Field Crickets 2015

by Carl Strang

The spring field cricket and the fall field cricket are our most common members of their genus, both found in all the counties of the Chicago region. They are sibling species, identical in appearance and in song, differing only by season.

Fall field cricket

Fall field cricket

The only way to be sure that spring field crickets are done for the year, or that fall field crickets have begun, is to check the rare locations where only one of the two occurs. I have adopted the practice of counting them on my weekly bicycle rides through nearby Fermilab, where both species live in good numbers. Last year’s pattern was clear.

Two clear peaks in numbers with a well-defined valley between: spring field crickets peaked in mid-June 2014, fall field crickets in mid-September, with a separation in late July.

Two clear peaks in numbers with a well-defined valley between: spring field crickets peaked in mid-June 2014, fall field crickets in mid-September, with a separation in late July.

This year things were different in some ways, but the general pattern held.

The fall field cricket pattern in 2015 again was well defined, with an earlier peak at the beginning of September. The dividing point again was in the second half of July.

The fall field cricket pattern in 2015 again was well defined, with an earlier peak at the beginning of September. The dividing point again was in the second half of July.

The spring field cricket counts were more chaotic, and lower than those for 2014. Weather was a factor here, often rainy, often windy. This affected my ability to count them, but I think there were indeed fewer than in 2014, and also more fall field crickets than last year.

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Seasonal Transition

by Carl Strang

We have long been waiting for spring, and the seasonal transition at last is under way. Soon the snow birds will be heading back north.

Dark-eyed juncos have begun to sing and to chase each other.

Dark-eyed juncos have begun to sing and to chase each other.

The earliest migrants have begun to come through, or to pass over.

A flock of sandhill cranes flies over Mayslake Forest Preserve.

A flock of sandhill cranes flies over Mayslake Forest Preserve.

They hit a thermal, break formation and use its rising air to gain altitude.

They hit a thermal, break formation and use its rising air to gain altitude.

Breeders have begun to arrive and set up shop.

Great blue herons at the Danada colony

Great blue herons at the Danada colony

A recent arrival at Mayslake Forest Preserve has the smaller birds nervous.

The Cooper’s hawk pauses in its patrol…

The Cooper’s hawk pauses in its patrol…

…then resumes.

…then resumes.

The next mini-stage of migrant birds has begun.

Ruby-crowned kinglet at Fermilab, Sunday

Ruby-crowned kinglet at Fermilab, Sunday

Soon I expect to reach my personal criterion for the arrival of spring and the end of winter.

 

Tennessee Warbler Dossier

by Carl Strang

The Tennessee warbler is one of our more abundant migrants, conspicuous more by sound than by sight in spring as it is well camouflaged and moves slowly, often high in the trees. It often works closer to the ground and more frenetically in the fall.

Warbler, Tennessee

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Seen as migrant in many locations in the eastern U.S. Judging by songs, one of the most abundant warbler migrants. Not an easy bird to see; moves slowly and infrequently, and colors cryptic among tree leaves. Song loud and distinctive, and for a week or so every spring the trees of woods and residential areas ring with their songs. “Sebit, sebit, sebit, sebit, seteeteeteeteetee…” Initial part just like Nashville warbler’s, but last part very loud, rapid and energetic with no slurring of notes.

10MY87. First of season noted.

13MY87. At Willowbrook, one bird thoroughly working one small area, with much turning of its head, short reaches to probe nearby leaves, short hops between branches, relatively slow-moving for a warbler. Also does a lot of slow smooth stepping along a twig. Foraging in box elder, black willow.

13SE87. West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve. Several Tennessee warblers together in a mixed flock with a magnolia warbler, a red-eyed vireo, a female rose-breasted grosbeak, and several catbirds and robins. The warblers remained within 10 feet of the ground, active and acrobatic, probing, changing perches frequently (2-10 seconds), very chickadee-like and unlike last spring. 11MY88. First Tennessee warbler song of the year. Gone by May 20.

