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Friday, November 3, 2017 @ 05:11 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Although the Checkered White, Pontia protodice, butterfly is a breeding resident I’ve never seen one at Timberhill until this year.  Most common in western and east-central Iowa, the first specimen I’ve seen at Timberhill was nectaring on marigolds blooming in the terrace border west of the house on October 17.  Because of the summer drought, butterfly bush and marigolds in the terrace border and roses east of the house which I kept watered are the only plants still blooming.  Everything else has dried up. Interesting that this checkered white managed to find the last blossoms of summer.

Checkered White Butterfly

The drought ended after almost six inches of rain this month. But it didn’t rain soon enough to stimulate abundant mushroom fruiting.   The only terrestrial fungi we found were two waxcap species, Hygrocybe conica and Hygrophorus sordidus.  Sometimes called “the witch’s hat” Hygrocybe conica is one of the small red waxy caps.  It is easily identified because virtually all parts of this species bruise and discolor black.  Usually associated with oaks, we found several clusters of H. conica fruiting under clumps of little blue stem grass on the East Savanna ridgetop. 

Hygrocybe conica


Hygrophorus sordidus


The slimy feel and thick waxy gills that run down the stalk make Hygrophorus sordidus easy to identify.  Medium sized white with a yellowish center it was the only Hygrophorus species we collected this year. This species was named sordidus because of the dirt that usually adheres to it.  At Timberhill we have identified ten species of Hygrophorus.  I usually expect to collect several species each fall. It is unusual to collect only one.  If it doesn’t get too cold there may be more fruting.  I have collected Hygrophorus specimens as late in the season as November 25. 

We also discovered a fairy ring of Giant puffballs, Calvatia gigantea, fruiting in the woodland east of the house.  Known for its large size the round fruiting bodies of this species are about the size of a soccer ball. Immature specimens which are still completely white inside are edible.  Unfortunately ours were too mature – the center had already begun to turn yellow.  (It will turn brown when completely mature.)

Another edible mushroom, Flammulina velutipes (Velvet stem), is fruiting abundantly on downed Hackberry along Brush Creek.  This species is considered a winter mushroom and may be found when nothing else is available.  It is the same species as enoki sold in grocery produce sections but the orangish brown cap and velvety stem are completely different in appearance from that cultivated species. 

(Caveat:  do not consume any wild mushroom unless it has been positively identified by a local expert, amateur or professional.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 @ 04:10 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Several white oaks along the driveway have died this year.  With the recent publicity about oak wilt and oak tatters diseases in Iowa I wanted to know if we had a problem. So I consulted Randy, our district forester. Bill and I toured the oak woodlands with him on October 3. Besides oak wilt and oak tatters Randy told us that two-lined chestnut borer may have killed our trees.  It attacks oak trees weakened by drought.  It begins with dieback of the upper crown branches followed by dying and red-brown leaves in the middle crown while the lower leaves remain green.  But then he added, “Nobody knows for sure what is responsible for oak decline. Trees just up and die.”

Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris

Earth Puffball, Scleroderma sp.


Our three month drought finally ended the first week of October. By October 8 over two inches of rain had fallen.  That stimulated fruiting of Meadow Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris, the first summer mushrooms of the season. Since then we have been harvesting clumps of this choice edible from the south meadow. Closely connected to the common commercially grown mushrooms it is very similar in appearance. Also fruiting are two puffball species:  small white Lycoperdon and the larger Scleroderma puffballs with tough outer rinds.  More rain and continued unseasonably mild weather may stimulate fruiting of other choice edibles next week.

Darling Underwing, Catocala cara


Besides a lighted sheet strung between two poles in the East Savanna we have been using a 15-watt black light tube over a homemade funnel trap to attract moths. This month we decided to add a bucket trap set-up to our moth collecting equipment.  Rather than build it ourselves we purchased one from Bioquip, a company that specializes in entomology equipment.  On October 13, the first night we used it we collected eight Underwing specimens, seven black and white and one beautiful Catocala cara, Darling Underwing.  That’s the most specimens we have ever collected this late in the season.  Was it because of the unusually warm night with a last quarter moon or the new trap? In any case more warm nights and a waxing crescent moon are predicted beginning October 18-21 when we will set up again.

