Sunday, July 27, 2014

U.P. Bogs, Orchids and More

Mary's Bog, Swamp Lakes Area, Luce Co
After being out in Luce and Chippewa counties in the eastern U.P. of Michigan mid-July, it's clear it's a good year for orchids. This year's winter had significant snowfall which has resulted in high lake levels and every bog is brim full with water.

Mary's Bog, Swamp Lakes Area, Luce County
The Swamp Lakes, an extensive area of boreal bogs near my parents home on Pike Lake, is lush with an astounding density of orchids. The Dry Lakes, also nearby in Luce County, are ephemeral lakes that in most years are dry. They too are flowing with water, existing as actual lakes this year. Over in Chippewa County, the Pat Grogan Orchid bog is doing well with its 100s of Rose Pogonia. Even along the paths out to Vermillion Beach where orchids are more scarce, Rose Pogonia and Grass Pink Orchid dot the landscape.
Old Beaver Pond, Swamp Lakes, Luce County

"Cynthia's Bog", Luce County
Just the other day, I discovered a new orchid bog back in Swamp Lakes which held 100s of Rose Pogonia along with Grass Pink and Small Green Fringed Orchid. Typically when in the Upper Peninsula I almost exclusively frequent another bog known for its 100s of Grass Pink Orchids for my orchard fix. Folks around Pike Lake refer to this Grass Pink Bog as "Mary's Bog," named after my mother who was the first lake resident to discover this bog. Upon finding the Rose Pogonia bog the other day, I declared this new orchid bog as "Cynthia's Bog." We shall see if the name sticks. In addition to orchids , both bog areas also had at least two species of carnivorous bladderwort flowering, the more common being Horned Bladderwort, as well as sundew and Pitcher Plants.

Rose Pogonia and Small Green Fringed Orchid
Cynthia's Bog
Rose Pogonia, "Cynthia's Bog"
Horned Bladderwort
Grass Pink Orchid
One may have noticed I've been on a bit of an orchid quest this summer. Thus far my total number of wild orchid species seen in the Great Lakes region for the year stands at eleven species.

Purple-fringed Orchid
On July 18, I added Purple-fringed Orchid as my tenth species for the year found in the ditches near the Taquamenon River Mouth in Chippewa County. This is a species I have yet to see in Wisconsin. The area where these were found is the only area which has LESS water this year. Unlike prior years there is no standing water in these ditches which seems somewhat puzzling.

Purple-Fringed Orchid
On July 19th, while checking the area northwest of the Hwy 123 and Skyline Road junction in Luce County, I was surprised to find my lifer Ragged Fringed Orchids. While not as rare as PrairieWhite-fringed, I was absolutely pleased to see this species for the first time.

Ragged Fringed Orchid
Ragged Fringed Orchid

The path in this area was decorated with blooming Round and Narrow-leaved Sundew as well as 100s of Small Green Fringed Orchids.

Narrow-leaved Sundew

Round-leaved Sundew

Small Green Fringed or
Club Spur Orchid

In the butterfly department, I observed 100s of sulphurs on the roads. In the bogs, Bog Copper numbers were impressive. Butterfly diversity seemed low. Beside the two previous mentioned species I saw a limited number of brown skippers and a few White Admirals.

Bog Copper
Dragonflies continue to thrive this summer with a never-ending and bountiful food supply of mosquitoes. I have yet to ID most of the ones I encountered in the bogs, but plan to do so in the near future.

As goes the circle of life in the bog, the dragonflies predate the mosquitoes and the carnivorous sundew ensnare the dragonflies. Some patches of sundew appeared to be veritable micro graveyards for the dragon and damsel flies.

Despite the devastation from the Duck Lake Fire which consumed much of the forest on the west side of Pike Lake. Life is succeeding. The floor of the charred forest is lush with green moss. Earlier in June it was dappled with sprays of white Labrador Tea.

