Wednesday, June 27, 2018

In Bloom and Flight: Late June, 2018

Blossoms opening every AM.
Remnant-dependent butterflies flit - and pose.
Songbirds feed chicks.
These photos show Somme Prairie Grove in late June.
Flowers and pollinators depend on each other.
Here a hairstreak works on wild quinine. 
The uncommon purple milkweed has become frequent in the Somme savannas.
Deep purple flower clusters and somewhat purplish leaves, for some reason.
Here it's backed up by prairie sundrops. 
Now in the foreground, prairie Indian plantain.
Mostly here we're just looking at buds.
The few open flowers have their yellow reproductive parts sticking out, eagerly. 
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Indigo bunting males are easy to see and sing constantly. Many pair have their little territories.
They've raised one brood and are nesting again.
The females don't stand out so much. They're shy, subdued, and busy. Once the nest is built, they'll be sitting on the eggs.
Both defend the nest and feed the chicks. They help keep insect populations in balance. 
The monarchs flew here from Mexico. Then laid their first eggs.
Caterpillars ate, grew, and re-arranged their chemicals inside their chrysalises.
Now this one is freshly emerged - new to the world -
its color more intense than the butterfly milkweed that feeds it. 
These beauties also starting to bloom. Often hidden. Sometimes visible from the trail.
Federal endangered. Please don't post their name searchably on the Internet.
We won't list it here. With or without a name, it's precious.
The only insects that can pollinate it are a few uncommon hawkmoths. 
The precious pale spike lobelia (light blue) is here upstaged by black-eyed Susan.
We rejoice in the lobelia, because it is typical of high-quality prairies and savannas.
We embrace the Susan, because it thrives from the best prairies to the meanest vacant lots. 
A few scarlet painted cups still bloom.
Here they barely emerge out of lead plant and rosinweed. 
Spiderwort has been blooming for a long time, but only in the mornings.
On sunny afternoons, they're mostly closed up. Why? 
Great spangled fritillaries love the sun and heat.
Their caterpillars eat violet leaves in the cool of spring.
The adults emerge and fly when the purple milkweed blooms.
That long tongue is drinking sweet nectar as the photo snaps.  
Delicate winged loosestrife thrives where the paths pass through wetlands. 
Under the denser oaks, the "sulfur shelf" or "chicken of the woods" shows off.
But we just pass through briefly, because the sunny savanna steals our attention today. 

Among Somme's many nesting birds of conservation concern is the northern flicker.
This unusual woodpecker feeds mostly on the ground, among the vegetation, on ants. 

This flicker chick is hungry. Most young birds eat mostly insects.
Better them than us? 

In the open savanna we are arrested by one of the grassland's rarest plants. 
The prairie lily is very special.
And this year, for the first time, we have them in spades, eleven plants in bloom or bud,
visible from the trails in many places. 
You can tell the prairie lily from the much commoner Michigan lily by the fact that this one's flower doesn't nod.
It stands so proudly and preciously erect. 
It's one of the most "conservative" of the grassland species - rarely found away from such high quality species as those shown here: dropseed grass, lead plant, and compass plant. 
And the prairie lily (Lilium philadephicum andinum) gives us a lot to think about. The deer eat them mercilessly. Prairie lilies (and some other conservative species) can be extirpated from a site by too many deer. So we cage them, hoping their population will build. But we've also found, even in their habitats in the highest quality original prairies, perhaps because of the reduction in predators, overabundant voles chop them down and eat their seeds. Voles (cute little gerbil-like creatures) can consume every plant. So the little collars inside the deer cage sometimes protect them from those ground-hugging rodents. We stewards try to find solutions. You'll see the cages if you visit. Please don't disturb them. 

Lead plant in bud. Butterfly milkweed in bud.
Huge flowerings coming soon. But by then, what we see now will have departed until 2019.
If you'd like to visit this recovering wilderness, July, August, and September are all highpoints. But come now if you'd like to see these plants. It's too late to see the yellow pimpernels, downy phloxes, alumroots, and veiny pea flowers shown on this blog, blooming just two weeks ago. 

A rich diversity of plants and interdependent animals. We're blessed to have them in our midst. Directions, trail guides, and more at the Somme website. 

Credits
Thanks to Lisa Culp Musgrave for the bird photos.
Thanks for proofing and edits to Kathy Garness and Eriko Kojima.
Thanks to the Cook County Forest Preserves and scores of dedicated and high-spirited stewards for the health of the ecosystem. 

A more technical (but not all that technical) discussion of some of these same photos and issues will be published soon in the Strategies for Stewards blog.

More info and volunteer work schedules (everyone welcome) at: the Somme website.

3 comments:

Charlie Yang said...

Thank you, so informative in so many ways. And gorgeous pictures, thanks Lisa, a lot to learn from you.

Ryan said...

Yes, pretty amazing stuff.

I visited the prairie nature preserve the other day and found at least one invertebrate doing VERY well - ticks. I don't know my ticks well enough to say which. And it's a familiarity I don't hope to develop.

My visit was just an fairly uninterrupted walk around the main path, which became faster after I noticed 5 ticks on my legs and shoes when I was about halfway around. I flicked several more off as I went, then found five in my shoelaces when I got back. Roughly 15 ticks in 15 minutes. Is it common to find so many, or did I have the bad luck to kick a colony or something? Or is July 1st peak tick?

Might be an effective message to add to the "no dogs allowed" sign! "If you break this rule, make sure to check your dog for ticks." :-)

Stephen Packard said...

To Ryan:

Yes, Somme Prairie is bad for ticks. Somme Prairie Grove (which this post was about) is much less bad. Also, yes, June was the peak, at least normally. The ones I see are all or nearly all dog ticks, not deer ticks.

For Somme Prairie, you park at the post office. For Somme Prairie Grove (prairie and savanna, mixed) you park at Somme Woods and follow the signs west across Waukegan.

A few years back there were no ticks in the Sommes. I suspect those dogs brought them in. Lately, in June, there have been a lot.

On the other hand, I'm there every day, and they never bite me. But they do creep me out.

When I see or feel one crawling on me, I pinch it between the fingernails of one hand and use the other to break in in half. That's grim, but I figure that if I just brush it off, it will just grab on to the next person who comes walking down the trail.

One day in the Prairie, I counted and found that I picked off over forty. Too many.