Experiment on Self: Update

by Carl Strang

A few years have passed since I last reported on my experimental return to running as my primary exercise. Increasing stiffness and pain in my early 50’s had forced me to switch from running to bicycling for a few years. Running had been a part of my identity, however, and I missed it badly. Then I read about barefoot running. What appealed was not the barefoot part, but the reduced-impact running style: shorter strides, quicker cadence, and a forefoot to midfoot plant rather than the jarring heel plant with every step that I had been taught in my youth was the proper way to run. At age 59 I gave it a try. I have been running ever since, except for a few episodes of frustrating injuries, none of them caused by running, which nevertheless forced me to take time off and start over again after healing was complete. Those incidents helped, in that they sent me to physical therapists whose core exercises and stretches have made me stronger and helped me avoid running injuries.

So, now at age 64, I continue to enjoy running. Yes, joy is a part of it. In my ideal world everyone is an athlete, finding a form of exercise that is enjoyable to them (that would be running only for some). Running feels the same as it did in my early 20’s, thanks to the injury-avoiding measures outlined above. I’m slower, in part because I respect the limitations of an aging skeletal-muscular system and train at half the weekly mileage I put in when marathoning in my 20’s, and in part because the body’s ability to absorb, transport and process oxygen diminishes significantly with age.

Up to half a dozen times a year I enter races in the 5k to half-marathon range. Races are exciting, provide goals that focus training, immerse participants among other runners, feed the undying desire to compete, and provide standard measures of progress (or, in an older runner, gauge the inevitable slow decline in speed). Thankfully, most races acknowledge that decline with age-class categories that allow one to compare results with peers of age and gender. Also, there are on-line calculators that compute one’s young-age equivalent time when age and gender are entered. Perhaps it seems strange that someone my age would think of himself as an athlete, but I am grateful for all of this support, and happy to contribute to the worthy causes of race sponsors with my entry fees. I am a happy runner again.

Me at some mid-race point during the recent half-marathon at Moraine Hills State Park.

Me at some mid-race point during the recent half-marathon at Moraine Hills State Park.

 

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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.

 

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.

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.

 

And That’s a Wrap

by Carl Strang

Yesterday was my last day as a working man. I retired after a 34+ year career with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which followed 5 years as a biology professor, which followed the Ph.D. graduate fellowship. I have been employed ever since I began a part-time job in my mid-teens, except for a summer break after my junior year in high school for a National Science Foundation study program at Purdue. The District allowed several roles, for instance:

As Fun Gus…

As Fun Gus…

As Helmut Frankenstein, president of the University of Notre Dead…

As Helmut Frankenstein, president of the University of Notre Dead…

As Aldo Leopold…

As Aldo Leopold…

And as a presenter at conferences and workshops.

And as a presenter at conferences and workshops.

It has been my honor to work with thousands of kids, teachers, and others over the years. It’s been enjoyable, and I’m satisfied with my contribution as an educator, but now it’s time to step aside and make room for new talents and ideas. The next couple months will be filled mainly with field research on singing insects, and after that there will be more than enough worthwhile activities to fill my time. Stay tuned.

Nature Fest

by Carl Strang

The Centennial Bioblitz proceeded into much better weather on Saturday. All survey groups went out, many accompanied by embedded photographers, and before too long the data, social media and photo processing team had all they could handle.

The data entry table. Photos were selected for projection on a big screen in the science arena. This and the following photos by Marcy Rogge.

The data entry table. Photos were selected for projection on a big screen in the science arena. This and the following photos by Marcy Rogge.

The public side of the bioblitz, Nature Fest, opened at 11 a.m. The weather, setting and attractions drew nearly 2000 participants.

Most activities and exhibitors were in a long line, and the crowd was big enough to keep them all busy through the day.

Most activities and exhibitors were in a long line, and the crowd was big enough to keep them all busy through the day.

