Monday, November 13, 2017


Perfumed Bounce dryer sheets keep pack rats away.  At least that's what we believed until this week, when we got a lesson in biodiversity.  

For years we've scattered these odoriferous sheets--with their sickly sweet aroma--under the hoods of machines and vehicles.  

During that time, they have appeared to keep the pack rats away.

But are all pack rats (aka Eastern Woodrats, Neotoma floridana) repelled by Bounce dryer sheets?  

Apparently not!

While cleaning out an old shed, I found several pack rat nests festively adorned with Bounce dryer sheets.    

I removed the nests but saved the sheets that were still in good condition, placing about 50 of them in a pail on a shelf.

I returned the next day and found all 50 sheets in a space between wall and roof--the beginnings of a new nest. 

I removed the sheets altogether and Mr. and/or Mrs. Pack Rat haven't returned.  

If they do, there are two live traps waiting for them.

Most pack rats use a generic scaffolding of leaves and sticks, but some are great specialists when it comes to toppings. We have found nests that were topped with nothing but soybeans; nothing but corn cobs--dog food--cat food--and toys.   My friend Mary McCoy, while doing field work, found a nest of nothing but rabbits' feet!  

The shed rats love Bounce.

If we find them in the live traps, there is transport awaiting them to the far reaches of the pasture.  

The last thing we need close to home, where our engines and electrical wires are protected by dryer sheets, are pack rats that specialize in dryer sheets!  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Motherwort, March 2017

Motherwort volunteered in the riparian buffer, greening up in early spring.  

Introduced from Asia, Motherwort is apparently invasive in eastern woodlands.  It does not appear to be so here, as it has reappeared in the same spot on the creek bank, year after year, without expanding its reach.   So far, it has simply added to our biodiversity!
Leonurus cardiaca
Mint Family (Lamiaceae)
Native of Asia, Volunteer
A traditional medicinal plant in Europe and Asia,
now naturalized along Great Plains streams
and rivers, Motherwort was used to treat
heart ailments, rabies, and lassitude (!).

You can see its rectangular stems, proclaiming its membership in the mint family.  

As summer arrives, Motherwort is overtopped by other plants along the creek bank.   I forget to look for it, so I have yet to catch it blooming.

But this may be the year!  

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Winter Annuals Volunteer

Wedge-leaf Draba
Draba cunefolia
Mustard Family
Annual or winter annual
Native volunteer

These four species of winter annuals--two native, two introduced--blossomed in April 2017 on the riparian buffer bordering the Creek Field.  All four were volunteers!

Corn Gromwell
Buglossoides arvensis (Lithospermum arvense)
Borage Family (Boraginaceae)
Winter Annual
Introduced from Eurasia, Volunteer

Slender Fumewort
Corydalis micrantha
Fumewort Family
Winter annual, native volunteer

I found a fly busily drinking nectar from Treacle Mustard (the fly is visible in the photo below).   The fly doesn't seem to object to the mustard's non-native status!  

Treacle Mustard
Erysimum repandum
Winter Annual
Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)
Introduced from Eurasia, Volunteer

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Pollinators on Flowering Shrubs, March-April 2017

In 1999, we put in a riparian buffer along McDowell Creek.  We planted over a thousand bare-root seedlings that were part of the "wildlife bundle" we purchased from KSU's Forestry Department.   The flowering shrubs featured below--American Plums, Fragrant Sumac, and Chokecherries--were in that bundle.  But the same species also volunteer along the creek.  Over time the two groups have merged with each other as the banks and channels have changed and both creek and bottomground have rewritten themselves.

This year it came home to me how important these early-blooming shrubs are to pollinators.   What did the bottomground look like pre-settlement?  I don't know, but today these shrubs are an essential early-spring sweet spot for butterflies, flies, and bees.

Right at the Equinox the wild plums bloomed.  They sent the most delicate fragrance out onto the breeze--and the pollinators responded by moving toward them.  

They weren't the only ones! I pulled a lawn chair into a thicket and just sat for a few moments.  The blossoms were alive with Red Admiral butterflies, feral Honey Bees, and flies.  

The video above shows some of what I saw.  How I wish it could convey what all my senses perceived!   The rustling, the breeze, the fragrances, the fresh spring feel....
Here Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) appears
to be blooming with butterflies as well
as flowers.

A month later, the Fragrant Sumac bloomed.   So many butterflies!  The shrubs seemed to be blooming with butterflies, as well as with flowers.

The luscious yellow blossoms were covered with butterflies, as shown in the video below.  Most of the butterflies were Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) and American Ladies (Vanessa virginiensis), though two beautiful Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) also made an appearance, as well as an Eastern Tailed Blue.  

An Eastern Tailed Blue nectars
on Fragrant Sumac.

A Mining Bee (Genus Andrena, Family Andrenidae)
enjoys the nectar-rich blossoms of Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
Also appearing was a species of bee new to Bird Runner, or at least to my observations on Bird Runner.  It was a Mining Bee (genus Andrena).  Bees in the family Andrenidae nectar on early-blooming shrubs and gather pollen to provision their nests.  True to their name, they burrow in the ground, creating as many as 8 cells per burrow, with a pollen ball in each cell.  That's where they lay their eggs--one egg on each ball.   The newly hatched larvae eat the pollen until it's time to pupate.
A female Mining Bee gathers pollen to
provision her nest.

