The Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) is another weirdo in the Parulidae family. It is the only extant member of the genus, Mniotilta, and it definitely stands out against the other wood warblers that we find in Missouri. Whereas other warblers flit about the leaves at ends of branches, through bush or along forest floors, gleaning for arthropods, the Black-and-white Warbler finds another niche. It forages by hugging tree trunks and inner branches, much like a nuthatch or creeper. The interesting genus name apparently comes from another of this bird’s behaviors. This name comes from the Ancient Greek mnion, meaning “seaweed”, and tillo, “to pluck”. Apparently, Black-and-white Warblers strip mosses and reindeer lichens to line their nests, which they make in mature forests across much of eastern and central North America.
This Tachinus fimbriatus, a member of the rove beetle family, Staphylinidae, was found and photographed in September, 2020 at Babler State Park in St. Louis Co, MO. Some consider the Staphylinidae the largest family of animals in North America with close to 5,000 species described in more than 500 genera. Most rove beetles are carnivorous and feed primarily upon invertebrates. However, many feed on decaying vegetation, especially as larvae. This adorable beetle is believed to feed primarily on rotting mushrooms.
I still have quite a few from 2020 to share. These Melanthium virginicum were photographed a year ago this month at Helton Prairie Natural Area in Harrison County, MO.
With a CC value of 9, this plant requires specific habitat of wet meadows, moist prairies, fens and acid seeps. With the loss of these habitat types, this plant has become rare in Missouri and Illinois. This plant is also toxic to mammalian herbivores. So, if you have the appropriate spot, this would be a great native perennial to plant in high deer pressure areas.
I have one more lady’s slipper orchid to share this year. I cannot count this one for my Missouri orchid list, but it is one hell of a slipper. The Kentucky lady’s slipper (Cypripediumkentuckiense) has the largest bloom of any in the Cypripedium genus and has nice diversity in colors and patterns. This is an orchid of the southeastern U.S. It has not yet been documented in Missouri, but can be found in the contiguous states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Casey and I found these with some help in May in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.
It’s not only orchids that I have had the pleasure getting to know during the past few years. Having new botanically-minded friends, I have been able to find and get to know a number of other interesting and sometimes quite rare plants found in other families. Obolaria virginica, known as Virginia pennywort or pennywort gentian, is indeed in the Gentianaceae family (gentians). It is ranked as S2 (imperiled) in Missouri, likely due to the small number of populations found here. This plant emerges very early and is much like a typical spring ephemeral. Like the coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza sp.), this plant is mycoheterotrophic, getting at least some of its nutrients by parasitizing microrrhizal fungi.
With the relatively recent removal of the Yellow-breasted Chat from the Parulidae, the title of the largest new world “wood warbler” may very well go to the Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla. The Ovenbird is somewhat of a misfit itself. Seiurus is a monotypic genus, believed to have derived early in the evolution of the family. This pot-bellied, thrush-like bird nests and forages on the forest floor, getting its common name from its nest that supposedly resembles a Dutch oven.
Although the Ovenbird can be easily heard through much of the summer in any large-track deciduous forest, getting good looks and photographs is easiest by waiting to spot them in a migration trap like Tower Grove Park in St. Louis City where these photos were taken.
There is a singer everyone has heard, Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again. He says that leaves are old and that for flowers Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten. He says the early petal-fall is past When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers On sunny days a moment overcast; And comes that other fall we name the fall. He says the highway dust is over all. The bird would cease and be as other birds But that he knows in singing not to sing. The question that he frames in all but words Is what to make of a diminished thing.
I have one more lady’s slipper we found in May to share. Cypripedium candidum or small white lady’s slipper requires moist and full-sun exposures, such as may be found in wet prairies, meadows, fens and forest edges. The reason for its rare status (likely found on fewer than five locations in the state) is due to habitat disturbance and orchid poachers digging them up for horticultural uses.
This species can hybridize with C. parviflorum (yellow lady’s slipper) when found in close proximity. This can potentially be a conservation concern in some states, but to my knowledge, there are no close associations between these two species in Missouri.
It was wonderful finding this and the other lady’s slippers in the state this year. I’m hoping this one can still be found here far into the future.
