Adventures with Lisa and Wendy

by Carl Strang

Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge are two admirable women from the Cleveland area. For years I have been corresponding with Lisa about our parallel explorations of singing insects in our respective regions. They honored me with a visit over the Labor Day weekend. We spent two full days site-hopping in northwest Indiana.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Wendy and Lisa stalk a long-spurred meadow katydid at Indiana Dunes State Park.

This was a three-way learning exchange. I provided local knowledge of species with which Lisa and Wendy needed more experience. Dr. Rainsong, who teaches university courses in music theory, models slow and deliberate observation that gives her more of an in-depth understanding of each species than I have been able to acquire so far. She also demonstrates the value of making a lot of sound recordings. Her Listening in Nature blog shares her observations, and I realize how I need to do more of this kind of work myself.

Wendy is a fine artist and art restoration specialist whose love and knowledge of nature frequently draws her into the field with her partner. She keeps her eyes open and notices many beautiful scenes, plants and animals that remind me not to be so narrowly focused. She also took the time to sit and create a couple watercolor sketches that were simply amazing. Wendy has the best ears of us three for the higher-pitched insect songs.

One of our sites was Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

A population of woodland meadow katydids provided good exposure to that dry-soil species.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

This tinkling ground cricket had a darker brown head than most, but he was very cooperative, giving us many photo ops as he slowly moved across the parking lot.

Another highlight was a levee at Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

The dusky-faced meadow katydid was a priority species. We were able to observe two males.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

This Texas bush katydid, my first for LaPorte County, displayed the engaging personality of his kind.

I benefited not only from observing Lisa’s and Wendy’s methods, but also picked up a total of 8 county records along the way for my study. We look forward to more exchange visits over the next few years.

 

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Some Hoosier Grasshoppers

by Carl Strang

As I mentioned in the last post, grasshoppers pose problems different from other groups of singing insects. First, most of them don’t qualify as singing insects. Second, those that sing seldom do. Surveying them therefore must be on a visual rather than a hearing basis. Finally, even the visual approach isn’t simple. There are a lot of grasshopper species, sometimes distinguished by tiny structural features. A complete series of photos may be needed to assure an identification. You need every view, above, below, from the side, being sure to get good dorsal and lateral views of the end of the abdomen. Band-winged grasshoppers need to be captured and the wings spread. Also, the color of the hind tibia often is important. All of this was the lesson from grasshopper photos I took in Jasper, Pulaski and Starke Counties, Indiana, last week.

Some grasshoppers are relatively large and spectacular. The bird grasshoppers are the largest I have found to date in the region.

This appears to be the obscure bird grasshopper, common in places at the Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area but at or near the north end of its range.

This appears to be the obscure bird grasshopper, common in places at the Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area but at or near the north end of its range.

This is a different bird grasshopper from Round Lake conservation area, my best sorting of characters pointing to the spotted or prairie bird grasshopper, Schistocerca emarginata (S. lineata in older references). Note the different colors of the head and tibia, compared to the preceding species.

This is a different bird grasshopper from Round Lake conservation area, my best sorting of characters pointing to the spotted or prairie bird grasshopper, Schistocerca emarginata (S. lineata in older references). Note the different colors of the head and tibia, compared to the preceding species.

The remaining grasshoppers I photographed apparently are all in the enormous spur-throated grasshopper group. Their identifications I think are correct, but a few more photos of certain parts of them would have helped.

The graceful grasshopper, Melanoplus gracilis, is the one of these I most likely have right. It lives in moist grassy areas.

The graceful grasshopper, Melanoplus gracilis, is the one of these I most likely have right. It lives in moist grassy areas.

This may be a post oak grasshopper, Dendrotettix quercus. I found it in a dry oak savanna. Superficially it resembles the previous, but note the different wings.

This may be a post oak grasshopper, Dendrotettix quercus. I found it in a dry oak savanna. Superficially it resembles the previous, but note the different wings.

After poring through many reference photos, I had to conclude that this was a two-striped grasshopper. If I had looked at its back, I wouldn’t have needed to go to the trouble.

