Branching out…

Man, if the mornings continue to be this nice, I might not want summer to end. I went out earlier than usual, in search of a mammal I haven’t seen in the park yet this year but rumored to be there lately, and Venus was especially brilliant in the clear eastern sky.

I had no luck with the mammal today, but I did see our young cormorant out for an early swim in the pond and then drying out on its usual perch in the southeast corner.

Neither heron were around this morning, but I did see a flock of Canada geese checking out the baseball diamond across the parkway from the pond. You can just make out the nice little layer of fog over the grass in the background.

Long-time reader and avid birder, Donna, invited me down to the lagoon in Veterans Park yesterday afternoon to look for a black-crowned night-heron rookery, which is said to be there, but I am sad to report that they were nowhere to be found when we arrived. Instead, we were treated to a green heron (Butorides virescens) on a ambulatory hunt, the likes of which I have never seen on the pond. Check out that neck!

Here it is again, in case you missed it the first time. It’s almost easier to believe that they are two different birds, right? The frogs just don’t stand a chance against technology like that. A good explanation with pictures is online here.

Also, growing beside the lagoon is a pretty flower that I haven’t yet seen in Estabrook Park.

The interwebs are having a little trouble positively identifying this one and suggest that it may be either longroot smartweed, water knotweed, water smartweed, and amphibious bistort (Persicaria amphibia), which is “native to much of North America;” or lady’s thumb, spotted lady’s thumb, Jesusplant, and redshank (Persicaria maculosa), which is “an introduced and invasive species in North America.” I’m afraid sorting that out might be above my paygrade.

Meanwhile, back in Estabrook, the recent rains have refilled the little stream that runs from the pond down to the river, which had run completely dry recently, and the tiny fish were back already! I read that there are a variety of techniques fish have evolved to enable them to survive in such an environment, and I don’t know which of those these little characters are using, but hats off to them!

I have previously reported that these might be creek chub, but the tail in this picture doesn’t look quite right, and the same goes for minnows. My best guess now is that these are some kind of darter, but Lord knows which one. There are over 200 species to choose from. In any case, a hearty welcome back to them, right?

Finally, I don’t think I’ve shown you a monarch butterfly on a pink coneflower since July, so here you go.

Lastly, the forecast is for clear skies again this evening, and the moon doesn’t rise till midnight, so don’t forget to look for the Perseids in the northeast, if you get the chance. Anne and I tried last evening, but we only spotted two, so we might try again.

A big bird morning…

Wow! It was a gorgeous morning out there in Estabrook, and all three recent big birds were on the pond.

This makes 5 straight days for the cormorant, and he or she is really starting to look comfortable there, facing the audience to dry out in yesterday’s midday sun and pausing to scratch behind an ear this morning.

The young black-crowned night-heron was back and decided to take a little nap while I was trying to take its picture.

Lastly, biggest and most skittish of the three, was the youngish-looking great blue heron.

I continued on and arrived at the boat launch on the river a bit before 8, and everyone was still sleeping, but by the time I left, just after 8, the indigo buntings and the cicadas had both finally woken up and started singing. There were a few mallard hens on the water, but they were far enough out that I decided to save my film. On my way south along the river, I came across another pretty obedient plant starting to bloom that definitely does look film worthy, right?

At the mud flats, I spotted a couple of wood ducks looking to be just waking up, but they did not want to stick around for me to try to find a shot with better lighting, and just took care of that themselves.

I swung back by the pond, in hopes of finding a flower-of-the-hour blooming more than yesterday morning, but had no luck again, and this shot from yesterday afternoon isn’t much better. I guess I gotta be quicker or luckier to catch one of these beauties open, eh?

Finally, the night-heron was up from its nap on the pond and looking like it was fixin’ to rustle up some second breakfast.

The kid sticks around…

The cormorant really seems to be making itself comfortable on the pond, which I am sure glad to see. This morning, he or she was on the usual branch in the southeast corner but facing west for a change so we can see the nice pale neck and chest plumage and one big webbed foot. Soon after I took this photo, it was back to fishing.

