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North Woods Naturalist

Sunrise west harbor  from the Sunrise Series by Stephan Hoglund

Contributor(s): 
Chel Anderson
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist. She lives in the Hovland area and keeps close tabs on daily changes happening in the great outdoors. She shares her insights with WTIP listeners every Tuesday during North Shore Morning and North Shore Digest.  Subscribe to our North Woods Naturalist podcast.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

 

 


What's On:
ShowyLadySlipper.jpg

Trapped Bees and Slap-Shot Gnats – All About Pollinating

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Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now.
 
Anderson: Hello, Jay.
 
Summer is pretty much in full bloom, so let’s talk about what it is that’s blooming and then, who’s doing the pollinating among the flowers, because I know that’s going on.
 
Anderson: It is summer. We’re just into the real thing now and it really feels like it. The forest and the wetlands are incredibly lush. One can’t drive a road, walk a trail, just walk through the woods, paddle a lake, without seeing things in bloom. So, we’re really now at the point where there’s more things in bloom than aren’t, and that’s an amazing time of year for us, who spend a lot of the year without anything in bloom. There have been tons of wild roses in bloom; I’m sure people have been enjoying those, both the color and the wonderful fragrance. Lots of roadside plants, some native, some not, but yellows and orange hawkweeds; lots of lupines in other places.
 
What about the pollinators? Whose pollinating?
 
Anderson: Another one of the groups of plants that’s very prominent right now are orchids, and I know lots of people are interested in orchids. Orchids are a perfect example of the diversity of form and color and fragrance that the plant world exhibits in its blooming. Hopefully everyone’s familiar with the Showy Ladyslipper, which is our state flower, very robust, pink and white, large orchid. There’s also the Dragon’s Mouth Orchid, which some may be familiar with, pink, white, and frilly yellow on the lip. It grows mostly in open wetlands, a lot of them blooming right in late June, up to the end of June. The twayblades are another group of orchids that are quite common in wet places. Coralroot orchids, these are the orchids that don’t have any green. So, lots of different orchids happening right now.
 
And who are the most prolific pollinators? Obviously these, but are they the only ones?
 
Anderson: No, they’re not, and we have this amazing array of wildflowers, including a wide range of orchids, because only an insect can make a flower. The wide ranging diversity of flowering plants and the wide ranging diversity of insects really coevolved. So, over millions of years, that relationship between flowering plants and insects is what has driven this tremendous diversity that we have, not just here in Minnesota, but around the world. So, everything from moths and butterflies to bumblebees to solitary bees to gnats, mosquitoes, black flies; you know, there’s just an amazing number of insect groups and individual species that are part of this incredible arrangement. The Showy Ladyslipper is very obvious to insects, because of its color. They’re very attractive to bees, so bees will see the flower, go to the flower and, hopefully everyone’s familiar with the pouch, the pink pouch, and there’s an opening in the pouch, and they head for that opening. They go down into it in search for the nectar. They get down in there, and they’re stuck, because they can’t go back out the way they came in because of these in-curled edges on the pouches. So, they get kind of confused, but in some cases there are color lines that they follow and sometimes some long, pointed hairs that they follow that encourage them to go in a particular direction. That leads them to a couple of escape routes. If they pick one or the other of these escape routes, and those escape routes are much narrower, and to get out, they have to go through that escape route. Well, when they first get into the escape route, their thorax, which is where bees would be carrying any pollen from a plant that they previously had visited, their thorax brushes up against the female parts of the flower, and so they deposit that pollen on the stigma, the part of the ovary of the plant that accepts the pollen. And then, as they push further through to get finally out, then they are exposed to the anthers of the plant, and they get dosed with pollen again when they leave. So, when they go to the next flower, they’re carrying that transfer of pollen from one to the next. So, that’s how the cross-pollination happens, that’s how genetic material gets transferred. So, that’s the pay-off for the plants. That’s the Ladyslipper’s style, and they don’t give anything to the insect in this case; it’s a complete ruse. There’s no nectar for the bee, so usually the bees will learn after a time that they’re not getting anything there. But, there’s always no bees to learn, and so they only need to make that error a couple times, and they’ve done their job of moving things around. In the case of the twayblade, this is an orchid at the other end of the size spectrum; an orchid that’s maybe only four inches tall, total. So, an individual flower would be no more than an eighth of an inch. In that little, tiny space, the twayblade orchids are pollinated by a fungus gnat, which is really tiny. So, the fungus gnat comes sailing in there, exploring around, looking for the nectar. There’s a little flap that is kind of covering a hood that sort of covers the important part to the fungus gnat, and so it tries to kind of reach around and get in there, underneath that flap. When it does, it sets off some hair triggers, and that flap then slaps some glue on the face of the fungus gnat. And then, as the fungus gnat is startled and still in a state of, “What happened?” that flap around the flowering parts plasters the pollen all over that glue. These are some really elegant and fantastic in some ways, I mean this is better than science fiction. Right?
 
