Archive for November, 2012

A Climbing Milkweed

Yes, I got excited over finding this vine.

I knew what it was. It grows on my rural property. It’s a climbing milkweed (Matelea obliqua) and is an Illinois state-threatened plant. The vine prefers to grow in rocky woodlands.

It’s odd that only one vine grew here where I found this one in the woods, up from a small lake. It’s odd too that it was still greenish the middle of November, since they bloom the end of May.

I took this picture on my property on May 23, 2007.

I could have it miss-identified because there were no flowers. There’s another species Matelea dicipiens that grows in 2 of the surrounding counties and isn’t listed in Saline County. It’s state-endangered. The difference between the two is the width of the petals. The one above has 1.5 – 2.5 mm width; the other’s petal width is 3-6 mm. Both bloom at May to June. The one on my property was found and identified by a heritage biologist.

While researching this in my resource books and online, I found out there’s a third species, Matelea gonocarpa, that’s found the southern 1/6th of the state and is endangered. It grows in floodplains, which this location isn’t.

Of course, I may have the vine misidentified all together, and it’s not a milkweed vine. If not, I have no idea what it could be. At least I visited my climbing milkweed vicariously on the hike.

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Trail Cairns

I own 33 acres 7 miles southeast of the house. Shawnee National Forest land borders it on the south and private property on the other 3 sides. I have permission to hike on both neighbors.

I’d never heard the word cairn until I found one between two Native American graves with stones piled on them. They were on private land.

Besides marking graves, cairns were also used my Native Americans to mark trails. The one above is on Forest Service land. I just happened to walk up to it one day. It and the one with the graves have a pointed stone standing upright. The one standing in this one is at the upper edge. The cairn was roughly 6×7 feet.

This cairn is on my property where the ravine starts sloping upward. I’ve hiked here for over 25 years. I walked by it who knows how many times. I never saw it as anything other than a pile of rocks.

Then one day, when hiking by, I had a “lightbulb” moment, “That’s a cairn!” The 2 larger rocks on the left are much larger and are sticking out of the ground. The cairn measures 10 feet wide and 6-7  feet from top to bottom.  I have wondered how many years the pointed stone has remained upright … I now wonder when each cairn was made … they could be really old … like 100’s of years! If only the stones could talk.

It wasn’t too long after finding that one that I found another cairn in the same ravine on my neighbor’s to the north. The 3 cairns are roughly in a line. The one south on Forest Service is at a much higher elevation, but in the same line.

Twig Anatomy

I have to admit I’m not the best at identifying trees. The ones with compound leaves all look the same to me. Oaks can hybridize and can be a real challenge.

Trees can be identified by other things besides their leaves. Some have distinctive bark, like the corky warts on hackberry trees and flaking bark on sycamores. Not to mention the fruits and seeds they produce too.

Trees can also be identified by their twig. It’s a good way to identify them in winter. This is a twig on the cottonwood tree in my backyard, taken the end of October before the leaves all fell off.

The picture shows the reddish bud of next-year’s leaf and the scar where this year’s leaf dropped from. Buds can have both leaf and flowers, or either one or the other.

Both the buds on this twig are lateral buds. Twigs also have a terminal bud.  The cream-colored corky area below the leaf bud is the leaf scar.  The spots in this area are called bundle scars and are the places where the tree sap entered the leaf. The vertical light areas on the twig are lenticels, and these are patches of loose tissue which let air into the tissue beneath.

This is a bundle scar on our catalpa tree,

and this on our ash tree. Kids would enjoy this scar’s “big grin” and investigating other trees’ twigs too.

Blackbirds Everywhere

When Buffy and I hike at my rural property, we go down by the highway and come home through the country. Coming home is 5 miles longer, but it has more scenery and increased chance of seeing wildlife.

I came around a sharp corner and there was a cut corn field busy with blackbirds.

The iridescent heads are common grackles. These flocks also include red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds and sometimes rusty blackbirds. The rusty’s call sounds like a squeaky wheel.

They filled the trees behind me. They rose in flocks, in a wave action and settled back down.

It was like a symphony of movement.

No area was ever still. There were a lot more birds than the pictures show.

There was constant chatter in the trees behind me and “whooshes” when the flocks took flight.

In the winter, we have flocks that are miles long. Their dark swarms “wave” across the landscape.

A Lazy Hike

Three days of warm weather to be followed by hard freeze temperatures … I didn’t stay home. Buffy and I went for a lazy hike at my rural property.

Obviously, the creek hadn’t seen any rain for a long time.

This was the start of a rocky area on the west side of the ravine. The south end (in above picture) is on Forest Service. The short bluff/rocky area continues north to the bluff on my property.

Mud daubers commonly build their nests in back under areas that are mostly out of the rain.

Eastern phoebes (a flycatcher)  build their nests from mud, mosses and other fine plant material.

They return in late winter and build their nests on ledges protected from the weather. Under bridges is commonly used too.

What a nice cozy place for a squirrel to dine on acorns.

The view to the southeast sure has changed.

We continued on to the north. The short bluff on my property is just on the other side of the overhang at the far end in the picture.

An ebony spleenwort fern looked all tucked in the crevice.

This “cave” is behind the overhang.

A pair of turkey vultures successfully nested in there several years ago.  The nesting was successsful, so I don’t understand why the cave’s not been used again.

Late-Season Milkweed

This butterflyweed didn’t grow or bloom as normal last summer, because of the severe drought and heat.

This clump of flowers bloomed early in September, instead of early June.

The pods started releasing their seeds the end of October.

 Wind has dispersed their seeds.

These milkweed bugs remained on the pods as they were maturing and drying. The white spots are from sap oozing from the pods where the bugs sucked the sap.

This picture shows 3 different sizes of their incomplete metamorphosis. The adults stay and protect the young. They have 5 instars and each molt lasts 5-6 days.

Eggs and a Predator

While searching the wild cherry tree for a hibernating caterpillar, I found an egg mass.

Eastern tent caterpillars will hatch from these in the spring … unless the spider I saw when I found them, decides to return. The white area shows where the spider had gotten through the dried foam to the eggs. The egg mass measured 1/2 inch long.

The uncooperative spider didn’t like my being there. Its silhouetted on the right side of the branch, with its abdomen down. The little bump is its cephalothorax (fused head and thorax). Legs go on up together from the body. I don’t know how many of its 8 legs do that.

I’ve seen tent caterpillar egg masses eaten or partially eaten before. I never suspected a spider … not that I’d given it much thought.