by Carl Strang
A moment came Saturday night when I had an experience which seldom happens anymore. I was walking to my car to head home from Mayslake Forest Preserve after watching First Folio Theater’s excellent performance of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor on the outdoor stage. I heard a singing insect that I did not recognize.
This was at the end of a day that had been fairly productive. I had found green-winged cicadas in two additional counties in the afternoon. During the play’s intermission I heard the first sword-bearing coneheads of the year in Mayslake’s prairies. I also heard the first unambiguous fall field crickets of the season.
But then, as I headed for the car, I heard a trill that seemed unfamiliar. At first I thought it was probably something I was hearing for the first time this season, and its identity would click if I just listened for a short time. While waiting for that click to happen I went through the mental checklist. It was a high-pitched, musical trill. So, it had to be a cricket. I approached it, and the hidden insect kept singing until I was beneath it. So, it had to be a tree cricket. I looked up into the spruce above me, but without a flashlight there wasn’t even a small possibility of seeing it. The checklist continued. All the early arboreal tree crickets have pauses in their trills, at least little ones. Therefore it wasn’t a two-spotted, or a Davis’s, and certainly not a snowy. I knew I would be there at night in a little over a week, and resolved to make a recording then. It wasn’t until later that the obvious solution filtered through the late night fatigue. It had to be a pine tree cricket. I realized that I had allowed myself to think of Oecanthus pini as a late-season species, but that was because Nancy Collins introduced me to pine tree crickets in September last year. I had noted that they were going strong at that point, and so could not say when they had begun. Everything fit. It was a continuous musical trill, but not as loud as tree crickets usually are. It was in a conifer. The Singing Insects of North America website gives starting dates consistent with the end of July at this latitude.
The lessons were several: be open to all sounds, notice them all; pursue incongruities if a song isn’t a clear match with past experience; abandon assumptions that are constructed from limited past experience. That’s a lot of profit gained from one tiny cricket, and I am grateful.