Sarett Nature Center

by Carl Strang

Sarett Nature Center is located in northern Berrien County, Michigan. It has some high quality habitats, in particular a good sized fen and some upland forest. Glimpses of the facility’s education program that I got when I visited there last week pointed to high quality in that service, as well. Sarett’s singing insects provided a couple highlights worth sharing here.

While checking out a restored prairie and its adjacent tree line, I encountered a Forbes’s tree cricket laying eggs.

The female arched her body so as to bring her ovipositor in perpendicular to the sassafras stem. The line of eggs was around 3 inches long.

The female arched her body so as to bring her ovipositor in perpendicular to the sassafras stem. The line of eggs was around 3 inches long.

The fen was rich in sedges and other native plants.

A boardwalk provides access to the fen’s interior.

A boardwalk provides access to the fen’s interior.

Through the SongFinder I heard an unfamiliar insect song, a rapid tapping sound.

The singers proved to be black-sided meadow katydids.

The singers proved to be black-sided meadow katydids.

When I have encountered this species before, its song was overwhelmed by those of black-legged meadow katydids. Those were few in the fen. It became clear that the black-sideds were concentrated in portions of the fen that had coarse-stemmed red-osier dogwoods or broad-leaved cattails.

I left Sarett satisfied with my experience there, but a couple hours of light remained, and the day’s big highlight was still ahead…

 

Recent Indiana Excursions

by Carl Strang

In recent weeks I have visited a few spots in Lake and Newton Counties, Indiana, for the first time. One site in Gary is a state nature preserve with several interdune swales.

Though there are some patches of invasive wetland plants, more than 95% of the area is in native vegetation.

Though there are some patches of invasive wetland plants, more than 95% of the area is in native vegetation.

I had high hopes for this site, which I thought might have stripe-faced meadow katydids and slender coneheads. On an evening excursion and an afternoon one I built a rather mundane species list. In this rainy year it is possible that the target species are present but widely scattered. I want to get in there again in a year when drier conditions might concentrate the species of interest, and also make a larger portion of the site easily navigable.

Willow Slough Wildlife Area in Newton County is a large and diverse area that I barely have begun to explore for singing insects. One target for this year was a roadside ditch lined with native sedges and grasses.

The ditch proved to have only common singing insects, but there was a remarkable concentration of clipped-wing grasshoppers, a non-singing species I have seen in only one other location. This is a nymph; most were adults at this late point in the season.

The ditch proved to have only common singing insects, but there was a remarkable concentration of clipped-wing grasshoppers, a non-singing species I have seen in only one other location. This is a nymph; most were adults at this late point in the season.

I also checked out some narrow drainage swales along an access road closely bordered by forest.

One non-singing species there was the graceful grasshopper.

One non-singing species there was the graceful grasshopper.

Short-winged meadow katydids were abundant, but the population was unusual in that nearly half the individuals were the long-winged variant.

Short-winged meadow katydids were abundant, but the population was unusual in that nearly half the individuals were the long-winged variant.

I wonder if the narrow, constrained habitat has something to do with the oddity of that population.

 

A Happy Find at Midewin

by Carl Strang

On Tuesday I drove down to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County to continue surveying its singing insects. The trip produced one of the season highlights, the first dusky-faced meadow katydids I have found in Illinois.

One of several male dusky-faceds I found in an extensive marsh at Midewin.

One of several male dusky-faceds I found in an extensive marsh at Midewin.

This once was a common species, and there are old records for many counties in my survey area. As of Tuesday, in the 10th year of my study, I have one present-day county record for Illinois, and two for Indiana, out of the 22 counties I am searching.

The marsh where I found them. Note the lack of invasive wetland plant species.

The marsh where I found them. Note the lack of invasive wetland plant species.

Phragmites, reed canary grass, hybrid cattails and purple loosestrife are the major threat to wetland ecosystem integrity. So far no one has found a sure way to hold them back, and the first two in particular are spreading rapidly.

Elsewhere at Midewin, in a dry restored prairie, I found several clouded grasshoppers.

This is a member of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

This is a member of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

They were displaying on this warm afternoon, their buzzing flights sounding just like those of green-striped grasshoppers, a spring species.

