A Day in the Life…Part 37

It’s the end of the second week in September and the fall colors are showing themselves.  Above Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is one of the very first plants to change color each year. This five-leaved climbing vine is easily seen on the trunks of many trees.

Also making an early appearance is the last fern to emerge, Cut-leafed Grape Fern (Botrychium dissectum). The fertile frond (leaf)  extends up from the center of the triangular leaves and resembles a bunch of grapes. The leaves will turn a bronze color when frost bitten.
The “asters” are blooming and are an attractive food source for many insect like the Cucumber Beetle above.
Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriforum) got its name because the abundant tiny flowers resemble calico print fabric.
One of the most dominant flowers in bloom is White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). The plant was responsible for a disease called the Milk Sickness. When cows grazed on large qualities of the plant, it would make the cow sick and poison their milk. (Don’t worry today’s milk supply is safe.)
This flower is nothing to sneeze at…it’s Sneezeweed! (Helenium autumnale). This plant is also aptly known as Swamp Sunflower and grow in the wet meadow area here at Wahkeena.
Late summer and autumn are good times to see a wide variety of caterpillars. The poor tussock moth caterpillar above is still alive but has been parasitized  by a Broconid wasp. When the wasp larva hatches it will feed on the host caterpillar. The original movable feast!
Posted by Tom

A Day in the life… Part 36

Here’s to another caterpillar filled week! Earlier this week Kathryn and I hiked up to the meadow on another part of the preserve and collected Monarch Caterpillars to raise. 25ish caterpillars later, I again have my hands full with plenty of munching mouths to feed!

Monarch Caterpillars

We have monarchs at all different stages of development, egg, larva, pupa and butterfly. After hatching from an egg the monarch caterpillar will eat almost nonstop for about 15 days, eventually weighing more than 2700 times its original weight! For reference, if a human baby were to grow at the same rate as a monarch caterpillar it would weigh about 200,000 lbs by the time it is 15 days old.

Upon its final molt, the caterpillar enters into the pupa stage. and now hangs in a jade colored chrysalis. See below for a video of a monarch caterpillar molting its skin and exposing the chrysalis underneath. The whole process takes just a matter of minutes.

The monarch will then develop inside the chrysalis for about 2 weeks, between 9-15 days. Near the end of the pupal stage the chrysalis will begin to darken and become transparent  enough that you can make out the orange and black wings of the butterfly inside. 
Can you see the wing? 
Below is one of the adult Monarch Butterflies that emerged from a chrysalis earlier this week. 
Thanks to Butterfly wrangler Tom, this monarch was safely transferred from chrysalis to Ironweed
In other news, fall is finally on its way! I found the first of the Buckeye nuts this week, and also I spotted a first year beaver hurriedly getting ready for winter! 
Yellow Buckeyes

Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odonrorhiza) is still going strong, stop out soon if you would like to see it in good blooming condition!

Autumn Coralroot, Photo credit to Rich Pendlebury

Posted by Nora

A Day in the Life…Part 35

This last week of August has been quite nice, with cool temperatures and low humidity it has felt more like October. But all of the wildflowers in bloom are typical of last summer- like the Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) seen below. The tall purple plant has an extremely strong stem which may have contributed to its common name.

Joining Ironweed is  the white Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The species name “perfoliatum” refer to the fact that the stem pierces or perforates the leaves. The common name is reference to the past medicinal use of this plant to treat Breaks Bone Fever.
 The Jewelweeds or Touch- me-nots are also well into blooming stage. Below is Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) with bright orange-red flowers. Notice how the dew beads up on the leaves like little “jewels”.
A larger relative, the Pale Jewelweed ( Impatiens pallida) with larger yellow flowers is seen below.
When the seeds of both plants mature, they explode at the slightest touch expelling the seeds- thus the name Touch-me not.

Joining its cousins Cardinal Flower and Indian Tobacco is our third Lobelia- Great Blue Lobelia    (Lobelia syphilitica). The species name of this plant is reference to its use to treat venereal diseases!

In stark contrast to the showy flowers above  is the Autumn Coral-root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) seen below.

This is our last native orchid to bloom and it can take a keen eye to spot it in the woodlands. This year we have a large patch, with several dozen plants, right next to one of our main hiking trails. The coral-roots are saprophytic plants that get their energy from decomposing organic matter in the soil-thus they have no leaves. 
And finally, it’s Tussock Moth caterpillar time. These hairy caterpillars will be quite numerous over the next couple of months and can be seen crawling on the ground, on plants and dangling from silk threads. 
Posted by Tom

A Day in the Life…Part 34

The insect theme continues this week at Wahkeena. While walking the Shelter Trail I noticed a tell-tale sign on the forest floor. The grayish stain was an indication of activity in the tree above.

