Saturday, September 19, 2020

Migrating Monarchs

 So many Monarch butterflies on McDowell Creek!   They have been drifting through by the hundreds this week, day after day.  The ones pictured here are newly eclosed--you can see how bright their colors are, how strong and whole their wings.   

The ones in this video are nectaring on Jerusalem Artichoke sunflowers by the creek and then on Maximillian sunflowers in the Creek Field.  

These newly emerged Monarchs have reproductive systems that have not yet matured.  They are not interested in mating but rather in gathering nectar to fuel the long flight ahead.  

They are headed for Mexico!  There they will cluster with thousands of others in a mountain fir forest.   This is where their great-grandparents started out, and they have never been there, but somehow they will find their way to this exact spot.   If they survive the winter, they will mature and head north a few hundred miles, where they will mate, lay eggs, and die.   It's their children who God willing will drift north through McDowell Creek next spring.  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Don't Underestimate the Lowly Thistle!

 The pink/magenta beauty of Tall Thistles (Cirsium altissimum) comes into full force at the end of summer.  Our native Tall Thistles should not be confused with non-native, noxious weeds, such as Musk Thistle.  Tall Thistles contribute energetically to the prairie ecosystem.   With their lavish production of nectar and pollen, they attract hungry visitors--hummingbirds, bees, moths, and butterflies:

Some insects specialize in thistles, such as the gorgeous Paracantha flies.   Here several members of the fruit-fly family meet and greet on Tall Thistles.   You can see some pairing up for the famous fruit-fly courting ritual, which involves "kissing": 


Mama Paracantha chooses a thistle bud and seeks out the parts that are at just the right stage to host her eggs.   When her young ones hatch, they will be surrounded by thistle blossom--the very food they need:  


Never disparage native thistles.   Plant them!   Ecologically, they are a treasure.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Prairie Walkingstick--but don't try to walk with it!

Prairie Walkingstick (Diapheromera velii),
probably female,  as males have a spine
on the femora of the 2nd & 3rd pairs of legs.   
September is a great month for Walking Sticks and Praying Mantises.

Here's a Prairie Walkingstick (Diapheromera velii), clinging to the back door.    

This mild-mannered plant-eater looks so delicate compared to the carnivorous praying mantis clinging to the screen (pictured below).  













Notice the mantis's huge front legs, just made for grabbing--something the vegetarian Walking Stick does not need.   

  Check out those "arms!"
Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) perched on a
window screen.  He is probably a male, as females do not have such
long & fully developed wings.







Saturday, August 15, 2020

Grass Skippers Grace the Grassland!

 Restoring prairie is a lot of hard work but it's also a thrill--especially when prairie-associated wildlife start to return.   It's been wildly exciting this summer to discover some new "Grass Skippers" here at Bird Runner--that's the name given the butterfly sub-family that uses grasses and sedges as caterpillar host plants.    The Grass Skippers below alighted in or near the bottomland prairie restoration in our Creek Field, next to McDowell Creek in Geary County, Kansas.

This Arogos Skipper (Atrytone arogos) came to get minerals from the stones and mud on the banks of McDowell Creek (August 2020):

 

Arogos Skipper caterpillars feed mostly on Big Bluestem and sometimes on Little Bluestem.   They weave two leaves together with silk to create a little shelter inside which they eat and grow.   

This Byssus Skipper (Problema byssus) came to nectar on Echinacea Purpurea in the Creek Field (August 4, 2020):

Bysssus Skippers use Eastern Gamma Grass as their caterpillar food plant.   Eastern Gamma Grass has been mostly grazed out of native pastures in the Flint Hills--but it's abundant in our ungrazed Creek Field prairie restoration.  

This Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris) was just basking on a leaf of Giant Ragweed in the Creek Field (August 4, 2020):

Dun Skippers' caterpillar food plants are sedges.   In this rainy year, sedges are flourishing in the Creek Field and in the uplands.

This Zabulon Skipper was basking on the leaf of a sunflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, in the Creek Field (June 9, 2020):

Zabulon Skipper caterpillars feed on a variety of grasses, including wild ryes and Wheatgrass.  

When native plants take hold, energy extends to other species, seen and unseen.   Believe it or not, it's something we humans can feel.  It's exhilarating!  These little Grass Skippers are messengers from a restored landscape, increasingly charged.


Friday, August 14, 2020

Buntings and Grosbeaks on McDowell Creek



 
 The creek is a magnet!   Here is an immature Indigo Bunting having a bath, while an adult Indigo Bunting sings overhead:

Adult male Indigo Buntings, unmistakable in their iridescent blue, come to feed on the weeds that spring up along the creek.  Below an adult male feeds on Green Foxtail, Marestail, and Barnyard Grass:

The female and immature Indigos have brown feathers designed to blend in.   Here the male is shadowed by a cryptically colored female or fledgling:

In the video below, a juvenile Painted Bunting also comes to bathe in the creek:

Meanwhile, a female Blue Grosbeak, accompanied by an immature or molting male, is drawn to the creek:  


A first-summer male Blue Grosbeak practices his chip call and little bit of song from the weeds along the creek.    The clip below catches him exercising his voice while perching safely on the Jerusalem Artichoke sunflowers and the Giant Ragweed that grew up on the gravel bar:



 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Goldfinches at McDowell Creek

 McDowell Creek has been a magnet for Goldfinches this summer--male Goldfinches, that is.  They come every evening to sing a little bit and drink from the creek.

The females are sitting on nests and don't leave until the youngsters fledge.   The males feed their mates with partially digested seeds.   I hope to see the moms and the new ones later in the summer or early in the fall.   

Monday, August 10, 2020

Butterflies Imbibing Minerals by McDowell Creek

What are you seeing on your walks in nature?  Send comments, photos, or videos to betsy@audubonofkansas.org   Here are some things we're seeing: