Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A Tale of Two Julys (2015 vs. 2016, Part 6)

One huge difference between July 2015 and July 2016 is the greater use by birds of the interior of the Creek Field.

Last year, Goldfinches did not appear in the Creek Field at all until August, when the Tall Thistles bloomed & set seed.  

This year, Goldfinches put in an occasional appearance in June (sitting atop the Musk Thistle, wouldn't you know).  In July, they appeared in great numbers throughout the Creek Field, enjoying the Sawtooth Sunflower & the Whole-leaf Rosinweed.  In this video, Goldfinches are not waiting for seeds but are feeding directly on disk flowers.  Meanwhile, a sound track is provided by perpetually-singing Dickcissels!

For years, Indigo Buntings have nested along the Riparian Buffer and the creek edge of the Creek Field.   But this July, they moved further into the field.  Here a male Indigo Bunting proclaims his territory from the heights of Whole-leaf Rosinweed:

Dickcissels have also moved further into the interior.  Traditionally, they nest in the plums along the driveway or in the Field Buffer along the Loop Path.  (I have never seen or heard them in the Riparian Buffer.)  But this July they have moved into the Creek Field, with numerous nests on or close to the ground.   Females I see only as brown blurs diving back to their nests.   The males I'd have to be blind and deaf not to see or hear, as they like to sit atop tall plants and sing all the time!  Here Dickcissels sing while sitting on Sawtooth Sunflower and Giant Ragweed:

My records of the Creek Field in July 2015 do not include a single photo of a bird.  The Creek Field in July 2016 is blessed by birds!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A Tale of Two Julys (2015 vs. 2016, Part 5)

In July 2015, I posted photos of pollinators on plants in the wetland part of the Creek Field, at

There were photos of a Wood Nymph on Sawtooth Sunflower, an American Painted Lady on a Purple Coneflower blossom, and a Red Admiral on Purple Coneflower as well.

Now in July 2016, I have seen only one or two Wood Nymphs flying in the Creek Field (none stationary enough to be photographed) and no American Painted Lady.  I have, however, seen a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), once again on Purple Coneflower.  Note the Southern Plains Bumble Bee and the tiny green spider that appear with the Red Admiral in this video:

When I looked for butterflies, what I found was...Sulphurs.  

People all over Kansas are talking about the dearth of butterflies in 2016.   However, others are seeing what I have noticed, too--that whatever the bottleneck is that held back butterflies this year, the Sulphurs managed to slip through it.  Sulphurs are numerous all over the Creek Field and have been plentiful from the beginning of the growing season. 

Here Sulphurs (sub-family Coliadinae) rest on a grass stem near the ground, flutter over Canada Milkvetch blossoms (joined by a Plains Bumble Bee), and sip nectar from Bee Balm.

Also appearing in the Creek Field in July 2016 is the Gorgone Checkerspot.  In other years, this butterfly has flown in great numbers in the spring, just as the Golden Alexanders start to bloom.  Not this year!  The one shown here is one of only two I've seen this year.  

The main pollinators this year are bees.  Especially prominent is Bombus fraternus, the Plains Bumble Bee.  In this clip, B. fraternus is joined by a feral Honey Bee, to the accompaniment of katydids, a Dickcissel, a Barred Owl, cicadas, and right at the end, Deci panting--letting me know she's tired of photography. 

I feel grateful to the Creek Field in July 2016, because it introduced me to a new insect.

This tiny bee-mimic stole my heart.  Covered with white fuzz, she  flies near the ground, in an almost vertical position.  Her wings are thin and at times appear in a straight line, all edges parallel.  

My Superhero Dr. Beeman, using his x-ray vision to count wings that to me are only a blur, informed me that my little "bee" has only two wings & is therefore a member of the fly-order, Diptera.  

Finally, identified this sweetheart as a Tangle-veined Fly, family Nemestrinidae.  They forage near the ground and make a loud buzz.   Their larvae are parasitoids of grasshoppers and scarab beetles.  They are a check on grasshopper populations.  