The stain is the droppings from an active colony of Woolly Aphids who are busily sucking the sap from the branches of an American Beech tree.

Even at this young stage the aphids are completely covering  many of the lower branches of the tree creating a white mass.
On closer inspection one can see the individual aphids huddled close together in the photo above.  
Below, gently disturbing the mass of insects sets them all a quivering, fluffing up their cottony covered abdomens as the entire mass moves in unison. This may serve as a distraction to would be predators.
Not much is blooming in the woods at this time of year, but I did come across Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata). This member of the Pea Family climbs over other plants to get its share of sunlight energy.
And jumping back to insects… the ones below like to hang out at the old stone  barbecue. These are Camel Crickets.  Also referred to as long-horned crickets because of their long antennae. They prefer dark secluded places. Their large hind legs give them powerful jumping ability and along with their color contribute to the camel name (as in two humps).

Posted by Tom

A Day in the Life… Part 33

I feel like my week could be a passage from Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

They eat, and eat, and eat some more, I’ve been sure to check their food supply, Wild Black Cherry leaves, a couple times a day! Just like the caterpillars from Eric Carle’s book, I’m sure they would eat an entire picnic if I gave it to them!

Hungry Cecropia Moth Caterpillars at the end of a long day

A caterpillar has just one job, to eat. Since adult Cecropia moths do not have mouth parts, these caterpillars must consume enough food to supply themselves through adulthood. Without proper nutrition a caterpillar might not have enough energy to undergo metamorphosis and reproduce. Once the caterpillar is ready it will spin a tough cocoon. Inside, it will complete metamorphosis and emerge early summer of the next year. Below is an adult Cecropia:

Also in the realm of caterpillars, I found a Luna moth caterpillar earlier this week. It gave me a little confusion at first, because the caterpillar was an orange/pink color rather than the typical lime green,  it seems that the larva turns a brighter color once it is ready to pupate.
Luna Moth Caterpillar
Our Monarch caterpillars are growing quickly, take a look below:
Monarch Caterpillars

While out gathering milkweed for them I came across another curious caterpillar, or should I say a bunch of curious caterpillars. I identified them to be Milkweed Tussock Caterpillars (Euchaetes egle) They had completely defoliated a small milkweed plant, leaving only the bare stems. 

And finally, here is a gorgeous female Monarch on some Ironweed.

I’m off to feed some more hungry caterpillars!
Posted by Nora 

Earring Update

For those of you we told about newest the additions to our Nature Center, this post is for you! The Jabebo Nature Earrings are in, and on sale for $10.00 a pair!

Here are a few examples:

Stop out to see the rest in our Nature Center!!
Link to The Jabebo Earring Website: www.jabebo.com

A Day in the Life… Part 32

*’Tired Tom’ is pretty swamped, so I will be taking over the blog for the next couple weeks.*

A new plant in bloom is Ironweed, a favorite nectar plant for butterflies.

As bright as the flowers are, you would never expect the pollen to be white! This time of year we often see bees entering the observation hive inside the Nature Center with plenty of white pollen attached to the corbiculaes, or pollen baskets, on their hind legs. As seen in the video below… 

A single bee can carry around half of her weight in pollen, collected on a single excursion. Honey bees usually only visit one type of flower on each trip, this is one of nature’s ways of ensuring that plants are cross pollinated. 
Bees are not the only ones that enjoy the Ironweed. It is also a favorite of many butterflies, such as this Tiger Swallowtail.  
Speaking of butterflies, earlier this week I witnessed a Monarch butterfly necturing and laying eggs on some Common Milkweed. Later on, I went back to collect the eggs.

 So far, two of the caterpillars have hatched, and are happily munching on some milkweed. Can you find them in this photo? They are (very, very, very) tiny!

