St. James Farm is Humming

by Carl Strang

As the cold spells have become fewer and weaker, insects and other invertebrates increasingly have decorated the landscape at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. None decorate better than the butterflies.

A few American lady butterflies appeared early in May.

A few American lady butterflies appeared early in May.

The silver-spotted skipper attests to the presence of black locust trees on the preserve.

The silver-spotted skipper attests to the presence of black locust trees on the preserve.

Very early in the season I was seeing abundant grasshopper nymphs in the forest. I had a suspicion about them, which was confirmed as they matured.

The green-legged grasshopper is an early season forest species.

The green-legged grasshopper is an early season forest species.

Dragonflies increasingly appeared in the second half of May.

The most abundant dragonfly in recent days has been the common baskettail. Though they usually are seen on the wing, this one gave me a rare opportunity for a perched shot.

The most abundant dragonfly in recent days has been the common baskettail. Though they usually are seen on the wing, this one gave me a rare opportunity for a perched shot.

No baskettail this. It’s another early season species, a female dot-tailed whiteface.

No baskettail this. It’s another early season species, a female dot-tailed whiteface.

All these insects bring out the parasites and predators.

Epalpus signifer is a tachinid fly, a parasite of caterpillars.

Epalpus signifer is a tachinid fly, a parasite of caterpillars.

Morning dew highlights the abundant webs of bowl and doily spiders.

Morning dew highlights the abundant webs of bowl and doily spiders.

 

Odonata Update

by Carl Strang

This has been a remarkable spring for damselflies and dragonflies at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Carolina saddlebags have been present in unusual numbers for weeks, outnumbering black saddlebags by a wide margin.

This one posed on June 3, and they keep on coming.

This one posed on June 3, and they keep on coming.

Spring is also the time when the lakes host two baskettail species.

Common baskettails won’t be around for long. Good luck finding one perched.

Common baskettails won’t be around for long. Good luck finding one perched.

This is one of the few times I have seen a prince baskettail perched. I wonder if it needed a break in the midday sun. It seems to be semi-obelisking here.

This is one of the few times I have seen a prince baskettail perched. I wonder if it needed a break in the midday sun. It seems to be semi-obelisking here.

Friday was a remarkable damselfly day. First came the following two individuals, striking with a metallic sheen on their abdomens. I don’t think they were teneral spreadwings, however.

This one best matches the female orange bluet.

This one best matches the female orange bluet.

Nearby was this one, which I believe was an immature male orange bluet.

Nearby was this one, which I believe was an immature male orange bluet.

The best was yet to come, however. Up in the meadow surrounding the temporary off-leash dog area at the former friary site, two bluets appeared that I don’t believe I have ever seen before. The first was a blue-type bluet that was just too small to be a familiar bluet.

Ta-da! A double-striped bluet!

Ta-da! A double-striped bluet!

In a more shaded area were two foraging damselflies which proved to be male and female of another species new to my experience.

Check out the enormous eyespots and the large blue area at the tip of the abdomen. This is a male azure bluet.

Check out the enormous eyespots and the large blue area at the tip of the abdomen. This is a male azure bluet.

A female azure bluet was nearby.

A female azure bluet was nearby.

The female was using an interesting foraging technique, reminiscent of a hover-gleaning bird, slowly flying up and down and briefly hovering to scan each leaf of an erect goldenrod plant, visually hunting for resting prey. As the photo shows, she was successful.

Mayslake Odonata Update

by Carl Strang

The weather has been rainy, gloomy and cool on many recent days, but when the sun appeared so did the insects. At Mayslake Forest Preserve I have been able to add new species and observations that provide a foundation for future study. Eastern forktail damselflies already have been busy laying eggs in May’s Lake.

Eastern forktails laying eggs b

Meanwhile, other damselflies are emerging. The next two photos are, I believe, of common spreadwings, a male

Common spreadwing b

and a female.

Common spreadwing female 3b

Having newly emerged, they are holding their wings together more than usual. Another spreadwing species is the slender spreadwing.

Slender spreadwing 1b

Note the contrasting pale veins of the wingtips. Another, blurry photo established that the abdomen has the characteristic length, twice that of the wings. I have seen orange bluets at both of the preserve’s lakes.

Orange bluet b

Familiar bluets also have begun to appear.

Familiar bluet b

The year’s first blue-fronted dancer was a female.

Blue-fronted dancer female b

Its abdomen is dark, including the sides of the tip, and has only a very narrow pale line down the top. Shifting now to dragonflies, I’ll start with a 12-spotted skimmer that began patrolling the stream corridor marsh in June. I expect the species to be common there. This one I photographed elsewhere in 2004.

12-spotted skimmer b

Blue dashers have been active out in the fields, and soon will be appearing at lakes and marshes.

Blue dasher female 1b

A jade clubtail has staked out a piece of the May’s Lake shore.

Jade clubtail b

Cruising farther out are the prince baskettails. Here is a UFO-ish shot of one.

Prince baskettail UFO b

And here is a common baskettail  showing the basal wingspots that are visible on some, but not all individuals.

Common baskettail spot b

A final, cautionary photo:

Eastern forktail new female b

This is not an orange bluet, but a newly emerged female eastern forktail. Note the absence of the orange at the abdomen tip plus the expanded orange area at the base of the abdomen.

Darth Dragonfly

by Carl Strang

When I first was learning to identify dragonflies I was stationed at Willowbrook Forest Preserve. The marsh there attracts a rich diversity of species, and to this day there are several I have yet to see elsewhere in DuPage County. My binoculars were inferior then, and I did not have digital photographic equipment. The UFO technique  was several years in the future. One species that appeared in late spring to early summer especially intrigued me. I called it Darth.

Common baskettail 1b

It looked very dark and featureless, you see. It never landed to give me a good look at it. It was always on the move, and very aggressive, chasing away any dragonfly that entered its territory regardless of size or species. As the days passed, I gradually accumulated enough bits of observations that I was able to identify it as the common baskettail.

Common baskettail 2b

These photos are from May’s Lake in recent days, where abundant males have divided practically the entire shoreline into territories. There are a couple other, similar species of small baskettails that could occur in northeast Illinois, but for the moment at least I am calling all of Mayslake’s insects common baskettails. A few have the small black basal wing spots which are found only on this species in the group, but they do not appear on all individuals. Except for those spots I see no differences in color, size, shape, or behavior among the Mayslake dragonflies. As always, I am open to change should new information come to me.

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