Even More Melodious

by Carl Strang

Relatively little has been published about melodious ground crickets (Eunemobius melodius). These tiny insects with their beautiful trilling songs first revealed themselves to me at Indiana Dunes State Park in 2012.

Melodious ground cricket

They were abundant in an open, low wet forest associated with the shrub swamp that occupies a central position within that park. The ground there has relatively little vegetation beneath the trees, with abundant rotting logs on the ground, mosses, ferns, and some other vascular plants, but much ground with nothing but wet leaf litter. On another day, I heard a few melodious ground crickets in a similar habitat at Warren Woods in Berrien County, Michigan, and in a shrub swamp in Warren Dunes State Park, also in Berrien. There the matter rested until I heard a single individual in a bottomland forest in Tippecanoe River State Park, Pulaski County, Indiana, late last year. That observation planted an idea: perhaps this species is more abundant than I realized. Flood plain forests, resembling that original site at Indiana Dunes State Park, can be found along all the major rivers in the Chicago Region. Could melodious ground crickets be found in all those places? That set the stage for one of this year’s goals.

I first tested the idea on August 11 at the Momence Wetlands, a state-owned property in Kankakee County, Illinois. As I walked into this Kankakee River floodplain forest, I was struck by its similarity to other places where I have found melodious ground crickets, and before long I began to hear them singing. As I have come to expect, they were on the ground, in or close to rotting logs. I made sound recordings to analyze for confirmation, but the contrast between their songs and those of Say’s trigs (Anaxipha exigua), which were singing nearby up in tall herbaceous vegetation, made the identification clear in my mind before the analysis later confirmed it. According to the comprehensive database used to build the species’ maps for the Singing Insects of North America website, this was the first time the melodious ground cricket was documented in Illinois.

That same day I found them on both sides of that same river in Indiana, adding Lake and Newton County records. With that success in hand, I put some time into searching for melodious ground crickets in other counties and river systems. So far, I have found them along the Kankakee River in Starke and LaPorte Counties, and the Tippecanoe River in Fulton and Marshall Counties, all in Indiana. The significance of this is that the Kankakee River flows west to co-form the Illinois River and flow into the Mississippi. The Tippecanoe joins the Wabash River, flowing south to the Ohio River. Though the Yellow River (a tributary of the Kankakee) and Tippecanoe both cross through Marshall County, their watersheds are well separated by miles of dry moraines and sandy areas. The crickets were absent from bottomland areas that recently had flooded, but rotting logs in slightly more elevated portions consistently held singing crickets.

In Illinois, I found melodious ground crickets in Will County around the confluence of the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers, and upstream from there along the Des Plaines in my home county of DuPage. That is as far as I will go with this pursuit as the season winds down, but I expect to add more counties to the list next year. I conclude that at least in this limited but widespread habitat type, the melodious ground cricket can be sought throughout the southern portion of the Chicago region. Here is the map to date:

Map showing counties where I have found melodious ground crickets in the Chicago region, updated with 2017 observations.

I close this post with a couple sound recordings, both made at the Des Plaines Riverway Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois, on September 6. The first, of a melodious ground cricket:

The second recording is the song of a Say’s trig:

Ground crickets, as the name suggests, sing from the ground (or, in the melodious ground cricket, sometimes from within a rotting log). Trigs sing from perches up in the vegetation. In this pair of recordings, the statistics quantify the differences you should be able to hear. The melodious ground cricket had a lower-pitched song, at 5.11 kHz, and a slower pulse rate, at 22/second. The Say’s trig’s corresponding numbers are 6.10 kHz and 31/second. The temperatures near the two singers bring out the contrast even more, the elevated trig at 17.7C and the ground cricket at 19C (i.e., if the trig had been singing at the ground cricket’s temperature, one would expect the dominant frequency and the pulse rate both to be even higher). The two species, as I mentioned above, often occur close to one another, making this difference worth noting.

 

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Common Goldeneye Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s feature species is chosen in celebration of my seeing its close cousin, the Barrow’s goldeneye, as accounted recently.

