Mayslake Botany Update

by Carl Strang

On Friday I walked up to the friary restoration site to see how it is coming along.

Scattered plants are poking up through the protective netting.

Some of these are weedy species, but others appear to be the products of scattered prairie seeds.

There were velvetleaf and coarse grasses that I suspect are barnyard grass, but also another abundant grass that probably is an intended cover species.

I continue to look for new grasses and sedges elsewhere on the preserve, and earlier found this one.

This is Cyperus strigosus, most commonly called strawcolored flatsedge but also known as long-scaled nut sedge. At Mayslake Forest Preserve it grows around the stream corridor marsh.

Conrad Fialkowski showed me another new one at that marsh, which as far as he knows did not grow at Mayslake before this year.

Hop sedge has impressive large fruiting heads.

He said it will turn a beautiful dark brown color before it is done.


Take Your Kids to Work Day

by Carl Strang

Last week the annual Take Your Kids to Work Day took place at Mayslake Forest Preserve. I was one of the program leaders, and I took the opportunity to test some ideas on singing insects and hearing. We tried out some insect survey methods, including sweep netting.

This was, of course, popular. You get to swing a net through the vegetation, then see what you caught.

Everyone gathered round when someone had something interesting to share.

Often there were odd little critters buried in the bits of vegetation at the bottom.

Every insect and spider got equal attention, but I was especially interested in singing insects.

One of my long term goals is to learn to identify katydid nymphs like this Conocephalus.

They also tried out the SongFinder.

This device takes in sounds and drops their pitch, dividing the frequency by 2, 3 or 4 times. Familiar sounds are made strange.

I was eager to find out how well kids could hear species I cannot hear without this device. I led them to an area where slender meadow katydids  were singing. I was mildly chagrined to learn that not only the kids heard them, but so did their younger-adult parents. I was the only one who could not. They said the song reminded them of a sprinkler.

Here they proved their ability by finding one of the singing slender meadow katydids.

This was a helpful step toward developing monitoring methods for singing insects, and everyone seemed to have a good time. By the way, I am conducting a free singing insects program at Danada this coming Saturday evening. Call 630-206-9581 to reserve a spot.

July Insect Phenology

by Carl Strang

First observation dates for insect species at Mayslake Forest Preserve in July 2011 were not too different from 2009 and 2010. The median difference in dates placed 2011 ahead of 2009 by 3 days (range 17 days earlier to 16 later, sample of 13 species). This year’s July appearances were a median 7 days later than in 2010 (range 30 days earlier to 80 days later, sample size 15 species).

The red milkweed beetle was representative of these results, with a first observation date in 2011 that was 3 days earlier than in 2009, 6 days later than in 2010.

Dropping the 80-day-later outlier, which probably represents my missing a generation earlier in the season, shifts the median difference between 2010 and 2011 to 5.5 days later, not a very big change.

July Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

Flowering phenology in July kept pace with observations for the season so far, with 2011 first flower dates close to those in 2009 and a few days later than those in 2010.

July is, in my view, the peak month for prairie flowers.

At Mayslake Forest Preserve, the median difference between first flower dates in 2009 and 2011 was 0 days (range 17 days earlier to 27 days later than 2009, with a sample size of 55 species). The median difference was 7 days later in 2011 than in 2010, range 38 days earlier to 42 days later, sample size again 55 species.

Three Bucks

by Carl Strang

Beds, footprints, and occasional sightings have made clear that at least two bucks have made Mayslake Forest Preserve their summer residence. Yesterday I spotted this fellow at the north edge of the mansion grounds.

He had impressive antlers, extending a little beyond his ears and with 4 tines each in addition to the brow tines.

Later there were two bucks in the orchard in the east mansion grounds. I was inclined at first to assume that the larger one was the same individual I had seen earlier. A close look at the photos soon demonstrated that this was not the case.

The antlers have a much wider spread, and only 3 tines above the brow.

The third male was smaller, and quick to jump away when his larger companion expressed a need for space.

His antlers are narrower, smaller.

I tried comparing these to the photos of the one I reported early in July.

I think this may have been the same as the smallest individual from yesterday.

I don’t believe he could have grown as much additional bone as is present in the two larger bucks in one month, and the notched left ear and antler shape appear to be consistent with the smallest of yesterday’s deer. On the other hand, there could be more than three…

Peak Singing Insect Season Begins

by Carl Strang

By this point in the season we are hearing nearly all the common singing insects in northeast Illinois. First song dates on the whole have been in line with those of recent years, but a few have been relatively late and one was comparatively early.

