Goats and more

Team Echinacea started off Tuesday right, moving Stuart’s goats to a new paddock. They’re now closer to the field house than they have been, and will hopefully clear most of the understory in this wooded area, allowing Stuart to better manage the area and seed more native plants.

A bunch of folks then went and did phenology in some of the experimental plots, which didn’t take too long, meaning we found a variety of other tasks to complete before lunch. For me, that meant trimming sumac in p1 and collecting some native sedge seeds for us to spread later.

After lunch, a group of us headed to Staffanson Prairie Preserve to do flowering demography for the first time this year. We found around 60 flowering echinacea plants in our transect, but there could be thousands throughout the entire preserve. That was the highlight of my day, because Staffanson is so darn cool with so many different plants and animal life. We even got to see some regal fritillaries, a rarer butterfly that likes to call Staffanson home. They’re very quick though and none of them landed near me, so I unfortunately didn’t get a photograph this time around.

And some bonus photos:


Jul 6 Orchid Trip Adventure Recap

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, really it was morning, but the dark and stormy part is true. Regardless, the inclement weather during Tuesday’s early hours wasn’t enough to keep Team Echinacea from taking a road trip to monitor orchid populations in Fertile, MN.

Eight of us, about half the team, left the field house around 7am and drove north for two and a half hours. We stopped only for the necessities, namely the bathroom and donuts. The rain forced us to wait in our vehicles when we arrived at our site, and we were finally able to get to work around 10:30.

The first location we visited required a short hike to access. Though it’s acres upon acres in size, you’d never find it if you didn’t know where to look, which is why we were fortunate we were joined by Gretel Kiefer, who has worked with these orchids and the Nature Conservancy for over decades. A long-time member of Team Echinacea, Gretel is spending most of her summer at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but was able to join us this week for the trip.

The work itself consisted of moving in groups of four searching 10m by 10m plots for orchid plants. Whenever we found one, we would gather some data on its flowers, give it a numbered flag and use a GPS to mark its exact location. The plots themselves were sometimes a bit difficult to keep track of because many of the markers were fallen over or missing; I can only imagine how difficult it may have beef if there was standing water. Fortunately for us—but perhaps not the plants—this year is a dry one.

After finishing up at the first location, we ate lunch before traveling to the second and final location for the day. Because it would have been a long walk carrying all of our equipment, to get there we all piled in to Stuart’s pickup truck and drove down what I would hesitate to call a road, though we did all make it in one piece.

Our task for the second location was the same as before, but took much longer due to its larger size. By the time we were finishing up, the sun had come up after hiding behind the clouds all day. We were fortunate that it had been cloudy for most of the day; not only does cloud cover provide some relief from the heat, but, somewhat counter-intuitively, direct sunlight also makes it more difficult to spot individual plants. Once we wrapped up our work around 7pm, we headed south, stopping at a pizza place in Ada on the way back for dinner.

Despite the rain in the early hours, the consensus was that the orchid trip was successful, and indisputably a blast.

Some bonus photos:


Critters today

Phirst Phenology Phriday!

Today was our first chance to use our newly gained phenology skills in the field. In the morning, we split up into pairs and worked together, visiting several sites and making records for any plants that are already flowering, maybe about 10% of the echinacea at this point.

I was paired up with John, which meant riding in his jeep, the famed “Bombus-mobile.” Even though there weren’t too many flowering plants yet, we were able to spend all morning on phenology, taking on a couple extra sites when we finished the ones we’d been assigned.

After lunch, there were a couple of tasks that needed getting done. I headed out with a group to finish flagging p2, while others went to weed wild parsnip at Loeffler’s Corner; that stuff can give you a nasty rash! This time at p2, we used very long measuring tapes (50m) to ensure accuracy. We had saved the toughest part for last, a dead zone with nary a plant to base our measurements off of, so it was important to use a tape that could span the whole plot. The plan was a success, and we finished with time to spare!

