Recent Travels: Places

by Carl Strang

I have fallen behind on blog posts. The season is heating up, and I have kept busy doing various surveys in various places. Today’s start on catching up will focus on some scenes and miscellaneous photos taken along the way.

The Marquette Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore passes beautiful marsh and sand savanna habitats.

The Marquette Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore passes beautiful marsh and sand savanna habitats.

I found northern wood crickets singing along the trail. They bury themselves in leaf litter like this.

I found northern wood crickets singing along the trail. They bury themselves in leaf litter like this.

Another example of a wood cricket song site. I tried to get a look at one, but they choose deeply stacked litter areas with plenty of hidey holes and escape routes.

Another example of a wood cricket song site. I tried to get a look at one, but they choose deeply stacked litter areas with plenty of hidey holes and escape routes.

Painted turtles wandered the savanna seeking good places to lay their eggs.

Painted turtles wandered the savanna seeking good places to lay their eggs.

Another good sand area is Illinois Beach State Park. Here a trail goes through the zone behind the fore dunes.

Another good sand area is Illinois Beach State Park. Here a trail goes through the zone behind the fore dunes.

Farther back from the edge of Lake Michigan, black oak savanna lines the trail.

Farther back from the edge of Lake Michigan, black oak savanna lines the trail.

Though my main interest was singing insects, there were many four-spotted skimmers to enjoy at IBSP.

Though my main interest was singing insects, there were many four-spotted skimmers to enjoy at IBSP.

I also have spent some time in Kendall County. This plains clubtail was at Hoover Forest Preserve.

I also have spent some time in Kendall County. This plains clubtail was at Hoover Forest Preserve.

This year’s Indiana Academy of Sciences bioblitz was at Goose Pond in southern Indiana. I stopped on the way down for a walk at Turkey Run State Park. Ravines there provide many scenes like this.

This year’s Indiana Academy of Sciences bioblitz was at Goose Pond in southern Indiana. I stopped on the way down for a walk at Turkey Run State Park. Ravines there provide many scenes like this.

I didn’t end up taking any scenery shots at Goose Pond. As I was setting up the UV light, I found this mama spider crossing the road, her back covered with babies. All their eyes glittered like jewels in the headlamp.

I didn’t end up taking any scenery shots at Goose Pond. As I was setting up the UV light, I found this mama spider crossing the road, her back covered with babies. All their eyes glittered like jewels in the headlamp.

SJF March Summary

by Carl Strang

Weather in March at St. James Farm Forest Preserve was variable, but on the whole was relatively warm with frequent rainy periods. At the beginning of the month there was a little lingering snow on the ground, and ponds were frozen, but all of this quickly was gone.

I used my old GPS unit to map my survey routes and to locate positions of previously discovered cavity trees that might harbor a great horned owl nest. One of these indeed proved to hold the nest, and the female still was present on March 25, late enough to indicate that hatched young were being brooded. Two attempts to find displaying woodcocks were unsuccessful, but during the first evening visit on March 17 I heard what I thought was a short call by a barred owl in the eastern portion of the preserve. Scott Meister reported hearing the species in the forest one evening the following week. No pileated woodpecker observations in March, but recent observations in preserves to the north along the West Branch suggest that the bird or birds seen here earlier may be wandering widely. Canada geese were down to small groups and pairs early in the month. By March 31 a nest was under incubation on the small island in the pond below the former house site.

Canada goose incubating on March 31.

Canada goose incubating on March 31.

Many killdeers were displaying in the restoration project area around the stream early in the month, but these were down to just a few individuals by month’s end. Bird activity generally increased as the season progressed, with the first cowbirds arriving March 8, a pair of hooded mergansers and 2 pairs of wood ducks present in the pond in the NW corner of the preserve for much of the month, sandhill crane flocks frequently passing overhead, a northern flicker and the first golden-crowned kinglets appearing on March 14, tree swallows on March 25, and two pairs of green-winged teals in the restored stream on March 26.

This hooded merganser pair may nest in one of the wood duck boxes at the northwest pond.

This hooded merganser pair may nest in one of the wood duck boxes at the northwest pond.

A shed antler found on March 17 in the forest near Winfield Road matched the buck photographed in the same area on November 1.