Catocala moths, particularly the black and white species can be difficult to identify.  However, I have found two very helpful internet sites. Theodore Sargent’s Legion of Night is available at  It includes a complete survey of eastern underwing moths with full descriptions and photographs.  Bill Oehlke’s North American Catocala website has very useful identification keys and species groups listed by hindwing color.  You can even send him images for identification.  It is available at

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 02:10 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

So far fall is making up for a very disappointing summer Lepidoptera season.  In the last two weeks several Underwing and Stem Borer moth species were attracted to our black-light fluorescent tubes.  We alternated one light between the Hickory Grove and West Creek prairie remnant, the other in front of a sheet strung between two poles in the East Savanna. The East Savanna site is on top of a ridge of widely spaced oak trees over an understory of native forbs and grasses. 

Catocala neogama


Near the Hickory Grove I was particularly pleased to collect Catocala neogama, The Bride. This species has yellowish-orange underwings with black bands that are very similar to Catocala subnata, Youthful Underwing. To tell the difference, one must inspect the hind legs:  in C. neogama the tibia is flattened and very sparsely spined whereas it is cynlindrical with dense uniform spines in C. subnata.

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Stem Borer (Papaipema) moths.  At the time I only looked for Stem Borer species long enough to determine that they were to be found at Timberhill. Since then I’ve been too focused on surveying the Catocala to look at other genera.  Last week when my friend asked what Stem Borers had come to our lights I was ashamed to admit that I hadn’t even thought of looking for them this year. But we began looking for them last week.

Indigo Stem Borer


Papaipema, Stem Borers, are medium-sized moths which are often brightly marked yellow or orange with white spots on the forewing. There are also essentially unmarked dark forms with only a faint outline of spots. Moths of this exclusively North American genus emerge in late summer and fall when they deposit eggs on or near their larval food plant.  The eggs overwinter in the leaf duff and hatch in May.  After hatching, the larvae tunnel downward into the stalk and roots where they mature.  Since most are food plant specialists that require very specific habitats, a number of them are nearing extinction. (Wagner)

Cream Wild Indigo blooming in the East Savanna


Both Cream and White Wild Indigo are abundant at Timberhill and we have collected more Indigo Stem Borers than any other species. Cream Wild Indigo which blooms in early May is well established under the widely spaced oak trees in the East Savanna.  In summer White Wild Indigo blooms in all our prairie remnants.  So I was not surprised to see the Indigo Stem Borer on September 28.  Two more came to our lights on September 30. We also attracted some dark species which were too worn to identify.  I’m already looking forward to next year when I will begin looking for Stem Borers on September 1.    

David L. Wagner, Dale F. Schweitzer, J. Bolling Sullivan & Richard C. Reardon.  2011.  Princeton University Press.  Princeton

Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 02:09 PM
posted by veronica

Field Journal:  September 1-15, 2017

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Bill and I began this month at Timberhill with a family gathering to celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary.  Chris, his wife Agustina, Alex, grandson Hugo and his friend Ajin spent the entire weekend with us.  The warm sunny days were perfect for long walks and butterfly forays. 

Bill, Hugo and Ajin netting a butterfly


On Labor Day Bill photographed this Dion Skipper nectaring on Rough Blazing Star in the prairie remnant above the West Creek bottom field.  An infrequent breeding resident in Iowa, the Dion Skipper is uncommon almost everywhere.  In Iowa it is restricted to wetlands in the northern half of the state and has never been recorded at any other Decatur County site.  Its larvae feed on Tussock Sedge.  It has been observed at Timberhill (12 miles north of the Iowa-Missouri border) every year since July 2009, four years after we began restoring the West Creek sedge meadow. When we purchased this unit the sedge meadow was overgrown with elm and red cedar.  A raw ditch separated the north and south portions of this unit.  Now a sward of Tussock Sedge fills that space. To the south is the restored sedge meadow. Perfect Dion Skipper habitat.  But how this skipper survived the years of habitat degradation is a puzzle.

