Stewardship Begins

by Carl Strang

Earlier this spring I began my work as volunteer steward of McCormick Woods, the main forest at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. The stewards provide backup and extension of the ecosystem restoration work by Forest Preserve District staff. The McCormick Woods ecosystem is the highest quality forest in the western half of DuPage County, and the District has put considerable effort into its restoration, but there still is plenty for volunteers to do. Invasive shrubs and herbaceous plants are established in significant portions of the forest, there supplanting the diverse native plant and animal community.

I have had the help of two other volunteers, Wayne and Bob, and we have made a good start. We began by focusing on garlic mustard, an invasive and allelopathic biennial, in two large areas where native plant diversity is excellent and garlic mustard is not yet well established. We took the bushels of pulled garlic mustard plants and dumped them in two locations, hoping to make progress against the forest’s biggest threat: goutweed.

Goutweed is a perennial member of the parsley family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae).

Goutweed was imported from its native Europe and commonly is planted as an ornamental ground cover. Apparently it was used in the landscape around the McCormick residence at St. James Farm. Unfortunately it spread into the adjacent forest, and significant colonies of the plant have supplanted the native forest flora in places. Repeated applications of herbicides by District staff may have slowed it down, but do not kill it. Stronger herbicides that would kill it also would threaten the trees.

I selected goutweed colonies in two locations as garlic mustard dump sites. I wanted to see if masses of pulled plants might smother the goutweed, hoping also that allelochemicals might leach out and inhibit goutweed growth. The goutweed has proven to be resilient.

Goutweed leaves pushed up through the piles of garlic mustard in the first location, which had not received an herbicide spray earlier in the spring.

The second dump was in goutweed that had been hit by herbicide. It is too soon to say whether the results are any better.

At some point I want to take measurements to see how fast the goutweed colonies are expanding, and whether these efforts slow that growth.

Now that the garlic mustard pulling is done for the year, we have shifted to another location and are cutting common buckthorn and Amur honeysuckle. That part of the forest still has a good diversity of native woodland plants hanging on beneath the invasive shrubs.

Here is part of the area we have cleared. Increased light levels should allow native plants to expand their populations.

We are creating a brush pile of the cuttings that later will be burned.

There are no goutweed patches in that part of the forest. Burning brush piles would kill the goutweed beneath them.

I was inspired to take on the stewardship job by the diversity of life in McCormick Woods. Some recent photos:

Shooting stars have popped up here and there where they were released by the removal of invasive brush.

Giant swallowtails appear occasionally at St. James Farm.

A recent addition to the preserve species list was this Zabulon skipper.

Mayslake November Highlights

by Carl Strang

The first half of November brought reminders that life continues through autumn at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The preserve’s prairies draw flocks of goldfinches.

This messy eater enjoys some stiff goldenrod seeds.

This messy eater enjoys some stiff goldenrod seeds.

Though most plants were shutting down in keeping with the season, there were some anomalous exceptions.

This Amur honeysuckle opened a few flowers on November 4. May and June are the usual blooming months for that species.

This Amur honeysuckle opened a few flowers on November 4. May and June are the usual blooming months for that species.

Late-season insects were holding on.

The autumn meadowhawk is well named, but few are able to remain active into November.

The autumn meadowhawk is well named, but few are able to remain active into November.

At the same time, some species already are preparing for next year.

Mallard courtship is well under way, and tentative pair bonds already have formed.

Mallard courtship is well under way, and tentative pair bonds already have formed.

 

White-throated Sparrow Dossier

by Carl Strang

The white-throated sparrow is a common migrant and uncommon wintering bird in DuPage County, but it nests well north of here, so my observations are limited accordingly. Most of these notes were made before I knew there are dusky-colored adults, so some of the observations of “immature” birds no doubt were adults.

Sparrow, White-throated

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

This is a common migrant, observed around Culver, Lafayette, south central Pennsylvania, and DuPage County, Illinois. They occur in flocks, and forage on the ground in woods or old fields with at least some low brush. Often they scratch through litter. Their whistled song has been rendered “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” The first two syllables are on the same higher pitch, the remaining ones on the same lower pitch.