18MY90. Lots of Tennessee warblers at Willowbrook. Cold spring. The only warblers heard on the 24th.

4MY99. First migrant noted at Willowbrook. Last noted there on 25MY.

12MY99. Slow and deliberate, on 1 perch a long time as they look around.

31AU99. First migrant noted at Willowbrook. First-year Tennessee warbler very yellow, with yellow eye line, but white under tail. In contrast to spring birds, very frequent perch changes, actively pivoting and reaching. Last migrant at Willowbrook noted 17SE.

7MY00. Several Tennessees in a mixed flock at West DuPage Woods, high in canopy. One was moving steadily when I first saw it, foraging and singing, then was still for over a minute on a perch, apparently doing no foraging, but alternating singing with bouts of preening.

24SE00. Tennessees have been abundant, lately. Today, a couple in hedgelike borders of the Prairie Path at West Chicago Prairie just east of Industrial Drive.

8OC00. A couple Tennessee’s at West Chicago Prairie.

12OC02. A few at Fermilab in old field areas.

House Sparrow Dossier

by Carl Strang

What could be more common than a house sparrow? That question seems less appropriate now than it might have a couple decades ago, given the decline in the species’ numbers in recent years in many parts of its range. Nevertheless, if the length of a species dossier was in proportion to the species’ abundance, this should be one of the longer ones. That it is not is a clue that perhaps I have been neglecting to give this bird the attention it deserves. Even the introductory paragraph that I wrote to kick off the dossier in the 1980’s is perfunctory.

Sparrow, House

Male house sparrow, profile view

Male house sparrow, profile view

Never far from buildings, these birds usually nest in cavities of buildings, light posts, or birdhouses, though sometimes they build large ball-shaped nests in tree or shrub branches. They use much grass and assorted debris and litter in nest construction. The song is an uncomplicated, cheerful chirping sound. Loud “cheep” calls used in agonistic and warning situations. The male has a stiff bowing hopping behavior, with tail and wings elevated, in courtship. They eat seeds and insects. They engaged in vigorous pursuit of emerging termite alates at the East Street house in Carlisle, PA.

Early AU86. Corpus Christi, TX. Young begging by fluttering wings and stretching head toward adult male. He flew to another bush and searched for food grosbeak fashion, little change in perch with much peering at nearby branches in all directions.

The face reveals how the black chin accentuates the bill, possibly a useful feature when facing off with antagonists.

The face reveals how the black chin accentuates the bill, possibly a useful feature when facing off with antagonists.

13MY87. Bird foraging in willow tops at Willowbrook. Sits on perch 1-3 seconds, searching nearby vegetation, occasionally reach-probing, changing perches about 8″-2′ apart.

8AP90. Female house sparrow systematically biting off bits of dandelion (leaves) to eat, masticating and swallowing.

17OC92. Vicinity of Cantigny (Winfield, IL) while driving. Kestrel carrying house sparrow low across road. Heavy load for the kestrel. Lost grip, perhaps because of the distraction of my car’s close proximity. Sparrow flew away. Many times I’ve seen kestrels searching vole habitat, carrying or eating mice. This, I believe, is the first bird capture I’ve witnessed.

1JE99. House sparrow picking up insect remains from old coyote feces on trail.

25AU99. House sparrow with several white feathers on tail and wings observed at Willowbrook.

29JA00. House sparrows along with Brewer’s blackbirds, horned larks and juncos feeding on spillage from buffalo feeders at Fermilab.

 

Nashville Warbler Dossier

by Carl Strang

How do we “know” what we “know?” It occurred to me back in the 1980’s that much of what I “knew” about most species of animals and plants was information I had gained from reading or from talking with others. I made the decision to assemble a dossier for each animal species, based entirely on my own experience. This was humbling, as the resulting files were small even for common species. From then on I made a point of adding notes as I focused on accumulating more such experience. In recent years my attention has been focused more on singing insects, and so I have added fewer notes to the vertebrate dossiers, but such as I have I continue to share here from time to time in the winter. Today’s focus species, the Nashville warbler, is one we see in the Chicago area only during migration, so at least I have a ready excuse for its small dossier. The odd prefixes for each entry are my date codes.

