One Last Look Back

by Carl Strang

My recent blog posts have shared highlights of this year’s field season, as I searched for singing insects in the 22-county area I define as the Chicago region. Those accounts haven’t told the whole story, though, and I have a few last photos to shake out of the bag. These fill out some of the experience of doing this kind of regional study.

For instance, other animals have enhanced the delight.

The chalk-fronted corporal is a dragonfly I have encountered only in the northern portion of the region, in this case at the Lulu Lake Nature Preserve in northern Walworth County, Wisconsin.

Walsh’s grasshopper was a new one for me. Not a singing species, but an interesting find at the Poverty Prairie in DuPage County’s Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve.

Turkey vultures assemble at dusk on the Culver, Indiana, water tower. My travels take me back to my home town a few times each season.

Interesting and beautiful scenes are to be found in the relatively undisturbed wild areas which are my main destinations.

An early evening rainbow at Conrad Station in the Indiana Kankakee Sands presaged a thunderstorm-dodging drive home on July 2.

Pinholes between tree leaves cast solar eclipse shadows at Blackwell Forest Preserve. Though the moon covered around 90% of the sun at peak, I detected no change in singing insect activity.

One of the more beautiful scenes was this panne in the Indiana dunes.

I had hoped to find delicate meadow katydids in the pannes. Dusky-faced meadow katydids were a good find there, but that species has a solid hold in other dunes wetlands.

The Pembroke Savanna in the Illinois Kankakee Sands is one of my favorite sites.

I believe these white pines at Warren Dunes State Park in Berrien County, Michigan, are the same ones where Richard Alexander found treetop bush katydids in 1971. He described the trees as small, but all are tall now. They still foster pine tree crickets, but I did not find any bush katydids.

I ended up with 115 county records for the season, totaling all newly found singing insect species over all the counties.

So far, I have found sprinkled grasshoppers only in oak savannas on sand soils.

Dusky-faced meadow katydids at the Indiana Kankakee Sands were a Newton County record.

This curve-tailed bush katydid at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana provided a Jasper County record for my study.

I found a healthy population of long-tailed meadow katydids, including this brown-legged male, at Ferson Creek Fen in Kane County.

The Ferson Creek population also had green-legged variants, including this female.

Lisa Rainsong, Wendy Partridge and I drove south to Loda Prairie to check out the bush cicadas there. I concluded this year that the species does not occur in the Chicago region.

This Texas bush katydid was singing in early October at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, DuPage County. I had an observation of this species on October 17, my latest ever in the region.

Most of the long winter remains, and as I compile data, write reports, and visit museums, I will be looking forward to another collection of rich experiences as I resume my field study in 2018.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Return to Berrien

by Carl Strang

Earlier this season I scouted some new sites in Berrien County, Michigan, and on Sunday I returned to see what singing insects I could find in the early portion of the peak season. A first quick stop at Mud Lake Bog produced a hoped-for population of sphagnum ground crickets, and I was reminded how utterly teeny tiny they are.

Most of the day, and a return trip in the evening, went into a place in the eastern part of the county called Chikaming Township Park. If this were Illinois, I wouldn’t expect much from a park district administered at the township level, but this is a good and well maintained site, and it yielded a pile of county records for my study. One of these was provided by a female curve-tailed bush katydid that flew to a landing right in front of me on one of the trails.

The dark-tipped green ovipositor with this shape and proportions, along with the katydid’s overall size and the habitat, permitted the identification.

The dark-tipped green ovipositor with this shape and proportions, along with the katydid’s overall size and the habitat, permitted the identification.

After release, she hung around long enough to let me take a single usable, if not absolutely sharp, photo.

After release, she hung around long enough to let me take a single usable, if not absolutely sharp, photo.

Perhaps the most bizarre observation came as a result of the day’s odd weather. I drove through intermittent rain to get to Berrien County, and waited out the last shower before going out onto the Mud Lake Bog boardwalk. Dark clouds remained until mid-afternoon, but they slowly drifted east and the sun was revealed at 4:00 local (eastern) time. Almost immediately, Chikaming’s swamp cicadas began to sing. These generally are limited to mornings, but here they were going in the late afternoon. This site proved to have the largest concentration I have encountered to date. At one point I wandered into a song battle taking place among a trio of males in a meadow with scattered tree saplings. One allowed a close approach.

None of our other cicadas matches the swamp cicada’s heavy black coloration.

None of our other cicadas matches the swamp cicada’s heavy black coloration.

Later in the evening I was able to pick up some additional species.

Among them was this Forbes’s tree cricket.

Among them was this Forbes’s tree cricket.

