Some Mayslake Birds

by Carl Strang

It seemed the ideal situation. Muskrats had built an enormous mounded den in the center of the parking lot marsh at Mayslake Forest Preserve, and it was a sure bet that it would platform a Canada goose nest in the spring. Sure enough.

A female incubating her nest on April 15.

A female incubating her nest on April 15.

Something happened. The nest was abandoned before incubation was completed. The water is deep, and it’s hard to imagine a coyote making that swim for so small a return. The story wasn’t over, though, as a second attempt was underway by early June.

The same pair? Cannot say, but there was a new nest under incubation by June 3.

The same pair? Cannot say, but there was a new nest under incubation by June 3.

This was very late, but still there would be plenty of time to get young flying by fall. The result, however, was the same.

By June 24 the nest had been abandoned. The eggs appear to be intact.

By June 24 the nest had been abandoned. The eggs appear to be intact.

To close on a more positive note, I will share some recent portraits of Mayslake’s other birds.

Green herons have been regulars in the marshes and lakes.

Green herons have been regulars in the marshes and lakes.

A red-winged blackbird carries lunch for her nestlings.

A red-winged blackbird carries lunch for her nestlings.

A single common yellowthroat is all I’ve been hearing on the preserve.

A single common yellowthroat is all I’ve been hearing on the preserve.

This cedar waxwing thoughtfully lifted its crest as I aimed the camera.

This cedar waxwing thoughtfully lifted its crest as I aimed the camera.

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Mayslake Lepidoptera!

by Carl Strang

I added the exclamation point in the title to fill a gap left by our punctuational butterflies. Eastern commas are usually fairly common at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

This recent example shows the source of the butterfly’s name: a contrasting silver or white mark on the underside of the wing is reminiscent of a comma.

This recent example shows the source of the butterfly’s name: a contrasting silver or white mark on the underside of the wing is reminiscent of a comma.

The week before, I thought that one of the comma’s less frequent relatives appeared.

There seems to be a separation here, a curved line plus a dot.

There seems to be a separation here, a curved line plus a dot.

Later I had to conclude that this was a question mark wannabe, a comma with a disruption in its namesake line. This was made clear by the upper wing pattern.

The pattern of black spots on the forewing is that of an eastern comma.

The pattern of black spots on the forewing is that of an eastern comma.

There have been appearances by two different moths in the same genus, and no ambiguity in this case.

This was a LeConte’s haploa on June 9. Note the gaps in the dark lines at the corners of the wings.

This was a LeConte’s haploa on June 9. Note the gaps in the dark lines at the corners of the wings.

Ten days later a reversed haploa appeared. The dark lines are connected.

Ten days later a reversed haploa appeared. The dark lines are connected.

These are tiger moths that commonly emerge this time of year, and I continue to see individuals of both species at Mayslake. The haploa caterpillars generally feed on a wide variety of plants, but I have no information on their local diet range.

Another common moth is the large lace border, one of the geometrid or inchworm moths.

Not a big moth, contrary to the name, wingspan perhaps an inch.

Not a big moth, contrary to the name, wingspan perhaps an inch.

Again, the relative abundance of this species probably is tied to its broad dietary range, which includes plants in several families.

Field Cricket Final

by Carl Strang

For a few years, now, I have been puzzling over the geographic distribution of our two field crickets, the spring field cricket and the fall field cricket, in DuPage County. Though these two sibling species occur together in most places, they don’t always do so, and I have been conducting driving surveys to map out where each species may be found. Here is the map as of the end of last year:

Green circles represent places where both species may be found. Yellow circles are fall field crickets only, blue circles are spring field crickets only.

Green circles represent places where both species may be found. Yellow circles are fall field crickets only, blue circles are spring field crickets only.

Many of the yellow circles were places where the habitat looked good for both. After last year’s survey, however, I read that spring field crickets sing more in the morning than in the evening, when I had been listening. Over the past couple of weeks I have returned to all the yellow circle areas, and was able to revise the map.

If you compare, you will see that many of the yellow circles now are green.

