July Blooms and Butterflies: Part 2

In Part 1, I noted some of the most common wildflowers found in the park in mid-July. They will be there for the July 14 nature walk and the next time I go after that.

Butterflies, on the other hand, do not stay in one place. I am never entirely sure what I will see, though a few are seen almost every visit. Here are some often present in EHP in mid-July.

The first three can be considered large, as butterflies go.





E. Black Swallowtail



E. Tiger Swallowtail

The next 6 are smaller, but not among the many very small butterflies. I characterize them as mid-size.


Clouded Sulfur   Photo by Margaret Weber



Red Admiral



Little Wood-satyr



Cabbage White



Silver-spotted Skipper



Common Wood-nymph

The last two pictured here are small. There are almost always additional small butterflies flittering around that I am not able to identify.


Banded Hairstreak



Crescent       Photo by Margaret Weber

It is very difficult to tell the different between Pearl Crescent and Northern Crescent. They are very similar. I think the one in the photo might be a Northern Crescent, but Pearl Crescent is more common in southern Michigan and more likely to be seen in EHP in the summer.

I have always considered a day of seeing 6 or more different species of butterfly a very good butterfly day. On sunny days in July in Eliza Howell, there is often a very good butterfly day.

Getting to Know the Tulip Tree

Among the many flowers found in Eliza Howell is a striking one that, I am quite sure, very few visitors see: the flower of the Tulip Tree, which blooms in late May and early June.


Different from many other flowering trees, the leaves are fully developed before the flowers appear, making the flowers less visible. In addition, the tree is rare in Eliza Howell; I am aware of exactly one. But it is definitely worth it to find the singular tree and get an up-close look.


These pictures were taken May 29. So was the next one, of a flower getting ready to burst from the bud.


The northern end of the natural range of the tulip tree, a type of magnolia, is southern Michigan, so we do not encounter many around here. By contrast, it is the state tree of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. It can grow to well over 100 feet (in which case, the flowers tend to be mostly out of range for close-up looks), but the EHP one I know is much smaller.

This picture was taken in the middle of May this year.


The tree is found within the road loop, toward the Fenkell end of the loop. It is right next to a spruce tree, which is behind it in the picture.

The Tulip Tree gets its name, I strongly suspect, from the flower. But the leaf looks something like a tulip and doesn’t the empty seed shell that hangs on all winter also suggest a tulip?


In the Fall, the leaves turn yellow.


For most of my life, I had no real knowledge of tulip trees. I thank this particular tree for providing me the opportunity to get to know a fascinating species. I invite others to pay it a visit.

Vernal Pools: Getting My Feet Wet

“Getting my feet wet,” as an idiom, means just starting something new or gaining initial experience. This is a good expression to describe me this year as I am beginning to learn about life in vernal pools in Eliza Howell Park.

In this case, “getting my feet wet” can also be taken literally – or could be if it were not for rubber boots.


Vernal (spring) pools are shallow temporary pools that typically fill with water in early spring and dry up by summer or fall. Several species of animals rely upon vernal pools for survival, such as wood frogs, spotted salamanders, and fairy shrimp. Because vernal pools dry up, fish do not survive there and frog and salamander eggs will not be eaten by fish.

There are 3 or 4 different spring watery spots in EHP that might be considered vernal pools. For my beginning study, I am focusing my attention on one. This is the largest one, in the heart of the wooded area.


The approximate location of the pool, with no claim to be accurate in size, is marked in red on the map here.


The pool in late March is some 80-90 yards long and averages about 20-25 yards wide, with water several inches to a foot deep in most of it. It is deep enough to attract Wood Ducks and Mallards at this time of the year. This particular pool, if I recall correctly from other years, does not usually dry up until at least the end of August.

Here is another view, taken while standing in the pool.


