Mayslake Animals and Plants

by Carl Strang

Time for an update on Mayslake Forest Preserve’s wildlife, both animal and vegetable.

A house wren has been active in the south part of the preserve.

A house wren has been active in the south part of the preserve.

Incidentally, the least flycatcher continues to hang around and sing. Might it have found a mate?

Tracks last week revealed that in addition to the buck featured in earlier posts, there is a doe with her fawn in residence on the preserve this summer.

Tracks last week revealed that in addition to the buck featured in earlier posts, there is a doe with her fawn in residence on the preserve this summer.

The most recent addition to Mayslake’s insect list is this moth, the six-spotted gray. Though it superficially appeared to be a member of the inchworm family, it proved to be one of the noctuids.

The most recent addition to Mayslake’s insect list is this moth, the six-spotted gray. Though it superficially appeared to be a member of the inchworm family, it proved to be one of the noctuids.

The former friary site gradually will recover from its year as a temporary off-leash dog area. In the meantime, a number of weedy plants have invaded.

One of these is the patience dock.

One of these is the patience dock.

It looks like an overlarge curly dock, with a strong red stem and a heavy array of flowers.

It looks like an overlarge curly dock, with a strong red stem and a heavy array of flowers.

Mayslake Nature Art Show

by Carl Strang

Lovers of nature and art can satisfy both interests by visiting the grounds of Mayslake Peabody Estate this summer. “When Art and Nature Meet” is a show honoring the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Centennial year.

The opening piece is this eagle launching itself into flight, by sculptor Dan Massopust.

The opening piece is this eagle launching itself into flight, by sculptor Dan Massopust.

Artists were encouraged to use collected materials. This is “Nest,” by Vivian Visser.

Artists were encouraged to use collected materials. This is “Nest,” by Vivian Visser.

The pieces all are labeled.

The pieces all are labeled.

The previous label describes this constellation of painted poles, each carved with images of owls. The cross in the background is not part of the piece, but is an artifact of the estate’s Franciscan period.

The previous label describes this constellation of painted poles, each carved with images of owls. The cross in the background is not part of the piece, but is an artifact of the estate’s Franciscan period.

Here is an example of artist Gary Lehman’s owl images.

Here is an example of artist Gary Lehman’s owl images.

Elisa DaSilva contributed an array of large dreamcatchers.

Elisa DaSilva contributed an array of large dreamcatchers.

An ash tree dying from an emerald ash borer infestation was topped rather than taken out entirely, so that Eric Widitz could carve the stem into this piece.

An ash tree dying from an emerald ash borer infestation was topped rather than taken out entirely, so that Eric Widitz could carve the stem into this piece.

Detail from Widitz’ carving. You have to see it up close and from all angles to appreciate it fully.

Detail from Widitz’ carving. You have to see it up close and from all angles to appreciate it fully.

These photos show fewer than half of the pieces. Come on out and see them!

Lightning Blast

by Carl Strang

The most dramatic event at Mayslake Forest Preserve last week came during one of the several storms that passed through the area on consecutive days. An old ash tree on the mansion grounds was struck by lightning.

The strike did not simply create a wound, it blasted out one side of the tree.

The strike did not simply create a wound, it blasted out one side of the tree.

Mayslake’s site manager Janneke Waal-Fowers provides some scale as she examines the injured tree.

Mayslake’s site manager Janneke Waal-Fowers provides some scale as she examines the injured tree.

This example indicates why taking cover during a thunderstorm is well advised.

This heavy, pointed piece more than 15 feet long was thrown 50 feet away from the tree.

This heavy, pointed piece more than 15 feet long was thrown 50 feet away from the tree.

There were several pieces like this, sprayed over 180 degrees. I don’t know the exact trajectory they would have followed, but it’s all too easy to imagine a person standing in the wrong place at the wrong moment being impaled.

The tree had begun to show the effects of an emerald ash borer infestation, and a Forest Preserve District forestry crew took it down the next day. Fortunately there was no damage to the nearby Portiuncula Chapel or to First Folio Theater’s summer stage. The weddings and the shows will go on.