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Observed as a migrant in Lafayette, IN, and at Willowbrook Forest Preserve, DuPage County. Song close to Tennessee warbler’s. First part of song identical, with loud “se-bit’, se-bit’, se-bit’” then instead of emphatic “tee’s” has fewer, slurred, robin-like notes (usually 3). The Willowbrook birds hung around the taller thick shrubs at the edge of the riparian strip.

1MY87. At Willowbrook, a Nashville warbler hopped along and between twigs, 8-15 feet up in riparian woodland. At times very frenetic impression, jerking head around to look in all directions and not pausing long. At other times paused for several seconds and looked all around. Caught 2 small caterpillars within 3 minutes, both by reaching into expanding leaf tufts in box elders. Killed with pecks before swallowing. Not observed to hover-glean or sally.

4MY87. Abundant. In addition to song, a “bick” call, loud and sharp. Another one observed feeding in same way as the one above: much looking between short frenetic hops, and stretching to reach prey from leaf-clusters. Feeding in box elder.

5MY87. Has a chunky body and shows fluttering-hopping advances like a kinglet.

2MY88. First of year singing. Also 7MY at Fulton County Museum property.

19MY88. Female seen at Willowbrook.

31AU88. One observed in Willowbrook riparian area, feeding among low shrubs. Acrobatic, and an aerial pursuit. Reached a lot, too.

29AP89. Heard singing at Von Oven Scout Camp, Naperville.

8MY89. Last noted of spring.

29AP99. First of season noted at Willowbrook. Last noted 14MY there that spring.

3MY99. At Willowbrook, foraging 20 feet up in a box elder. Deliberate, making 1-2-inch hops with much looking around and reaching but no acrobatics. No long jumps, except when moving from tree to tree. Sang infrequently. Slow motion not conspicuous.

2SE99. First migrant of fall noted at Willowbrook. Last seen there 17SE.

1MY00. First migrant heard at Willowbrook.

24SE00. A couple in the Sparrow Hedge, Fermilab.

13OC00. A single, clearly marked adult among Tennessee warblers feeding in tall goldenrods, etc., at McKee Marsh.

14SE02. A single individual at Elsen’s Hill (there were mixed flocks elsewhere) systematically moving from one tall goldenrod to another along a wooded trail edge, perching in or adjacent to the flower heads and searching them closely.

8MY11. Elsen’s Hill. One foraging among the twig tips of a small rosaceous tree in which leaves were expanding. It cranked and twisted its neck so as to peer into and all around the tips while remaining perched in place.

The Cricket Double Wave

by Carl Strang

This is the time of year when the singing insect season is nearly done, with only the last song dates to note for the few rugged species still singing. I have been writing my annual research summary, and one data set recently completed was my Fermilab field cricket count. In the warm months I take bike rides through Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy research site, on roughly a weekly basis. I count the number of singing crickets I hear. The resulting graph has a double wave shape.

Counts of singing field crickets heard during bicycle rides following a standard route through Fermilab.

Counts of singing field crickets heard during bicycle rides following a standard route through Fermilab.

Two species are represented here, the spring field cricket and the fall field cricket. Their songs are identical to the ear. The graph shows that spring field cricket counts increased rapidly from the first appearance on May 18 to a peak in mid-June, then rapidly fell. There never was a time when fewer than 50 crickets were counted in July, probably indicating overlap between the two species, with the last spring field crickets continuing into the last half of that month. Fall field cricket numbers built rapidly to a peak in the first half of September, and exceeded the maximum count for spring field crickets in the same area, before dropping rapidly in early October.