Two readers already asked what fish it caught yesterday, and my best guess is a big ol’ goldfish. The pond is big enough, and they are hardy enough to survive the winter there. When the lighting is right, you can see schools of them feeding near the surface of the pond, although they are a little more skittish than the bluegills, so my pictures aren’t so great.

The cormorant wasn’t even the only bird fishing on the pond this morning. Perhaps this is the same young great blue heron we’ve also been seeing recently. It was at the north end and took off while I was still focusing on the cormorant at the south end.

Speaking of tasty critters in the pond, you may be as surprised as I was to still see tadpoles this morning. I first saw one back in April, showed you a picture on June 4, and another picture of one with legs on June 23. That’s quite a breeding season they have, eh?

Right across the parkway from the pond, I spotted this new blossom on a low plant, perhaps waiting for the sun before fully opening. It it known by a variety of names including flower-of-an-hour, flower-of-the-hour, bladder hibiscus, bladder ketmia, bladder weed, modesty, puarangi, shoofly, venice mallow. The ancient Latins called it Hibiscus trionum, and the names mentioning an “hour” are due to the blossom only staying open for a few hours.

The Pedia of Wik reports that “the flowers of the Hibiscus trionum can set seed via both outcrossing and self-pollination. During the first few hours after anthesis, the style and stigma are erect and receptive to receive pollen from other plants. In the absence of pollen donation, the style bends and makes contact with the anthers of the same flower, inducing self-pollination.” That sounds handy, and as soon as I post this, I’m going to head back out to see if I can capture an image of it open.

Finally, let me leave you with this nice picture of a monarch butterfly on some burdock blossoms that I took a day or two ago but didn’t have room for until now. Sometimes I get lucky, eh?

Life goes on…

Wow! There sure was some high drama on the pond this morning!

That’s right, our young new hero, the double-crested cormorant, has struck pure gold.

Here’s hoping he or she will feel like sticking around for a while, eh?

Meanwhile, on the river, the butterflies continue to eat and drink.

And the water lilies continue to bloom.

And that’ll have to do it for this morning. Anne and I are off to meet some relatives for what we hope will be a safe and enjoyable brunch al fresco. It’s supposed to be a hot one today, so if you go to the Farmers Market, stay cool out there.

These kids are sticking around…

It was yet another beautiful morning for a walk in the park. Our new friend, the juvenile double-crested cormorant was on the same log in the pond as yesterday, and this morning struck the classic cormorant pose intended to dry out his or her feathers after a fishing expedition, which suggests that maybe he or she might be hanging out for a while. Yay!

Also on the pond, and perhaps making its debut there, is this juvenile-looking great blue heron, perhaps one we’ve already seen on the river a few times.

I also saw a solitar wood duck hen on the pond, making it a three-fowl morning, but I didn’t see the juvenile black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) this morning. Perhaps it was just resting on the branch of a nearby tree. Yesterday, I watched it hop up into a tree and simply disappear.

On the mudflats by the river, we’ve got somebody new, a cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) that took me forever to look up. The difficulty was that it is close to white, as we might expect of the garden whites in genus Pieris, instead of the yellow we might expect of a sulphur in genus Phoebis. Upon closer inspection, however, several sources reveal that “some summer form females are pale yellow or white” and “female is lemon yellow to golden or white on both surfaces,” so that’s what I’m gonna go with.

Supposedly, this “butterfly gets its name for the fact that the topsides of its wings are bright lemon yellow and free of any markings,” but she didn’t show me the tops of her wings, so I can’t confirm that. reports that “the Cloudless Sulphur cannot survive northern winters, and is considered a stray in Wisconsin. The species does not stray to Wisconsin every year, and it should be considered a rare find,” if I have identified her correctly.

Also on the river this morning I spotted another newcomer, this striking American vervain, blue vervain, or swamp verbena (Verbena hastata), which is growing out over the water from the far side of an old concrete bridge pier a couple hundred yards south of the falls.

