Tuesday, September 30, 2014

100 Species to Know by Sight - #3 Large-flowered Trillium

The next entry on my list of 100 species that every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify by sight is the Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum).  Trilliums in gerneral are easy to identify - they have flowers with three petals and three sepals (the green parts at the base of the flower) and each plant has three petals. 

Large-flowered Trillium - note the parts in threes (petals, sepals, and leaves)

The Large-flowered Trillium has the largest flowers of the ten Trillium species found in Michigan.  The petals are white but fade to pink as they age.  Individual flowers may be up to 5 1/2 inches across.  This species is also known as Common Trillium and can be found in every single county of Michigan.

Large-flowered Trillium is capable of forming dense colonies.  However, it rarely does because it is a favorite food of White-tailed Deer.

A colony of Large-flowered Trillium

Rarely, this plant will have partly or wholly green flowers - this occurs when the plant has been infected with a mycoplasma (a type of bacteria that lacks a cell wall)

Large-flowered Trillium with a mycoplasma infection

For information on the Large-flowered Trillium, please check out this species profile from April 2013.

To see the previous species on my list of 100 Species to Know by Sight look here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

100 Species to Know by Sight - #2 White-tailed Deer

The second species in my list of 100 species every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify by sight is the White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

A White-tailed doe with her reddish-brown summer fur

If you live east of the Mississippi River there is really no mistaking this species for any other animal - it is the only deer species found over much of its range.  Michigan does have Elk and Moose, but they really can't be confused for White-tailed Deer. 

Adult White-tailed Deer will stand 3 to 4 feet tall at the shoulder and be up to 7 feet long.  They are covered with either reddish-brown (summer) or grayish-brown (winter) fur.  Their winter coat is longer and coarser than their Summer coat.  For the first few months of their lives, fawns' coats will be speckled with white spots; as they grow their winter coat this spotting disappears. 

A pair of fawns - note the spotted coat

Male White-tailed Deer (bucks) typically have a pair of hard antlers growing from their brows.  Antlers are not horns.  Horns are a permanent growth with a hard bone core and an outer sheath made of keratin.  Antlers are also made of bone, but without an outer keratin sheath.  White-tailed Deer bucks shed their antlers every fall and regrow a new pair each summer.  Initially, the antler is soft and covered with velvet.  Over the coarse of the summer the antler hardens until it can be used as a weapon in contests of dominance with other bucks.  Rarely, a White-tailed doe (female) will grow antlers.

A young White-tailed buck with antlers in velvet

Skull of a seven-point buck

White-tailed Deer are very adaptable.  They like fragmented habitats with lots of edges - they adapt really well to habitats changed by human activity.  There are (probably) more White-tailed Deer in North America today than before Europeans arrived here.  Look for White-tailed Deer in almost any habitat type: farm fields, woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, parks, orchards, etc..

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Isabella County Tire Recycling - Saturday 04 OCT

The Isabella Conservation District has its second Tire Recycling Collection of 2014 scheduled for Saturday October 4th at the Isabella County Fairgrounds from 9:00AM to 12:00 Noon.  This collection is for residents of Isabella County only.  Please see the flyer below for details.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


A fall photo from 2008

Happy Autumn!  Last night at 10:29PM EST the seasons officially changed from Summer to Fall.  The date of this change is known as the Autumnal (Fall) Equinox.  The word Equinox means "equal night" and comes from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night). On this date the sun is striking directly on the equator, resulting in approximately equal amounts of daylight and darkness around the globe.

To learn more about the Equinox please look at these posts about the Fall Equinox and the Spring Equinox.

Monday, September 22, 2014

100 Species to Know by Sight - #1 Wood Frog

Last year I was giving a program in a 5th grade classroom and I asked the students to name some local species of plants and animals so we could create a food chain.  If they said tree, I asked what kind of tree?.  If they said "oak", I asked which one?

If I asked you to name local species how many could you name? 10? 25? 100? 200?

Over the course of this school year, I want to share 100 species that I think kids (and adults) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify by sight.

The first species is the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica).  This species is commonly found in woodlands - often far away from water.  Wood Frogs can be identified by their black "mask".  They are the only species of Michigan frog with this feature.  Their call sounds like a "quack" - ponds filled with breeding Wood Frogs sound like they are filled with dozens of invisible ducks.

A Wood Frog in its typical habitat

Wood Frogs can vary in color, but all have the black "mask" under their eyes

Wood Frog bodies are covered with patterns that look like the edges of leaves

This Wood Frog shows very dark markings.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Late Summer Bumblebees

In our home flower gardens the Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) and New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have been buzzing with Common Eastern Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens).  Workers and possibly queens were busy foraging.

