Friday, August 28, 2009

A Walk on the Trail - Part 5 Finale

We’ve made it out of the trees and into the field. Looks like we’ll be home for the weekend. This is a point of mixed emotions for many people. We’ve just come up a pretty big hill and they’re thinking it’ll be easy going once we hit the field, but what they find is more hill. I usually go this way and enjoy the panoramic view from the top.

Since I showed you the view from the hill a while back, I’ll choose an alternate route. We’ll take the route along the lower side of the field. Some gentle rises and falls in this direction that shouldn’t be a challenge at all. Remember as we travel along that prior to 1986, this field had a long history of continuous row crops. Everything you see is natural regeneration helped along by a persistent manager.

Many people adjust their vision to long distance view when moving from a crowded woods to an open field. They can be half way down this stretch before awareness of their immediate surroundings returns. That’s unfortunate, because little things can easily be missed.

There are several species of orchids that grow in the prairie fields. Many are tiny and easily missed. This is Slender Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes lacera, a spiked orchid that rarely reaches over a foot in height.

You’ll need to get down on knees and elbows in order to photograph this little blossom. You can tell this species by the green throat in the flower.

A nice little clump of Wild Senna, Senna marilandica. I’ve been encouraging this plant because it is the host plant to the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly. The Cloudless Sulphur is one of those southern species that migrates northward as the summer progresses. I’ve been seeing these butterflies at Blue Jay Barrens regularly for the last few years and am hoping to find their larvae on the senna.

Even though it’s been a dismal year for Swallowtail Butterflies, I’ve been seeing an abundance of the Giant Swallowtails.

The trees to the left are what remains of an old fence row. For some reason, these trees are the best warbler magnet on the property. I positioned the trail at the ideal distance to allow perfect surveillance of the trees through binoculars. The trees are on the east side of the field and the setting sun behind you makes the warblers light up.

This side of the field contains shale based soils. This prompts a different mix of vegetation and a different pattern of regeneration than what you find in the limestone areas. The taller trees in the field are Dogwoods and are allowed to stay. Most of the Dogwoods in the woods have been lost to disease. Those in the open seem immune from disease.

A ripe Puffball just off the trail. The cloud at the bottom of the photo is composed of spores released when I whacked the fungi with a stick.

This field abounds with the Cut-leaved Grape Fern. This is a low growing fern that I’ve found in the thickest patches of tall grass. Shape of the leaflets is quite variable in this species and it's not uncommon to find many different variations all growing in the same small area.

There is quite a diverse collection of plant species in this field. Keep in mind that it is not possible for an open field to sustain itself without some type of intervention. If this field had been left untouched for the last 23 years, we would be standing in a young woodland instead of an open field.

Butterfly Weed has had a tremendous year. I’m still seeing new flower buds forming on plants. Monarchs also seem to be having a productive year.

Monarda flowers are fading away, but there’s still enough nectar for this male Southern Golden Skipper. That may have been his wife we saw at the other end of the trail.

We’re nearing the end. The house if just beyond those White Pines. When building trails, remember to avoid long straight lines. Gentle directional changes in the trail add interest to your walk and increase the chances of coming around a curve and catching some animal sitting out in the open.

Here’s the end of the trail. Just beyond those trees is the backyard we started from. Half a mile in five days is a pretty slow march.


  1. ...I'm glad you took your time. There's so much to learn!! Beautiful......and inspiring!

  2. Thanks, Kelly. I walk this loop a couple of times each week and there are always new things to see.