The highlight of the day, though, came at another site, Galien River County Park. I had set a goal for this season of listening for spotted ground crickets, which historically have been documented in several Chicago region counties, but which I had not noted to date. Described as a forest species, the spotted ground cricket’s song to my ear is similar to that of a common and widespread species, the Carolina ground cricket. I realized that while some of the forest crickets at Galien River indeed were Carolina ground crickets, others sounded a little different. I made recordings, and listened carefully, and was pleased to conclude that spotted ground crickets were there as well.

An example of a spotted ground cricket location.

An example of a spotted ground cricket location.

The songs have a similar tonal quality and pitch range to my ear. Where the Carolina ground cricket’s song is a steady purr with intervals of added overtones, the spotted ground cricket’s song is composed of regular pulses (about 4 per second), has no overtones, and lacks the continuous steady sound.

 

Bush Katydids

by Carl Strang

One of the goals in my singing insects research this year was to get a better handle on two of the bush katydids, the broad-winged bush katydid and the Texas bush katydid (in the “W” years I was repeatedly amused by the fact that there is such a thing as a Texas bush katydid: nature nerd humor).

Texas bush katydid 3b

The above photo is of Scudderia texensis. I have found Texas bush katydids much easier to approach and photograph than broad-winged bush katydids (S. pistillata). During my recent trip to the U.P. I found one of the latter that held still long enough.

Broad-winged bush katydid 3b

While the two look very similar to one another, the broad-winged is a distinctly smaller insect. Also, the wing proportions are different, as you can see roughly by comparing wing lengths to hind leg femur lengths in the above photos. This broad-winged is missing the end of its left forewing, but the longer hind wings are intact.

With such great camouflage, these katydids are not easy to find, and in survey work I want to identify them by song. Each of these species has two different songs, one very brief and one more extended. The more commonly produced songs, especially in daylight, are the short songs. To my ear the short songs of these two katydids are so similar that I remain uncertain about distinguishing them. These songs are very quick, lasting one-third to one-half second, and are series of 3-5 pulses. I think that the pulses of the Texas bush katydid may prove to be more distinct, like separate syllables: “dig-a-dig.” The pulses of the broad-winged may be more run together and with less of a raspy, more of a lisping quality.

In trying to sort this out I have been seeking the conditions in which these two insects sing their longer songs, which are very distinctive but less often produced. The Texas bush katydid sings its long song mainly at dusk. The song is like an extended version of the short song, lasting 3-4 seconds, dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-dig, with the final syllable louder.

Texas bush katydid 8b

The broad-winged bush katydid is renowned for its long song, called its counting song. The elements of the song are lispy buzzes, each lasting a second or so. The remarkable thing is that these buzzes are grouped, and the buzzes increase in number from group to group as the song progresses. Within a group, buzzes follow one another immediately, with a few seconds between groups. A sequence might begin with a single buzz, followed by a group of two, then a group of four, then a group of 5 or 6. Commonly there are four groups in a song, but sometimes there are more. Then the katydid waits for a longer pause before starting a new sequence. Somewhat frustrating is my experience that the season in which broad-winged bush katydids sing their longer songs apparently is very brief in DuPage County. This year I went repeatedly to Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, after I first heard bush katydid short songs on July 20. At dusk on the evening of July 26 I heard only broad-wingeds singing counting songs. In 2008 I heard them at Blackwell on July 21. This year I heard them for the last time on August 2. On my next visit, August 7, there were none, and none on several visits thereafter. Though many nighttime singing insects extend their singing into the daytime later in the season, this does not seem true for the long songs of these two bush katydids in DuPage County. However, near the tip of the U.P. in late September, broad-wingeds were singing counting sequences in the late afternoon. It may or may not be significant that Texas bush katydids do not occur there.

This year I heard Texas bush katydid long songs only on August 6 and September 2. Last year I heard them on August 27 and September 2, and in 2007 on July 15 and October 4. So far, then, all years taken together, the season for long songs in DuPage County has been July 21 to August 2 for broad-wingeds, July 15 to October 4 for Texas bush katydids. The broad-winged’s season is longer, or at least later, farther north. And that’s where it stands. Lately all the short songs I am hearing have the distinct-syllable quality I associate with Texas bush katydids. Next year I will continue to sort out this puzzle.

Incidentally, there are other species of bush katydids in our area. One I’ll mention here is the curve-tailed bush katydid, S. curvicauda. It is more a forest edge species than the meadow-loving Texas and broad-winged bush katydids. Its songs are composed of loud rasping “zik!” syllables. Commonly it produces these in sets of three, but it also has simple counting sequences. Aside from the different sound quality, these differ from those of the broad-winged by having fewer groups (only 2-3 groups per sequence) and simpler sequences (2-3, 2-3-4, 3-3-4, etc.).

As always, you can find recordings of these various songs on line. I recommend the Singing Insects website  and the Songs of Insects website.

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