I was just going to say, it sounds like science fiction. Chel Anderson has been sharing science fiction with us. She’s a DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand smacking fungus gnats.
 
Anderson: You’re very welcome.

 
Loon with chick

The long reach of the gulf oil spill – our migrating birds

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The news is dominated by the on-going gulf oil disaster. What does it mean for our northern Minnesota ecology?  The answer lies with our migrating birds -- song birds, waterfowl and even our state’s symbol. WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about the critical mix of crude oil and feathers.
 
 
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Anderson: Hello, Jay.
 
Well, Chel, the huge disaster in the gulf of Mexico. Thousands of barrels of oil continue to spew into the gulf after the Louisiana coast and it’s spreading east. The gulf is a long way from Cook County, but it’s migrating bird country. So, how’s this going to affect us?
 
Anderson: Oh, Jay, you’re right. This is a difficult thing to even talk about, there’s so many emotions involved, ranging from fury to grief, knowing what’s going on to these cherished places of people and other living things in that landscape. And, you’re right, birds are something if we didn’t already realize it are our wake-up call to the fact that we are connected to these places. This is not someplace else, this is really about us and the place we cherish, too. So, the morning birdsong chorus is extra poignant right now, because many, many of our singing birds will be going to the Gulf, some to migrate through and use various staging areas to refuel on their way to parts further distant and to rest and they need to bulk up when they are there, and they’re going to be foraging through all different kinds of habitats to refuel and then other birds are going to actually be living there over the winter. This is their winter residence. We’re talking about birds ranging from our warblers and thrushes and many songbirds to wading birds and shore birds, the birds we’ve been talking about this spring, the bittern, the snipe, the spotted sandpiper. The list is really too long to go into.
 
There’s been some discussion about loons. What’s the special deal with loons?
 
Anderson: Well, loons definitely are another bird that will be impacted. Any loon that leaves here in the late summer, fall, many of those Minnesota birds go to the Gulf and they are sea birds when they aren’t living here. So, they live in the sea, they feed in the sea, and so they are going to be on the front lines of potential impacts, both direct in terms of getting oiled up just like the birds that we’re seeing on TV and all the news reports that are down there right now, and feeding on other organisms that have become contaminated because they’re living in the same thing.
 
They’re a diver, they’re eating fish.
 
Anderson: They’re a diver, they’re eating fish, they’re eating, yeah, lots of sea life is being impacted that our birds would ultimately be using to try to feed on, whether they’re loons or other species. So, and if you think about many of the birds that will be migrating from here this fall will be brand-new birds. They’re going to these places without any past experience of the place, much less this very destructive catastrophe that we have wrought in the Gulf.
 
So, these are the ones that are being born right now.
 
Anderson: Right. Just this past week, I had the pleasure of being out on a local lake and seeing a little loon lit, brand new, you know, just maybe four inches long, riding around on its parent’s back. You know, just one of those sites that we all look forward to seeing and enjoying, but to think that that bird, if it’s successful in terms of getting through the summer and growing to adequate size and ability, it’s going to take off and go, and it could be going right to the Gulf.
 
Does this also affect ducks and things like that? Is this a part of their migratory path?
 
Anderson: Very major part. Much of our waterfowl species from common birds that nest right here, mallards and blackducks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, a couple different species of mergansers, teal, you know, there’s just, again, the list is too long to repeat here of all the waterfowl that use the Gulf as, and both the Gulf itself and also the marsh habitats and the estuaries of the Gulf as their winter residences. Whether you eat fish or you eat vegetation, this can impact your diet.
 
Now, what about the songbirds? Do they tend to habitat those marshy coastal areas or are they further in, and if they’re further in, will there be some kind of local migration that will push them out of their areas, or how do they share that territory?
 