 

First SFC’s

by Carl Strang

On Sunday afternoon, during a bike ride through Fermilab, I heard the first spring field crickets of the year. They had just begun, as there were only 3 of them. This is the third earliest date I have heard them in DuPage County, a little surprising given the late spring, though the deep snow that covered the ground most of the winter certainly provided the nymphs with protection. If a larger population survived, some statistical outliers could be starting up earlier than otherwise would be the case.

Cheating a little here: this is a fall field cricket female, but that species is physically identical to its spring sibling species.

Cheating a little here: this is a fall field cricket female, but that species is physically identical to its spring sibling species.

Apart from such uncommonly encountered critters as sulphur-winged grasshoppers and spring trigs, the next common singing insects to mature should be the predaceous katydids (Roesel’s katydid and the protean shieldback), and gladiator meadow katydids. By then I hope that the spring field crickets will have built numbers to the point where I can finish my county survey of their distribution.

Western Chorus Frog Dossier

by Carl Strang

An early sign of spring’s arrival is the sound of massed chorus frogs. Here are my limited specific observations of them.

Western chorus frog

Western chorus frog

Frog, Western Chorus Known in my experience mainly from DuPage County, IL, and the Culver, Indiana, area. In early spring they sing in large numbers, in crickety sounding calls, in temporary ponds. I saw one in the back yard of the house we rented in Glendale Heights. Small and striped, crawling in the grass. Closest pond where they sang was at least 200m away.

7MR87. Singing at West Chicago Prairie.

22MR87. Singing at Fish Hatchery, Culver, in first partial pond west of ditches.

12MR88. Brief song from one at McDowell Forest Preserve.

26MR88. Singing just west of Hartz Lake property.

27MR89. First song of year heard at McKee Marsh.

23AP89. Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. I water-stalked a singing frog, close enough to see it, or at least the movement caused by its singing. It was in or just above the water, which vibrated with the song. It was in a place where broken-down cattails created a small (almost completely covering) shelter. They sing in alternation: pairs, high and low. High starts. If a few calls do not involve a nearby frog in a duet, the first stops.

10MR97. Heard one singing while I ran on Prairie Path near Rt. 59.

20MR99. First chorus frogs of spring heard in 2 places.

30OC99. 1-2 (same one found twice?) found on an extensive mudflat at Fermilab.

5MR00. A few singing at Lake Law, Fermilab, in an area of shallow water and dense dead stems of cattails and grasses.

2MY00. A couple still singing.

24SE00. A few individuals singing weakly in the tall, goldenrod-dominated upland vegetation between the large lakes at Fermilab.

14OC00. Occasional song, still, at Fermilab. Much like spring peeper’s pattern of fall singing.

21MR01. First of year, a couple only, heard near Prairie Path east of Warrenville. A cold, lingering winter.

15AP01. Quite a few singing near the McKee Marsh outlet. 12SE01. I heard single brief song beside the prairie path north of Butterfield and west of Fermilab in late afternoon.

12OC02. A few weakly singing individuals at Fermilab, in low spots.

21MR05. One singer at the Hartz Lake property.

13JE06. Tri-County State Park. Chorus frogs and American toads have resumed singing after heavy recent rains have raised water levels, here and at Fermilab for chorus frogs, and here and at Fullersburg for toads.

5AP10. Mayslake. A jump in chorus frog numbers from last year. Last year they were at the stream corridor marsh only, and the maximum male count was 12. This year, up to 22. Furthermore, there were satellite groups in the parking lot marsh (3) and the reed-canary-grass pool east of the dog fence (5).

25OC10. Mayslake. Chorus frogs calling, three individuals in three places: one on top of a wooded hill; one in the middle of the meadow west of the dog area, and one a short distance south of the stream corridor marsh.

27OC10. Mayslake. A western chorus frog called from on or right beside the path N of the stream corridor marsh. No hibernaculum candidate there.

17MR11. Mayslake. First singers of the season, in stream corridor and parking lot marshes.

One reason chorus frogs can be difficult to see is that they often select sheltered places from which to sing. The edge of one’s expanded throat is just visible beneath the log.

