Friday, September 19, 2014

Roadkill Cafe - Party of Fifteen

Last Saturday, driving home from work, I came up a rise over by the college and saw a large mass of darkness on the side of the road.  It turned out to be fifteen turkey vultures!!!


I was so excited - not only were there SO MANY of them, but they were RIGHT THERE!   A young deer had been hit by a car and its carcass was lying on the lawn, the birds (possibly a family group or two) had come in to feast.  Occasionally one would hop up on the body.  A few feet away, in the sun, three or four birds had their wings spread out.  Catching a few rays for warmth, or to help bake off parasites?

I was so fortunate that no one else was on the road (very unusual) - I was able to sit there for 5-10 minutes taking photos and video.  Eventually a car did come, though, and the birds took off, one by one.

Turkey vultures are really one of the very cool birds.  No feathers on their heads - so they can stick their heads into rotting flesh to eat and not worry about parasites getting stuck in their feathers.  Pee on their legs to keep cool.  Projectile vomiting to drive away pestering critters and people.  They are truly amazing, and along with crows, opossums, and other carrion-eaters, they make up Nature's sanitation crews.  We should do them homage.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What's Bloomin' at the Homestead

Last week while mowing the yard, I found a tiny purple blob where I had planted some new prairies flowers this spring.  I was very excited - must go get a photo of i!  Well, it took a while, but yesterday when I got home from work I decided to grab the camera and shoot it...and whatever else was blooming, for right now the grass land flowers are starting their seasonal show.

First stop, the green milkweed.  I have several of these now planted around the house.  Hopefully some will permanently take and I won't have to buy any more!  I am constantly fascinated by this flower. It's rather unprepossessing, mainly because the flowers are green, but they are quite lovely up close.

And the horsemint is at its prime!  Usually by the time I get to photograph it it is looking pretty ragged.  I do love this flower.  First saw it in the Albany Pine Bush many many years ago.

 I missed the peak for the pale purple coneflower, but some are still not looking too bad.  Very narrow petals that are swept backward help distinguish this from the regular purple coneflower.

False sunflower, I believe.  There are so many yellow rayed flowers out right now, and they look so much alike!  

Culver's root - a favorite of many a bee!  Good to have these around.

Back in the coneflower department, we have yellow coneflower,

and purple coneflower.  I don't have any green- or grey-headed coneflowers planted at home, but I do have some three-leaved, and they are not in bloom yet.

Out int he side yard is the patch I don't mow and have planted with many natives.   Sadly, the non-natives (mostly daisy fleabane) have taken over.  You can see some tall yellow flowers, though - either a coreopsis or a sunflower...I did not do ID verification on them last night.  Sadly, most of hte other prairie plants I've put in here have not survived, like the early and late figworts, the prairie smoke, prairie dropseed, conflowers, et al.

And here is the afore-mentioned purple prairie clover.  I have planted this several times, and none of them have made it through more than one season...and some not even that!  I really hope this one takes! It is believed that this flower has now been extirpated from the wild in Michigan.  Very sad.

Another one I've planted is round-headed clover, which is simply delightful in the fall, with it's fuzzy bunny-tail like seed heads.

Back around the house the nodding wild onion is about to bloom.

And the rattlesnake master is doing quite well.

Out back and around what was the veg garden, the wildflowers are doing okay, like this compass flower.

The hoary vervain (or is this the common vervain?) is not as tall as it was last year, but it is a favorite of the bees.

Thimbleweed - another favorite.  I'm not sure why I am drawn to this plant.  Maybe it's just the name...regardless, I do like it.

By evening the great St. Johnswort isn't looking too great, 

but is is sure loaded with lots of buds right now!

The native bee balm is doing very well.  At work one of our fields is nearly solid with this flower!  I guess all bee balm falls into the "vigorous grower" category!

It's still a bit early for ironweed, but I imagine in a week or so I'll have flowers.

Same with the rose mallow, but isn't the bud fascinating?  Reminds me of Audrey from the Little Shop of Horrors.

It will probably still be a couple weeks before the rough blazing star blooms.

As I snapped this photo of the rosinweed flower, I noticed there was something wrong with the bee.

She had a beetle clinging to her mouth!  She was very lethargic (couldn't eat, I'm sure), and she was also missing a foot!  Poor thing.  I tried and tried to remove the beetle (thin sticks to grab it), but it would not let go, and finally, after enduring quite a bit of poking from me, she flew off, beetle and all.  I have no idea if she will survive.

One of last year's onions, blooming.

And them back around to the house and the wild garden that is by the patio.  The yellow giant hyssop is living up to its name - the plant must be close to six feet tall!   The three-leaved coneflower and the tall tickseeds are even taller - pushing 8-10 feet, and they aren't even blooming yet.  I will have to thin them out before next summer...they are choking out all the other plants in this garden.

And then there are the plant predators.  I'm not sure (yet) which beetle these are (I'm thinking they are clay-colored leaf beetles, but am waiting for Bug Guide to confirm), but they and the Japanese beetles have been devastating some of my plants, as you can see.