I had actually spotted it a week or so ago and even took a nice picture of it in the afternoon sun, but I mistakenly figured it was just invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and so I didn’t bother reporting it. Ha!

Well, the sky has clouded up now, and I hope we get some rain. The stream from the pond to the river has run dry again, so I think we could use it. Adiós amigos.

Don’t forget to include a title…

The parade of beautiful days in Estabrook Park just keeps chugging along, and even more surprising is the parade of new arrivals.

First up is what appears, for all the world, to be a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), right there on our pond, and this one seems to be yet another juvenile, based on its neck and chest looking paler than “all black”. You may recall seeing an image of them in a v-formation flying over the park back on May 14, and I never expected to have the pleasure of seeing one this close.

It was actually sharing a log with our new best buddy and recent pond regular, the juvenile black-crowned night-heron.

Meanwhile, down by the river, this critter scared me almost as much as the living and flying giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa atrata) I told you about back in July. This time, she’s a female yellow garden spider, black and yellow garden spider, golden garden spider, writing spider, zigzag spider, hay spider, or corn spider (Argiope aurantia), which is a member of the family Araneidae, the orb-weavers, and “may bite if disturbed or harassed, but the venom is harmless to non-allergic humans, roughly equivalent to a bumblebee sting in intensity!” That’s an odd definition of harmless, eh? “Males range from 5–9 mm (0.20–0.35 in); females range from 19–28 mm (0.75–1.10 in),” and she was easily that big.

The Pedia of Wik explains that the dense zigzag of silk in the center of her web is known as a stabilimentum, and “the purpose of the stabilimentum is disputed. It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web. Only those spiders that are active during the day construct stabilimenta in their webs.”

Less scary, but just as striking, is this red-spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), which is of the same species as the white admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis), oddly enough, but has “evolved to mimic the poisonous pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor).” I’ve tried to show you pictures of this critter three times before, on June 20, June 19, and June 12, but could never get one to pose like this. We even saw a chrysalis by the pond back on June 4.

Finally, you’re not going to believe the common name of the new flower I found blossoming on the river by the boat launch. The common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) “is a North American species of flowering plants in the sunflower family.” I was wading through the weeds from this picture when I nearly ran into Mrs. Orb Weaver above and almost got to put that bumblebee analogy to the test.

That’s our show for today folks, and I can’t wait to see what I see tomorrow.

Things big and small…

It was yet another beautiful morning in Estabrook Park, and there was a light fog hugging the soccer fields. All four deer were out again, but there were also a lot of walkers and joggers trying to get by, so they didn’t get a chance to pose for a family portrait this time.

Our new pall, the juvenile black-crowned night-heron, was hunting up breakfast on the pond again from the “island” that had been overrun by turtles earlier this week.

And the young great blue heron was doing the same on the river.

It was still too cool for the butterflies to be out and about when I was in the park this morning, but they were making the best of the abundant Queen Anne’s lace yesterday.

One novelty along the river trail, which I’ve been observing for weeks but didn’t manage to sort out until this morning when it is almost all passed by, is this fascinating “dog sick slime mould” or “dog sick fungus” (Mucilago crustacea). It is bright white, like spilled Dairy Queen “vanilla” soft serve, and not to be confused with the similarly-named dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica), which has a “peculiar yellowish, bile-colored appearance,” and often grows on overwatered mulch. Although both are slime molds, “organisms that can live freely as single cells, but can aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures,” the two are only in the same class Myxogastria, which contains 888 species!

Speaking of Queen Anne’s lace, check out the beautiful spiral pattern in this one. It looks like a spiral galaxy, and I only see it so clearly every once in a while.

And speaking of spiral galaxies, Anne and I went out last evening to look at Jupiter and Saturn again, which were magnificent and are heading towards a great conjunction in December. There was no sign of comet NEOWISE anymore, and I failed again to capture an image of the raccoon, but we did get to see the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s actually a barred spiral galaxy, just like the Milky Way, but it barely looked like more than a white smudge to us, without some way to capture light of a period of time. Its photons, I am amazed to read, have been traveling for “approximately 2.5 million” before striking my retinas.

