe fruit is available. In Eliza Howell, I expect to see them fruiting in August as well as in November.

The August fruit that attracts them the most is wild Black Cherry.

I often stop to watch them as they acrobatically pursue the small cherries.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

Cedar Waxwings are rare here from late November until late May, when they arrive to nest, a little later than most of the other breeding species.

They spend the winter months eating fruit almost exclusively. There have been reports of them becoming intoxicated after eating rotting fruit that has fermented.

In spring they are sometimes seen in blossoming shrubs and trees, eating flower parts (eating fruit even before it becomes fruit?).

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

In the summer they eat some insects, which constitute only about 12% of their annual diet. (The other 4% = flowers.). I first became aware of Cedar Waxwings when I was young and watched a number of them catching insects on the fly over a river. I learned later about their dedication to fruit eating.

They feed their nestlings insects for a short period of time, then mostly fruit. According to reported observations, cowbird hatchlings in waxwing nests don’t usually survive because of such a high-fruit diet.

Their nests, in dense areas of trees, are not easy to locate and to watch.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

Cedar Waxwings eat a great variety of small fruit, including these that are found in Eliza Howell (from top left clockwise): Virginia Creeper, Mountain Ash, Pokeweed, Poison Ivy.

None of these four is considered safe for human consumption, but Cedar Waxwings thrive on them. They also eat raspberries and mulberries, which this human consumes (picking non-acrobatically).

Waxwings are not attracted to backyard feeders, either seeds or suet, but those who grow fruit-bearing plants, like Dogwood and Winterberry, might have a small flock show up one day and quickly strip the fruit from a bush or a tree.

I suspect that I am not the only one who counts this masked bird a favorite.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

Cinnabar Polypore: The Mushroom and the Name

Fall is the best season for seeing fresh bracket mushrooms on fallen logs and branches in Eliza Howell Park. Recently, I decided to check the location of a Black Cherry tree that fell in 2019. Many of the mushrooms that help to decompose wood seem to start appearing about two years after a tree falls.

Much of the tree has been removed, but on some smaller branches that remain there are some Turkey Tail-shaped mushrooms that are common in the park.

In addition, there are several of a type that is not as common, similarly shaped but distinctively different in color.

I am not as familiar with this variety, but a quick review of “orange mushrooms that grow on fallen cherry limbs” suggested that this is likely Cinnabar Polypore. A look at the pore surface (underside) confirmed the identity. The underside is similar in color to the topside, though a little more red.

“Polypore” is the name given to a group of fungi in which the fruiting bodies have pores or tubes on the underside (as can be seen in the close up below). No other polypore that I am aware of is orange/red on both sides.

Cinnabar Polypore is stalkless, is considered inedible, and is often found on fallen cherry branches. These are about 2 inches across.

I am fascinated by the “Cinnabar ” part of the common name. When I was in early elementary school some 70 years ago, my box of crayons had 8 colors. Both orange and red were included, but no cinnabar! Now Crayola lists something like 23 shades of red and 14 shades of orange.

Perhaps my satisfaction with a box of 8 crayons is the reason I have not developed an extensive color vocabulary, but this might be the time to change. “Orange-red” suffices to describe this special mushroom, but it probably doesn’t do it as well as “cinnabar” does.

July Blooms; October Seeds

In July and August, my walks in Eliza Howell Park center around the field of prairie wildflowers, where I enjoy the countless colorful blooms and watch the butterflies and other insects the flowers attract.

In late October, blooming season is over, even for goldenrods and asters. I still stop here, though less frequently. The flowers, gone to seed, are mostly still standing tall and are visited now by several species of seed-eating migrating sparrows.

I recently took pictures of October seeds to compare with July blooms.

1.Culver’s Root

(The wasp is a Great Golden Digger Wasp.)

2.Ironweed

3.Common Mullein

4.Joe Pye Weed

(A Monarch butterfly)

5.Queen Anne’s Lace

6.Purple Coneflower

(The butterfly is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the egg case, at the bottom of the October picture, was placed by a Chinese Praying Mantis.)

At this time of the year, I often think of the opening line of Pete Seeger’s powerful lyrics from some 60 years ago:

“Where have all the flowers gone?”

In nature’s version, “they have gone to seed, everyone.” The cycle continues and the flowers will return.

Wild Cucumber: Next Spring

As I reported in August, this is the first year that I have been watching a Wild Cucumber vine in Eliza Howell Park. One of the fascinating features of this large climbing vine is that it is an annual plant. It has grown some 20 feet over blackberry brambles this year, starting from seed.