And just to prove you don't need a swamp to grow swamp milkweed, here is mine...doing VERY well and looking gorgeous!

Things are starting to look very colorful outside!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Year of the Milkweed

I was very excited the other day to look out and see my poke milkweed was blooming!  I planted three last year, and none survived.  I put in three more this year, and of those, only one is still hanging in there, and is blooming!  I'm very excited.

Apparently the ants are pretty excited, too, for each flower had at least one ant on it!

Knowing that the butterfly weeds and common milkweeds were already blooming, too, I walked around the yard to see if any of my other milkweeds were surviving and blooming.  Things are not looking very promising.  No signs of any of the tall green milkweeds, but I did find one green milkweed (not tall green milkweed, just plain old ordinary green milkweed) had buds.  

On the corner of the house the swamp milkweed from two years ago is getting ready to bloom, too.  I think it's happy being by the downspout.

Out in the side yard, where I've planted several native grassland plants (in an area where grass has just not grown), I found only one sand milkweed still in the running (for some reason Blogger insists on turning the photo sideways).

And later, out in my wildflower bed that borders what was my vegetable garden (but this year is nothing but weeds weeds weeds), the whorled milkweed seems to be doing okay, too. 

Last year's purple milkweed (rare) and tall green milkweed, and last year's sand milkweed did not survive.  I was unable to get purple this year, and I hope the sand takes hold and does okay.  It looked like only one of the three I planted this year is still alive.

Why Year of the Milkweed?  Because monarchs are having a difficult time.  Numbers crashed last summer and over the winter, and anything we can do to help, which is mostly planting their host plants (milkweed) will help.  I have only seen a couple monarchs so far this's not looking good.  A co-worker found three eggs so died, but two are now chrysalises. 

Do what you can to help:  plant milkweed.

Last Day - Heading Back to MI

After spending a couple days with my folks, I had to return to Michigan...I had camp interviews to conduct on Monday.  So Saturday morning I loaded up the car and was westward-bound.  I picked up the Thruway north of Oneida, and as I reached the Finger Lakes Region I saw the signs for Seneca Falls and the Women's Rights National Historical Park.  

For years I've been saying to myself "I want to go there some day," thinking I'd be living the rest of my life in New York and the opportunity would always be there.  Never count on "some day" - unless you make "some day" today, it will never happen.

So, spur of the moment I slowed down and took the exit for Seneca Falls.

It's not a large national park...although it has several sections.  In downtown Seneca Falls is the headquarters of this national park, with a small museum, a couple little parks, and the Wesleyan Chapel.

It was here, at the chapel, On July 9, 1848, where the first Convention occurred and speeches were made for women's rights.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, at the time relatively unknown, read the newly drafted Declaration of Sentiments, based on the Declaration of Independence.  This document declared that all men and women had equal rights.

 Inside the museum, one is immediately struck by the life-size bronze statues that grace the lobby.

Many (if not all) of the figures are real historical people who were involved in the Suffrage Movement, including Frederick Douglas.

 Between the museum and the chapel is a little grassy park with a wall running along one side.  This wall is a water feature, with water sheeting from the top and down the face, upon which is inscribed the Declaration of Sentiments and the names of all the people who signed that historic document.

I sat in on the talk the park ranger gave at the chapel, which was interesting.  From there the ranger was driving to the Stanton home, and then one of the other homes outside of town that make up part of this spread-out park, but I needed to be on my way.

I did pick up a little treat for myself, though.  This is Buddy the Bison - a clever gimmick the National Park Service has put out to get kids interested in going out and visiting our Parks.  It's kinds of like Flat Stanley:  you take Buddy to various locations (presumably National Parks) and take his picture to show where he has been.  I love the idea, so I had to get my own Buddy.  And here he is, at his first tourist destination:  the Women's Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, NY.

Watch for the further adventures of Buddy and Ellen!

Day Eight - Visiting with Jackie and Sue

Wednesday morning, I packed, chatted with Paige for a bit, and then headed south towards Saratoga, where I met up with my dear friend and botany pal, Jackie.  Jackie was generously putting me up for the night, and we had hoped to spend at least part of the day botanizing.   The weather, however, had other plans.

In a light rain we headed for Skidmore and the preserve that houses some beautiful and even rare wildflowers.

Due to the rain, and the shifting seasons, there wasn't too much to oggle while we were there.  We had one plant of whorled loosestrife, 

 and the patch of orange-fruited gentians that had been in bloom the day before, were now flowerless.

This little red eft, however, was quite content in the rain.

We found a wonderful patch of squawroot - must've been at least 20, with more just waiting to burst from the soil!

I've only seen squawroot (Conopholis americana) once or twice before, so this was a pretty cool find, especially in this quantity.  Also called bear corn or American cancer-root, this member of the Broomrape family, like the other members (beech drops and one-flowered cancer-root) is parasitic and cannot make its own chlorophyll.  It is parasitic primarily on oaks (preferring red oaks, apparently), although will also parasitize beeches.

