Friday, March 3, 2017

Burning the Bottomground: Feb. 21, 2017

We burned the Creek Field and the Road Field on Feb. 21, 2017.  Before the smoke had cleared, hawks and eagles lined the field.  These raptors have stayed around or revisited every day for the two weeks following the burn.  While the field is bare, the rodents which are normally hidden in the vegetation are easy prey.   Here is a clip of some of the rodent runs and burrows revealed:

Also, small birds find the newly burned field great for foraging!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Creek Field Animal Homes

Yesterday I asked if anyone could help me identify the residents of the animal homes shown in the video, all located in the wooded areas between the Creek Field and McDowell Creek.  Also, I wanted to know about the little white circles scattered just outside a hollow tree.  Animal?  Vegetable? Mineral?

Today I was thrilled to receive an answer from one of the most knowledgeable mammalogists in the State of Kansas.   KSU's Andrew Ricketts wrote as follows:

The first animal home (the hollow tree) in your video has a lot going on, and, likely, a long history.  The secret is the little white circles, which are the pits from hackberry fruits.  Many animals eat hackberry fruits, but most only digest the outer part of the fruit, and then pass the little white pits in their feces.  Raccoons often consume the fruits in very large quantities in the winter.  They also defecate repeatedly at latrine sites to mark their territories.  This results in a buildup of many hackberry pits in a small location (often at the base of a den tree that has a hollow area large enough for a raccoon to enter).  Mice, usually white-footed mice around here, are able to bite through the hard shell that forms the pit of the hackberry fruit, which allows them to eat the seed that is contained within the pit.  They will eat fruits and seeds that are scattered on the ground, but will also mine seeds from raccoon latrines because they are large deposits of easily accessible food.  The little white circles are hackberry pits that mice have opened in order to eat the seed.  From what I can see in the video, I think that white-footed mice have lived in the hollow portion of the tree and have been depositing seed remains in there for a very long time.  Recently, the wood near the ground in the hollow part of the tree has become rotten enough that a larger animal (probably a raccoon or a skunk) was able to dig into the hollow area, in order to get inside and use it for a den.  The red substrate is rotten wood that the larger animal scattered as they were opening the hollow, and the seed remains came along with it.

As for the hollow log on the ground, it looks like either a mouse or an eastern woodrat (aka packrat), or both are living in there.  If it is a mouse home, they would likely be white-footed mice, given that it is located in a wooded area.

It is hard to be sure about the holes in the ground near the pocket gopher mounds that are featured near the end of the video.  As I hinted at, the mounds of dirt are from pocket gophers cleaning out their burrow system that is below ground.  They almost never leave holes in the ground that would allow a predator, such as a snake, easy access to the burrow system, though.  In my work with small mammals at Konza, I regularly observed deer mice, prairie voles, and cotton rats escaping into similar holes that they had made, which gave them access to the pocket gopher tunnels.  So, my best guess is that similar species of rodents have made the holes near the pocket gopher burrow system, to make their home.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I think it is really neat that you are sharing so much natural history from your property with others.

Thank you so much for this information, Drew.  You're the best!
I am so grateful for your expertise and your kind & generous willingness to share it.
All best,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Big Bluestem Rapid Responders Visit Senators' Offices: No to Jeff Sessions!

Betsy Roe delivers statements
opposing Jeff Sessions  to the Topeka office 
of Senator Pat Roberts.
(The statement from the group follows 
Carl Reed's letter below).

The Big Blue-stem Rapid Responders are a group of 38 Kansans from 7 zip codes who have banded together to speak up for human rights in response to the election of Donald Trump.

On Jan. 24, they visited the offices of Kansas senators to urge that the senators vote No on the nomination of Jeff Sessions.
Carl Reed delivers his letter to the Manhattan office of
Senator Jerry Moran
(Letter below)

January 23, 2017
Senator Moran:

You have an opportunity to show integrity and honesty. You do not have to be swept up in the wave of bigotry and anti-democracy that is the Trump agenda. The men and women who founded Kansas stood against Jeff Davis and would have stood just as strongly against Jeff Sessions. You do not have to continue to produce a voting record identical to senators from the states that blocked Kansas from the union. You can make us proud!

I am sure you are familiar with the letter that President Abraham Lincoln sent to a friend in Springfield, Illinois in March of 1865.

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Within a month the president was killed. His prayer, however, was answered for one hundred and fifty-one years. Then, on November 8, 2016, Lincoln’s fears were realized. On January 20, 2017, the United States government passed from a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” to a government of the rich and white for the rich and white. President grab’embythepussy has selected Jeff Sessions to enforce that change. Refuse to be a party to the destruction of your democracy.

Carl Reed
1418 Leavenworth

Manhattan, Kansas

January 24, 2017
Dear Senator Roberts:

Please protect ALL Kansans—vote NO on Jeff Sessions!  

There is so much evidence of Mr. Session’s bias! 

