Mayslake Marsh Update: Amphibian Traps

by Carl Strang

I set out some amphibian traps in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh to assess how the marsh has recovered from the drought of 2012 and another drying out in 2013.

This leopard frog still is dark from its recent emergence.

This leopard frog still is dark from its recent emergence.

I have caught and released several of the large predaceous diving beetles, Dytiscus hybridus.

I have caught and released several of the large predaceous diving beetles, Dytiscus hybridus.

Similar in size, this water scavenger beetle, Hydrophilus triangularis, was an addition to the preserve species list.

Similar in size, this water scavenger beetle, Hydrophilus triangularis, was an addition to the preserve species list.

The club-like end of the antenna separates the water scavenger beetles from the predaceous diving beetles, whose antennae are thread-like.

The club-like end of the antenna separates the water scavenger beetles from the predaceous diving beetles, whose antennae are thread-like.

The identification of this juvenile crayfish is uncertain, but the slender pincers have me thinking White River crayfish, in the past the most common species in that marsh.

The identification of this juvenile crayfish is uncertain, but the slender pincers have me thinking White River crayfish, in the past the most common species in that marsh.

I caught only one magnificent adult White River crayfish against 10 or so juveniles, sign of a recovering population.

I caught only one magnificent adult White River crayfish against 10 or so juveniles, sign of a recovering population.

Meanwhile, the grassland crayfish have been opening up their tunnels around the peripheries of the wet areas.

Meanwhile, the grassland crayfish have been opening up their tunnels around the peripheries of the wet areas.

Grassland crayfish mainly come out at night to forage on land. Sometimes these foragers become foragees.

Grassland crayfish mainly come out at night to forage on land. Sometimes these foragers become foragees.

The marsh’s muskrats regard the amphibian traps as suitable platforms for their territorial markings.

The marsh’s muskrats regard the amphibian traps as suitable platforms for their territorial markings.

Through all of this, the marsh’s sounds have been dominated by the songs of western chorus frogs. They are so small that they can squeeze their way out of the traps.

Through all of this, the marsh’s sounds have been dominated by the songs of western chorus frogs. They are so small that they can squeeze their way out of the traps.

 

Mayslake Marsh Update: Birds

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve’s marshes have awakened as the thaw has come and the water slowly warms.

This mallard pair was more than ready, resting on a muskrat house in March with the ice still around them.

This mallard pair was more than ready, resting on a muskrat house in March with the ice still around them.

We are seeing two Canada goose nests on the preserve this year, as females are incubating atop muskrat houses.

One in the stream corridor marsh

One in the stream corridor marsh

Another in the parking lot marsh

Another in the parking lot marsh

Meanwhile, the migration season continues.

A few blue-winged teal have been stopping by the marsh. This duck has not yet nested at Mayslake.

A few blue-winged teal have been stopping by the marsh. This duck has not yet nested at Mayslake.

Yet another case of a face-on bird’s markings accentuating the bill, possibly making it more intimidating in an agonistic face-off.

Yet another case of a face-on bird’s markings accentuating the bill, possibly making it more intimidating in an agonistic face-off.

This coot spent a day in the parking lot marsh.

This coot spent a day in the parking lot marsh.

Soon the migration focus will shift to the woodlands, as the neotropical migrants are on their way.

 

Mayslake Notes

by Carl Strang

Last Friday a doe and her newly spot-free fawn appeared at the edge of the prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

The fawn was noticeably smaller, more skittish, and shorter of body in proportion to leg length than its mother.

The fawn was noticeably smaller, more skittish, and shorter of body in proportion to leg length than its mother.

I am guessing that this is the fawn that was so successfully hidden on the preserve through the summer, though it is possible that this pair came onto the preserve to find respite from the frantic nuttiness of the rut.

Another mammalian development was the sudden appearance of a new muskrat house in the parking lot marsh.

This den was built in less than a week.

This den was built in less than a week.

The other main marsh, in the stream corridor, had dried out earlier in the fall, but did not remain so for long.

Some heavy rains in recent weeks have built the central pool back up to nearly a third of its normal full size.

Some heavy rains in recent weeks have built the central pool back up to nearly a third of its normal full size.

For the most part otherwise, the routine shutting down into winter has characterized the state of the preserve in the past month.

Measuring Marsh Recovery

by Carl Strang

Now that Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh is full of water again after several months’ drying out, I am curious as to how fast its animal community will recover. Apart from simply observing what I can on the surface (waterfowl have been back, and last week there were a muskrat and a few singing western chorus frogs), my best tool is the amphibian trap.

Each end is capped by an inward-angling funnel with a 1-inch hole in the end. Animals that enter through the hole have a hard time finding their way back out. The top of the trap is out of the water so they can breathe if they need to.

Each end is capped by an inward-angling funnel with a 1-inch hole in the end. Animals that enter through the hole have a hard time finding their way back out. The top of the trap is out of the water so they can breathe if they need to.