Anderson: If they are winter residents, they’ll have a particular habitat that they regularly use, and whether or not that habitat is directly impacted will depend on what the habitat is and the hurricane season. The hurricane season could move oil into habitats that it wouldn’t otherwise get to. They also may find, as you’re suggesting, that winter resident birds, birds from the local area are occupying habitats that they don’t normally occupy, because of changes to their regular habitat. So, there’s a whole range of direct impacts that our migrant birds can experience as well as indirect consequences of this. Birds are a huge part of all of our native ecosystem’s individual habitats here. They play a big role in terms of controlling insect populations. So, they’re a major source of accumulating biomass over the course of the summer that then larger birds, birds of prey, can utilize to feed themselves. So, they’re an extremely directly important to some interactions, but they’re also a major part of the food web here, so, in both directions, you know, higher up on the feeding pyramid and lower down. Having diminished numbers of these birds isn’t just an aesthetic things, it’s a big ecosystem problem.
 
Finally, is there anything we can do about it?
 
Anderson: Well, speaking for myself, I think it’s just the most recent reason to do whatever I can to limit my consumption of oil. I feel like I need to take personal responsibility in any way I can to reduce my own consumption.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand this critical issue.
 
Anderson: You’re welcome.
 


 
Blue bead lily

Summer plants are blooming

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Summer plants are blooming and fruiting. Ferns are worth watching, June berries, moose maple and lots of flowers are ahead of schedule. There’s also good news and bad about blueberries and blackflies. And only good news about fireflies. WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about the flowers and insects of mid-June.
 

Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Anderson: Hello, Jay.
 
Now, we’re farther along into the summer than the last time we talked about plants. So, what’s up, what’s blooming and what’s fruiting?
 
Anderson: Yeah, well, let’s first mention that this time of year is a great time if you want to learn your ferns, right? The ferns are pretty much all up now. It’s a good time to get out and look for them and try to learn to identify them, pick out some groups of ferns that you’re interested in and learn the identification of. Watching them over the summer from here on, watch how they develop and watch the different characteristics that you’re looking for to see eventually when they all come together so that you can identify them. Ferns are happening right now. It’s a good time to be looking for ferns. Other plants that are doing some fruiting right now would be, miraculously, juneberries. Most other years, we have a lot of juneberry plants, or serviceberry is another term, and maybe more appropriate most years here, but we rarely, if ever, have berries in June that you could eat. This year, lots of our juneberries were already pollinated before June 1st, and depending upon rain now and the weather in general, that will determine whether we have a nice, full, plump blueberry crop or kind of get cheated on all that great pollination that went on. There’s a lot of fruits out there. Chokecherries would be another shrub that started blooming quite early this year and already some shrubs have fruits and are beginning to develop. In bloom right now would be highbush cranberries, another one of our later-season, summer fruits. Moose maple or mountain maple shrub is in flower at this time. So, the dogwoods are flowering now. So, a lot of shrub flowering and fruiting going on. In the wildflower department, we’ve got Goldthread in bloom, and these are tiny white flowers, snow white with a gold center, that bloom in kind of moist, dark, coniferous forest; the Canada Mayflower, very common, white, cluster of small flowers; Clintonia, or Bluebead Lily, is another common plant that is blooming right now and has a yellow, kind of trumpet shape, flower; Dewberries are in the same genus as the raspberry, and they are a creeping plant with a three-parted leaf that is very common in the forest; Jack-in-the-pulpit, very familiar to many of us, they’re in bloom by this time.
 
You mentioned blueberries. Is it too early to have some kind, I mean provided we get rain, is it too early to have any kind of an idea about what they’re going to--they’re not very far along themselves.
 
No, but they’re coming into bloom. They’re in bloom, so what’s key when the plants are in bloom is to have good weather for pollination and plenty of pollinators, which, of course, includes our favorite species, the black fly. There have been lots of black flies around.
 
Oh, tell me.
 
So, as long as there’s good weather for black flies being out and moving around and bothering us, that probably means there’s good pollination going around. The blueberry crop will depend on how much of a bloom there is, so, how did plants do after last year? Did they have a lot of energy stored up so they can put out a lot of blooms? Then, how well are they pollinated? Then, if there’s good pollination and fruit set, then, do we get the rains that we need to plump them up?
 
Well, let’s talk about another insect that seems to be sort of stories and fiction and fairytales and that sort of thing, and that’s fireflies. Are we in firefly season yet?
 
