Journal for September 13, 2015

In spite of our recent hot weather, it’s starting to look like fall around here. 

Many of the migrating birds are already gone.  Every year, just about the time that the orioles head south, swarms of honeybees show up to eat the grape jelly.  This week we had both honeybees and yellow jackets at the jelly, and not many orioles.

grape jelly


We’ve been seeing lots of migrating Monarchs – many more than in the past few years.  There are dozens nectaring in the prairies – their favorite flowers seem to be Blazing Star (Liatris), Showy Goldenrod, and New England Aster.

Monarch on Rough Blazing Star


Roosting Monarchs fly up from trees as we walk by.   One favorite roosting spot is the line of trees along the west side of the driveway.  The strip of trees is about 1/4 mile long, and the last few days we’ve seen dozens of Monarchs there,  both in the mornings and at dusk.  We haven’t found any communal roosts – they rest in the trees independently or at most two together.

Two Monarchs on the branches of a Wild Plum.



A late season Monarch caterpillar.

monarch caterpillar 8-30-15 1


This is a female Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.  Most Tiger Swallowtails are yellow – both males and females.  A small proportion of the females are black – from this angle the wings still show a shadow of the ‘tiger’ pattern.

Black Tiger Swallowtail 8-22-15 1


I’ve been finding some interesting caterpillars.  Here they are, with photos (taken at other times) of the adults.

Unexpected Cycnia  – Like Monarchs, these caterpillars eat only milkweed.   They’re a prairie dependent species, and aren’t common in Wisconsin.    I usually find them eating Whorled Milkweed on our remnant bluff prairies at the end of the summer.  They spend the winter as pupae, and the adults emerge in the spring.

Cycnia inopinatus larva 8-30-15 1


Unexpected Cycnia adult – May 2012

5-25-12 1


Pandorus Sphinx caterpillar on Grapevine – the first time I’ve seen this kind of caterpillar.  It’s very striking – it winds it little curly tail around nearby stems.

Eumorpha pandorus caterpillar 8-22-15 3


Pandorus Sphinx adult from July 2012

Eumorpha pandorus 7-5-12 1


A Fingered Dagger crawling across the road

Acronicta dactylina larva 9-1-15 2


Fingered Dagger adult from July 2014

Acronicta dactylina 7-4-14 1


This is the time of year to see thistles blooming.  Non-native thistles are invasive and can cause problems in restorations, but native thistles are not invasive, and are important components of prairie and savanna ecosystems.  They have beautiful flowers that are great nectar sources for butterflies and bees.   We have 3 native species that I’ve found growing here, and one I’ve planted that hasn’t flowered yet.   Field Thistle, Tall Thistle, Swamp Thistle, and Hill’s Thistle.

Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) is the most common.  It grows in sunny places – prairies and edges of prairies.

Thistle - C. discolor


The plants can get very tall – collecting seeds from them is tricky when they’re way above my head.



Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum) likes shade – it grows in savannas and along our woodland paths.

Thistle - c altissimum


Tall Thistle can get even taller than Field Thistle.   Here’s one plant with Mike standing next to it.  The plant goes all the way to the top of the photo.

Tall thistle

Both these thistles can be told from similar looking invasives by the white, slightly fuzzy undersides of their leaves.  (Leaves of the non-natives thistles are green underneath.)

Thistle - back of c. discolor


Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum) grows in wetlands, and has a deep purple flower.

Swamp Thistle 2


This is one of the Hill’s Thistle plants that I got from a friend this spring.  It’s planted at the edge of one of our remnant prairies.

Hills Thistle 1


Here are a few more late summer flowers.




Yellow Flax

Linum sulcatum 8-30-15 2


And there are still a few early and mid-summer flowers blooming.







These Wild Turkeys watched me drive the gator up the trail, and then when I got too close, took off through the woods.


Here are a few favorite moths from the last few weeks.

Old Man Dart – a new one for the farm

Agrotis vetusta 9-7-15 1


Euxoa niveilinea – also new for the farm

Euxoa niveilinea 9-5-15 3


Unsated Sallow

Metaxaglaea inulta 9-9-15 1


Pale-banded Dart

Agnorisma badinodis 9-9-15 1


Straw Moth  –  This is a new record sighting for Wisconsin.  I’m not sure of the species yet.  Les Ferge identified it, and he has to check to see if he can figure out the species.    Both possible species are normally found farther south.

Heliocheilus 9-5-15 1


Gray Half-spot

Nedra ramosula 9-7-15 1


Mike just finished mowing for aspen sprouts in the Narrows Prairie.  Every year there are fewer sprouts, so he can leave more unmowed areas.

Narrows Prairie mowing


A misty morning on Buffalo Ridge Prairie

misty morning on Buffalo Ridge


The drone is back!  When Mike turned it on this spring, one key system didn’t work.  He sent it in to be fixed, and it just came back last week.  He’s done one short flight so far.   Here are two drone photos of the fall prairies.

Cat’s Paw Prairie



Looking over 3 Finger Valley, with Hidden Oaks Point (the brown remnant), with the Narrows Prairie and the Cat’s Paw Prairie across the back.