Monday, June 29, 2009

Butterfly Hunting in the Big Meadow

The Big Meadow at Bernheim Forest is just full of summer wildflowers this weekend. Standing on the edge, you are impressed with the tall waving grass and yellow coneflowers. As we walked to the center with our butterfly leader, we saw the individual flowers - bee balm, yarrow, orange butterfly weed, fleabane, small white flowers we couldn't identify. The wind was rather strong, which felt good to all the sweaty butterfly hunters, but discouraged the butterflies from venturing out. Dragonflies are tough though, and we saw more of them than the butterflies.
Tiger Swallowtail
As I pooped out from the heat and headed back to the Visitor's Center, I did find a few nice butterflies around the bottle-brush buckeyes.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Great Spangled Frittilary

Eastern Amberwing

Isn't it beautiful? We are so fortunate to have a place like this to enjoy. I enjoyed hunting for small wildflowers, trying to grow and bloom before the trees shaded them out in the early spring. The prairies and meadows are overwhelming. From a distance, you see green and small splotches of color, but the variety and abundance of flowers just take my breath away. And I recommend a Tilley hat with a broad brim to keep the sun away as it blazes on the flowers, plus a strong sunscreen for anything not covered by the hat!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The One That Got Away....

Fishermen always tell tales about the big fish that got away. Binx has a tale about the big chipmunk that got away from him recently. After we returned from Missouri, Binx wasted no time darting out the door to explore the back yard after being stuck in the house for a week. He knows those pesky chipmunks are out there, digging holes in the flower beds, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
Like a flash, he sped across the yard and came back with a chipmunk in his mouth. What will he do with it, I wondered. Could I find a cage and get the critter in it for release at a nature preserve somewhere? Would Binx actually (gulp!) kill the thing? He casually strolled across the yard, keeping just ahead of my ability to focus on his head. Reaching the driveway, in a very feline manner, he let the chipmunk go so he could play with it. But to his surprise, the prey escaped!
Pippin watched all this through the door, filled with admiration. "Here it is!" he said, "Hiding in these flowers." With a squeak of desperation, the chipmunk wasted no time in heading for another hole and safety from the cat. Binx, however, was unperturbed. "That will teach those rodents! Just because one got away once, they will all know that they can be caught, and the next one may not be so lucky!"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Day in the Country

One of the reasons for our trip to Missouri is to visit Dick's oldest living relative, Aunt Edith, so we traveled to Moberly to visit her, her son and grandson, also visiting this weekend. Aunt Edith wanted to check on the graves of several relatives, so we all drove to the cemetery in the old home town. As I strolled around looking at markers of people who were born in the early 1800's, I noticed a Robin's nest atop one of the markers next to some silk flowers. Curious, I peered inside and found two newly hatched babies, and one egg still unhatched. The day was surprisingly cool, and the babies needed their mama. Although I think I was quiet, one hungry baby lifted it's head and opened up for mama. A Robin flew from tree to marker to marker, anxiously waiting for us to leave. Cemeteries don't only hold death, but life as well. Pretty cool, isn't it?
When we left the cemetery I saw a large white bird along a distant lake. "Stop the car!" I said. Sure enough, it was a single American Pelican standing quietly by the side of the lake. By now, Aunt Edith isn't sure if I am just a crazy person, or a certified bird wizard who conjures up birds in strange locations so they can be photographed. Don't I just wish! Sigh.
Aunt Edith loves genealogy and family history, so we traveled to another town to see the statue of a great-great-great-something grandfather, General Sterling Price. Dick looked him up, and he was quite a personage--legislator, governor, Civil War general for the Confederacy. Despite all the good things he did for the young state of Missouri, we will remember him as refusing to surrender at the end of the war. He took his troops to Mexico to join Emperor Maximilian instead. Remember the John Wayne movie, Rooster Cogburn, where he plays a one-eyed Marshall who captures the bad guys with the help of Katherine Hepburn? (one of my favorites) In it, his only two friends are a Chinaman and his cat, General Sterling Price! Everyone lined up before the statue for pictures. Aren't families great!
Our final stop for the morning was along the sites where she and Dick's father had grown up. Here was the one room school house. There were the slag heaps from coal mines, warm enough that the snow never melted. They wanted to see what the old home looked like, which she discouraged, but we drove out anyway. No one was home at the new residence on the property, and we decided it would be smarter to honor the No Trespassing signs. However, while they looked around I enjoyed the wildflowers and songs of country birds. Here is one that I can't identify. It sat on a phone line, signing loudly. (Whoops! Did you catch that? A bird using sign language would really be a first!) At first, I thought it might be a Meadowlark, with the yellowish belly and black necklace, but it's smaller than a Meadowlark, sings a completely different song, and the bill isn't right. Any ideas out there in the audience? Whatever it is, it will be a lifer for me! The vote is in, and the winner is Dickcissel. That makes two lifers for the week, this Dickcissel and the Henslow's Sparrow.
In a while we will drive to Columbia for dinner with another relative. Tomorrow we'll be shown off to all her friends at church, then the long drive back to Kentucky. I am married to such a wonderful man --how many men like to visit their 89 year old aunts? Of course, she told him that she would curse him at her funeral if that was the only time he ever came to visit!

Happiness is as a Butterfly...

"Happiness is as a butterfly, which when pursued is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly may alight upon you." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

As you enter the Butterfly House in St. Louis, the attendant closes the outside door and gives you the butterfly rules. Don't touch the butterflies. Don't remove any plants. Don't touch the butterflies. Then the inner door opens and you enter a world of color and movement unlike anything you have ever seen.