Dion Skipper on Rough Blazing Star


I finally collected an underwing moth on September 15.  In a normal year underwing moths come to our lights between mid-June and mid-October.  So far we have identified 15 species at Timberhill. The Obscure Underwing, Catocala obscura, on September 15 was the first of the season. Hopefully there will be more before the winter sets in.

The abundant bloom on Rough Blazing Star and goldenrod is attracting lots of butterflies.  Besides the resident species, southern migrants including Sachem and Fiery Skippers and a Variegated Fritillary were on wing the first two weeks of September. Hundreds of Painted Ladies migrated through here as well.  We continue to see several Monarchs daily.  

Yellow Patches, Amanita flavoconia


Despite the continuing drought I found a few ectomycorrhizal mushrooms. Two clumps of poisonous Yellow Patches, Amanita flavoconia, were fruiting on the trail through our West 40 on September 4.  The Brittle Cap Russula tenuiceps was abundant on the same trail.  Another puzzle since we have had so little precipitation.  It finally began raining here on September 15.  Hopefully that was just a prelude.   

Monday, September 4, 2017 @ 07:09 PM
posted by veronica

Field Journal:  August 15-31

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

On August 23 we finally had a significant rain event – almost two inches.  It was just enough to stimulate fruiting of two mushroom species in the East Savanna.  There I collected three specimens of a red brittle cap, Russula tenuiceps.  Although this genus of large colorful fungi includes some easily identified species, the red Russulas can be difficult to key to species. A species described as red could be pink, purple, or rose-red depending on the age of the specimen.  In wet weather the cap can be viscid or remain dry and become pruinose or velvety.  The taste is either acrid, slightly acrid or mild but you must have a fresh specimen to accurately determine taste. To confound matters the best key is still found in Kauffman’s Agaricaceae of Michigan published in 1918. Kauffman describes Russula tenuiceps as “deep rosy-red or blood-red, sometimes white, spotted or tinged with orange blotches, sometimes uniform red.”  Spore color is “some shade of ochraceous, yellowish or creamy-yellowish.”  The stalk can be either “white or rosy-tinged”. My specimens were deep rosy-red with yellow blotches, a pinkish stalk and yellow-ochraceous echinulate spores, 6-8 microns.

Russula tenuiceps, a red brittle cap


Xerocomus subtomentosus was fruiting along the trail that winds through the southeast woodland to the Brush Creek bottom.  This reddish brown bolete is easily identified by its angular spores and the reddish brown streaks on the stalk.  The upper part of the stalk is widely ridged.  As it ages the pores elongate and become more defined.  A drop of ammonia turns the cap dark red.

Xerocomus subtomentosus, a reddish brown bolete


Dodder (Cuscuta), a parasitic plant, is feeding on plants along the Brush Creek bottom east of the house.  A host generalist, this member of the morning glory family grows more vigorously in patches of mixed host plants by parasitizing two different hosts.  On the Brush Creek bottom it prefers the combination of Climbing False Buckwheat and Wingstem. Besides transferring carbohydrates, water, and organic nitrogen from the host it has been found that RNA macromolecules in the host phloem can cross the parasite/host divide.  The macromolecules can interfere with parasitic development and reduce parasite damage to the host.  (Trewavas)

Dodder feeding on Climbing False Buckwheat and wingstem


Slender Ladies’ Tresses Orchids are blooming on the border between the old crop field and prairie remnant in our West Creek unit.  Rough Blazing Star is particularly abundant this year in the prairie remnant.  On a sunny day it is a good place to watch for butterflies and day-flying moths such as the Snowberry Clearwing.