Yes, June will be this year, definitely, sometimes it can kind of poke into July, but we’re going to have a June firefly season this year. What a magical thing, the firefly is. Fireflies are also small insects and the adults fly, the males pretty much all fly. Females may or may not fly. In some species, females are wingless. Many species of adults produce a light, they emit light, and it’s something that’s referred to as a cold light, because it doesn’t give off any heat, it’s an incredibly efficient light, 92 to 100 percent efficiency. So, if we could figure out exactly how they do this, can you imagine the energy savings that there is there? I mean, this is something that people have been working to try and figure out because of its potential for many years, and it’s still isn’t completely understood. We still don’t know how to do it, but they do.
 
In a confined space, they throw a lot of light.
 
They do, I know, they really do. It’s an oxidation process that’s going on; we do know that much about it. It involves a couple of enzymes interacting with each other, but very efficient light. They use the light primarily to attract mates, so they flash in a very specific rhythm. The males use that to attract females, and the females, if they’re wingless, they’re doing the same thing. They’re flashing, but down on the ground. They communicate with each other this way. The amazing phenomenon of seeing fireflies all together in the night sky flashing away to each other and communicating in the complete silence is just an incredibly magical experience and well worth pursuing this June.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist, thanks for helping us once again understand what’s going on around us this spring and early summer.
 
Anderson: You’re very welcome.

 
Hermit Thrush

Migrating birds and dragonflies are returning north

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This is the time of year when migrating birds are returning by the flocks-full. Warblers and the woodland thrushes can be heard throughout the forest. But birds aren’t the only creatures in flight. It’s also dragonfly time. WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about birds, dragon flies, damselflies and more.
 
 
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Anderson: Hello, Jay. Lucky me!
 
Well, let’s talk about new birds we should be looking and listening for this time of year.
 
Anderson: Well, the migration continues onward so birds continue to kind of trickle in. The ones that I’ve been thinking about that I’d like to remind people to be listening for, one is a group called the thrushes. Most people are very familiar with the song of the robin, and the robin in terms of its visual identifiers There’s another few species of thrushes in our forest that aren’t quite so obvious, especially visually, because they’re kind of more hideout-and-sneak-around types, and those are the hermit thrush, the veery, and the Swainson’s thrush, and a fourth one, the wood thrush, which has really become very rare in the county now, so it’s not the most likely one for people to hear or see, also very secretive. But, all four of these thrushes have in common a very beautiful, flute-like song, that’s really, in terms of this group, unmistakable. If you hear one of these flute-like songs, even if you don’t know in particular which one of the thrushes it is, it has to be one of these four. There really are no birds that sound like this. So, these are very melodic, most often heard at kind of dawn and dusk. They are forest birds, so that’s where you’re going to hear them. The veery and the Swainson’s thrush have very similar songs. The veery goes down the scale, so the notes start high and end low. The Swainson’s thrush is just the opposite; the notes start low and climb the scale, the musical scale. So, listen for a real, careful, flute-like notes going up and down the scale, those would be either the veery or the Swainson’s thrush. The hermit thrush is a much more variable song, but the same quality of tone as the other two and starts out with usually one long note then does this amazing run of notes that are very difficult to reproduce. In fact, for all of the thrushes, we’re only hearing a few of the notes that they’re actually hearing are within our range of auditory reception. Other birds coming back, flycatchers showing up now, heavily dependent on insects, along with the warblers. So, they’re all showing up now, taking part in the big insect feasts that are being provided. Along shorelines, a bird to look for now would be the spotted sandpiper. It’s a little brown bird with a spotted breast, usually very visible, hopping along the shoreline, and it does a lot of head-bobbing.
 
Well, Chel, other things that fly besides birds like dragonflies and mayflies, how are we doing with those?
 
