Monday, September 18, 2017

Eliminating Invasive Plants – Summer Activities

As the seasons change, my management activities change.  Summer is a time to hunt and eliminate invasive forbs and grasses.  Sweet Clover was my initial target several years ago.  As Sweet Clover numbers dropped, I added other species that could be controlled by pulling prior to setting seed.  Now, Yellow and White Sweet Clover, Wild Carrot, Teasel, and Oxeye Daisy are all on my summer pulling schedule.  Not all invasive species can be controlled by pulling.  Sometimes, like in the case of Crown Vetch, the aid of a chemical herbicide is necessary to eliminate the plant.

This is my second year using the chemical Clopyralid in the treatment of Crown Vetch.  Clopyralid kills only broadleaf plants, and is particularly effective on legumes.  Grass is left unharmed, so no bare spots are left in the field after treatment.  The areas I treated this year were fewer in number and much smaller than what I dealt with last year.  Shown above is the largest patch of Crown Vetch I had to spray this year, and it covered only about 40 square feet.

Crown Vetch found its way into my fields as seed that was produced along the edges our township road.  I eliminated the roadside vetch last year, but some of the affected field areas are going to take a bit more work.  Crown Vetch growing beneath the canopy of tall Indian Grass is hard to spot.  The best time to search is when the plants begin to flower.

Unfortunately, peak flowering time for Crown Vetch coincides with flowering of other lavender bloomed plants such as Monarda.  Shown above is Crown Vetch on the left and Monarda on the right.  Colors are almost identical.

Monarda flowers are held above the Indian Grass leaves.  Good luck trying to spot a couple stalks of Crown Vetch hidden down in the grass.

Johnson Grass is another species that requires some herbicide assistance if it is to be eliminated.  I’ve been after this species for several years and only found seven small clumps growing this year.

When dealing with Johnson Grass, I first cut the stalks down to a manageable height and trim back any long, flowing leaves.  This allows me to spray the complete plant with glyphosate, without spraying a lot of neighboring plants.

Johnson Grass is another invasive species that can trace its origin back to the roadside.  Even though the roadside along my property is free of this invasive grass, seed produced along other sections of the road are easily caught and transported by vehicles traveling the roadway.  I expect passersby will replenish my seed supply on an annual basis.

Johnson Grass is hard to miss when it sends up a flower stalk.  This species puts on height in late July, long before the tall prairie grasses, so it doesn’t take much searching to identify new infestations.

When the plant is blooming, tops can be cut and just left in the field.  There is no chance that these flowers will produce viable seed if removed from the plant at this stage.  If treatment is done after seed has formed, it is best to remove the seed heads from the field to eliminate any viable seed being left behind.

I began pulling Wild Carrot six years ago.  I’ve had a lot of success in reducing the numbers of this plant.

Areas that once yielded hundreds of plants, are now producing only a few plants each year.

With fewer plants to pull, I can cover more area.  This is the last of the Wild Carrot infested barrens, an area that I have never had time to get to before.  I was able to finish off this field just as the pulling season came to a close.

Wild Carrot seeds were just beginning to darken during my last week of pulling.  Not knowing if these seeds were developed enough to finish ripening on a pulled plant, I removed the seed heads and bagged them for disposal somewhere other than the middle of my field.

A single Black Swallowtail caterpillar was found on one of the pulled carrots.  I transplanted it to a domesticated carrot variety in my vegetable garden.  It ate for several days and then disappeared.  I hope it went off to find a secure place to pupate. 




Friday, September 15, 2017

Cycnia inopinatus Caterpillars

I’m always pleased when an uncommon plant or animal species shows up in unusually large numbers. This year, I am finding the caterpillars of the Unexpected Tiger Moth, Cycnia inopinatus, to be several times more abundant than they have ever been in any past year. Having a bright orange body decorated with tufts of black hairs, this species is hard to miss when it’s around.

The Unexpected Tiger moth is listed as an endangered species in the state of Ohio. Its caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweeds, with Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, probably being the most common host plant. So far this year, I’ve found caterpillars on Butterflyweeds scattered over about a 30 acre area.

In late spring and early summer I’ve seen the caterpillars feeding on Spider Milkweed, Asclepias viridis. Recently, I’ve found several caterpillars feeding on the leaves of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.

A five-year-old clump of Butterflyweed growing next to my driveway is currently hosting a half dozen caterpillars. Later this year the caterpillars will move into the leaf litter at the base of the plant and pupate. They will remain there through the winter and emerge as adults next spring.