Goldeneye, Common

Common goldeneyes, black and white males with brown headed females

Common goldeneyes, black and white males with brown headed females

Fairly common migrant and winter resident at Lake Maxinkuckee in northern Indiana, staying as long as open water remained, and appearing as open water appeared in spring. Although they fed in the lake (these ducks dive for food), they also flew to the Tippecanoe River to forage. When only holes remained in the center of the lake ice, the river was their sole food source. Crayfish the principal food taken from the river (gut contents of hunted birds). Usually seen in small groups of 2-7, although larger flocks of >20 occasionally were spotted. Called “whistlers” by hunters because of the distinctive whistling of their wings in flight. Occasional small flock seen at Kokechik Bay, western Alaska, in spring. Courtship display of males includes extreme head throwback, so that bill points up and the back of the extended neck is against the duck’s back.

Observed on the Rock River in early spring 1986.

23JA88. Pair in west branch of the DuPage River at McDowell Forest Preserve.

21FE99. 14, mostly females, and one incompletely molted-in male, actively diving in the Fox River just south of downtown St. Charles, IL.

21MR05. On Lake Maxinkuckee, two male hooded mergansers in separate small flocks of goldeneyes. In one of the flocks, courtship displays began, and the merganser displayed as well, fanning his crest open to the fullest extent. No female mergansers in those groups.

22FE09. A number of goldeneyes of both genders on the Fox River at the park downstream from Batavia’s Island Park. The current is very swift, and carrying a lot of small ice pieces. The ducks are diving repeatedly, and at some point when the current has carried them downstream a distance they fly back up and begin again. Their diving within the fairly dense ice pieces is an impressive sight.

12FE13. A number of goldeneyes at Widewaters on the Des Plaines River at Channahon, and at the rookery at Channahon and at Lake Renwick, evidently wintering there.

Osprey Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

This dossier centers on a couple days from my kayak circumnavigation of Isle Royale, when weather compelled a 2-day stay at Hay Bay. It proved to be a highlight of the trip, and I learned most of what I know from experience of moose and ospreys during that stop. Otherwise, my knowledge of ospreys consists of limited snapshots of observations.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

I saw ospreys regularly over the Tippecanoe River, in Indiana, in summer in my childhood and early teens, but then they declined. By 1970, ospreys had become rare enough that a sighting in fall at Hawk Lake was remarkable. Then we saw some at Assateague Island, Virginia, occasionally carrying a large fish in their talons or catching one from the water’s surface. They had large nests of sticks there and on buoys in the Eastern Shore area of Maryland.

Osprey nest on buoy, Chesapeake Bay

Osprey nest on buoy, Chesapeake Bay

4SE88. Osprey flying south along the Fox River between North Aurora and Batavia, Illinois, at Red Oak Nature Center.

18AU96. Hay Bay, Isle Royale National Park. At around 12:30 an osprey appeared, coursing over the bay at 30-50 feet of altitude. After about 5 minutes it dove from more than 30 feet and plunged into the water, catching a good-sized, silvery looking fish (appeared to be about as long as the bird’s wing width). With much effort the bird flew up to the ridgetop across the bay. Between 3 and 3:30, two ospreys hunted over the bay, one started a dive but aborted, one after the other drifted over toward the bay entrance. They returned around 4:00, one perching on a tree and calling with loud, high-pitched chirps. The other aborted several dives and completed one in the 10 minutes I watched, but caught nothing. By 5:00, water had greatly calmed in Hay Bay. An osprey with a fish landed in trees back from shore, opposite me. A few minutes later one flew over the bay while another called. At 5:30 an osprey flew over camp with a fish. By then it was clear that there were 3 individuals, one possible youngster calling while the other two hunted. One successful catch, a larger fish, was carried out of view. Those plunges are dramatic, the birds highly specialized. Try to talk politics with an osprey, it’ll just say, “What’s that got to do with catching fish with your feet?”

After catching a fish, the osprey turns it around head first for easier handling in flight.

After catching a fish, the osprey turns it around head first for easier handling in flight.