When it emerges from the ground (it being the inflorescence...the flowering bit), it is covered with brown scales which perhaps protect it as it pushes up through the forest floor debris.  Then the white flowers open.  As each is pollinated (by bees or flies, from the bottom of the inflorescence to the top), the fertilized flowers turn brown and wither.  Each is replaced by a white, ball-like capsule that contains the seeds.  When the seeds drop, they work their way into the soil in search of a host tree root, to which they attach and hang on for dear life.

Pretty amazing plants. 

The star of the day, for me, was a new life-list plant:  four-leaved milkweed.  Only one was still in bloom, although Jackie said there were more the day before.

As I've said, for me this is the Year of the Milkweed.  I tried it last year without much success.  I may have some better luck this year, and certainly I had luck by being able to see this species.  It's not one of the milkweeds listed for Michigan (it is an Eastern US and Canadian plant).  My friend Jackie says this is the only place she's ever seen it, even though the NY Floral Association lists it as "demonstrably secure" throughout much of New York.  I grew up in central NY and spent ten plus years in the Adirondacks...I'd never seen it until now.

We got to see the fun fruit of large-flowered bellwort.  

And, of course, green violet.  This is the only place I've seen this flower, but according to range maps, it should be here in Michigan as well.  

 Now, I know what you're thinking - it doesn't look anything like a violet, and you would be right...sorta.  There are violets, and there are true violets.

Violets are a family of about 800 species worldwide, most of which are in South America.  Violets all have the following in common:  one petal that is larger than the rest; a spur on the back of the flower (on the back of the largest petal); and narrow sepals.

True violets, the ones you and I think of when we think "violet" are those found only in the genus Viola.  The green violet is in the genus Hybanthus, of which there are about 150 species, most of which are tropical.  In North America there are four species:  one (the green violet) in the eastern part of North America, two in the Southwest, and one in Florida.

The green violet is known to botanists as Hybanthus concolorHybanthus is from the Greek root word hybos, which means hunch-backed, presumably because the spurs make the flower look humped or lop-sided...if you look really closely.  Concolor means one color, and no doubt this refers to the fact that the whole plant (stems, leaves, flowers) are all the same color:  green.

We found some seed pods already developing on some of the plants.  Jackie opened one so I could see the little pearl-like seeds inside.  Pity they weren't ripe...I'd have loved to have brought some home to plant.

By now the rain was coming down pretty steadily, and my efforts to keep my camera dry with my arms would not be effective for much longer.  So, we returned to Jackie's house for lunch and then headed out again.

Jackie took me on a scenic drive towards Glens Falls (I wanted to stop at my favorite tea shop and stock up on African Outback - the only tea I drink, and I only drink it when I'm sick).  We stopped to see this very large, old sugar maple.

Someone ("The Lorax") has affixed this label to the tree, claiming it is surely the largest sugar maple in New York.

We were amused to see a bush honeysuckle growing out of the tree!

After picking up my tea and stopping for a snack in downtown Glens Falls, we met up with another one of Jackie's hiking pals:  Sue.  I remember Sue as the turtle lady - able to pick out (and thus survey) turtles in the water at 100 paces!

We drove to a place they called the Five Combines, which is along th Feeder Canal Heritage Trail in Hudson Falls.  This is one of their botany and birding spots.

Located next to a covered landfill, this area was once important to getting water (and boats) into the canal.

If you enlarge the photo below, you can read about the five combines (locks 6-10), which were originally made of wood.  Each one raised (or lowered) boats about 11 feet, taking about 15 minutes to do so.  

 Even on this drippy, grey evening, the locks, which are only about 15 feet wide, are very picturesque.

Jackie and Sue consulting.

I added another new plant to my life list:  tower mustard, identified by the way the seed pods lay flat against the stem, almost like scales.

In 1845 the wooden locks were replaced with "hammer-dressed limestone," which for the most part have held up well, but down here at lock 2 Nature seems to be winning the battle.

We saw lots of evidence that turtles had been out laying eggs...and something else had come along and had a feast.

At the end of the locks, the water pooled in a small pond, which was home to many wetland critters.

When we walked back to the parking lot, we decided it was time for dinner, so we stopped at a Mexican restaurant for some quick food.  Then we had to drop Sue back off at home.

Jackie wrapped up the evening for me with a grand tour to Fort Edwards to see the house where Solomon Northup had lived for three years, about ten years before his capture and being sold into salvery.  If you aren't familiar with the story, which I read as a child because my great-grandparents had the book (which I now have...a first edition), look up Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave.  The movie was out last year.  

The house was originally the Patt Smyth House, during the time of the American Revolution.

We drove back to Jackie's house and soon called it a night.  The next day I drove westward to visit the Herkimer Diamond Mines before heading to my parents' house.  I did some digging in the mines, in the steady, and sometimes pouring rain.  Needless to say, I didn't get photos (except with my phone camera).

I also didn't find much for my efforts.  The mine isn't what it was in 1988 when I visited during my first internship as a naturalist with Beaver Lake Nature Center (Baldwinsville, NY).