We hiked the trails from the Wildflower Garden, through the woods, and across the prairie to the wetlands. Thus, we got to sample each habitat in the Reserve. The milkweeds are beginning to bloom, and in a week or two, visitors will be overwhelmed by the various colors of milkweed and the butterflies flocking to the buffet. Each time I saw a floral vista of yellows, whites and orange from here to the horizon, my camera was inadequate to capture the feeling, let alone the colors. The flowers swayed with the constant breeze (while sweaty hikers breathed a sigh of relief), and you could pretend you were a pioneer just entering the prairie in the 1840's, when grass and flowers spread as far as the eye could see. "Won't it be nice not to have to cut trees to plant a crop," you might think. But the deep roots of the grass kept the soil moist and in place. When they were destroyed, the soil was never the same. In 2009, our feeling of history was impaired by the wail of an ambulance on the road, just out of sight from our trail.
Yellow seems to the the dominant color for the prairie, and I had trouble trying to name the various flowers using my wildflower book and two different websites specifically for prairie flowers. Although this patch of prairie was wet, thanks in part to the torrential downpours we had last night, it was fascinating to notice the adaptations for water preservation. One plant, un-named so far, had a large thick square stalk, with "perfoliate" leaves. This is a fancy botanical way of saying the leaves surround the stem entirely. When it rains, this forms a cup that retains water for some time. Other plants are succulents, with thick waxy leaves.
Red or orange flowers stand out where ever they pop up, such as this Indian Paint.
Birds sang constantly during our hike, whether in woods or prairie, and both leafy branches and swaying grasses gave them perfect cover from our binoculars. We heard plenty of birds, but were able to eyeball a much smaller number. We learned that Common Yellowthroat are just as happy in the sunny grass as the shady brush. Dick theorizes that the same few birds followed us around, calling to see if we could find them. Common Yellowthroat and a Northern Parula were the most persistent in the game, and we never did see either of them! Indigo Buntings took pity and posed for us. I caught this one just as it flew off the branch! I whistled to a Bob White that was very close to us in the grass. I think it flew off when it got close enough to see who we were.
The lady at the Visitor's Center said we should be able to find Summer Tanagers and Henslow's Sparrows. Again, we think we heard some Tanagers, but that was all. This LBJ, however, perched for several minutes in a small bush were we could actually see it. Can you believe I left my Peterson guide at home! What do you think? Henslows??
What would a prairie be without insects to eat the flowers and be eaten by the birds? With no where else to put a nest, this wasp used the underside of a large leaf to build.
Large summer-size Zebra Swallowtails stood out with their stark black and white pattern. Spangled Fritillaries got a head start on the milkweed blossoms.
A Northern Fence Lizard displayed his blue belly, while we tried to sneak up on it. Sneaking wasn't really necessary, since he didn't jump off his wooden sunning bench until we were almost close enough to touch him, and then he still didn't go far. The king doesn't have to be afraid of large two legged aliens.
Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly
The wetlands were home to an enormous collection of water lilies and dragonflies galore. Turtles, Green Heron and Great Blue Herons stalked the edges of the lake, while one bullfrog tuned up for tonight's chorus, in which he plays a leading part.
When we got back to the hotel, I found a small black crawly thing on my neck. Aack!! Ticks!! Swampy just wrote about being really sick from ticks, so I searched and found another on me. Dick had one that was clamped on, and we tried several things to make it turn loose, unsuccessfully. Online resources say those techniques are no use - there's nothing you can really do to make it let go. Just grab the @#$% with tweezers and pull it out gently. After flushing it down the john, I read we should have saved it instead, in case Dick comes down with something. Well, I guess we'll just watch and see if he starts having a fever, then we'll panic.
Enjoy these prairie beauties.
Purple Poppy Mallow