The Swainson’s Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) is a very secretive bird whose summer nesting range occurs in the southeastern United States. It requires a habitat of dense undergrowth and heavy leaf litter for foraging and nesting and, in Missouri, this species is rarely found north of the Current River watershed. It’s safe to say that in the St. Louis birding community, the most popular bird of the past week is a Swainson’s Warbler that has apparently set up a territory along the Lost Valley Trail in Weldon Spring Conservation Area in St. Charles County.
Named for William John Swainson, a naturalist, illustrator and contemporary of John James Audubon, the Swainson’s Warbler could fit in well in the lush habitat of this section of Weldon Spring C.A. Here it will compete with the bounty of other low-feeding passerines found here like the Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler and the occasional Hooded Warbler. Like we needed another reason to love birding at this location!
The Swainson’s Warbler is definitely not your typical species of wood warbler. The Parulidae family is well known for the gem-like coloration and spectacular patterns of many of it’s species. The Swainson’s Warbler, however, has a color and pattern more adapted to a lifestyle of foraging in the leaf litter and spending time in the dark understory of swamps and bottomland forests. This bird has a brownish back and lighter, white to cream-coloration on its breast. This typical countershading coloration allows it to blend in and virtually disappear within its environment. There is no sexual dimorphism in the coloration of this species – males and females are virtually identical, unlike other species of warblers also found along the Lost Valley Trail like the American Redstart and the Cerulean Warbler.
The bird is rather flat-headed with a much longer and stronger bill than most other warbler species. It is also known for its pink-colored and strong legs. These adaptations are probably helpful while lifting dead leaves and other detritus of the forest floor while it forages for its arthropod prey.
It is this author’s opinion that the song of the Swainson’s Warbler is one of the most satisfying of bird songs. It sounds like it took the stuttering song of the Louisiana Waterthrush (a closely related species) and perfected it. I can still completely enjoy myself just being in the woods with these guys singing. Be prepared for frustration if you are waiting for one of these birds to pop out of the dense understory to get a nice clear look.
Colombia, MO has had one or more Swainson’s Warblers for the past five years or so. Will this species become a regular at Lost Valley Trail? Is this one of the “good consequences” of climate change? It should be mentioned there have been a few reports that there are currently more than one bird along the trail. Some have claimed two males in separate territories and/or two birds spotted at the same location, indicating the potential presence of a female. I have spent four mornings over the past week looking for this bird and have seen no evidence of more than a single male yet, but there is always that potential.
Best of luck to those going to try for this bird. You would be hard pressed to think of a better place to spend some hours on a spring morning.
Thanks for visiting and let me know if you have had success hearing or laying eyes on this bird or if you have had any luck finding evidence of more than the one bird.
May was definitely a lady’s slippers month. My friends and I found four species within a week (three in MO, 1 in AR). Of the three species found in Missouri, two are species of conservation concern within the state – Cypripedium candidum, small white lady-slipper (S1) and C. reginae, showy lady-slipper (S2S3). I’ve shared photos of C. reginae on this blog before and a C. candidum post will be coming shortly.
I’ve posted photos of C. parviflorum (yellow lady’s slipper) here before as well but these accompanying photos were taken at a new location for me in St. Francois County. Some taxonomists, books and keys have this species split into two varieties – C.parviflorum var. pubescens, or the “greater” yellow lady’s slipper and C.parviflorum var. makasin, the “small” yellow lady’s slipper. Some authors have even split these two into specific status while even others have argued there is no basis in splitting these into varieties. From my limited experiences with these in Missouri and the taxonomic descriptions I have read, I have not seen ample evidence to suggest these should be split into varietal forms. There seems to be a lot of variation in the characteristics that are supposed to describe these two varieties and until someone shows me better proof that these should be treated as two separate forms, all I can say is that, “I’m from Missouri” and I will not be including these as two in my “master list” of the Missouri orchids.
If you are knowledgeable in this area and wish to argue, by all means, please let me know.
I shared images of this orchid last year. However, with an opportunity to visit one of its special homes this past weekend with a couple of friends, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see them again. I’ll be sharing photos of new orchids soon.