19AU96. Hay Bay. Ospreys were hunting by 7:30 a.m. Their ker-plooshing plunges are audible at some distance. I saw an osprey catch a good-sized fish. “Kibitzing” calls increased from a bird on shore, but then it flew out and I saw that it had a fish, too. Both flew toward the ridge across the bay, but carried their fish up and over it. Around 11 a.m. an osprey hunted the bay for a good 20 minutes, with few dive attempts. It hovered in place 2-3 seconds a couple of times. On the third complete plunge, it caught a fish and flew with it in the same direction that the two went earlier. Much calling by another, perched bird during the first half of that hunt. 2:00 decisions, decisions: do I watch the moose feeding or the osprey hunting? The osprey dove close enough to me that I could see how it holds its feet up by its head. A miss. They always shake water off in mid-air, a few wing beats after clearing the surface. 3:00 There are at least 4 osprey, all at the bay now. 5:00 An osprey caught a good-sized fish (half its length), and carried it in the same direction, followed by another, fishless bird. Ripples only, still, in the bay.

16AP00. Willowbrook. An osprey flew over, SW to NE, with a fish in its talons possibly caught in one of the ponds at the College of DuPage campus.

19AP01. Willowbrook. An osprey flew over with a large goldfish in its talons. I’m not sure what direction it was coming from, possibly north.

2009. Tri-County (JPP) State Park. Ospreys nested atop the very high utility pole at the boundary of this park and Pratts Wayne Woods Forest Preserve.

Osprey nest, James Pate Philip State Park

Osprey nest, James Pate Philip State Park

2009-12. In most springs an osprey has spent some time (most of a week at times) at Mayslake, perching on trees at the edges of the lakes and occasionally fishing.

Red-headed Woodpecker Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s species dossier features a bird which sometimes overwinters in northeast Illinois, but usually heads south. It is of special interest because it has become uncommon, mainly through loss of its savanna habitat. As always, the following account is limited to my own observations, with a starting paragraph written in the mid-1980’s followed by dated observations.

Woodpecker, Red-headed

Adult red-headed woodpecker

In my childhood I found this bird to be rare in my home town of Culver, Indiana. I saw my first one at church camp near Lafayette, Indiana, when I was nearly ten. I soon found that they were common at the woodlots near the Culver Fish Hatchery, where they nested in large, standing dead trees just beyond the forest boundary. This seemed to be a requirement for their residence: large standing, preferably barkless, dead trees in the open near woods. The Dutch elm disease appears to have been a boon for them. I found them rare in Pennsylvania a few years later, where such elms were fallen. Some red-headed woodpeckers remain in DuPage County, and they are abundant along the Tippecanoe River in Indiana. Their voice is similar to the red-bellied woodpecker’s. Usually they feed on tree trunks, occasionally on the ground. Insects are not the only summer food: I saw one eating ripe cherries in late spring at the Hort Park at Purdue. They are migratory, generally disappear November to April.

17AU86. Meacham Grove Forest Preserve, Illinois. A hoarsely squeaking youngster followed an adult and begged vigorously.

Red-headed woodpecker fledgling

18AP99. First of year observed, northern Illinois.

JE99. Horsethief Canyon, central Kansas. Red-headed woodpeckers hunted for insects from short roadside posts in a park. They flew to the ground and plants nearby like eastern bluebirds, but also did some mid-air sallying.

1MY00. A migrating red-headed woodpecker stopped by Willowbrook, in trees along the stream.

22MY00. A red-headed woodpecker observed on a dead oak in the middle of a savannah at the Morton Arboretum. Its trill call is flatter in tone, not rising or falling like the red-bellied’s.

29SE01. A young bird was in a tall tree near the Joy Path, Morton Arboretum. In the same tree were a flicker and a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

3NO01. I saw an individual (adult) in the flooded dead trees of Herrick Lake Forest Preserve’s south marsh.

25MY02. Two adults were among the dead trees at Meacham Grove east.

1FE04. I spotted an overwintering adult in the Poverty Savanna at Waterfall Glen. It was shy, stayed on the opposite side of the tree when I tried to photograph it.

15FE04. A red-headed woodpecker is established in Mom and Dad’s neighborhood in Culver. It calls throughout the day, hangs out especially on large dead top branches of some of the neighbors’ maples. Once, one took a corn kernel from Dad’s feeder. The usual call resembles a red-bellied’s, but the pitch is higher and with significantly less burr, sometimes sounding almost like a clear note.

