Searching for Life

by Carl Strang

This spring I have been pressing a search for coral-winged grasshoppers, and it has been disappointing. This singing insect historically was found in a few locations in my 22-county survey area, almost always in May, but none of those locations proved to have the species. Other places that match the habitat descriptions in the literature likewise have been lacking in coral-wings.

Though depression as a response to this experience has been tempting, an antidote has been thoughts about SETI. Many people, years of time, and much expensive technology have been devoted to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Furthermore, despite much thought and searching, life of any sort beyond the Earth thus far has been elusive. Balanced against all that, my frustrated search for a species that globally is in no danger seems a trivial matter.

In compensation, I have been getting into some beautiful areas and seeing wondrous sights.

For example, I found hairy puccoons and common blue-eyed grass at Illinois Beach State Park on May 13.

Wood betony also was in peak bloom on the 13th.

From above, wood betony has a delightful pinwheel shape.

Near the edge of the savanna at Illinois Beach State Park, this dung beetle busily rolled a deer fecal pellet.

An Indiana site added Indian paintbrush to the wildflower mix.

 

The Miller Woods Trail of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was flanked by banks of wild lupines on May 16.

Scattered hairy puccoons provided delightful contrast with the lupines.

With such wonderful life all around, it’s hard to be too disappointed by the failure to find a single species.

 

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Early Season Survey: Berrien County

by Carl Strang

I took last week as a vacation to do some early season singing insect surveying across the Chicago region. Monday took me to Berrien County, Michigan, which I had searched only once before late in the season. In addition to seeking the few species active this early, I wanted to scout some sites for their later-season potential. My first stop was Galien River County Park.

The start of the trail looked promising. The forest proved to be of good quality. I listened for northern wood crickets, but none were there.

The start of the trail looked promising. The forest proved to be of good quality. I listened for northern wood crickets, but none were there.

The park’s most spectacular feature is a wonderful canopy walkway, which ends in a platform overlooking the Galien River and moderate quality wetlands.

The park’s most spectacular feature is a wonderful canopy walkway, which ends in a platform overlooking the Galien River and moderate quality wetlands.

The walkway takes you into the upper canopy. I’m looking forward to getting back some evening later in the season.

The walkway takes you into the upper canopy. I’m looking forward to getting back some evening later in the season.

The marsh is cattail dominated, with reed canary grass invading, but has some potential for wetlands singing insects.

The marsh is cattail dominated, with reed canary grass invading, but has some potential for wetlands singing insects.

Another site new to my experience was Mud Lake Bog. Bogs are few in the region, so I had high hopes.

I was not disappointed. A boardwalk winds a good length through a high quality bog.

I was not disappointed. A boardwalk winds a good length through a high quality bog.

There was plenty of sphagnum moss, so I expect to add Berrien to the short list of counties in the region still harboring sphagnum ground crickets.

There was plenty of sphagnum moss, so I expect to add Berrien to the short list of counties in the region still harboring sphagnum ground crickets.

A final stop for the day was Warren Dunes State Park. Spring field crickets were common in the more sheltered spots of the outer dunes.

A final stop for the day was Warren Dunes State Park. Spring field crickets were common in the more sheltered spots of the outer dunes.

An early season delight is to spot the glowing yellow of hairy puccoons.

An early season delight is to spot the glowing yellow of hairy puccoons.

No need to enhance the color in a photo of these beauties.

No need to enhance the color in a photo of these beauties.

Though the day produced only 2 county species records, it was delightful for visits to familiar sites and the promise of the new ones.

 

Kirtland’s Warbler Tour

by Carl Strang

Last Thursday and Friday I drove into the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I had two goals, the first of which I’ll detail tomorrow. My secondary goal was to take the Kirtland’s warbler tour. This is a seasonal education opportunity offered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Michigan Audubon (nearly done for this year). The tours begin with a video introduction at the Ramada in Grayling, and then the guide leads participants in a car caravan to the tour site. We drove to an area where the current crop of jack pines was mainly 3-5 feet tall.

The pines are on a harvest rotation, with large areas clear-cut and replanted, so that there always are large areas covered with the small pines the warblers favor.

Kirtland’s warbler is a federally endangered species, but the population trend is upward and the range is expanding thanks to the intense management efforts. Now some are breeding in Wisconsin and Ontario as well as both peninsulas of Michigan. The rarity of the species draws birders to the area, and about 15 of us were on the Friday morning tour.

Allison, our guide, was knowledgeable, and there were plenty of competent birders in the group to assist with the spotting.

The area appears to be structurally and botanically fairly simple. The pines were dominant in the area, with scattered oaks and cherries the other large woody plants.

Jack pine has short needles and small, curved cones.

Between the pines were a few shrubs, mainly huckleberries or blueberries, as well as sweetfern, one of my favorites.

The wonderful odor of sweetfern leaves I associate with wild places. Sadly it does not occur in DuPage County, as it is a sandy soil species.

Among the herbaceous plants were scattered hairy puccoons.

This is another sandy soil plant.

The puccoons frequently threw off some of the more anxious birders whose search image was tuned to the color yellow. Kirtland’s warbler males were singing loudly at all times, but for a while they stayed out of sight. In the meantime we enjoyed a surprising diversity of birds for such a simple ecosystem: four sparrows (field, vesper, clay-colored, Lincoln’s), 3 warblers (Kirtland’s, Nashville, palm), nighthawk, upland sandpiper, brown thrasher, towhee, Brewer’s blackbird, and rose-breasted grosbeak were notable ones. Eventually a male Kirtland’s warbler perched and sang on an exposed branch.

This is an expanded view of the dot on my photo that represented the warbler. We had good spotting scope views.

The tour was highly satisfying. However, it did not allow me to further my primary goal, which was to find Roesel’s katydids in the Lower Peninsula. More on that tomorrow.

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