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.
On September 21 Bill and I were surprised to find over 30 Spiranthes cernua, Slender ladies tresses orchids, blooming on the border between the old cornfield and the prairie remnant in our West Creek unit. I usually expect to find a few ladies tresses here and there but such abundance was exceptional . Although S. cernua is considered common I am always delighted to find orchids in bloom.
On September 27 Bill and I were walking along the south trail when I spotted a Hairstreak butterfly nectaring on goldenrod. Through my field glasses I could see that it was very worn. Except for the large orange spot on the lower margin the ventral wing markings had faded. We had neither a butterfly net or a camera with us but I was able to pick up the specimen with my bare hands. When it opened its wings I saw the dark bordered bright iridescent blue dorsal surface. Without question this was a White M hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album), considered extremely rare in Iowa. This species’s habitat is usually restricted to the oak canopy. However, as tree nectar sources dwindle in the fall it is drawn to fall blooming goldenrod.
We attracted three stalk borer moth species to black lights in September: Papaipema baptisiae (indigo stem borer), Papaipema marginidens (Brick red stalk borer), and Papaipema unimoda (Meadow rue borer). Underwing moths also continued to be attracted to black lights and moth bait on shagbark hickory trees. We saw both Catocala subnata (Youthful underwing) and Catocala neogama (The bride) which are difficult to differentiate except by the hindwing tibia. C. subnata has many spines, C. neogama only a few. Catocala cara (Darling underwing) and Catocala angusi (Angus’s underwing) came both to the baited trees and black lights.
Ectomycorrhizal mushrooms were still scarce in September. The second week of September we had sufficient rain to produce some fruiting. That stimulated large clumps of Laccaria ochropurpurea, a few brittle caps, some golden chanterelles and hedgehogs. The only uncommon species was Boletus submentosus var. gracilis which fruited along the southeast woodland trail and in the East Savanna.
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.