Another Tuesday Walk

It’s Tuesday, and despite the heat and humidity, our Tuesday Morning Regulars showed up for the morning walk.  Today’s mission:  collect monarch butterfly eggs and larvae.  We rear these in the exhibit room – partly to show folks what they look like, partly to have monarchs to tag and release for Monarch Watch, and partly to have live animals for our Birds, Blooms and Butterflies Festival (coming soon, on Aug. 18).

Crouch Creek, which flows through the property and marks the boundary between the Arboretum and the Rest of the Trails, is pretty much dried up thanks to this year’s drought.

No mission, no matter how specific, prevents us from investigating what else is out and about.  We weren’t on the trail for long when we encountered our first butterfly.  Binoculars and field guides were whipped out to confirm ID.

It was an Eyed Brown – a small brown butterfly that blends in very well with its surroundings.  If it hadn’t fluttered about a bit, we probably would’ve missed it.

Crossing the boardwalk we came across our first member of the milkweed family:  swamp milkweed.  All members of this family are potential food for monarch caterpillars, so we checked it out.  No eggs, no larvae.  We moved on.

The Reflection Pond is so low that there’s an actual island out in it!  Do you see it?

We have started calling this Turtle Island, for many of the pond’s resident turtles crawl out here to safely sun themselves.  We didn’t see any turtles as we walked past this morning.

I did see these branching bur reeds in bloom, though.  Beautiful round balls of florets.  Not your average flower.  The seeds produced by bur reeds are called nutlets – we only found one plant whose nutlets were starting to ripen.

This bright red velvet ant was zipping with great determination down the trail.  Velvet ants are actually solitary wasps, and the females have no wings (which is why they look like ants, not wasps).  I believe this is a Pseudomethocha oculata.  According to my Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, we should take the bright red warning color of velvet ants to heart (only the females are red), because if you pester them, they will attack, and their sting is considered “the most painful sting of any North American insect.”  I’m glad I didn’t put that to the test – all I did was snap one quick photo as she dashed away.

Plenty of flowering spurge is blooming all over the grasslands.  They are pretty little white flowers, and, amazingly, they are native.

Down at the southern end of the grassland is the area that was intensely planted years ago with native flower seeds.  This is THE place to go to see some great grassland flowers, like these grey-headed coneflowers.

This bright orange damselfly sat just long of me to take her photo.  I believe it is an immature female eastern forktail, which is a common damselfly.  The females are polymorphic, meaning they are orange when they are young and turn blue (like the males) when they grow up.  What I find interesting, based on what I read, is that these insects are usually found near water – along the water’s edge or in the herbaceous vegetation nearby.  The only really close water was the fen, and according to the book, they avoid fens and bogs.  Hm.  Maybe the glacial pond and the Reflection Pond are close enough to serve.

Shrubby St. Johnswort is in beautiful form right now.

And the green-headed coneflowers are just starting to bloom as well.

The tiny mountain mint flowers, with their purple spotted throats, are out in good numbers this year.  I can never resist crushing a leaf or two to smell the delicious minty aroma.  That’ll clear one’s sinuses any day!

The wild bee balm (monarda) is mostly past peak, but we found a few that weren’t looking too ragged.  This cluster was full of tiny black beetles.  I have no idea what kind they were.

The panicled tick trefoil is about at peak, too.  What a rich pink color – not pale by any stretch of the imagination.  Tick trefoils seem to be quite common here in Michigan – a new family of plants to me since moving here.  I like them immensely; they are very orchid-like.

And who can resist the luscious deep purple of ironweed?  These are just starting to bloom and soon there will be wonderful patches of dark purple along the southern edge of the grasslands.

A single marsh blazing star was waving its head among the ironweed and coneflowers.

Bees were out in significant numbers this morning.  I imagine that they have had a rough time of it this summer, what with the drought.  This lady was laden with pollen, not only on her legs, but also all over her head and body!

A few slender stalks of Culver’s root were poking up among the not-yet-blooming goldenrods.  Culver’s root usually grows quite tall, but this year they are barely waist-high.

Still…we were supposed to be looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars!

And search the group did.  Hundreds and hundreds of milkweed leaves were examined and turned over.

