Shaking a Photo Out of the Bag

by Carl Strang

I find myself caught up for the moment with ideas for blog posts, so today I’m just going to share the last outstanding photo I’d earmarked for the blog.

Male bufflehead, stream corridor marsh, Mayslake Forest Preserve.

This bufflehead appeared on the marsh earlier this spring. Last year a pair of them lingered for more than two weeks. This fellow just stayed 3 days or so and continued on his way. Not much of a story, just one of hundreds of observations in my preserve monitoring that generally don’t make the cut to be shared in this blog, but which collectively make up part of the daily story at Mayslake, and in that sense are important nevertheless.

Birds Around the Marsh

by Carl Strang

The area with the greatest diversity of birds at Mayslake Forest Preserve, now that the breeding season is well underway, has been the stream corridor with its adjacent marsh. The corridor itself is wooded, attracting Baltimore orioles, warbling vireos, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, indigo buntings and downy woodpeckers.

This male downy worked on a nest cavity earlier in the season.

The marsh itself has been a place of interest. During the earlier part of the migration it held a pair of buffleheads for two weeks. More recently I saw one of the most unusual birds of the year there, the preserve’s first least bittern (gone before I could get the camera up; I wasn’t going to pursue and harass it just for a photo).

On Friday the marsh had a trio of herons. I didn’t get a photo of the great blue heron, which nervously departed as soon as I came into view. I had better luck with the green heron.

He landed on this stub after being chased from a preferred corner of the marsh by the bird in the following picture.

The third heron visits Mayslake less often than the others.

Great egrets always are a welcome sight, perhaps to be seen more often in summer now that they are nesting in DuPage County.

I have been most fond of another little group of birds, a momma wood duck and her young.

She started out with 9 ducklings. Only 4 remained when I took this photo.

With the diversity of birds, plants and insects around that marsh, it has been my favorite part of the Mayslake preserve this year.

Marsh Survey Update

 

by Carl Strang

The marshes at Mayslake Forest Preserve continue to warm into the season. Less than a month ago, in late March, there still were mornings when skim ice formed around the edges.

The ice was thin and crunchy when I waded out to check amphibian traps.
In addition, there was plenty of humidity in the air for producing ice crystals.

One of the more remarkable events at the stream corridor marsh was the prolonged visit by a pair of bufflehead ducks.

Here the female takes a break from swimming.

The buffleheads stayed for more than two weeks, finding plenty of food while they waited for the weather to moderate.

Plants have begun to grow. Here a muskrat gnawed off some tips for its dinner.

The rodent’s incisors clip the leaves cleanly.

Over in the parking lot marsh, the traps have been producing some bullfrog tadpoles.

These have been around 3 inches long.

Last week in the stream corridor marsh I caught what appeared to be a second species of large predaceous diving beetle.

I was alerted by the filled zone of yellow at the back tips of the elytra.

Several characters pointed to Dytiscus hybridus. It was lucky to be alive. Overnight rain had elevated the marsh so that the trap was completely under water and the beetle could not reach the surface for fresh air.

It floated at the surface for a long time after I released it. The cold water, and some diffusion of oxygen into the bubble held beneath the wings, apparently allowed the insect to survive.

Now I have to look at all these beetles more closely. Later I caught one that seemed in some ways to be between the two known species.

For instance, there were thin yellow lines at both front and back edges of the pronotum.

Underneath, though, the brown color with some black placed it in the more common species, Dytiscus verticalis.

Now I’ll need to look at tops and bottoms of all of these I catch.

I thought for a time that I had caught a second crayfish species. Unlike the white river crayfish I caught earlier, this one did not have a dominant burgundy color.

It was mainly greenish.

It proved to be the same species, though, when I carefully went through all the physical features. Little experiences like this give one a concrete sense of the variability within species, which also is an aspect of biodiversity in the broad sense.

Ducks at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

This has been a good spring for migrant ducks at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Two new species have added themselves to the preserve’s bird list, a female goldeneye on May’s Lake a couple weeks ago, and a pair of gadwalls last week.

