Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Baby Bluebird Update (26 May 2016)

Last Thursday (the 26th), we stopped at the Ziibiwing Center to check on the progress of the Eastern Bluebird nestlings.  They look more and more like adult birds every time we check on them.

I've got my eye on you! (Photo by Shara LeValley)

Eastern Bluebird nestlings - that nest is getting pretty full (Photo by Shara LeValley)

Not the greatest photo, but you can see all five nestlings (Photo by Shara LeValley)

Eastern Bluebird nestlings - check out the blue wing feathers (Photo by Shara LeValley)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Upcoming Events - National Trail Day Walks (04 June 2016)

The first Saturday in June is celebrated as National Trails Day!

Sponsored by the American Hiking Society, this event has been held annually since 1993, this event commemorates and celebrates America's more that 200,000 miles of public trails.  Events are currently scheduled in all fifty states and territory of Puerto Rico.

Join me on Saturday June 4th for one of two local trail walks.

From 9:00AM to 11:00AM, I will be at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve.  The trails at Sylvan Solace are flat, wide, and easy to stroll along.  The trail winds through a pine plantation, open meadow, and mature woodland.  The total distance of the walk will be approximately 1 mile.

Trail at Sylvan Solace Preserve (October 2015)

In the afternoon, from 1:00PM to 3:00PM, I will be leading a walk at the CWC's Audubon Woods Preserve.  The terrain at Audubon Woods is a little more challenging with some hill-climbing along the route.  The trail at Audubon Woods is through a mature deciduous forest.  This route is about 1/2 mile in length.

Floodplain forest at Audubon Woods Preserve (May 2015)

During both walks, we will stop frequently to observe and discuss the natural world.  You never know what we might find - during my last visit to Audubon Woods, I repeatedly heard a Barred Owl calling during the daytime.

Both of these events are free and open to anyone, but donations to the CWC are always appreciated.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

First Monarch and eggs of 2016

A bonus post today.

I went out in the field behind the office to check on the growth of milkweed plants.  To my surprise, a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus Plexippus) popped up from behind a clump of grapevines.  I ran across the field to follow it.  When it finally landed on a Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), I could see that it was a female.  Of course, I was violating the First Rule of Photography (TAKE YOUR CAMERA WITH YOU.) so I didn't get any pictures of her.

After she took off, I saw that she had laid two eggs on the plant.  After getting my camera, I photographed them and then found a third egg in the area where I originally spotted the Monarch.

A pair of Monarch eggs on a Common Milkweed plant (26 May 2016)

Still life with frog

Just a photo for today.

This picture of a male Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans) was taken at Mill Pond Park on Tuesday (24 May).  While most of the male frogs around the pond were calling loudly, this one was sitting silently.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #49 through #55

I'm trying to get caught up on wildflowers - the following species were found on Tuesday May 17th.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #49 Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

My first wildflower of the day was Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).  For information on this plant, please see my species profile from May 2013.

Wild Geranium flower

A Wild Geranium leaf

Wildflowers of 2016 - #50 Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)
A colony of Nodding Trillium at Mill Pond Park

Nodding Trillium
My second species of the day was not a new species for me, but it was in a new location.  Previously, I have only found Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) growing at Mission Creek Park.  Now I know that it also grows in a single patch at Mill Pond Park.  This is my second Trillium species of the year.  Unlike the large showy flowers of Large-flowered Trillium, the flowers of Nodding Trillium are hidden beneath the plant's leaves.  It still sports the typical Trillium arrangement of things in threes - three leaves, three petals, three sepals.  For more information on this species, check out this profile from February 2014.

Nodding Trillium - note things in threes (or multiples of threes)

Wildflowers of 2016 - #51 American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)

My third flower of the day was found on a small understory tree.  American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) is found throughout the southern half of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.  It is an eastern species, growing in every state east of the Mississippi River (except Maine) and only as far west as eastern Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.  It has also been documented in Ontario and Quebec.

American Bladdernut - note bell-shaped flowers and three part leaves

American Bladdernut is a small tree (or shrub) that grows up to 15 feet tall.  It grows in wet deciduous forests, especially floodplains.  The tree has compound leaves divided into three leaflets - as the Latin trifolia suggests.

