Mayslake Bugs

by Carl Strang

The warming weather has produced the first wave of insects at Mayslake Forest Preserve. These early-season adults overwintered in that form or in the stage just prior, or in some cases, migrated from the South.

The Carolina saddlebags is one such likely migrant.

The Carolina saddlebags is one such likely migrant.

This individual gave me a rare opportunity to photograph it in such a way as to show off its diagnostic purple forehead. The slender legs have the strength to hold the dragonfly to its perch.

Though I think of the eastern tailed-blue as a late-summer butterfly, that is the second generation of the year. Here is one of the early-season firsters.

Though I think of the eastern tailed-blue as a late-summer butterfly, that is the second generation of the year. Here is one of the early-season firsters.

Wild indigo dusky wings frequently may be encountered at Mayslake early in the season.

Wild indigo dusky wings frequently may be encountered at Mayslake early in the season.

The preserve harbors two host plants for the caterpillars: white wild indigo, a desired native prairie species, and the unwanted crown vetch, an introduced invasive.

Playing Catch-Up 3

by Carl Strang

The remaining photos in the hopper are of Lepidoptera, mainly moths, but we’ll begin with a butterfly.

Wild indigo dusky wings usually don’t wander far from their food plants at Mayslake Forest Preserve, which has both white wild indigo and, until the restoration team succeeds in eradicating it, crown vetch.

Wild indigo dusky wings usually don’t wander far from their food plants at Mayslake Forest Preserve, which has both white wild indigo and, until the restoration team succeeds in eradicating it, crown vetch.

Now for two views of different individuals of a geometrid moth called the confused eusarca.

This is a common color pattern in geometrids. One important distinguishing detail for this species is that the long line does not reach the wingtip.

This is a common color pattern in geometrids. One important distinguishing detail for this species is that the long line does not reach the wingtip.

This oblique angle provides additional detail, as well as offering an opportunity to see some individual variation.

This oblique angle provides additional detail, as well as offering an opportunity to see some individual variation.

The forage looper is a very common moth in our area.

The forage looper is a very common moth in our area.

This white-spotted sable was not interested in giving me a dorsal angle, so I settled for an oblique ventral one.

This white-spotted sable was not interested in giving me a dorsal angle, so I settled for an oblique ventral one.

White Wild Indigo Senescent

by Carl Strang

Most prairie plants are readily found in winter. After all, where is a prairie plant going to go? Well, there are exceptions, and the white wild indigo is one of them. By mid-January their tops are gone from where they grew, the result of an active abscission process that releases them from the persistent roots.

Here is white wild indigo in bloom.

Here is white wild indigo in bloom.

Those flowers produce seed pods which remain attached, and it is thought that when the plant top comes loose it can be blown over the ground and scatter seeds from the split pods. As the plant senesces in autumn, it becomes an unusual blue-gray color.

Senescent top. White wild indigo also grows in savannas.

Senescent top. White wild indigo also grows in savannas.

The color change is progressive, the leaves first turning a peculiar shade of green.

Here is a branch in mid-change.

Here is a branch in mid-change.

White wild indigo is a most unusual and remarkable legume.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s species dossier covers my observations of our only eastern hummingbird, the ruby-throated.

Hummingbird, Ruby-throated

Young or female ruby-throated hummingbird

Young or female ruby-throated hummingbird

1986. To this point I have seen hummingbirds in the Culver, Indiana, area, near Jeffersonville, Indiana, in south central Pennsylvania, once in fall migration at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula, and in Virginia. They visit flowers, especially bright orange or red ones including trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, and jewelweed. They are occasional migrants at Willowbrook Wildlife Center, DuPage County, Illinois. They seem to require forests or woods edges.

15SE87. Young or female hummer (dark stripes on pale throat) feeding from orange jewelweed, midday, Willowbrook.

27JL99. Hummingbird made brief appearance near Willowbrook picnic shelter.

22AU99. Hummer on jewelweed at West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve.

8&17SE99. Migrant hummers at Willowbrook.

