Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Field Trip to Peterson Natural Area (12 August 2017)

Field trip participants (Cathy Murray, Dick and Diana Moreau, and Ruth Chapman) pose by the preserve sign
On Saturday August 12th, I led a field trip to the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Peterson Natural Area.  At 79 acres, Peterson NA is one of the largest preserves in the CWC's inventory.  It is also (probably) one of the least visited.  Located in Mecosta County, Peterson NA is much closer to Big Rapids (less than 10 miles) than it is to Mt. Pleasant (approximately 40 miles).  This distance from Mt. Pleasant puts off the radar for most CWC supporters - if you are going to Peterson Natural Area you are making a time commitment.

Despite the distance from Mt. Pleasant (or in my case from Alma), visiting Peterson Natural Area is worth the effort.  Here are a few pics from that visit.

Ruth was wearing a walking cast and needed a helping hand to navigate a couple stretches

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) on Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

The surprise of the day was finding a Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in the wet meadow that runs down the center of the property.  The Wood Turtle is considered a Species of Special Concern by the State of Michigan so it is always a thrill to see one.  Wood Turtles do frequently spend much of the summer in upland areas, but I didn't suspect that the small stream running through Peterson Natural Area would bring one to the property from the nearby Muskegon River.  I actually found this turtle with my feet - while walking through the tall grass of the meadow, I stepped on what initially I thought was a rounded rock.  Surprise!

Cathy photographing the Wood Turtle

Who wouldn't love that face!

Joe-pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) was growing everywhere along the stream.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) adds its magenta hues to the landscape mosaic.

Mating Yellow-collared Scape Moths (Cisseps fulvicollis) on Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) nectaring on Swamp Milkweed
The upland parts of the property (northwest quarter) is very different from the low area along the stream.  It is very dry and sandy.  The Michigan Natural Features Inventory pre-settlement vegetation map indicates that Peterson Natural Area was once covered with Beech-Sugar Maple-Hemlock Forest, but the vegetation on this hill is currently more like that found on a Dry Sand Prairie or Oak-Pine Barren.  Pre-settlement maps indicate that two areas of  Oak-Pine Barren could be found within two miles of Peterson NA in the past.

Near the end of our walk, we found three Monarch caterpillars.  All three were in their 5th instar and were almost ready to enter the chrysalis stage.  The first two caterpillars were feeding on Common Milkweed plants.

Ruth zooms in on a Monarch caterpillar

The third caterpillar was crawling around on the side of a large rock.  In the hours before forming a chrysalis, Monarch caterpillars (and those of other butterfly species) often wander far from their host plant.

If you are interested in visiting Peterson Natural Area, this is the best time of year to do so.  The late summer wildflowers in the wet meadow are at their peak and the fall asters and goldenrods will be blooming soon.  If time allows, I may try to take one more trip over before the bloom is done.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Nature Geek Vacation Destinations - Custer State Park, Custer, SD

One of the highlights of our recent vacation in South Dakota was a pair of visits to Custer State Park.  Our first visit to Custer State Park was preceded by a trip to Mt. Rushmore National Monument.  From Mt. Rushmore, the shortest route into Custer State Park is US Route 16A.  Also known as Iron Mountain Road, this route passes through three tunnels and multiple switchbacks and loops that frame views of Mt. Rushmore.  There are also several scenic turnouts and parking areas that allow you to see panoramic views of the Black Hills and the plains to the east of the park.

At the eastern edge of the park Route 16A joins up with South Dakota Highway 36.  SD 36 will lead you east out of the park.  If you continue west on 16A, you will need to purchase a South Dakota State Park entrance permit.  As of July 2017, annual permits cost $30; Custer State Park also offers the option of a 7-day pass for $20.  We chose to purchase the 7-day pass as we did not intend to visit any other South Dakota State Park.  A short drive from the entrance gate is the east end of the park's Wildlife Loop Road.