Several Common Eastern Bumblebees on Showy Goldenrod
More foraging bumblebees

Common Eastern Bumblebee on New England Aster

Another photo of the same bee

Drones on the other hand were sleeping away the day.  They were so cold that you could pick them up and they could not fly away.

A pair of bumblebee drones on Cut-leaf Coneflower blooms

This drone is buzzing his wing muscles, trying to warm them up enough to fly away.

Wing vibrations -trying to fly away

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #225 through #233

It's time to catch up on my 2014 Wildflower list.  I found the first six species (#225 - #229) at Mission Creek Woodland Park on Monday 08 September 2014.  

Wildflowers of 2014 - #225 Arrow-leaved Aster (Symphiotrichum urophyllum)

The first flower of the day was one of four Aster species that I found - Arrow-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum).  This species was formerly known as Aster sagittifolius.

Arrow-leafed Aster plants grow from 1 to 3 feet in height.  This plant is considered an "upland" species.  It grows in dry soils in meadows, savannas, open woodlands and along woodland edges.  It is found across the eastern half of the United States and into Ontario.  In Michigan, it is found in ost of the counties in the Lower Peninsula and in scattered locations in the Upper Peninsula.

Arrow-leaved Aster (Sympyhotrichus urophyllum)

As the plant's name suggests, its leaves are commonly shaped like arrowheads with a shallowly notched.  The leaves may also be lanceolate (shaped like a lance head) or oval in shape.  The margins of the leaves are lined with shallow serrations.  The leaf petioles (stems) feature prominent wings.

Arrow-leaved Aster - a closer view of the leaves

The flowers of the Arrow-leaved Aster are typical of Asters, with a yellow (turning purple with age) central disc surrounded by short 8 to 15 short rays.  The rays are typically white, but may on rare occasions be pale blue or lavender.  The flowers are arranged in a narrow pyramid (or diamond) shaped panicle with branched that grow upward from the central stalk.

Arrow-leaved Aster - note the small number of rays on each flower (8 to 15) and the diamond shape of the flower panicle

Wildflowers of 2014 - #226 Common Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

The second wildflower of the day was Common Heart-leaved Aster (Syphyotrichum cordifolium).  Like Arrow-leaved Aster, this species is found in dry upland habitats throughout the eastern United States, but has a slightly wider distribution.

Common Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

This species may be confused with Arrow-leaved Aster, but can be identified by its leaves and flowers.  The leaves of Common Heart-leaved Aster are more typically heart-shaped than those of Arrow-leaved Aster with a deeper notch (sinus) at the base of the leaf.  The margins of the leaves are more coarsely toothed than those of the above species.  Finally the leaf petiole (stem) either lacks wings or has narrow wings.

Common Heart-leaved Aster - note the deeply notched leaf bases, sharply toothed leaf margins, and wide flower panicle

The flower panicles of Common Heart-leaved Aster are typically more widely branching than those of Arrow-leaved Aster.  The flowers are also more likely to be blue than those of S. urophyllum - they may also be white.  Common Heart-leaved Aster is also sometimes known as Blue Wood Aster.

Common Heart-leaved Aster - acloser view of the flowers

Both the Arrow-leaved Aster and Common Heart-leaved Aster were found at Mission Creek Park along the trail that lead north from the parking lot.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #227 Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium)

The third flower of the day was found growing next to several Common Heart-leaved Asters.  Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium) is a common weed found throughout the United States and the lower half of Canada.  This species is native to Europe, but has naturalized across many areas of the world.
Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium)

This species is in the Geranium Family (Geraniaceae).  While Michigan's other representatives from this family have leaves that have palmate lobes (meaning the lobes radiate from a central point like the fingers of a hand), the leaves of Storksbill pinnately compound (fern-like).

The flowers of Storksbill are small, measuring 3/8 to 1/2 inch across.  The flowers have five petals and may be colored purple, pink, or white.  After the pollination, the ovary of each flower elongates until it resembles the long bill of a bird - other members of the Geranium Family are known as Cranesbills.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #228 Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)

Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)

The next flower of the day was another Aster - Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum).  This species is more adaptive than the previous two Aster species.  It can be found in both wet and dry soils throughout the eastern half of North America.  It typically grows in shaded habitats rather than open places.  Calico Aster plants can reach a height of 1 to 4 feet.