The flowers of American Bladdernut are small, bell-shaped, and normally white, but fade to light green or pink with age.  Bladdernut is named for its distinctive seed pods.  Each pod is a three chambered papery capsule (bladder), with a seed found in each chamber.  When the pods are dry, the seeds can be heard rattling within.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #52 Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

The fourth flower of the day was found in a group of shrubs/small trees.  A quick look at this shrub shows it as a Cherry  species with its reddish bark and elongated clusters of small white flowers.  To determine which species requires a closer look.  Of the native and introduced species of cherries that can be found in Michigan, only Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) and Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) have elongated flower clusters.  The easiest way to identify small members of the two species is to look at the leaves.  Both Wild Black Cherry and Choke Cherry have leaves with serrated margins.  The teeth on the Wild Black Cherry leaves are rounded and curl inward like a wave breaking; the teeth on the Choke Cherry leaves come to a distinct point with no curl. The leaves on this plant have teeth that come to a point with no inward curl, identifying it as a Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana).

Choke Cherry grows as either shrub or a small tree

Choke Cherry flowers

Choke Cherry leaf - note margin with pointed "teeth"

Wildflowers of 2016 - #53 Starry False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellatum)

Starry False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellatum)  can be distinguished from true Solomon's Seal plants by having flowers at the end of the stem rather than hanging below the stem from the leaf axils (point where the leaf attaches to the stem).  Starry False Solomon's Seal flowers are about 1/3 inch across and have 6 narrow white petals.

A colony of Starry False Solomon's Seal

Starry False Solomon's Seal is found across North America, in all states but seven in the Southeast (from Texas to North Carolina).  In Michigan, it can be found throughout much of the state.  It grows in a variety of wooded habitats, from wet to dry.

Starry False Solomon's Seal - note six petals on each flower

Wildflowers of 2016 - #54 Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)

My sixth flower of the day was an invasive shrub - Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica).  This species can be distinguished from the other common common species of non-native honeysuckles by its rosy-pink flowers.  This shrub grows throughout the Mt. Pleasant parks system.  Like other non-native Honeysuckle species, this shrub was originally grown as a landscape plant but escaped into wild areas when birds deposited its seeds in their droppings.  It can be found in scattered locations across Michigan and in 36 states and 7 Canadian provinces.

Tartarian Honeysuckle - rosy pink flowers grow from the leaf axils

Wildlowers of 2016 - #55 Jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens)

Jetbead - note four petals on the flower

 My final flower of the day was a new one for me.  I found a shrub with serrated opposite leaves and large white flowers with four petals.  I initially thought it was something some species of Flowering Raspberry, but the flowers did not look correct.  My search next took me to roses.  The leaves and flower looked vaguely like those of a member of the Rosaceae - Flowering Raspberries are a member of this family also.  The plant did not have any thorns, so this ruled out most but not all Rosa species.  It did not match up with any of the thornless rose species.  Finally I resorted to looking in The Shrub Identification Book by George W.D. Symonds.  There, on page 79, I found my a plant with opposite serrated leaves and large flowers with four petals.  My mystery plant was Jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens).  My initial thoughts were correct as Jetbead is indeed a member of the Rosaceae.

Jetbead - opposite leaves and four-petaled flower eventually helped me identify this plant

This species is a native to East Asia and has escaped cultivation in many areas of the eastern United States.  It is a small shrub, reaching 6 feet in height.  It's leaves measure 2.5 to 4 inches long.  The white flowers up to 2 inches across.  The flowers are replaced by red fruit that ripens to black.  Each fruit looks like a blackberry that has only partially developed - consisting of only four small segments (drupelets).  When ripe each drupelet resembles a small shiny black bead.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Froggie went a courtin'

On Sunday I stopped at Mill Pond Park to collect pond water for a program.  Around the edge of the pond I could hear a number of Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) calling loudly.  In time I located one nearby that let me approach within camera range.  The frog looks inflated like a ballon in this picture - its lungs are inflated with air.  To call this air is passed from the lungs to one or more flexible organs in its throat known as vocal sacs.

Green Frog - inflated with air and ready to call

When a Green Frog calls it produces a series of single notes that sound like someone plucking the same string of an out-of-tune guitar over and over again - "plunk plunk plunk".  In the photo below you can see that the frog has inflated his vocal sacs and is calling.  If you look closely, you can actually see the sound wave traveling across the surface of the water.  Look along the frog's side and in the dark water at the bottom right of the photo for a series of concentric lines traveling away from the frog. 