After poring through many reference photos, I had to conclude that this was a two-striped grasshopper. If I had looked at its back, I wouldn’t have needed to go to the trouble.

This grasshopper, like the previous one, didn’t give me a dorsal view, but I’m pretty sure it’s another two-striped.

This grasshopper, like the previous one, didn’t give me a dorsal view, but I’m pretty sure it’s another two-striped.

More J-P Singers

by Carl Strang

The woodland meadow katydids were the highlight of last week’s exploration of Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area in Indiana, as I described in the last post. It was a productive day, and I came out with 16 new county records for singing insects in the two counties. For example, I have not had a lot of success in the past with finding straight-lanced meadow katydids, but turned them up in both counties on Wednesday.

The females of this Conocephalus species have ovipositors longer than their bodies.

The females of this Conocephalus species have ovipositors longer than their bodies.

Males have cerci with relatively long straight ends beyond the spurs.

Males have cerci with relatively long straight ends beyond the spurs.

Finding singing grasshoppers requires a different methodology from those used for other singing insects. They sing so seldom that they need to be searched out visually. This approach resulted in two species at J-P.

The mottled sand grasshopper is amazingly camouflaged. I found it by flushing it into flight.

The mottled sand grasshopper is amazingly camouflaged. I found it by flushing it into flight.

As in most of our members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily, the mottled sand grasshopper has strikingly colored hind wings.

As in most of our members of the band-winged grasshopper subfamily, the mottled sand grasshopper has strikingly colored hind wings.

The other singing grasshopper subfamily is the slant-faced stridulator group.

Short-winged green grasshoppers are common at J-P.

Short-winged green grasshoppers are common at J-P.

The males usually are green on top and brown on the sides, the larger females more completely green.

The males usually are green on top and brown on the sides, the larger females more completely green.

 

A final post from this area will focus on a variety of grasshoppers from non-singing subfamilies.

Woodland Meadow Katydid

by Carl Strang

Sometimes the solution to a puzzle comes through a tiny clue, accidentally discovered. Why couldn’t I find woodland meadow katydids? For years I had listened for them and looked for them in habitats where they are supposed to occur. References suggested I should be able to hear their distinctive song around woodland edges, but also indicated they are more a southern species with only scattered populations as far north as the 22-county region I am surveying for singing insects.

On Wednesday I traveled to Jasper County, Indiana, and stopped at the western end of the Jasper-Pulaski state wildlife area. I put on the SongFinder, wanting to find short-winged meadow katydids to add to the Jasper County list, but almost immediately heard something odd. It sounded like a striped ground cricket, but perhaps lower in pitch.

The song was coming from the tall herbaceous vegetation around two white oak trees.

The song was coming from the tall herbaceous vegetation around two white oak trees.

I took off the headphones of the pitch-lowering device, and could no longer hear the song. As I continued to listen, I noticed that once in a while one of the quick short buzzes was preceded by a brief stuttering burst of ticks. Thanks to the stereophonic design of the SongFinder, I soon found the singer.

A male woodland meadow katydid!

A male woodland meadow katydid!

It’s the only dry-habitat meadow katydid in our area that is brown rather than green. Once I knew that I needed the SongFinder, and what to listen for, I found them in Pulaski County and, the next day, in Starke. At the Round Lake state conservation area I heard males singing, and spotted a female.

Though the ovipositor is slightly curved, the small size as well as the brown color separates this female from all the Orchelimum meadow katydids. Long-tailed meadow katydids can be brown, but have very long straight ovipositors and live in wetlands.

Though the ovipositor is slightly curved, the small size as well as the brown color separates this female from all the Orchelimum meadow katydids. Long-tailed meadow katydids can be brown, but have very long straight ovipositors and live in wetlands.

I had held out hope that this would prove to be the one Conocephalus meadow katydid that I could hear unaided, but such is not the case. That was the tiny clue I needed to solve the woodland meadow katydid puzzle.

