Edging into Autumn at SJF

by Carl Strang

October is the main transitional month from summer to winter, and this has been evident at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. Insects continue to be active, holdouts of the warm months.

Autumn meadowhawks have been one example.

Autumn meadowhawks have been one example.

Plants shift their resources into their roots, shutting down their leaves for the coming winter drought. The process produces the color that characterizes the fall.

The beautiful subtle browns of the prairie grasses are upstaged by the brilliant maples and other trees.

The beautiful subtle browns of the prairie grasses are upstaged by the brilliant maples and other trees.

Though September is the peak migration month for birds that will winter in the tropics, those wintering in the southern U.S. pass through in October.

Sandhill cranes have begun to cross DuPage County on their way to Florida. They will continue for a couple more months.

Sandhill cranes have begun to cross DuPage County on their way to Florida. They will continue for a couple more months.

Fox sparrow, a species that nests well to the north of Illinois

Fox sparrow, a species that nests well to the north of Illinois

Diverse sparrows have been stuffing themselves with seeds in the prairies and meadows of St. James Farm and other preserves, fueling for their continued journey south. Others, such as kinglets, hermit thrushes and the fox sparrow shown above, feed in the forest. If the winter is mild, a few of these may hang around.

 

Mandarin Duck

by Carl Strang

In recent weeks I have been putting some time into visiting preserves I haven’t seen in a while, and scouting new ones for their potential in next year’s singing insect surveys. One day went into preserve hopping in northern Will County. For once I left my Canon camera with the long lens at home, and of course that was a day I wish I’d had it. Walking north of the parking lots at Messenger Woods, I came to a bridge crossing a forest stream. A duck flushed from beside the bridge and flew a short distance downstream.

It was a male mandarin duck.

It was a male mandarin duck.

I did the best I could with the little point-and-shoot Olympus in maximum telephoto, but clearly missed my Canon. The mandarin duck is an Asian species closely related to our wood duck. This one looked comfortably in place in an Illinois forest. He was beautiful, his plumage fresh. There is no question of this being a wanderer from China. Beautiful birds like this are popular among aviculturists. I put out word of this escapee, but have heard nothing back about it. The duck’s flight capability and shyness will make recovery a challenge.

Introduction to St. James Farm III: Forest, Field, Restoration

by Carl Strang

The dominant wild habitat at St. James Farm Forest Preserve is its forest, the largest wooded block in the western half of DuPage County to survive from the original land survey to the present day.

[SJF forest 1. Caption: Portions of the forest are dominated by red oaks, some of which are huge. This is very unusual in DuPage County. ]

Portions of the forest are dominated by red oaks, some of which are huge. This is very unusual in DuPage County.

White and bur oaks, more typical of the county’s woodlands historically, are well represented as well.

White and bur oaks, more typical of the county’s woodlands historically, are well represented as well.

Not as big as the oaks, but equally remarkable, is this ironwood. It has a stem diameter of 11 inches.

Not as big as the oaks, but equally remarkable, is this ironwood. It has a stem diameter of 11 inches.

Ironwood seldom grows big enough to become part of the canopy.

Ironwood seldom grows big enough to become part of the canopy.

Significant portions of the forest recently have been cleared of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle, and a first response has been a heavy growth of white snakeroot, a native forest annual.

Significant portions of the forest recently have been cleared of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle, and a first response has been a heavy growth of white snakeroot, a native forest annual.

Trails ultimately will be improved to provide ready access through the preserve.

Here a recently constructed trail curves through a meadow. It also extends into the southern part of the forest.

Here a recently constructed trail curves through a meadow. It also extends into the southern part of the forest.

At the moment, the northern part of the preserve is closed as a major restoration project proceeds.

The focus of the project is this stream, once a straight ditch, now improved with meanders and streambed improvements.

The focus of the project is this stream, once a straight ditch, now improved with meanders and streambed improvements.

Following the ensuing growth and development of that area will be one theme of my monitoring observations to come.

 

Introduction to Saint James Farm II: Landscape Architecture

by Carl Strang

The green portions of St. James Farm Forest Preserve are not all wildlands. There are extensive grounds, some of which are paddock and events areas from the farm’s equestrian past, and some of which are designed plantings of various sorts. One prominent feature, borrowed from European design, is a scattered array of allees, paired rows of trees of the same species.

Immediately south of the parking lot is the river birch allee.

Immediately south of the parking lot is the river birch allee.

The pin oak allee is near the east border of the preserve.

The pin oak allee is near the east border of the preserve.

In my preliminary monitoring walks, the pin oak allee area is the only place where I have seen gray squirrels. Elsewhere there have been only fox squirrels so far. The ash allee is history, thanks to the emerald ash borer, but there are several other allees constructed with other tree species.

A variety of exotic woody plants may be found on the grounds. Many of these are concentrated around the former home site.

This magnolia is an example.

This magnolia is an example.

Brooks McCormick’s conservation interests were expressed in ponds and prairie plots at the edges of the grounds.

