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.

20181009_152829

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.

20181009_085605

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.

20181009_155735

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).

20180921_133215-1

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.

20181009_160810

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.)

20181009_101218

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.

20181009_153922

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.

20180817_111236

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.)

20180912_170506

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.

20181009_155048

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

20180819_135631

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

20180819_123226

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

20180819_123032

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

20180817_112120

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

20180820_162817

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

20180819_135902

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

20180819_135159

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.

Resized_20180416_191355

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.

20180416_191611

20180416_191730

20180416_191831

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.

Resized_20180416_192206

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).