Return to J-P

by Carl Strang

A few hours of singing insect searching over the weekend produced 8 county records (across 3 counties), and some photos I’d been hoping to get. High on the list of priorities for the latter this year was the green-winged cicada, Diceroprocta vitripennis. I found a number of them singing Saturday at Jasper-Pulaski State Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana. Finding a singing cicada up in a tree is a challenge when it can be done at all. The good part is that I found one.

The less than great part is that the only line of sight was from a distance and through a canopy hole, so I will hope for a better opportunity at another time.

The less than great part is that the only line of sight was from a distance and through a canopy hole, so I will hope for a better opportunity at another time.

I also heard one of that species singing Sunday at Braidwood Dunes in Will County, my first Illinois location. So far all have been in black oak sand savannas.

Back at J-P, I was able to catch a sulfur-winged grasshopper, so as to get a photo of the bright yellow hind wing.

If anything, the yellow was more intense than the photo indicates.

If anything, the yellow was more intense than the photo indicates.

The critter stayed put when I released it, making a portrait possible.

Though study of reference material confirmed the ID, this one was much paler than the individual I photographed within 50 feet of this location last year.

Though study of reference material confirmed the ID, this one was much paler than the individual I photographed within 50 feet of this location last year.

That 2013 hopper may have had the more typical color pattern. I saw its twin at Braidwood Sunday.

That 2013 hopper may have had the more typical color pattern. I saw its twin at Braidwood Sunday.

Nearby at J-P was a pair of grasshoppers that begged to be photographed. They do not belong to either of the singing subfamilies of grasshoppers, but they were attractive to look at.

These appear to be narrow-winged grasshoppers, Melanoplus angustipennis.

These appear to be narrow-winged grasshoppers, Melanoplus angustipennis.

As I drove out of J-P, I was arrested by this group of plants beside the road.

Brilliant red flowers topped the tall stems.

Brilliant red flowers topped the tall stems.

They appear to be targeting hummingbirds as pollinators.

They appear to be targeting hummingbirds as pollinators.

The foliage accounts for the odd name (for an herbaceous plant) of standing cypress.

The foliage accounts for the odd name (for an herbaceous plant) of standing cypress.

Gilia rubra is native to the southern states, but has established some colonies of escapes from cultivation in the sand counties of northwestern Indiana.

Sound Ideas: Green-winged Cicadas

by Carl Strang

One of the singing insects I have been seeking for several years in the Chicago area is the green-winged cicada (Diceroprocta vitripennis). Some references have suggested that this is an early-season species, and I thought I heard them in June of 2007 (the brief regular buzzes in the following recording, with Cassin’s 17-year cicadas in the background):

Those sounds were very similar to the cooler-temperature recording of Diceroprocta at the University of Michigan’s cicada website, though a little slower (the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler). The problem was that the periodical cicadas were in their peak year and season at the same time, and the identification was ambiguous because I couldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that these were Cassin’s 17-year cicadas warming up. Returns in subsequent years to places where I heard those sounds failed to turn up a repeat performance. Now I find that those actually were “Court III” signals of the Cassin’s cicadas, produced by the male as he connects with a female for mating.

During my survey work this past field season, I finally heard green-winged cicada songs on July 29, first at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area, then at Jasper-Pulaski, both in Indiana (a scissor-grinder cicada song is in the background at the start):

Oak woodlands on sandy soils, including this one at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, are where I heard this song.

Oak woodlands on sandy soils, including this one at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, are where I heard this song.

These were a match for the warmer-temperature song at the University of Michigan website (the temperature was cooler for my recording, but the insect may have had a warm perch in the sun; I didn’t see it). That day was the extent of my experience with this species, though, so more observations are needed to get a better handle on the abundance, distribution and habitat of green-winged cicadas in the Chicago region.

Return to Newton and Jasper

by Carl Strang

On Monday I returned to Newton and Jasper Counties, Indiana, to survey for singing insects that had emerged since my earlier visits there (Newton County was the site of the bioblitz last year; I went to a new site this time, the Willow Slough State Fish and Wildlife Area). In Jasper County I went back to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, and was especially interested in revisiting the savanna and sand prairie.

The savanna-sand prairie site at the time of my first visit.