Pike Lake Campground, post burn
That has since been replaced by tufts of white sedges and the occasional brilliant cluster of Fireweed.

Nature has her way of continuing to engage and amaze me with all her sensational changes. Where one might see destruction from fire, Nature has given me a sense of hope as I witness salient colorful changes on a greater magnitude than what has occurred around Pike Lake in the decades prior to the fire. This, to me, is a splendid silver lining!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Prairie White-fringed Orchids

Today I had the fortune to help with an orchid survey at a couple of Madison Audubon's Faville Grove Sanctuary sites. I was the only volunteer and probably the oldest among a group of interns from the sanctuary and the UW Arboretum. My friend, Matt kindly invited me along knowing I wanted to see the State Endangered Prairie White-fringed Orchid that we would be surveying. I'm not sure what was more engaging, seeing this orchid for the first time or being among a group of lively down-to-earth twenty-somethings.

Prairie White-fringed Orchid
Surveying for orchids is very similar to what birders do when they are trying to flush and observe skulking grassland birds. Observers spread out 10-20 feet apart in a line and walk across an expanse of prairie looking for the target species. Inevitably, although the goal in this case is not to flush anything, some birds and wildlife inevitably do flush. A few White-tailed Deer, Wild Turkey, Bobolink and a Timberdoodle, as one observer called out when an American Woodcock flushed, were among the creatures in our path .

Prairie White-fringed Orchid

I believe we ended with forty-six Prairie White-fringed Orchids tallied for the day. I also observed the state Special Concern, Prairie Indian Plantain which was a new plant I'd not seen. Other highlights included Turk's-cap Lily (Lillium michiganense) and Pale-Spike Lobelia among the palate of blooms in the prairie (not photographed).

Prairie Indian Plantain

Prairie Indian Plantain

During the course of surveying, I was intrigued by the conversations these young minds were having with one another. I appreciated listening to 20+ year-olds on the cusp of life's aspirations and dreams, not yet jaded by its rejection and disappointment. Given where I find myself in life, it felt refreshing to be among these vigorous souls. If only I could harness some of that enthusiastic naiveté now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


storm clouds threaten
the trees to come play
unwilling to to budge
there will be no rain this day

lapping tongues of clouds
pulse across the fields
the prairie briefly illuminates 
from light the setting sun wields

in all things especially nature
patterns are on display
repetition yields to nuance
in an intricate array

beetles they repeat
but much more randomly so
patterns everywhere
in the course of ebb and flow

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Glocke Lake State Natural Area (Oconto County) Plus Some Marinette County Highlights

Glocke Lake State Natural Area
I'm finally getting caught up on my whirlwind birding and orchid quest trip to northeastern Wisconsin last weekend. Saturday June 28, I completed the second of my breeding bird surveys in Marinette County near Wausaukee. Nothing exceptional to report from this route.

However following the survey, I returned to Benson Lake Road (survey route from the previous day) in Marinette County and found an American Woodcock doing its Bee Gees strut on the side of the road.

American Woodcock

Kirtland's Warbler
I also visited an undisclosed area to observe a male Kirtland's Warbler that has been returning to Marinette County since 2011. The bird was heartily belting out its loud resonant song midday from the lower branches of a pine. After quickly locating the bird, I headed on my way so as not to interfere with the breeding success of this endangered species. I hope he successfully reproduces this year! For more information about the Kirtland's Warbler in Wisconsin, read more at the Wisconsin Kirtland's Warbler Updates page.

Glocke Lake State Natural Area
Following a little more birding in Marinette County, my next stop was Glocke Lake State Natural Area in Oconto County where Dragon's Mouth and Grass Pink Orchid had been reported in recent weeks. With an approaching storm, my visit here was rather brief.

The walk into the seepage bog surrounding the lake was much easier than the trek into Town Corner Cedars SNA, but not as captivating. Immediately my sight was filled with sprays of pink orchids and red and green pitcher plants in impressive numbers.

Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant

Upon close inspection I identified three orchid species: Grass Pink, Dragon's Mouth and Rose Pogonia. The latter two were firsts for me in Wisconsin as I've done most of my bog tromping in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Grass Pink and Rose Pogonia were most numerous.

Grass Pink
Rose Pogonia

Rose Pogonia looked to be nearing peak. Whereas the Dragon's Mouth were more difficult to find and well past peak. However a few fine specimens were enough to satisfy my Arethusa desires.

Dragon's Mouth Orchid
The bog was alive with dragonflies and butterflies, but I had little time to document what I saw. I did manage to capture a single species, a Silver-bordered Frittillary.

Silver-bordered Fritillary

And with that my brief visit to Glocke Lake SNA was cut short by threatening clouds which fortunately delivered showers AFTER I found refuge at my vehicle.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Town Corner Cedars State Natural Area

Last weekend I needed to complete two breeding bird surveys in Marinette County.
Mourning Warbler, BBS Route 028, Benson Lake Rd.
Despite having to wake each day at 3:15 a.m., I deferred any sort of daytime nap in lieu of looking at plants, bugs and butterflies and visiting some of the nearby state natural areas in search of orchids and other interesting flora.  After completion of my bird survey along Benson Lake Road, I returned to an area where I had observed Pale Corydalis growing, a plant I've only seen once before.

Pale Corydalis, Benson Lake Rd.
In addition to this unique flower, the roadsides were teeming with these orange skippers and crescent butterflies. I believe all the orange skippers were European Skippers, an introduced species commonly found in the Great Lakes states. The crescent species is likely Northern Crescent based on location.

Probable Northern Crescent
European Skipper.
Following a late breakfast at the only diner in Amberg, WI, I headed to Town Corner Cedars State Natural Area to see what treasures I could uncover.

Town Corner Cedars State Natural Area

Town Corner Cedars is a northern wet mesic forest dominated by white cedar with a small lake at its center. The undeveloped lake is surrounded by transitional bog.

On this particular visit, the forest floor was covered in beautifully green sphagnum moss with a scattering of ferns and One-flowered Wintergreen.

One-flowered Wintergreen

As the forest transitioned to bog, Twin Flower and Liver-leaved Wintergreen were found in small clusters.

Liver-leaved Wintergreen
I then noted the first of what turned out to be an impressive density of  Round-leaved Sundew. The plants growing in dappled shade were greener than I've seen in this species, whereas those in full sunlight were a brilliant red.

Round-leaved Sundew
Round-leaved Sundew

Among the sundew, Cranberry and Pitcher Plant were in bloom.



Pitcher Plant

Reaching the bog I was hoping to be greeted by a meadow of Grass Pink and Dragon's Mouth Orchid. However this was not the case, I was able to find a single Grass Pink plant, the first I've seen in Wisconsin.

Grass Pink Orchid
Dragonflies were happily hunting the bountiful mosquitos of the bog...

Frosted Whiteface
At the edge of the lake I spied what I surmised was Marsh Cinquefoil. Upon closer inspection I found I was correct. In nearing the plant I also discovered what turned out to be a Goldenrod Crab Spider, one of my cherished sightings of day. I braved the spongy floating mat of sphagnum to approach this beauty to capture some images.

Goldenrod Crab Spider on Marsh Cinquefoil
On my journey back to the car more interesting sights revealed themselves. My second prized observation of the day was the Yellow Coralroot I found growing on the edge of the open forest.

Yellow Coralroot
Under the shaded canopy, I started noticing numerous Wood Frogs.

Wood Frog
Having adjusted my sight image to looking for orchids of much smaller stature like the Yellow Coralroot, I noticed several Blunt-leaved Orchids blooming under the shaded canopy of the white cedar. This was my first time observing this orchid anywhere and a lovely way to conclude my excursion to this impressive state natural area.

Blunt-leaved Orchid