But today we would like to present to you just two documents: 

1)      A letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., opposing Jeff Sessions’ confirmation to the federal bench in 1986; and
2)      A letter from Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming by anti-gay attackers, opposing Jeff Sessions’ confirmation now. 

Mrs. King writes,  “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.”   She is referring to Session’s prosecutions of black organizers in Alabama, during which rural African-American first-time voters were repeatedly interrogated, threatened, and harassed.  (For more, see Lift Every Voice and Sing, pp. 183-219.)  She goes on,  “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”   She concludes that in trying to suppress the black vote, Sessions attempted to achieve “with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.”  We could add, with truth, that suppressing the black vote is what the KKK did for 100 years with beatings, torture, and murder.

We Kansans do not want our senator to elevate a practitioner of racist voter suppression to be attorney general!

Mrs. Shepard writes that Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but that Senator Sessions was not among them.  Instead, she writes, “Senator Sessions strongly opposed the hate crimes bill—characterizing hate crimes as mere “thought crimes.”   “My son was not killed by ‘thoughts’ or because his murderers said hateful things,” she says.  “My son was brutally beaten with the butt of a .357 magnum pistol, tied to a fence, and left to die in freezing temperatures because he was gay.”  She concludes, “Senator Sessions’ very public record of hostility towards the LGBTQ community and federal legislation designed to protect vulnerable Americans, including the Voting Rights Act [and the Violence against Women Act], makes it nearly impossible to believe that he will vigorously enforce statutes and ideas that he worked so hard to defeat.”

We Kansans do not want our senator to elevate to the position of chief law enforcement officer of the US someone who is hostile to the  LGBTQ community and unwilling to protect vulnerable Americans.       

We are a group of 38 Kansans from 7 different zip codes.    

We expect our senator to protect ALL Kansans.   We expect you to refuse to vote for someone who would make some Kansans more vulnerable and leave them without the equal protection of the law.

Please let us know one way or the other whether or not you can fulfill our expectations. 

Thank you for your consideration!

Big Bluestem Rapid Responders
Margy Stewart, Coordinator
11003 Lower McDowell Rd.
Junction City, Kansas  66441

Monday, January 16, 2017

Deci, Mac, Betsy, & Margy on the Beaver Dam: New Year's Eve, 2016!

Can this be only 2 weeks+ in the past?

On New Year's Eve Day, Betsy and I took our dogs and went hiking along McDowell Creek.

We found a beaver dam that had been constructed around a chunk of earth that had broken loose from the bank and somehow migrated to the middle of the creek.     The beavers then connected it to both banks with sticks and rocks.

Betsy and I walked on those sticks and rocks, teetering precariously, until we reached that chunk of earth.  There we sat in the sun and listened to the creek ripple as it broke through tiny breaks in the dam on either side of us.   Little Mac sat between Betsy's feet and looked at everything wide-eyed.  Deci was sure we were in Fun Land.   So many sticks! and so close together!  And right by the creek!!  

We delighted in Deci's delight!   

Sitting by a splashing creek in the sun is akin to sitting by a camp fire in the dark.  You can't help but speculate and wonder and probe the mysteries all around.

Our thoughts and talk flowed just like the creek.

Happy, happy new year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: The Importance of Late, Late Bloomers

Late-blooming Tall Thistle [Cirsium altissimum] is incredibly important to pollinators toward the end of the growing season--from mid-July to mid-September.  (See earlier posts: & )
Sweat Bee
Family Halictidae, Tribe Halictini
on Hairy Aster
Creek Field, Oct. 2016

But with the extended and oddly warm fall, pollinators kept going even after the Tall Thistle had gone to seed.  

Then, late, late bloomers became important!  
Sweat Bees (Halictidae, Tribe Halictini) on Hairy Aster
October 2016
Creek Field

Especially beneficial was Hairy Aster (Symphiotricum pilosum), a total volunteer in the Creek Field.  This perennial bloomed in late September and continued blooming throughout October.  

Sweat Bees (pictured above & in the video below) loved the  Hairy Asters!

Among insects, bees are the most important pollinators. 

However, Black Blister Beetles (Epicauta pennsylvanicus) were also all over the Hairy Asters.  Here they are in the October Creek Field, munching on the petals of Hairy Aster, grooming themselves, and tapping each other in puzzling but suggestive ways.  

The role of beetles in pollination is not as well known as the role of bees.   But we can see that these beetles certainly move from flower to flower.  And is that pollen we see glistening on their bodies?

Moths and flies are also important pollinators. 

Here are two moths I found on the Hairy Asters in October:  The Two-Spotted Herpetogramma, also known as the Southern Beet Webworm, is on the left, and the Beet Webworm Moth is on the right.  
Herpetogramma bipunctalis on Hairy Aster
Southern Beet Webworm Moth or
Two-Spotted Herpetogramma
Creek Field, October 2016

Spoladea recurvalis
Beet Webworm Moth on Hairy Aster
Creek Field, October 2017

The two are in the same family (Crambid Snout Moths, Crambidae), but are in different genera.  However, their similar common names suggest they are both obnoxious to beet-growers! 