Calling Green Frog - note the sound waves on the water's surface

Nature is pretty awesome!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Baby Bluebird Update (23 May 2016)

The Eastern Bluebird nestlings at the Ziibiwing Center are coming along nicely in their development.  They have their eyes open now and are covered with feathers.  They are beginning to look like birds.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #42 through #48

I am falling behind on my Wildflower Big Year posts.  I have gone out and taken photos, but I haven't posted many of them yet.  I hope to get caught up over the next few days.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #42 Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii)

Morrow's Honeysuckle flowers fade from white to yellow as they age.

On Monday (16 May) after working with students from Fancher Elementary I spent a short time at Chipp-A-Waters Park searching for new wildflowers.  My first flower of the day was a flowering shrub that I found growing near the parking lot .  Unfortunately Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is an invasive species.  It escapes from cultivation when birds consume the red or orange berries and deposit them in their dropping in nearby wild areas.  When a plant grows from these seeds and reaches maturity, birds will eat its seeds, and continue the process of distribution.  Eventually whole forests can have understories that are completely composed of this and other non-native shrubs which crowd out native shrubs and wildflowers.

Morrow's Honeysuckle - note pairs of flowers in each opposite leaf axil

Morrow's Honeysuckle can be distinguished from other non-native Honeysuckle species by its pairs of flowers which start out white and then fade to yellow, and its leaves which are are pubescent (covered with downy hairs).  Morrow's Honeysuckle can hybridize with several other species of Honeysuckle, making identification more difficult.

Morrow's Honeysuckle can quickly crowd out native species

Wildflowers of 2016 - #43 Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus)

My second flower of the day was growing in the floodplain along the river.  Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus) would be the first of three Ranunculus species that I would find on Monday.  For more information on this species, check out this species profile from May 2013.

Swamp Buttercup - note deeply lobed leaves

Swamp Buttercup - note five petaled flowers

Wildflowers of 2016 - #44 Common Apple (Malus pumila)

My next species was a non-native tree - Common Apple (Malus pumila)  There are several Apple trees at the front of Chipp-A-Waters Park that were intentionally planted, but I found two specimens growing along the trail near the back of the park.  These trees probably came up from seeds that were deposited in animal droppings.  When the Apples are ripe they are consumed by many mammal species including deer and squirrels.   Because the seeds do not easily digest, they ofteen pass whole through an animal's digestive tract and have the opportunity to grow into new trees.

A wild Common Apple tree along the Chippewa River

Common Apple has large fragrant blooms to attract pollinators

Common Apple - note five petals one each flower

Wildflowers of 2016 - #45 Small-flowered Buttercup (Ranunculus arbotivus)

The fourth flower of the day and number forty-five for the year was my second Ranunculus species of the day.  Most Buttercup species are found almost exclusively in wetlands, but Small-flowered Buttercup (Ranunculus arbotivus) is as likely to be found in uplands as in wetlands.  This species is found in every state but Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Hawaii as well as every Canadian province but Nunavut.  In Michigan it has been recorded in all but two northeastern counties.

Small-flowered Buttercup grows equally well in uplands and wetlands

As the name of the plant implies, the flowers of this plant are small, measuring approximately 1/4 inch across.

Small-flowered Buttercup flowers are easy to overlook.

Small-flowered Buttercup flowers are less than 1/4 inch across.

The leaves of this plant are different on different parts of the plant.  Basal leaves are kidney-shaped and may measure as much as 4 inches across.  Stem leaves are smaller and divided into 3 to 5 lobes.  Two alternate names for this plant are Kidney-leaved Buttercup or Littleleaf Buttercup

Small-flowered Buttercup - note kidney-shaped basal leaves

Wildflowers of 2016 - #46 Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily-of-the-valley is an aggressive non-native species.

The fifth flower of the day was another non-native species.  Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is a common garden escapee.  While Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is a nice garden flower, it is a horrible plant to have in the woods.  A very large colony of this non-native flower is slowly overtaking my favorite wildflower are in Mt. Pleasant.  Once escaped from cultivation, this plant can outcompete many native species.

Lily-of-the-valley surrounding native plants such as Large-flowered Trillium

A word of caution about this plant - ALL parts of the plant are highly toxic.  Ingestion of even small amounts of this plant can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, lowered heart rate, or even death.  

Why is this important?  When first emerging from the ground and up until this plant starts to develop its flowering stalk, this plant can be confused with several other species, including edible Wild Leeks or Ramps (Allium tricoccum).  However, once Lily-of-the-Valley begins to bloom, its (normally) white bell shaped flowers make it easy to distinguish from other species. 

