Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 11, 2008

A Meander at Munson

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 6:37 pm

A sticky mid-summer mid-day isn’t normally the best time to go nature meandering. Most sane creatures are seeking the shelter of shade at that time and aren’t easy to find.  For a variety of reasons, however, that was the only time I had available for my investigation of the nature trail at Munson Park. I embarked on the journey with an eye open to whatever nature offered. As usual, I was not disappointed – mostly.

  To call this new trail a “meander” is a gross understatement – it is more like a labyrinth.  The field portion is straight enough, but the wooded portion bears a striking resemblance to the maze once inhabited by the Minotaur. It winds a drunkard’s path through a dense woodlot and tricks you into believing that you are “almost there” at least a dozen times. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me except that a cloud of mosquitoes were taking the same exact path as I was. I must admit my load was lightened somewhat due to blood loss and the fact that I was carried aloft by the helpful little beasts at certain points.  Now that I have my complaining out of the way, let me show you a few of the things I found along the way.

  Before entering the deep dark wood, a Common Yellowthroat announced itself in the nearby thistles.  These summer warblers are more often heard than seen.  Their ventriloquistic “witchity witchity” calls often ring out from the dense vegetation without offering any clue as to the whereabouts of the maker. This bird was patrolling the open field edge and showed itself on a number of occasions. Take a look at the picture above. I call this composition “Common Yellowthroat on Sow Thistle in the Presence of Queen Anne’s Lace.”  The title just seemed right; I don’t know it just hit me.

  This next shot (see here) I call “A Yellowthroat Getting Ready to put Something into His Throat.”  The bird was sulking through the thistle bed seeking insects and came up with what looked to be a moth.  It had clipped the wings and was preparing the morsel for consumption. Actually, I believe the care package was delivered to some un-seen young in an un-seen nest in a nearby seen scrub thicket.  My title is probably incorrect, but so what.

  In the deep woods, my attention was distracted by several things other than mosquitoes.

  An American Toad stood guard on a muddy section of the trail. The thing was motionless, so I was able to focus in for a shot. I call this picture “An American Toad Blending into the Muddy Trail Backgound”  because it is and it does. There are two kinds of toads in Michigan: The American and the Woodhouse’s Toad.  It is worth pointing out that this one was definitely an American Toad due to several identifying features. First of all, there were no wood houses nearby and secondly, this picture was taken in America.  The most important point, however, is that it had 3 or less “warts” in each dark “wart cluster” on it’s back. The latter point is, of course, the only point that matters.  Toads do not have “warts,” nor do they give them away, but that is the term commonly applied to describe those skin bumps.

  About ten feet away from the guardian toad, I found an Oak Apple Gall and picked it up for a closer look (see here). As would be expected by their name, these round structures form along the mid-rib of an oak leaf and are caused by a tiny wasp.  When the wasp, impossibly called Biorhiza pallida by those Latin-spouting types, lays an egg in the developing oak leaf, the tree reacts by creating a tumor-like swelling around the developing larva. By mid summer, the larvae pupates and exits the apple gall as an adult wasp – at which point the structure falls to earth.

  An internal view (see here) reveals the fascinating structure of the empty larval chamber. You can see that there is a central pod suspended by a network of tendrils. The whole arrangement is very alienesque, if you ask me. Go ahead, ask me. What? Yes, I think it is a “War of the Worlds” kind of thing. There is a single exit hole chewed into the pod and another chewed through the skin of the “apple” (look midway on the left side) where the beast escaped its tiny universe. You might be interested in knowing that I call this last picture “The Universe Within.”

  I finally escaped the dark wood in a flurry of hand waves and re-entered the sun world out in the field. There I encountered a bunch of Clouded Sulphur butterflies doing their best to keep a fair distance from me.  I cornered one under the cover of some clover (see here). Sulphers get their name from the yellow color that typifies members of the family.  Some, like this one, are very light and show little of the sulphur hue.  This one tends more to a greenish shade with a few pink underarm spots (deodorant stains, no doubt).  One of the features that I find most striking about sulphurs are their wild emerald green eyes.

  In doing a little research on these butterflies, I came upon a Canadian coin that uses the image of a Clouded Sulphur (take a look). The picture on the coin looks surprisingly like the picture I just showed you, if you asked me.  Go ahead ask me again. What? Yes, even in the aspect that there is a clover depicted next to it.

  On the way out of the field I paused to contemplate a plant that I used to called the “Indian Money Plant” when I was little (seen here as “Indian Money at Munson” ). The real name is Curly Dock. This time of year the seed heads mature into clusters of rusty-colored plumes that contrast with the rest of the green landscape. If you wrap your hand around the base of one of these plants and pull upwards, you’ll come up with a palm full of that “Indian money.” A closer look reveals that these three winged seeds look just like buckwheat – that old style plant of pancake fame. Docks are in the buckwheat family, by the way.

  So, there you have it – a meandering commentary on a meandering walk without the blood letting.

 

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