Friday, May 29, 2015

Another Polyphemus Moth Earns Her Wings

One evening late last summer (September 6th, 2014), as I walked out the back door, I noticed something interesting on the lawn - a large green caterpillar.  Specifically, it was a Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) caterpillar.  Earlier in the summer, we had released an adult female Polyphemus that we had reared from a caterpillar the previous summer (2013).  Although we have absolutely no proof, it's cool to think that the caterpillar that I found in our yard was one of the offspring of the moth that we released.

The summer 2014 Polyphemus Caterpillar - photo by Shara LeValley

The caterpillar went into a cocoon after less than twenty-four hours.  It remained in that cocoon for the next 234 days!  Last night when we came home from work we realized that it had finally emerged.  The moth that emerged was another female - this one was in such a hurry that she actually laid a few eggs inside the enclosure.  Without breeding these eggs will never hatch.

After dinner we took her down the street to a local park for release. 

Polyphemus Moth in hand

Female Polyphemus Moth - the false eye spots are probably used to deter predators

We each snapped a few photographs and then placed her up in a willow tree.  With luck she will attract a mate and produce a new generation this summer.

Upon returning home we took a closer look at the cocoon that she emerged from.  Its hard to believe that that moth with a swollen abdomen the width of one of my fingers crawled out of a hole a lillt larger than the diameter of a pencil, but she did.

The cocoon was attached between a leaf and the side of a mush container.  You can see some of the eggs that she deposited before release.

The hole in the end of the cocoon from which the moth emerged

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nature Photography at the CWC Audubon Woods Preserve

On Saturday (23 MAY) a small group of nature lovers gathered at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Audubon Woods Preserve for a nature photography outing.  Some of these pictures are currently being shared on the CWC Facebook page.  Each person participating provided four of their favorite/best photographs to be voted on as a "people's choice".  Voting will continue until this Friday (29 MAY).

Here are a few of my photographs that I did not contribute to the contest.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Remembrance

This Memorial Day please remember the reason for the holiday is to honor and remember those who have given their life in the service of the United States of America.  This is the sole reason for the holiday- to remember the 1 million plus men and women who have died serving this country.

Below are the words of the original Memorial Day proclamation issued by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5th, 1868 to commemorate and remember the fallen from the American Civil War.  The Grand Army of the Republic was the largest veterans' organization representing soldiers who served the Union cause.



General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
    We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

    If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

    Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

  2. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith. 
  3. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

    By order of


    Adjutant General

    WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Upcoming Event - Wildflower Photography Outing at Audubon Woods Preserve (23 MAY 2015)

If you live in mid-Michigan and are looking for something to do this Saturday (15 MAY), join me and some other nature photography buffs at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Audubon Woods Preserve for a wildflower photography outing.  This is not a formal workshop, but rather an informal chance to get together and take photographs with other nature lovers.  It's a great opportunity to learn what techniques and equipment other photographers use to get their shots.  Participants are invited to share some of their photos on the CWC's social media pages.  This is also a good opportunity to learn more about some of the wildflowers that are currently blooming.  This event is free, but participants are asked to register here so we know how many people to expect.

Mayapples at Quigley Creek Natural Area

I spent the morning yesterday at the Quigley Creek Natural Area in Mecosta County where I was participating in a survey of the flora and fauna on the property.  This was the second trip that I have made to this property - a previous survey trip was made last July 31st.  We found a number of new species for the property, some of which I plan to share in a future post.  Today I just want to share my favorite plant photograph from yesterday.

This white flower and large umbrella-like leaves belong to the Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum).  Because the flowers appear in the axil between the two leaf stalks, the Mayapple is a flower best viewed from below.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Native Plants Attract Native Insects - UPDATE

Over the weekend we noticed that something had been munching on the Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) plants in our yard.  Upon looking closer, we found that our Garden Columbines (A. vulgaris) had also been attacked.  The culprit?

These are NOT Columbine Duskywing caterpillars

Initially I thought these were the caterpillars of a species of butterfly called the Columbine Duskywing (Erynnis lucilius).  Columbine Duskywing caterpillars feed exclusively on the foliage of Columbine plants.  In the picture below I can count at least nine larvae .  It didn't take them long to completely defoliate some of the plants.
It was only when one of these larvae spun a cocoon and then emerged as an adult that I realized that I had made an error in identification.  Click here for an update on the proper identification of these larvae.

