Wild Side: Splendor rising from the ashesAfter the recent hot and muggy spell, the cool dry northwest wind and clear blue sky last Sunday were a treat. I mowed our trails along the planted prairie on the hill. It was so pretty I had to walk back up there, look around and take some pictures.
By: Dan Wilcox, columnist, River Falls Journal
After the recent hot and muggy spell, the cool dry northwest wind and clear blue sky last Sunday were a treat. I mowed our trails along the planted prairie on the hill. It was so pretty I had to walk back up there, look around and take some pictures.
In early May we burned the whole 26-acre prairie with help from friends. It looked like a scorched-earth war zone after the fire. The only things standing were a few charred stems of sapling trees and lots of anthills. The burned-over prairie greened up rapidly after it rained.
Now the vegetation on the prairie is more than knee high. Clumps of big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass and nutsedge look like green fountains. Black-eyed susans, purple prairie clover, cup plants, purple coneflower and milkweed plants are growing strong but haven’t flowered yet.
The star of the show right now, and one of the first to bloom, is common spiderwort with bright blue flowers punctuating the vivid green of the early summer prairie. They were showy in the morning, but later in the windy afternoon nearly all the spiderwort flowers were closed.
Bluebirds and tree swallows are raising broods in the bluebird boxes we set on stakes around the edge of the prairie. I saw a meadowlark, bobolinks, song sparrows, red winged blackbirds, a marsh hawk and a kestrel while hiking around the prairie.
Marsh hawks (northern harrier, Circus cyaneus) have long pointed wings and an easy swooping flight that reminds me of terns. They can hover like a helicopter before swooping down to nab a meadow vole. Their white rump patch is an easy-to-spot characteristic of the species. From underneath, the whitish males have black wingtips that look like they were dipped in ink.
A hatched-out turkey nest showed evidence of a recent brood. Rooster pheasants crowed from their perches on anthills.
I’ve been a fan of butterflies and moths since I was a kid. Back then, I hiked the woods and fields in northern Ohio armed with a small net in search of new species for my collection. The prize in my collection was a pale green luna moth, a big insect with wings 6 inches across and long curving tails.
The planted prairie attracts a lot of butterflies. On Sunday I saw a large orange butterfly with black spots on the dorsal side and silver spots on its underwings; a great-spangled fritillary. That’s an appropriate name for such a bright butterfly. Smaller meadow fritillaries were attracted to red clover flowers.
A female monarch was laying eggs on a young milkweed. Raggedy-edged commas and question marks, yellow swallowtails, a spice bush swallowtail, wood nymphs, red admirals, and red-spotted purples ventured out of the woods onto the edges of the prairie. It amazes me that they can fly on windy days. They are such fragile bits of moving color.
After looking so bleak and desolate after the burn, the fire-adapted prairie vegetation is thriving. Soon the summer flower show will be in full splendor. There are a number of planted prairies in our area and some restored native prairies too. Try a hike through one this summer and imagine what the world was like around here 150 years ago.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at email@example.com.