Anderson: Yeah, this is a fantastic time of year to pay attention to dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies. One of the interesting things with the dragonflies is that here, in our part of the state, we actually have dragonflies arriving in different ways, in terms of flying adults. There are actually dragonflies that have grown up down south that have migrated up here for the summer, and they’re the first dragonflies that we see. Green darners are usually the mass migrators from the south and they show up and this year they showed up May 8, was the first day, quite early. There’s a lot of art to identifying dragonflies, but if you see a dragonfly in May and it’s a large dragonfly with basically a dark body and if you get a close look at it, some green side panels on the thorax, right behind the head on that kind of stout part of the body. They’re big, easy to spot, and they typically come right up Highway 61. Unfortunately, a lot of them are lost to vehicle collisions, but they use the migration corridor that the birds use, and then they disperse out into the woods and waters of the forest. So, they’re the first dragonflies that we see. Then, the next big event among the dragonflies is something called synchronized emergence. Of course, for lots of species of insects there’s lots of advantages to all coming out at the same time, if the idea is to procreate and make sure the next generation is ready. So, dragonflies are similar in that respect. So, June is just a fantastic time to see these big synchronized emergence of dragonflies. So, if you can find a spot along maybe a slow moving stretch of river inland or lake, and just spend some time cruising the shoreline on a nice sunny day, cruise that shoreline and keep your eyes open for dragonfly nymphs, so this is the aquatic life stage of the dragonflies, and they will be crawling out onto the rocks, onto vegetation right at the edge of the lake or stream, posing there to do their metamorphosis from nymph to flying adult.
 
What about damselflies?
 
Anderson: Damselflies are, of course, related to dragonflies, and they fly a little differently. They look more like a helicopter; they fly more like a butterfly. Their wings don’t move in the same kind of quick synchrony that dragonflies do. They generally, when they’re alighting on something, they fold their wings together over their back. Dragonflies can’t do that. Dragonfly wings are always spread.
 
Am I correct in thinking that the mayfly hatch is one of the big things that trout fisherman look for?
 
Anderson: Oh, indeed. Mayflies are hugely important to fish populations of all kinds, but particularly species that recreational fisherman are after.
 
Now, these guys aren’t anywhere near as big as a dragonfly.
 
Anderson: No, and some are really tiny. Some are smaller than your little fingernail, and then others are up to 2, 2.5 inches. Some only last as adults maybe an hour and a half, and others just a few days as the maximum life span for an adult mayfly.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist, thanks for helping us understand what’s going on around us this spring.
 
Anderson: You’re very welcome.


 
Moose twins

Moose and their calves are there to be seen

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This is the magic time of year when people start to look for and see young moose. The calves are being born and begin their amazing growth that will prepare them for winter.  WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about moose.
 
 
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us here periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Anderson: Hi, Jay.
 
Now, everyone’s favorite large mammal, moose, when do we start seeing moose calves, or are the around already?
 
Anderson: Well, I haven’t seen one myself, and I haven’t heard that someone has, but that could well be, but typically in Minnesota moose calves are born starting in the second week of May and going thought the end of May, the fourth week in May, and pretty much all the calves are born during that bit of time. If the cows have been in good nutritional condition when they go into the winter and get through the winter well, then they might be having one or even two calves. Twin calves, historically, have been very common in our northeastern Minnesota moose population. Unfortunately, that’s been declining, but we can still hope to see twin calves out there occasionally. One question I’ve had about this is why would they all be born in this tight little timeframe, why not a little bit earlier or a little bit later? They seem to really be concentrated. No one really knows all the evolutionary factors that have led to this, but one of the kind of leading theories about this is that it has to do with something called “predator saturation.” So, if you are an animal who’s young is very susceptible and vulnerable to mortality from predators when they’re young, very young, then it can be beneficial for all of you to have your young at the same time, because then you give the predators all these choices. So, individually or each calf, or each cow’s calves, have a better, higher probability of being overlooked by a predator, because there’s so many other choices out there. So, that’s one possible reason. But, in any case, it gives us a great opportunity to see them, because they’re all being born pretty much at the same time. Pressure from predators is another very significant factor in where calves are born. So, cows are careful about where they choose to give birth to their calves. They want some place with dense cover, not just tree cover, but shrubs. That helps make it difficult for the calves to be seen and the cows to be seen when they are lying down close to the calves. It also helps to be somehow isolated from easy access by land. So, islands have been documented to be very often chosen as moose calving sites as well as even peninsulas, because it just narrows down the directions from which predators either intentionally or accidentally stumble upon the cow and calf or the calf if it’s alone. So, both islands and peninsulas are important places, and it’s also useful if there’s good brows for the cows, so she doesn’t have to go that far to feed when she needs to in between before the calf can really be moving around very far. Calves, when they’re born, are between 25 and 30 pounds. So, big relief to the cow. But then, of course, another sort of chore is to take over, and the calves are pretty helpless, you know, when they’re first born, but they can walk or stand and walk within a day or two, and then start gradually moving around as directed by their mother. The moose calves are the fastest growing mammal on the North American continent. Well, and they need to, right, because they have to make it through a winter in just several months. Initially, they’re feeding strictly on the mother’s milk; that lasts for a month. When they’re feeding on the milk, they’re growing two to three pounds per day. So, when they’re doing strictly dependent on the mother’s milk and when they’re really young, they can’t go so far, right, and they don’t have the strength and agility to manage some of our cross-country travel. So, the cow is assessing all that as her calf or calves develop and, you know, just making the choices about well, we need to do this or not do that, and go here, go there. But, the cow has to take care of herself as well. She needs to find what she needs, but as she recognizes her offspring have the strength and capacity to move, she’ll keep pushing them to do a little bit more and get a little bit stronger. Calves are often swimming by a week old. It’s really remarkable how quickly wild creatures have to become adept.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist, thanks for helping us understand what’s going on around this spring.
 
