Glorious Autumn

It has been over a month since I’ve had time to go out on the trails, so this morning I joined up with the Tuesday Morning Walkers.

Our fist stop was at one of the two giant faerie rings we have along the Special Needs Trail.    This one has got to be at least 40 feet across!  We’ve never seen one so big!  These rings are made by a fungus, which is growing underground.  When we see mushrooms, we are seeing what is essentially the fruiting body of the fungus (like the apple on an apple tree).  It seems that just about any land-based fungus can produce a faerie ring, and the only pre-requisite is evenly composed substrate.  In other words, the soil must be uniformly nutritious.  The belief is that the fungus gets established and sends out mycelium evenly all around.  When the time is ripe (like after a period of rain, like last week), the fungus “decides” to fruit, and voila! there are mushrooms at the ends of the mycelium, in a perfect circle.  As time passes, year by year, the mycelium continues to grow, and thus the diameter of the circle also increases.  Apparently, this fungus has been here a while.

We continued our walk through a dangerous zone:  the tulip trees.  Now, normally tulip trees are not dangerous, but this time of year one might well be advised to wear a hardhat or walk very quickly when passing beneath them, for the squirrels are up above cutting down the seed pods like there is no tomorrow.  These somewhat dense, and definitely pointy, missiles come plummeting from above and if one hits you on the noggin, you are going to know it!

As you can see, it was a cool morning.  As we crossed the boardwalk, our breath came out in clouds.

All the vegetation sparkled with heavy dew from last night.  A tripod would’ve been ideal to have along.

This poor bumblebee was caught out-of-doors when the chill descended last night.  She was completely non-mobile when we passed her, but I’m sure that once the sunlight reached her goldenrod she was able to defrost and continue harvesting nectar and pollen.

Out in the grasslands, asters abounded.  These are THE flowers of fall.

I’m not really sure which flower this was, but I have a strong feeling I should know it.  Based on a quick glance through A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter by Carol Levine, I’m inclined to think it might be one of our sunflowers.  It was certainly in the area that abounded with them this summer.

The group headed into the fen, for there we would see fringed gentian in bloom.  This lovely purple flower is a threatened species here in Michigan.  Most were past their prime, but a couple were still looking pretty good.

Another poor bumblebee was caught out after hours last night.  While we were there, she started to warm up in the sunshine and move around.  Pretty soon we were following suit, for although it was cool in the shade, out in the sun it was starting to get quite toasty.

While I was busy photographing the gentians, Carrie, one of our naturalists, showed up (she’s not practicing yoga here, but is photographing the bumblebee).

Carrie and I are two birds of a feather, so her arrival signaled my departure from the Tuesday morning group, as we went on a photo foray across the prairie.  One of our first finds was a small group of these blister beetles.  Now, I don’t know much about these insects, having never seen them before, but we did have a woman report a large swarm of them in this section of the prairie over the weekend.  They are about an inch and a half long, and apparently produce a chemical that will cause one’s skin to blister on contact.  This particular blister beetle is the black blister beetle (Epicauta pennsylvanica), one of six species found in Michigan.  At least I think this is the black blister beetle…it could be the dark blister beetle.  Does it matter?  Well, only if you get the juice on it, for the juice of the black is considered low in toxicity, while the dark is medium.  It’s the striped and ash-grey varieties for which you must be ware – these are the really toxic ones.

Back to more pleasant topics – just look a the colors of this Indian grass!  How glorious it is!

Of course, fall isn’t fall until the milkweed is open and sending forth its frothy contents.

Those who know me know that this is my favorite plant – there is nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, more enjoyable than a field full of milkweed that is ready to disperse its seed.

As you can see, I’m not the only one who thinks so!

We spent a good deal of time liberating milkweed parachutes and then trying to photograph them.  There was just enough of a breeze to send them flying out over the grassland, and just enough of a breeze to make photographing them nearly impossible!

But we sure gave it a try!

Dahlem is a great place for memorial benches.  This granite bench is located under a tree at the top of a rise out on the prairie.  What a wonderful location to sit and remember a loved one.

Right near this particular bench is THE spot for earthstars.  Earthstars are a type of fungus, which right now are not looking particularly interesting since they are only just starting to fruit.  They look like little loaves of bread poking out of the ground (there it is, under the oak leaf).  The top will eventually look like a star with a ball in the middle.  The points of the star will lie flat to the ground and the ball in the center will puff out spores when gently squeezed.  These are very nifty fungi.

Right about now the only butterflies we are seeing are whites and sulfurs.  We did see a lone monarch flapping northward across the prairie this morning, and that was pretty exciting since monarchs have been gone for a couple weeks now.  But then this gorgeous butterfly flitted past us and landed.

Of course, we fell upon it with our cameras.  It’s a common buckeye, a rather drab name for such a beautiful butterfly.  As we snapped one image after another, I said to Carrie “there’s something hanging from it’s underside…like a broken wing, but it has all its wings.”  She took a closer look (she was on my right and better located to see the “obstruction” than I was).

“It’s mating,” she said, and sure enough, there below was a second butterfly!

Not much privacy!  Darn paparazzi!

Heck of a way to spend one’s honeymoon.

Finally the butterflies had enough of us and took off.  We turned our lenses elsewhere, like onto this lovely sweet everlasting.  I found myself stuck in a large grouping of these flowers and it smelled like I was at a pancake house at a sugarshack in spring.  Mmmm!

The algae is finally breaking up on the Reflection Pond.  Lovely green and black swirls now pattern the water’s surface.

And finally, growing between the boards on the boardwalk, we saw these slender green fingers reaching upwards.  Were they from a troll living under the boardwalk?  No, they are lichens.  What kind?  Well, they might be one of the Cladonias, but I don’t know for sure.  Possibly a powdered horned lichen?  They are very similar to the ones I found growing on my yard beaver back in NY.  Conditions are similar, too – wet wood.  Another case made for carrying a tripod.

It is now quarter past six in the evening.  It was a glorious autumnal day – in the lower 70s.  Just delightful.  And the weather is supposed to be like this all week – so make it a point to get outside this week!  It’s perfect weather for a walk at Dahlem!


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
This entry was posted in ecology, habitats, insects, wildflowers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Glorious Autumn

  1. So many wonders! You sure found lots of cool stuff, including those marvelous butterflies. I was wondering if those dried “sunflowers” could be thistles or maybe knapweed.

  2. dahlemcenter says:

    Well, y’know, Jackie, I wondered that, too. The bracts certainly reminded me of knapweed, but it was significantly taller than knapweed, and we have a LOT (as in billions of plants) of it out on the prairie, but not in this particular section. And the flowers are too small for the thistles we have around here (pasture, bull) – could be Canada thistle, but I don’t recall seeing any of that out there. The section of the prairie where I took the photo is almost exclusively native plants – a successful restoration.

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