Wetland Concerns

by Carl Strang

A continuing theme in my regional survey of singing insects is the paucity of wetland species. The only one that is present in good numbers in many wetlands is the black-legged meadow katydid. Other species common in wetlands are habitat generalists such as the Carolina ground cricket and short-winged meadow katydid, which don’t truly count as wetland insects. One clear cause of this problem is the loss of high quality habitat to four invasive plant species (purple loosestrife, reed canary grass, common reed, and cattails). All four are capable of completely taking over a wetland, and examples of this can be found for all four. Small numbers of the singing insects mentioned above can be found in such places, but not the other wetland insect species.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

On the other hand, there are some good wetlands out there. Many are small, and this along with their isolation may limit them.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

Still, I have not given up hope. I found a third good population of mole crickets this year, in a swale at Miller Woods.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

I also found melodious ground crickets at two new sites in Berrien County, Michigan. Though I did not find dusky-faced or delicate meadow katydids at the Indiana Dunes’ Great Marsh this year, I felt curiously encouraged by this.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Maybe the populations of many wetland species took a hit in last year’s drought, and were thinly dispersed in the expanded wet areas of 2013. This is, after all, the first year in which I have surveyed many of these sites. If they need a couple years to recover from the drought, maybe I will find the missing species in the future. Still, how to account for the lack of nimble meadow katydids? This species I have yet to find, anywhere. In the heart of the singing insect season I took my sea kayak into an area where they historically were known.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

So the bottom line is a disappointing season for wetland species, with a few positive points and hope in the possibility that populations are at a low point from which they will recover.

Geese Try Again

by Carl Strang

Last year there was one goose nest on Mayslake Forest Preserve. It was placed on a low island in the middle of the parking lot marsh. After many days’ incubation had passed, coyotes invaded on a stormy night and took not only the eggs but also caught the incubating female.

This year there is a new pair. They may be the same ones I showed on the mansion grounds earlier in the season, as the male has a metal leg band.

The water is deeper in the marsh this spring, last year’s cattail stalks are denser, and the nest is located atop a high muskrat lodge.

So far there has been no disturbance. The coyotes have had a couple stormy nights in which to raid, if that was their strategy in fact, but have not done so.

Mayslake Marshes and Orchard

by Carl Strang

There are several small marsh areas at Mayslake Forest Preserve. One of them was dug to provide fill for constructing the parking lot. Last year the vegetation was relatively sparse, but this year the parking lot marsh has a dense growth of tall common cattails.

That marsh contains two large mounds, the dens of muskrats. Muskrats last winter lived in tunnel dens they dug in the bank. The difference has me thinking that perhaps the mound nests, constructed from cattails, are a preference. The muskrats did not need to go to the trouble to build the mounds, but did so anyway. An alternate possibility is that the density of muskrats has increased there, so more dens are needed.

Another marsh, near the stream, also was dug originally to provide fill, this time to elevate a foundation for the chapel when the site still was a Franciscan retreat center.

There is one likely muskrat mound in this marsh as well, but I will need to see it closely after the water freezes to be certain. The area recently was highlighted by the beautiful yellow color of the weeping willows.

The orchard is on the mansion grounds not far from that marsh. In a recent post I mentioned how deer have been dining on apples there. I failed to comment on a raccoon trail that also leads to these fruit trees.

While other animals also use trails of this size, the masked mammals’ big flat feet and routine travel pattern produce this distinctive sign of their presence.

Some Wetland Plants

by Carl Strang

To this point in the season I have included wetland plants with prairie plants in my accounts of species flowering at Mayslake Forest Preserve. This time I’ll feature them separately. It has been a while since the common cattails flowered.

Cattail b

Their seeds are ripening now. Though elderberry can occur in woodlands, at Mayslake this shrub grows mainly in wetlands.

Elderberry 1b

The pink and white flowers of swamp milkweed are my favorites in genus Asclepias.

Swamp milkweed 2b

Spotted Joe Pye weed is a wetland plant that superficially resembles its woodland relative, purple Joe Pye weed.

Spotted joe-pye weed b

A less conspicuous wetland species is the common water horehound.

Common water horehound b

Most buttercups bloom early in the season. An exception is the bristly buttercup.

Bristly buttercup b

Two of the knotweeds recently began to bloom along the stream: Lady’s thumb

Lady's thumb 2b

and smartweed.

Smartweed 1b

Late summer brings hummingbirds, gradually making their way south. Among the flowers that especially appeal to them, being red and tubular in shape, is the cardinal flower.

Cardinal flower 2b

Finally, here is the first of the late season beggar’s ticks group, the bur marigold.

Bur marigold b

And that brings us up to date.

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