Anderson: You’re very welcome.


 
Mourning cloak

Spring is flowering in the forest

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Even though the weather can be cool, spring flowers are carpeting the forest floor and early butterflies are visiting them. WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about ephemerals and mourning cloaks.
 
 
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Hello, Jay.
 
Now that we’ve had rain, things are really starting to green up, but why are spring flowers called ephemerals?
 
Great question. Spring ephemerals, they are a very unique group of plants that really have evolved to take full advantage of the intensity of the spring sun before the leaves come out on the trees and shrubs and before a lot of other plants have come up that would be taller than them and do a lot of shading of these spring ephemerals. So, they leap out of the forest floor with their leaves and start gobbling up sunshine as quickly and efficiently as possible so that they move very quickly into their blooms and then very quickly into seed and maturing their seed. Some of them actually do disappear. They truly are ephemeral in the sense that they’re here today and gone tomorrow. Right now there are carpets literally by the bazillions of spring beauties in bloom in the maple forest, in some moist areas that aren’t even forest but maybe dense shrub cover, but the best place and easiest place to find them is to go out into the maple forest and they’re just all over the place, huge carpets of them. They are blooming just above leaf litter on the forest floor and they will be here for another, oh, until the end of May, perhaps. There might still be a few in bloom, depending upon the weather and how things go. But, by the middle of June, you won’t be able to find those plants at all.
 
What other ephemerals are there?
 
Well, other ephemerals that aren’t quite as dramatic in terms of their briefness that are blooming right now would be the Dutchman’s Breeches, which people might be familiar with. Their flowers look like white pantaloons with little yellow ruffles at the bottom—very sweet. They also occur in large, sometimes very large patches, and are easy to see right now in bloom because there isn’t a lot to hide them. Other spring flowers that are taking advantage of the light in the same way would be our nodding and large flower trilliums, already in bloom, bloodroot, all those species are particularly good at capitalizing on this early spring sunshine before the other leaves come out.
 
One of my favorites: Wild Ginger. Talk about wild ginger and how it kind of hides the flowers.
 
 
Yeah, good one. Yeah, ginger are just beautiful, but easily overlooked, because, as you say, the pretty, velvety green leaf that lies very close to the forest floor actually hides the blossom, which is down at the very base. If you follow the stem of the leaf down, you’ll find the flower, which is a beautiful, deep maroon and shaped kind of like an orb, so very round but then open at the end with some flared fringe.
 
It’s chilly in the mornings. In spite of that, butterflies are around.
 
Yes. Oh, that’s always so much fun to see these butterflies and have them contribute to the color in the woods at this time of year. The first butterflies that show up in the spring here are butterflies that overwintered as adults, and there aren’t many species that actually do that. Some common ones that people may have already seen, or certainly could see anytime now, would be the morning cloak, which many people might be familiar with. So, this is a dark, when the wings are open, so the top side of the wings are a really dark, chocolately brown. There are some beautiful blue, kind of iridescent blue dots and then a beautiful thick, white margin on the wings. They overwinter under the bark of trees and that’s why they can come out so early, because they’re already ready to fly, right? They are physiologically able to protect the fluids in their cells from freezing to the point where it would kill the cells.
 
Butterfly antifreeze?
 