Anthony Trewavas.2014.   Plant Behavior and Intelligence. Oxford University Press: Oxford

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 @ 11:08 AM
posted by veronica

Field Journal, August 1-15

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Yellow False Foxglove, Aureolaria grandiflora, at Timberhill.  I was walking up the driveway in late July, 1998, when I noticed a clump of plants with bright yellow flowers at the east edge of the driveway border. I took a closer look and was able to identify these four-foot tall plants with abundant tubular yellow flowers as Yellow False Foxglove, which is usually found growing on the upper slopes of dry wooded upland in association with white, black or red oaks.

Bumblebee entering tube of Yellow False Foxglove blossom


Since that first sighting this species has spread north and south on the east facing slopes above Brush Creek. It now completely covers the understory of one hillside. When in bloom there is a constant buzz of nectaring bumblebees as they disappear down the flower tubes to collect nectar.  I have also observed Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds feeding on the nectar. Despite the moderate drought conditions there is abundant bloom this year. That’s because Yellow False Foxglove is a hemi-parasite: it obtains water and nutrients through small feeder roots that parasitize the roots of oak trees.

Yellow Giant Hyssop


Yellow Giant Hyssop, Agastache nepetoides, is another oak savanna specialist that came into bloom this month. Limited to partial canopy conditions, I have seen it growing east of the driveway and in the West 40 savanna. But deer have been feeding on it and flowering specimens are few this year.

I am seeing more butterflies, particularly skippers each day.  Besides the abundant population of Silver-spotted and Peck’s Skippers, Delaware, Little Glassy Wing, Indigo Duskywing, Common Checkered and Dun and Swarthy Skippers are now on wing at Timberhill. Also, it is interesting to note the high percentage of black morph female Tiger Swallowtails. They are almost as numerous as the yellow female morphs.

Indigo Duskywing


Cloudless Sulphur which I usually see in the West 40 unit is on wing in the East Savanna this year. Seeing it along the trail that runs through the Southeast Woodland was a surprise.

But the biggest surprise came on August 15. I found two species of bolete mushrooms fruiting under Bur Oaks north of the house. I was certain that it had been too dry for terrestrial mushroom fruiting.  Just goes to show how unpredictable the fungi are.  One species is probably Boletus badius, the other is one I’ve never seen before. I’ll have to obtain spore prints and do a microscopic examination to identify them.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017 @ 05:08 PM
posted by veronica

Field Journal: July 15 -31

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

During the last two weeks of July it has been interesting to observe the native plants’ response to our persistent drought conditions.  Bloom on the hillside prairie remnants is limited to a few species such as Rosinweed, Hairy Mountain Mint and Elm-leaved Goldenrod.  Everything else has dried up. Butterfly activity on the Rosinweed and Mountain Mint is scarce.  To my surprise it was on an old crop field south of Brush Creek below the East Savanna that the butterflies were most abundant.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed


When we purchased the land that became Timberhill this field had been used to grow corn and soybeans.  We took it out of production in 1994 and implemented annual prescribed fire there in 1995.  We seeded it with warm season grass collected in one of our prairie remnants. We seeded no forbs yet various native wildflower species became established after each burn. Common Milkweed was the first to appear.  It dominated the field for several years.  Since then Wild Bergamot, Culver’s Root, Ironweed, Hairy and Slender Mountain Mint, Cup Plant, Round-headed Bush Clover, Evening Primrose, Goldenrod and Swamp Milkweed have become well established and the Common Milkweed has become less dominant.

Black Female Tiger Swallowtail on Cup Plant


Wild Bergamot, a favorite butterfly nectar source, stopped blooming in the prairie remnants over one week ago. But in this field there is still abundant bloom.  Silver-spotted Skippers chase each other and anything that comes near them from one pink inflorescence to another.  This is also the preferred nectar source for Southern and Northern Cloudywings, Delaware Skippers, Northern Broken Dash Skippers and Snowberry Clearwing Moths.  The Swallowtails are only occasional visitors as most had moved on to Cup Plant, Ironweed and Swamp Milkweed. Given all the Common Milkweed I was not surprised to see as many as ten Monarchs at the same time in the Swamp Milkweed patch in this field.