 

Lulu Lake

by Carl Strang

During a 3-day Wisconsin trip last week, I made a lot of stops in Racine, Walworth and Kenosha Counties, the most remarkable of which was a state natural area, Lulu Lake, in Walworth County.

The site includes a large, high quality bog.

The site includes a large, high quality bog.

For once, the songs of the sphagnum ground crickets were not buried among those of Say’s trigs, as has been true at other bogs I have visited.

The bog is surrounded by hills of glacial outwash gravel.

The bog is surrounded by hills of glacial outwash gravel.

Those hills held two species I have not observed elsewhere in Walworth County to date: tinkling and spotted ground crickets. The former seem to prefer dry woodland edges on well drained sandy soils. The latter like moist shaded spots in woods on well drained sandy soils.

The bog is reached from the south by a long walk through a meadow with a good percentage of prairie plants. This curve-tailed bush katydid was a resident of that meadow.

The bog is reached from the south by a long walk through a meadow with a good percentage of prairie plants. This curve-tailed bush katydid was a resident of that meadow.

One more photo from the Wisconsin trip comes from an Interstate rest stop, also in Walworth, where I found my first straight-lanced meadow katydids for that county.

Nancy Collins had remarked that the straight-lanced males on her site had brown cerci. Going back, I find that this is true of every male I have photographed over the years.

Nancy Collins had remarked that the straight-lanced males on her site had brown cerci. Going back, I find that this is true of every male I have photographed over the years.

This was a very productive trip, resulting in 22 county records for the three days.

 

A Visit with OecanthiNancy

by Carl Strang

Nancy Collins fell in love with tree crickets when a male two-spotted tree cricket found his way onto one of the potted plants on her apartment balcony and began to sing. That encounter led to one of the more remarkable stories in present-day singing insects research. Nancy’s passion has led to a comprehensive web site on tree crickets, expeditions in North and Central America, and co-authorship of scientific papers describing new species.

Nancy with a netting-enclosed cluster of goldenrod tops holding some Forbes’s tree crickets. Nancy is the one on the right (small joke).

Nancy with a netting-enclosed cluster of goldenrod tops holding some Forbes’s tree crickets. Nancy is the one on the right (small joke).

Nancy now lives in rural Racine County, Wisconsin, and last week showed me the study plot she is managing for her experimental studies. Her projects include the distribution of tree cricket species in Wisconsin, identifying characteristics of the various species’ nymphal stages, and color variation among Forbes’s tree crickets. That last species ranges considerably, from largely black to quite pale, often in the same local population. Nancy is enclosing groups of tree crickets segregated by color on various host plants, and will follow their offspring next year to begin sorting out genetic and other influences on that color variation.

During that visit I was able to add a few singing insect species to my spreadsheet for Racine County.

These included the fork-tailed bush katydid.

These included the fork-tailed bush katydid.

This female marsh meadow grasshopper had an unusually beautiful color pattern, but most of the many individuals of this species had the typical coloration.

This female marsh meadow grasshopper had an unusually beautiful color pattern, but most of the many individuals of this species had the typical coloration.

The green cerci and long wings identify this male slender meadow katydid.

The green cerci and long wings identify this male slender meadow katydid.

Note: the name in the title is Nancy’s, not mine. It is her handle for Internet use, combining the family name for the tree crickets (Oecanthinae) with her own. She does not capitalize the Nancy portion, however.

 

Morgan Monroe-Yellowwood Ecoblitz

by Carl Strang

The Indiana Forest Alliance is sponsoring a multi-year species survey of the back country portion of the conjoined Morgan Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests in Monroe and Brown Counties of southern Indiana. They are holding bioblitz weekends at various seasons so as to get a more complete picture than a single bioblitz would produce. Jeff and Mary Stant are providing the principal organizational and logistical support. I paid my first visit on September 12 to begin inventorying the singing insect species.

While waiting my turn to go into the survey area, I checked out the base camp in an old field with scattered young trees adjacent to the riparian edge of a wooded stream. The species mix was much like I would expect to find in a dry area in northern Indiana or Illinois.