Centennial Bioblitz and Nature Fest

by Carl Strang

This coming weekend brings the crowning event of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Centennial Celebration: the Centennial Bioblitz and its public face, the Nature Fest. We have over 100 scientists and citizen scientists coming to count all the species they can find on four adjacent forest preserves: Blackwell, St. James Farm, Herrick Lake and Danada. Survey teams have been organized to focus on birds, vascular plants, nonvascular plants, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, fishes, dragonflies and damselflies, beetles, butterflies, fungi, and others. The survey will begin at 5 p.m. on Friday and continue to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Purdue University’s beetle team and others will be night sampling for insects under lights Friday night. You can check out this action by signing up at 630-942-6200.

Purdue University’s beetle team and others will be night sampling for insects under lights Friday night. You can check out this action by signing up at 630-942-6200.

Nature Fest will run concurrently, beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday. It will take place at St. James Farm, which also will be the headquarters for the bioblitz. In addition to opportunities to meet the scientists, and see specimens and photos of their findings, festival goers will be able to see presentations (including those on the main stage with live bats and raptorial birds), try out various related hands-on activities and exhibits, and purchase treats from an array of gourmet food trucks.

The entrance to St. James Farm is on the east side of Winfield Road, just north of Butterfield Road in Warrenville. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Beauty in a Small Package

by Carl Strang

Working in one of my garden flowerbeds, I noticed a tiny critter with long hind legs. A glimpse was enough to interrupt the weeding and send me in for a camera.

He’s not even big enough to straddle a narrow daylily leaf. You can see why I wanted a photo.

He’s not even big enough to straddle a narrow daylily leaf. You can see why I wanted a photo.

With those legs, antennae, and colors, clearly this was a katydid nymph. But which one? A quick perusal of the BugGuide and Singing Insects of North America websites ruled out the species that I regularly have heard in my neighborhood block counts. It is a close match to photos identified as early-instar fork-tailed bush katydids, however. That makes sense for the neighborhood habitat, but I haven’t heard any here over the past couple of years. Or any other Scudderia species for that matter. I hope that this one, or a sibling, will survive to adulthood and sing so I can confirm their presence. This perhaps is a hint that I need to get in the business of rearing nymphs, like my esteemed Wisconsin and Ohio colleagues, Nancy Oecanthinancy and Lisa Rainsong.

Northern Wood Crickets

by Carl Strang

Those of you on the mailing list for my annually updated guide to the singing insects of the Chicago region would look in vain for northern wood crickets in last year’s edition. I simply wasn’t aware that they could be here. While preparing for the Hills of Gold bioblitz, however, I found that their range extends into our region. I had not included them in the hypothetical list because initially it was directed toward DuPage County in Illinois, and wood crickets never have been found in northeastern Illinois. I gained some experience with wood crickets in the bioblitz, and the sound recordings I made there proved to be of the northern wood cricket, Gryllus vernalis. Study of the relevant scientific paper (Yikweon Jang and H. Carl Gerhardt. 2006. Divergence in the callling songs between sympatric and allopatric populations of the southern wood cricket Gryllus fultoni [Orthoptera: Gryllidae]. J. Evol. Biol. 19: 459–472) indicated that the 2-chirp-per-second, 3-pulse-per-chirp, songs coming from leaf litter in forest habitat, were of northern wood crickets. Southern wood crickets, the other possibility, would have had faster chirps at that temperature.

Last week’s vacation survey trips went so well, despite two days lost to rain, that I had Saturday available to seek northern wood crickets the Indiana portion of the Chicago region (I had not found them in the Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan excursions). My first two stops, in St. Joseph County’s Bendix Woods and Fulton County’s Judy Burton Nature Preserve, were fruitless. Mid-afternoon brought me to the Winamac State Fish and Wildlife Area in Pulaski County, and I drove the gravel roads until I found one of the parking lots in a forested spot. Immediately I heard the chirps of Gryllus crickets, and I dug out the Marantz sound recorder. As I recorded two different crickets I believed I was hearing 3 pulses in the chirps, as had been the case at the bioblitz.

This was where the cricket in the recording shared below was located.

This was where the cricket in the recording shared below was located.