How many larvae can you find? 

Monday, May 18, 2015

2015 Isabella County Environmental Education Day

Last Friday the Isabella Conservation District hosted our annual Environmental Education Day.  This was the sixth year that we have put on this event.  We offer this event to every Third Grade classroom in Isabella County - this year we had twenty-nine classroom attend.  The planning for this event takes several months and the few days prior to the even are full of last-minute preparations.  This is why I only published two posts last week.

We couldn't host this event without the participation of dozens of volunteers.  Starting about six months before the Environmental Education Day I start contacting groups that have presented in previous years.  I try to end up with about 20 different activities for the students.  Most of the organizations/individuals that volunteer their time have been supporting this event since year one.

On Wednesday and Thursday I spent hours getting things ready for Friday.  On Friday, I arrived at Chipp-A-Waters Park before 7:00AM to open the gates, set up canopies, set up our (Isabella Conservation District) activities, and direct people to their locations as they arrive.  The two hours before the students arrive are my busiest, most stressful, hours of the year.  Once everyone has set up and the students arrive I am able to relax considerably.

Here are a few photographs from Friday.  Despite rainy weather throughout the day, everything went according to plans and the students had a great time learning new things.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My House Remains a Bird House

The pair of American Robins that are nesting on our house are currently busy providing food for a batch of hungry nestlings.  

Three beaks can be seen poking over the top of the nest in this photo

One of the young pops its head up to take a look

Mom (or dad) waits on the roof of the neighbor's house for me to finish taking photos and step away from the nest

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Wet Walk in the Woods (11 MAY 2015)

I had to cancel my programs for today due to the weather, but this meant that I could spend a little bit of time in the woods at Chipp-A-Waters Park. 

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophry)

Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Beetle larvae tunnels

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) - note the five leaflets

Another photograph of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) - note the three leaflets and hairy vines

Shelf fungi and moss

A very faded Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) - there is a small spider tucked in among the stamen

I bought a new wide-angle (10-22mm) camera lens this weekend. The remaining four photographs were taken with this lens.  I still need to buy a filter for this lens to reduce glare, but so far I am happy with the photos.

False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) and Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum)

A wet Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) leaf plastered to an old birch trunk

Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) and Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum)

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) fronds emerging from the leaf litter

Friday, May 8, 2015

Upcoming Event - Michigan Turtles Presentation (WED 13 MAY 2015 @ 7:00PM)

Next Wednesday (13 MAY 2015) at 7:00PM, the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club will be having its regular monthly meeting at the Veterans Memorial Library in Mt. Pleasant.  Our presentation this month will be on Michigan turtles and is presented by Jim McGrath from Nature Discovery.  Nature Discovery has the most complete collection of Michigan reptiles and amphibians in the state.  Expect to see lots of live turtles at this free event.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Soil Sedimentation Experiment - Sand, Silt, and Clay

One of the programs that I do in classrooms is called Soil Science.  During this program, students perform two experiments that show to show that soil particles come in different sizes. One of the experiments involves sorting a soil sample with a screen sieve - I detailed this experiment a little bit in a post from February 2014.

The other experiment that the students perform is a sedimentation test.

Here are the materials that the students use for this experiment.  Each group of students receives a test tube rack with test tubes filled halfway with soil - any clear container with a water-tight lid will work.  They also receive a bottle of water (these bottles have been refilled with tap water), a plastic spoon, and a small amount of ammonium aluminum sulfate (also called ammonium alum or just alum).

The soil in each test tube is different - I collected soil from four different locations for this experiment.

Sample #1 is from a sandbar along the Chippewa River and consists mostly of medium-grain sand, with some course sand, and small amounts of silt, clay, and organic matter.

Sample #2 came from the field behind the Conservation District Office.  It consists mainly of a fine- to medium-grain sand with very small amounts of silt, clay, and organic matter.

Sample #3 consists of a topsoil with medium- and fine-grained sand, with lots of silt and organic matter.

Sample #4 was dug up in the native pollinator garden at Winn Elementary and consists almost entirely of clay.

It may seem obvious, but the first step to this experiment is to uncap the test tubes.  Next a small amount of alum is added to each test tube.  Use the spoon to add an amount of alum equal is size to an M&M candy (an amount equal to about 1/4 inch in diameter) to each test tube.  The alum bonds to any organic matter in the soil and helps it float.

The next step is to fill the test tubes with water and cap them.