Nest site for red-headed woodpeckers, Culver, Indiana

29DE10. Red-headed woodpeckers have been in the Culver neighborhood each summer in recent years. Today, one is in Mom’s and Dad’s yard. I also see them frequently along the rural roads, where there are wood lots, trees around farm homes, and wooden telephone poles.

3SE11. In Mom and Dad’s Culver neighborhood, a pileated woodpecker passed through. The local red-headeds clearly were disturbed, and while checking them I saw that they had at least one fledgling.

Cedar Waxwing Dossier

by Carl Strang

One delightful bird which can be seen in northeast Illinois throughout the year is the cedar waxwing. Today I share my dossier for the species, consisting entirely of my own observations. Though references are valuable it also is important, I think, to keep track of one’s own experiences with a species.

Cedar waxwings are smaller than robins but larger than sparrows, crested, soft brown and yellow in color with bright yellow follow-me bands on the tail tips.

Waxwing, Cedar

My principal childhood memory is of waxwings that nested around brushy thickets and willow clumps along the Tippecanoe River near Monterey, IN. Adults hunted insects in flycatcher fashion from bare twigs over the river. In DuPage County they are evident in wandering flocks through all parts of the year except the breeding season. They travel in flocks, staying one to many days in an area and feeding on berries in fall and winter. This also occurred in Cumberland County, PA. Mountain-ash berries were a favorite food in both places. Also consumed are dogwood, and buckthorn berries. Flock cohesion is aided by the bright-yellow tips of the tail feathers, and by the unique high-pitched thin contact call. First winter birds have breasts striped longitudinally with cream and the soft brown adults’ breast color. At the Willowbrook Wildlife Center clinic, waxwings frequently came in with broken wings and other injuries suffered in collisions with windows. In the cages they showed an open-mouthed threat display, possibly made more effective by the black facial markings. In mid-September at Herrick Lake, a single waxwing perched in an old-field treetop gave a single loud note and flew away into thicker trees. Several seconds later a sharp-shinned hawk flew by the waxwing’s original perch, heading in the same direction. (This first paragraph, written from memory, established the dossier in the early 1980’s. Subsequent additions begin with date codes.)

When not feeding, cedar waxwings typically perch high in trees.

30OC86. Willowbrook Back 40. Waxwings feeding heavily from honeysuckle (berries and leaves still on bushes).

16OC87. First autumn appearance of a flock at Willowbrook Back 40.

13JA88. Lots of waxwings in Back 40.

27OC88. Feeding on honeysuckle berries, Willowbrook Back 40.

13DE88. Waxwings abundant in Back 40, stuffing down rose hips.

3SE89. Mixed young and old waxwings eating honeysuckle berries, Island Park, Geneva.

JA99. Waxwing flocks frequently at Willowbrook. Eating, among other things, Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus) berries.

11MR99. Last of winter waxwings noted. Not seen again at Willowbrook until 25MY. Then after 1JE another gap until 12&20JL. Became a frequent visitor again in early August.

These waxwings are drinking meltwater where snow is being warmed on a roof at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Much energy is saved by drinking, even if the water is cold, instead of eating snow.

7JA00. Waxwing eating buckthorn berries.

31JA00. Waxwing, again at Willowbrook, again eating buckthorn berries.

8FE00. Waxwings eating buckthorn berries at Willowbrook.

17FE00. Several waxwings on the ground eating snow (buckthorn berries available on bushes nearby).

19MY01. Many flocking waxwings spread out over a large area at the Arboretum, mainly in treetops in forest as well as more open areas.

12MR06. Cedar waxwings delicately picking anthers from silver maple flowers in the yard. [Note: studies have shown that waxwings use protein from pollen to render certain berries more digestible]

13JE06. Tri-County State Park. Cedar waxwing working on a nest in the topmost leaf cluster in a 25-30-foot box elder within 30 yards of Brewster Creek. Weaving, using long slender strands, at least some of which are stripped from grape vines. Spending considerable time with each strand. Mate perched in same cluster of trees. Bird completely concealed when weaving.