I would have liked to try and flush out one of the singers, but as the photoflash lighting in the photo suggests, it was getting dark fast, and I barely reached the car before the downpour hit. I tried to get around the storm by driving to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife area, but no dice, and I had to call it a day. So, here is a cut of the stronger recording:

Can you distinguish the 3 pulses that form each chirp?

The visual rendition of the recording clearly shows the 3-pulse chirps, but they are being produced at a 4-chirp-per-second rate.

The visual rendition of the recording clearly shows the 3-pulse chirps, but they are being produced at a 4-chirp-per-second rate.

This might have been confusing, given that the southern wood cricket, not yet known from northern Indiana, more typically has a 4-chirp rate, but the soil temperature was very warm, at nearly 80F, and the scatter for vernalis in Jang and Gerhardt’s graph extends to 4 chirps at that temperature. Also, the dominant frequency was 5.9kHz, good for vernalis but pitched way too high for fultoni at any temperature. So, I am content for now that I have established a present-day northern wood cricket presence in the region. One goal for next year will be to seek them in more locations, make more recordings, and get a better sense of their song features in this part of their range.

Early Season Survey: South

by Carl Strang

On Wednesday of last week I drove south to seek early season singing insects in some Illinois counties.

My first stop was Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County.

My first stop was Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County.

The forest was empty of northern wood crickets, but there were several groups of an early season grasshopper.

They proved to be greenlegged grasshoppers. Though not in either singing grasshopper subfamily, they were beautifully colored and worth a little effort to photograph and identify. This is a mature male; the crinkly little wings are full sized for the species.

They proved to be greenlegged grasshoppers. Though not in either singing grasshopper subfamily, they were beautifully colored and worth a little effort to photograph and identify. This is a mature male; the crinkly little wings are full sized for the species.

The preserve’s prairie gave up county records for spring field cricket and greenstriped grasshopper.

The preserve’s prairie gave up county records for spring field cricket and greenstriped grasshopper.

I went on through Will County, adding a couple site records at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and also recording one of several puzzling ground crickets that sounded like striped ground crickets, and were in the appropriate habitat for the species, but were a month or more too early. I also checked the forest at Kankakee River State Park, but again failed to find any northern wood crickets.

Early Season Survey: North

by Carl Strang

On Tuesday of last week I drove north to seek early season singing insects in 5 Wisconsin and northern Illinois counties. I was prepared to camp overnight, but with rain in the forecast for the next day I was happy to complete the run in one day.

My first stop was Middlefork Savanna in Lake County, Illinois.

My first stop was Middlefork Savanna in Lake County, Illinois.

Spring field crickets were singing, but vegetation still was wet from an overnight rain, and I was lucky to spot this greenstriped grasshopper to give me that county record.

Spring field crickets were singing, but vegetation still was wet from an overnight rain, and I was lucky to spot this greenstriped grasshopper to give me that county record.

From that point it was rapid-fire site hopping, and I didn’t take many photos.

An exception was this Roesel’s katydid nymph at Wadewitz Nature Camp, a Racine County (Wisconsin) Park.

An exception was this Roesel’s katydid nymph at Wadewitz Nature Camp, a Racine County (Wisconsin) Park.

Wadewitz has extensive grassy meadows, and the biggest surprise of the day was not finding displaying greenstriped grasshoppers in the warm sunny mid-day. Ultimately I was able to find both spring field crickets and greenstripeds in all 5 counties, but several stops were required in some cases.

Early Season Survey: Berrien County

by Carl Strang

I took last week as a vacation to do some early season singing insect surveying across the Chicago region. Monday took me to Berrien County, Michigan, which I had searched only once before late in the season. In addition to seeking the few species active this early, I wanted to scout some sites for their later-season potential. My first stop was Galien River County Park.

The start of the trail looked promising. The forest proved to be of good quality. I listened for northern wood crickets, but none were there.

The start of the trail looked promising. The forest proved to be of good quality. I listened for northern wood crickets, but none were there.

The park’s most spectacular feature is a wonderful canopy walkway, which ends in a platform overlooking the Galien River and moderate quality wetlands.

The park’s most spectacular feature is a wonderful canopy walkway, which ends in a platform overlooking the Galien River and moderate quality wetlands.