I tell the students not to fill the water entirely to the top of the test tube, but rather to stop at the lip just below the cap.  This allows you to see all of the results of your experiment without having them hidden by the cap.  The water will quickly infiltrate the soil samples that are composed mainly of sand.  The infiltration rates will be much slower in soils with higher concentrations of silt and clay.  In this case, test tube may need to be capped, shaken to mix the soil and water, and then refilled up to the same line as the other test tubes.

Once the water has infiltrated all of the soil samples and the test tubes have been refilled up to the "fill line" the test tubes are capped tightly.  The students then vigorously shake the test tube for about 30 seconds to a minute before placing it back in the rack.  In the classroom, we then typically allow the contents to settle for 15 to 20 minutes before examining the results.  During this time the soil that was mixed with the water settles.  The larger (heavier) particles sink faster than the smaller (lighter) particles.  This means that the soil will settle into distinct layers based on size.  The bottom layer will consist of sand particles of varying sizes.  This will be topped by a layer of silt.  Finally, if we allow the sample to sit long enough a layer of clay particles will settle on top of the silt - the clay usually is still suspended in the water after 20 minutes and may take as long as 24 hours to fully settle out.  Any small particles of organic matter in the soil will float to the top of the test tube - the alum bonds to the organic matter and helps it float.

Here are the results at various times.

At 15 seconds, the sand in the samples has already settled completely and the silt is also beginning to settle.

At 1 minute, Sample #1 has settled into distinct layers of sand and silt, with some clay still being in suspension.  Layer of sand can also be seen in Sample #2 and Sample #3.  Sample #4 remains almost entirely in suspension, with no visible settling.

Here are the samples at 2 minutes.  With back-lighting, it's easier to see how much has settled in each test tube.  Sample #1 is mostly clear.  Sample #2 still has a fair amount of clay in suspension.  Sample #3 has a large amount of organic matter floating at the top of the test tube.  Sample #4 still has not begun to visibly settle.

At 5 minutes, the clay particles in Samples #1, #2, and #3 have settled even more.  Sample #4 remains "as clear as mud".

At 10 minutes, Samples 1-3 are all clearer as clay settles out of them.  Organic matter can be seen floating in each of these samples.  Sample #4 still remains mostly in suspension.

At 20 minutes, Sample #4 has finally begun to settle out of solution.  The other samples continue to clear.

At 30 minutes, Sample #4 continues to settle out.  Sample #2 still has a significant amount of clay suspended in the water also.  Sample #1 and Sample #3 are mostly done settling at this time.

At 60 minutes, I moved the test tube rack to the window where it could sit undisturbed overnight.  As you can see Samples #1, #2, and #3 are mostly done settling at this point.  The test tube for Sample #2 has some discoloring to the plastic and is clearer than it looks.  Sample #4 has settled further.

The next photo shows the test tubes the following morning, 17 hours after starting the experiment.

As you can see in the above photograph, each sample has almost entirely settled out of suspension at this point.  The following four images are close-up photos of each sample showing the distinct layers that formed as the soil settled.

Here is Sample #1 after 17 hours of settling.  There is a distinct layer (bed) of coarse sand at the bottom of the test tube.  Above that is another layer consisting of medium- and fine-grained sand - these two are intermingles with some evidence of bedding.  Atop this layer is a thin layer consisting of silt and clay.  There is a very small amount of organic matter at the top of the test tube that is not visible in this photograph.

Sample #2 at 17 hours also shows distinct layers.  There is one large layer of intermixed fine and medium grain sand, topped with a thin layer of silt and clay.  There is a little bit of organic matter visible at the top of the test tube.

Sample #3 at 17 hours shows the most layers.  The bottom layer consists of a dark colored mix of medium- and fine-grained sand.  Above this bed is a layer of dark silt.  This is in turn topped by a bed of clay.  Finally there are two layers of organic matter - some of the heavier organic particles are resting atop the clay bed while others are floating at the top of the water.  The alum that was added to the test tube adheres to the organic matter and helps it float.  These organic particles are essentially neutrally buoyant and minor disturbances to the water cause some particles to sink and other to float upward.

Finally, Sample #4 at 17 hours shows no evidence of bedding.  Instead it consists of a single thick layer of clay particles.  These particles are still partially suspended in the water.  Two days after starting this experiment, this sample still looks as it did at 17 hours.