This is the tree where waxwings built a nest at (then) Tri-County State Park in 2006.

16JE06. The nest looks complete, a significant lump in the first branching of twigs about a foot from the tip.

22MY08. Fullersburg. An interesting display between 2 cedar waxwings, appears highly stereotyped. They were perched side by side well up in a tree in SW Butler Woods. They took turns quickly hopping away from the other bird a few inches, and returning, at which point the two birds touched or nearly touched beaks, which were angled up. Each of these cycles (or half-cycles, for each bird) took 1-2 seconds, and there were perhaps 20 reps that I observed (i.e. at least 10 per bird). At first they faced the same way, at some point one turned to face the other way and they continued. Eventually one moved to a different twig, but still was close. [Note: this is called the Side-hop display in the Stokes bird behavior guide, and is part of courtship].

6JL09 Mayslake. 14 cedar waxwings foraging like swallows out over May’s Lake. (This was repeated over several days.)

1JA10. Hidden Lake. Waxwings and robins feeding on buckthorn berries.

Mink Dossier

by Carl Strang

 

Last weekend I paid a visit to Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve. I was surprised to find mink tracks, representing at least 4 individuals, all over the preserve. In the three years my office was there I had seen tracks only once or twice per winter, with only one individual in each case. Today I thought I would share my entire dossier  on that species. Here’s a photo of the critter, then on to the dossier.

 

212-mink-1b

 

We saw them frequently in daytime when floating the Tippecanoe River in Indiana when I was a child. Usually they ran along the shore or appeared in drift snags. Occasionally one dove under the water. I first identified the tracks at Fullerton Forest Preserve in 1985. Five toes each foot, very round appearance in sand or mud, larger than one would expect for the size of the animal (paddle feet for swimming). Winter tracks in snow at McKee Marsh, Blackwell Forest Preserve, early 1986: nearly all in trot or lope patterns (actually a bound with offset feet). Dropped to straight bound once when passing through an area of deeper (6-8″) snow.

25MY86. One observed traveling through a small, cattail-choked waterway at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Moving, body seems to flow, even on dry land. It saw me, turned around, and after going back upstream 10 yards or so climbed back over the embankment that separated the smaller waterway from a larger marshy area.

28NO86. At Culver Fish Hatchery:

 

mink-track-drawing-1b

 

11JA87. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Sawmill Creek near mouth at Des Plaines River. Mink dug leopard frog up from somewhere beneath trunk of fallen tree resting on bank. Mink carried frog on a twisting path before digging hole in the 8″ snow and depositing the frog without filling hole. Frog not yet frozen, tracks very fresh. Tracks restricted to area around that tree, with many burrow-like holes entered. Mink has shelter there or else emerged from and entered river under tree roots.

21JE87. Tracks crossing muddy road at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Photos: in first picture, left track 1.125″ long x 1.25″ wide, right 1.375 long x 1.25 wide. Stride ~13″ in bound. In second picture, front? definitely smaller, hind? aligned more with previous set. If front’s supposed to be larger, animal turned right. In drawings, #1 1.125W x 1.25L; #2 1.25W x 1.125L; #3 1.25L x 1.125W; #4 1.25W x 1.0625L.

 

mink-track-drawing-2b


27JE87. I was picking chickweed in a rank patch at McKee Marsh at about 9am as a mink passed. It was so buried in the chickweed I thought it was a woodchuck, but it seemed to be shaking plants less and making less noise than I would expect, and moving faster. Caught glimpse of its hindquarters and tail. Had passed within 5 feet of me as I stood still. Was moving toward woods, away from marsh, ~40m from marsh.

16JA88. In shallow snow over ice of river, mink did much bounding in travel (mostly). In bound may lead with one side so that some tight “lopes” are actually bounds. Several photos to illustrate this, after fox trot photos. Photos of mink gallop. Sets 2 feet separate, and each set well spread out (bounds on the same ice were 16-18″ apart).

17JA88. See meadow vole entry.

