I am Sibylla Brown. I was born in Germany in 1940. In 1946 my father, a German Operation Overcast scientist, was brought to the U.S. My family followed him to the U.S. in 1947, settling in Cedar Rapids Iowa in 1950. I married my husband, Bill in 1962. Bill practiced dentistry in Des Moines for over 40 years. In 1993 we sold our house in Des Moines and moved to a 200 acre farm in Decatur County, Iowa. Except for a small vineyard we had no plans to farm our land. But we did want to take care of it, particularly the overgrown oak and hickory woodlands. We began timber stand improvement in 1993. When we learned our land was actually a rare oak savanna remnant we implemented prescribed fire. I keep monthly journals to record our activities and observations. These posts summarize them.
The best way to prevent mushrooms from fruiting is to schedule a mushroom foray. We had a foray scheduled here on August 27. Late August and early September are usually the most reliable months for ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi. This year, however, they were abundant in July. The hot, dry weather in mid-August ended that. When it did start raining a few days before the scheduled foray it was too late. It takes five days to one week before there is significant fruiting.
The following week, after we had had sufficient precipitation, the ECM fungi were still sparse. But I did see see some interesting species. Of particular note was Hygrocybe minutula which I found fruiting in grass in the East Savanna. An uncommon species this small red waxcap mushroom has a very viscid scarlet cap which fades to yellow-orange with age. The reddish stalk fades to yellow. Hygrocybe minutula is distinguished from the other red waxcaps by its bitter taste, small cap, and the fact that it does not stain black. Since I could find no record this species at Iowa State University herbarium the Timberhill find may be a state record.
Puffballs became very abundant after the late August rain. This group of Lycoperdon marginatum, Peeling puffball, were fruiting along the trail through the south meadow on August 31. It is distinguisted by the way its white, spiny spore case peels off in irregular patches exposing the dark olive-brown inner surface that develops a pore-like mouth from which the spores are released at maturity. Lycoperdon echinatum is very similar in appearance but the spines break off individually.
I was pleased to see Zabulon skippers again in the southeast woodland. Although common in the eastern states it is considered a rare breeding resident in Iowa. At Timberhill we always see it in the same location – along the southeast woodland trail.
The three pink false foxglove species found at Timberhill were all blooming by the end of August. Management of the bottom field in our West Creek unit has stimulated abundant blooming of two species: Slender false foxglove, Agalinis tenuifolila, and Eared false foxglove, Tomanthera auriculata. When we began managing this field T. auriculata was limited to the adjacent prairie remnant. An annual species, this plant requires disturbance, particularly fire, to germinate. After ten years of prescribed burning it has spread throughout in this old field.
After just over one inch of rain in June, we had 6.57 inches rain in July.
July turned into a very good mushroom month with abundant fruiting of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Green, red, black, and yellow Russulas (brittle caps) fruited heavily throughout the East Savanna woodlands with Russula variata, R. ochraleucoides, R. virescens, and R. nigricans being the most abundant. We collected the first Golden chanterelles on July 15. They continued to fruit the rest of the month.
Several boletes (mushrooms with pores instead of gills) fruited as well. I was particularly pleased to find three Rubroboletus rhodosanguineus specimens on a white oak hillside. This large red bolete has a red pore surface which ages to a dull coral-red. The golden yellow stalk is covered by a blood red reticulum that terminates into a darker red base. The stalk, the pore surface, and flesh instantly bruise blue. The Timberhill specimens are the only Iowa record for this species. An herbarium search found only 11 USA records: West Virginia, New York, and Iowa.
Another interesting July find was Boletus spadiceus var. gracilis which fruited along the southeast woodland trail. Also an uncommon species this small yellow-brown bolete fruited abundantly in July. I found eleven specimens on July 27. It is easily identified by the emerald-green flash reaction to a drop of ammonium hydroxide on the cap. A mycorrhizal partner of eastern North American hardwoods this bolete is distinguished from Boletus spadiceus which is only found in coniferous woodlands.
I don’t often see the Indigo milky cap (Lactarius indigo) at Timberhill. And when I do it’s never where one would expect to see it. Mycorrhizal with oaks and pines it usually occurs in mixed hardwood-coniferous woodlands. However, I usually find it in our prairie openings. This specimen was fruiting at the base of big bluestem grass next to a scrub shingle oak in the West Creek virgin prairie remnant. When cut this milky cap exudes bright blue milk.