So long, for now, and enjoy the nice weather while it lasts, because I hear it’s gonna get hot and humid again for the weekend.

Avies, insecta, et mammalia…

Ah, summer is back, it’s good to hear the cicadas again, and we’ve got a raft of new characters to check out today!

Let’s start with the first new bird I’ve spotted on the pond in quite a while. This appears to be a juvenile black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), since is does not have the “dark cap” that juvenile green herons are supposed to have. Hot diggity dog!

Next, we’ve got this curiosity, what looks for all the world to be yet another, bright-blue, male indigo bunting, but with a little bit of a yellow belly, and I have no idea what that’s about.

Meanwhile, in phylum Arthropoda, we have what appear to be a pair of luxurious-looking Virginia tiger moths (Spilosoma virginica), doing their part to make more yellow woolly bear caterpillars. Yay!

Speaking of caterpillars, get a load of this guy, a milkweed tussock moth, aka milkweed tiger moth caterpillar (Euchaetes egle), another caterpillar that likes milkweed.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s our first dark morph of the female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). She was noticeably bigger than the black swallowtails I’ve been seeing lately, and the brown tint on the underside (ventral) of her forwings stood out as well.

Here’s her top (dorsal) side.

And, she wasn’t alone. Here’s a male, which we’ve seen before.

Finally, while Anne and I were in the park last evening to check out the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, which are resplendent right now, I managed to capture this image on my phone of our first new mammal in a while, a raccoon (Procyon lotor) grabbing an early evening snack.

Something about the way the flash on my phone flickered before taking the picture made it always face the other way at the crucial moment. I’ve got a half dozen just like this, even though I could see it looking my way in between. Oh well.

And there you have it. Just when we might have thought the parade must be coming to an end, it just keeps on going.

Deers, ducks, birds, and bugs…

Man, I thought it was cool yesterday morning, but this morning I had to go back inside and get a windbreaker. It sure is a welcome break from the recent heat, but I’m also glad it’s not going to last. I’m not ready for summer to be over yet.

So, I was just walking up the middle of the parkway, now that I can, and as I came across the first set of picnic tables, between the parkway and the soccer fields, I noticed that some tables had been moved since I had carefully arranged them for the Farmers Market.

I decided to put them back as they were, because I can’t help myself, and just look at what that gave me the opportunity to see. Not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR deer out on the lawn at once! A doe, two fawns still in spots, and a fourth wheel that might have been just visiting.

As I did my best the capture the moment for you, what with the distance, low light, and all, the fourth one decided it was time to visit the east side. The other three sampled the grass for a while longer and then headed south on the path between the soccer fields and the bluff.

I know that if you live in the country or even in the suburbs you might find deer to be sort of pests, like rodents on hooves if you’re trying to grow tulips or vegetables, but I don’t think seeing them in the park like this, close to their natural setting, will ever get old for me.

Anyway, I was tempted to call that a success and head home for breakfast, but I needed the steps, so I pressed on, further north into the park, and look who I came across next. If I had to guess, this little cutie is a baby bluebird of happiness, and things are really starting to go my way.

There was no action in the wildflower meadow, but on the trail along the river, just south of the falls, I finally came across that live cicada I had promised you weeks ago. It was cold and lethargic, but quite alive, and near the top of a young buckthorn, which is really a dead end street and not very photogenic. So I momentarily repositioned it onto this pretty goldenrod for a photo-op before I carefully set it on the trunk of a more-suitable nearby tree, worthy of the climb after a life lived underground.

Further south along the river, at the mudflats, I came across the young wood ducks again, that we saw just yesterday, and this time I captured them rifling through the water lilies and arrowheads.

Finally, just as I was about to take the path back up the bluff, I spotted this gorgeous new native wildflower growing along the river. As far as I can tell, this is obedient plant, obedience, or false dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana), yet another member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. The Pedia of Wik explains that “Physostegia are known commonly as obedient plants because a flower pushed to one side will often stay in that position,” and “the name “false dragonhead” refers to the dragonheads of the related Dracocephalum, a genus to which the plant” was once thought to belong.

