Ruby-throated Hummingbird Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s species dossier covers my observations of our only eastern hummingbird, the ruby-throated.

Hummingbird, Ruby-throated

Young or female ruby-throated hummingbird

Young or female ruby-throated hummingbird

1986. To this point I have seen hummingbirds in the Culver, Indiana, area, near Jeffersonville, Indiana, in south central Pennsylvania, once in fall migration at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula, and in Virginia. They visit flowers, especially bright orange or red ones including trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, and jewelweed. They are occasional migrants at Willowbrook Wildlife Center, DuPage County, Illinois. They seem to require forests or woods edges.

15SE87. Young or female hummer (dark stripes on pale throat) feeding from orange jewelweed, midday, Willowbrook.

27JL99. Hummingbird made brief appearance near Willowbrook picnic shelter.

22AU99. Hummer on jewelweed at West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve.

8&17SE99. Migrant hummers at Willowbrook.

Hummingbird at wild bergamot, my back yard.

Hummingbird at wild bergamot, my back yard.

8MY00. Arboretum. At parking lot 23, a hummingbird nest, perhaps still under construction because it is pale and obvious, well out from the trunk of a tamarack on a horizontal branch 20 feet up.

15JE00. Arboretum. At Parking Lot 23, hummingbird female is on the nest, which does not stand out as much as last week (outer surface has more material added).

17JE00. Arboretum. The hummingbird female leaves the nest frequently, perhaps for 30 seconds every 5 minutes.

16JE01. Arboretum, Heritage Trail. Many scattered fire pinks are flowering, and a hummer was visiting one of them briefly, then moved on.

22AU(year not indicated). West DuPage Woods. A hummingbird on jewelweed.

2AU04. An immature or female hummingbird visited the royal catchflies in my back yard flowerbeds.

21JL06. An immature or female hummingbird at back yard royal catchflies.

15JL09. First immature or female hummer visiting the first royal catchflies, also bergamot and the last white wild indigo flowers.

Hummingbird at cardinal flower, Mayslake

Hummingbird at cardinal flower, Mayslake

24AU10. Mayslake. A hummingbird visiting cardinal flowers and Liatris near the bridge.

Moist Prairie Winter Plants

by Carl Strang

Today we return to winter botany, staying in a moist-soil prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve and turning to representatives from a mix of families. I will start with a species I call the plant from Mars: rattlesnake master, a member of the carrot family.

To use a language analogy, rattlesnake master is a cognate. The fruiting clusters are very reminiscent of the flower clusters.

To use a language analogy, rattlesnake master is a cognate. The fruiting clusters are very reminiscent of the flower clusters.

One of the heads in bloom.

One of the heads in bloom.

The yucca-like leaves likewise remain recognizable.

The yucca-like leaves likewise remain recognizable.

Blue vervain, though not what I would call a cognate, is very distinctive and beautiful in its winter form.

The arrangement is very candelabra-like.

The arrangement is very candelabra-like.

Here is a top early in its flowering period.

Here is a top early in its flowering period.

Now we turn to species that are progressively more different from their flowering forms. Yellowish gentian is one of my favorite flowers.

Here is yellowish gentian in bloom.

Here is yellowish gentian in bloom.

In winter the plant seems to shrink and collapse, but if you squint you can see the connection.

The flowers retain much of their shape, but become the same color as the leaves and so are less distinctive.

The flowers retain much of their shape, but become the same color as the leaves and so are less distinctive.

Finally we turn to cardinal flower. In bloom, it’s a knockout:

With flowers like this, it’s understandable that we might not pay much attention to the rest of the plant in bloom, let alone in winter.

With flowers like this, it’s understandable that we might not pay much attention to the rest of the plant in bloom, let alone in winter.

Here I acknowledge help from restoration guru Conrad Fialkowski, who helped me find some winter plants.

The cardinal flower plant seems to shrink, collapse and turn yellow, not supporting itself very well and losing many of its leaves.

The cardinal flower plant seems to shrink, collapse and turn yellow, not supporting itself very well and losing many of its leaves.

