• A Late May Nature Walk

    Leonard Weber

    May 28, 2023

    May is a month of enormous change in Eliza Howell Park. The difference in foliage from early May to late May is evident in these photos from the footbridge over the Rouge River.

    May 4
    May 27

    By late May, birds that have only recently returned from their wintering grounds are busy making nests, each species with its own nest design and its own preferred location.

    Baltimore Oriole nest
    in Wild Black Cherry tree
    Barn Swallow nest under shelter

    By late May, the first of the perennial meadow wildflowers are starting to bloom, the beginning of a 4-month season of multitudes of blooms from dozens of species.

    Goat’s Beard

    Some trees are flowering now as well, adding stops to the walk around the road loop.

    Tulip Tree

    Deer are more visible in open sections of the park, enjoying the opportunity to graze on fresh green growth.

    White-tailed Deer

    Recently, I have started to see butterflies on my walks, especially on sunny days. Many of those now active are small and more likely to be seen on leaves or on the ground than on flowers.

    Eastern Tailed-Blue
    Hobomok Skipper

    The summer wildflowers that will attract the better-known butterflies are growing rapidly, though not yet in bloom.

    Common Milkweed

    I have started visiting my favorite summer wildflower field, just to watch the Bergamot and Coneflower and Joe Pye Weed grow and to anticipate the flower and insect bonanza coming soon.

    May 27

    The field has come a long way from early March.

    March 7

    Every season has its own attractions and excitement, but there is definitely something special about late May in Eliza Howell Park.

  • Giant Swallowtail: # 17 of “23 Butterflies in 2023”

    Leonard Weber

    May 15, 2023

    It is always a pleasure to watch a Giant Swallowtail in Eliza Howell Park. It is the largest butterfly here, with a 6-inch wingspan.

    Most years, it can be seen from time to time in the park, especially in late July and early August. It is not common or numerous here, but it is always a highlight.

    It is dark brown (almost black) with long lines of brifht yellow spots. And, as is the case with other swallowtails, it has an extension on each hind wing.

    The underside is much lighter.

    Giant Swallowtail is more common in the south, Detroit being near the northern edge of its less common range.

    Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America

    Giant Swallowtail often comes to flowers for nectar. Perhaps because of the time of the summer that it is present here, I have often had success in finding it visiting Purple Coneflower.

    Giant Swallowtail survives the winter in the chrysalis stage. Since it doesn’t seem to show up here until at least the middle of July, I am thinking that the ones that I see perhaps didn’t winter here, but developed further south and drifted north as the summer progressed.

    Strikingly large and attractive, the Giant Swallowtail is a butterfly that is easy to recognize. And it is unforgettable.

  • Summer Tanager: An Unusual Presence

    Leonard Weber

    May 2, 2023

    Few things attract bird enthusiasts more than the unexpected presence of an attractive bird in a location where it is not usually found. Recently, birders have been “flocking” to Eliza Howell Park in Detroit in search of an immature male Summer Tanager.

    Photo courtesy of Melissa McLeod

    Summer Tanagers are normally found from Ohio southward in the breeding season and in Central and South America in the winter.

    Range map from Connell Lab of Ornithology

    Adult males are red all year, in contrast to the Scarlet Tanager that breeds in Michigan. The male Scarlet Tanager has bright breeding plumage only in the spring and summer.

    The next photo, of an adult male Summer Tanager, was taken in a southwestern state.

    Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber

    In the spring and summer after the hatch  year, young males are still transitioning from the mostly yellow look of the young to the red adult look. (Some bird guides do not show this mixed red and yellow phase.)

    Females are yellowish. The photo, taken in Ohio, is of a female in a nest. Note the characteristic large bill.

    Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber

    On April 19, I first saw the immature male in the park, managing to get a photo, with my phone camera, the next day. It is not of good quality but is sufficiently clear for identification purposes.

    There are different ways in which the bird’s presence is unusual.

    First, it is considerably north of its range. On its first time migrating north, this young male got lost.

    Second, April 19 is very early for Summer Tanagers to reach any breeding grounds north of the Ohio River. The time of arrival is almost as unexpected as the location. Other examples that I recall of Summer Tanagers over-flying their normal range have been in early May.

    My report of the bird’s presence on April 20 (on the Facebook group “Birding Michigan”) led a number of birders to the park, with their binoculars and cameras. Not everyone spotted the hard-to-find tanager, but some had success. And they posted their findings elsewhere, leading to an increased number of bird seekers.

    As of May 1, the young male was still present. This long of a stay in a foreign territory may also be unusual, but I do not know the typical behavior of lost young male Summer Tanagers.

    It seems like even a lost immature bird finds Eliza Howell Park so irresistible that it doesn’t want to go home!

  • Tawny Emperor: # 16 of “23 Butterflies in 2023”

    Leonard Weber

    April 26, 2023

    Tawny Emperor, a butterfly with a 2-inch wingspan, is not one of the most common butterflies of Eliza Howell Park. In a typical year, however, it can be seen occasionally from late June to August. It is quite irresistible, especially when it is positioned with the wings open.