Woodland meadow katydids were very common in woodland edges, much more abundant than I have found them farther north.

Woodland meadow katydids were very common in woodland edges, much more abundant than I have found them farther north.

The old field held scattered common meadow katydids.

The old field held scattered common meadow katydids.

Handsome trigs also were common in the riparian edge.

Handsome trigs also were common in the riparian edge.

Allard’s ground crickets were one of several species at the camp.

Allard’s ground crickets were one of several species at the camp.

The forested survey area was, as expected, less diverse, though the cool afternoon temperature probably inhibited some species. The slopes held scattered confused ground crickets, and bottomland herbaceous thickets were full of Say’s trigs, along with good numbers of Carolina ground crickets and more scattered jumping bush crickets and narrow-winged tree crickets.

At one point we flushed out a medium-sized cricket which permitted a quick photo but evaded capture. It was one of the camel crickets, probably in genus Ceuthophilus.

At one point we flushed out a medium-sized cricket which permitted a quick photo but evaded capture. It was one of the camel crickets, probably in genus Ceuthophilus.

We went up to a ridge top in the evening. It was very cold, and few species were managing to sing. There were scattered tinkling ground crickets, Carolina ground crickets, jumping bush crickets, and a few feebly ticking long-spurred meadow katydids. A background hum came from the forest canopy, and occasional individuals could be distinguished to support an identification of Davis’s tree crickets, by far the most abundant singers on that cold night.

I look forward to returning for more ecoblitz weekends next year.

 

How far North?

by Carl Strang

One of the projects in my singing insects study is tracing the boundaries of species ranges, and following how these are shifting in cases where they are expanding, usually northward. Two of the species I have been pursuing in recent days are the long-spurred meadow katydid and the Nebraska conehead. Several years ago I found a small population of long-spurred meadow katydids at south Blackwell Forest Preserve in DuPage County.

Some of the Blackwell katydids have this unusual black color added to the dorsal surface of the abdomen.

Some of the Blackwell katydids have this unusual black color added to the dorsal surface of the abdomen.

This little population is the northernmost I have found in DuPage County, and a recent search found none farther north. The similar situation in Cook County is a long established population at the Brookfield Zoo. My recent investigation there found one long-spurred meadow katydid a little more than two miles farther north, but none beyond that.

My current Chicago region map for the long-spurred meadow katydid. Black dots indicate counties where I have found the species to date. Red stars indicate the two northernmost known locations, at Blackwell Forest Preserve and along the Des Plaines River.

My current Chicago region map for the long-spurred meadow katydid. Black dots indicate counties where I have found the species to date. Red stars indicate the two northernmost known locations, at Blackwell Forest Preserve and along the Des Plaines River.

This year I found a new north for Nebraska coneheads, at the Carl R. Hansen Woods in northern Cook County.

Nebraska conehead

Nebraska conehead

A drive along rural roads north of that preserve failed to turn up an additional location.

The northern site for this study is indicated by the red star. The open circle in McHenry County represents an old report that I have not been able to confirm in the present day.

The northern site for this study is indicated by the red star. The open circle in McHenry County represents an old report that I have not been able to confirm in the present day.

These are two species for which, so far, there are no indications of expanding ranges in the Chicago region.

 

McHenry County Visit

by Carl Strang

On September 3 I drove up to McHenry County, Illinois, to continue my regional survey of singing insects. I spent most of that hot afternoon at the Pleasant Valley Conservation Area.

This county park has some very good woodlands and savannas.

This county park has some very good woodlands and savannas.

The day produced 7 county records.

My first four-spotted tree cricket in McHenry was at Pleasant Valley.

My first four-spotted tree cricket in McHenry was at Pleasant Valley.

A shift to the Hickory Grove Conservation Area produced additional observations, some of them remarkable.

The most unexpected find was a small group of gladiator meadow katydids, still singing weeks after they normally are done.

The most unexpected find was a small group of gladiator meadow katydids, still singing weeks after they normally are done.

The photo shows the characteristic pronotum profile and cerci. The marsh habitat and the distinctive song pattern, with the ticks finishing, rather than preceding, the buzz portion of the song all were consistent with gladiator meadow katydid. The black spots on the abdomen may be signs of a parasite load; could that have delayed the completion of development?