The Common Milkweed being used as a host plant is growing at the edge of my water garden. So far, this is the only Common Milkweed plant that I have found hosting any Unexpected Tiger Moth caterpillars.

Oleander Aphids have been abundant on all of the milkweeds this year. Caterpillars seem to avoid leaves that are excessively covered with aphids and honeydew, but there are enough clean leaves that the caterpillars do not seem to be lacking an adequate food supply. I hope this abundance of caterpillars results in record numbers of adult moths next spring.

video

The above video shows some of the typical caterpillar activities.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Immature Cooper's Hawk

An immature Cooper’s Hawk has been hanging around beside the house for the past week.  Its usual perch is atop the stump of a limb rising from the body of a downed Silver Maple.  This puts the hawk in plain sight about 5 feet above the ground and 15 feet from my bird feeder.

Intermittent showers from the remnants of hurricane Irma have kept the young hawk looking rather bedraggled the last two days.

The hawk is vigilant about checking out any animal movement nearby.  A pair of Cooper’s Hawks has been hunting around the bird feeder for years.  It’s possible that this bird first visited here with its parents.

This may seem like the best place to sit and wait for a meal to come by, but it doesn’t work at all.

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The above is a short video highlighting some of the hawk’s behavior.  Mostly looking and preening, with a nice tail fan in the last half.  The video was filmed from inside the house, so there are no interesting nature sounds to be heard.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Camouflaged Loopers

This is a perennial favorite of mine, Camouflaged Looper, the larva stage of the Wavy-Lined Emerald Moth.  There are two caterpillars in the photo, one to each side of the central disk.  Camouflaged Loopers commonly feed on the disk flowers of species in the Aster family, so spend much time exposed to view.  In order to look less like a tasty morsel to passing predators, this caterpillar adorns its body with bits of the plant on which it is feeding.  To the casual eye, it looks just like a part of the plant.

At Blue Jay Barrens, Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida, seems to be the plant of choice for this species.  I encourage a large patch of Orange Coneflower to grow outside the front door of my house, so I can enjoy the Camouflaged Loopers through their entire season.

This looper was cleaning its mouth or doing some similar facial area grooming.  I gave it high marks for doing what I thought was a superb Godzilla impersonation.

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The above video shows some typical Camouflaged Looper behavior.  If you turn your sound on, you will notice the chatter and buzz of Hummingbirds passing over my head.  My Hummingbird feeders are only about eight feet from me.  I posted a longer version of this film to YouTube which you can view by clicking HERE.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Solitary Sandpiper

Blue Jay Barrens is an excellent example of a xeric environment, meaning that the shallow, well drained soils cause the ground to be exceedingly dry.  It’s always a treat to see a visiting shorebird, since no shores occur here in a typical summer.  Solitary Sandpipers occasionally stop here, but this is the first time I’ve ever been in position to photograph one of these birds.

The flood of July 6 is responsible for a trace of the pond to still be present in early August.  It’s not much more than a large puddle, but it is the type of place a Solitary Sandpiper will go to forage for food. 

The bird seemed to be finding plenty to eat in the shallow water.  Most of what it caught was tiny, but a couple items were large enough that I could discern a dark form disappearing into the bird’s mouth.

video
Above is one of the videos I shot.  I spent about 20 minutes watching this bird.  Not once during that time did it give any indication that it was concerned with my presence.  About ten seconds into the video, the bird turns a quick 180 in response to a Mourning Dove winging just a few feet over its head. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Silvery Checkerspots

I usually don’t see more than a half dozen Silvery Checkerspot butterflies at Blue Jay Barrens in any one year.  This has been a constant situation for over 30 years, even though we have an abundance of Wingstem, the Silvery Checkerspot’s host plant.  For some reason, Silvery Checkerspots are everywhere this year, and I am enjoying the spectacle.

A couple of days ago, I sat beside a patch of Orange Coneflower that was being visited by about a dozen of the small black and orange butterflies.  I just watched the show for quite a while before turning on the camera.  I had never had any luck getting a good photo of this species, but I knew that was about to change.