The male gadwall’s black hind end is unmistakable.

Note how the female gadwall’s head and bill shape match those of the male gadwall and contrast with the female mallard in the foreground.

More expected but no less enjoyable have been a few wood ducks on May’s Lake.

As in other ducks, the female wood duck’s plumage provides much better camouflage than does the male’s.

As of yesterday, the bufflehead pair I reported last week still was hanging out in the stream corridor marsh after 6 days.  I have tried to catch a glimpse of what they are eating, but no luck so far. Do they swallow while submerged?

Marsh Visitors

by Carl Strang

Yesterday we looked at one of the residents of Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh, a predaceous diving beetle. Today’s focus is on a pair of migrant visitors, buffleheads, the first I have seen on that marsh.

The male is on the left, female on the right.

I have seen some of these ducks on the much larger May’s Lake, but seldom on such a small body of water. They seemed content, though. They liked it so much they stayed at least two days. Much of the time they were diving, and apparently finding enough insect larvae and snails to satisfy their needs.

I moved slowly, and never directly toward the birds, as I worked around the marsh. They stayed away, but never seemed alarmed.

I timed a few dives, and at 12-16 seconds the ducks were beneath the water about the same amount of time as when I observed members of this species on the much deeper Lake Maxinkuckee (at Culver, Indiana) in my youth. Their extended visit is yet another testimony to the improving quality of that marsh in response to restoration work around it.

Bufflehead Dossier

by Carl Strang

My species dossiers, containing what I know of a given species from my own observations, vary greatly in length. The bufflehead is a duck I have seen only on migration, mainly on Lake Maxinkuckee at my home town of Culver in north central Indiana.

Bufflehead

Common migrant on Lake Maxinkuckee. Also seen at McKee Marsh in DuPage Co. IL. Generally forms small flocks of 2-10 that don’t mix with other waterfowl species. Dive for food (usually under ~15 sec. at Maxinkuckee). Stay 50-500 ft. out from shore there for the most part.

21MR65. Bufflehead 3 males 3 females. 2 males and one female going through vigorous courtship displays: all pump heads up and down vigorously, males scoot through water on tails, dive under water for a couple seconds, all fly into the wind for a few feet, etc. Once in a while they all fly around the area swiftly. Males have orange-red feet, females brown.

1&7MR87. Some buffleheads at McKee Marsh, Blackwell Forest Preserve.

10AP93. Buffleheads in groups on Maxinkuckee (observed from kayak) engaged in male displays and Inciting. Female Incited the chosen male repeatedly to chase other surrounding males who were displaying by taking flight past the female, at first as though flying away, then fanning the bright orange feet out to the sides, dropping into the water with chest raised high, then dropping the chest in a bow, doing a quick Head-up-tail-up, bathing stereotypically for a second or two, then several quick pumpings of the neck straight up and down.

4AP99. First of year seen, Culver.

(Looking at these accounts, I am struck by how my 1965 description at age 14 had some merit but lacked the better quality of my more mature 1993 account. The odd terms in that paragraph refer to certain named displays buffleheads share with mallards. I described Inciting in an earlier post, Stupid Duck Tricks).

The Ducks Stop Here

by Carl Strang

 

This spring I have been impressed by the variety of migrant ducks stopping at Mayslake Forest Preserve. They haven’t come in large numbers, and haven’t stayed long, but the diversity has been interesting. So far I have seen (in addition to local mallards) shovelers, wood ducks, pintails, lesser scaup, hooded mergansers, and this bufflehead pair.

 

buffleheads-b

 

In addition, last fall a ring-necked duck spent a day. The brief stays and low numbers suggest that the habitat quality may be limited in some way. On the other hand, two pied-billed grebes have stayed on one of the lakes for several days, now, so there is food at least for carnivorous divers. The migration has just begun, and I look forward to discovering which species give Mayslake a try as their daytime stopover site.

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