The same site produced this marsh meadow grasshopper.

The same site produced this marsh meadow grasshopper.

The Lyons Prairie and Marsh, administered as part of Hickory Grove by the McHenry County Conservation District, actually is in Lake County. I followed the trail into a portion of the marsh dominated by reed canary grass. In addition to abundant slender and short-winged meadow katydids, I got an intriguing glimpse at a female Orchelimum that might have been a dusky-faced meadow katydid, which I have yet to find in Illinois. I was unsuccessful in getting a better look in that late afternoon, but at some point I need to get back there for a thorough search.

On the way back to the car I spotted this tiny grasshopper. Mature at around 3/8 inch long, it is a non-singing species, the black-sided pygmy grasshopper.

On the way back to the car I spotted this tiny grasshopper. Mature at around 3/8 inch long, it is a non-singing species, the black-sided pygmy grasshopper.

Adventures with Lisa and Wendy

by Carl Strang

Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge are two admirable women from the Cleveland area. For years I have been corresponding with Lisa about our parallel explorations of singing insects in our respective regions. They honored me with a visit over the Labor Day weekend. We spent two full days site-hopping in northwest Indiana.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

This was a three-way learning exchange. I provided local knowledge of species with which Lisa and Wendy needed more experience. Dr. Rainsong, who teaches university courses in music theory, models slow and deliberate observation that gives her more of an in-depth understanding of each species than I have been able to acquire so far. She also demonstrates the value of making a lot of sound recordings. Her Listening in Nature blog shares her observations, and I realize how I need to do more of this kind of work myself.

Wendy is a fine artist and art restoration specialist whose love and knowledge of nature frequently draws her into the field with her partner. She keeps her eyes open and notices many beautiful scenes, plants and animals that remind me not to be so narrowly focused. She also took the time to sit and create a couple watercolor sketches that were simply amazing. Wendy has the best ears of us three for the higher-pitched insect songs.

One of our sites was Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

Another highlight was a levee at Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

I benefited not only from observing Lisa’s and Wendy’s methods, but also picked up a total of 8 county records along the way for my study. We look forward to more exchange visits over the next few years.

 

Illinois’ Kankakee Sands

by Carl Strang

In the Chicago region when someone mentions the Kankakee Sands, usually they are referring to the Nature Conservancy project in Newton County, Indiana. There is, however, a nature preserve in southeastern Kankakee County, Illinois, also known as “Kankakee Sands,” which also is worth knowing about.

The preserve has very high quality oak savanna and prairie ecosystems.

The preserve has very high quality oak savanna and prairie ecosystems.

I paid my first visit to this site on Friday, and left with a good dozen singing insect county records.

Most species were sand-soil singers I had encountered before, but this was my first sprinkled grasshopper.

Most species were sand-soil singers I had encountered before, but this was my first sprinkled grasshopper.

He was buried in a grass clump, offering no chance of a good photo. Fortunately he was open to climbing onto my finger for a portrait. The all-black pronotum sides are unique.

The most common orthopterans were tinkling ground crickets and straight-lanced meadow katydids, unsurprising on this sand soil.

One of the many male straight-lanceds from Friday.

One of the many male straight-lanceds from Friday.

I was pleased also to find that my new friend the handsome grasshopper is common there.

Handsome grasshopper, male.

Handsome grasshopper, male.

Female handsome grasshoppers were a bit bigger and green rather than brown.

Female handsome grasshoppers were a bit bigger and green rather than brown.

Both mottled sand grasshoppers and Boll’s grasshoppers also were there, the former often punctuating the scenery with their bright yellow hind wings in flight.

Boll’s grasshopper also has yellow hind wings. These are concealed when both species are at rest.

Boll’s grasshopper also has yellow hind wings. These are concealed when both species are at rest.

There also were plenty of bush katydids.

Most were curve-tailed bush katydids.

Most were curve-tailed bush katydids.

One, slightly smaller, proved to be a male fork-tailed bush katydid.

One, slightly smaller, proved to be a male fork-tailed bush katydid.

Kankakee Sands are worth a visit on either side of the state line.

 

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