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.

 

Blue Flag and Yellow Flag: Two Irises

Among the very earliest perennial flowering plants to emerge in Eliza Howell Park in the spring are the two iris species: blue flag and yellow flag. They grow in wet areas and I am aware of only one location for each, in different sections of the park. They have now, in late March, both emerged and begun to grow.

Blue flag presently looks like this.

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Blue flag is a native North American iris, one of the many native wild flowers that bloom in Eliza Howell. Because there is only one small patch (as far as I know), in a wet woodland location, not many visitors to the park are likely to see it.

In about two and a half months, in early June, it will look like this.

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The yellow flag iris patch is in the flood plain of the Rouge River, where it survives despite being under water several times in a typical spring. This is what it looks like at present, as the water is receding.

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Yellow flag is not native to North America, originally found in Eurasia. It was brought here as a garden flower and the wild ones now found in places like Eliza Howell “escaped” from gardens and naturalized. It blooms later in spring. 

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Both are lovely examples of Eliza Howell flowers, blooming in the season after the earliest woodland wild flowers and before most open field flowers.

Blue flag is prized by those interested in having plants in local parks that were in the Detroit area long before European Americans named it Detroit and changed the landscape. There is something to be said for maintaining that connection.

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I am happy to help park visitors find either or both.

 

Thinking April during Winter Walks

I enjoy nature walks in the winter in Eliza Howell Park, especially when there is snow on the ground, but for 2-3 months the seasonal changes are minimal. Plants and many animals are dormant and the number of birds present is the lowest of any time during the year. Nature’s year begins later in the calendar year in Detroit, in March rather than in January.

So, during my quiet winter walks, I sometimes find myself thinking ahead and anticipating some of the special times that will be coming later this year, some of the best times to visit the park to observe, and perhaps to photograph, annual natural phenomena.

The first “don’t miss” days marked on my calendar are late April. (There will be a public nature walk on Saturday, April 27, at 10 a.m.)

In late April, the earliest of the summer breeding birds will have returned from their winter grounds and, like this male Red-winged Blackbird, will be claiming their territories and proclaiming their interest in a mate.

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     Photo by Margaret Weber

Sometime in the second half of April (the exact time is temperature dependent), American Toads will return to their breeding pond in EHP and spend a couple of days and nights in loud calling and in mating / egg-laying. In 2018, the weather was too warm in May and the pond dried up before the tadpoles were fully developed, so it will be especially interesting to see what happens this year.

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     Photo by Margaret Weber

Late April is also the beginning of the blooming wildflower season in the park, with a variety of small species found along the paths in the woods. The timing of this is also weather dependent, but on the basis of my experience over the last decade, the last week in April is usually a good time to see them. This collage of Violets is made up of pictures taken in 2018.

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The Mayapple does not usually bloom as early as April in Eliza Howell, but it is fascinating to observe how it emerges. There are several patches where its progress can be observed in the late days of April.

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Of the approximately 30 butterfly species that can be seen annually in Eliza Howell, the first ones usually show up in late April. The tiny Spring Azure, pictured with the wings up here, is a lovely blue when the wings are open.

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April is also the month when the earliest bird nests can be found (the Red-tailed Hawk nest earlier). Most song birds build their nests later (the annual Detroit Audubon field trip to Eliza Howell to observe nesting bids is in early June), but I often find a couple by late April.

These pictures were taken in April, 2018. The one on the left, a nest on the ground, is Killdeer. The one on the right, in a shrub, is Northern Cardinal.

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My walks continue all winter and I usually find something noteworthy each time, but the changes from one week to the next are nothing now like they are when spring has fully arrived. To avoid missing special developments – such as first butterflies, first wildflowers, first bird nests – it’s time to mark the calendar.

Big Joe

A number of visitors to Eliza Howell Park this summer made comments after seeing Joe Pye Weed. They had not been familiar with it and wanted to know more. I understand that reaction very well; it is an impressive plant, one that for some time now has been one of my favorite wildflowers.