The flowers produce round capsules which erode from the sides, releasing their tiny brown seeds.

The flowers produce round capsules which erode from the sides, releasing their tiny brown seeds.

Assorted points and projections from the capsule tips vaguely recall the lobular flower structure. Many more species remain to be photographed and highlighted before this winter is done.

Assorted Photos 1

by Carl Strang

Photo opportunities arise frequently during my preserve monitoring walks at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Sometimes these lead to blog posts, sometimes they simply are for identifying organisms when I’ve forgotten the distinguishing features, and sometimes they improve or add to my collection of species portraits. This week I’ll share a few of the last.

Hummingbird at cardinal flower.

That first one won’t win any photography prizes, but it does serve to document the use of one plant species for food by the bird, and the use of the bird by the plant for pollination. Another bird photo op came when I encountered a couple cooperative house wrens.

This bird adopted a humorous pose while grooming itself.

I also added to my photos of singing insects. The only picture I had of a Carolina grasshopper was one I took in Canada, and wanted a local example.

An area recently cleared of brush at the edge of the north stream corridor prairie has hosted a concentration of Carolina grasshoppers this year.

Live Tibicen cicadas usually are too high up in trees to photograph. When I found a dog day cicada singing from a tall coreopsis stem in the middle of the prairie I got a rare opportunity.

The wind was swaying the plant, so the insect isn’t perfectly sharp, but close enough for practical purposes.

More photos tomorrow.

Plant Progress

by Carl Strang

Botanical progress continues on two fronts at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The intrepid restoration team continues to remove buckthorn from the edges of the north savanna, scattering bottlebrush grass seeds to hold the ground thus gained.

Here the brush has been cleared, opening the savanna ridge all the way down to the trail.

The south stream corridor prairie, scene of earlier restoration work, is looking beautiful with bur marigolds highlighted by cardinal flowers and blue vervain.

Migrating hummingbirds have been visiting the cardinal flowers. Of course, later in the season it would be wise not to wade through here as the bur marigolds are in the beggar’s ticks group, ready to coat clothing with barbed seeds.

I have continued to add plants to my preserve list. Up in the friary demolition site, a new weedy but beautiful little flower is the ivy-leaved morning glory.

Tiny, hairy, and with interesting shaped leaves and big flowers for such a small plant, this morning glory is among the rapidly growing species that have bloomed in the brief period since this area was graded with new topsoil.

Somehow I have managed to overlook a patch of Jerusalem artichokes until last week.

This native sunflower was a significant food plant, historically.

Also I am remembering to look down and pay some attention to the tiny weedy species.

This is the spotted creeping spurge. It grows in gardens and other disturbed soils.

Similar at first glance, but differing in detail and family membership, is the sidewalk knotweed.

This one, unlike the previous, has alternate leaves and a knotweed’s little stem sheaths.

The herbaceous plant list is creeping toward 300 species on this 90-acre site.

Some Wetland Plants

by Carl Strang

To this point in the season I have included wetland plants with prairie plants in my accounts of species flowering at Mayslake Forest Preserve. This time I’ll feature them separately. It has been a while since the common cattails flowered.

Cattail b

Their seeds are ripening now. Though elderberry can occur in woodlands, at Mayslake this shrub grows mainly in wetlands.

Elderberry 1b

The pink and white flowers of swamp milkweed are my favorites in genus Asclepias.

Swamp milkweed 2b

Spotted Joe Pye weed is a wetland plant that superficially resembles its woodland relative, purple Joe Pye weed.

Spotted joe-pye weed b

A less conspicuous wetland species is the common water horehound.

Common water horehound b

Most buttercups bloom early in the season. An exception is the bristly buttercup.

Bristly buttercup b

Two of the knotweeds recently began to bloom along the stream: Lady’s thumb

Lady's thumb 2b

and smartweed.

Smartweed 1b

Late summer brings hummingbirds, gradually making their way south. Among the flowers that especially appeal to them, being red and tubular in shape, is the cardinal flower.

Cardinal flower 2b

Finally, here is the first of the late season beggar’s ticks group, the bur marigold.

Bur marigold b

And that brings us up to date.

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