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.

 

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.