Goldenrods: A Special September Attraction

I have associated goldenrods with September for some 70 years, ever since I was in the early grades of elementary school and back-to-school days included a yellow-papered “Goldenrod Writing Tablet.”

Now, I enjoy many September hours in the midst of the different goldenrod species in Eliza Howell Park, watching the “critters” they attract.

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Many of the Eliza Howell summer wildflowers are nearing the end of their blooming season, but the insects appear to find goldenrod nectar plentiful and satisfactory.

Some of those attracted are large and iridescent. Here are two views of the same individual (Great Black Wasp, I think).

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Some are black and white (Bald-faced Hornet and Black and White Wasp).

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The Locust Borer Beetle is one that I do not remember from previous years. It is possible that I missed it or have forgotten, but I wonder if it is now becoming more common in EHP.

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Two that I do remember – and did an entry on last year – are the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle and the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, a moth that does not lead one to think immediately of “moth” when first seen.

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Sometimes the flowers get crowded, but most insects seem to be willing to share.

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It is not just insects that are attracted.

Sometimes there is a mammal (not pictured) wandering among the goldenrods, carrying a little camera.

Snails (Brown-lipped or Banded snails) prefer the stems to the flowers.

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Goldenrods were for years inaccurately thought to be a major contributor to “hay fever” symptoms. There is no reason to avoid and many reasons to enjoy a large path of goldenrods, definitely one of the highlights of September.

In addition to others not mentioned, the wasps and beetles and bees and moths and snails and I are grateful for their presence.

 

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Six Hibernating Animals: See You in April

Animals have different ways of surviving winter in locations like Michigan where temperatures fall below freezing and the usual food sources are scarce or absent. Some (especially birds and mammals) find sufficient food options and remain active all winter. Some (especially insect-eating birds) migrate to a warmer climate for the season. Some (especially insects) survive only in the egg or pupa stage that will grow into the next generation of adults in the spring. And some hibernate.

I am using the term “hibernation” here to mean an adult remaining in an inactive or dormant condition, in the same sheltered location, all or most of the winter. Mammals (such as bears or groundhogs) may be the hibernators that we think of first, but many “cold-blooded” animals like reptiles, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans also hibernate.

On a recent walk, I started thinking of species that I find every year in Eliza Howell Park that are now hibernating. They include these six.

1.Eastern Chipmunk

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While tree squirrels remain active all winter, often relying on the food (especially nuts) that they stored in the fall, the chipmunk, the only ground squirrel in EHP, hibernates. It stores some food for the winter in its winter burrow and eats when it awakens from time to time during the winter, before returning to its dormant winter condition.  It will emerge in the spring, when I often see the first of the year near the path by the river on a sunny day.

2. Common Garter Snake

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I was walking in the park in the afternoon on December 2 this year when I was surprised to see a Garter Snake. My first thought was “I thought you would be hibernating.” They usually are in their den well before December, but this was a warm day (68 degrees), so it may not have been quite ready to settle down for the winter.

The non-venomous Garter Snake, with its three stripes along its roughly 2 feet length, is the only snake species that I encounter with any regularity in Eliza Howell Park.

3.Mourning Cloak

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Photo by Margaret Weber

The Mourning Cloak is the first butterfly species I expect to see in the spring. Different from almost all other butterflies in our region, it overwinters as an adult rather than in a developing stage or by migrating – and this is the explanation for its early emergence. It finds a hidden location, such as under bark, seeking protection from the birds that forage for insect life all winter. The location may not protect it from freezing temperatures, but it can survive them.

4.Land Snail

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In early October, these (Brown-lipped?) land snails were common in the wild flowers, climbing plants to consume dying leaves. Around first frost they settle down for the winter. They use their mucus to close the shell mouth and protect themselves from the cold. Before they seal themselves in, they find a location under rocks or ground litter protected from the cold and stay there until it is time to emerge in the spring. (Note “The Snails Have Returned,” April 18, 2018.)

5.Groundhog

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This picture, taken in June, is of a half-grown immature Groundhog. Adults mate shortly after they emerge from hibernation in the spring. Groundhogs use burrows throughout the year, but they sometimes dig a separate one for the winter. They settle in below the frost line, rely upon their stored body fat, and sometimes lose half their weight during the months of winter. I don’t know if any of the Eliza Howell groundhogs check the weather on February 2, but, if one does, no one is there watching.