We found red milkweed beetles,

a milkweed tussock caterpillar,

ladybugs (in flagrante) – these might be parenthesis ladybugs, but I’m not convinced (am waiting for confirmation from the Lost Ladybug Project).

We found plenty of horse nettles,

and even young milkweed pods (edible at this stage – I’ve had ’em both pickled and sautéed in butter).

Plenty of bees and grasshoppers galore!

But search as we did, we only ended up finding two tiny caterpillars and about 17 eggs.  Slim pickin’s.

The pinks are still blooming, adding little spots of bright color to the mostly brown and green landscape.  These are, I believe, Deptford pinks, which, lovely as they are, are not native plants.  Still, they are not aggressive and I do enjoy their cheerful blooms.

This beautiful red-spotted purple butterfly flitted down and landed long enough for me to get a good series of photos.  (Darn photographers, though, insist on trying to sneak closer and chase the wildlife off before others get a chance to see it.)  The red-spotted purple is a mimic of the pipevine swallowtail, which is a toxic butterfly.  Apparently there are three other species in MI that also mimic the pipevine swallowtail – must be it is REALLY toxic if they are all trying to pretend that they are it!

Hoary alyssum is also going great guns out there in the grassland.  It’s not a native plant – no doubt something that came in with other pasture plants when settlers came and took over these lands.

We found one specimen of butterfly bush blooming – ’tis the season for this milkweed relative, and soon open spaces will be a-blaze with the fiery flowers.

We made our way around to the fen to see what was in bloom.  Several white flowers were starting to put forth their blossoms, but from a distance it was difficult to tell who was who.

Grass-of-Parnassus was only just starting to bloom.  I love this flower, with its delicate green pinstripes.  What a delight to see.

And sticky tofieldia – you’ve got to love it for the name alone!

And wait!  What’s that with the spire of white flowers?  It’s one of the spiranthes, or ladies tresses.  The flowers are only just starting to open, and no matter how much I zoom in on the photo, I can’t tell if it’s a nodding or a hooded.  We will have to go back out and get a closer look, with a hand lens at the ready.  Still, this was an exciting find, since Gary says no orchids have (yet) been recorded on the property.

Back in the grassland this white aster was blooming – the first I’ve seen this year.  Small white?  Flat topped?  Thanks to the helpful eye and knowledge of my friend and former Michigander Jackie, we are pretty sure it’s flat-topped.

As we headed back past the Reflection Pond, we met up with a group of our summer campers.  They were all eagerly watching the pond and counting turtles!  We didn’t see any when we passed earlier, but these kids were up to 11 as we walked by.

Do you see the little painted turtle on this log?

How about now?  It’s waaay out at the end, its tail toward the camera and its yellow-striped head pointing up.

Spotted jewelweed is adding its brilliant color to the vegetation of the wetland.  Who wouldn’t delight at seeing these dangling orange trumpets?  I often see bumble bees bouncing around these flowers, but not today.

Bittersweet nightshade, a relative of the potato, grows in vine form and was clambering up a tree to dazzling us all with its deep purple blossoms.  Like most nightshades, one shouldn’t eat this plant.  Stick to potatoes and tomatoes – those, we know, are safe to eat.

Back at the visitor center one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the screaming brilliant red of the royal catchfly, which is in peak bloom in the native flower garden.  I think it’s the only flower to rival cardinal flower.

The few monarch eggs and two caterpillars that we found were promptly placed in the exhibit room, where they will be lovingly tended by Dahlem staff.  Our earlier monarchs ended up heavily parasitized this year, so hopefully this new batch will be more successful and we got to them before the flies did.

Whether you are into butterflies, dragonflies, flowers or turtles, Dahlem is a happening place right now.  Don’t let the heat and humidity keep you from getting outdoors – just bring plenty of water with you and enjoy!

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.
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4 Responses to Another Tuesday Walk

  1. Wow! Thank you to the person who took the time to take and submit all these photographs and information. Wish there was a Saturday morning walking group. I’d love to look for butterfly eggs and saute young milkweed pods in butter. Thank you for sharing your wealth of information with us.

  2. Nancy McCormack says:

    Thank you for sharing these wonderfully descriptive reports and the beautiful photos! I am not able to go out on the Tuesday walks but feel I have been there because of these postings!
    Thank you so very much, Ellen, Gary and all!

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