Exactly. Yes. Butterfly antifreeze. Other adults, other species that overwinter as adults would be the tortoiseshells, the Compton and Milbert’s tortoiseshells. There’s the silvery blue, and also the spring azure. These come out early not because they’ve overwinter as adults, they overwinter in the chrysalis. So, probably everybody’s probably familiar with chrysalis from seeing a Monarch chrysalis or whatever. Well, it’s the same type of thing. So, that’s the last stage before you emerge as an adult butterfly.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand what’s going on around us this spring.
 
Great fun. Thank you.


 
Black bear

An early spring doesn't necessarily affect the bears

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Spring has sprung early this year, but does that mean hibernating bears will get out and about sooner than usual? And what about other hibernators? WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about how the weather affects or doesn’t affect, bears, chipmunks and mice.
 
 
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. So, welcome Chel.
 
Anderson: Hello, Jay.
 
Well, has this very early spring had any impact on hibernating creatures? Let’s first talk about bears.
 
Anderson: Well, that’s a great question. I think it’s best to start with thinking about ok, bears have been living here for thousands of years and this isn’t the first early spring. So, I have a lot of faith that there’s a lot of resilience built into the bears’ hibernating system. But, it’s still interesting to think about and wonder at, well, how do they manage these things? We’ve talked about how cubs are born in the den, during the winter, during the mother’s hibernation. The moms are going to make all the decisions here. The cubs are far from on their own, so the moms are going to decide are they ready to go out yet or not depending on what the weather is. She’ll just keep them right there in the den or maybe move them even to a better spot, another alternative den, if that seems reasonable. They are very good mothers and I suspect that they’re used to bringing their cubs through kind type of thing. For the other bears that don’t have responsibilities for cubs, whether they are males or females, they could well be out touring around a little bit, looking for opportunities to tie into something to eat. Remember, their digestive systems have been very, I guess, cleaned out is a good way to say it, because they haven’t been doing any eating, right? They’ve been kind of specially prepared physiologically for hibernation, so they have to slowly come back to kind of normal digestion and normal eating. So, they have very simple diets at this time of year. I would say probably the biggest effect on the bears who might be out moving around looking for something to eat by now, even if they’re going back and napping a little bit in their dens, is that because we haven’t had any rain, there isn’t a lot of green up of fresh grass shoots and sedge shoots and things like that, so those aren’t real available yet to eat, and that would be a key early food for bears.
 
It always seems to me, whether it’s an early spring or not, that bears tend come out just a couple three weeks a little too soon.
 
Anderson: Yeah, well, they probably do. Maybe they’re anxious, I don’t know, or maybe we’re not quick enough to get everything put away, so that we’re not attracting them.
 
Well, it just doesn’t seem to me that there’s anything much to eat, but then again, I’m not looking at the same goodies that they might. What would be some of the first things? You mentioned grass shoots.
 
Anderson: Yep, grass and sedge shoots are important. So, fresh shoots of simple things, not woody things, but herbaceous plants, especially grasses and sedges. They also eat the flowers of the aspen, so you might see a bear pulling over a sapling of an aspen to get at the flowers that are out, and there are some aspens that are beginning to flower, not a lot yet, but they’re happening.
 
So that would be much the same as what they will do later in the year when they are berries to pull down? You see all those branches that have been brought down.
 
Anderson: Right. Exactly. Another thing that you might see evidence of is you’ll see ant mounds dug up this time of year, because the ant larvae are a good first food often available. Sometimes you’ll see rocks turned over. Bears go around and turn over rocks looking for the larvae of other insects that they can eat. So, those are some of the first and usually available foods right away, but they’re not super abundant yet in part, because as I said, there isn’t a lot of green up of those grassy shoots yet, and we don’t have a lot of aspens in flower quite yet.
 
What about other hibernators, like chipmunks?
 
Anderson: Well, you know, for other hibernators, it’s kind of a mixed bag, I think. If you went into the winter in good condition to spend a winter, then you’ve still got some fat reserves to go. So, the fact that there isn’t maybe a lot of favorite foods out quite yet is probably not a big deal, you can probably make do. If you went into the winter not in very good condition, it could kind of play either way. Maybe it’s great that you can get up and start looking for something to eat, because there are fresh shoots of a few things out there that chipmunks would be interested in and they’ll certainly be looking for any seeds that all the other critters that were active during the winter didn’t get. As we’ve talked about for with the amphibians and reptiles, they’re good to go whenever they wake up. As long as the ponds and rivers and lakes are not frozen anymore, they can just start right in on their breeding. There’s plenty of aquatic insects and things that they are using to live on. I can say for sure, though, that some things aren’t up yet. Just this past weekend, I got to see two different nests of jumping mice, where those little mice, those dear little mice, were still coiled up in this perfect little ball with their four-inch tails wrapped right around them, and their big hind feet squeezed up tight to their abdomens, still sound asleep, completely asleep.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand what’s going on around us this spring.
 
