Early Season Survey: South

by Carl Strang

On Wednesday of last week I drove south to seek early season singing insects in some Illinois counties.

My first stop was Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County.

My first stop was Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County.

The forest was empty of northern wood crickets, but there were several groups of an early season grasshopper.

They proved to be greenlegged grasshoppers. Though not in either singing grasshopper subfamily, they were beautifully colored and worth a little effort to photograph and identify. This is a mature male; the crinkly little wings are full sized for the species.

They proved to be greenlegged grasshoppers. Though not in either singing grasshopper subfamily, they were beautifully colored and worth a little effort to photograph and identify. This is a mature male; the crinkly little wings are full sized for the species.

The preserve’s prairie gave up county records for spring field cricket and greenstriped grasshopper.

The preserve’s prairie gave up county records for spring field cricket and greenstriped grasshopper.

I went on through Will County, adding a couple site records at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and also recording one of several puzzling ground crickets that sounded like striped ground crickets, and were in the appropriate habitat for the species, but were a month or more too early. I also checked the forest at Kankakee River State Park, but again failed to find any northern wood crickets.

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Another River Heard From

by Carl Strang

In a recent post I shared the northward progress of jumping bush crickets in DuPage County. I thought I was done with them for the season, but their numbers seemed to increase over the past couple of weeks, and I was toying with making another check. The opportunity came on Friday. After work I drove up into Lake County to pick up my race packet for a half-marathon I was running on Saturday. On the way back I drove down along the Des Plaines River in Lake and Cook Counties, windows open on a reasonably warm evening. The result was a new north location for the species, just south of the split between Milwaukee Avenue and River Road in Cook County.

Regional species map for the jumping bush cricket. Black dots indicate counties where they have been found to occur so far. The red stars indicate the farthest north locations for Kendall, DuPage and Cook Counties, the last decidedly north of the others.

Regional species map for the jumping bush cricket. Black dots indicate counties where they have been found to occur so far. The red stars indicate the farthest north locations for Kendall, DuPage and Cook Counties, the last decidedly north of the others.

The pattern seems clear. Of the four major north-south rivers that provide the best travel corridors for jumping bush crickets, they have gone farthest north along the Des Plaines River, the easternmost. Next comes Salt Creek, which flows into the Des Plaines at the Brookfield Zoo. Most of DuPage County is drained by the two branches of the DuPage River, whose crickets are yet a little farther south. My earlier check of the Fox River, just west of DuPage, turned up no jumping bush crickets, but I started my search at North Aurora. Might they be a little farther south than that? Last night I checked that possibility, and found them abundant at Kendall County’s Richard Young Forest Preserve. Upstream (north) from there I found a lot of good looking but empty habitat, and then a pocket of the crickets just north of the town of Oswego, still in Kendall County (the lowest star on the map). They are within 2 miles of the Kane County border, but apparently haven’t reached that county yet. So, the northward advance of jumping bush crickets is marked by a line extending southwest from the northernmost red star in the map. It seems likely that they have spread up into northeast Illinois from Indiana, by way of the Kankakee River and perhaps by a broader flow through towns and preserves closer to Lake Michigan.

Wetland Concerns

by Carl Strang

A continuing theme in my regional survey of singing insects is the paucity of wetland species. The only one that is present in good numbers in many wetlands is the black-legged meadow katydid. Other species common in wetlands are habitat generalists such as the Carolina ground cricket and short-winged meadow katydid, which don’t truly count as wetland insects. One clear cause of this problem is the loss of high quality habitat to four invasive plant species (purple loosestrife, reed canary grass, common reed, and cattails). All four are capable of completely taking over a wetland, and examples of this can be found for all four. Small numbers of the singing insects mentioned above can be found in such places, but not the other wetland insect species.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

On the other hand, there are some good wetlands out there. Many are small, and this along with their isolation may limit them.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

Still, I have not given up hope. I found a third good population of mole crickets this year, in a swale at Miller Woods.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

I also found melodious ground crickets at two new sites in Berrien County, Michigan. Though I did not find dusky-faced or delicate meadow katydids at the Indiana Dunes’ Great Marsh this year, I felt curiously encouraged by this.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Maybe the populations of many wetland species took a hit in last year’s drought, and were thinly dispersed in the expanded wet areas of 2013. This is, after all, the first year in which I have surveyed many of these sites. If they need a couple years to recover from the drought, maybe I will find the missing species in the future. Still, how to account for the lack of nimble meadow katydids? This species I have yet to find, anywhere. In the heart of the singing insect season I took my sea kayak into an area where they historically were known.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

So the bottom line is a disappointing season for wetland species, with a few positive points and hope in the possibility that populations are at a low point from which they will recover.

Kendall County Singing Insects

by Carl Strang

On Friday I took a vacation day to begin surveying singing insects in Kendall County, Illinois, just southeast of my home county of DuPage. It was a good, productive day, yielding a total species count of 19.  There are some high quality wet to mesic forests and restored prairies in the four sites I visited.

The best quality forest was in Richard Young Forest Preserve. There were few invasive plants in this sugar maple forest, which was cut by a nice stream or two and had a beautiful little kame named “Hepatica Hill.”

The best quality forest was in Richard Young Forest Preserve. There were few invasive plants in this sugar maple forest, which was cut by a nice stream or two and had a beautiful little kame named “Hepatica Hill.”

Harris and Hoover Forest Preserves show promise for future visits, though I did not pick up many species there on this trip. The most extensive area was Silver Springs Fish and Wildlife Area (formerly Silver Springs State Park).

Silver Springs has good bottomland forest along the Fox River, and a wide range of open lands. This meadow had many prairie grasses mixed in.

Silver Springs has good bottomland forest along the Fox River, and a wide range of open lands. This meadow had many prairie grasses mixed in.

This restored prairie was one of my favorite locations, yielding several singing insect species.

This restored prairie was one of my favorite locations, yielding several singing insect species.

I did not find much in the way of marshland, and no dry oak woodlands or savannas. I will need to see if Kendall County has good examples of such habitats. As for singing insects, highlights included good numbers of broad-winged bush katydids and a couple dog day cicadas, two of the species I am following for southern range boundaries. The dominant singer was the lyric cicada, with loud choruses providing a continuous background through the day.

This gladiator meadow katydid gave me a photo opportunity. Though the reflections from the flash reduce the quality of this as an image, they do a nice job of highlighting the relatively straight rear boundary of the pronotum, helpful in distinguishing this species from the common meadow katydid.

This gladiator meadow katydid gave me a photo opportunity. Though the reflections from the flash reduce the quality of this as an image, they do a nice job of highlighting the relatively straight rear boundary of the pronotum, helpful in distinguishing this species from the common meadow katydid.

The one species that I heard for the first time this year was the Nebraska conehead.

Many Nebraska coneheads were singing along River Road in the north part of Silver Springs and in residential properties adjacent to it. This one agreeably posed.

Many Nebraska coneheads were singing along River Road in the north part of Silver Springs and in residential properties adjacent to it. This one agreeably posed.

I hope to get back to Kendall County at least one more time this year.

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