The savanna-sand prairie site at the time of my first visit.

The most exciting find was an unfamiliar insect singing loudly from the black oak woodlands of both sites in the early to mid-afternoon. Its song was a series of quick buzzing sounds, as though a sword-bearing conehead (which sings at night) woke up way early and got hold of a megaphone. With that volume at that time of day well up in the trees it had to be a cicada, and when I later referred to sources and listened to reference recordings it was clearly the green-winged cicada, Diceroprocta vitripennis. This is a species I thought I might have heard in DuPage County at the time of the periodical cicada emergence in 2007, but the songs were difficult to separate from the loud Magicicada choruses, and I have not heard it since, until Monday. I did not see one, but hope to get a photo in the future.

Otherwise the singing insects were familiar, though I did pick up a number of county records and heard a few species singing for the first time this year.

Also, a very large, interesting looking grasshopper flew up from the sand prairie and landed on a tree after a graceful flight on its long wings.

It was noticeably larger than the Carolina grasshopper, the most common large grasshopper in the region.

It was noticeably larger than the Carolina grasshopper, the most common large grasshopper in the region.

The color pattern, behavior and habitat point to the obscure bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura), not a singing insect but an interesting attention-grabber nevertheless.

Scouting Jasper County

by Carl Strang

The Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana started out as a recreational destination for hunters and fishermen. Natural history enthusiasts in the region associate J-P with sandhill cranes, as the big birds pause there by the thousands when they migrate north and south, and birders congregate as well, to see them.

J-P seemed a good place to find singing insects in Jasper County, and I stopped there to scout the property on my way home from last weekend’s trip. Some of the back roads lead to extensive ponds and marshes, which will be of interest later in the season. My favorite spot, though, was at an intersection of two gravel roads where the soil was heavy in sand, with a black oak savanna and wide berms of sand prairie vegetation.

Tiny oaks form a vanguard as the savanna reaches into the prairie.

Tiny oaks form a vanguard as the savanna reaches into the prairie.

As I walked one of the roads, I flushed a sulfur-winged grasshopper. I had been hoping for a photo opportunity with this species.

At first glance this insect seems doomed, its dark color contrasting with the pale sand.

At first glance this insect seems doomed, its dark color contrasting with the pale sand.

Unless you are very close to it, however, the grasshopper just looks like a little stick or piece of debris.

The folded forewings conceal bright yellow hind wings with broad black edges.

The folded forewings conceal bright yellow hind wings with broad black edges.

The next time a similar opportunity comes up, I’ll try for a flight photo that will show those hind wings. In any case, I drove away from J-P with some great locations, and three early-season species to start my Jasper County singing insects list (green-striped grasshopper and spring field cricket were the other two).

Arrows Pointing North

by Carl Strang

 

On March 3 the skies above Mayslake Forest Preserve conveyed, to the delight of cognoscenti below, arrows pointing north. Several flocks of sandhill cranes rattled their challenge to a weakening winter and passed overhead.

 

cranes-2b

 

Those of us who live in northeast Illinois have the great fortune of being on a major traditional migration route for these amazing birds. Spring or fall, the flocks mostly pass overhead around noon. That is because we are half a day’s flight away from the cranes’ major staging area at Jasper-Pulaski state wildlife area in northern Indiana. On Tuesday the winds were from the south, prompting a portion of the thousands of J-P’s cranes to jump north. Sometimes an eastward or westward cant to the winds aloft will send most flocks closer to Lake Michigan or farther away, but the three ranks of counties closest to the lake are where people are most likely to see these birds in Illinois.

 

cranes-1b3

 

In DuPage County we have a lot of pavement, increasing our tendency to flooding but also providing thermals, columns of rising heated air that the cranes use as elevators. The V of migrating birds suddenly turns and loses its formation as the cranes circle within the thermal. They appear smaller and smaller, their ratcheting voices become fainter and fainter, as they rise. J-P, once part of the great Kankakee Marsh that probably was the original crane stopover, is another benefit our species provides for theirs. Listen for rattling voices overhead at mid-day in March!

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