When I returned to Naked Mountain from another summer family trip, this time to Cleveland, Ohio for a lovely wedding that took place on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie as the sun set and gulls soared overhead calling out their approval, another beautiful surprise awaited. In a small seep right next to the road and measuring about twenty-five feet by eight feet, cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) were in full bloom. As I photographed them I counted 87 plants in this small, wet space. Most summers, this seep in August is damp, but not flowing. This year much of the Eastern U.S. has experienced above average rainfall and the seep was running like it does in the spring.
Not so wonderful was the proliferation of Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) in the seep. For six years, I have diligently pulled every blade I could find of this horrible invasive in late August, just before it goes to seed. I have frequently had help in this work from local Master Naturalists. We were making good progress: Every year the infestation was noticeably less. But this year, maybe because of the excessive rainfall, it was like starting over again –an explosion of the stuff. So, after taking the photographs, I began a four hour session of pulling microstegium and only finished half the seep. I will work on this again until I am satisfied it is clean! You can read more about Japanese Stiltgrass here.
A special benefit of spending quiet time doing this not-so-unpleasant task in the middle of a natural area preserve is appreciating being in a natural place. Three Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio troilus) worked the cardinal flowers for nectar as I pulled out the weed beneath them that would harm the plants’ ability to thrive and so diminish a helpful food source for the butterflies.
Spicebush Swallowtails are easy to identify because they have two rows of orange spots on the undersides of their hindwings and they are the only black butterfly to flicker its wings as it perches on a flower. That makes photographing them a special challenge! Their host plant is spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafrass (Sassafrass albidum) both of which are in abundance on Naked Mountain. You can read more about Spicebush Swallowtail butterfies here.
Then, I heard the distinctive buzz of a hummingbird’s wings. I looked up to see a tiny bird that looked more like a bee hovering — checking me out. I guess it didn’t like dealing with a human in the middle of a favorite nectar spot – it flew off. I am sure it came back for a good meal after I left.