Over the years, I hear BHM director Nate Simons describe the colors of prairies at certain times of the growing season. It is fun to hear and feel his enthusiasm for just that moment of the year and the colors we are enjoying.
Nate will say, “Ah, these prairie colors of late spring when spiderwort and beards tongue are starting to bloom, are just the best.” A prairie fen visit in fall will elicit an “Oh yes, the colors of fall fens are the best!” We enter and are treated to the blues of asters and gentians, deep greens of sedges and grasses, and browns and bronzes of developing seed ends. Right now, we are in mid-July.
Right now, I stop and do double takes at our own home prairie projects. The combination of just three common plants, butterfly milkweed, bergamot, and black eyed Susan is just stunning. So rich, they are. I think of Nate’s take on this time of year color. “Aww, this is the best,” he’ll say. And then late summer will come and there will be a new best!
Get out and enjoy mid summer’s colors and wait with eager anticipation, with Nate and the rest of us, for the next color show to come!
Blue Heron Ministries will host a day-long van/bus excursion to travel to various prairie plantings in LaGrange and Steuben Counties. Come see prairies planted by staff and volunteers of Blue Heron Ministries. We will see prairies in various stages of maturity and comment on installation and management techniques. We will bemoan not-so-good results and celebrate great results together.
One Blue Heron Ministries project the past several years is restoring a wonderful farm of rolling hills and wetlands in northwest Steuben County. The 277-acre farm is owned by John Bachelor who inherited the place from his parents Charles and Mary Bachelor. Thanks to John;s vision to see wild places restored, former agricultural fields are now being planted and transformed into prairie, some mixed with oaks and other hardwoods, representative of original, open, oak savanna continuum, typical of our area prior to settlement.
The plantings are now several years old and the landscape is shaping up and displaying the seasonal moods of this ecosystem. This late winter and early spring, I had the good fortune of being on BHM tree crews, planting a couple of species of oak. This summer, fellow BHM teammate Rita Smith, and I have been working these fields, finding trees among the vegetation, weeding around them, flagging them, and eliminating nearby competition. It was a several day project, where our hands touched nearly 3,000 young tree saplings!
Doing that repetitive work, my mind wanders from what the landscape truly looked like 300 years ago. A bison may have stepped where now white-tailed deer walk. What was it like 20 years ago when cows roamed the fields or hay waved in July breezes? I touch a tree to adjust a ribbon and I wonder which on of the crew touched it similarly, as we careful planted it this spring, or the spring before, or before. It was mindless for us possibly, but maybe on this one tree we too paused to think about the past at that very spot, or dreamed of whit it will look like in 3 years, and 30, and 300.
Working these hot, summer, sultry days is a challenge in mid day heat, but oh what a joy in the very early morning when mist hangs heavy and the damp air still feels cool to the cheek. It was July. The soft colors of wildflowers in a light fog fading into the rolling hills are just spectacular. Later in the day, things brighten and yellows and blues become bolder.
On all days, bird calls become background sound. red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and common yellowthroat warblers are the most common in this habitat. On June 28, in the heat and doldrums of midday. I was jolted from work routine by a familiar bird call. As with other background sounds, it may have been there a while in my subconscious, but all of the sudden, it hits me!
“Hey, that’s a sedge wren!” I recognized the call and the bird was not far from me. I recognized the call from the late summer of 2014 when we had one in our home prairie restoration. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds describes it as, “chap chap chap chap chap chap chap chapppper-rrr” It is very distinctive once you learn it. After some searching, the bird popped from a low plant to a higher perch to be identified.
Sedge wrens are state endangered in Indiana. It is rarely found. Research shows that they sometimes nest in small groups, but those groups are nomadic and the colony might not stay put. This bird may be and unmated male, just displaying here for a while.
That is significant. That fact that it is here! Here now means this habitat we are restoring. That is exciting. The optimum habitat, again described in the Peterson guide, is “grassy meadows, sedgy meadows” It describes the bird as “Scarce, local.”
Now questions remain. Will it hang out long and become a serious resident? Will there be more next year and provide us a breeding population? That’s the magic of restoration. We do all we can to reintroduce the original components of this rich community return and are restored. Stay tuned on this sedge wren, an endangered species, and others!