Vernal pools are important habitats for amphibians and for invertebrates and I am hoping to learn something of the life in this pool in EHP. Fortunately, I know where to look for expert tutoring and advice. Yu Man Lee is Wildlife Ecologist and Herpetologist for Michigan Natural Features Inventory (a program of MSU Extension). She, accompanied by her husband Jon, came to Eliza Howell Park earlier in March to check out the vernal pools here.


My new venture will involve a lot of looking down in the water, looking for/at “critters” and eggs and plants. The bottom of the pool is now covered with last year’s fallen leaves, deposited after the water died up in 2017.


It is possible that I may want to post an update on what I am finding in this vernal pool in 2018. On the other hand, since I am just getting my feet wet, I may very well have too little to report.


The Calendar Says Spring

March 21, 2018 (Walk # 1061)

This was my first walk after the vernal equinox and I was looking for signs of spring. I found a few, but winter is not over. A few observations from today:

The river water level is quite low for March. I use the extent of visible sycamore tree roots on the right for comparison purposes.


One advantage to the nature walker of the lower water level is that there is more mud along the river edge, the area between the sides of the bank and the water. More mud means more mammal tracks and, at least for me, tracks in mud are usually easier to read than tracks in snow.

Here is an example.


I circled two obviously different tracks here. The one in purple is typical of a raccoon and the one in red was made by a canine, probably a coyote.


Robins are abundant in the park now and, in this time between winter and spring, are exhibiting both winter and spring behaviors. Many are feeding on the ground, but others are still foraging for fruit and seeds, as they do in winter.

I posted about sumac seed clusters last December, about how long they persist. Some of last year’s seeds are still present now and today both chickadees and robins were feeding on them.


The number of bird species seen today – 18 – is the highest so far in 2018. A couple of these are winter visitors that have not yet returned north: Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrow.

There are a few signs of spring. Some birds are pairing off, preparatory to breeding season. One Downy Woodpecker now usually means another is very close nearby. Canada Goose is one of the earliest birds to nest along the Rouge River and this pair appears to be getting in the mood.



While the park still has the brown winter look, it is possible to find a little bit of new green. As in home gardens, the first plants to emerge from the ground are those that grow from bulbs or rhizomes. I was pleased to see that a native species of marsh iris is back again this year.


Today’s observations indicate that this March is both colder and drier than normal. I anticipate rapid changes in the park as the weather warms.

The Flood of 2018

On February 18, 2018, Eliza Howell Park still had the snow-and-ice look that has been typical this winter. This is the view upstream from the footbridge on that day.


Then the heavy rains came and the snow melted. When I returned to the park on February 21, the Rouge River was at the highest flood level that I have ever seen. This is the very first time, in my thousand visits to the footbridge, that the water was actually over the bridge.


Normally the bridge is perhaps 8 – 10 feet above water level, as can perhaps be seen in the next picture (taken December 1, 2017).


It was not at all surprising that the river this week flooded the bottomland that gets covered whenever the river overflows the banks. What was unusual was the depth of the water there, greater than the typical depth of the river within the banks.


In addition, most of the large wooded area from the footbridge to the southern end of the park at Schoolcraft was under water (the next picture). The entire area of the park flooded was the most extensive that I have witnessed.


After a heavy rain, the Rouge River rises quickly in the park and reaches its peak within a day or less. It recedes quickly as well. The next day, February 22, it was much lower, though still over the river bank. This picture was taken about 23 hours after the one above showing the water flowing over the footbridge.


It will be interesting to see how the Flood of 2018 has affected the park – the flow of the river (and the downed trees in it), the vernal pools, the spring woodland flowers that bloom in April, and the walking paths through the woods. We will see.

Another Visit to the Footbridge: The Familiar and the Unexpected

It was 17 degrees F with a light snow falling in the morning of the Martin Luther King holiday when I arrived in the park.

As is my typical practice in winter, I headed to the footbridge; it is always an interesting view and often a key location of avian activity. A few years ago, a group of neighborhood kids painted the metal railings of the bridge, making it stand out as one of the brightest spots in the park on a gray day like this.


