Plant Phenology June

by Carl Strang

First flowering dates at Mayslake Forest Preserve in June continued to be earlier than last year. Among the 10 species for which I had reasonably close first appearances, the median was 15 days earlier than last year. There were 26 other species whose flowering was well under way when I first found them. Their median was 5.5 days earlier than last year. I also continued to find new species for my preserve list: moth mullein, common day flower, motherwort, all of which are relatively weedy, and the more interesting smooth beard tongue.

The last is a southern species that appears irregularly in our woodlands. Superficially it resembles our common foxglove beard tongue. Though the diagnostic characteristics require a magnifying glass, sometimes the smooth beard tongue has distinctive purple flowers as in the Mayslake example.

Though I do not include domestic plantings in these data, I did notice that Adam’s needle yucca plants were flowering around the friary.

They did not bloom at all in last year’s relatively cool dark season.

Alocasia Over Winter

by Carl Strang

Though my gardens are dominated by native species, I accent them with horticultural additions. This insures visual variety and color through the season, and allows for more of a blend with the neighborhood as a whole. One feature I added last year was an urn with a big-leaved tropical Alocasia ‘Sarian’ and a couple New Guinea impatiens. In the fall I brought the urn indoors, to see if its plants might survive the winter. I placed it near the orchids to take advantage of the added lighting there. The impatiens didn’t make it: I wasn’t able to keep the urn watered well enough. The Alocasia survived, however, and on June 20 I moved it outside.

Two leaves had persisted through the winter, and a fresh one expanded before I moved the plant back out. I added a couple new impatiens, and the accent is complete.

Successful Red-tail Nest

by Carl Strang

Last fall a pair of red-tailed hawks arrived at Mayslake Forest Preserve, and began defending the area from other hawks of their species. Their presence through much of the winter was intermittent, but in late winter they were more consistently to be seen.

What’s more, they were carrying sticks to a tree just east of the parking lot marsh. By March 20 their nest was complete.

Soon it was under incubation, and by the end of April the female appeared to be brooding young.

At the beginning of May we could see one youngster, and the parents were offering food to a second, but soon only the larger one remained. This nest may have been the first for this pair, and raising one offspring might be all they could manage. Photographer Randall Wade provided this photo of the survivor in late May.

By June 11 the nestling was almost fully feathered, and fledging was imminent. I was not around during the following week, but restoration co-steward Jacqui Gleason saw the young bird away from the nest on June 12. For the first ten days it remained within 200 yards of the nest. So, the nest is successful, we have a fledgling, and the parents have the opportunity to rear their youngster to independence.

Red-headeds Aplenty

by Carl Strang

As I bicycle the country roads in north-central Indiana’s Marshall County and adjacent portions of Starke and Fulton Counties, I enjoy observing the wild plants and animals along the way. One species that grabs my attention is the red-headed woodpecker (photo from Mayslake Forest Preserve, DuPage County, IL).

These woodpeckers are common in those rural Indiana areas, in contrast to northeastern Illinois where they are uncommon inhabitants of savannas. In recent years a pair has nested in my parents’ neighborhood in the town of Culver. Their surroundings have lost some trees in the decades since my childhood there.

This view toward Lake Maxinkuckee shows how open the area has become. Not only is the habitat structured more like a savanna, but people also take only a casual interest in tree grooming. This leaves dead branches and stems in trees like this one.

The red-headeds nested in one of those holes a couple years ago. I have not yet found their nest this year, but regularly hear them calling back and forth.

Tantalizing Glimpses

by Carl Strang

Last week, for only the second time in my life, I saw a long-tailed weasel. I was on a morning bike ride, touring rural roads around Culver, Indiana, when a small mammal crossed the road in front of me, disappearing into dense herbaceous vegetation at the edge. There was no mistaking that long slender form for anything other than a weasel, and it was too lightly built to be a mink. Its length appeared close to that of a female mink, however, which rules out the least weasel.

My only other long-tailed weasel sighting was a glimpse of one climbing a wooded mountainside in New York State’s Adirondacks. Otherwise, I have found their tracks on only three occasions.

This sketch I make near Hartz Lake in Starke County, Indiana, in 1989. I also have seen tracks twice in DuPage County, Illinois. And that’s it. Such limited experience suggests these animals are relatively few, at least compared to mink, which I expect to see a few times each year.

For an inquiry-minded naturalist, an animal like this will be a frustrating subject. Mammalogists resort to trapping and radio-tagging to learn about such creatures. Fortunately there are plenty of more accessible subjects to study, as I hope this blog has illustrated, and it’s good that there are some animals to liven one’s experience with such rare sightings as the one I had last week.

More Insects Emerge

by Carl Strang

Phenology, the timing of natural history events, is an easy area of study that adults or schoolchildren can pursue. I have been sharing my phenology observations at Mayslake Forest Preserve for first flowers, first fruits, and spring arrivals of migrant birds. Today I would like to look at results comparing 2009 and 2010 spring first sighting dates of insects. Insects are small and easy to overlook. Their numbers can vary a lot between years. Consequently I am not going to place too much weight on small differences between years for individual species. A case in point is the hobomok skipper.