If you compare, you will see that many of the yellow circles now are green.

It became clear that the places which remained without spring field crickets all had inappropriate habitat. Most of them were all pavement or mowed lawn, some were wetlands, some were wooded. Fall field crickets are more tolerant of some of those areas, and so their more widespread distribution can be accounted for by current conditions.

Fall field cricket, male

Fall field cricket, male

Those few blue circles now represent the unresolved aspect of the story. Most of them I have checked more than once, and all seem to be good habitat. This may be some accident of history, a local population being removed by a past event. If that is it, the crickets may immigrate and re-establish themselves. I plan to check those places again, perhaps in a couple of years, to see if that happens.

There is a clear precedent at Mayslake Forest Preserve this year. It’s my 6th season of surveying that site, and the first in which there have been spring field crickets, 4 widely scattered individuals. Fall field crickets should be at least as able to disperse.

Botanical Notes

by Carl Strang

Plants develop so quickly in such diversity that it is easy to miss the less conspicuous stages in their growth. Blue-eyed grass attracts the eye when it is blooming, but what does it do after?

This is one of the earliest-blooming prairie plants. They’ve been done for weeks now.

This is one of the earliest-blooming prairie plants. They’ve been done for weeks now.

Though less showy, the developing fruits form an interesting cluster of spherical shapes.

Though less showy, the developing fruits form an interesting cluster of spherical shapes.

This spring also has provided a rare look at what river bulrush looks like when it is flowering.

Most of the time this plant with its large soft triangular stems makes do spreading vegetatively. A cluster of stems in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh decided to bloom this year.

Most of the time this plant with its large soft triangular stems makes do spreading vegetatively. A cluster of stems in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh decided to bloom this year.

Here’s an annual to finish today’s review.

Penny cress already is done and senescent, the seeds showing through these backlit pods.

Penny cress already is done and senescent, the seeds showing through these backlit pods.

When blooming it looked like this, with typical 4-petaled mustard family flowers.

When blooming it looked like this, with typical 4-petaled mustard family flowers.

I have a list. I hope to provide more photos of what plants do when they are done flowering.

Odonata Update

by Carl Strang

This has been a remarkable spring for damselflies and dragonflies at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Carolina saddlebags have been present in unusual numbers for weeks, outnumbering black saddlebags by a wide margin.

This one posed on June 3, and they keep on coming.

This one posed on June 3, and they keep on coming.

Spring is also the time when the lakes host two baskettail species.

Common baskettails won’t be around for long. Good luck finding one perched.

Common baskettails won’t be around for long. Good luck finding one perched.

This is one of the few times I have seen a prince baskettail perched. I wonder if it needed a break in the midday sun. It seems to be semi-obelisking here.

This is one of the few times I have seen a prince baskettail perched. I wonder if it needed a break in the midday sun. It seems to be semi-obelisking here.

Friday was a remarkable damselfly day. First came the following two individuals, striking with a metallic sheen on their abdomens. I don’t think they were teneral spreadwings, however.

This one best matches the female orange bluet.

This one best matches the female orange bluet.

Nearby was this one, which I believe was an immature male orange bluet.

Nearby was this one, which I believe was an immature male orange bluet.

The best was yet to come, however. Up in the meadow surrounding the temporary off-leash dog area at the former friary site, two bluets appeared that I don’t believe I have ever seen before. The first was a blue-type bluet that was just too small to be a familiar bluet.

Ta-da! A double-striped bluet!

Ta-da! A double-striped bluet!

In a more shaded area were two foraging damselflies which proved to be male and female of another species new to my experience.

Check out the enormous eyespots and the large blue area at the tip of the abdomen. This is a male azure bluet.

Check out the enormous eyespots and the large blue area at the tip of the abdomen. This is a male azure bluet.

A female azure bluet was nearby.

A female azure bluet was nearby.

The female was using an interesting foraging technique, reminiscent of a hover-gleaning bird, slowly flying up and down and briefly hovering to scan each leaf of an erect goldenrod plant, visually hunting for resting prey. As the photo shows, she was successful.