As an annual, it will be back in this general location next year only if it successfully produces seed that sprouts here in the spring.

In mid-August, the female flower, with the potential of developing the fruit (the “cucumber”), was ready to be fertilized.

“Self seeding annuals” is a term to describe plants that reliably produce new plants from seed each year on their own. In our home garden, Larspur is a good example of a reliable self-seeding flower.

Thinking about self seeders, I have been focusing on the fruit or seeds of Wild Cucumber.

By mid-September, the fruit was evident, green and near full size, but not yet ripe.

This week I noted that the seeds are ripening. Different plants disperse seeds differently; in the case of Wild Cucumber, the mature fruit / seed pod opens at rhe bottom, so the seeds can drop or spray out.

In this photo, the seed pod on the left is open, while the one on the right remains closed.

There are only a few seeds in each fruit. I found an open one that still held three seeds, providing an opportunity to observe the inside structure of the fruit at maturity.

The seeds are larger than one might expect, nearly a half inch long.

Most of the plants that are found in the park are perennials. Where no one plants new annuals each year, those that reappear year after year need to be very successful at self seeding.

Wild Cucumber has a reputation of being an excellent self seeder, so there is reason to expect that it might be growing here again next year.

Perhaps early June will be a good time to start to look for the growth of next year’s vines.

The other large vines in Eliza Howell are perennials, so I know right where to find them next year. Self seeding annuals, even when successful, are usually near where they were the previous year, but not in the exact same location.

Answers to the questions of whether and where will not be available till next spring.

Artist’s Conk: A Perennial Mushroom

Mushrooms are plentiful in Eliza Howell Park at this time of the year and I devote some of my walking time to making note of the varieties present. These photos were taken one recent morning.

Many of the mushrooms are ephemeral; they develop quickly and fade quickly.

There are others, though, especially some that grow on trees and logs, that can be observed repeatedly over a long period of time. Artist’s Conk is one of these.

I recently located a small grouping of Artist’s Conks on a large log in the park woodland. These stemless fungi grow horizontally from a tree or log and are a couple inches to a foot or more across.

They are perennials, remaining in the same spot for years and producing new spores each year. The underside, where the pore-producing spores are located, is white and is the reason this shelf mushroom is so well known.

Marking the fleshy white under surface is easy and whatever is imprinted there becomes permanent when the fungus is dried. Artists have long made use of this and examples of Artist’s Conk artwork can easily be found online.

To demonstrate the ease with which the marking can be done, I picked up a stiff twig and initialed one of the conks. Definitely not a work of art, it shows what is possible.

This particular log is about two feet in diameter, at the base of a large maple tree. The main trunk of the tree, which remains alive, has broken off and it appears that the log is what was formerly the top part of the trunk.

I tend to have a greater attraction to mushrooms that grow on wood, especially on dead trees and logs, than to mushrooms that grow on ground. A major reason for this is, I think, that I can observe the relationship over time: as the wood rots, what happens to the mushrooms; and how the mushrooms contribute to the wood returning to nutrients.

Artist’s Conk can potentially live for decades and this log appears to be near the beginning of the decay process.

This could be a good opportunity to observe a perennial mushroom over time. I expect this maple log and the Artist’s Conk will continue their symbiotic relationship long after my Eliza Howell days are over, but, for now, I am watching and learning.

White-crowned Sparrow: An October Highlight

One of the migrating birds that I look forward to seeing each October in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park is White-crowned Sparrow. So far, I have not been disappointed. In each of the last 17 years it has been one of the species that I have observed in October, pausing here on the way south.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

It is a distinctive bird, with white and black stripes on the gray head and white markings on the dark wings. The breast is unstreaked. Females and males look alike as adults.

At this time of the year, they eat mostly seeds of flowers and grasses. In Eliza Howell, they are usually on the ground or on wildflowers or in the trees nearby.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

White-crowned Sparrows breed in the far north and winter to the south of Michigan. They pass through on their way to their breeding grounds in May, but they do not linger much. I have spotted them in May in 10 of 17 years.

In the fall, they do not seem to be in as much of a hurry. I see them some times in late September (5 of 17 years) and in early November (4 of 16 years). The October appearances can be at any time of the month

(The range map is from the Cornell Institute of Ornithology.)

When they show up in the fall, adult White-crowned Sparrows are accompanied by immature birds, this year’s hatchlings. The immatures are adult size, but have tan and brown head stripes instead of white and black. They keep this look until spring.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

October is the best time of the year to see a variety of sparrows in Detroit. I often see 10 different species during the month in the park — some summer residents that have not yet departed, some migrating through, and some winter residents just arriving.