I have seen few of these at Mayslake. Nevertheless, last year’s first date of 5 June is very close to this year’s June 9. Similarly, the first prince baskettail dragonfly appeared on June 1 last year, June 10 this year.

They seldom land, so I’m resorting to a UFO photo here. The difference in dates for Peck’s skipper is large enough to suggest a brood difference. I saw this one on May 25 this year.

The first date last year was August 24. This represents last year’s second generation, and I did not see a first generation representative. I don’t see many of these butterflies, so this is not a surprising result. I also haven’t seen many lyre-tipped spreadwings

Thus I am not willing to put much emphasis on the between year difference in first sightings of 13 July 2009 vs. 10 June 2010 for this damselfly.

So much for individual species. I was interested in looking for patterns among seasonal groups of species. In March this year I had only 2 species to compare to 2009, with a median difference of 5 days earlier than last year. April numbers were 9 species, median 17 days earlier than 2009. The 12 May species had a similar 16.5 days earlier median. To date in June, 9 species are a median 4 days earlier. These results suggest that the warmer spring this year is producing emergence patterns in insects that are similar both in direction and amount to those of first flower dates in plants.

Prairie Contrast

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve’s main prairie was burned in 2009, but not this year. Here is the prairie in the last half of May last year.

The prairie grew lush and green, unimpeded by the dead tops of the previous year’s growth. Though the prairie was not burned in 2010, its appearance in early June is striking nonetheless.

The clouds of white are formed almost entirely by one kind of plant, the foxglove beard tongue.

I’m pretty sure this plant did not bloom nearly so abundantly last year. I’m inclined to attribute this difference to the lack of a burn, but certainly the seasonal phenology has been much earlier this year as well: another question to file away for future study.

Goose Brood Update

by Carl Strang

This spring I have been following a Canada goose pair that nested in the parking lot marsh at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The nest was successful, and the pair led their 4 goslings to May’s Lake and Trinity Lake in early May. By May 10 they had lost one of the small goslings, presumably to one of the area’s many predators. After that the family vanished for a month. I wasn’t concerned, because Trinity Lake is long and sinuous, most of it winding away from my sight. On June 11 I found the geese back on May’s Lake.

The identity of the family is confirmed by the band on the adult male’s left foot. Somewhere along the way they have lost a second gosling. The remaining two are large enough that their list of potential predators is greatly reduced. The white chin patches are visible, and soon more than a quick glance will be needed to distinguish them from their parents.

May Phenology

by Carl Strang

It’s time to update my record of flowering phenology at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Through April, plants were blooming a median of 13 days earlier than in 2009. In May I have an additional 41 species to report. Five of these were new to the list, and so I have no 2009 dates for comparison. These include nannyberry, about which I reported earlier. Other new shrubs are black raspberry, and autumn olive (shown).

I am not sure how I missed a prominent trailside patch of common speedwell last year.

Even more intriguing is this one:

Clearly a member of genus Senecio, this single plant keyed to butterweed. It is blooming close to the center of the preserve, so I am not sure how it got there. Butterweed is not native, and apparently is not commonly encountered in northeast Illinois, though DuPage Forest Preserve District botanist Scott Kobal tells me he has found it much more frequently in recent years.

Returning to the species for which I had flowering dates in 2009, I had to divide them into two groups. I was out of town for significant portions of May, and so found 16 species blooming profusely that had begun in my absences. The dates I was able to record for them certainly were later than their actual first flower dates must have been. The median was 3 days earlier than in 2009, range 15 days earlier to 5 days later.

Of more interest were the 20 species for which my 2010 first flower dates were reasonably close to the actual. There the range was 4-23 days earlier, with a median of 13. At least so far, 2010 flower phenology continues to be significantly ahead of 2009.

Curiously, migrant bird arrivals do not show the same pattern. The 15 species whose May arrival dates I can compare reasonably between years all appeared later in 2010 than in 2009. The range was 3-15 days later, with a median of 8 days. No explanation immediately comes to mind.

Late Bee?

by Carl Strang

On May 20 at Mayslake Forest Preserve I saw this queen Bombus impatiens bumblebee digging in a small area in the south savanna.

There had been many days of warm weather, and so I would have thought by that point all the queens would have found nest sites and begun their first broods. Already I was seeing worker Bombus bimaculatus in my garden at home. So, what was the digging queen’s story? I don’t know any other reason why a queen would dig. If she sensed a cavity in the soil below that spot, a little digging might get her a nest hole. It seemed late to be searching still. Perhaps she had a nest, lost it, and had to start over.

On the other hand, given her species it’s not a total disaster. Bombus impatiens is the one species whose activity spanned the entire season at Mayslake last year. I saw them as late as October 5. The latest other bumblebee was a B. griseocollis on August 25. I haven’t been studying bumblebees long enough to know whether this is typical, but in any case it seems there still is plenty of time for this impatiens queen to get going.

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