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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mycoremediation update

The New Leaf Eco Center’s mycoremediation project has been progressing slowly this summer because of the heat and lack of consistent rain. Mushrooms are more closely related to us than they are to plants so they require weather conditions similar to what we are comfortable with. However, the site is finally starting to see some growth thanks to the cooler whether and rain. Earlier in the season we built a water tower to help us keep the site at the proper moisture level, and it has proven to be very effective. Our plan is to conduct soil testing at the site in mid September and plant raspberry shortly after.
Another exciting aspect of the New Leaf Eco Center is the proposed boardwalk that will connect the trail to the forest restoration section, and eventually the township trail. The construction of the boardwalk will begin this fall. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Common Nighthawk

Nicknamed the "big bat with headlights" the Common Nighthawk has a very distinct flying pattern.  If you are gazing up into the evening sky around dusk, you just may catch a glimpse of a small flock flying overhead in the next few weeks. 

Their flight pattern is choppy and erratic, and combined with a large body and sleek wings, they look like large bats cruising through the air.  The white wing patches give them the "headlight" look.  When they are sitting on a branch they take on an "owl like" appearance. Make sure to keep your eyes open for this unusual bird in the evenings this fall.  This photograph helps to put the bird in perspective.  

Happy birding! Hawk migration is just beginning so keep your eyes to the skies for some of the neat birds that will be cruising past.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blooming in my late summer garden

My garden is taking over the late summer bloom phase, though I worry that it is going to be an early fall.  Underneath of my 8' high ironweed what was formerly known as: Eupatorium coelestinum and is now called: Conoclinium coelestinum (Hardy Ageratum/Blue Mistflower) which is just starting to bloom and should continue to show color through October.  This plant will grow 2-3' in height and when happy will readily spread through rhizomes so keep this in mind in your garden.  My plants live in partial shade so they tend to stay less aggressive than advertised. 

Happily spreading is a definite trait that I look for in my plants! The more aggressive plants that I have, the less I have to weed.  I have actually only weeded my garden three times this entire summer, and contrary to popular belief it is NOT full of weeds (my husband hasn't quite warmed up to all of the Asclepias and Solidago) species planted in the garden yet.  The only thing that I have done less than weed my garden is water it! I know you are jealous--Native plants when happy, do great without too much help from us!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Sound of Summer

Well sadly, it is almost ending, but I think most people (myself included) recognize the Cicada as one of the summer sounds.   There are over 3,000 species of cicadas and they all have different life cycles.  Some last for 17 years, which is probably the most widely talked about phenomenon, and others have either yearly life cycles or life cycles that span a few years.  I have never experienced on molting, but I have heard it is a site to behold!

Male cicadas make species specific noises that come from their abdomen. The sound varies depending on whether it is attracting a mate or expressing alarm.

Here's a neat photo of a visiting cicada that I had the other day.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You may not quite be able to see him, but if you look closely you may see this Bombus sp.(Bumblebee) on my Heliopsis helianthus (False Sunflower).  

Bumblebees are among our most ambitious pollinators and are a great addition to your garden.  The males that hatch mid to late summer (also known as drones) do not sting. If you are great at male/female bumblebee identification you can impress your friends by catching the males and showing them that you haven't been stung! (silly party trick I know!)  The females will only sting when their life is being threatened, so just make sure that you act calmly in their presence and they will merrily go on their way pollinating flowers.  They do not produce enough honey for us to be concerned with collecting it, but they are easily recognizable and beneficial insects for your garden.

See how many are buzzing around your garden!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

This Skipper was also relishing in the glory of my Ironweed. 

I'm not entirely sure what type of skipper this is, and I did not consult my handy dandy butterfly guide. I think my interns were sick of me lamenting throughout the summer about my butterfly guide and what I could tell them if I had it with me.  I always waiver between bringing the field guides out in the field so that they can be used for identification and invaribely get quickly "well used" or leaving them in my house where they stay in pristine condition but do not really help my identification skills.  After writing this it seems as though the answer is clear, but I would wager that I am not the only one who thinks this way!

