July 1st Prairies

I was hiking at the Spring Green Preserve today with the Madison LGBT Outdoors Group when my friend Jon mentioned that he’s been coming to the preserve for about 20 years. How long have I been going there? Good question. I cannot recall a first time. I remember going there with my family at various times when I was very young, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took me there before I left infantile amnesia behind.

Point is, it’s a place that feels like a longtime friend. Like with any friend I only see a handful of times a year, it’s easy to pick up on changes. Last time I went, on May 31st, Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) was the dominant flower, making the prairie blue. Today the prairie had more white and yellow. The yellow was partially from eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), of which about a third to a half were still in bloom following their mid-June peak.

Grasshopper on a prickly pear flower

As usual, grassland birds were among the delights. Eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) and lark sparrows (Chondestes grammacus) remained from my last visit and welcome newcomers were the dickcissels (Spiza americana).

Dickcissel

The Spring Green prairie was not my first one growing up. I know without a doubt the first prairie I ever “met” was my parents’ small restorations. Taking pictures there after mowing the lawn I was able to get shots that I couldn’t under the harsh sunlight at Spring Green. My favorite find were the banded hairstreaks (Satyrium calanus) butterflies on a patch of butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). I remember seeing hairstreaks all the time in the backyard as a kid. Could these be the same species? It wouldn’t surprise me if that was at least partly true, but I bet we had other species too. I remember seeing ones that looked more gray or blue than brown. Today’s hairstreaks were super easy to photograph. It took me back to childhood memories of butterflies that I could walk right up to.

Banded hairstreak on butterfly milkweed

One plant that is abundant at Spring Green is leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and the purple flowers were in bloom on our hike. My best picture of one today is of my family’s sole specimen.

Leadplant

There has been a lot of talk lately about the therapeutic comfort of nature and many people talk about walks in the woods as their preferred method of outdoor stress relief. Me, I’m a prairie guy. I don’t know if it’s because they’re our original ground cover, their amazing biodiversity, or because I like the feel of open spaces rather than the coziness of the woods. No matter what the reason is (fewer mosquitos?), I feel more of a “forest bath” when I’m not in the forest. Spring Green has one of my favorite prairies and I would strongly suggest that anyone who loves a good prairie hike check it out. Maybe you can feel the prairie too.

Fellow visitors letting themselves get lost in the beauty

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