Fly on Hairy Asters
Creek Field
October 2016
Flies also go for the carbohydrates in nectar and the protein in pollen, pollinating along the way.

This gorgeously iridescent fly is either a member of the Calliphoridae family (blow flies) or the Muscidae family, genus Neomyia (Neomyia larvae live in dung).  

A gorgeously iridescent fly (family
Calliphoridae [blow-flies] or
family Muscidae, genus Neomyia [larvae live in dung)
feeding on Hairy Aster
Creek Field, October 2016 
Note the pollen caught on this fly's hairs!

In the video below a Tachinid fly visits Hairy Asters while Halictini Sweat Bees try to get some of the goodies, too.    

Tachinid flies lay eggs on caterpillars.  The fly larvae are parasitoids--meaning they develop inside the living body of a host, ultimately killing it.

Also valuable as a late, late bloomer is Gaillardia pulchella, Indian Blanket or simply Gaillardia.   Gaillardia is a native annual that blooms early in the season and then sets seeds. But if the season goes on long enough, those seeds germinate, and Gaillardia blooms again.  

Some Gaillardia bloomed in October!  Here on the left is a delightful little Grass Skipper (Lerodea eufala) nectaring on a late-blooming Gaillardia.   

A grass skipper
Lerodea eufala
nectars on
Gaillardia pulchella.
Creek Field, October 2016
Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
crossed with Clouded Sulphur
(Colias philodice) creates this hybrid.   The
Sweat Bee to the left of the Sulphur is in the
genus Agapostemon--Metallic Green Bees

On  the right is a hybrid butterly --a cross between an Orange Sulphur and a Clouded Sulphur--nectaring on a late-blooming Gaillardia.  That's a Sweat Bee--what else--to the left of the Sulphur!

Thank you so much, Hairy Asters and Gaillardia! 

You were late, late bloomers, just like some pollinators.

You gave the pollinators somewhere to go.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Coyote Spirits

Coyotes were originally creatures of the grasslands.  They responded to over a century of eradication campaigns by adapting to many new environments. 

But it's a special thrill to see them as they are here, in their original habitat.  

This video is from a trail cam at a prairie opening at the end of our Oak Road.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, 2016: Monarchs & Milkweeds, Pests & Pollinators

A Monarch larva (Danaus plexippus)
on Common Milkweed
(Asclepias syriaca)
A Monarch caterpillar on Common
Milkweed.  Creek Field, 2016
Monarch butterflies have yet to appear in large numbers in our bottomground early in the growing season, when the Common Milkweed is blooming.   In fact, these two photos show the only Monarch caterpillar I have ever found on Common Milkweed in our restoration.

With Swamp Milkweed, it's a different story! 
Monarch caterpillars munch
on Swamp Milkweed leaves.

Every year in August and September, when Asclepias incarnata blooms in our wetland areas, it is covered with Monarch caterpillars--and many other creatures, as well.

Here a Monarch caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed forms a backward "J," indicating that it's getting ready to pupate.    

The tiny round yellow-orange creatures are aphids!

They can strip the milkweed bare.

But nature has its checks and balances.

Here is a Syrphid fly larva on the Swamp Milkweed stem, moving in on that aphid on the right.    The larva's purpose in life?  To eat aphids!

Toxomerus politus, getting minerals from the
surface of my skin, August 2016.
Though a fly, this species is a bee-mimic.
Resembling creatures that can sting is a
good protection!
This year there was a big burst of the Syrphid fly shown here (Toxomerus politus).  This species may or may not be the parent of the larva pictured above ( has a project underway to determine the species of Syrphid larvae--hard to do without DNA analysis).    But either way, the m.o. is the same:  The adult fly eats pollen, getting enough protein to lay eggs.  Then she drinks sugar-filled nectar to fuel energy-expensive flights from plant to plant.   As she flies, inadvertently pollinating as she goes, she looks for aphid colonies.  When she finds one, she lays her eggs on a stem next to the infestation.   By the time the eggs hatch, the aphids will have moved to that very location.   Yum!

Pollinators other than Monarchs love the late-blooming Swamp Milkweed as well.  

 Here is a Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris) nectaring on Swamp Milkweed.   She is one of the subtly patterned but absolutely adorable Grass Skippers.  Those eyes!  That cape!    This one lays eggs on sedges, the larval food plant.  

 Though the Monarchs munched heartily, as shown in the video above, and aphids & milkweed bugs took their toll, the Swamp Milkweed still had enough energy to produce abundant seeds.  

The seeds of Asclepias incarnata dispersing, Sept. 2016
Here the seeds of  Swamp Milkweed disperse on the September wind.

I had been worried because the constant spring rains had turned the wetland into a deep pool.   Swamp Milkweed is a perennial that likes wet feet, but could it survive being underwater for a month?    I was relieved when right on schedule it leafed out and bloomed.

The seeds promise even more Swamp Milkweed next year!