I know the picture is not super helpful, but ID's are welcome!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Ironweed has been busy

I know, that sounds funny, but I had some time to observe the Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) in my garden which has reached it's "maximum" height of 8' and is still growing.  My husband who has repeatedly stated that he does not like tall plants loves the Ironweed! At any rate, the insect population has been quite busy on this plant.   I found five species of insects on it in a five minute period. I did not get pictures of all of them, but I'll share what I found over the next few days.

 This guy is a Viceroy or (Limenitis archippus).   This large orange butterfly has black and white spots on the wings and looks very similar to the poisonous Monarch (Danaus plexippus). This is a classic example of Batesian mimicry, where a palatable species evolves to look like a poisonous one.  If you are a butterfly with a really short life span, looking poisonous seems like a great way to keep predators from munching on you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Athletic Bugs..

I apologize for the lapse in the blog posts recently. Things have been hectic, and downtime was spent watching some of our amazing athletes compete in the Olympics. You have to give me a little break, it only comes on every four years (at least the Summer Olympics).  At any rate, watching our athletes got me to thinking about our athletic bugs, so perhaps you do not find bugs athletic, but it is certainly a feat when a bug can eat prey that much larger than it is.  One of my favorite (and probably the most recognizable) bug that fits this description is the Praying Mantis. 

The common name comes from the position of the front legs, but as innocent as they might be, these cannibalistic insects (they will eat other praying mantid larva, young, and their mates) can be deadly even if you are a mouse! They have been seen eating mice, frogs, and of course a plethora of garden pests.  They are worth keeping around your property but be forwarned that they will think nothing of snacking on a tasty honey bee!
Check out this cool picture of this fellow who stopped by my car at the grocery store.  Needless to say everyone around me thought I was crazy as I snapped photos with my phone!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Rain Garden in August

This is what our rain garden looks like the first weekend in August. The flower that is currently blooming is Chelone lyonii "Hot Lips".  This is a beautiful plant to add to your garden that can grow in full or partial sun and would prefer to have moist soils.  This garden has really filled in since installation!! Another fun fact, I have only weeded this garden three times since it was installed.  That really goes to show you how planting plants in proper communities and proper garden preparation can greatly reduce your long term maintenance. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Indigo Bunting

In the last few weeks, I have heard and spotted numerous Indigo Buntings around the area.  I thought that we could go over a few quick ID tips on how to recognize these birds. 

The males are a small bird with bright blue coloration, much more brilliant than what you would expect from a bluebird with darker edges to their wings and a small conical shaped bill.  The females are light brown with streaking on the breast and a whitish throat.  Some of the females will have blue marks on the tips of their wings. 

They can typically be found in weedy and brushy areas where the field meets the forest.  They have a fairly recognizable song which can be heard by clicking HERE.

Above is a terrible picture of an indigo bunting that I found at Stateline Woods this week.  Can you find the bright blue bird in the top left corner of the photograph?  I also have a much better picture of a female indigo bunting.  An up close of a male indigo bunting can be seen when you click on the link to hear the song.   

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brightly colored bugs

 Oncopeltus fasciatus finally posed so that I could take her picture (these bugs are otherwise known as the Milkweed Bug.)  If you can pronounce it, I think they like it better if you use the Latin name as the common name sounds fairly disparaging--milkWEED and BUG or weed bug.  Who really wants to be known as the "weed bug".  

However terrible the common name may be, these bugs are actually fun to see in the summer time.  They are brightly colored with black and orange stripes (which to a bird means don't eat me--YUCK), and they eat the sap of Asclepias plants.  As much as we love all Asclepias, these plants certainly need predators to keep in check.  The insects like to hang out in groups on the plants which may add to the bright coloration and keep away predators. Apparently they also learn the adage "safety in numbers" from an early age!

They taste terribly because their favorite food is the milky rich sap of the Asclepias plant which do not taste very good.  I would encourage you not to test taste this at home, but I can tell you from the experience of getting the sap on my hands and eating something shortly thereafter, it is not that pleasant of a taste! 

Next time you visit one of our preserves, check out the milkweed plants to see what bugs are wandering around. 

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