Five traps placed around the marsh produced nothing for two days, and were absolutely clean, suggesting little or no activity around them. The third day brought the first capture.

One of the traps had a medium-sized White River crayfish.

One of the traps had a medium-sized White River crayfish.

I don’t believe this species could survive the marsh drying out, so this individual probably was a recent immigrant from the nearby stream.

Friday was the big day, however. The first three traps I checked were empty, but in the fourth I found these:

Five tiger salamanders.

Five tiger salamanders.

Prior to that moment, in two springs of trapping I had caught a grand total of one salamander. But that wasn’t all.

The final trap held two more.

The final trap held two more.

Most of these appeared to be males, but at least one appeared to be a female (proportionately shorter tail, with less tail fin, and much less swelling around the genital area). Furthermore, none of them had spot patterns matching the one I caught last year. With predatory insects diminished, this would seem to be a promising year for tadpole survival. A final observation as I released them was that they swim by folding their limbs against their bodies and propelling themselves entirely with their tails. This is interesting, given that they move about their terrestrial tunnels all the rest of the year with their legs.

Why this sudden success? Looking back, I suspect that in previous years I may have put the traps out too late, and the salamanders were done and gone. This year I got the traps out within days of the last ice melting away.

The Marsh Returns

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh went dry last July, and it wasn’t until the middle of winter that it began to show surface water again. Gradually the water level, generally capped by ice, rose thanks to some heavy midwinter rains. Now, at last, the marsh is full again, and the ice has thawed.

The marsh on March 28. Smoke from the prairie burn is visible beyond the marsh.

The marsh on March 28. Smoke from the prairie burn is visible beyond the marsh.

The ducks and geese showed their approval by returning, and the first significant news was the appearance of some green-winged teals. I had not observed this species on the preserve in my previous 5 years there.

These two male green-winged teals accompanied a female.

These two male green-winged teals accompanied a female.

The prairie fire burned off the old willow branch that tempted a pair of Canada geese into an ill-fated nesting attempt last year.

The coyotes won’t have the same good fortune this year.

The coyotes won’t have the same good fortune this year.

Meanwhile, another goose pair is nesting at Mayslake’s other marsh, at the edge of the parking lot.

Only a dense strip of cattails is between the nest, which the geese built on top of a muskrat house, and the shore.

Only a dense strip of cattails is between the nest, which the geese built on top of a muskrat house, and the shore.

The coyotes will have a harder time reaching the incubating goose without giving a warning.

Still Winter at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

The calendar claims that spring has arrived, but it’s still winter at Mayslake. A while back I mentioned my 6 seasons framework for northeast Illinois. The first of March brings the start of our sixth season, Late Winter. I once held too rigidly to the idea that Late Winter ends in mid-April, but especially after last year I feel the need to modify the framework and acknowledge that this season is variable in length. I have an idea of how to mark the end of Late Winter, which I will share later. For now, it is shaping up to be a relatively late spring. Consider the lake ice at Mayslake Forest Preserve. This year the ice was thick enough to support people, though few took advantage of the opportunity.

Forest Preserve District rangers placed these fish structures out on the Mays’ Lake ice early in March.

Forest Preserve District rangers placed these fish structures out on the Mays’ Lake ice early in March.

In my previous 4 springs at Mayslake, the latest there was ice on the lakes was March 18. This year it has been slow to depart.

Mays’ Lake was almost entirely ice covered on March 13.

Mays’ Lake was almost entirely ice covered on March 13.

By March 19 the fish structures had sunk, but the lake still was largely in ice. The previous late date for lake ice in my 5 years at Mayslake was March 18. The ice still was there through yesterday (the 21st).

By March 19 the fish structures had sunk, but the lake still was largely in ice. The previous late date for lake ice in my 5 years at Mayslake was March 18. The ice still was there through yesterday (the 21st).

Meanwhile the stream corridor marsh, though open and frozen in turns, has filled to capacity and beyond.

The marsh on March 6.

The marsh on March 6.

Snows have allowed the continued opportunity for tracking.

A mink has been passing through the preserve on a weekly basis.

A mink has been passing through the preserve on a weekly basis.

A pair of coyotes has been a more regular presence on the preserve as well, as have red-tailed hawks. I am thinking I should soon conduct a search for a new den and a new nest, respectively. It has become clear, though, that if the great horned owls are nesting this year, they are off the preserve to the south.

Mayslake Update

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve has been quiet, and for the most part remains in winter mode. Large numbers of American tree sparrows still are present, though they are wandering into an expanded portion of the preserve. For instance, one day in late January they shifted to the off leash dog area and, joined by some juncos, a couple song sparrows and a white-throated sparrow, fed on weed seeds.

Here is one tiny portion of the flock that contained more than 100 tree sparrows. One of the song sparrows is in the center.

Here is one tiny portion of the flock that contained more than 100 tree sparrows. One of the song sparrows is in the center.

In another part of the flock the tree sparrows are joined by a few juncos.

In another part of the flock the tree sparrows are joined by a few juncos.

