An October Morning Walk: Today’s News

I arrived in Eliza Howell Park on October 9, 2018, at about 8:20 a.m. It was already warm, very warm for this time of the year, after a heavy dew. For the next three hours I walked about with my binoculars and phone camera, with frequent stops.

These are some of my observations on what is happening in the park today.

1.Sun and Dew

When the morning sun shines, it highlights the wet twigs and leaves, and the moisture rises in the air like fog. The temperature was unusual for October, but the picture is not.

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2.Honeysuckle berries getting ripe.

There are many honeysuckle shrubs (Amur honeysuckle) in the park. They have lovely white flowers in the spring, but are perhaps even more attention-getting in the Fall. They keep their leaves longer than most deciduous plants and will be mostly green with abundant red berries into November. They have been ripening slowly and more are red every day.

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3.Mushrooms continue in season.

I recently posted a report on some of the mushrooms in the park (October 4, 2018). Mushroom season continues and, in the last few days, there are even more to be found, in many shapes and sizes. This is just one of many I thought photo-worthy today.

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4.Migrating sparrows arriving.

As I noted in another post (September 28, 2018), part of my October focus is on the variety of sparrows that pass through the park. This morning I saw six different sparrow species, including a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and my first-of-the-season Field Sparrow (pictured here in a photo from another time).

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Photo by Margaret Weber

5.Monarch butterflies are still present.

Monarchs have been in migration to Mexico for about a month now and I have been checking for them during each visit to the park to see whether there are any still present. Today I saw 4. So they have not yet all passed through, though that will happen soon.

I thought today of the Monarch caterpillar that I saw on September 12 (picture) and wondered then whether it would have time to make it to butterfly in time to head to Mexico with the others. Perhaps it is now on its way.

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6.Chestnuts are falling.

Many, maybe most, of the nuts and acorns in Eliza Howell have already fallen. When mature chestnuts fall, the outside shell (the burr) opens on its own – to the benefit of squirrels and others. Many empty burrs are now on the ground under the trees. Sometimes the burrs open before they fall; this one is still on the tree, with two of the three nuts having dropped. (For more about EHP chestnuts, see post of July 31, 2018.)

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7.Tree leaves are starting to turn.

Except for the species whose leaves turn red early (such as staghorn sumac and Virginia creeper), most of the leaves in the park are still green in early October. Today, however, there are definite signs that the change has begun on some of the large deciduous trees.

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8.Second hornet nest found.

Bald-faced hornets often build nests in a number of trees scattered around the park. I typically see 10 or more each year, starting to spot them in late summer but finding most in the fall when they become more visible with the leaves thinning or gone. This year I had only seen one so far, a small one, found on August 17 and pictured here, and have begun to wonder whether this year might be atypical. Today I (finally) found a second one.

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9.Purple love grass starting to tumble.

Anyone visiting the park in late summer or early fall is likely to notice the hue of the foot-high plants called purple love grass. When the grasses dry up, they (now brown) detach and blow across the ground like tumbleweed. Tumbling is now starting to happen. (The picture is from mid-September.)

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10.Snails feeding on stems.

The terrestrial snails common in Eliza Howell (perhaps a type of banded snail) have been active since April, when they emerged from hibernation. They seem to be especially abundant right now, climbing up several feet on plant stems (they feed on both live and dead plants). Here is a collage of four I saw today.

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These are some of my notes from a morning walk in the park.

 

October Sparrow Expectations

Each year I look for 10 different sparrow species during the month of October in Eliza Howell Park. In the last six years, I have twice seen all 10 and twice seen 9 of the 10.

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Note 1: Detroit Audubon is sponsoring a Field Trip at Eliza Howell on October 20, 2018, at 9:00 a.m. Sparrows are among the target birds, as are migrants like Golden-crowed Kinglet and Purple Finch. Non-Audubon members are welcome.

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Note 2: All bird photos in this essay were taken by Margaret Weber.

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White-crowned Sparrow

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The 10 October sparrows fall into three categories: 1) those that migrate through in the spring and again in the fall; 2) those that are summer residents and are about to leave for the south; and 3) those that are just arriving to spend the winter in Detroit.

Six of the 10 are in the migrant category. White-crowned Sparrow is one. It breeds in north Canada, where it is common, and winters in parts south of Michigan.

Field Sparrow

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Southeast Michigan is part of the breeding range of the Field Sparrow, but I typically see it in Eliza Howell only in the spring and the fall. Thus, I count it as a migrant in relationship to the park. It is a regular brief visitor in October.

White-throated Sparrow

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The White-Throated Sparrow is another migrant regularly seen in late September and in October. It breeds in northern Michigan and Canada and winters just to the south. In fact, we are at the northern edge of the winter range and they are sometimes seen in SE Michigan in winter.

Three other migrants that usually show up in October in EHP are not pictured here: Lincoln’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow.

Chipping Sparrow

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The Chipping Sparrow is one of two summer resident sparrows that are normally still seen in October. It always arrives in April and heads for the deep south states for winter before the end of October.

Song Sparrow

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The Song Sparrow, the other summer resident on this list, is the most common EHP summer sparrow and the closest to a year-round resident among the sparrows. Some years, one or two individuals stay through the winter.

American Tree Sparrow

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The A. Tree Sparrow is a winter visitor and the one of the 10 that is least reliably seen in October – simply because it sometimes doesn’t arrive until November.

It is a true northern breeder, as can be seen from the range map, taken from the Cornel Lab of Ornithology.

American Tree Sparrow range map

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Dark-eyed Junco

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The other winter resident is always found in October in EHP, the Dark-eyed Junco. Though “sparrow” is not a part of its name, that is what it is. It usually arrives early in October and stays until April. Known as the “snowbird,” its arrival signifies to many that winter is coming.

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There are two other sparrows (Savannah Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow) that I am likely to see in the park each year, but not on a predicable basis and not in October. Next week is October and I am ready with my sparrow expectations.