As I walked onto the bridge, I looked upriver and saw a coyote trotting away along the left bank. Though it is not unusual for me to see signs that coyotes are in the park (see my December 2017 post, “After the Deer Died”), I rarely actually see them. This glimpse is the first in months.

Attending to movement at the edge of the river close to the bridge, I see that the birds that I have come to expect in this locale are here – Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, and Northern Cardinals. At this time of the year, female and male Cardinals are often together, as they are today.


Photo by Margaret Weber


Photo by Margaret Weber

Changing weather can change the appearance of the Rouge River drastically. Following the cold spell in late December and early January, the river was completely frozen over. Then came warmer weather with rain. The water level rose rapidly, with water flowing both under and over the ice. When the weather turned cold recently, the river began to freeze again, before the water had fully receded. The result is uneven freezing and broken ice.


This stop on the bridge has included both the familiar/expected and the unexpected. These bird species are expected; the coyote is not; the appearance of the river surface is not typical, but it changes frequently with the winter weather, so it is difficult to know exactly what to expect.

The walk beyond the bridge included more of the familiar, including a visit to an old “friend,” a dead beech tree along the path, one of the landmarks I use in my notes for remembering the location of something observed (“near the old beech tree”). The top portion of the tree fell last summer.


The small bird that flitted up as I returned to the footbridge was no junco or chickadee. It was a Song Sparrow. Song Sparrows are summer residents in Eliza Howell and migrate south for the winter. Since the northern end of their winter range is not too far south of Detroit, they sometimes do show up in the park in the winter, though not often. This is the first one I have seen this winter is definitely unexpected.

Song Sparrows are well named; they do sing frequently from a branch perch. But they are not likely to sing before March here. Nevertheless, seeing one in winter can remind us that the singing Song Sparrow, as in this picture, will be the expected in a couple months.


Photo by Margaret Weber

This was my 1043rd documented nature walk in Eliza Howell Park and, as on so many of the others, I saw some things that I expected to see and I saw some things that I did not expect to see. I am eager to take the same walk again.


A Winter Walk on the South River Path

Part of my regular winter walk in Eliza Howell Park is the path along the river, going to the right after crossing the footbridge (coming from the road loop side). This area of the park is wooded and a winter walk in a deciduous woods is hard to beat, especially when there is snow on the ground.

I think of this as the “south river path,” marked in the dotted red line on the map.


There is a Pignut Hickory tree near the path, a tree which was very productive in 2017. Before the snows came, I couldn’t avoid stepping on the nuts on the path and I was a little surprised that squirrels had not carried them off to store for winter eating.

Now I think I know the reason they didn’t. The leaves fell to cover the leaves and they were effectively stored right there. The squirrels are now digging them out, leaving the pieces of the outer shell behind as they carry off the nut. 


When the leaves are off the trees, one of the more intriguing and noticeable plants near the path is wild grape vine. These vines are long, often large in diameter, and appear to dangle from the high branches. They do not adhere to the trunk as many other vines do. There are many grape vines along the path and they suggest a number of questions: how big do they get, how old, how do they get so high in the tree without adhering to trunks? I plan to comment on them further at another time.


I always make sure I follow the path at least until I come to a patch of euonymus, a vine that adheres to the trunks of trees. Euonymus is an evergreen, providing the only green in this area of the park at this time of the year. A major part of their attraction is that they retain their attractive fruit in the heart of winter.



I always walk very slowly near the euonymus vines because this is an excellent place to look for birds. Even on cold winter days when many birds are sheltered and hard to spot, I usually can find a few here. This year, Northern Cardinals are the most common, but I also frequently see Dark-eyed Juncos Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

One of the winter birding surprises this year is a small flock of Mourning Doves often along the edge of the river here. They feed mainly on the ground and the side of the river bank is one of the few areas of uncovered ground available. Sometimes, an icy spot on the river serves as their foraging “ground.