Lily-of-the-valley - note bell-shaped white flowers

Interestingly, right before I photographed this species I spent about fifteen minutes talking to a gentleman from Germany that is visiting the area for the next few weeks.  We talked about the plant and animal species that are the same as Europe and those that are different.  One of the plants that we talked about was the Wild Leek and how you have to be careful when harvesting it because of its resemblance to Lily-of-the-valley.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #47 Indian Strawberry (Potentilla indica)

Indian Strawberry - resembles wild and domestic strawberry but has yellow flowers
On the return walk to my truck I noticed my next flower growing along the edge of the trail.  Indian Strawberry (potentilla indica) is a naturalized wildflower originally from South and East Asia.  Commonly grown as a groundcover, it can not be found in thirty-one states and two Canadian provinces.  Herbarium on this plant are incomplete.  Michigan Flora lists this species for only nine southern counties, but extensive colonies can be found in at least two of Mt. Pleasant's parks.

Indian Strawberry

Indian Strawberry (also known as Mock Strawberry) resembles wild and domestic strawberry plants, but has yellow flowers instead of white.  Each flower consists of 5 yellow petals and 5 green sepals.  The flowers measure approximately 3/4 inch across.  The plant does produce a red fruit that resembles a strawberry. This fruit is edible, but is rather dry and bland tasting.

Indian Strawberry spreads by producing "runners"

This species was formerly known as Duchesnea indica and many books and websites still use that binomial.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #48 Hooked Crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus)

Hooked Crowfoot growing in the Chippewa River floodplain - note deeply lobed leaves

My final species of the day was another Ranuculus species - Hooked Crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus).  This species is listed as a Facultative Wetland species.  This means that it is normally found in wetland habitats, but is occasionally found in upland sites.  It has been recorded across eastern North America.  In Michigan it has been recorded in all but ten counties.  I found several plants growing along the trail at Chipp-A-Waters Park in an area where the trail passes through the Chippewa River floodplain.  

Hooked Crowfoot - note small flowers and lobed leaves

The leaves on this plant are divided into into three to five lobes.  The leaves near the top of the plant are smaller and simpler than those located near the bottom.  The plant's stalks are covered with fine hairs.

Hooked Crowfoot - enlarge this image to see the hooked styles

Hooked Crowfoot has one feature that distinguished it from all other Michigan Ranunculus species.  The flowers of this species are small with hooked styles (part of the flower that connects the ovary and stigma).  It is the only small-flowered species with hooked styles.

Hooked Crowfoot - note hairy stems

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baby Bluebird Update

We stopped at the Ziibiwing Center yesterday (18 May) on our way home to check on the nesting boxes.  The baby bluebirds are growing and changing quickly - their feathers are starting to develop.  I expect their eyes to open in the next day or so.

Baby Eastern Bluebirds - there is a fifth one on the bottom of the pile (photo by Shara LeValley)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Saginaw Chippewa Academy students at Audubon Woods

This time of year I deliberately schedule most of my programs to be outside.  Whenever possible, I like to get students out into the woods or into a wetland so they can get a hands-on experience that is impossible in the classroom.  My favorite place to do this is the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Audubon Woods Preserve.  This wooded forty acre preserve is located in southwestern Isabella County on the corner of Wing Road and Gilmore Road.  Unfortunately, it's too far away for most schools to easily visit.  I take students from Winn Elementary once or twice a year to study forestry and forest ecology - some of them have now made 5 or 6 different visits to this preserve in the past three years.  Yesterday I was joined by 3rd grade students from the Saginaw Chippewa Academy.  This was the first time any of these students (or the adults with them) had ever visited Audubon Woods.  Because this was their first visit, I only planned one activity for them to do - tree measurement.  The rest of the time I left available for them to explore on their own.

Here are a few pictures from their visit.

SCA students hard at work.

Students computing tree diameter - they first measured the circumference and then divided by pi (3.14).

It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day.

Downy Yellow Violet adds a pop of color to the forest floor.

The long streak continues - every year, students find (and remove) at least one tire from Audubon Woods.

One sharp-eyed student spied a pair of morel mushrooms on the forest floor.

Wood Frogs are a common sight at Audubon Woods

Plants along the trail include ferns and Long-spurred Violets.

Most of the students went down to check out the river's edge.
Making the long climb back up from the river

My favorite picture of the day was one of the first ones I took.  While measuring a tree, a group of students noticed a Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) clinging to its bark.

Grey Tree Frogs usually blend in well with their surroundings.