    Tawny Emperors do not usually visit flowers for nectar, but they can be spotted in the wildflower field at the peak of the flowering season. They are a forest edge species and this field is close to the woodland.

    They vary slightly in appearance. Compare the above one with this one.

    There is only one brood per year. They survive the winter in the caterpillar stage, completing development in the spring. Caterpillars feed on the leaves of Hackberry trees, which are fairly common in the woods of Eliza Howell Park.

    It looks like this when the wings are closed.

    Detroit is at the very northern edge of its usual range. Most Michigan butterfly watchers do not have the same opportunity to observe it as we do here.

    Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America

    There is another Emperor butterfly found in Eliza Howell Park: Hackberry Emperor. It too feeds on Hackberry leaves as a caterpillar and it too shows up periodically in the park every year.

    Hackberry Emperor

    I considered the possibility of featuring Hackberry Emperor instead of Tawny Emperor in this series. (Doing both would not have allowed all the other species that should be included.) I confess that I selected Tawny on the basis of personal attraction — I get more excited when I see one!

  • Eastern Tailed-Blue: # 15 of “23 Butterflies in 2023”

    Leonard Weber

    April 22, 2023

    It is a tiny blue butterfly, but the blue disappears when it alights and closes its wings. This description fits a couple of different butterfly species that are present in Eliza Howell Park, but the one featured here is Eastern Tailed-Blue. It is the little blue butterfly seen most often in the summer in the wildflower field.

    Eastern Tailed-Blue has a wingspan of (up to) 1 inch. Two little orange spots are often noticeable on the hindwings, near the tiny “tails.”

    It is the only blue butterfly in southern Michigan that has tails.

    Though it is often missed because of its size, it is possible to see it here from May through August.

    Males are brighter blue above than females, which may appear more brown than blue.

    The caterpillars feed on the flowers and seeds of plants in the pea family (clovers, vetches, etc.). There may be 3 broods a year. The adults that emerge in the spring have spent the winter in the caterpillar stage.

    The next photo is of a mating pair.

    Tailed-Blues visit flowers at times, where they may nectar with wings closed or with wings open.

    Eastern Tailed-Blue is another species that, year in and year out, enriches my butterfly watching in Eliza Howell Park

  • Dryad’s Saddle: A Mushroom Accompanying Spring Wildflowers

    Leonard Weber

    April 17, 2023

    Though the exact dates vary, the spring woodland wildflowers appear in their fascinating variety every year in Eliza Howell Park in late April and/or early May.

    And every year, as wildflower admirers walk the woodland path admiring the Trout Lilies and the Spring Beauties, we inevitably note another equally reliable spring emergent, the mushroom known as Dryad’s Saddle.

    Dryad’s Saddle, sometimes also known as Pheasant Back, is a mushroom that grows on deciduous trees, usually on standing dead wood, sometimes on logs, and sometimes in wounds of living trees.

    When the mushroom first emerges, it resembles a wine cork.

    The cap grows quickly and can reach the size of 10 – 12 inches across. The mushrooms are sometimes solitary, sometimes in overlapping clusters

    Dryads are creatures in Greek mythology who presumably could sit on the saddle-shaped mushroom. The “pheasant back” name is based on someone’s comparison of the mushrooms colors to pheasant feathers.

    Although Dryad’s Saddle is occasionally found in the summer or in the fall, it is most common here during late April and early May. The dates of my first sighting in Eliza Howell over the years 2019 through 2023 are: April 28, April 26, April 18, April 29, and April 14.

    The next photo is of a recently discovered growth that I am planning to check regularly to track the development. My efforts do this in the past have ended abruptly when someone harvested the edible mushrooms after a few days.

    While most of my attention during the last two weeks of April is on spring birds and spring flowers, Dryad’s Saddle manages to compete successfully for its share!

  • Eastern Garter Snake: An Encounter in the Sunshine

    Leonard Weber

    April 13, 2023

    Each year, I see the first Eastern Garter Snake of the year in Eliza Howell Park on a sunny day in March or April. They emerge from winter hibernation and seek the sun to warm up from so much time in the cold earth. This year, my first sighting was on April 7.

    I have seen others since then. Normally, they slither away quickly when I walk near their sunbathing location, but today’s meeting was different. It was a quite large garter snake, about 2 feet long, that I met as I walked through a grassy field as I headed to a wooded area to look for wildflowers.

    After an initial startle response, it held its ground and watched me carefully. It allowed me to get closer than I usually get to a snake.

    Snakes use their tongues to sense what is around them; it is often said that they “smell” with their tongues. The Eastern Garter Snake has a long tongue, red with a black split tip, that it extends frequently and rapidly.

    When the one I encountered today seemed interested in keeping its spot in the sunshine, I was hopeful of getting a close-up photo of the head, possibly of the tongue. I got down low, probably about 3 feet away.