The day or two following a snowfall is a good time to pay attention to animal tracks, which can always be found. On this most recent walk on the south river path, I saw many tracks, including those of deer.


The south river path does not reach a park entrance/exit. It simply ends a short distance past the euonymus. So I return the way I came, usually seeing something that I missed a little while ago. That is the nature of a nature walk — observational, not destinational.

Eliza Howell Black Raspberries: Winter and Summer

Wild black raspberries grow well in Eliza Howell Park, but I confess that I am a little reluctant to broadcast the best locations for finding these plants. There is self-interest at work, of course; I am hoping to have continued access to the berries myself.

Black raspberries are sometimes called black caps and are very different in taste from blackberries, which also grow in Eliza Howell (and ripen a little later in the summer).

In the winter, the Eliza Howell raspberries that I pick look like this.


Each year I pick quarts of these luscious berries for eating fresh and, thanks to Margaret, for having jam for the entire year. Every time I eat a peanut butter and jam lunch, I am experiencing another reward of getting to know Eliza Howell Park well.


Raspberries are found in different locations in the park and getting a handful while on a walk near the beginning of July is not difficult for those who keep their eyes open and are willing to depart a little from the beaten path.

Getting lots of handfuls takes knowledge of where the berries are concentrated and takes, as well, a willingness to accept the reality that wholesale picking usually involves getting personal with thorns and mosquitoes. (While it is true that I am protecting my self-interest, the mosquitoes and thorns are very real, especially the mosquitoes.)

There have been 5 or 6 major concentrations of raspberry canes (bushes) that I have harvested over the years, but old hotspots die back and I have been able to find new spots from time to time. In June I start checking the most productive sites from the previous year, but almost always find that the berries are no longer common in the some of these locations. And then I might stumble on new finds.

The berries grow in clusters on arching thorny canes and, after white blossoms in the spring, the green berries become noticeable in early June.


Normally the berries in the clusters do not ripen all at once but one or two at a time, starting from the center. This means that picking is frequently one or two at a time, at which rate it takes a long time to pick a quart. The rate of ripening means that the same patch can be picked every 2 – 3 days. .


Sometimes, but not frequently, it happens that large cluster of berries is ripe to pick at one time. That means fun!


The raspberries grow in different environments, both in edges near open areas and deeper in some wooded locations. The berries in sunnier spots usually ripen earlier than those in the shade, which extends the total picking time to about three weeks, beginning in very late June (depending upon the weather up to that point in time, of course).

Now, I need to wrestle with the question of what to do if/when asked what the best locations are to pick these berries in Eliza Howell Park. Maybe I can describe how I cover myself in the heat of summer to protect from the mosquitoes and thorns. Or maybe I can explain how long it takes to pick enough for pie or jam. Or maybe I can point out exactly where to find the best berries???

Marcescent Oak Leaves

During walks in the park during the very cold first week of January 2018, I found my attention drawn to trees that still retain their leaves despite the fact that we are deep into winter.

It happens every year, the realization that there are a number of trees in Eliza Howell Park that retain their leaves long after they turn brown and long after the leaves of other deciduous trees have fallen. One obviously does not need to know the scientific term for the phenomenon of withering but not falling off (marcescence) to observe the reality every winter.

Most of the trees in the park that retain their leaves are oak trees. This winter there are a few maples near the entrance to the park that have some withered leaves in early January, but it is an every year occurrence to find leaves hanging on oak trees far into winter.


Leaf retention typically occurs in smaller younger trees. Large, mature oaks of the same species drop their leaves earlier.

As reflected in the next two pictures, January leaves can be found on trees of more than one oak species.



A good place to find several leaf-retaining oak trees is inside the road loop, about half round from the Fenkell entrance.













Marcescent leaves may gradually be dropped (blown off) during the winter or may hang on till spring. It might  be interesting for me to choose a tree or two this year to monitor and note when the leaves are finally down.