Anderson: Always a pleasure. Thank you.


 
Woodcock

Spring means the song and antics of woodcocks and snipe

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Some of the most interesting mating rituals among our northern birds are the flights of the woodcock and snipe. WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about “peenting” soaring, freefall and the mysterious warble in the lowlands.
 
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives here in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
 
Hello, Jay.
 
Let’s talk about birds. Birds are mating, too. Now, of course, there’s lots of birds, but what I’d particularly like to talk about, which is, I think, pretty interesting to most people, and that is the courtship rituals of the snipe and woodcock.
 
Yeah. These are some of earliest returning birds, and they are very interesting birds altogether. And, as you say, their courtship rituals are quite elaborate. I know Molly had a really nice broadcast recently of the call of the woodcock. We’ll start with the woodcock, which is kind of a “beaam” sound.
 
Very good!
 
So, they’re very busy. For their mating rituals, the males like to stalk around on kind of slightly open, brushy, maybe the edge of a field or could be even at the edge of an old gravel pit or any kind of opening in the woods. Part of the reason they like to be more or less in the open is that their courtship, in addition to stalking around and doing that “beaam” call, is to leap into the air and circle ever greater, wider spirals, up into the air about 300 feet. If you’re watching, they really just about disappear from view. When they get to the top, they start singing, and they’re singing this very distinctive, kind of liquid chirping song and they’re singing as they go up, and the they hover at the top of that spiral for awhile, singing away, and then they just tuck their wings and they dive down towards the ground, but they do it in this pattern like a leaf fall. So, if you’ve watched a leaf fall out of a Maple tree or a Birch tree, it’s kind of a zigzag pattern. And so they do these swoops and turns and swoops and turns, back and forth, singing all the time as they drop to the ground. Then, they hit the ground and pretty quick start up their intermittent “peenting” call again, and if there’s a female right there, they’ll kind of do this stiff-legged walk towards her. But, that aerial display and singing is what they’re using to make their mark with the female.
 
Now this usually happens right around dusk, doesn’t it? Or early in the morning?
 
Yes, that’s exactly right. Both the woodcock and the common snipe or Wilson snipe are what we would call crepuscular species. So, they primarily do all their courtship displays and interactions with eachother and feeding from just before dawn through first intense light of the day, and then starting at dusk and into the night. In the case of both species, they will do this courtship during the night, especially if there’s a moonlit night; that will be very popular for doing their courtship displays. The snipe has a little bit different take on the whole courtship thing. They like wetter places, so they’re going to be right out in the marshes or near the edges of swamps. Again, more open, shrubby or grass- and sedge-dominated places, not so much in the forested swamps. Their courtship display is very mysterious in the sound that they make, because they take off and fly very fast and incorporate these swooping dives into the circles that they make around their nesting territory. And, as they do the dives, they do the dives with their tail feathers expanded. At the base of their tail there are two feathers that are a little bit different from all the others, and they extend kind of perpendicular from the body. It’s those two tail feathers that, in the dives, the air going past them vibrates them, and it makes this “wooowooowooo” kind of sound. So, if you go out especially at dusk in most any marsh right now, you can listen to that just, very magical and mysterious sound of the snipe. They’re hard to see doing it. If there is still some light and you’re good with your binoculars and with your visual cues, you can pick them up and try to follow them as they go, but they are flying very fast, and there isn’t anything else that sounds like that.
 
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand what’s been going on around us this spring.
 

My pleasure, Jay 


 
Wood frag

Time for spring singing in the marshes and blooming in the woods

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This is the time of year to hear frogs in the lowlands and start to see wildflowers in the forest. WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local naturalist about amphibian songs and a small sweet smelling flower often overlooked on a woodland stroll.


 
Marsh marigolds

Spring flowers are coming out and so are the beavers

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This is the time of year we see pussy willows along the roadsides and marsh marigolds blooming in the wetlands WTIPs Jay Andersen talks with a local phenologist about early flowers, migrating birds and the return of ducks to the lakes. It’s also time for beavers to emerge and bask in the sun.