This pond has produced a brood of hooded mergansers annually the past few years.

This pond has produced a brood of hooded mergansers annually the past few years.

The prairie plots are diverse but small. They host a variety of generalist insects, and in recent weeks have attracted numbers of seed-feeding sparrows and finches.

The prairie plots are diverse but small. They host a variety of generalist insects, and in recent weeks have attracted numbers of seed-feeding sparrows and finches.

There also are significant conifer plantings, which already this fall have attracted pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches down from the north.

 

Introduction to St. James Farm I: Buildings

by Carl Strang

During the first several years of this blog I reported the results of my monitoring activities at Mayslake Forest Preserve. I also took occasional looks back at previous preserve monitoring at Fullersburg Woods and Willowbrook. Those three sites are the ones where my office was located for different segments of my career with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. The idea is to take regular walks through a site and to sketch its ongoing story as comprehensively as the observer’s limitations will allow.

Now that I have retired, I wish to continue the satisfying process of preserve monitoring, and am shifting to St. James Farm Forest Preserve. That site is close to my home, and is a relatively recent and relatively little known addition to the county’s preserves (though it became better understood in late spring 2015 thanks to the Centennial Bioblitz). Finally, this preserve holds the largest block of forest in the western half of the county that has persisted from the early 1800’s to the present day.

Today I begin reporting on St. James Farm by highlighting some of the architecture that has made it an attractive site for events and for public visitation. St. James Farm originally was acquired in 1920 by Chauncey and Marion McCormick, whose family co-founded International Harvester. Their interests included equestrian and dairy operations. Their son Brooks continued and expanded the equestrian facilities and events, especially after he retired. He also was interested in conservation, and in 2000 he sold the property to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County but retained the right to live there until his death. The District took possession in 2007 and gradually has been converting the site to make it amenable to year-round public use. A photo gallery follows.

Stables and a magnificent horse sculpture immediately draw the eye from the viewpoint of the parking lot.

Stables and a magnificent horse sculpture immediately draw the eye from the viewpoint of the parking lot.

The stables and farm buildings form an impressive array.

The stables and farm buildings form an impressive array.

Artifacts from International Harvester’s history were transported to the farm and are preserved there.

Artifacts from International Harvester’s history were transported to the farm and are preserved there.

Beautiful details reward a close study of the buildings.

Beautiful details reward a close study of the buildings.

This dolphin fountain is part of an area that once was a center for equestrian events.

This dolphin fountain is part of an area that once was a center for equestrian events.

Brooks McCormick stipulated that his house be torn down before the District opened the farm to the public, and further forbade staff to take photographs of it. I saw the building before it was demolished, and frankly it was not much to look at. This gate remains at the house’s former location.

Brooks McCormick stipulated that his house be torn down before the District opened the farm to the public, and further forbade staff to take photographs of it. I saw the building before it was demolished, and frankly it was not much to look at. This gate remains at the house’s former location.

The horse and hound cemetery respectfully is preserved.

The horse and hound cemetery respectfully is preserved.

This caboose is an incongruous presence, testimony to a wealthy collector’s interests.

This caboose is an incongruous presence, testimony to a wealthy collector’s interests.

The landscape architecture of the grounds, and the wilder portions of the preserve, will be subjects of the next posts.

 

Season’s End Photo Bag

by Carl Strang

Time to share miscellaneous left-over photos from this year’s singing insects prospecting trips. These are pictures that didn’t fit the posts that covered the locations where they were taken. All are from within my 22-county survey area.

This regal fritillary fed from blazing star flowers at an eastern Illinois location far from this rare species’ main Illinois range.

This regal fritillary fed from blazing star flowers at an eastern Illinois location far from this rare species’ main Illinois range.

Though field guides describe the common checkered-skipper as eastern North America’s most abundant butterfly, it is not one I encounter very often.

Though field guides describe the common checkered-skipper as eastern North America’s most abundant butterfly, it is not one I encounter very often.

This bush katydid flew to a high perch on a tree but remained just long enough for me to take a distant photo before moving on. I don’t know enough to identify the species.

This bush katydid flew to a high perch on a tree but remained just long enough for me to take a distant photo before moving on. I don’t know enough to identify the species.

Handsome trig. I added one more Indiana county to the ones where I have found this cricket, but have yet to find it in any of the Chicago region’s other states.

Handsome trig. I added one more Indiana county to the ones where I have found this cricket, but have yet to find it in any of the Chicago region’s other states.

Straight-lanced meadow katydid. I found this species in 6 more counties in 2015, in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Straight-lanced meadow katydid, long winged form. I found this species in 6 more counties in 2015, in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Broad-winged Tree Crickets 2015

by Carl Strang

The broad-winged tree cricket was the first singing insect species I found (in 2006, the first year of my study) that had shifted its northern range boundary significantly.