6NO86. On dry leaf litter in dense brush in Willowbrook’s Back 40, one hopped along a straight course nearly upright, scanning the ground beneath and just ahead of it.

22AP87. First singing I have heard from this sparrow this spring.

27AP87. White-throated sparrows were foraging in the wooded riparian area at Willowbrook by kicking litter backwards with both feet while staying in place and looking down.

29AP87. Young sparrows were foraging up in shrubs and the lower branches of trees, making occasional “tseed” notes (high, thin, but fairly level in pitch). They used a probing-reaching-hopping foraging style.

1MY87. White-throateds are still abundant, adults using the in-place kicking technique on the ground. They also were hopping and looking (10-inch hops, pausing for 1-2 seconds). Two other adults on the ground and a youngster in the trees were probing, looking, hopping and walking among branches.

5MY87. Young birds were eating elm seeds (4 individuals doing so in the same treetop). They pulled seeds off with a sideways twist of the neck.

11MY87. There are still some white-throats around.

23SE87. First fall migrants in Willowbrook’s Back 40 riparian strip. Also observed SE25, 28, 30, and OC9, 11 (Pratts Wayne Woods), 13, 16.

4AP88. A number of white-throated sparrows have arrived in Willowbrook’s Back 40, but are only uttering high-pitched contact calls. A few were singing by 18AP.

13SE88. First fall appearance, Willowbrook Back 40.

21AP89. In the small park across from Newberry Library in Chicago, towhees, hermit thrushes and white-throated sparrows all were feeding out on the mowed lawn at noon like robins, the thrushes even with the run-and-pause.

2NO89. A few still at Willowbrook.

28AP99.  First white-throated sparrows of the season noted at Willowbrook. Also seen 5MY99 at McDowell Forest Preserve. Last seen this spring at Willowbrook 12MY, but only a few observed there this year.

13OC99. White-throated sparrows are much more abundant in fall than in spring at Willowbrook this year. One heard singing occasionally today.

26OC99. Willowbrook. White-throated sparrows are in the old field, brushy prairie area today (yesterday they were in the woods; today it is overcast, cold, calm; yesterday was clear, cool, breezy).

1NO99. At Willowbrook, sparrow eating dried gray dogwood berries.

18NO99. A sparrow eating Amur honeysuckle berries.

19JA00. Two white-throated sparrows at Willowbrook, on ground under dense brush, using the in-place kicking technique.

29-31AU01. Algonquin Park, Ontario. White-throated sparrows are in small groups, feeding on the ground and calling, once singing. Their behavior is the same as in migrants at Willowbrook, except that they are in smaller and very widely spread groups.

2FE04. Two at Waterfall Glen near Poverty Savanna, adult plumage.

24OC07. Fullersburg. I spshed out a sparrow that was giving the thin-ending call. It was a young white-throated sparrow, which immediately began emitting the “bink” call while turning in a rapid, jerking manner and turning its head quickly to look around. No other sparrows were calling in that area. (I have come to associate this “bink” contact call with young birds; certainly it is used much more often in the fall migration, seldom in the spring, when the thin whistled contact note predominates).

Sorting Out Honeysuckles

by Carl Strang

Invasive bush honeysuckles are one of the main challenges in woodland restoration in northeast Illinois. Managing them doesn’t really require distinguishing the varieties, but in my preserve monitoring at Mayslake I feel I should have a handle on what is there. My old understanding was that there are two main forms, the Amur honeysuckle and the Tartarian honeysuckle. Over the winter I became aware that the botany is more complicated than that, and this spring I have done my best to sort it out. To keep things clear, in this post I will include scientific names in the main text rather than just in the tags at the top. Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) proves to be uncomplicated. The leaves are relatively big, and have drawn out or attenuated tips.

Amur honeysuckle, in fruit

The most common of the varieties I once referred to as “Tartarian honeysuckle” in fact is a hybrid, Lonicera X muendeniensis, the common fly honeysuckle.