As you can see in this photo the milk has turned the white flesh bright blue. (And has stained my fingers blue.)
I’ve always hated dogbane. Although it’s a native plant it spreads like a weed, particularly in newly opened woodlands. In the East Savanna is has spread over the hillside where more conservative plants such as Wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides) flourish and False hellebore (Veratrum woodii) are well established. It has also filled in the understory in the white oak and bur oak savanna we are restoring in our West 40 unit. But now that I have observed how much the butterflies love it I have come to treasure each patch of flowering Dogbane. In June I saw not only Coral and Edward’s hairstreaks on Dogbane, but Bronze and Gray coppers as well.
June was a good month for Hairstreak butterflies. On the 23rd we counted 10 specimens in under an hour. Most were on butterfly milkweed but we did see an Edward’s hairstreak nectaring on leadplant. And I finally collected a Hickory hairsteak. Larvae of this rare species consume shagbark hickory. Although this tree is abundant at Timberhill I had never seen a Hickory hairstreak. It is difficult to distinguish from Banded hairsteak. The difference between the two is that the inner band of dots (post median) on the Hickory hairsteak is wider along the leading edge and is white edged on both sides.
Great spangled fritillaries and Hackberry emperors were the most abundant butterfly species here in June. It was not unusual see 50 Hackberry emperors puddling in West Creek and over a hundred Great spangleds in flight. We saw the first Regal fritillary on butterfly milkweed on June 27. Also flying in June were the Horace’s and Wild indigo duskywings.
A friend visited for two nights of mothing and a day of butterlies in June. When we were observing hairstreaks on West Creek dogbane I was surprised to see a Hummingbird clearwing moth land nearby. Although the Snowberry clearwing is fairly common at Timberhill I’d never seen the Hummingbird clearwing. My mothing friend was surprised by the abundance of Leopard moths at Timberhill. He counted 10 specimens on the second night. Being a novice I had no idea this was unusual. Also of note was a Spiny oak-slug moth that came to his lights. I sighted another on June 27.
Because of the hot, dry weather in June summer mushrooms were non existent. In 2014 and 2015 golden chanterelles fruited here from mid-June into September. We certainly miss the chanterelle frittatas and Girolles a la forestiere, Jane Grigson’s preparation of chanterelles, new potatoes, and bacon.
The first week of June I woke up to a whip-poor-will singing in the south meadow. A nice way to start the day.
Wildflower bloom continued to be spectactular in May. I’ve never seen the spring wildflowers so abundant. Plants that used to be limited have now spread throughout the East Savanna. When we began restoration Cream wild indigo was confined to a small patch along a fence line in the northernmost East Savanna ridge top. Now it has not only spread across the entire ridge top but also to the next two ridges to the south. On the second ridge a few Dwarf larkspurs (Delphium tricorne) at the base of a white oak have spread over the entire upper hillside. Yellow pimpernel used to be confined to a nose slope above Brush Creek. It now blooms throughout the East Savanna woodlands.
The first time I saw Purple twayblade orchids here they were blooming between two white oaks west of our driveway. There were only two plants. Now they also bloom throughout the East Savanna, some in clumps of twenty or more specimens. Although this is a common orchid its presence indicates that a sight’s natural quality has been restored. Both the twayblade and Yellow lady’s slipper orchids were blooming the May 21.
Bill and I were pleased to see an abundant population of Juvenal’s duskywing butterflies again this year. We saw them puddling in West Creek, flying out of the woodlands into the prairie openings, and nectaring on Lousewort. Our first of the year Buckeye was sighted on May 22 in the West Creek field. Its larval food source, Slender false foxglove, is plentiful in this field so the Buckeyes will become more numerous as the season unfolds. The colors of a Great spangled fritillary seen on May 26 were so vibrant I mistook it for a Regal fritillary when I first spotted it.
I saw the first Giant swallowtail butterfly on May 12. Sightings of this species became more frequent each day. Interestingly I didn’t see a Tiger swallowtail until May 23. They are usually earlier and more numerous than the Giants swallowtails. Last year the FOY Tiger swallowtail was on April 16 and the FOY Giant swallowtail was on May 25.