23JA88. McDowell Forest Preserve. Mink trail wound in and out of fence row along edge of brushy/small tree area and grassy field, with some sorties into either but no more than 10m from boundary. Once went down burrow, once apparently slid on belly. Last photo on roll shows separate front and hind feet (otherwise mainly bounding with hind feet landing on fore). FF ~1.125 x 1.125, HF ~1.5 x 1.25W. Entered and exited several more holes. Eventually went into the river. These tracks were made early last night: some in water that later froze; also, I had noticed crystals had formed in tracks, when I tried to blow snow away. Backtracking: had climbed into low (3′) crotch of large willow, crossing to the other side before jumping down. A tangle of trails where a very small stream (6″ wide) flows into river. If the mink I had followed went no farther, its evening home range included ~0.25 mile of shoreline and inland up to 100m.

I picked up another trail consistent with age of first, and followed it back inland, through logs, in and out of holes, etc., until it led to where mink had pulled out of water, on other (N) side of parking lot. Toward end, at least, mink mostly led with left side, though it sometimes led with right.

13FE88. I spotted mink tracks from U.S. 31 between S.R. 110 and Rochester, IN, got pictures. Had tunnels and slides.

 

mink-hieroglyphics-b

 

15JA89. A mink at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve was dragging something, sometimes leaving only a thin mark atop the bounding set, sometimes a wider (3/4″) mark that was continuous between and over sets. The mark was on top of the tracks, therefore following them, but was on the right side while the hind feet were on the left, implying that the marks weren’t made by the tail. (See red fox 19DE89). Last month at McDowell, I found where a mink had apparently dragged something for a considerable distance, but this time the dragging was continuous and the heavy mark was more than an inch to the left of the bounding tracks. In both instances the animals were moving along the edge of a frozen lake, on the ice.

6JL90. At Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, the largest mink I’ve ever seen, moving from a perennial-old field area backed by forest into the new large marsh area.

5AU95. Red River, WI, near kayak put-in. Mink hunted along shore, on land, within 8 feet of water, moving downstream. Sniffed ground, looked into vegetation. Sometimes stopped, sometimes diagonal walked, sometimes bounded, covered 150 yards of shore before it caught a large crayfish and carried it inland. Chipmunks responded as they did to red fox at Arboretum.

8AU98. Red River, WI. Across from lunch area at first drop: beneath a group of river’s edge white cedars was an old stump with a 4″ hole. Nose of my boat touched a foot away from it, and a mink’s head appeared. I sat still and watched it for more than 3 minutes. It mostly sniffed, looked around, yawned a couple times, stepped its front legs out to sniff my boat, ducked back in a couple times.

30OC99. Dead mink, not dead too long, red blood still around mouth but no other sign of damage, on a mudflat near a stand of cattails at Fermilab. Internal injury, or self-biting during convulsions associated with illness?

21FE99. In the 3 days since the last snow, no mink tracks at McKee Marsh. Was the dead one at Fermi last fall the sign of a diseased, crashing local population?

14OC00. A mink seen at Fermilab, not far from the location of last year’s dead one. 80 yards from water, in upland old field.

31AU01. Algonquin Park, Ontario. A small one, probably an adult female, using the boardwalk of the Spruce Bog Trail, in the bog, to travel on. I was standing still, she did not notice me until 15 feet away, then turned around, went back a few steps, and got off the trail into the bog, disappearing quietly into the dense vegetation. When hunting, she sniffed frequently, and occasionally looked to the side.

20AU05. A mink and I startled one another in the early afternoon as I walked the pond in my dragonfly monitoring route at Songbird Slough. It made a brief loud squalling sound as it turned and ran away, a sound very similar to that made by a complaining juvenile raccoon.

4SE06. A mink visited my camp on the last night of my Georgian Bay sea kayak trip. I was able to get some photos.

 

214-mink-3b

 

14FE09. Fullersburg. Mink tracks are all over the preserve on the morning after a 1” fresh snow over bare ground. There appear to have been 4 individuals active last night: 2 traveling together between Sycamore Peninsula and the York Road bridge, one on and around Willow Island (on both sides of Salt Creek), and one in the west part of Butler Woods. This is in marked contrast to the rare observations of single individuals at Fullersburg over the past three years. Recovering from decimation by disease?

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