Calico Aster - a closer view of the horizontally-branching panicle

This flower is also known as the Side-flowering Aster - lateriflorum means "side-flowering".  The plant's flowers grow on short stems on widely branching panicles.  The panicle's branches are roughly perpendicular to the plant's main stalk.  Individual flowers of the Calico Aster are small, measuring about 1/3 inch across.  They consist of a central disc that starts out yellow and fades to shades of purple as it ages.  The disc is surrounded by 9 to 14 short white rays.  The small number of rays on each flowerhead is what distinguishes this species from similar species with small flowers such as Frost Aster (S. pilosum) and Heath Aster (S. ericoides).

Calico Aster - a closer view of the small flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #229 Swamp Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)

The fifth flower of the day was another Aster - Swamp Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum).  This species, also known as Bristly Aster, is a more northern species than those already described.  While it can be found as far south as central Georgia it is also found as far north as Nunavut.  In Michigan, it has been recorded in counties throughout the state.  Swamp Aster is considered an obligate wetland species - meaning it is found almost entirely in wet habitats such as swamps, wet meadows, floodplains, and shorelines.  It rarely is found in dry upland locations.

Swamp Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) in the cedar swamp at Mission Creek

Swamp Aster plants reach heights of 1 to 8 feet tall.  The plant's leaves are arranged alternately along the stem.  The leaves are oval or elliptical, with shallowly tooted or smooth margins, and measure up to 6 inches long.  The main stalk of Swamp Aster plants is thick, usually reddish colored, and covered with bristly hairs.  A similar species lacks these hairs and is known as Smooth Swamp Aster (S. firmum).

Swamp Aster - note the bristly hairs along the plant's stalk

The flowers of Swamp Aster are arranged in a panicle (branched cluster) at the top of the plant.  Individual flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch across.  The flowers are composed of a central yellow disc surrounded by 30 to 60 rays (petals).  The rays are normally blue or purple, but may occasionally be white.

Bristly Aster - a closer view of the flowerheads

Wildflowers of 2014 - #230 Beech-drops (Epifagus virginiana)

The final flower of the day is something of an oddity.  It is one of a small group of plants that lacks chlorophyll - these means that it cannot use sunlight to manufacture its own food.  Instead, Beech-drops (Epifagus virginiana) is a parasite, stealing sugars from the roots of American Beech trees. If you find American Beech trees in a forest there are likely to be Beech-drops present also.  Conversely, if there are no Beech trees you not find any Beech-drops.  The plant has no other hosts.

Beech-drops - note the many branches, lack of leaves, and small flowers

Beech-drops plants lack leaves.  It's stalks grow up to 20 inches tall.  The stalks often branch near the base.  The plant's flowers are arranged in a raceme or unbranched spike at the end of each branch.   The flowers are 1/4 to 3/8 inches long and shaped like an elongated tube.  The flowers can be found in late summer and fall and vary in color from cream or ivory to brown or purplish-red.  The flowers are often striped.

Beech-drops - the small tubular flower is being visited by a bee-mimicing fly

The following three plants (#231 through #233) were found on Thursday 11 September 2014 along the banks of the Chippewa River in Mill Pond Park. 

Wildflowers of 2014 - #231 Purplestem Beggar-ticks (Bidens connata)

The next two flowers are closely related and share the same types of wetland habitats - shorelines, swamps, wet meadows, marshes, etc..  Purplestem Beggar-ticks (Bidens connata) can be found throughout much of the eastern United States and Canada as far south as Alabama and Georgia and as far west as central Nebraska.  It has been recorded in all but nine of Michigan's counties.

Purplestem Beggar-ticks(Bidens connata)

Purplestem Beggar-ticks can grow to heights of greater than 3 feet.  Their stems can be either purple (as the name suggests) or green.  Leaves are arranged  in opposite pairs along the stem.  The leaves are sharply pointed, have toothed margins, and can be as long as 8 inches.

Purplestem Beggar-ticks - note the purple stems, opposite pirs off lobed leaves, and ray-less flowers

The plant's flowers are arranged in groups of 1 to 3 at the ends of the stems.  The flowers are yellow-green and composed of a central disc that usually lacks rayss (petals).  If rays are present they are small and few in number.  These ray-less flower are 1/4 to 3/4 inches across.  After these flowers are pollinated, they will develop seeds with four spikes growing off of one end.  These spikes stick the fur or feathers of animals that come in contact with them, pulling the seeds free from the flowerhead and dispersing them away from the parent plant.