Joe Pye Weed is a perennial wildflower, one that attracts butterflies, and it has historically been used both medically and as food. And some EHP plants grow to about 8 feet tall! If a “weed” is something undesirable, Joy Pye has been misnamed.

Its blooming season is soon coming to an end, but Joe Pye had a long summer run. One of my favorite photos from the summer is this one of an E. Tiger Swallowtail sipping nectar on a Joe Pye bloom in early August.

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There are several Joe Pye plants in the “prairie” section of EHP. I first begin to pay attention to them each year when they start to rise above other plants in late June. The next picture was taken on July 8.

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The origin of the name is uncertain, but a common story is that it is named after a Native American healer, “Joe Pye” (or “Jopi”), who used this plant to treat fevers and possibly other conditions (18th century?). Tea made from the plant has been thought to have health benefits and it is listed as an edible plant.

In addition to whatever health and nutritional benefits it can provide, it contributes enormously to nature observation. Two days before the July 14 wildflower walk, the flowers were beginning to open.

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Part of the attractiveness of Joe Pye Weed is that it takes its time blooming, opening up slowly and lasting from July to September.

The next picture is from July 24.

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Through most of August, I was able to find pollinating insects almost whenever I walked by — for example, on August 4…

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…and on August 10.

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A purple flower, ironweed (in the middle below between two Joe Pyes), also stands tall, but it doesn’t seem to have quite the presence of Joe Pye Weed. And it has a shorter bloom time.

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Joe Pye Weed is a great presence in a wildflower field. It is a large, reliable, insect-attracting, native perennial. It might merit the affectionate nickname of “Big Joe.”

Butterfly Weed: Photogenic for Five Months

From May through September, I frequently check the Butterfly Weeds in Eliza Howell Park, camera handy. There are three major reasons why it is one of my favorite wildflowers and one that “wants” me to take its picture often.

First, the color of the flower clusters is atypical as well as vibrant. The park is filled with yellow and white and purple flowers, but very few other orange ones.

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Secondly, the flower is well-named. It is a magnet for butterflies, especially Monarchs. This year, I have found at least three Monarchs around and on the patch of Butterfly Weed pictured above every time I visited. Butterfly Weed is a member of the milkweed family, but Monarchs do not lay their eggs on it (they use only Common Milkweed). Butterfly Weed is for nectar.

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Good nectar flowers attract other pollinating insects as well. The Bumblebee is just one of a variety of insects that lead me to pull out my camera, especially when the “bugs” are seen against the background of orange blossoms.

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At this time of the summer, the beginning of August, most of the Butterfly Weed plants are transitioning from flowers to seed pods.

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Soon, the Butterfly Weed will “want” to have its picture taken again. Usually in September, the seed pods mature and seeds begin to disperse. Butterfly Weed seeds are spread by the wind and they are fascinating as they prepare to float or fly away.

In the next picture, the seed pod is just beginning to open to let out the silk-winged seeds. In the following two, the seeds are (almost) ready to be taken away by the next breeze.

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From its first bright orange flower to the silky seed dispersal, with a great many insects coming to it along the way, the Butterfly Weed has definitely won my full attention.

 

Walk Among the Goldenrods: August 25, 2018

The goldenrods are coming. Not visible among the wildflowers at the July 14 nature walk, they can be expected to be at their blooming peak in the park in late August. And they can be expected to be attracting a variety of colorful insects.

The next Eliza Howell nature walk will feature goldenrods and the insects they attract. It will also provide an opportunity to observe other aspects of late summer nature in the park.

Anyone interested is welcome to join us in Eliza Howell Park for a guided walk among the flowers, especially the goldenrods, on Saturday, August  25, at 11:00 a.m. We will meet about halfway around the road loop from the Fenkell entrance. Clothing suitable for walking among tall plants is recommended. Stay as long or as briefly as desired. There will likely be a number of photo opportunities.