Moths, Maybe

by Carl Strang

The Indiana bioblitzes always seem to take place so early in the season that there is little singing insect action for me to document. I always learn something, but I feel that I want to make a larger contribution. I photographed some moths drawn to the Purdue team’s lights at Eagle Marsh, and I was reminded of my 1980’s investigation of forest moths in DuPage County, for instance the component community centering on enchanter’s nightshade. Perhaps I need to expand a bit, and make a more concerted effort with moths at future bioblitzes.

Here is what the woolly bear caterpillar becomes: an Isabella tiger moth. At least two of these were drawn to the lights at Eagle Marsh.

Here is what the woolly bear caterpillar becomes: an Isabella tiger moth. At least two of these were drawn to the lights at Eagle Marsh.

We got a glimpse of a yellow-collared scape moth during the day, and that night one came to us.

We got a glimpse of a yellow-collared scape moth during the day, and that night one came to us.

A third example, a bristly cutworm moth. Check out the beautiful green areas in the wings.

A third example, a bristly cutworm moth. Check out the beautiful green areas in the wings.

There have been butterfly teams, but so far no one has specialized on moths. They are a diverse, beautiful and ecologically significant group, deserving of attention in the bioblitzes. It will mean collecting, but I have done that before.

Eagle Marsh Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

Each year the Indiana Academy of Sciences selects a site within that state for a bioblitz. This past weekend’s was my third, and it always is a great way to kick off the field season. The location this year was Eagle Marsh, on the western fringe of Fort Wayne.

A large open barn in the center of the site made for a good headquarters.

A large open barn in the center of the site made for a good headquarters.

Support for the visiting scientists and other volunteers was excellent. Here, the morning’s adventures are shared over box lunches on Saturday.

Support for the visiting scientists and other volunteers was excellent. Here, the morning’s adventures are shared over box lunches on Saturday.

The objective of a bioblitz is to find as many species of organisms as possible in a brief period, usually 24 hours. Scientists who specialize in different taxa lead teams that explore the site. Eagle Marsh is dominated by wetlands, as the name implies. In fact it sits on the boundary between two watersheds, the Great Lakes to the north, and the Mississippi River drainage to the south.

This fence is intended to block Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes when the rivers flood. It soon will be replaced by a more reliable berm.

This fence is intended to block Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes when the rivers flood. It soon will be replaced by a more reliable berm.

The site largely is a restoration project begun in 2005, though some teams found surprising diversity in parts of the preserve. My singing insects team was limited by the early date. We found a grand total of 3 species.

This Roesel’s katydid nymph was one of a small cluster we found on an elevated bank.

This Roesel’s katydid nymph was one of a small cluster we found on an elevated bank.

This bioblitz invited members of the public to assist those scientists open to such participation. I was delighted to have a team, for a change, and we enjoyed all the organisms we were finding.

Northern leopard frogs were abundant, a sign of how rapidly the wetland is improving in quality.

Northern leopard frogs were abundant, a sign of how rapidly the wetland is improving in quality.

Peck’s skipper was one of a number of butterfly species we observed.

Peck’s skipper was one of a number of butterfly species we observed.

Jeff Holland’s Purdue University entomology team always provides a highlight with their beetle-drawing lights.

1000 watts of power.

1000 watts of power.

Helpers collect some of the insects that fall to the sheets below.

Helpers collect some of the insects that fall to the sheets below.

Here is what they were seeing.

Here is what they were seeing.

Congratulations to Betsy Yankowiak and the Little River Wetlands Project team for a job well done.

Betsy presented an overview of the area’s geology for interested participants.

Betsy presented an overview of the area’s geology for interested participants.

A Different View

by Carl Strang

Usually what attracts the eye are a plant’s flowers. Today’s photo illustrates how a more wandering eye can find delights in other parts of plants.

Do you recognize this junction of stem, leaves and flower stalk?

Do you recognize this junction of stem, leaves and flower stalk?

It’s Jack-in-the-pulpit, showing a beautiful mosaic pattern.

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