Broad-winged tree cricket

Broad-winged tree cricket

In contrast to the jumping bush cricket, this one seems to be moving slowly, but I have not followed it as closely. This year I put some time into locating northernmost singers, and found two locations.

Chicago region map of broad-winged tree cricket locations. Black dots mark counties where I have found the species to date. Red stars indicate specific locations where I found northernmost crickets singing this year.

Chicago region map of broad-winged tree cricket locations. Black dots mark counties where I have found the species to date. Red stars indicate specific locations where I found northernmost crickets singing this year.

These will be the starting points for next year’s check. The Kane County location is only 1.5 miles south of the southern McHenry-Lake County border line.

Jumping Bush Crickets 2015

by Carl Strang

Of the many species of singing insects that have shifted their range boundaries significantly northward in the last half-century, the one that is continuing to move most rapidly is the jumping bush cricket.

Jumping bush cricket

Jumping bush cricket

In recent years I have been tracing the northernmost locations where I am hearing the distinctive songs of this cricket in northeast Illinois.

Chicago region map of jumping bush cricket locations. Black dots mark counties where I have found the species to date. Red stars indicate specific locations where I found northernmost crickets singing in 2014. Yellow stars mark places farther north where I heard them in 2015.

Chicago region map of jumping bush cricket locations. Black dots mark counties where I have found the species to date. Red stars indicate specific locations where I found northernmost crickets singing in 2014. Yellow stars mark places farther north where I heard them in 2015.

The line marking the front of this expansion is diagonal, southwest to northeast, an orientation that seems to point back toward Indiana as the source of this spread. In the central part of the line I found no indication of an advance from 2014 to 2015, but elsewhere there was a shift of about half a mile. If at some point the movement stalls out, I would expect the west end of the line to catch up with the east end and even up latitudinally, unless there is a Lake Michigan climatic influence.

Spotted Ground Cricket

by Carl Strang

Spotted ground crickets have been a challenge for me. There are old records of them in several of the counties I am surveying for singing insects, but I had not found them prior to this year. Prompted by Lisa Rainsong’s results from the Cleveland area, I made a goal of finding them this year. I knew what the problem was: to my ear, recordings of their songs are very similar to those of Carolina ground crickets, which I have found throughout the region. Here is one of my recordings of the latter species, made at 58 degrees Fahrenheit (all recordings in this post have been equalized to remove low-frequency background noise, mainly from traffic):

Here is another, this one at 56 degrees F.

I describe the Carolina ground cricket’s song as a continuous purr or very rapid trill, in which pulsing sections alternate with steadier trills that do not pulse.

Contrast those sounds with the following two recordings of spotted ground crickets. The first was made at around 80 degrees F.

The second was made at 71 degrees F. There is a noticeable drop in both pitch and rapidity of the pulses.

After my experience this year I feel confident that I can distinguish the spotted ground cricket’s song, but I still need to listen carefully. The pulses are regular and continuous, lacking the non-pulsing sections of the Carolina ground cricket’s song. The sound is rougher, grittier, and I would not describe it as a purr. Also, study of sonographs reveals that the spotted ground cricket actually has minute pauses between the pulses, in contrast with the Carolina ground cricket’s more continuous sound production.

Here is a female spotted ground cricket. The mottled, spotted pattern especially of her abdomen is a source of the name.

Here is a female spotted ground cricket. The mottled, spotted pattern especially of her abdomen is a source of the name.

This male spotted ground cricket is missing a hind leg, possibly the result of a battle with another male. The yellowish rims around the compound eyes are a prominent feature of this generally brown species.

This male spotted ground cricket is missing a hind leg, possibly the result of a battle with another male. The yellowish rims around the compound eyes are a prominent feature of this generally brown species.

So far it seems to me that spotted ground crickets prefer closed-canopy forest or woodland areas with some accumulations of leaf litter where forest floor vegetation is sparse. The soil needs to be well drained yet moist. Most commonly this seems to mean soils heavy in sand or gravel, but hillsides with denser soils sometimes have spotted ground crickets, too, and I have found them in several of DuPage County’s clay-soil woodlands.

 

Spicer Lake

by Carl Strang

Spicer Lake is a St. Joseph County (Indiana) park and nature preserve close to the triple border of two Indiana counties and Michigan. It is not far from Springfield Fen, so after thanking Scott last week I headed up there to prospect for singing insects. Those proved to be relatively common species, but it was a beautiful site well worth visiting.

One feature is an extensive flooded swamp fringing Spicer Lake. The photo shows native species, but reed canary grass and purple loosestrife sadly are well established.

One feature is an extensive flooded swamp fringing Spicer Lake. The photo shows native species, but reed canary grass and purple loosestrife sadly are well established.

Winterberry hollies provided delightful spots of color.

Winterberry hollies provided delightful spots of color.

The most common singing insect along the boardwalk was the black-legged meadow katydid.

I especially liked the translucent backlit wings of this singing male.

I especially liked the translucent backlit wings of this singing male.

That visit closed the book on my out-of-state singing insect excursions for the year.

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