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Over the years, goldenrod has sometimes been mistakenly identified as the source of pollen that causes hay fever symptoms. The real culprit, however, is ragweed. Goldenrod beauty can be enjoyed up-close without breathing any pollen.

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These pictures were all taken in the second half of August, 2017.

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“Perhaps it is due to the fact that goldenrods peak when many insects are mature, or that the plants grow in clusters and groups, that they are the hub of insect activity. The plants literally buzz with bustling insects from dawn to dusk.” (Larry Weber, In a Patch of Goldenrods, 2016.)

Below are two examples of the insects seen among the Eliza Howell goldenrods in August 2017.

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Many pollinating insects, like wasps and bees, have the capacity to sting. As a result, some of us are understandably reluctant to walk too closely among the flowers that attract them. Some of us have had the experience of many times approaching closely to insects while they nectar on flowers, without ever having been stung, and have no hesitation getting close. Either approach is respected.

Among the other late summer developments that there will be an opportunity to observe on August 25 is the maturing Porcelain-berry.

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The turnout and enthusiasm at the July 14 nature walk led to the decision to have this second summer one on August 25. Feel free to spread the word.

July Blooms and Butterflies: Part 1

The middle of July is a great time to walk among (or at the edges of) the blooming wildflowers that cover much of the un-mowed sections of Eliza Howell fields. The pictures below are of some of the most common and easily seen species present at this time.

All or almost all of these can be found in the park areas outside the road loop on the south side, where native prairie seeds were spread a number of years ago.

NOTE: These flowers will be featured in the public nature walk on July 14, 2018, at 11:00.

The blooming flowers attract many butterflies and other insects. Part 2 will identify some of the butterflies most frequently seen in July in EHP.

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Wild Bergamot

Bergamot is similar to the “beebalm” often grown in flower gardens, but is not red like the most common cultivated variety. It might be the most common flower of all in the park in July.

 

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Heliopsis

A variety of tall perennial yellow flowers are native to North America. Many bloom a little later in the year. Heliopsis blooms in July.

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Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed, another tall perennial, is just beginning to bloom. It is reportedly named after a Native American who took the name “Joe Pye” and was known for using this plant for medicinal purposes.

 

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Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan is another flower that is widely used in home gardens.

 

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Queen Anne’s Lace

This flower, related to the cultivated carrot, is sometimes called “wild carrot.” Its flower (flat cluster – umbel – on top), rather than its root, is the primary attraction.

 

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Purple Coneflower

If interested in watching for butterflies and bees (and possibly hummingbirds), taking a position near the coneflowers is a good strategy.

 

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Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed is a member of the milkweed family and, true to its name, attracts many butterflies, especially Monarchs.

 

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Mullein

Mullein is sometimes called the “velvet plant” for the soft feel of the leaves. It has a single tall flowering stem. The stems are strong enough that the previous-year dead stalks are sometimes still standing the next summer.

 

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Chicory

There are not nearly as many blue flowers as there are yellow and white and purple; chicory is one. Its roots have often been ground and used as a coffee additive or even a coffee substitute.

 

 

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Bouncing Bet 

This is often called “soapwort” and was\is used to make soap. As I understand it, “bouncing bet” was a term sometimes used for washerwoman.

 

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Crown Vetch

Because of its thick spreading growth, Crown Vetch was brought to the US for erosion control in the middle of the 20th century. It has now become naturalized and is found in many parts of the country.

 

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Canada Thistle

Canada Thistle is nearing the end of its blooming season in the middle of July, but it continues to attract insects and birds. Goldfinches will be in the thistle patches for the next few weeks, eating the seeds.

 

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Sweetclover

Both Yellow and White Sweetclover, usually considered separate species, are found in EHP and both can be seen in this picture. Sweetclover is a popular species for honey production.

These are among the most easily spotted wild flowers in the middle of July in Eliza Howell Park. They attract not only butterflies (see Part 2) and bees, but also humans like me.