Common fly honeysuckle, showing its white flowers. These turn yellow after a while, which would not happen in Tartarian honeysuckle.

Another hybrid, practically identical to the common fly honeysuckle except that the flowers are pink (but which likewise turn yellow in time), is the showy fly honeysuckle (Lonicera X bella). At Mayslake these are relatively few, and seem randomly scattered among the others.

This photo of one of the fly honeysuckles gives a good idea of the leaf shape, smaller and blunter than in Amur honeysuckle.

Having gotten this far, I ran into a few honeysuckles along Mayslake Forest Preserve’s 31st Street boundary that were distinctly different. These keyed to another species, Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii).

The leaves are much larger and rounder than those of the fly honeysuckles, and the flowers are a little smaller.

All of this terminology is based on the most recent addition of the Swink & Wilhelm reference, Plants of the Chicago Region. Errors in identification are, of course, mine.

Honeysuckle Signpost

by Carl Strang

Last week I was walking through the south savanna at Mayslake Forest Preserve when my eye was drawn to this old signpost.

The post once held a sign warning people to stay away from the friary, which was demolished last year.

What struck me was how the post was partly surrounded by a honeysuckle bush.

This vase-like, fanning array of stems is typical of honeysuckles.

No one would have forced their way into the bush to place the sign, so it seems likely that the bush grew up after the sign was in the ground. Furthermore, the sign may be responsible for the bush being there. Honeysuckles disperse with the aid of birds, which eat their berries.

Fruits of amur honeysuckle.

I am guessing that a robin, a catbird or one of the other species that eat these berries, facing south while perched on the sign, ejected the seed which had passed through its digestive tract, planting the bush which ultimately embraced the north side of the signpost.

Beautiful Weeds

by Carl Strang

I have fallen way behind in reporting on new wildflowers at Mayslake, which I am tracking to begin phenology  records for that preserve. Today I want to feature weeds. This is a term I use with care, as it has several distinctly different meanings. In everyday use a weed is simply an undesirable plant. To a restoration specialist they are not native to the local landscape. If they are good competitors, a special effort is needed to remove them. If not, they simply will be pushed aside by native plants as the latter get established. To an ecologist, “weedy” organisms can be plants or animals, and are defined by their life history strategy. In comparison to other organisms they have short lives, grow quickly in disturbed habitats where there is little competition (weeds are poor competitors), and produce large numbers of small seeds or young that can disperse widely. One or more of these definitions apply to the plants I am sharing today, and I am trying to use photos that reveal their beauty . So, let’s begin with dame’s rocket.

Dame's rocket b

I have found it in only one corner of the preserve, near the friary, but as you can see it is abundant in that spot. In the cracked pavement around the friary I found this field bindweed.

Field bindweed 2b

Its flowers place it in the morning glory family. One of the friary’s abandoned gardens has some horse radish growing, and that patch may be the source of a few plants growing more than 100 yards away, near the parking lot for the off-leash dog area.

Horse radish 1b

Other weedy plants can be found in lawns around the main parking lots and mansion. They include white clover,

White clover 2b

black medick,

Black medick b

and mouse-ear chickweed.

Mouse-ear chickweed 2b

Amur honeysuckle is a bane of our woodlands, but it has a beautiful floral display this time of year.

Amur honeysuckle b

I admit to confusion in the white flowering members of the genera Silene and Lychnis, but believe I have the identification correct for this white campion, or evening lychnis, L. alba.

White campion b

Common wood sorrel is regarded as native, but it certainly has a weedy life history strategy.

Common wood sorrel 1b

Finally there is the Indian strawberry, named for its origin in south Asia and the small red fruits that resemble strawberries but are inedible.

Indian strawberry b

The leaves also bear a resemblance to our native wild strawberry, but the yellow flowers are a giveaway.

A final note is to thank Scott N. again for his assistance, this time with the field cress. Once that former mystery plant started elongating its fruiting stalk it became, to my eye, less beautiful and mysterious, but much more recognizable.

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