If you need some help, look near the holes in the leaf. This is where the Monarch caterpillars have already chomped their way through to the other side!  
And finally, here is a newly emerged Spring Peeper that I just released today. You can still see the remains of a long tail from when it was a tadpole. 
Posted by Nora

A Day in the Life…Part 31

Creatively altered photo by Nora
Sunny edges and deep shade typify the landscape at Wahkeena as we enter August. In those sunny areas the Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is bursting into full splendor. I had to put on knee boots and wade out into the swampy area of the boardwalk (pictured above) to get some photos.
 Today I was in the right place at the right time, as I was setting up the tripod a Black Swallowtail butterfly flew in and began necturing on the brilliant red flowers. 
Another lobelia that has been in bloom for a while is Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)  which can be seen below.
“Inflata” refers to the expanding seed pods that develop once the flower has been pollinated. The typical arrangement of the flower in the lobelias is two petals above and three below.
A plant with a fun name that is found in the drier wooded areas is Naked-flowered Tick Trefoil (Desmodium nudiflorum). The leaves and flowers of this plant are borne on separate stems- thus the flower stock is “naked,” having no leaves. The tick trefoils typically has leaves in threes. But you can also see a reference to three in the triangle shaped seeds. Many a hiker has come home with these hitchhikers clinging to their clothing- a clever strategy that the plant uses to disperse its seeds. 
And finally, sometimes creatures in nature can be elusive. But often signs are left behind to mark their presence in an area. Below a freshly molted turkey feather lays nestled on a bed of pine needles.

Posted by tuckered out Tom

A Day in the Life…Part 30

It’s always nice to be greeted by a friendly face first thing in the morning. It had been a good year for the Eastern Cottontail rabbits at Wahkeena. The bunny below and his siblings are seen frequently around the nature center.

The Hickory Tussock moth caterpillars are also quite numerous at this time of year and many can be seen clinging to the screens on the porch. 

 Their abundance is no doubt due to the walnut trees that surround the nature center and are a favorite food plant of the caterpillar.

This morning I also discovered this pair of Large Milkweed Bugs appropriately procreating on a Swamp Milkweed in the wet meadow.
Other plants in bloom in the sunny wetland and pond areas include the Swamp Rose Mallows (Hibiscus palustris) seen below.
The mallow occurs in various shades of pink and red and are found around the edges of Lake Odonata.
Another plant found along the edges of the pond is the parasitic Dodder (Cuscuta gronovii). The orange stems look like the silly string that comes in a can. Dodder wraps around a host plant and pierces the stem of the host to get the nutrition it needs the grow. Because of this tight embrace, Dodder is also known as Love Vine! 
 Monkey Flower, seen below, (Mimulus ringens) is blooming in the moist meadows. 
The dominant flower in the wet meadow is the Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) a member of the Mint family. 
As with many plants, this is a bottom of the spike to top bloomer.
And if you use your imagination you may also see the other name for this plant – False Dragonhead.
And finally, the Catalpa tree flowers that were shown in bloom back in Part 22, have by now developed into long cigar-shaped seed pods.
And topping the news…four of our native orchids- Cranefly, Green Adder’s Mouth, Green Woodland and Downy Rattlesnake Plantain are all still in good blooming condition.
Posted by Tom

A Day in the Life…Part 29

Things have been hopping around the preserve this week. We have been busy with visitors and catching up on outside projects since the rain has held off. The Green frog above is enjoying a sunny basking moment.
One of those outside tasks was the annual removal of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) from the pond and wetland areas. When I first approached the specimen below, I noticed something odd on the lower stem. 
Closer examination revealed the mystery…Potter’s wasp nests. This may be the work of Eumenes fraternus. The nests are made from coarse mud and grouped together…like a fraternity. Notice the flared lip on the “pot.” The female wasp stocks the pot with food (caterpillars, sawfly larva, leaf beetles) then lays a single egg and closes the pot with a final daub of mud. When the egg hatches it will feed on the stored food supply.

Another unusual creature, seen below, is probably the larva of one of the green lacewings (Chrysopidae). The larva disguise themselves with bits of lichen and other debris and sometimes referred to as “trash carriers.”
On the flower front, the Red or Swamp Milkweed (Ascepias incarnata) has replaced the orange milkweed and common milkweed as the dominant flowering milkweed. As the name implies, it is found in very moist environments. 
Another wetland plant is Branching Bur Reed (Sparganium androcladum). This plant has male at the top and female flowers below. 
Back in the woods, the sixth native orchid is blooming. The Green Wood Orchid (Habenaria clavellata)  grows in the moist edge habitats along the trail.
The next and seventh orchid, just beginning to bloom, is  Cranefly Orchis (Tipularia discolor) seen below. Like the Green Wood orchid above, Cranefly blooms from the bottom up. The insect, cranefly resembles a large mosquito, and the plant’s name is reference to its wispy look. Like the Puttyroot orchid that bloomed earlier in May, Cranefly’s single distinct leaf has withered away, leaving a naked flower stock. 
Fungi continue to thrive in the moist woods. One of the coral fungi below gets its name for obvious reasons!

Off to take advantage of another sunny day!
Posted by Tom