Someone found an old deer skull and propped it against a trailside tree.

Someone found an old deer skull and propped it against a trailside tree.

The first snake observed on the preserve was a midland brown snake on March 29. That same day several painted turtles were sunning in the eastern pond.

Western chorus frogs began singing on March 11, and ultimately displayed in three locations. The largest number were in the fringes of the eastern pond, and many also were in two temporary ponds in the meadow north of the entrance drive. Numbers of bullfrogs, large and small, had emerged by March 21.

One of the March 21 bullfrogs.

One of the March 21 bullfrogs.

The first butterfly of the year was a mourning cloak observed on March 21. A cabbage white appeared on March 29. The former overwinters in the adult form, the latter as a pupa. Several small brown moths were active on the forest floor on March 31. One was photographed and appears to be a tortricid, close to several similar species of Pelochrista or perhaps Eucosma.

A possible Pelochrista

A possible Pelochrista

Silver maples were blooming by March 11, and spring beauties by March 31.

Spring beauties were the first native herbaceous wildflowers to bloom at St. James Farm in 2016.

Spring beauties were the first native herbaceous wildflowers to bloom at St. James Farm in 2016.

Restoration clearing of the forest was completed by mid-March, and a new set of stakes presumably marking the new trail route was placed in the final week.

False Map Turtle

by Carl Strang

The addition of new species to a site list always is welcome in preserve monitoring. When that organism belongs to a group that is not well represented, the occasion is even more noteworthy. The reptile list for Mayslake Forest Preserve was very short, at two snakes and two turtles, before last week. Therefore I felt some delight when I spotted an unusual profile among the turtles basking in the spring sun at May’s Lake.

It was backlit, but the little knobs on the center of the shell distinguished it from the midland painted turtles that are the usual visual fare.

Fortunately I could see enough to identify the new turtle.

Those knobs, the brown back, and the relatively small head make this a false map turtle.

Personally this was a special treat, as I have loved turtles from childhood on. I suspect that there are more reptiles (though probably not more amphibians) to be found on the preserve, but with the tiger salamander and the false map turtle both added last week, the picture is improving.

What Could Be Cuter?

by Carl Strang

Birds were my first serious natural history study as a 7-year-old, but reptiles and amphibians always fascinated. Catching turtles was just a part of growing up within a block of Lake Maxinkuckee. We’d keep some for a while, then let them go. The best were the babies, the hatchlings or tiny ones, especially the little painted turtles, stinkpots and eastern spiny softshells. All this came back a few days ago when Janneke placed this little guy on my desk.

This painted turtle is roughly the diameter of a quarter.

He had been picked up some distance from the nearest water, a hatchling trying to find his way. I was happy to oblige, in exchange for a few portraits.

Janneke Fowers, Mayslake Forest Preserve’s heritage interpreter who held the turtle for the photos, remarked at the strength of the tiny testudinate.

The easiest way to determine the baby’s species was to look at the underside.

The simple dark patch against the yellow plastron reveals that this is a midland painted turtle.

We admired him, then I took him down to the edge of Trinity Lake to begin his aquatic career.

Turtles Emerge

by Carl Strang

After the ice melts, the first warmer sunny spring days bring out the turtles. They emerge from the frigid water to soak in the solar rays and gear up their metabolism for the coming season. This is true even for snapping turtles.

Here an enormous snapper, one of the two turtle species I have found to date at Mayslake Forest Preserve, has climbed to the top of one of the large muskrat lodges in the parking lot marsh. They may be our most abundant turtles in northeast Illinois, but most of the time they stay out of sight in the murky depths. Often they emerge to bask in early spring, however. The other muskrat lodge in that marsh is occupied by a Canada goose nest, as I shared earlier. That platform also serves as a sunning spot for several individuals of Mayslake’s other turtle species, the midland painted turtle.

These turtles are extremely aquatic, emerging only to lay eggs or to disperse. That leaves me puzzled as to why this large painted turtle was far from water in one of Mayslake’s parking lots a couple of weeks ago.

I suspect human interference, but my knowledge of turtles is limited enough that I hold the question open. It seems too early for egg laying, but perhaps hibernation caught this one with a clutch undeposited.

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