Imperial Moth


Other than the Sphinx Moths, Imperial and Tiger Moths have been most attracted to our lights.  I am puzzled by the lack of Underwing Moth diversity this year.  So far I’ve only seen a couple species.  In a normal year eleven species would have come to our black lights or baited trees by now.  It’s been a strange year.

It’s still too dry for terrestrial mushroom fruiting.  Mid-July through August into September is usually the best time of year for them.  We need a lot of rain for that to happen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 @ 06:07 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

It always amazes me how native plants are adapted to our summer weather.  Although we have had well below normal rainfall so far this summer and daily high temperatures in the 90’s the wildflowers continue to bloom.  As one species fades another opens. Some of the plants currently blooming at Timberhill are Wild Bergamot, Showy Tick Trefoil, Pointed Tick Trefoil, Ironweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Culver’s Root, Whorled and Swamp Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Saint John’s Wort, White and Purple Prairie Clover, Pale Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, False Sunflower, Scaly Blazing Star, Wild Quinine, Mountain Mint, Rosinweed, and Starry Campion.   

I’ve been seeing a lot of sphinx moths this month.  Two species that are considered common are new to the Timberhill list.  On July 6, I was walking around the border of the small prairie below the Hickory Grove when I flushed a small brown sphinx moth with bright yellow bands across the abdomen and a conspicuous fan-like tuft at the end of the abdomen.  This was the day-flying Nessus Sphinx.  Also a Timberhill first, a Pandorus Sphinx came to the moth light on our terrace.  Pale green with a complex pattern of darker green and pink veins this species is one of the larger sphinx moths. 

Nessus Sphinx Moth


Pandorus Sphinx Moth


 So far this month we have had two excellent butterfly sightings.  The first, on July 1, was a Hickory Hairstreak perched on an oak leaf in the Hickory Grove. It is distinguished from the very similar Banded Hairstreak by a sky-blue patch that extends deeper inward and an upper hindwing band that is white-edged on both sides.  On July 14 I saw the first Regal Fritillary of the season in the West Creek prairie.  This was several weeks later than usual. They usually appear the last week of June although I have seen one on wing as early as June 10,

July is blackberry month at Timberhill.   Bill and I always make several early morning trips to the Briar Patch in our West 40 unit where we harvest the big, juicy variety that is so abundant there.  Although we use them in dessert recipes I prefer them with our entrée recipes. Duck with Blackberry Sauce, Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry Chutney and Blackberry Chicken, a sweet and sour chicken adapted from a Moorish dish are among our favorites.    

On July 11 the hot and humid weather gave me an excuse to stay inside the air conditioning and read my son Chris’s debut novel, Tropic of Kansas, which was published that day.  I highly recommend it.  It’s a good read. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017 @ 07:07 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

June 16-30

Last week I was walking through our West Creek unit when I saw this pink morph  Oblong-winged Katydid, Amblycorypha oblongifolia, perched on a leaf.  I had always assumed that Oblong-winged Katydids were green but I have now learned that this species is as likely to be pink, yellow, orange or brown. Breeding experiments at Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans revealed that the pink morph is not a genetic mutant but may actually be dominant to green. When the researchers bred two wild-caught pink females with a wild-caught pink male the clutch of 35 eggs produced 31 pink and four green offspring.  Further breeding of pink, green, and yellow specimens suggested that not only was green the recessive trait, but yellow/orange was also dominant to green.   

Oblong-winged Katydid


The first underwing moth, Catocala coccinata (Scarlet Underwing) of the season came to our night collecting light on June 25, which is the same date as last year.  Forewings of these moths are so colored that when they are resting on trunks of trees in daytime they look like bits of moss or discolored patches on the bark. Hindwings, however, are often brilliantly colored pink, crimson, yellow or orange. And Snowberry Clearwing moths are more abundant than usual this year – I see them nectaring on Common Milkweed daily.