Not a bad haul for such a cool morning in August, eh? Even better, the clouds have finally cleared, and Anne and I might get another chance to look at Saturn and Jupiter this evening. Who knows, with the streak of luck I’m having today, we might even catch one last glimpse of comet Neowise. Wish us luck!

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on the calendar, and if you haven’t yet, there’s still time, but it won’t last forever.

A snake in the grass…

Wow! That was a cool, dim, and damp morning for early August, eh? The park was very quiet, especially now that it seems only buntings and wrens are singing to mark their territory.

The closest to a newcomer I found this morning is this immature wood duck on the river. In the left/top image, you can see the characteristic ring around its eye, but much less pronounced than on a breeding female, and in the right/bottom image, you can make out the patch of blue edged in white on its wings.

The little stream from the pond down to the river, in which we saw baby bullheads and creek chub, has been dry as a bone for the past couple of days, and the rain last night filled that right back up again. This morning, I saw both critters in the river near where the stream enters, but the pictures are no better than the ones you’ve already seen.

These blossoms keep opening along the boardwalk south of the falls, but there is just one of each, and I’m having a heck of a time identifying them. My best guess today is something in the mint family (Lamiaceae), either in the hyssop genus (Agastache), or the mint genus (mentha). Species might be blue giant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) or maybe horse mint (Mentha longifolia). If anyone has a better guess, please don’t keep us in suspense.

One new blossom that I’m pretty sure I have identified correctly is white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) growing in various places along the river path. Do not eat it!

As the Pedia of Wik details:

White snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol; when the plants are consumed by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. When milk or meat containing the toxin is consumed, the poison is passed on to humans. If consumed in large enough quantities, it can cause tremetol poisoning in humans. The poisoning is also called milk sickness, as humans often ingested the toxin by drinking the milk of cows that had eaten snakeroot.

During the early 19th century, when large numbers of European Americans from the East, who were unfamiliar with snakeroot, began settling in the plant’s habitat of the Midwest and Upper South, many thousands were killed by milk sickness. Notably, milk sickness was possibly the cause of death in 1818 of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, mother of Abraham Lincoln.

It was some decades before European Americans traced the cause to snakeroot, although today Dr. Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby is credited with identifying the plant in the 1830s. Legend has it that she was taught about the plant’s properties by a Shawnee woman. The Shawnee woman’s name is lost to history, but she and her people would have had deep knowledge of the herbs and plants in the area.

In addition to cattle, the plants are also poisonous to horses, goats, and sheep. Signs of poisoning in these animals include depression and lethargy, placement of hind feet close together (horses, goats, cattle) or held far apart (sheep), nasal discharge, excessive salivation, arched body posture, and rapid or difficult breathing.

This plant may serve medicinal purposes. Root tea has been used to treat diarrheakidney stones, and fever. A root poultice can be used on snakebites.

Thus, if your goats are depressed and lethargic lately, you’d better check their pasture for white snakeroot, and don’t drink their milk. Sorry about the teaser headline, but that’s as close as I’ve come to finding a snake in Estabrook Park so far. I’m still hoping and keeping my eyes peeled, however, and if you find one, please let me know. Take a picture, if possible, and send it in.

Finally, now that it’s August, it’s time to try to sort out what if anything we might do about the calendar. You may recall that I was thinking about printing some up as a fundraiser for Friends of Estabrook Park, and I had a hope of gauging your interest by having you indicated which pictures you’d like to see in it and how many you might buy. Well, since that announcement, it appears that we only need to print up 8 of them, which isn’t much.

The possibility exists, however, that you meant to add a comment, but just forgot, or that you have joined us after that announcement. In either case, now’s your chance to chime in. I’m scheduled to report to the Friends of Estabrook Park board on August 19, so I’ve got until then to decide how many we might print, if any.