This article, along with others, was featured in this month’s edition of Rustling Grass, a monthly e-newsletter put together by Blue Heron Ministries. To see our past editions of the newsletter, visit our archives page. To receive them directly to your inbox, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will meet at the Trading Post (7525 E 300 N Mongo, IN 46771) at 9:30 AM for a paddle on the Pigeon with a stop to tour Nasby Fen.
Snap! Crackle! Pop! I know of one cereal that makes this sound after milk has been poured onto it and then, by turning an ear to the cereal bowl, it is heard. Snap! Crackle! Pop! The other day I was in a dry, outdoor environment but I heard that same sound very clearly. And the other oddity is that I was not eating cereal, but picking Wild Lupine seedpods at Badger Barrens!
What a great experience I had picking seedpods that day, not even imaging the intricacies of seeds from this wildflower, wild lupine, Lupinus perennis. I had always admired the beauty of the flower when I first saw it blooming at the Aullwood Adubon Center and Farm, on its 15-acre prairie plot, in Dayton, Ohio. I participated in a college internship there and had never seen some of the prairie plants growing there and Wild Lupine was on of those plants. Then, when I visited a college friend who lived in Dallas, Texas, as the plane was landing (this was the month of April), a riot of of blue caught my eye from all of the Texas Bluebonnets in bloom, a cousin to the lupine. What a beauty it was!
So, when I had the chance to collect seedpods from the wild lupine, I was ready to observe and learn more about the plant. This wildflower is in the pea family as has a beautiful blue, pea-like flower in an upright, terminal cluster, or raceme, anywhere from 4-10″ tall. The leaf is attractive also as it doesn’t abide by the rules of a typical leaf. The Lupine leaf has 7-11 lance shaped leaflets all radiating out from a central location. It look similar to when a person spreads their fingers out and each finger is one of the leaflets. Interesting flower, interesting leaf.
The plant enjoys growing in dry open woods and fields. That’s why Badger Barrens is perfect for the lupine. It is a sandy savannah that once had been cleared for farmland. When Blue Heron acquired the property in 2007, its facelift began and now wild lupine grows with other tall grasses and wildflowers in the sandy soil.
And what about the seedpod? After all, I did mention I collected seedpods; seedpods for Blue Heron Ministries to dry, cold stratify, start the seeds, and then plant plugs of the lupine on other maintained properties. The fruit of the plant looks like a hairy bean pod about two inches long, and when ripe, is brown.
So, while a co-worker and I were collecting these pods, occasionally I would hear a snap, or a pop. At first, I thought it might be an insect, but the more I focused on the sound paused, and observed, I saw something movie in front of my eyes. I continued to watch and even stood up to look at the ground in front of me. I was right next to the path and bare ground could be seen. I notices something round and cream colored on a portion of the ground. Then it happened! “Snap” as the seed flew out of the dried pod, “crackle” as the seed passed through and brushed against other plant material, and “pop” as the seed settled on the ground. Just like the cereal! Fred and I discussed this amazing feat as we continues to collect. It seemed the warmer the morning became, the more likely to hear the seed snap out of its pod. it was reminiscent of a kernel of popcorn exploding. the snap of the lupine seed also reminded me of a native shrub that has a similar behavior, the common witchhazel. I used to share its story with school groups that the seedpod of witchhazel, when ripe, will open and pop out its seed as far as 20 feet. when it drops onto dry leaf litter in a fall forest it makes a crackling sound as is a bit spooky, which could be one reason for its common name.
Once we finished our seed collecting in our brown paper bags, closing the bags we headed back to the truck. On the drive to the barn where we were to leave the seedpods, every once in a while we would hear a snap inside the brown bag! Again, the explosion of the seed sounded like popcorn. We just smiled at the sound, knowing full well now what we did not know at the beginning of our day, that the wild lupine seedpod was just doing its “snap, crackle, and pop” routine! Mark you calendars for June of 2017 where you, too, can take a hike at Badger Barrens and hear the sound of the wild lupine!