    We looked each other in the eye as I took picture after picture. It extended its tongue frequently, but for only the briefest time. Finally, after about dozen shots, I got an image of the tongue.

    Using its tongue to get a sense of me, it apparently decided that I was not a threat. But I needed to be watched carefully!

    In order to get a better look at the tongue, including the black forked tip, I further enlarged the photo later.

    Today’s meeting ended with my walking away, leaving the garter snake to resume its peaceful time in the sun. I was seeking a good photo of the fascinating tongue, but I came away impressed also by the eyes, by the way it focused on me.

    It was a very satisfying close encounter for me. I can not speak for the snake.

  • Common Wood-Nymph: # 14 of “23 Butterflies in 2023”

    Leonard Weber

    April 11, 2023

    Common Wood-Nymph is in the same family as Little Wood-Satyr, # 6 in this series. They are present sequentially in Eliza Howell Park. Little Wood-Satyr is seen in May and June; Common Wood-Nymph is present from late June until late August.

    June 28

    Common Wood-Nymph has a wingspan of about 2 and 1/2 inches. It has two quite large eyespots on the forewings and often has several noticeable small eyespots on the hindwings

    It usually has the wings closed when nectaring.

    July 12
    August 7

    Common Wood-Nymph is called “common” because its range is widespread while the other three species of wood-nymph have limited ranges in the western states.

    Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America

    There is just one brood a year. The caterpillars, which feed on grasses, hibernate for the winter and finish growing in the spring.

    August 24

    Common Wood-Nymph is not glamorous or showy, but it is a regular — and very welcome — presence in the park each year beginning in late June.

  • Ephemeral Wildflowers: An Invitation to a Public Nature Walk on April 29

    Leonard Weber

    April 5, 2023

    The spring woodland wildflowers are often referred to as “ephemerals.” Their blooming time is brief, completed before the trees leaf out and shade the forest floor.

    Anyone interested in an opportunity to see and become more familiar with a variety of small woodland spring wildflowers is invited to a free guided nature walk that will take place in Eliza Howell Park at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, 2023. *

    Spring Beauty

    It is a challenge each year to predict the exact time that these flowers will be in bloom; it naturally depends somewhat upon how warm spring is. Based on past years and on the weather to date, April 29 looks promising at this time.

    Dutchman’s Breeches

    We can usually expect to see the same species year after year in the park, but it is always exciting to find them — perhaps because we wait nearly 50 weeks between appearance or perhaps because we are fascinated by the names that have become attached to them historically.

    Cutleaf Toothwort

    Given their small size, these flowers are quite easy to miss. Until I learned when and where to look, I walked past Wild Ginger many times, failing to look under the heart-shaped leaves for the low dark flower underneath.

    Wild Ginger

    It’s difficult to choose a favorite among the ephemerals, but I have a special attraction to Yellow Trout Lily.

    Yellow Trout Lily
    White Trout Lily

    The violets in Eliza Howell Park are of several varieties.


    While most of the woodland spring wildflowers bloom at approximately the same time, a couple are a little later. Two that might not yet be in bloom on April 29 are …


    This quick preview of coming attractions is not complete until it includes one that is a favorite of a number of park visitors.


    * Please enter Eliza Howell Park from Fenkell and go about halfway around the 1-mile road loop. The walk will last approximately 1 and 1/2 hours. The total distance covered will be about 1 mile, much of it on a dirt path.

    For additional information or to sign up,  please email 

    kggarrett28@yahoo.com or 


  • Pearl Crescent: # 13 of “23 Butterflies in 2023”

    Leonard Weber

    March 31, 2023

    The Pearl Crescent is a small orange and black butterfly that flies in Eliza Howell Park from the middle of May into September. Perhaps because of its size (wingspan of 1 1/2 inches), it does not seem to get the attention some other common butterflies get.

    June 7

    There are sometimes differences in appearance among crescents and, for a few years, I tried to examine carefully each one I spotted. I was trying to determine whether it was a Pearl Crescent or perhaps a Northern Crescent, a very similar species also found in Michigan.

    This individual is ragged and faded.

    June 14

    Listening to experts who repeatly reported that it is extremely difficult to tell the difference in the field, I have since adopted the recommended practice of the Michigan Butterfly Network: that, for practical field identification, we name those here in southern Michigan “Pearl Crescents” and those on the other side of a line about 100 miles north of here “Northern Crescents.”

    Pearl Crescent range, Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America
    Northern Crescent range, Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America

    While I usually enjoy the challenge of trying to make difficult identification, I have decided to go along with identification based on geography in this case. Less focus on identification allows more time to enjoy the butterfly’s beauty and to observe its behavior.

    August 8
    June 3

    There are usually two broods. Pearl Crescent spends the winter here in the  caterpillar stage, continuing to chrysalis and then adult in the spring.

    July 27
    August 29

    Now that we have reached the end of March, it is only a matter of weeks before I will again look for Pearl Crescent, a regular and attractive participant in the annual butterfly extravaganza at Eliza Howell Park.