After a few minutes, the butterflies resumed their nectaring and chasing activities as though I was just another part of the landscape.  That’s one of the neat things about many animals.  Their brains don’t interpret inanimate objects as threats, so if you can get yourself situated without scaring them away, the animal will soon continue with its normal activities.

video
The above video shows an interesting behavior associated with nectaring on the coneflowers.  The butterfly would pivot atop the flower head and probe each open floret as it went.  Some butterflies turned clockwise, while others turned the opposite direction.  Individual butterflies that I followed from flower to flower, each turned in the same direction as it had on the previous flower.  My sample size wasn’t large enough to make any valid statistical conclusions, but I began to wonder if butterflies could be right-handed or left-handed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Pulling Teasel

In an effort to eliminate invasive Teasel from my fields, I have taken time each summer during the past several years to remove the ripe seed heads from the Teasel plant.  Results have been positive.  The Teasel population is notably diminished over what it was just three years ago.  Instead of large Teasel patches, I now just have individual plants scattered around the field.  The problem with this control method is that the timing for Teasel seed head removal is critical.  Ideally, the activity should begin when the most mature seed heads are just a couple of days away from dropping their seed.  Beginning too late allows mature Teasel seeds to be lost during the collection process, giving rise to another crop of mature plants in two years.  Beginning too early allows for the possibility that the plants will produce new flowers that will mature before the end of the season and scatter new seed in the field. 

I was determining the progress of Teasel seed production and found most plants to be about a week away from releasing mature seed.  As I looked at the plants, I began to wonder how easily a Teasel plant would pull from the ground.  If I pulled the plant, I would not have to worry about it producing any new flowers.  Pulling would also allow me to begin work earlier in the year and increase my collection window from a few days to a few weeks.  I figured that pulling was worth a try, so I headed for the barn for a pair of heavy work gloves, an absolute necessity if you are going to grapple with a spiny Teasel stalk.

Despite its impressive root system, Teasel turned out to be fairly easy to pull.  There were a few that held tight, so I cut these off at ground level.  I’m betting that the root system won’t be able to produce a new mature plant before cold weather sets in.

The work of plant pulling went much more rapidly than seed head collection ever did and piles of Teasel plants began to line the field edges.  I spent eight hours at the task and searched an area of about 12 acres.  Only about five of those acres actually yielded any Teasel plants.  I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any infestations that I had not yet discovered.

I learned one trick that came in handy, especially in the tall grass areas.  I left one tall Teasel standing in the area that I worked and piled pulled plants at its base.  I then moved on to the next section and did the same thing.  The standing plant allowed me to easily find my cut pile when I was ready to haul the plants out of the field.

This group of ten plants represented a new infestation.  Just beyond the trees in the background is the township road.  A culvert crosses the road at this point and dumps runoff water into the field.  Along with the trash and debris from the road are often a few weed seeds.

All of the collected plants were consolidated into a single pile.  The pile is located at the field edge next to my vegetable garden and is used as a depository for any noxious plants that may drop viable seed.  I pass this pile several times a week and will destroy any undesirable plants that try to grow here.

Even the most developed seed was not near maturity.  The seed shown here has shriveled considerably since the plant was pulled two days ago and may not be viable.

Several of the plants had played host to some type of stem borer.  The borer doesn’t seem capable of killing the plant before seed matures, so it is not likely to be valuable as a control method.

Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were especially numerous in the field.  I scared dozens from the Teasel as I worked.  Fortunately, there are plenty of native wildflowers that the butterflies like just as well.  Pulling Teasel and removing the entire plant turned out to be much quicker and easier than collecting seed heads.  I’ll definitely continue this practice in the future.  At least until I run out of Teasel.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Flood 2017 - Creek Impacts

The July 6 flood certainly had an impact on the creek.  Some sections lost all lose material right down to the bedrock.

Other sections accumulated material brought down from upstream.

Deposition of stone in the creek channel was due to the formation of debris dams that temporarily slowed the speed of the water.  As the water slowed, it lost the energy necessary to carry heavy objects and the gravel dropped out into the creek bed.

Water diverted out of the creek channel carried its sediment load along with it.  A number of sand bars were formed well away from the creek. 

Where the creek left its bed with more momentum, gravel bars were left behind.

There were even a few large flat rocks left stranded far from the creek.

At one bend in the creek the flood water cleaned the face of this bedrock arch.  This feature has never been so easy to view.

Water was deep enough that the meanders in the creek had little effect on the direction of flow.  The current went straight down hill, passing cleanly over every bend and curve in the creek channel.

It was not hard to tell in what direction the water was flowing.  I don’t think a steam roller could have laid these plants down any more than this.  This particular area typically has a nice floral display in late July.  I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.

In the broad, flat areas, water depth peaked at between two and three feet.  It’s going to take a couple of years before the visual effects of this flood event begin to disappear.