Purplestem Beggar-ticks - the flowerhead is composed simply of a circle of disc flowers, rays (petals) are usually absent

Wildflowers of 2014 - #232 Nodding Beggar-ticks (Bidens cernua)

The second plant in the Bidens genus is the Nodding Beggar-tick (Bidens cernua).  This plant is also known as Bur-marigold.  Nodding Beggar-ticks is found in the same habitats as Purplestem Beggar-ticks, but Nodding Beggar-ticks has a much wider distribution.  It is found in every state except Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida.  I expect that the plant can be found in Mississippi and South Carolina, but so far has avoided collection.

Nodding Beggar-ticks (Bidens cernua) along the Chippewa River

The plant is very similar to the previous species.  It's leaves are also toothed and reach lengths of 8 inches.  Nodding Beggar-ticks can reach a height of seven feet, several feet taller than B. connata.  Another difference between the two plants can be seen in the flowerheads.  Nodding Beggar-tick flowers usually have 8 yellow rays (petals) surrounding a yellow central disc.  Occasionally these rays are absent.  Whether or not the rays are present, the flowerheads of this species nod or droop slightly.

Nodding Beggar-ticks - note the individual flower heads with their central disc surrounded by 8 rays (petals).   The flowerheads nod or droop.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #233 Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus)

The final new species of the day was the Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus), also known as the Rough-leaved Sunflower.  This species grows to a height of 3 to 8 feet.  It can be found in a variety of dry and wet habitats including forests, prairies, roadsides, and riverbanks.  Many Sunflower species closely resemble each other and can be difficult to identify.  There have been 15 species of Sunflowers recorded in Michigan, eleven native and four introduced.  After eliminating the species that most clearly did not fit, I was able to identify this species based on all of its characteristics.

Pale-leaved or Rough-leaved Sunflower and Spotted Joe-pye Weed

Pale-leaved Sunflower has leaves that are arranged in opposite pairs along the plant's stem.  The leaves may be up to 10 inches long, are oval or lance-head shaped, and have either smooth or shallowly toothed margins.  The leaves either lack stalks or have short (up to 1 1/2 inch long) stalks.  The upper surface of the leaves is rough to the touch.  The shape of the leaves can be quite variable from plant to plant.

Pale-leaved Sunflower - note the opposite pairs of rough-textured leaves

Pale-leaved Sunflower plants can have many flowers on each plant.  The flowers are 1 1/2 to 4 inches wide with a yellow-green central disc surrounded by 8 to 15 yellow rays (petals).

Pale-leaved Sunflower - a closer view of its multiple flowerheads

Pale-leaved Sunfower can be found across the eastern United States and Canada.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


A foggy late summer morning on the Chippewa River in 2008
This morning the drive to work was through a very foggy landscape reminding me of the Carl Sandberg poem "Fog".

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Upcoming Events - Saturday 13 September 2014 and Saturday 20 September 2014

Monarch Butterfly Celebration

Just a reminder that tomorrow (13 SEP 2014) is the annual Monarch Butterfly Celebration at the Ziibiwing Center at 6650 E. Broadway just east of Mt. Pleasant.   This event is always fun for kids.  Unlike last year, we actually have some Monarchs to tag and release tomorrow.  Release of the butterflies will depend on the weather.

Wildflower Walk

Next Saturday September 20th I am scheduled to lead the first outing of the 2014-2015 season for the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club.  We will be visiting Mission Creek Woodland Park at 1458 N. Harris St. in Mt. Pleasant to search for fall windflowers - if you plan on attending this event I suggest you wear rubber boots as we will be visiting the wetlands in the park.

White Snakeroot - photo from September 2013

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chocolate and Orange Go Well Together

Last week, I visited a property that is owned by a member of the Isabella Conservation District Board of Directors.  This property is enrolled in a conservation program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is open to the public as part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Hunting Access Program (HAP).  I went out to this property searching for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars - we found 50 of them at this property over the course of three weeks.  While I did not find many Monarchs on this day (only 3 caterpillars), the patches of flowers were instead being visited by dozens of Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterflies (Aglais milberti).  The caterpillars of the Milbert's Tortoiseshell feed only on nettles - there are plenty of them in this field.

Asters, Goldenrod, and Milkweed under cumulus and cirrus clouds

The underside of the Milbert's Tortoiseshell wings are a rich chocolate brown.

The chocolate brown underside of a Milbert's Tortoiseshell
When it opens its wings, it exposes broad bands of orange.

Milbert's Tortoiseshell - opening its wings to expose orange submarginal bands

These butterflies were mostly keeping their wings closed, but I was able to find one that wasd sunning itself with its wings spread wide.  A close look shows a yellow appears at the front edge of the orange band, and border of blue spots can be found on the edge of its wings.

Milbert's Tortoiseshell - note the yellow and orange band, and blue along the margin of the wings.