6.American Toad

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Except for gathering at the breeding pond for an intense couple of days in April (See “American Toad Breeding Pond,” July 23, 2018), adult American Toads live quite solidary and nocturnal lives. In the Fall, they dig winter burrows with their feet, sometimes up to three feet deep. When the weather begins to warm and the insects become more active, they emerge and soon after, when the air temperature and the body temperature are right, the males will head to the breeding pond and call the females. (Some of us toad watchers will be listening.)

While the dates vary somewhat, I usually see each of these species for the first time in April. Until then, I wish them a peaceful winter.

 

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.

 

An August Walk: Phenological Observations

As I wander the park these August days, much of my attention is focused on the beginning of fall bird migration and on the continued blooming of insect-attracting flowers. There is so much more to observe, however, and recently I noted a variety of other seasonal phenomena.

I saw all of the following on one recent morning walk.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Nest

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I came across this tiny nest that had fallen under the wild black cherry tree where I watched a pair of gnatcatchers as they constructed this twenty-foot high nest in late May. And I watched them, as well, as they fed the young in the nest in June. The fallen nest provides a good opportunity to note the construction, including the bits of lichen on the outside which helped to camouflage it on the tree limb.

Orbweaver and Web

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This is a great time of the year to find spider webs, often made more visible by dew drops or raindrops. This orbweaver (Marbled Orbweaver, I think), is hanging out upside down under the web as it waits for prey.

Virginia Creeper Berries

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One of the native vines that grow in the park is Virginian Creeper. It always catches my attention when the berries change from green to blue on red stems. Virginia Creeper is sometimes confused with Poison Ivy, but there are several differentiating characteristics. One is that creeper berries are blue when ripe while ivy berries, when ripe, are whitish.

Bald-faced Hornet Nest

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Every year I find a number of Bald-faced Hornet nests in the park, most them quite high in trees. This is the first one I found this year and it is quite low. These hornets, really a type of wasp, defend their nests vigorously if one gets really close, but I have found that a few feet away is safe. (For more, see my post on December 19, 2017: “Bald-faced Hornet Nests.”)

Variety of Mushrooms

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After rain in late summer, mushrooms pop up — in various locations and in various shapes and sizes. These are some that I saw on the walk. Maybe next year I will try to identity them, at least the most common ones. For now, I am just appreciating the variety.

Developing Acorns

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There are many different types of oak trees in Eliza Howell; this one is a type of white oak. The acorns are not yet fully grown in most species and it is fascinating to watch how they mature. In some cases, the nut has to grow out of the cap that originally covers it almost completely.

Snail Climbing Plant

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These land snails (Brown Lipped Snails) are common in the unmowed sections of the park on the south side between the road loop and the woodland bordering the river. In late summer, they often climb stems as they eat decaying plants and grasses. I almost always find them on my walks among the wildflowers.

Phenology is the study of the annual life cycle events of plants and animals. When I use expressions like “at this time of year” and “seasonal,” I am very conscious of how much awareness of the annual cycle is at the heart of nature observation and study.

The Snails Have Returned

On April 16, I saw the first land snails of the year in Eliza Howell Park. It was a cold, dark day, and while they usually appear about this time, I was a little surprised to see them because of how cold it has been this April and because the grasses and wildflowers do not yet show much new life. 

Land snails breathe air and do not need to be in water. They eat plant parts.

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I am definitely not a malacologist (who studies mollusks, including snails), but I have been trying to learn a little about the land snails that are common in parts of the park. Though I am not entirely sure, I think the Eliza Howell land snails are all of one kind and are Brown-lipped Snails (which are sometimes also called Banded Snails or Grove Snails).

The snails have returned, not from migration, but from hibernation. In the Fall, they find a sheltered spot, use their mucus to cover the shell mouth, and seal themselves in for the winter months.

Before this week, the most recent photos I have are from September, 2017. As can be clearly seen from these pictures, there is color variation among the snails.

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During the next few months, one place where they can be found is among the high grasses and wildflowers between the road loop and the footbridge, off the main path. In walking among the plants, it is easy to step on them (and hear a crunch sound) before seeing them.

If this year is like recent years, they will be present in large numbers.

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For some people, snails may not be as attractive or as exciting as some other fauna in the park. For nature observers who want to get as complete a picture as possible of the “critters” found in this urban park, however, they are definitely worthy of attention (and maybe a few pictures).