The Chokecherries bloomed at the same time as the Fragrant Sumac.  In the video below a Question Mark butterfly appears first, followed by a Painted Lady, then the Question Mark again, followed by an American Lady.  The final scene shows an American Lady in the foreground with a Question Mark in the background.  

Flowering shrubs, you are amazing!   Where do you stop and the insects around you begin?   You have roots, leaves, stems, branches, and flowers, but you also have all around you an aura of fluttering and materializing motion and color.  

All photos and videos by Margy Stewart.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Monarchs Are Early. Where Are the Milkweeds?

Monarch butterflies hopped a strong south wind and arrived on McDowell Creek on April 8--a good month earlier than usual.  

There was plenty for them to eat--both the wild plums and the lilacs were blooming profusely--but where would they lay their eggs?  

The milkweeds weren't up yet.

The Monarchs floated here and there, just above the mustards and mints that were already leafing out--and it broke my heart to think that they were looking for milkweeds they would not find.

Still, the butterflies avoided the burns and replenished their energy with nectar.   I blessed the plums and lilacs and yes, the dandelions, that were keeping them alive.

Then on April 12, I saw milkweed noses poking through the soil.

Just in time!

The milkweeds were in an area where I had worked hard to remove the Crown Vetch.  If ever there was a reward for all that labor, this was it.  If ever there was an incentive to continue removing invasive, non-native monocultures to make room for native plants, this was it!  

The milkweeds grew quickly, and soon I found little white spheres on the milkweeds' green leaves.  
These little white balls are the eggs of
Monarch butterflies.  

Within just a few days, the eggs became tiny caterpillars......with a healthy appetite!

They need to grow quickly, because the milkweeds are home to spiders, too--and little caterpillars can make a nice meal for a spider.   Invertebrates don't seem to mind the toxic steroids called cardenolides which the Monarchs absorb from milkweeds.     Birds and rodents have learned to avoid the bitter-tasting Monarchs. But invertebrates such as spiders either have a different palate or a shorter memory.  

I photographed these two spiders on the same milkweed plants where I found the caterpillars.  Some caterpillar-molecules will become spider-molecules.    
I pray enough caterpillars will survive to found dynasties of butterflies!   

I will pray for real by creating more habitat for native plants, including milkweeds.    My prayer will be answered if your descendants follow the wingbeat trail next year and find plenty to eat and lots of places to lay their eggs.     

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Burning the West Side: April 11, 2017

There was so much fuel, the burn seemed dangerous.  But the ground was wet, the guys were experts, and all went well.

That's a Monarch butterfly zigzagging in front of the cedars at the beginning of the video.  The powerful south wind on Saturday, April 8, 2017 blew the Monarchs into Kansas way ahead of schedule.

The milkweeds aren't up yet!  Monarchs need milkweeds to lay their eggs.

But the wild plums are blooming, and so are the lilacs planted by prairie ladies many years ago.   

While waiting for the milkweeds, the Monarchs have nectar to drink!  And they are no dummies around fire.  They zigged and zagged and stayed just out of reach of the flames.   Literally, when the fire went low, they went high.   

Hey, little guys--we wish you well.  We hope soon to meet your descendants!


Burning the East Side, April 8, 2017

Rod Moyer and his excellent crew did some backburns to protect the house.  I appreciated the time they took, as they had thousands of acres to burn that day.

After they left, I burned around the Writer's Shack and the solar panel at Jerry's Pond.

The fire crossed onto our land from neighboring pastures.

From Cemetery Ridge the fire jumped to our woods.  In one place it jumped the Oak Road, both tracks of which were running water--and it jumped downhill and against a southwest wind. 
Fire makes up rules as it goes along!

Fire maintains a grassland--without it there would be no prairie--but fire is capricious.  It is helpful but in no way does it confine itself to the helper role.

The woods provide back-access to the house, so I spent most of the day burning the woods near the house--depriving the fire of fuel for a surprise attack.

Everything went smoothly because the ground was wet.  Burning in the woods meant crawling under fences and fighting through brush--it's not an easy place to move with water tanks.  But I was able to drag my flapper around and through tight spots.  With the flapper, I could push the flames down into the damp earth where the moisture put them out.   Why did I need a water tank?  The earth was waiting for me with all the water I needed.

Some of the final clips--with the narration--are video-cards I sent to Ron, who was back east with his family.   Ron recognized immediately other things on the sound track--but I want to draw others' attention to the songs of meadowlarks setting up territories and the Western Chorus Frogs calling from the pond.   While the fire consumes the prairie, small lives on the edges go on!  And overhead, the vultures circle.  They are like the burn itself--ready to turn death into new life.

I forgot all about the trail cam!  It was positioned at the Oak Road overlook, facing northeast.  It thus caught the fire coming down from Cemetery Ridge and moving west.  Luckily (it certainly was nothing I did!), the fire stopped just before the camera.  It remains in good shape!