After wrapping up p2, I headed out with Mia to search for stipa (porcupine grass) in the remnants around random points we had placed flags at earlier in the season. Any time a stipa plant was growing within a meter of a point we were looking at, we would gather data on a number of the plant’s features before collecting the fruits. This took us until the end of the day (a little afterwards, in fact; we ended up having to deal with a relatively large plant).

And last but not least, today’s butterfly!



Day 4: Flags Galore, Even More!

For me, this morning began with an adventure to P2, where we continued the task of flagging the plot at regular intervals, marking every five (and sometimes one) meters. It got a bit tricky because our measurements didn’t always match up with where the echinacea were growing (they should have been right at the flags), but as one Dr. Jennifer L. Ison said, “you can’t argue with the plants.” We eventually got in a groove and formed an infallible(ish) tape measure square, moving from spot to spot in formation, installing blue or orange flags at the points of the square. Although we didn’t quite finish before lunch, hopefully finishing up should be quick process next time we get out there.

Lunch consisted of a chickpea salad sandwich, an apple, some pretzels, a couple presentations and a team discussion about norms and expectations for the working together for the season. We individually answered four questions about how we think teams work well together, shared our ideas all together, and will work on forming all of our thoughts into a few succinct statements in the next couple days. Plenty to digest!

After lunch, I headed out with a group to Loeffler’s Corner to find and flag flowering echinacea. How many did we find, you ask? I have no idea, it was literally too many to count (seems like a problem for the demo crew, which may include me anyway, so I’ll keep ya posted.) Estimates ranged between 100-200, my guess was 172. Just know it was a LOT. One plant we saw even had nine flowering heads.

Of course, no flog post of mine would be complete without at least one photo of some sort of lepidopteran. Today, enjoy two!

Almost at the end week one! Fingers crossed that whoever is in charge of tomorrow’s post does some killer alliteration with “day five” and “flagging” and “Friday.” Until next time!

Loungin’ at Loeffler

After grabbing some lunch, Maris and I headed over to the Loeffler corner remnant to check out the differences between its burned eastern side and unburned western side.

Getting a closer look at Loeffler Corner’s recently burned eastern side.

The prairie remnant located on the eastern side of the road is smaller than its counterpart, is uphill from the gravel roadway and has a large tree casting a shadow over much of its surface. The western part of the remnant, on the other hand, is about twice the size, dips downhill from both the gravel road and the highway and is home to a few saplings.

While both sides contained echinacea, we observed more on the western side, including stems from last year, which were absent on the eastern side. Other forbs were also present on both sides, though the species were distinct; on the eastern side we observed alfalfa, wild parsnip and anemones, while the western side only had prairie rose.

In terms of grasses, in both parts of Loeffler Corner we observed about equal quantities of stipa, though on the western side it was much more clustered together. We saw other grasses on both sides as well, such as brome and panic grass.

Hmmmmmmmm, plants.

Our observations seemed to suggest that there was a higher species diversity on the side of the remnant that had been burned. During a rousing discussion on the car ride back to the field house, we talked about how that might have been in part due to more nutrients in the soil due to the burn, and even more open soil overall might be helpful during a seed’s germination.

Personally, my favorite part (Maris concurred) was getting distracted by some awesome butterflies at the site. I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of a beautiful fritillary that flew by, but I was able to snap a photo of a smaller butterfly, maybe a variety of skipper or dash, sitting on an alfalfa!

Here’s to another day of prairie prowlin’!

I was so focused on taking a pic of this feller, I didn’t even notice the echinacea plant behind it until taking a closer look at the picture. Made us wonder what else we missed on our first day!

Wesley Michaels

Echinacea Project 2021

Environmental Science & Journalism, Northwestern University, 2023

Research Interests

I’m interested in studying all sorts of ecology, but I’m especially curious about our Lepidopteran friends and the organisms they interact with! I’d also love to learn more about how ecosystems respond to disturbances.


I’m originally from Minnesota, and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to return to my home state to work in its prairies. I love to cook, learn plant and bug facts, and wear convertible pants (shants)!

Me with a moth!