Mayslake Bugs

by Carl Strang

The warming weather has produced the first wave of insects at Mayslake Forest Preserve. These early-season adults overwintered in that form or in the stage just prior, or in some cases, migrated from the South.

The Carolina saddlebags is one such likely migrant.

The Carolina saddlebags is one such likely migrant.

This individual gave me a rare opportunity to photograph it in such a way as to show off its diagnostic purple forehead. The slender legs have the strength to hold the dragonfly to its perch.

Though I think of the eastern tailed-blue as a late-summer butterfly, that is the second generation of the year. Here is one of the early-season firsters.

Though I think of the eastern tailed-blue as a late-summer butterfly, that is the second generation of the year. Here is one of the early-season firsters.

Wild indigo dusky wings frequently may be encountered at Mayslake early in the season.

Wild indigo dusky wings frequently may be encountered at Mayslake early in the season.

The preserve harbors two host plants for the caterpillars: white wild indigo, a desired native prairie species, and the unwanted crown vetch, an introduced invasive.

Mayslake Birds

by Carl Strang

Bird action at Mayslake Forest Preserve has sped up to the point of being hard to follow. Migrants have been stopping by in good numbers.

Baltimore orioles are scattered through all the woodlands. Some will stay and nest.

Baltimore orioles are scattered through all the woodlands. Some will stay and nest.

Warbling vireos are another recent arrival.

Warbling vireos are another recent arrival.

Savannah sparrows haven’t nested at Mayslake yet, but one day last week the meadows and prairies were full of them.

Savannah sparrows haven’t nested at Mayslake yet, but one day last week the meadows and prairies were full of them.

I know this is a broken-record theme for me (for those of you old enough to know what that expression means), but note how in the face-on view all those head stripes converge on the bill, accentuating it for rival intimidation (maybe). I’m reminded of Maori facial tattoos.

I know this is a broken-record theme for me (for those of you old enough to know what that expression means), but note how in the face-on view all those head stripes converge on the bill, accentuating it for rival intimidation (maybe). I’m reminded of Maori facial tattoos.

This Canada goose brood appeared on Mays’ Lake.

This Canada goose brood appeared on Mays’ Lake.

On the same day, the nest in the nearby stream corridor marsh was empty, with open eggshells, almost certainly that brood’s origin.

On the same day, the nest in the nearby stream corridor marsh was empty, with open eggshells, almost certainly that brood’s origin.

The other nest, in the parking lot marsh, has been abandoned. Three unhatched eggs are visible. The highest water levels in recent rains may have reached their undersides.

The Cooper’s hawk nest is under incubation just off the preserve in a neighbor’s yard.

The Cooper’s hawk nest is under incubation just off the preserve in a neighbor’s yard.

The nest was found by Vicky S., a former student of mine who went on to mentor with some of the area’s top birders and should be regarded as one of their number at this point. There’s some satisfaction to be had in being surpassed by one’s student. She pointed out that this is an unconventional structure, the hawks having added a layer of sticks to the top of a squirrel nest.

Phenology First Take

by Carl Strang

One of the best ways of assessing how a given year compares with previous ones is by looking at first flowering dates. With April now complete, I can review those for Mayslake Forest Preserve. On the whole, this April can be regarded as slightly early, thanks to significant early warm days melting the snow and warming the soil.

Dutchman’s breeches bloomed abundantly at Mayslake this year.

Dutchman’s breeches bloomed abundantly at Mayslake this year.

Comparing median first flower dates in April places 2015 6 days earlier than 2014 (11 species), 9 days earlier than 2013 (20 species), 6 days earlier than 2011 (21 species), and 3 days earlier than 2009 (17 species). This April was 9 days later than 2010, and a substantial 25 days later than the anomalous warm year of 2012.

Most of these differences are not very large, and the expectation is that they will gradually diminish over the coming months.

Singing Insect Season Opens

by Carl Strang

Last Wednesday the long silent drought of insect song was broken as I heard the first displaying green-striped grasshopper of the year, at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve. Then, on Friday, I found many of them buzzing in the south stream corridor prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

This male rested after a relatively long flight.