One reason chorus frogs can be difficult to see is that they often select sheltered places from which to sing. The edge of one’s expanded throat is just visible beneath the log.

29SE11. Mayslake. At least 3 chorus frogs calling in close proximity in a reed canary grass area. Another in the main meadow W of dog fence.

Spring 2013. Mayslake. Hardly any chorus frog activity this spring, in the wake of last year’s drought, despite the re-filling of the marshes.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Dossier

by Carl Strang

Our two species of kinglets are early season migrants. Today’s featured species usually shows up a little later than the golden-crowned kinglet.

Kinglet, Ruby-crowned

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

I have seen this little northern-breeding bird in migrations, in northern IL and IN. Usually they travel in flocks. In 1986 they moved north later than golden-crowned kinglets, in mid-late April, mainly, in DuPage County.

26OC86. Single seen in brush at Willowbrook.

18AP87. First of year seen at Dunes State Park, IN. Has louder, harsher voice than golden-crowned. More chatter. Resembles goldfinch with a burr.

24AP87. Pratts Wayne Woods (Prairie Path). Moving from bush to bush. No vocalizations. Also, little or no probing; foraging by sight only.

21AP89. First migrants of year seen in the little park across from the Newberry Library, Chicago.

22AP89. Both kinglets at Willowbrook, using a mix of hover-gleaning and even more pursuit. Also, this is the kinglet with the song, high and thin, that has one section of accelerating notes flowing into a “chee-chee-per-chi-bee” section.

24AP89. Still at Willowbrook.

25AP89. Lots of them at Willowbrook today. First warm early morning of the year.

26AP89. A few present at Willowbrook.

3MY89. Still a few.

21OC89. Present in West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve.

17AP90. Observed at Willowbrook.

22AP90. Winfield Mounds. Has song “tsee-tsee-…(accelerating)…tsee-tsurd-tserber-tsee-tsurd-tserber-tsee.”

15OC90. Ruby-crowned kinglets at Willowbrook.

23SE91. IL Beach State Park. Kinglet in black oak, reaching, lunging, and very short-flight hover gleaning. 3-12″ per move, less than 0.5 second per perch.

12AP99. Willowbrook. Golden-crowned kinglets nearly gone (saw only 1), but ruby-crowneds have arrived.

20AP99. Ruby-crowneds are showing their red crests today (first time since they started arriving), defending little feeding areas along the stream at Willowbrook. Flycatching and flush-pursuit foraging.

21AP99. Today they still are foraging with much aerial pursuit, but are moving together in groups. No crests showing.

7MY99. A second major wave of ruby-crowned kinglets, probably females, at Willowbrook. None seen after this date that spring.

1&11OC99. Migrants at Willowbrook.

12AP00. Migrants at Willowbrook, singing occasionally.

16AP00. Willowbrook. Several ruby‑crowned kinglets on the preserve, some singing. Two observed showed much more flycatching than golden‑crowneds showed this spring, and some hover‑gleaning. Longer pauses on each perch while searching for an insect to pursue.

22AP00. Morton Arboretum. Both kinglets still present.

14OC00. The past week at Willowbrook, and today at Fermilab, ruby-crowneds foraging mainly in prairie areas with scattered shrubs, concentrating on the shrubs but occasionally visiting goldenrods as well. This open area foraging contrasts with their usual spring woodland preference. Golden-crowneds this fall have been sticking to the woodlands.

7AP01. A couple ruby-crowns seen among numerous golden-crowns at Greene Valley Forest Preserve. One of them occasionally sang.

20OC01. A kinglet foraging alone in a tall herbaceous patch (mainly goldenrods that have gone to seed) at McKee Marsh. I have seen several others behaving similarly the past couple of weeks. It flies from stalk to stalk, perching just below the seed/flower heads and looking all around, apparently for insects. Occasionally makes a hover-gleaning move, often against a seed head.