One of the most popular activities was created by Nikki Dahlin, my fellow naturalist at Mayslake, and Leslie Bertram from Fullersburg Woods. It was a walk-through insect key.

Nikki prepares a young entomologist to go out and catch a bug to identify with the key.

Nikki prepares a young entomologist to go out and catch a bug to identify with the key.

Their location beside a prairie plot provided good insect hunting grounds for participants. One of the signs for their key is in the foreground.

Their location beside a prairie plot provided good insect hunting grounds for participants. One of the signs for their key is in the foreground.

At the end of the day, scientists and volunteers were treated to a fine picnic feed. Survey team leaders provided highlight summaries.

The reports were MC’d by Scott Meister, who coordinated the science survey.

The reports were MC’d by Scott Meister, who coordinated the science survey.

As citizen science volunteer coordinator, I filled in for the birds team leader, who couldn’t make the picnic. By that point, after more than 24 hours’ concentrated activity with a sub-4-hour sleep break, I barely had 2 brain cells to rub together.

As citizen science volunteer coordinator, I filled in for the birds team leader, who couldn’t make the picnic. By that point, after more than 24 hours’ concentrated activity with a sub-4-hour sleep break, I barely had 2 brain cells to rub together.

Marcy Rogge, who provided these photos, was the overall event and logistics manager for the Centennial Bioblitz and Nature Fest. This brought her career with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to a satisfactory conclusion, as she retired a few days later.

 

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!

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!

Lessons from a Tiny Teacher

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.

Pine tree cricket

Pine tree cricket

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.

Ted L. Strang, 1925-2014

by Carl Strang

We thought that Dad might hold on a while longer, but he simply could not live without Mom, and he passed away less than a month after she did. I wrote his obituary:

In his Navy uniform

In his Navy uniform

On his wedding day

On his wedding day

Ted L. Strang of Culver passed away on April 30 at the age of 88. Except for his U.S. Navy service in the South Pacific in World War II and immediately after, Ted was a lifelong Culver resident.  He was long known as one of the fishermen most knowledgeable of Lake Maxinkuckee. He was a pillar of Culver’s VFW Post  6919. At various times he was manager of the local A&P grocery store, a life insurance salesman, and a factory department foreman. Most of all, though, Ted Strang was a family man. As a teenager he met the love of his life, Charlene (“Chuckie”) Hausler, at nearby Bass Lake, where her Chicago family had a summer home. They married after his military service ended, and their marriage over the subsequent decades was a model of love and dedication. Chuckie passed away at the beginning of April, and it could be said that Ted died of a broken heart less than a month later.

With Gary, 1962

With Gary, 1962

He is survived by two sons (Carl of Warrenville, Illinois, and Gary with wife Lisa of Easton, Maryland), and by Gary and Lisa’s three sons: Greg Strang of Cambridge, Maryland; Captain Derek Strang (wife Christine), who is an Air Force pilot in Mountain Home, Idaho; and Lt. Brice Strang (wife Rachel), U.S. Army Reserve, of Easton, Maryland.

Hunting and fishing were family traditions. A good day’s results, 1949.

Hunting and fishing were family traditions. A good day’s results, 1949.

Fishing was Dad’s favorite activity. With walleyes, 1987.

Fishing was Dad’s favorite activity. With walleyes, 1987.

Ted’s Navy service was with a submarine rescue ship, and he was trained in rescue and salvage diving. He treasured his veteran’s status, and was a life member and past Commander of VFW Post 6919. He also volunteered for the American Red Cross in blood drives. On two occasions he shared honors as a co-Grand Marshall of Culver’s Lakefest Parade. His favorite personal pursuit was fishing, but he also hunted, gardened, carved and painted wooden duck decoys, and was a wonderful teacher as a father. His strong will was revealed when, after being a smoker for two decades, he went cold turkey one day and never smoked again.

With Mom and their grandsons, around 1990

With Mom and their grandsons, around 1990

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