Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

A. Quirky Little Character

It’s once again time for a roundup of natural Halloween faces I’ve found this fall at Blue Jay Barrens. Halloween was always my favorite childhood holiday. It wasn’t the costumes or the spooky goings on that I found so attractive. It was the fact that with a little planning and hard work, I could accumulate more sweet goodies in a few hours than I normally got during the entire rest of the year. Christmas was OK, but so much depended on the ambiguous concept of being good. Goodness just didn’t seem to be in my behavioral repertoire. Halloween revolved more around guile, a behavior that came quite naturally to me. I hope you enjoy this year’s offering.

B. Somewhat Embarrassed.

C. Smiling Crab.

D. Crusty Eyes.

E. I Think I’m a Little Fish.

F. Spooky Witch Doctor.

G. Shriveling Skull.

H. The Latest Shade of Green Eye Shadow and Lipstick.

I. Screaming Banshee.

J. Big Headed Alien.

K. I Thumb My Nose at You.

L. Who You Lookin At?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Good Day

It was hard to tell from the weather forecast yesterday morning just what kind of day would unfold. I was hoping to collect some seed, but the plants need to be dry for that kind of activity. A heavy frost was still firmly in place at 9:00 am, so I knew it would probably be early afternoon before things dried off enough for seed harvest. The problem was a prediction of rain showers moving through in the afternoon. By mid-afternoon, things were bright, sunny and dry. The only problem was a series of small cloud clusters that brought with them a sprinkling of rain.

My primary objective was to collect some seed from the Tall Dropseed, Sporobolus asper. It would be a difficult plant to locate if it wasn’t for the mass of curly leaves that a clump of Tall Dropseed will produce.

It takes a bit of time to harvest the Tall Dropseed seed. The flower stalk and resulting seeds are hidden within a sheath near the top of the stalk. This means that you have to open the sheath to get to the seed. I’ve tried snapping the grass stem to harvest the seeds sheath and all, but the stem doesn’t want to break easily. It’s easier and faster to just unroll the sheath and strip the seeds into a collecting bucket.

I only got hit by one small shower and that one favored me with a rainbow as it passed. I was amazed that clouds so small could even produce rain, let alone enough to produce a rainbow.

The afternoon was quite peaceful and free of the typical noises of human activities. At one point, crows began to pass high overhead. It took about two minutes for the end of the string to go past.

The crows evidently had a need to get somewhere and soon disappeared out of sight. Their passing was completely silent. Not like the locals whose mouths seem to be activated by the flapping of their wings.

The departure of the crows left me with just my collection of seeds and some beautiful weather. I would have to say it was a good day.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stick Time

Once again, we are having a year of abundant walkingsticks. I think they are especially noticeable because they made a home for themselves in a tree beside the barn and they’ve been falling from the tree on a regular basis for the past couple of weeks.

This Sugar Maple is the source of the walkingsticks. I’ve read that oaks are their preferred food, but there is also mention of them feeding on a variety of deciduous species. I assume they’ve been living and growing in this tree since spring. Now the leaves are disappearing and there’s nothing for the sticks to eat. I think it odd that the walkingsticks can live in the tree for an entire summer without falling out, but as mature insects they can’t seem to keep a hold. I don’t hang around the barn that often, but in a short time I’ve seen several walkingsticks fall and have even been struck by one of the falling creatures.

These guys have been quite shiny this year. They look like they’ve been buffed and given a new coat of wax.

Walkingsticks are harmless to humans, unless of course you’re careless enough to play with one and poke it in your eye. Their primary defense is camouflage. Every part of the body seems carefully designed not to resemble an insect. Many times, animal camouflage doesn’t work when viewed at close range. Even under magnification, it’s hard to believe that some parts of the stick insect are truly animal parts.

If any part of the walkingstick has a menacing look, it’s the tip of the abdomen with its hooked cerci.

They may look awkward, but walkingsticks can be quite speedy. I had to catch this guy three times and move him back down the tree trunk before I could get a shot. Hopefully, the females are busy sprinkling eggs about the base of the tree so there will be a new crop of sticks next year. I’ll be on alert early in the year to see if I can spot a few youngsters.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Prairie Garden Addition

I’ve begun the process of expanding the front yard Prairie Garden. I sprayed the area with glyphosate herbicide two weeks ago and then did a second spraying ten days later. This addition should about double the size of the garden.

The grass is dying off nicely. I intentionally let it grow a bit long before spraying, so there would be an increased amount of plant residue to protect against erosion over the winter. The plant residue will also help keep the seed from blowing or floating from the site. Spraying is all the preparation I do prior to planting. As I collect seed, I bring it straight over and scatter it on the site. I’ve found that the wild collected seed seems to perform best when planted at the time it would be naturally falling from the plant. I’m very optimistic about what I’ll find growing here next year.

Seedlings and ground hugging plants were partially protected by the long grass and didn’t receive a killing dose of glyphosate. The second spraying should have reached all of these plants and they should be starting to yellow in a few days.

The established part of the Prairie Garden has pretty much finished its growth for the season. Except for a couple of aster plants, everything has produced ripe seed and most of that seed has been eaten or otherwise removed from the seed head. There are still some green leaves near the ground where they have been protected from the frost, but they will soon be gone. It won’t be long before some of the more eager plants are forming basal rosettes in preparation for next year’s flowering season.

I’m hoping to get a little different mix of plants in the new part of the Prairie Garden, so I won’t be using seeds from many species that are already well established in the old part. One exception is the Butterflyweed. Since I discovered the endangered Unexpected Tiger Moth caterpillars utilizing the Butterflyweed in the garden, I’m planting as many Butterflyweed seeds as I can get in an attempt to facilitate an increase in the moth population. I went ahead and harvested these seeds even though I hate to collect milkweeds after they’ve burst from the pod. If you can catch them when the pod first begins to split, you can easily strip the seeds from the unfluffed pappus.