13OC02. An individual giving a quick, 2-noted call similar to chattering of house wren or perhaps yellowthroat.

9OC05. West DuPage Woods. Golden-crowned kinglets foraging in crowns of trees while ruby-crowneds are mainly within 4 feet of the ground in herbs and shrubs beneath, only occasionally and briefly venturing into the lower canopies. Ruby-crowneds have a quick, chattering-quality “checkit” call. Hover-gleaning their most common foraging method today.

5-11NO05. During my southern vacation, I found golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets all the way to the Gulf of Mexico

23OC07. Fullersburg. A ruby-crowned flashed red in a brief squabble with another.

9AP13. Mayslake. A ruby-crowned kinglet was perched in place and chattering much like an irritated house wren.

American Tree Sparrow Dossier

by Carl Strang

Today’s feature is my dossier of the American tree sparrow, a wintering bird that still is with us but soon will head back to the northern nesting grounds. The following notes reveal my interest in the complex range of this species’ vocalizations.

American tree sparrow. The black spot in the clear chest is a helpful identification feature.

American tree sparrow. The black spot in the clear chest is a helpful identification feature.

Sparrow, American Tree

This songbird is a common winter resident in old fields and residential areas with some bushes, in Culver, around Lafayette, in south central Pennsylvania and in DuPage County, IL. Usually they occur in loose flocks, often mixed with juncos. They feed on the ground, especially, taking seeds. Note: “tsew,” “tsoo” or “tsee” in a slightly melancholy minor key, hint of downward slurring. Has a 3-syllable call, a hair slower and more flowing than junco’s, very musical and pleasant in contrast. Single-note call has a descending tail, is much like white-throated sparrow’s.

26FE87. Song heard in Willowbrook Back 40: “Tsoo-too-doo-doo-dee-chew-chew-chew-chew.” Song loud and clear, of water thrush quality.

7MR87. Another song: “tsee-tsoo-bye-tsee-tsoo-tsoo.” First note held longer than others. Tsee syllables highest pitched, tsoo’s lowest. Sang from perch in top of willow clump, 6 feet up, at West Chicago Prairie.

13MR87. Still hearing them singing.

22MR87. Still present and singing at Culver Fish Hatchery.

15OC99. First tree sparrow of the season at Willowbrook.

20DE99. Tree sparrows eating Indian grass seeds at Fermilab. Sometimes their call notes are simple and flat, but sometimes they add a trailer that so far I cannot tell from white-throated sparrow’s. In conflicts they have beautiful, musical clusters of notes.

29JA00. A flock of 30 tree sparrows and 2 juncos feeding on the gravel berm edge of Swenson Road, Fermilab.

5MR00. A single still at Fermilab, in thick grass area with a few shrubs, beside trail.

The red on the top of the head, the white wing features and yellow lower bill mandible are additional distinctions.

The red on the top of the head, the white wing features and yellow lower bill mandible are additional distinctions.

23NO04. Willowbrook. A flock of tree sparrows in tall prairie vegetation using a call I don’t remember hearing before, a pardalote-like “wee’dah.”

16NO10. Mayslake. Many tree sparrows are in the west stream corridor along the southern edge of the mansion grounds. Giving an unusual call, less than a second long, beginning at a high pitch, slurring to a lower one, and quickly back up to the starting pitch.

6JA11. The more complex tree sparrow call can be difficult to pick out when many birds are producing it at once. When a single bird is isolated, the call has the rhythm of a quick, “tit willow,” i.e., three dominant syllables with the last two close together and a little more separated from the first.

2FE12. American tree sparrow call: dedjidu, quickly pronounced.

15NO12. Mayslake. Tree sparrows eating seeds of Canada goldenrod and annuals.

25JA13. Mayslake. On the ground in the off-leash dog area, an enormous flock of at least 100 tree sparrows, 30 juncos with at least one white-throated sparrow mixed in, doing the double-foot scratching to get through the snow and then reach, presumably for seeds.

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