Snowy tree cricket

My own first observations of singing males typical of residential neighborhoods have included Carolina ground cricket (19 July), common true katydid (also 19 July, a relatively early start for that species), Allard’s ground cricket (22 July), snowy tree cricket (29 July), fall field cricket (30 July, a relatively late start but I had been out of town for a week), two-spotted tree cricket (31 July), Say’s trig (31 July), and greater angle-winged katydid (4 August).

Greater angle-winged katydid

I didn’t get into forests at night until the Roger Raccoon Club campout, so my first date of August 3 for oblong-winged and rattler round-winged katydids has limited meaning. Another forest species that may have started up before my first observation of August 2 was the confused ground cricket.

Black-legged meadow katydid

Our most common large meadow katydid, the black-legged, started up around August 2, a relatively late start for this wetland-edge insect.

Insects at the Campground

by Carl Strang

The overnight campout at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve that concludes the Roger Raccoon Club provides opportunities to observe various aspects of natural history. Last week the campground’s gravel parking lot, damp from overnight rain, apparently held a good supply of dissolved minerals, as it attracted butterflies representing at least 5 species.

Most remarkable was this giant swallowtail, a species uncommon in DuPage County but encountered regularly in small numbers at Waterfall Glen. I believe their main food plant in northeast Illinois is prickly ash, an infrequent shrub.

After dark an orchestra of singing insects filled the forest with sound. Dominant that night were large numbers of common true katydids, with smaller numbers of scattered two-spotted tree crickets, rattler round-winged katydids, and oblong-winged katydids. I needed a photo of the last species, and was able to find one singing close to the edge of the woods.

This oblong-winged katydid is holding his wings apart in singing position. Rasp and file structures on the brown portions of the two wings are rubbed together to produce the song.

As it happened, some of the kids found another male on their tent in the morning. I gave them a brief lesson about it, and took another set of photos.

Here the wings are in their normal folded position.

Some of those singing insects represented my first observations of their species this year.

Where I’ve Been

by Carl Strang

This week there have been fewer posts, as I have been occupied with the Roger Raccoon Club. This is not, as you might guess, a camp about natural history, though inevitably there are moments when such teaching opportunities arise. These are based on the kids’ discoveries, however. The main point is teaching how to play and explore safely in the out-of-doors, and we give them as much free time as possible. One highlight is when kids get the opportunity to see what they can catch with nets in a pond.

Wading is by no means necessary, but on a hot day…

The main universal catch is happiness.

She went in deeper and stayed in longer than anyone else.

The week culminates in an overnight campout. That stay at Waterfall Glen gave me some natural history observations that I’ll share next week.

Insect Catch-Up

by Carl Strang

I consider photos to be an indispensible part of this blog. Blogs are based on writing, but in a visual medium like a computer screen, I believe images are needed as well. I try to get photos of everything new I encounter in the field, and edit and copy selected ones into a file I keep for the blog. They then are the basis for new posts. Sometimes there are orphan photos, ones which by themselves may not be enough for an entire entry. Today I want to clear out three such photos of insects. The first goes back to mid-June.

Unicorn clubtail on May’s Lake

I had been seeing a few jade clubtails at Mayslake Forest Preserve, perched on shore or occasionally on floating algae, but then on June 16 there was an odd-looking individual that clearly was a new species for the preserve list. The photo made clear that this was a unicorn clubtail, a species in the same genus as the jade clubtail, common in some places but not, in my experience at least, in DuPage County.

Reversed haploa, a member of the tiger moth family

This was a big year for reversed haploas. Usually I see 5 or so in a season, but I saw dozens at Mayslake in the first half of July.

Bombus pensylvanicus. I think.

There are two species of bumblebees in northern Illinois that are so similar I cannot distinguish them confidently. From what I have seen in internet sources, I am not alone in this. Both have large areas of black on the thorax and large areas of yellow on the abdomen. There are variations in “fur” color on the head and posterior thorax that bring enough overlap into the picture to confound the identification of individuals. As far as I can tell, it comes down to the color of the basal abdominal segments. Less black and more yellow indicates pensylvanicus, more black and less yellow indicates Bombus auricomus. In my limited experience, though, there appears to be another possible indicator. B. auricomus seem to be brighter, the yellow and black so sharp as to really stand out, while the colors are duller in pensylvanicus.

Here is an auricomus from an earlier year

If any readers can lend insight on this, I would appreciate a comment to that affect.

Friary Seeded

by Carl Strang

Recently I posted on the preparation of the friary site’s soil at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Later that day I found that seed had been spread.

A basic starter prairie mix was planted.

Workers were in the process of unrolling netting with straw imbedded.

The netting both reduces seed consumption by birds and helps protect the soil until the spreading roots of the germinating seeds can hold the soil together on their own.

The contractors’ work is complete. Now it’s up to living wild things to repopulate the place.

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