Nature Notes

Both Rural and Wild

A great spangled frittilary bounces about in the greenery. And eyed brown butterflies (or Appalachian browns? Or both? So similar!) show up several times as I walk along.

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By Holly Einess

The Arb has a new hiking trail! The paved Buuck Farm Trail links the Farm at the Arb to Three-Mile Walk and I’m eager to check it out. Arriving at the farm I hear crickets chirping. Rows of plants are lined up neatly in the fenced-off garden. Little yellow butterflies are flitting through the flower-dotted field in front of the big red barn. I feel in my body a sense of familiarity and well-being that puts me in mind of my agrarian ancestors.

I walk past the barn and set off down the trail, which winds through an open meadow full of red clover, birds-foot trefoil, and crown vetch. All three of these plants are non-native, having been brought here from Europe/Eurasia as either forage crops or for erosion control, and they seem to be everywhere at this time of year. Red clover is considered merely “weedy,” but the other two are highly invasive and difficult to eradicate. However, they’re not all bad. As members of the pea/bean family, these plants can fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, thus improving soil fertility.

Red clover, birds-foot trefoil, and crown vetch

Before long I leave the open meadow and enter the dark, cool woods, which are filled with the calls and songs of cardinals, chickadees, eastern wood-pewees, catbirds, red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, and common yellowthroats. I soon regret that I forgot bug spray, as I feel the sting of mosquitoes and hear the buzz of deer flies as they ping off my hat. I’m distracted from these annoyances by a couple of winged beauties. A great spangled frittilary bounces about in the greenery. And eyed brown butterflies (or Appalachian browns? Or both? So similar!) show up several times as I walk along.

Great spangled frittilary and eyed brown

Just off the boardwalk I spy a pair of common green darner dragonflies connected in the tandem position. They’ve already mated, but the male continues to grasp the head of the female (to guard her from other males) as she oviposits (lays eggs). Normally she would deposit her eggs in water, but after so many hot days, water in the marsh is scarce, and I’m hoping her eggs survive until the next rainfall!

If they do, they will hatch into nymphs and live in the water while molting about 10 times (these molts are called instars) before finally crawling out of the water onto a plant stem or other vertical surface, shedding their skin one last time, and emerging as adult dragonflies.

Most green darners are, like monarch butterflies, migratory. They head south in the fall, reproduce, and their offspring migrate north in the spring. However, some green darners don’t migrate at all, instead overwintering as nymphs in frozen ponds and emerging as adults the next spring.

Common green darners

All along my hike today I’ve seen evidence on foliage of leaf miners. “Leaf miner” is a term for any number of insect species whose larvae live in and eat leaf tissue, leaving telltale tracks behind. The damage they cause is mostly cosmetic, but will compromise a plant’s health when occurring in large numbers.

Leaf miner evidence

I end my hike where I began, back at the red barn. Barn swallows swoop and chatter; one flies up under the eaves to where another sits on a mud-and-grass nest. Come check out the new Buuck Farm Trail, and get a taste of both the rural and the wild!  

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

2 comments on “Both Rural and Wild

  1. Erica A Buck

    What an enjoyable read Holly….your prose and knowledgable observations are delightful. Regarding the three invasive plants you mentioned, I have often cursed them. But thanks to your article I now understand that they bring benefits to the soil. Thank you!

    • Holly Einess

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Erica!

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