In this clip, my mystery flyer is nectaring on Hedge Parsley (wouldn't you know), while a second one hovers mid-stem around foxtails.   

Deep down in the vegetation, these buzzing nectar-seekers are easy to miss.  The first one I saw only because the white hairs stood out in the dusk; the second one I spotted only because of its constant buzz.

I am so fond of this tiny flyer!  

Like magic, in July 2016, just like in July 2015, the Creek Field has helped me learn and care.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A Tale of Two Julys (2015 vs. 2016, Part 4)

It's amazing to see succession at work, with the aid of fire.

Echinacea purpurea surrounded by Hedge Parsley
(Torilis arvensis).  Creek Field, July 2015.
I've already said that the Creek Field in June 2015 was a "sea of white."  That sea continued to billow in July 2015, as the non-native annual weed Hedge Parsley continued to bloom over the entire field.   The blooms of native plants appeared to bob on the waves.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)
surrounded by  Hedge Parsley
Creek Field, July 2015.
Dracopsis amplexicaulis, bobbing on waves of Hedge Parsley.
Creek Field, July 2015

Gaillardia pulchella, surrounded by
Hedge Parsly.
Creek Field, July 2015

However, the burn on March 17, 2016 and the on-going proliferation and maturation of native plants pushed back the Hedge Parsley.  

Therefore, July 2016 looks quite different from July 2015!

Consider these contrasting photos:

Creek Field, looking west, July 2015.
Hedge Parsley fills the field.  Yellow Ratibida pinnata &
lavender Monarda fistulosa are in the foreground.

Creek Field, looking west, July 2016
No Hedge Parsley visible!

Creek Field, looking west, July 2015
Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) stands up above the sea of

Creek Field, looking west, July 2016
No Hedge Parsley visible!
Flowers from front to rear:  Canada Milkvetch,
Daisy Fleabane, Purple Coneflower,
Gray-headed Coneflower,
Whole-leaf Rosinweed, Bee Balm

Creek Field, looking north.  July 2015
Creek Field, looking north.
July 2016

Creek Field, looking northwest.  July 2015

Creek Field, looking northwest.   July 2016

Individual species also show the change.

Here's Long-bearded Hawkweed (Hieracium longipilum):
Hawkweed, Creek Field, 2015

Hawkweed, Creek Field, 2016

Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis):

Canada Wild Rye, Creek Field,
July 2016.  The Wild Rye is
more prolific, and the Hedge Parsley
has been completely replaced by Giant
Canada Wild Rye, Creek Field, July 2015

Flannel Mullein (Verbascum thapsus):

Flannel Mullein (brown stalks, done for the year).
Creek Field, looking southeast.
July 2015
Flannel Mullein (blooming, foreground)
Creek Field, looking southeast.
July 2016

In July 2015, Hedge Parsley was like the canvas on which the other species were  painted.  

In July 2016, that's not the case.   There's still plenty of Hedge Parsley in the Creek Field.  But now it's just one species among many--just one figure in the tableau.   

Hedge Parsley in foreground--
one species among many.
Creek Field, looking west.
July 2016
So what's the canvas this year?

Maybe what it was last year, too, under the merely visual resemblance to a sea of white--the vast, incredible earth-sun power of SUCCESSION.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A Tale of Two Julys (2015 vs. 2016, Part 3)

My fascination with insects often turns into horrified fascination.  Nature is not red in tooth and claw--it is every color of the rainbow, with creatures that don't even have teeth or claws.   What to say about the wasps that paralyze spiders and then furnish their nests with them so that when the wasp larvae hatch, they can eat the spider alive?

Last July, my phone camera caught two Ferruginous Spider Wasp (Tachypompilus ferrugineus) females fighting furiously on the ground in front of the cement wall of our back porch.  The prizes were a paralyzed spider lying nearby and an (apparently highly desirable) burrow site in a crack in the concrete.  The defeated female flew away (and rested under my truck, off-camera), while the victor grabbed the spider, dragged it a short way, then set it down while she groomed herself.  After investigating the burrow, she retrieved the spider and dragged it into the burrow, all the while followed by a mysterious fourth character, who briefly entered the burrow as well.   I noticed this shadowy presence only when I watched the video--I didn't see him in real life.  In the video he never shows his face (or head, thorax, or abdomen).   However, my superhero Dr. Bugman (aka Dick Beeman) speculates that this interested fourth party could have been the spider's mate, following her pheromone trail.   The small wasp at the end could well be the victor's mate, as male wasps are smaller than the females.