Another plant from the established garden that I will try to encourage is the False Gromwell, Onosmodium molle var. hispidissimum. I’m hoping to have a large population of this plant, so I can attract the Onosmodium moth that uses this plant as a food source for its caterpillars. I’ve already scattered a few hundred Onosmodium seeds around the new site. These seeds germinate very well after being exposed to the winter weather conditions. I hope to see a lot of new plants next spring.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dewy Webs

Someday, I should make a list of all of the natural events that I consider to be tied to particular seasons. It would probably be a pretty long list. There always seems to be something happening that I feel is intimately associated with the time of year in which it occurs. Right now it’s the frosty and dewy spider webs that I’m enjoying. You may see attractive webs at other times of the year, but it’s in the fall when the greatest abundance is noticed.

It’s proper that there should be a lot of webs now, since fall is a time when there are a large number of adult spiders present. This is also a time when many spiders, especially more youthful individuals, cast strands of silk into the sky and sail off to establish a presence in new territories. These single strands drape like tinsel across the autumn foliage.

I doubt that any spiders would care to venture onto the web when it’s covered with ice. I wonder if the web is still functional after it thaws. Maybe dew and ice cause it to lose its stickiness. There’s not much insect activity on frosty nights, so the spider must have to get out as soon as possible in the morning to rebuild a web in order to snag some day flying insects.

Dew makes it ideal for viewing the structure of a web. The strands light up like fiber optics with the least bit of sunlight.

Dew slid down the vertical strands to form droplets that developed into ice pearls on the plate of this web. Some spiders create a new web in a different location each day, so it may be that these will never be used again.

Each particular area of vegetative structure within the field supported a specific type of web. As I moved from one cover type to the next, I encountered a new village of spider webs of all the same type. Areas across the field with identical plant types also supported identical web types.

Funnel webs were scattered along the entire length of my mowed path. I investigated a couple of the webs, but could find no spider anywhere near the base of the funnel.

The dewy webs are impossible to miss when backlit by the rising sun. They become almost invisible when viewed from any other angle.

I take pictures of dewy spider webs every fall and will probably continue as long as there are webs and dew. I don’t mind adding new shots to my collection each year. What would make me sad would be to come out one fall and find that the spiders were no longer here to make the webs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Great Plains Ladies' Tresses Disappearing

I went out yesterday evening and checked on the progress of the Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses. I hadn’t been back there for two weeks and I was hoping to find a few plants that were showing signs of producing seeds. I got part of my wish, because I only found a few plants. I could only see about a third the number of flower stalks that I saw two weeks ago.

All were showing some signs of wear. This flower stalk had just begun to bloom last time I was out. The blooming has progressed, but something has been doing some serious feeding on the flowers.

Something seems to have worked its way in and consumed all of the reproductive parts of the flower.

On other plants, the flowers seem to be fading in a manner consistent with the flower having been properly fertilized. All of the plants show signs of feeding damage. I looked things over closely, but couldn’t find any clues to what had done the feeding.

The biggest mystery was the complete disappearance of plants that I know were here on my last visit. I remember sitting down beside this spot and changing my camera batteries. When the camera was reset, I took a shot of an orchid growing right here.

I didn’t remember exactly where the plant was growing, so I dug out the shot I took two weeks ago to verify that I was looking at the right spot. No doubt about the spot and that’s definitely a Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses growing there.

I went back to the shot I took last night and zoomed in on the location of the orchid. All that’s left is a stump cut off at near ground level. I’m guessing this to be the work of a rabbit. I didn’t see any deer tracks in the area and a deer would have disturbed the surrounding plant residue in order to cut the plant off this close to the ground, so I don’t think they’re to blame this time. I’ve also seen rabbits do this same thing to too many bedding plants to think this isn’t some of their handiwork. There’s still a ways to go before any of the plants produce seed and I’m beginning to wonder if any will survive that long.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tree on the Rocks

The rainy year has brought down a lot of dead trees. Dead wood absorbs water during a rain and becomes increasingly top heavy. Add a little bit of wind and the trees fall. In this case the tree has fallen in the most attractive stretch of creek. I normally let trees stay where they fall, but in this case I think I’ll intervene and clean the dead wood out of the creek channel.

The fallen tree is wedged between two forks of a small tree on the creek bank. During flood times the free end of the log may be moved downstream with the current. This will result in a levering action that could split the living tree or rip it completely away from the bank.

The tree has been dead for several years and the base is quite soft. I’m surprised it remained upright for as long as it did.

Of course the top of the tree managed to flatten several small trees and shrubs when it fell. Trees squashed in this manner usually don’t die, but they regrow in some pretty odd forms.

The tree with the big hook at the base tipped over the bank as a sapling and then reoriented itself as best it could. A week ago it was still clinging to the edge of the bank. I don’t think it took much pressure to pull out the last of the roots and push the tree into the center of the channel.

If I don’t move the obstruction, debris will accumulate here and cover some amazing rock formations. This is the only section of channel that has a solid rock bottom composed of large limestone slabs. Besides providing some fantastic scenic views, the rocks provide an egg laying site for stream breeding salamanders that is impenetrable by any mammalian predators.

It’s only a small section of stream, but I think its value is worth the work of moving the fallen trees. The logs will probably be much more valuable up on the bank where they can decompose into the forest soil. I’ll have to set aside some time to for this project while the ground is still firm. That log is probably a little too heavy for me to just grab and rassle up the bank.