Moths were flying in abundance in May. Our first Luna moth of the year came to a moth light on May 6. The next night we saw four specimens. Polyphemus moths, Lettered, Laurel sphinx, and Blinded sphinx moths were also spotted last month. A Pink striped oak worm moth was the best find of the month. This moth has only been collected in two other Iowa counties (Linn and Van Buren).
The summer mushroom season began on May 24 when I saw the first of the year Stalked scarlet cap, Entire Russula, and Deep root mushrooms. Along the West Creek bottom Eyelash cup, Scutellinia umbrorum, a small (.05-1 cm) orange cup fungus with a fringe of brown hairs was again fruiting on rotted wood. There is only one Iowa herbarium record of this mushroom (1903). It is probably overlooked because of its small size.
In the West Creek prairie remnant Bill and I were pleased to see a Bobolink breeding pair again this year. The Henslow’s sparrow colony is also nesting there this year.
“That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.”
I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit’s marvelous collection of essays, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. The above quote is from the first essay, “Open Door”. (attributed to pre-Socratic philosopher Meno). It describes exactly where I was in April – completely lost trying to identify moths that came to baited trees. Determined as I am to collect and identify as many Timberhill butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) as possible I knew that I would soon be lost. I can usually find my way among the silk moths, underwings, flower moths, and stem borers but am blinded among Pinions, Sallows, Cloverworms, Quakers, etc. What makes it all the more difficult is the variation among specimens of the same species. These two photos of the common Speckled green fruit worm moth illustrate the difficulty. I downloaded six photos of this species before I realized they were all the same species.
Moths seen and identified in April: Elaphria grata, Grateful midget, Eupsilia vinulenta, Straight-toothed sallow, Hypena scabra, Green clover worm moth, Lithophane atennata, Ashen pinion, Lithophane bethunei, Bethune’s pinion, Melanolophia canadaria, Canadian melanolophia, Mythimna unipuncta, Armyworm, Orthosia hibisci, Speckled green fruit worm moth, Zale gbalbanata, Maple sale, Sphecodina abbottii, Abbot’s sphinx, Drepana arcuata, Arched hooktip, Pero ancetaria, Huber’s Pero.
We saw the first spring azures on wing April 3 when the thermometer topped out at 83’ F. A black swallowtail was sighted the next day. On April 11 we saw the first Juvenal’s duskywing, a small black skipper. Interestingly the moth baited trees attracted an abundance of Red Admirals and only one Comma butterfly on April 13. This was just the opposite of what we observed on March 23 when we saw nineteen commas and only one Red Admiral. The first Meadow fritillary sightings were on April 19: one in the restored meadow and one puddling in the creek.
April Butterflies: American lady, Black swallowtail, Eastern and Gray commas, Juvenal’s duskywing, Meadow fritillary, Mourning cloak, Orange sulphur, Pearl crescent, Red Admiral, Red-spotted purple, Spring Azure.
I’ve never seen the spring ephemerals as spectacular as they are this year. Bluebells fill the lower portion of every hillslope, thousands of wild hyacinth are blooming in the east savanna, and bloodroot has moved uphill to the East Savanna ridge top. Of particular note is the abundance of Sandwort, Moehringia (Arenaria) lateriflora. In 2004 I found a small population in the prairie opening below the Hickory Grove. This year it covers one third of the prairie with its small white blossoms. Sandwort has a strong affinity to high quality oak-hickory woodlands and prairie openings (COC=10). We’re very pleased to find it so abundant here.
As usual the morels didn’t behave as expected. The warm weather in early April should have stimulated fruiting by the second week. But we lacked adequate precipitation – only .49 inches rain until April 18 when we had .32 inches. That was enough to get things going and we found our first specimen in Hickory Grove on April 19. In Iowa morels one usually looks for morels around dying and dead elm and cottonwood trees. But in the Hickory Grove they are associated with scrub shingle oak and mayapples. So far fruiting has been very scattered. Of the four Timberhill morel habitats we have found morels in only two. We had plenty of rain the week of April 24 (1.5 inches) but the temperature dropped into the 40’s each night and stayed in the 50’s during the day and fruiting ceased. It will be interesting to see what develops the first week of May when warm, sunny days are predicted.