Scarlet Underwing


Although I have seen numerous Michigan Lily plants here over the years I seldom see one in bloom.  The flower buds are highly favored deer fodder and are usually eaten before they bloom. To my delight I found two blooming specimens in the moist prairie opening below our Hickory Grove on June 26.  The vegetation is so thick this year that the deer didn’t find them before they bloomed.

Michigan Lily


So far this season butterfly abundance and diversity has been low.  By this time last year Coral and Edward’s Hairstreaks were abundant, nectaring on Butterfly Milkweed and dogbane in the West Creek unit.  So far I’ve seen only the Banded Hairstreak.  A butterfly I have seen daily, however, is Horace’s Duskywing,  Erynnis horatius, Although considered an uncommon Iowa breeding resident this large duskywing is a generalist and extremely adaptable.   Very similar to Juvenal’s Duskywing it flies during the summer months whereas Juvenal’s flies in the spring.  So any large duskywing seen after mid-June is likely to be Horace’s. 

Horace’s Duskywing


Neotropical migratory bird numbers have increased in the last two weeks. Indigo Buntings are nesting in the south meadow, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles are regular visitors to the hummingbird feeders, and Eastern Kingbirds are chasing the Red-winged Blackbirds in our West Creek unit. 

Precipitation in June was only 1.74 inches, less that half the average month total of 4.97 inches.  So woodland mushrooms are not fruiting yet.  All I have found so far were two Golden Chanterelle mushrooms. 

Becky Crew, “In North American Katydids Green isn’t the Domiant Colour, Pink Is”.  August 13, 2013.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 @ 12:06 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

June 1-15

Once the Purple Milkweeds, Asclepias purpurascens, came into bloom on June 4, the butterfly abundance increased.  Similar in appearance to Common Milkweed but with more pointed leaves and deep rose pink flowers that turn darker as they mature, this species is a highly favored butterfly nectar source.  Although it is blooming in some of our prairie openings Purple Milkweed prefers open woodland and is considered an oak savanna indicator species. Named after Asclepius, the son of Apollo and Greek god of medicine, infusions made from pounded milkweed root were used by Native Americans to treat various ailments including pleurisy, epilepsy, kidney problems, and syphilis. 

Swallowtail on Purple Milkweed

So far our best butterfly spot is in the West 40 savanna where clumps of Purple Milkweed are blooming in the sunlight filtered through the open oak canopy. There I observed Giant and Tiger Swallowtails, Dun, Hobomok and Delaware Skippers, Red Spotted Purple, Summer Azure, Great Spangled Fritillaries, and a Banded Hairstreak within a fifteen minute period.    

The Banded was our first Hairstreak of the season. Common and widespread it is frequently found in dry, upland woodlands which trees provide its larval food source. The specimen I saw was perched on blackberry cane. Because of the similarity in appearance Hairstreaks can be difficult to identify to species.  The Banded is distinguished by narrow bands of white-edged spots and a blue marginal patch which is not capped in orange on the underwing.  Also, the marginal patch extends beyond the line of the orange marginal spots. 

Banded Hairstreak

Also on wing were Meadow Fritillaries, Northern Cloudywings, Buckeyes and Hackberry Emperors.  Of particular note were several sightings of Northern Pearly-eyes.  Infrequently scattered over the southeastern half of Iowa they were flying along the West 40 bottom and woodland trails. I was disappointed not to see any Gray and Bronze Coppers or Coral and Edward’s Hairstreaks yet.  They are usually on wing by mid June.  Butterfly milkweed is just beginning to bloom so I expect to see them in the next couple weeks. 

Northern Pearly-eye

First of the year moths at our terrace light this period were Harnassed Tiger Moth and Hagen’s Sphinx.  We’re hoping to see more diversity later this month. 

The first Bluebird hatchlings of the season are flying east of the house.  I have also seen young wild turkeys in the West Creek grasslands.  And the Henslow’s Sparrow colony  has returned to the West Creek unit. 

Gerould Wilhelm & Laura Rericha. 2017. Plants of the Chicago Region. Indiana Academy of Science: Indianapolis

Daniel E. Moerman.1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press: Portland