The butterflies, small and large, move constantly. Sometimes they brush against you as they flutter by in flocks. Delighted laughter is the first response of both adults and most children. Other children shriek in fright as the colorful insects near their faces. Identification guide in hand, you wander into the humid jungle of Central America, neck craning to take it all in.

The Blue Morpho catches your eye first, since it is a bright almost neon blue color, and easily the largest butterfly there. However, it doesn't like to perch at all! If it does land, the wings immediately fold into an upright position displaying brown with eye spots and not a bit of blue. The other Morphs go to their quiet friend and bump into him. “Tag! You're it!” they seem to say as all of them streak off together.

How can you get a good photo of a Blue Morpho? I'm not sure that can be done with a live one. I tried focusing where they flew through, thinking to catch one in motion. I only got some blurry spots of blue, since they fly faster than I can see them, press the shutter and have the picture take. At the banana bar, one might flash a little blue in between slurps of rotting banana. How about movies? Again, I aimed where they were flying, and of course, they flew somewhere else.

A white and black Paper Kite decided that my sunscreen was just irresistibly yummy, and rode around on my leg for at least 20 minutes! Obviously, they don't tell the butterflies not to touch the humans! I wonder how many other visitors went home with pictures of my leg with the Paper Kite? Butterflies attract each other with their bold colors, but many change to drab browns for defense when they land and fold their wings. Others blend in with the background even with open wings. One looks like a dead leaf, but I don't think we saw it at all. You really need to have pictures both the wings open and wings closed positions to identify any butterfly. As I processed 169 photos in the evening, I gratefully pulled out the brochure with pictures and names of all the butterflies so I could record mine correctly. Well, only a couple of mine appeared among the 24 in the brochure. I added them to the species “unknownus.” Then I saw the fine print. “The butterfly species depicted here are those most commonly exhibited in the Tropical Conservatory. On any specific day, there may be additional species, and some species listed here may not be in flight.” Yep, that pretty well sums it up.

If you get close enough, their faces are really interesting, with huge eyes, and a roll-out proboscis for sipping nectar.

Sweating profusely from what felt like 120% humidity levels, we decided to take a break and go outside to the natural gardens for local butterflies. The lovely day was cool and cloudy, and the butterflies hid where ever it is they go when they don't want to come out and play. The Garden hosts pavilion areas which are available for weddings and other event. Wouldn't that be a great place for a wedding?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Witchedy-Witchedy Whereami?

Today we headed to the country branch of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, known as the Shaw Nature Reserve, 2,500 acres of natural Ozark landscape and managed plant collections. The Reserve contains 13 miles of hiking trails through a full array of Ozark Border landscapes, including floodplain forest, oak-hickory woods, glades, bluffs, tallgrass prairie, savanna and marsh wetlands. The latter three are landscapes which once covered much of Missouri and are being restored or recreated from former farmland in the Nature Reserve. (OK, you guessed it. I lifted these fine words from their website.)
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.
Prairie Coreopsis
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.
Indian Paint
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.
Black-eyed Susan

Purple Poppy Mallow

Prairie Wild Rose

Mystery Flower - but isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Under an ongoing threat of storms and severe weather, we spent a warm, humid day at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. Their web name, "Mobot", refers to the state of Missouri, of course. But Mo is also a shortened version of "more," because they have both "more" flowers and "more" than just plants to enjoy.
Right away we noticed the glass art throughout the grounds, beginning with an enormous blue and white piece hanging from the ceiling as we entered the visitor's center. We found flaming colors in glass onions, herons, and sunbeams along with more traditional statues. Most botanical gardens we have visited elsewhere have a combination of formal and informal gardens, and Mobot follows the tradition with a boxwood garden, and gardens dedicated to iris, roses, and day lilies. Their Japanese garden centered on a large lake, serenely calm and relaxing. If koi are priced by the pound, the fish in this lake must be worth about $100,000. They were the biggest koi I've ever seen, as they waited open-mouthed for visitors to toss them fish nuggets from a vending machine. Tropical plants are housed in a geodeisic dome for a green house. Mobot's Children's Garden is much more than a garden though. Children gleefully splashed in a mobile fountain that exceeds anything Disney has. Swimsuits are not required, and most kids just ran into the water shouting before their parents could stop them. If they didn't play in the water, they climbed on rock walls, hay bales and tree houses. The town "jail" had wanted posters for those evil plants Garlic Mustard and the Honeysuckle Gang! Kids in St. Louis must love going to the botanical gardens.
In addition to the traditional gardens and exotic plants, the Kemper Center for Home Gardening focuses on the homeowner, no matter how much space they may have. We were pleased to recognize many of the plants they recommended and picked up several brochures to assist our ongoing backyard gardening projects.
My favorite part of the prairie reconstruction area. Instead of neat beds with labeled groups of plants, the native plants seem to grow on top of each other. Not a shred of mulch or dirt can be seen!
We were surprised at the limited numbers and species of birds and dragonflies we found however. This single Night Heron was the only non-backyard bird we saw. And only a few dragonflies darted among the water lilies in the Japanese Garden.
June 15, 2009, is the 150th anniversary of the Botanical Garden's founding by Henry Shaw. When we found his statue, Dick rushed over to shake his hand and thank him for a wonderful gift. Tomorrow we plan to visit the Shaw Nature Preserve for the wild side of the garden.