The walkway takes you into the upper canopy. I’m looking forward to getting back some evening later in the season.

The walkway takes you into the upper canopy. I’m looking forward to getting back some evening later in the season.

The marsh is cattail dominated, with reed canary grass invading, but has some potential for wetlands singing insects.

The marsh is cattail dominated, with reed canary grass invading, but has some potential for wetlands singing insects.

Another site new to my experience was Mud Lake Bog. Bogs are few in the region, so I had high hopes.

I was not disappointed. A boardwalk winds a good length through a high quality bog.

I was not disappointed. A boardwalk winds a good length through a high quality bog.

There was plenty of sphagnum moss, so I expect to add Berrien to the short list of counties in the region still harboring sphagnum ground crickets.

There was plenty of sphagnum moss, so I expect to add Berrien to the short list of counties in the region still harboring sphagnum ground crickets.

A final stop for the day was Warren Dunes State Park. Spring field crickets were common in the more sheltered spots of the outer dunes.

A final stop for the day was Warren Dunes State Park. Spring field crickets were common in the more sheltered spots of the outer dunes.

An early season delight is to spot the glowing yellow of hairy puccoons.

An early season delight is to spot the glowing yellow of hairy puccoons.

No need to enhance the color in a photo of these beauties.

No need to enhance the color in a photo of these beauties.

Though the day produced only 2 county species records, it was delightful for visits to familiar sites and the promise of the new ones.

 

Mayslake Update: Insects

by Carl Strang

The warm weather has brought out a beautiful diversity of insect life at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Here’s the gallery from last week:

Early zanclognatha moths are appearing in good numbers this year in Mayslake’s woodlands.

Early zanclognatha moths are appearing in good numbers this year in Mayslake’s woodlands.

Here is a second one, showing some of the variation in this species.

Here is a second one, showing some of the variation in this species.

What they have in common is their relatively early season compared to similar relatives, a rather sharp bend in the dark line closest to the head, a kink or at least flat area in the tip of the curve in the middle line, and a rather straight outermost line. This is one of a large group of moths whose larvae make their living by eating dead leaves. Many are common in our woodlands thanks to that abundant resource.

This skipper put me through a long session with the references. I concluded that it is Juvenal’s dusky wing.

This skipper put me through a long session with the references. I concluded that it is Juvenal’s dusky wing.

It is very similar to the wild indigo dusky wing, which also occurs at Mayslake, and I need to be more careful in the future in identifying these butterflies. The difference, as I understand it, is that Juvenal’s has areas of pale color within the black inner part of the forewing, and just inward of the central tan area there is a pale dot (very faint in this individual) rather than a short bar.

Less ambiguous is this Virginia tiger moth. There are other white tiger moths, but they don’t have the fancy black-and-white barred legs, a couple of which are sticking out here. Also, this one patiently let me move its leaf so as to get a look at its front femurs. They were yellow-orange rather than pink.

Less ambiguous is this Virginia tiger moth. There are other white tiger moths, but they don’t have the fancy black-and-white barred legs, a couple of which are sticking out here. Also, this one patiently let me move its leaf so as to get a look at its front femurs. They were yellow-orange rather than pink.

This pretty little moth, photographed near the edge of the north savanna, was an addition to the preserve species list. The spotted grass moth is described as “uncommon” in references.

This pretty little moth, photographed near the edge of the north savanna, was an addition to the preserve species list. The spotted grass moth is described as “uncommon” in references.

Viewed dorsally, this Laphria thoracica robber fly is a very effective bumblebee mimic. At this angle, however, we can see how it is alertly watching for passing prey. The flattened abdomen, impressive predatory beak, and odd antennae prove that this is no bee.

Viewed dorsally, this Laphria thoracica robber fly is a very effective bumblebee mimic. At this angle, however, we can see how it is alertly watching for passing prey. The flattened abdomen, impressive predatory beak, and odd antennae prove that this is no bee.

First spreadwing damselfly of the year. The southern spreadwing is regarded by some as a subspecies of the common spreadwing.

First spreadwing damselfly of the year. The southern spreadwing is regarded by some as a subspecies of the common spreadwing.

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