Compared to Spider Wasps, the Wheel Bug (Arilus cristata) is downright genteel.  He is just an honest predator, killing other insects and eating what he kills.   His meals are free-range, right up to the end.   

In mid-July 2015, I watched a Wheel Bug on a Compass Plant ingest a Cucumber Beetle.  

Wheel Bug stalks Cucumber Beetle
Road Field Buffer
July 14, 2015
I couldn't help but identify with both the predator & the prey.   Even a tiny act of predation, when closely considered, inspires existential ponderings.

I  wrote about this incident & included a video in an earlier post:

Now one year later, I went back to that same Compass Plant.  It is in the field buffer that was burned this year, on March 17, 2016.  

So far this year, it has sent up lush leaves but no flower stalk.  
The Compass Plant that hosted
the Wheel Bug & the beetle
in 2015.  In an area that was
burned this year, it has so far
sent up only leaves.

Just across the driveway in an unburned area, Compass Plants are blooming heartily.  

A neighboring Compass Plant
blooms across the driveway, in an unburned area.
However, there are no Wheel Bugs on the flowers.  The flowers seem devoid of animal life altogether.    But closer inspection reveals tiny ants and several spiders so small they are scarcely visible to the naked eye.  

This July is different from last July!

I have yet to see an adult Wheel Bug anywhere this year.  

Since July 2015, I have learned that newly hatched Wheel Bugs do not grow their "wheel" until the final molt.   Until then, they have a raised back end!  
A Wheel Bug nymph, June 2016.  In the final instar, he will
trade that raised rear-end for a thoracic wheel.  

I have been seeing Wheel Bug nymphs around since June.   Where are the adults?  

I hope all is well in Wheel Bug land.

A Wheel Bug is a perfectly miniaturized cross between a dinosaur and an elephant.   The dinosaur was the one Alley Oop rode around.

Young or old, a Wheel Bug is a spiffy bug!  

I will be very happy to see the adults--on whatever plant they choose this year.  

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A Tale of Two Julys (2015 vs. 2016, Part 2.5)

Okay, so I'm not seeing the same pollinators I saw last July--but I am seeing some new ones.   New to me, anyway, are the Tachinid fly shown in this video and the Vespid wasp, both appearing in the Creek Field at the beginning of July 2016, on the blossoms of White Sweet Clover:  

Wouldn't you know, these two pollinators had to appear on a non-native plant, White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba), a biennial introduced to North America in the 1700s.   So far I haven't worried about non-native annuals or biennials in the Creek Field.   As the the native perennials advance, they have pushed the more shallowly-rooted, short-lived invaders aside.  But White Sweet Clover has a reputation for being weedy, so I guess I'd better keep an eye on it.  On the other hand, keeping an eye on it has shown me that pollinators like it.   Beekeepers find it a good source of pollen for their honeybees. 

A presenter at this year's convention of the Kansas Native Plant Society told about her surveys of pollinators in prairie restorations. She found that pollinators were preferentially using many non-native biennials & annuals.  Her conclusion:  We should include more native annuals & biennials in our seed-mixes, as clearly from the pollinators' perspective the native plants are leaving some niches unfilled.  

In the meantime, I will tolerate a discreet non-native plant or two, especially if they're loaded with pollen!

Gathering pollen seems like a lovely occupation--of benefit to the plants as well as the insects.    

But my insects have other habits as well, some of them not so pretty.  The  Tachinid shown here is a "parisitoid"--one that kills its host from the inside out (as opposed to a straight-out parasite, that just lives off its host).  This fly lays eggs in caterpillars, and the larvae eat their way out, killing the caterpillars.  Tachinid flies provide important control of tent-worm caterpillars and some agricultural pests.  However, Tachinids also enjoy caterpillars of many species, including those that turn into beautiful butterflies.  