Upcoming Event - Monarch Butterfly Celebration (Saturday 16 September 2017)

Join me on Saturday September 16th from 1:00PM to 4:00PM for the annual Monarch Butterfly Celebration at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways.  The Ziibiwing Center is located at 6650 E. Broadway, Mt. Pleasant.

I will  have information about ways to help Monarchs (and other pollinators) and free posters at this event.  I hope to have Monarch butterflies to tag and release at the celebration - I have been seeing lots of adult Monarchs this week and will begin collecting caterpillars next week.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Insect photos (03 August 2017)

This morning I walked into the field behind my office with my camera in hand. I had no specific goals in mind, I just wanted to get away from my desk for a few minutes.  Right away I noticed that the field was full of insect life and birds.  I wasn't fast enough to get a picture of any of the birds, but I did manage to take over one hundred twenty pictures of insects in a little over fifteen minutes - most were multiple images of the same few insects.  Here are five of the best pictures.

Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) on Riverbank Grape leaf surrounded by Spotted Knapweed

Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) on Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia)

Ants nectaring on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with Japanese Beetles

Red Milkweed Beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) on Common Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis) and Red Milkweed Beetle on Common Milkweed

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Friday Night Lights at Sylvan Solace Preserve (28 July 2017)

In about three weeks high school football season kicks off here in Mid-Michigan.  Last week the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve was host to its own version of Friday Night Lights.  But instead of football, this version involved insects - specifically moths.

Six amateur lepidopterists (people who study moths and butterflies) gathered at Sylvan Solace with the goal of attracting and identifying some of preserve's many species of moths (and other insects).  This purpose of this event was to celebrate National Moth Week.  This is not the first time the CWC has celebrated National Moth Week, but unlike past attempts this one did not get cancelled due to weather.

There are many ways to attract moths.  One of the simplest ways is to go out into the woods (or other habitat) with a bright light source and a light colored sheet.  Suspend the sheet between a couple of trees and shine the light on it - the moths will be attracted to (or confused by) the bright light and land on the sheet where they can be identified at your leisure.

Setting for this activity was the (relatively) easy part.  However, Sylvan Solace Preserve does not have a source of power so one had to be brought in.  My lepidopterists will use deep-cycle marine batteries to power their lights.  I don't have any batteries handy, but I did have access to a small generator.  So in addition to the sheets and lights, the generator had to be hauled into and out of the woods.  No one wants to sit right next to a loud, smoky generator while they are trying to enjoy nature - so I also hauled about 300 feet of extension cords so the generator could be placed further away.

Once the lights were turned on and darkness fell, the moths began to arrive almost immediately.  Moth identification can be challenging in the woods, especially since so many of the species are small and nondescript (brown, grey, with few distinguishing marks). We did our best, but were only able to positively identify a couple of the more distinctive species in the field.

Several hours of poring over my photographs and field guides led to these identifications:

Gray Half-spot (Nedra ramosula)

Bog Lygropia (Lygropia rivulalis)

European Corn Borer (Ostrinia nibilalis)

Sweetfern Geometer (Cyclophora pendulinaria)

Painted Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia fucosa)

Banded Tussock Moth (Halysidota tessellaris)
There is a possibility that the above moth is not a Banded Tussock Moth, but rather a Syacamore Tussock Moth (H. harrissii).  However, I do not know of any Sycamore trees in the immediate area of Sylvan Solace Preserve.  Without this host plant, I think that it is more likely the Banded Tussock Moth.

Dark-banded Owlet (Phalaenophana pyramusalis)

Oak Leafroller (Argyrotaenia quercifoliana)

Sigmoid Prominent (Clostera albosigma)

Subgothic Dart (Feltia subgothica)

Common Grey (Anavitrinella pampinaria)

These were not the only moths that came to the party.  A few more hours of effort should probably lead to several more identifications - if I identify more species I will add them in a separate posting.  If you notice any errors in identification, please let me know.