September 7 Nature Walk

The second of the annual Detroit Audubon field trips to Eliza Howell Park takes place on Saturday, September 7, 2019, starting at 8:00 a.m. The public is invited; there is no cost.

Timed to coincide with the early days of the Fall bird migration, this walk give special attention to birds, especially warblers headed from the North Woods to Central and South America. Depending upon the weather conditions, we are likely to see several warbler species, perhaps including these three. (Thank you to Margaret Weber for these three photos.)

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Black and White Warbler

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Nashville Warbler

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American Redstart

The fall warbler migration begins at the end of August and continues into October, with individuals of some 20 different species making short stops at Eliza Howell. The find from one day to the next is almost always different.

If September 7 is a good day, the birds will keep us quite busy, but we will also stop for non-bird observations. This is about the best time of the year to note the variety and nature of spider webs among the wildflowers and the shrubs. They vary in sizes and shape; this is a small one on a thistle.

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September is also the month when I most frequently see a Praying Mantis (or 2 or 3). They have reached maturity and may be seeking mates and/or laying eggs. (I wrote about “Praying Mantis Egg Laying” on September 13, 2018.)

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Butterflies continue to be present. One of my favorite late-season butterflies is the Common Buckeye, which makes it appearance in Eliza Howell after the July butterfly peak.

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I usually find several Bald-faced Hornet nests in the park each year, beginning about this time. We may want to stop for a look (through lenses) to watch the hornets enter and exit the hole near the bottom of these amazing constructions. (For more, see “Bald-faced Hornet Nests,” December 12, 2017.)

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Blue Jays migrate in September and many spend days at Eliza Howell harvesting acorns, from the middle of September into October. (For more information, see “Blue Jays Harvesting Acorns,” August 27, 2018).

September 7 might be a little early to see them at work, but we will check (this photo also courtesy of Margaret Weber).

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The seasons repeat themselves, so it is possible to predict what might be seen at any given time of the year. But it is also true that every day is different and almost every walk includes an element of the unexpected. Such is the nature of nature walks. September 7 should be fun.

Common but Not Common: Black Swallowtail

On May 22, I saw the first Black Swallowtail of 2019 in Eliza Howell Park. Black Swallowtails are nectaring butterflies, usually seen going from flower to flower. About the only flowers available in the field on May 22 were dandelions.

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Black Swallowtails are regulars in the park, often seen anytime from May through September. They are regulars, frequently seen, “common” in this sense. But the reason I take their pictures so often is that they are not “common” in the sense of routine or plain or unremarkable. They get my attention repeatedly.

Like many other butterflies, they are attracted to wild bergamot.

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And they like clover.

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The “swallowtail” name comes from the two tails extending in back, similar to – or reminding someone of – the tail of the Barn Swallow. The male and female are slightly different in appearance, the females having smaller yellow/white spots but larger blue patches than the males.

These common but remarkable butterflies are often in home gardens as well as in the park. In our garden, they frequent coneflowers.

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Black Swallowtails do not migrate, but overwinter as chrysalis. Females lay eggs on plants in the carrot family (parsley, carrots, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.). This caterpillar is enjoying eating its way up a parsley sprig.

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Naturalists often refer to animals and plants that are seen frequently in a particular location as “common.” Sometimes they are even named “common” – for example, “common milkweed” and “common buckeye.” A number of years ago, while on a butterfly walk in Eliza Howell, a companion said when viewing the common buckeye butterfly: “How can anything that beautiful be called “common!”

Here is a common buckeye that was close enough for me to get a picture of last year in Eliza Howell.

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His words are on my mind as I reflect on the black swallowtail. Its regular presence does not diminish its distinctiveness.

2018 Butterflies: A Top 10 List

2018 has been a very good year for butterflies in Eliza Howell Park. Recently I saw the 30th different species of the year (30 species that I was able to identify; there are some small brown skippers that I do not know well enough).

It was also a good butterfly year in that I was more successful in photographing them, learning to get close enough to capture them with a phone camera. The pictures here were all taken in the park this year.

This list could have been considerably longer, but these ten are the ones that I’d like to call to the reader’s attention at this time.

Common Buckeye (first seen September 11; photo September 11)

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Though called “common,” I don’t see many Common Buckeyes in Eliza Howell. When I do see one, it is usually late in the season. They are a more southern species, at least for much of the season. In Michigan in football season it may be appropriate to point out that the “Buckeye” name has nothing to do with Ohio. 

Black Swallowtail (first seen May 29; photo September 7)

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Male and female Black Swallowtails look a little different; this is a female. Black Swallowtails are common and are often found in gardens. Parsley family plants serve as food plants for the caterpillars.

Viceroy (first seen August 4; photo August 10)

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Viceroy butterflies look like Monarch butterflies and benefit from the Monarch’s reputation among birds for being toxic. Ordinarily, Viceroys have a clear black band across the hindwings (a line which Monarchs do not have), but that line is extremely faint in this one.

Monarch (first seen May 24; photo August 6)

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Monarchs are the most famous butterfly in country, known for their annual migration, their dependence on milkweed plants, and their recent decline in numbers. I don’t know the long-term implications, but there were a great number of Monarchs in southeast Michigan this year – and in Eliza Howell Park.

Tiger Swallowtail (first seen May 31; photo August 2)

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Tiger Swallowtails were also common this year, showing up frequently throughout the summer.

Silver-spotted Skipper (first seen June 24; photo July 26)

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Roughly one third of all butterfly species in North America are skippers and, as a rule, they are very difficult to identify. The Silver-spotted Skipper is the most easily recognized of the skippers, perhaps reason enough to like it.

Common Checkered-Skipper (first seen June 29; photo July 24)

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The Common Checkered-Skipper, considered the most common and widespread skipper in North America, is also relatively easy to recognize. The males sometimes appear a little blue.

Giant Swallowtail (first seen July 17; photo July 17)

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The Giant Swallowtail is fairly common in more southerly regions of the country, but not here. I feel fortunate any year that it shows up in Eliza Howell. Compared with many butterflies, it is indeed a giant.

American Lady (first seen May 31; photo July 14)

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American Lady and Painted Lady are both found here; this year I saw American Lady a little more frequently. The Ladies, especially Painted Lady, migrate seasonally as Monarchs do.

Hackberry Emperor (first seen June 11; photo June 11)

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I don’t know why a small family of butterflies is called “Emperor,” but the “Hackberry” name comes from the fact that the hackberry tree is the larval food plant. They are not common in Eliza Howell.

In the middle of September, butterfly activity is slowing down and the Monarch migration to Mexico is well started. But there are still some butterflies around and it is not too late for a butterfly walk.