At long last the stream corridor marsh has begun to refill.

A tiny, shallow pool had gathered by January 29.

A tiny, shallow pool had gathered by January 29.

That initial pool was perhaps 30 feet across.

That initial pool was perhaps 30 feet across.

A front brought heavy rain, then cold that froze the collected waters.

Here is the marsh two days later.

Here is the marsh two days later.

We continue to get periods of rain, and the river bulrushes have begun to collapse.

By the end of last week, perhaps 80% of the marsh had water in it again.

By the end of last week, perhaps 80% of the marsh had water in it again.

With the ground frozen, much of the rain is running off, but some is collecting in depressions like the marsh. We can hope for the rain to continue and perhaps avoid a repeat of last year’s drought.

In the meantime, skunk tracks have begun to appear, one of the early signs that spring is coming.

A Little Water

by Carl Strang

For months now I have included a walk into the center of the stream corridor marsh at Mayslake Forest Preserve in my weekly rounds. When would water return? As I have documented this past year, the drought dried up the marsh, with the last surface water vanishing in mid-July.

The last puddle was here.

The last puddle was here.

The open mud quickly filled with a tall dense growth of an opportunistic plant, the river bulrush.

The bulrush transpired enough water that the marsh remained dry through the autumn.

The bulrush transpired enough water that the marsh remained dry through the autumn.

A recent all-day rain finally brought a little water into the marsh, as I discovered last week.

It is perhaps 3 inches maximum depth, and most has frozen.

It is perhaps 3 inches maximum depth, and most has frozen.

The area is at most 20-30 yards across.

The area is at most 20-30 yards across.

Not much yet, but it’s a start. I’m hoping to see the marsh full by spring, and will be interested in following its repopulation.

Meanwhile, Back at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

Lately I have been reporting mainly on singing insect researches I have been conducting on vacation time in Indiana and Illinois. When working, though, I have continued my practice of lunchtime preserve monitoring at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The stream corridor marsh still has no standing water.

Dense grasses and river bulrushes have been transpiring all the recent rainfall.

One of the zoned vegetation rings is dominated by old witch grass, which last year was present only in a few small patches.

I have found new species there to add to my preserve lists, all the same.

Purple false foxglove plants have appeared at both the north and south edges of the marsh.

Another addition is Boltonia, the false aster.

Scattered in the dense, coarse, river bulrushes are differential grasshoppers, a relatively large species that likes wet places.

The olive-green color and black herringbone pattern on the femur are distinctive.

Up at the former friary site, the soil now is safely held together by a mix of weeds and fast-growing prairie plants.

The site on August 10

This area has its common grasshopper as well.

These appear to be all red-legged grasshoppers, a smaller and relatively weedy insect species.

I’ll be back to reporting on Mayslake more regularly soon.

National Lakeshore Wetlands

by Carl Strang

After catching the melodious ground cricket I drove to Pinhook Bog, a part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that is open to the public only on rare occasions. I hoped to find stripe-faced meadow katydids, but the bog’s public access boardwalk was bordered by little in the way of grasses and sedges. I was gratified, however, by the presence of sphagnum ground crickets.

These were the first I have found in Indiana. I have seen them only at Volo Bog in Illinois.

After lunch I returned to the place where Gideon, Nathan and I caught the marsh coneheads in early August. Gideon had relayed the news that some of the meadow katydids Nathan also had caught there were dusky-faced, one of the conservative species I had yet to find. The lead paid off.

The legs were totally green, unlike those of the familiar black-legged meadow katydid.

I caught a couple individuals to hold for close-ups.

The head of the dusky-faced meadow katydid is amber colored, with fine dots and lines of red-brown.

While wading the tall grasses and sedges I also spotted a different large meadow katydid with green legs and a beautiful yellow-green face.

Unfortunately I only saw the one, and the auto-focus on the camera frustrated my attempts at a clear photo before she flew away. Though blurred, the image provided enough information for identification.

This was another species on my conservative wetland singing insects want list: the delicate meadow katydid. So, what was so special about this place?

View of the edge of the portion of the Great Marsh under discussion.

For one thing, invasive Phragmites was absent, and cattails were limited to a few scattered plants. Grasses and sedges were the dominant plants. Black-legged meadow katydids were very few, and limited to the dry-soil edges of the wetland. The plants and katydids were zoned. Just inland from the water and mud-flat edge was a zone of shorter, finer grasses in which the only singing insects I saw were abundant slender meadow katydids. Then came taller grasses of intermediate coarseness, where the dusky-faced and delicate meadow katydids were, along with a few marsh coneheads.

Female marsh conehead

The soil became progressively less water saturated as the vegetation rings went outward. Next came a zone of very coarse sedges. The only species I saw in there was, surprisingly, a long-tailed meadow katydid (a tiny species dwarfed by the big triangular sedge stems).  Interspersed here were patches of taller grasses which contained more dusky-faced meadow katydids. This area gave me a strong image of good marsh habitat to carry as I continue to search for these insects in other places.

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