Hummingbird at wild bergamot, my back yard.

Hummingbird at wild bergamot, my back yard.

8MY00. Arboretum. At parking lot 23, a hummingbird nest, perhaps still under construction because it is pale and obvious, well out from the trunk of a tamarack on a horizontal branch 20 feet up.

15JE00. Arboretum. At Parking Lot 23, hummingbird female is on the nest, which does not stand out as much as last week (outer surface has more material added).

17JE00. Arboretum. The hummingbird female leaves the nest frequently, perhaps for 30 seconds every 5 minutes.

16JE01. Arboretum, Heritage Trail. Many scattered fire pinks are flowering, and a hummer was visiting one of them briefly, then moved on.

22AU(year not indicated). West DuPage Woods. A hummingbird on jewelweed.

2AU04. An immature or female hummingbird visited the royal catchflies in my back yard flowerbeds.

21JL06. An immature or female hummingbird at back yard royal catchflies.

15JL09. First immature or female hummer visiting the first royal catchflies, also bergamot and the last white wild indigo flowers.

Hummingbird at cardinal flower, Mayslake

Hummingbird at cardinal flower, Mayslake

24AU10. Mayslake. A hummingbird visiting cardinal flowers and Liatris near the bridge.

Back Yard Gardens

by Carl Strang

Yesterday I shared my woodland gardens. Today I want to show the back yard. We’re not talking big. For instance, here is my wetland.

Yard 3JL 13b water garden 2009

My prairie is in two parts, both of the postage stamp scale. One part along the back fence will peak in blooming later. For now, some non-native day lilies are providing color.

Yard 3JL 16b fence bed

The other prairie plot has flowers through more of the season.

Yard 3JL 18b prairie

At the moment, the main eye-catchers are butterfly milkweed, white wild indigo, and spiderwort. Others will come along later.

Yard 3JL 19b prairie

On the same scale I also tuck in a vegetable garden.

Yard 3JL 22b vegetable

As I mentioned yesterday, gardening involves inquiry. Though the back yard is the sunniest area I have, the sun doesn’t really reach it until late morning, limiting what I can do there. I have had poor results with carrots and with garlic, for example, and no longer grow them. Beans have given such inconsistent results that I have abandoned them, too. This year I am focusing more on greens, adding Tuscan kale and Swiss chard to the old standby, lettuce.

Prairie Flowers and Others

by Carl Strang

We have entered a part of the season when most newly appearing native wildflowers are those of prairies and other open areas. Woodlands are so shaded by now that most of their flowers have finished blooming. One common exception is the white avens.

White avens b

This member of the rose family is one of our most common woodland plants. Its seeds have little hooks for catching the fur (or clothing) of passing mammals, which then convey them. Earlier in the season  I mentioned another avens, the yellow avens, which since has proven to be ubiquitous at Mayslake to the point where I don’t remember seeing it nearly as abundant anywhere else. A third avens species is the rough avens.

Rough avens b

This one is much less common at Mayslake, growing mainly in somewhat open places close to the stream or other bodies of water. Water also is the home for the beautiful flowers of the water knotweed.

Water knotweed 2b

This one is abundant in parts of the marsh between the stream and the chapel. The rest of the flowers featured today are prairie forbs. A forb is an herbaceous species that is not a grass, sedge or similar plant. The criterion is not, however, wind pollination vs. animal pollination. The waxy meadow rue is a wind-pollinated forb.

Waxy meadow rue 1b

Dogbane is the native plant which produces the best fibers for rope making.

Dogbane 2b

Other prairie plants have names suggesting uses we may have found for them: food (wild onion),

Wild onion b

dye (white wild indigo),

White wild indigo 2b

and medicine (wild quinine,

Wild quinine b

and purple coneflower).

Purple coneflower b

The last has become a popular herbal remedy under its genus name, Echinacea. Medical researchers are skeptical of its efficacy, but I find that laboratory studies do not carefully replicate traditional preparation methods and so themselves have to be regarded as inconclusive.

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