A couple of days ago one of my friends from Walpole Island, in Lambton County, contacted me to see if I was available to visit one of the higher quality tallgrass prairies with the landowner and her family. I jumped at the chance, since I hadn't been to that particular site for more than a decade. It is quite isolated, not visible from any road, and when you are out on this prairie, from certain spots you can look in 360 degrees and not see anything except the natural setting of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and woodland. At that time in 2002 the Dense Blazing-star, an iconic tallgrass prairie species if there ever was one, was in good shape, surrounded by other prairie specialties such as Ohio Goldenrod and Rigid Goldenrod as well as an abundance of prairie grasses. The image below is a scan of a slide I took that day.
|Taken in August, 2002|
The weather forecast at the time we made our plans for today, Thursday, July 3, was predominantly sunny but cool, a welcome change from the hot humid weather we had been experiencing. Prairies are wonderful, but on a hot, sultry day, they are not always pleasant or comfortable places to be in. However by late last evening, which was confirmed on radar this morning, the forecast had changed considerably (Blake will appreciate that :-). A couple of large bands of shower activity were sweeping across Michigan and heading our way, although there was the possibility that those bands would miss us. So we ventured out anyway, taking our chances.
We parked the vehicles and struck out through the oak savanna, heading south towards this special prairie.
On the way, we were treated to things such as Ohio Spiderwort, Pale-spike Lobelia and Spreading Dogbane all in flower, and scattered amongst the Bracken Fern. There would be many other plants coming into flower over the next few weeks, but those were all that we noted at this point.
And then it started to rain. The protection of the widely spaced oaks, with their large spreading branches so characteristic of a savanna, gave a certain amount of protection, but eventually we had to leave that and get into the open prairie. And then it really rained!
Rain gear helped, for those who had it, at least at first. Some of us were a bit too optimistic (or foolhardy?) and didn't bring rain gear. In the end, it didn't matter a whole lot, as everyone became quite drenched. Even wearing tall rubber boots didn't help a lot, as the tall vegetation we were walking through soaked our pants, then trickled down to the bottom of the boots, and soon squishing sounds were heard as we trudged along.
After a little while, the rain stopped....the first band of showers had gone by. And the rich colours of vegetation were evident....no hotspots from sun reflection to be a distraction in a photograph.
Milkweeds were the predominant species in flower. Butterfly Milkweed in particular was in fine shape, the orange providing a beautiful complementary colour to the rich greens. A few Black-eyed Susans put in an appearance as well some Hedge Bindweed.
Prairie Milkweed, a.k.a. Sullivant's Milkweed, was also fairly abundant. It looks at first quite like Common Milkweed, which actually was common. But the leaves of Prairie Milkweed are more upright, have much more purple main veins, and are quite hairless below.
Purple Milkweed, quite a rare plant in Ontario, was also present, but not in as good a shape as the other two species. The rain didn't help their appearance either.
And then the rain returned, harder than ever. As wet as we all were, we had had enough of the weather and mosquitoes. I mentioned giving blood at the outset. The mosquitoes were out in full force, and they must have called in reinforcements! Even those of our group that used repellent found little respite. The effective ingredient of said repellent got either washed off or sweated off, so in the end one could only stay as covered up as possible and keep swatting or brushing them away. I guess the local fauna have to have their nourishment.
There was another highlight before we got back to the vehicles. While returning through the oak savanna, a covey of about a dozen Northern Bobwhite flushed up very close by, scattering in many directions! This species is nationally and provincially endangered. Most biologists believe that the only naturally occurring population of Northern Bobwhite in Ontario occurs in the savannas and prairies of Walpole Island.
All in all, it was a fabulous time....a spectacular habitat with special friends!