The wasp shown in the video is a Vespid wasp, one of the potter, mason, and pollen wasps, most likely Monobia quadridens.  This wasp is a pollen-eater, but a connoisseur of caterpillars as well.  M. quadridens provisions her nest with caterpillars!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A Tale of Two Julys (2015 vs. 2016, Part 1)

Some of these posts have given the impression of steady progress in the restoration of a native-plant community to our bottomground.   
And it's true--succession is unfolding before our eyes.  There are fewer non-native invasives, fewer weedy annuals, more native perennials, and a greater number of species.  

A Marine Blue (Letotes marina) nectars
on American Bellflower
(Campanulanum americanum, native annual volunteer). 
Creek Buffer.   July 15, 2015
However, it is not true in every area.   

For example, a year ago I photographed pollinators all over American Bellflower blossoms.  

Here are a Marine Blue, a Resin Bee,  a Longhorn Bee, a Brown-belted Bumble Bee, and a Cicada Killer, all nectaring or pollen-gathering on the same Bellflower plant and all from an hour or two on July 15, 2015.

A Resin Bee
(Megachile sp., sub-family Chelostomoides)
A member of the Leafcutter family, but   
lines cells with resin or dirt instead of leaf parts

Longhorn Bee (Melissodes sp.) on Bellflower.
Note long antennae & the yellowish-white hairs
on  hind legs.
Creek Buffer.  July 2015.

Brown-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus griseocollis)  
Creek Buffer, July 2015

Resin Bee, another view.
July 2015

A Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus)
Creek Buffer.  July 2015

All of these species appeared on a single clump of volunteer American Bellflower.   That one clump was accompanied by a rudimentary second clump a few feet away. That was it for American Bellflower on the Creek Buffer in 2015.  

Now a year later there are at least 8 clumps of Bellflower in that same area, while there are new patches getting started, one on the southern edge of the Creek Buffer and one at the northeast corner.

But there are no pollinators!

I've sat and watched one clump after another, but no luck.  Not a single butterfly, bee, or wasp has come to the blossoms.
All dressed up and ready
for the party--
but where are the guests?
Creek Buffer.   July 2016.

This clump of volunteer Bellflower shares with
Switch Grass an area newly liberated from Crown Vetch.
South end of Creek Buffer.  July 2016. 
This clump is north of where
Bellflower appeared last year.
Creek Buffer.   July 14, 2016

The setting sun breaks into spectrums of color
around a new bunch of American Bellflower, one
of  8 blooming in the original area.
Creek Buffer.  July  14, 2016
 American Bellflower is volunteering in greater numbers this year than last.

Where are the pollinators?  Why am I not seeing them this year?

Some possibilities:

1)  The greater number of Bellflowers means that pollinators have more to choose from.  That means my camera & I have less chance of being in the right place at the right time.

2)  The greater number of species blooming in the Creek Field means that pollinators aren't so dependent on Bellflowers.   Again, my chances of seeing them go down.

(I like those first two hypotheses.)

3)  A restoration means that flower numbers increase exponentially, in a big burst.    Perhaps insect reproduction is not synchronized with such bursts.   

4)  Perhaps pollinators are declining for reasons other than habitat-loss, so restoring habitat isn't enough to bring them back.

(Boy, do I hate that one!)

5)  Maybe this is just one of the changes--mysterious ups and downs--that characterize any ecosystem, with causes too numerous & tangled for us to ever understand.

(This one is always true to a certain extent--which doesn't dampen our desire to untangle & understand!)

5)  Perhaps our weird spring (repeated alternations of heat & cold)  set insects back.  Many Kansans have been talking about how few butterflies they've seen this year.  Perhaps this particular spring was hard on some pollinators.