This male rested after a relatively long flight.

If you want to listen for the crackling-wing songs of these grasshoppers, I posted a recording HERE not too long ago. They show up in all kinds of grassy areas.

I continue to be puzzled by green-striped grasshoppers. Sometimes their buzzing display flights are long, and fairly easy to see. Most of the time, though, I hear briefer buzzes and do not see any movement. Either I am not correctly locating the displaying insect, or they can buzz within the vegetation without flying. I don’t think these simply are very short display flights, because the grasses in that prairie are matted nearly to the ground. On the other hand, the males are well camouflaged, their wings are not colored like those of many of their relatives. On the longer flights they are most visible at the beginning and end, practically disappearing in the fast major portion.

Mayslake Vertebrate Action

by Carl Strang

The season’s progress can be measured in many ways. One is through vertebrate activities.

A fox squirrel feeding on flowers

A fox squirrel feeding on flowers

Song sparrows, among other birds, have been singing like crazy.

Song sparrows, among other birds, have been singing like crazy.

Migration is accelerating. This unusually pale savannah sparrow stopped by Mayslake Forest Preserve a couple weeks ago.

Migration is accelerating. This unusually pale savannah sparrow stopped by Mayslake Forest Preserve a couple weeks ago.

Pied-billed grebes have been regulars on Mays’ Lake.

Pied-billed grebes have been regulars on Mays’ Lake.

And the Cooper’s hawks are happy to exploit the stopovers of migrants who don’t know the territory.

And the Cooper’s hawks are happy to exploit the stopovers of migrants who don’t know the territory.

Spring Progresses

by Carl Strang

After the spring beauties broke winter’s long suppression of wildflowers, other plants quickly have begun to bloom at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Bloodroot is a popular subject for nature photographers. Seed-carrying ants have been spreading this species in several directions from one initial colony in the south savanna.

Bloodroot is a popular subject for nature photographers. Seed-carrying ants have been spreading this species in several directions from one initial colony in the south savanna.

Bloodroot is one of many plants in several families which convergently have evolved little edible handles called elaiosomes on their seeds. The ants carry the seeds to their nests, and after consuming the elaiosomes discard (plant) the seeds.

Dutchman’s breeches likewise are spreading impressively from their starting point.

Dutchman’s breeches likewise are spreading impressively from their starting point.

The year’s earliest sedge to bloom on the preserve, the common oak sedge, also is flowering, here surrounded by white trout lilies and cutleaf toothworts.

The year’s earliest sedge to bloom on the preserve, the common oak sedge, also is flowering, here surrounded by white trout lilies and cutleaf toothworts.

The trout lilies and toothworts are flowering now, along with common blue violets and others. So far these few species are pointing to an average to slightly early year as measured by flower phenology at Mayslake.

Me, Litterbug

by Carl Strang

Last week, Nikki Dahlin and I found a black plastic bag blown up against the base of a tree at Mayslake Forest Preserve. We were going to throw it away, but Nikki noticed something.

A polyphemus moth caterpillar had pupated against the bag. Normally its secretions would simply cement its wraparound dead leaf, but here the bag was attached as well.

A polyphemus moth caterpillar had pupated against the bag. Normally its secretions would simply cement its wraparound dead leaf, but here the bag was attached as well.

A dilemma. I decided to compromise, cutting away and properly disposing of the bulk of the bag, but returning the bit of plastic with the cocoon to the ground, as shown in the photo. Technically that makes me a litterbug, but I intend to return periodically to check, and will remove the plastic when the moth is out.

Can’t help but wonder how far that bag with its dormant passenger was blown through the air before landing at Mayslake, a preview of the moth’s flying days to come.

Mayslake Marsh Update: Amphibian Traps

by Carl Strang

I set out some amphibian traps in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh to assess how the marsh has recovered from the drought of 2012 and another drying out in 2013.

This leopard frog still is dark from its recent emergence.

This leopard frog still is dark from its recent emergence.