Sparrow species are notorious for being difficult to distinguish. Once they become acquainted with the White-crowned Sparrow, however, most people find it (at least the adult) quite easy to recognize.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

There remain some October days and I am hopeful of getting a few more looks at a favorite migrating sparrow before saying farewell till next spring.

Moonseed: Another September Fruiting Vine

Three years ago I wrote about watching the fruit develop on five different kinds of climbing vines in Eliza Howell Park. Since then I have added to the number of perennial fruiting vines that I check during my September walks. There are now eight, some more easily located than others.

Though the berries do not all ripen at the same time, September is a good time for taking pictures to show and compare the different fruit.

From top left clockwise: Oriental Bittersweet, Winter Creeper, Grape, and Virginia Creeper. Three of these — Grape, Bittersweet, and Virginia Creeper — were included in the post about “Five Climbing Vines” in September, 2018, and Winter Creeper was featured a few months later.

From top left clockwise: Greenbrier, Moonseed, Porcelain Berry, and Poison Ivy. I have written about Poison Ivy and Porcelain Berry before, but Greenbrier is a vine that I have been watching in the park for only a couple years now. And Moonseed is the latest addition to my vine stops on September walks.

Moonseed is a vine native to eastern North America that climbs 10 to 20 feet up trees, climbing by twining around small trunks/stems/limbs.

The fruit looks a lot like wild grape (compare above in the collages) and the leaves are somewhat similar, but it is possible to tell the difference clearly by looking at details.

One big reason for learning to recognize Moonseed is that the berries are poisonous. This is a fruit that is not for eating.

If the appearance doesn’t quickly identify Moonseed, note the climbing method (it twines around a limb as shown above). Grape vines climb by the use of tendrils that grab or hook onto the limb they climb on.

Moonseed is named for the shape of the seed. The one seed per berry is crescent shaped. This is very different from grapes and other similar looking fruit.

The Eliza Howell Moonseed vines that I am familiar with are near the riverbank. The plant is not considere rare in Michigan, but, for a climbing vine, it can be quite inconspicuous. Of course, as often seems to happen, an observer begins to see more and more of them once they are known.

I have come to recognize them by the leaves.

As I often experience, there is something more to learn every day. Since I started planning this post. I have been studying another climbing vine, one with ripening seeds that don’t look like berries — Climbing Buckwheat.

I may want to discuss the Climbing Buckwheat vine at another time. For now, thogh, it is enough to introduce Moonseed to those who have never met it.

Sulphur Shelf (Chicken of the Woods): An Unmistakable Mushroom

In my Eliza Howell Park walks during the past week, I have several times spotted, from a distance, brightly-colored mushrooms on trees or logs. It can often be very difficult to identify mushrooms, but these I recognized immediately.

The mushroom is called different common names — “Sulphur Shelf,” “Chicken of the Woods,” “Chicken Mushroom” — but, whatever name is used, it is quite unmistakable, not easy to confuse with other kinds of mushrooms.

A “Wow!” was my reaction when I saw this on a gray drizzly morning.

Sulphur Shelf is a large mushroom. The cluster at the base of this Black Cherry tree is about 12 inches across. The colors are often described as “orange and yellow,” but they vary quite a bit and the light can make a difference, even on cloudy days.

Note two different views of the above tree.

The first Sulphur Shelf I found this year, about a week ago, was on a stump.

Another cluster, two days ago, was on a log in the shady woods.

The “Sulphur” name comes from the color of the pores (underside).

Sulphur Shelf is an edible fungus, often considered one of a mushroom hunter’s favorites. The “Chicken” name comes from the way it tastes cooked, at least according to some.

The first one I found (third picture from top) was in a very visible location and I was not surprised to see that two days later it has been harvested / sliced off.

It appears first as a yellow knob and grows very fast, brightest when fresh and young. In a few days it begins to “age” to more of a white color. The changes seen in this picture (clockwise, starting from top left) took place over about six days.

Sulphur Shelf can be found on both dead wood and on living trees. From my limited observations, the living trees on which they are found appear to have a significant degree of rot.

When growing on a tree or stump that has bark, they often emerge at a wound sight.

The mushroom guides indicate that Sulphur Shelf can be found about six months of the year (May to November), but I think of them as a September mushroom. I saw none this year before the middle of September and have found several since.

I do not know why I am seeing it more often than in previous Septembers in the park, but I am enjoying the opportunity to get to know this fascinating mushroom better.

And I welcome its contribution to fall color.