Pocket Prairie

by Carl Strang

This is the time of year when the view out my back window is best.

The diversity of blooming wildflowers hits its peak in late July.

The diversity of blooming wildflowers hits its peak in late July.

My neighborhood for the most part is a wildlife desert. It’s amazing what a little habitat can bring, though. These native prairie flowers attract diverse pollinators, and bumble bees for instance always are present in the daylight hours. The red blooms are royal catchflies, which never fail to bring hummingbird visitors in July and August. Later, goldfinches will be after the seeds in the purple coneflower heads. My original planting plan is history, as most of these plants are seeding into the tiny spaces left between. My main work has shifted from planting to thinning, keeping the better competitors at bay so as to maintain a balance of biodiversity. That makes me a member of this community, too.

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.

If you build it…

by Carl Strang

Our yards are habitats for wildlife. We have no choice in that. We can, however, influence what kinds of wildlife will visit us or live with us on the land. This is true even for a tiny yard like mine. Here are some examples from my prairie flowerbeds, which are approaching their peak now.

Prairie garden 26JL09 b

I have planted royal catchflies all out of proportion to their presence in our local prairies.

Royal catchfly b

As a result, I can count on regular visits from ruby-throated hummingbirds in July and August. Here is this year’s happy camper, photographed through the kitchen window.

Yard hummer 1b

I kind of like this impressionistic view of the same bird.

Yard hummer 2b

Red tubular flowers shout “hummingbird” to ecologists, and to the birds themselves. I wonder if royal catchfly flowers also have evolved the means to defeat nectar thieves.

Bombus bimaculatus yard b

This Bombus bimaculatus bumblebee behaved as though it were in one of those sticky-slow-motion nightmares. The hairs on the royal catchfly calyx either were affecting it chemically, or physically had grabbed it. It wasn’t struggling strongly, so I suspect the former. As far as I know, no bumblebee has a tongue long enough to reach the nectaries of this flower from the front. Bumblebees are known to pierce such flowers from the outside, getting nectar but bypassing the anthers, therefore not serving the plant’s need for cross pollination. Such nectar thievery could provide selective pressure favoring any adaptation in the plant that might prevent the would-be perps from being successful.

In any case, I have plenty of bimaculatus visiting my other flowers, and also a few Bombus griseocollis.

Bombus griseocollis yard b

A final species for this time is the monarch.

Monarch larva b

This half-grown caterpillar is doing well on one of my butterfly weed plants.

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