I have caught and released several of the large predaceous diving beetles, Dytiscus hybridus.

I have caught and released several of the large predaceous diving beetles, Dytiscus hybridus.

Similar in size, this water scavenger beetle, Hydrophilus triangularis, was an addition to the preserve species list.

Similar in size, this water scavenger beetle, Hydrophilus triangularis, was an addition to the preserve species list.

The club-like end of the antenna separates the water scavenger beetles from the predaceous diving beetles, whose antennae are thread-like.

The club-like end of the antenna separates the water scavenger beetles from the predaceous diving beetles, whose antennae are thread-like.

The identification of this juvenile crayfish is uncertain, but the slender pincers have me thinking White River crayfish, in the past the most common species in that marsh.

The identification of this juvenile crayfish is uncertain, but the slender pincers have me thinking White River crayfish, in the past the most common species in that marsh.

I caught only one magnificent adult White River crayfish against 10 or so juveniles, sign of a recovering population.

I caught only one magnificent adult White River crayfish against 10 or so juveniles, sign of a recovering population.

Meanwhile, the grassland crayfish have been opening up their tunnels around the peripheries of the wet areas.

Meanwhile, the grassland crayfish have been opening up their tunnels around the peripheries of the wet areas.

Grassland crayfish mainly come out at night to forage on land. Sometimes these foragers become foragees.

Grassland crayfish mainly come out at night to forage on land. Sometimes these foragers become foragees.

The marsh’s muskrats regard the amphibian traps as suitable platforms for their territorial markings.

The marsh’s muskrats regard the amphibian traps as suitable platforms for their territorial markings.

Through all of this, the marsh’s sounds have been dominated by the songs of western chorus frogs. They are so small that they can squeeze their way out of the traps.

Through all of this, the marsh’s sounds have been dominated by the songs of western chorus frogs. They are so small that they can squeeze their way out of the traps.

 

Mayslake Marsh Update: Birds

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve’s marshes have awakened as the thaw has come and the water slowly warms.

This mallard pair was more than ready, resting on a muskrat house in March with the ice still around them.

This mallard pair was more than ready, resting on a muskrat house in March with the ice still around them.

We are seeing two Canada goose nests on the preserve this year, as females are incubating atop muskrat houses.

One in the stream corridor marsh

One in the stream corridor marsh

Another in the parking lot marsh

Another in the parking lot marsh

Meanwhile, the migration season continues.

A few blue-winged teal have been stopping by the marsh. This duck has not yet nested at Mayslake.

A few blue-winged teal have been stopping by the marsh. This duck has not yet nested at Mayslake.

Yet another case of a face-on bird’s markings accentuating the bill, possibly making it more intimidating in an agonistic face-off.

Yet another case of a face-on bird’s markings accentuating the bill, possibly making it more intimidating in an agonistic face-off.

This coot spent a day in the parking lot marsh.

This coot spent a day in the parking lot marsh.

Soon the migration focus will shift to the woodlands, as the neotropical migrants are on their way.

 

Burn Season

by Carl Strang

The end of winter brings with it the prairie and savanna controlled burn season. Mayslake Forest Preserve got some of that attention, but it was more limited than the almost complete coverage of two years ago.

Only half of the north stream corridor prairie was burned, for instance.

Only half of the north stream corridor prairie was burned, for instance.

A thread of fire reached into the edge of the stream corridor woodland and ignited the tall stump which I regarded as the most likely nest site for the great horned owls last year. It continued to smolder for days.

Several feet of one side burned away, showing that the cavity had been wide open and quite deep.

Several feet of one side burned away, showing that the cavity had been wide open and quite deep.

I don’t know if any owl eggshell fragments could be found in the former base of the cavity, but it’s a moot point now as they won’t be able to use this platform again.

I don’t know if any owl eggshell fragments could be found in the former base of the cavity, but it’s a moot point now as they won’t be able to use this platform again.

It’s a moot point personally, too, as I will be retired next year and plan to shift my preserve monitoring to St. James Farm, a preserve closer to home.

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