6)  Some but not all.  I am seeing many Bumble Bees on the Creek Field flowers, mostly Southern Plains Bumble Bees (Bombus fraternus).   That's a species that's doing just fine.   But I have not seen the species I saw on Bellflower last year--the Brown-belted Bee, the Longhorned Bee, the Resin Bee, the Marine Blue--   

Where are they?  What has happened to them?

If any readers of this blog have thoughts on this topic, please leave  a comment--or email me at

Thank you!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: June 2016 (after Burning in March)

Overview of Creek Field, early June 2016, looking west
The white blossoms are Daisy Fleabane, not
Hedge Parsley; the lovely pink flower is Echinacea
I had to describe the Creek Field one year ago--in June 2015--as a "sea of white."  That was due to the Hedge Parsley, a weedy non-native annual, that blanketed the field with trillions of white flowers. 

The overview pictures here show that one year later, in early June 2016, the dominant color is green.   

Overview of Creek Field,
looking east, early June 2016.
That's Giant Ragweed in the
Much of that hue was furnished by the native perennials that were in our seed mix--Bee Balm, Sawtooth Sunflower, Whole-leaf Rosinweed, Canada Milkvetch, False Sunflower, Eastern Gamagrass, & Canada Wildrye--all of which appeared in early June with hardy green growth.  To that growth was added a proliferation of the stems & leaves of volunteer native plants--Maximillian Sunflower, Gray-headed Coneflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, Goldenrod, Tall Thistle, Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola), Horseweed (Conyza canadensis), Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), and Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida).   

 (I discuss in previous posts the non-native invasives--Musk Thistle, Crown Vetch, Poison Hemlock, and the Sweet Clovers-- which I also had to deal with in June.)

As June progressed, blossoms of various colors appeared amidst the lush green growth, as the different species began to bloom.   

Eastern Gamagrass bloomed luxuriantly!    It has an impressive, and to me improbable, reproductive structure.   It must work, as we have lots of Eastern Gamagrass--about twice as many flowering plants as last year.  

The little curved
worm-like structures hanging down toward the bottom of the
inflorescence are the female flowers.  The purple cones hanging
from white stems further up are the male flowers!

Big-flower Coreopsis, Indian Blanket Flower, and Purple Coneflowers all bloomed in early June.

Large-flowered Coreopsis
(Coreopsis grandiflora)
Native perennial.  In our seed mix.
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella)
Native annual.   In our seed mix.
Behind the Gaillardia is a stand of  Gray-headed Coneflower.

Echinacea purpurea blooms in front of a
stand of Saw-toothed Sunflower,
with  the seed pods of Spiderwort
forming to our right.


Uh-oh!  There was a pop-quiz on Sunflowers!  

Despite having devoted myself to Sunflower Studies last year, new yellow blossoms & fresh green growth made me wonder how much I could remember.
The bracts and blossoms of
Saw-toothed Sunflower,
(Helianthus grosseserratus)  

False Sunflower leaves.
I had to remind myself that Saw-toothed Sunflower has long, skinny bracts that are loose & wiggly, while False Sunflower can often be recognized by its butter-yellow inflorescence atop a long, naked stem.  
False Sunflower
(Heliopsis helianthoides)  

I had to learn that False Sunflower has leaves that are sturdy opposites, while Saw-tooth Sunflower has variable leaves. 

Saw-tooth Sunflower was at first confusing to me because one of my books says that its leaves are alternate.   What I was seeing coming up had opposite leaves, with pairs often at right-angles to each other, forming a four-pointed star.  Finding a source that said "variable" was a huge help to me, and indeed, as the month progressed, the later leaves, further down the stem, were often alternate.   Also confusing was the fact that Jerusalem Artichoke, when it first came up, had pairs of leaves at right angles,  too, also forming a four-pointed star.  Helpful there was realizing how rough-hairy the stems of Jerusalem Artichokes usually are, compared to the smooth, almost waxy stems of Saw-tooth Sunflowers.
Saw-tooth Sunflower leaves
and stem.
Rosa Escamilla
with Canada Wild Rye
Creek Field, June 16, 2016
During the week of June 11, we were so blessed to have visits from dear friends--Nancy Fey, Rob Prince, Tom Fey, Molly Prince, K'Naz Raffa, and Rosa Escamilla--and to share the Creek Field with them!  During that time I kind of forgot about my camera, so I have only one photo remaining from that time:  a photo of Rosa, admiring Canada Wild Rye in the Creek Field.

