Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There's Always Something New

With the wind howling and fall progressing apace, despite the temperatures hovering in the high 80's/low 90's the last several days, I almost didn't take my camera with me when I walked the boys this morning.  After all, the flowers are basically all done, right?  What else would there be to photograph?

Well, I had barely crossed the draw when I saw this young sapling and was glad that I had brought my camera with me....


See that little knot of "debris" near the trunk, a couple of feet above the ground?  It's a small birds' nest.

As I've mentioned before, I never go looking for bird nests during the summer, since I feel like I lead predators to their nests when I find them.  I've actually become rather superstitious about this and generally won't even photograph a nest if I stumble upon it accidentally.  This morning, with the leaves dropping off this young hackberry sapling (Celtis occidentalis), a nest had been revealed that had, presumably, been there all summer long - not 15' off the trail and about 2' off the ground.  Despite having obviously walked by this nest numerous times in the last few months, I'd never noticed it or even noted that there was probably a nest somewhere in area...until now.


Even at this point, with all the leaves gone, the nest isn't sticking out like a sore thumb.  I have no idea what kind of birds built it or whether or not they were successful in their nesting attempt, but I certainly have my hopes.

As I walked back to the trail from taking the closeup photo of the nest, I noticed this hollow stem sticking up out of the drying grasses....


Looking around, I noticed more hollow stems, then realized that these were old stalks of wild lettuce, Lactuca sp.  I've never paid much attention to wild lettuce, assuming that it was an introduced weed and, as such, not of much use to wildlife.  Well, when I looked Lactuca up at Kansas Wildflowers & Grasses, I realized that there were 3 species listed, 2 of which were actually native.  I know that I have the non-native species (Lactuca serriola or prickly lettuce) on the property, but I don't know if these stalks are from that species or from one of the native species - I've never checked to see if I have the native ones or not, simply lumping all "wild lettuce" plants I've seen into the thought category of "non-native 'weed'." 


This is what one of the" freshest" of the wild lettuce plants in the area looks like right now - pretty much dead already - and there are stalks in all stages in between this one and the old, gray ones.  I'll have to wait until next summer to check about whether the native species grow on our property or not.


So why do I care?  Because, as the holes in these stalks insinuate, something has been living in these stalks and utilizing their innards for food and/or cover.  And some of the most common animals to utilize the inside of hollow stems are the native bees, aka native pollinators!  So even this very common plant that I had previously dismissed as basically useless turns out to have an important role in a healthy ecosystem.

In fact, as I read a bit more about the wild lettuces, they are actually rather interesting plants.  Native Americans used them for several medicinal purposes, including as a poultice for poison ivy rashes.  Wild turkey and deer will eat the leaves, even the prickly leaves of the non-native prickly lettuce. 

Sometimes I feel like I need a "Jethro slap" to the head! 

Despite finding these several new-to-me discoveries in the Cedar Grove, I wasn't in the mood to walk the Back Five this morning, so I walked around the front tallgrass area instead.  I haven't walked the front much at all this summer.
 

For only about the second time this year, I noticed that the cattails in the swampy area along the north part of the draw appear to be gone, at least for now.  Here is a photo of this area as it currently appears.  There is not a cattail to be found, but the giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) and annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) grew to enormous heights over the summer and a few panicled asters (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) moved into the foreground.  It should be great winter habitat for the small birds.


I ended up this morning's walk out front by the driveway where I finally took a couple photos of the healthy young Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) that Melanie of There's No Place Like Home shared with me this spring.  I am just tickled pink - they not only survived, which was amazing given that they are planted in a "wild" area of the property and thus didn't get any extra water, but they thrived!  Even though the blooms are reaching their end, I still saw numerous insects feeding at them, including 3 different kinds of skippers that were kind enough to stick around long enough for me to photograph them.  The most photogenic combination of skipper and sunflower is below:


So my lesson for the day?  Be sure to take my camera with me when I walk, no matter how unexciting the day seems, because there's always something new if I keep my eyes open.

16 comments:

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

You have such an eye to find the best things on your walks. Those maximilian sunflowers are great! I hope you get gobs more next year.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thank you,GonSS, for your kind comment. In my defense, though, I do have 10 acres to meander over any time I want to!

Jason said...

Very cool about the wild lettuce.

Skeeter said...

Isnt it nice to slow down and really take notice as we stroll about... I am going to guess on the birds nest and say maybe a Cardinal. Do you have them in your area? That nest looks similar to a Cardnial's home I was lucky enough to see progress. The babies leave the nest within about 8 days! Amazing how quickly they grow. Also amazing how many creatures utilize such small places to call home such as a stem.... Just amazing...

ProfessorRoush said...

My lesson for the day was in your identification of the wild lettuce. Heck I've got that crap growing everywhere. At least now I know what it is, instead of just hating it as a weed.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Love exploring just like you. The wild lettuce is new to me, will have to read more about it.

Melanie said...

Your sunflowers look great!! I'm so glad they survived!! The few that I moved to a location that didn't get any water didn't do as well!! Maybe next summer. They are sure a bright spot. .and as I photographed my sister's family earlier today, made a great foreground, in some photos even though the blooms are gone!! I am eager for the days when I will be able to slow down the pace long enough to notice things like you do!! But I relish the season I am in now. .for I know, too quickly it will be by!! Until then, keep the great info coming. .and then with any luck at all, I will know some things when that day gets here!! Enjoy your Sunday!

Gaia Gardener: said...

I'm intrigued that the wild lettuce hit such a chord! Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and letting me know.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Skeeter, it could very well be a cardinal nest. We have lots of cardinals around. I see most of them at the feeders in bad weather during the winter. I remember seeing almost 20 at one time last winter.... (And if the babies leave the nest in 8 days or so, it would have been easy for me to have missed them this summer.)

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, "To everything there is a season!" - and I've enjoyed most of the "seasons" in my life. Just waiting for grandkids to come now...if they ever do!

I love the sunflowers and think of you every time I drive in and see them just on the other side of the fence.

I'm so glad that I photographed them the day I did...2 days later, we'd had a cold and windy spell again and most of the petals had dropped.

troutbirder said...

Interesting. I do always bring my camera. Dog leash. Remote dog controler for off least. Cell Phone Binoculars, Pocket knife. Hard candy. Water bottle ... and my spouse can't figure out why I prefer thos outdoorsy pants with lots of pockets.

Gaia Gardener: said...

LOL! Thankfully I only have to pack my cell phone, binoculars and camera...at least usually. The advantage to living out in the country.

Kalantikan said...

I am like you, sometimes when i dont have the camera i get to see lots of interesting subjects. I guess we are so engrossed with the obvious most of the time and we forget those behind the curtains, as they say we need not only see the forest but also the trees! Thanks for your visit to mine!

tina said...

So very true! How wonderful to stumble upon a birds nest!

Casa Mariposa said...

It's wonderful how something as simple as a stalk can be so meaningful to an insect or wild creature. :o) I'm careful about birds nests, too. If I get too close I feel like I'm intruding.

Carol said...

Lovely post Gaia! I love how we think things are useless whereas other life finds nourishment and habitat. So true about always finding something worthwhile to capture through our lens.