Bee Balm, budding
June 16, 2016
Every year I miss 8 days of Creek Field, due to family reunions in Wisconsin.  

This year as I was getting ready to leave, Bee Balm and Canada Milkvetch were getting ready to bloom!

Canada Milkvetch, budding
June 16, 2016

 When I returned, both species were in full bloom.

Bee Balm, blooming
June 26, 2016
Canada Milkvetch blooming
Bee Balm blooming prolifically.

Bee Balm and Canada Milkvetch both bloomed prolifically!

Canada Milkvetch blooms amid Purple Coneflowers & Black-Eyed Susans

We weren't surprised to find Canada Wild Rye blooming, as it had been in our seed mix.

Canada Wild Rye blooming
We were, however, surprised and pleased to find a native foxtail blooming, probably Setaria parviflora.  

Setaria parviflora (?) in Creek Field
June 26, 2016

Good luck!  May you find your niche.   And may you be happy here!

Saw-tooth Sunflowers blooming
June 26, 2016

By the end of June, Saw-tooth Sunflowers were blooming, with their characteristic wind-blown look.
That characteristic wind-blown look

Purple Coneflowers, which have appeared every year since 2013, increased their numbers & locations in 2016.  They bloomed throughout June.

Purple Coneflowers
Echinacea purpurea
bloomed profusely, and in many
new places in the Creek Field,
throughout June 2016.
Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
Along the Loop Path
Creek Field, June 26, 2016

However, the native annuals that were in our seed mix, such as Plains Coreopsis and Indian Blanket Flower, decreased their numbers.  

For a brief time in June 2013, they covered the field!  

Now they reseed and reappear in only a few areas, mostly along the edges. 

Blanket Flower
(Gaillardia Pulchella) grew 4' tall
in order to compete with the neighboring
Gray-Headed Coneflowers and
Bee Balm.
Creek Field, June 26, 2016

One yellow Blanket Flower bloomed in the middle of the field.   To do so, it grew to four feet--twice its usual height!

Whole-leaf Rosinweed towers over Giant
Ragweed on the left, while Saw-tooth
Sunflower does the same on the right.

There were large patches of Giant Ragweed in parts of the Creek Field during June.  But it's clear from this photo that over time this volunteer annual will be given a run for its money by perennials such as Whole-leaf Rosinweed and Saw-tooth Sunflower.  

Whole-leaf  Rosinweed
(Silphium integrifolium) growing tall.
Saw-tooth Sunflower is blooming in the background.

Whole-leaf Rosinweed grows tall before it blooms.

Whole-leaf Rosinweed leaves.
From this picture of its leaves, you can see where it gets its name.  The leaves do not have separate stems but appear to be one "whole leaf."

Compass Plant
Silphium laciniatum
June 26, 2016

Tall as the other sunflowers may grow, the volunteer Compass Plant continued to dominate the skyline right up to the end of June.  Note how different its leaves are from those of its cousin, Whole-leaf Rosinweed.

Compass Plant leaves.

Compared to the "sea of white" that was the Creek Field one year ago, the Creek Field in June 2016 offered some lovely vistas of varying heights, widths, shapes, and colors.  

Creek Field, looking southwest, June 26, 2016.   Photo shows blossoms of Eastern Gamagrass,
Purple Coneflower, Bee Balm, Canada Milkvetch, Fleabane, and Gray-headed Coneflower.

Creek Field, looking northwest, June 26, 2016.   Photo shows blossoms of Fleabane, Purple Coneflower, Clasping Cone Flower, Gray-headed Coneflower, Bee Balm, and Eastern Gamagrass.

Hopefully, the variety that was pleasing to the human eye will be just the variety needed by creatures of bottomland prairie!