The Familiar, the New, and the In-Between

by Carl Strang

As I approach the end of my 7-year stint of monitoring the natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve, most of what I observe is familiar.

This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.

This longhorn beetle, Typocerus velutinus, is an expected visitor to the preserve’s flowers this time of year.

Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.

Likewise, this female azure bluet was not the first of her kind I have photographed on the preserve.

On the other hand, each week brings at least one new species to add to the preserve’s lists.

This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.

This moth is an example. The Vestal appears to be a simply white geometrid at first glance, but a closer look reveals shadings and highlights of yellow and gold.

It also helps when someone else joins me on my walks. Nikki Dahlin is a beekeeper, and she is quick to point out the flower visitors.

This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.

This bee would not have drawn my eye. It seems unremarkable.

Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.

Zooming out, however, reveals how tiny it is. There were dozens of these, ignoring the nectar of the wild bergamot flower tubes and focusing on the anthers and their pollen.

I haven’t studied the native bees enough to know where to begin with an identification, which would be needed to access information on other aspects of this bee’s life. Another new insect for the preserve from last week is one I have encountered elsewhere, but wasn’t aware could be at Mayslake.

The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.

The rattler round-wing katydid usually stays out of sight during the day, but this female perched on her leaf as though basking in the intermittent sun.

Another two weeks will bring my Mayslake chapter to a close, but in the fall a new one will open at St. James Farm.

 

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Recent Mayslake Arthropods

by Carl Strang

Recent walks at Mayslake Forest Preserve have resulted in some photos to share, all involving Lepidoptera. The wild bergamot have been on the decline, but still were producing enough flowers to attract the attention of pollinators.

A hummingbird clearwing bellies up to the bar.

A hummingbird clearwing bellies up to the bar.

Another flower proved to be a fatal attraction to a cabbage white butterfly, which I saw curiously dangling beneath it.

The yellow flower head of the sow thistle had been a good hiding place for a crab spider. It and its prey dangled from the spider’s safety line until the butterfly was subdued.

The yellow flower head of the sow thistle had been a good hiding place for a crab spider. It and its prey dangled from the spider’s safety line until the butterfly was subdued.

Enough of the spider was hidden that I could not narrow its identity beyond being in one of two genera.

Wings may be in the future for today’s final subject.

This black swallowtail is maturing on a diet of water hemlock, a plant that is quite poisonous to humans.

This black swallowtail is maturing on a diet of water hemlock, a plant that is quite poisonous to humans.

 

Mayslake Update

by Carl Strang

Between trips to Indiana for parental care, and vacation days for research, I haven’t spent as much time as usual in Mayslake Forest Preserve. Life goes on there, of course, and I have some glimpses to share.

This summer’s deer have been more secretive than usual. This doe, photographed at the beginning of July, showed no signs of nursing.

This summer’s deer have been more secretive than usual. This doe, photographed at the beginning of July, showed no signs of nursing.

However, she sometimes has accompanied another doe, and this week I saw tracks of a fawn, which I expect to encounter at some point.

There have been a few tawny edged skippers this year, a species I have seen at Mayslake before but not in most years.

There have been a few tawny edged skippers this year, a species I have seen at Mayslake before but not in most years.

A new species for the preserve list was Mydas tibialis, a large and impressive, flower-visiting fly discovered at Mayslake by Nikki Dahlin.

A new species for the preserve list was Mydas tibialis, a large and impressive, flower-visiting fly discovered at Mayslake by Nikki Dahlin.

The rains of spring and early summer, along with the prairie burns, have resulted in Mayslake’s prairies blooming with unprecedented beauty.

The first swamp rose mallow I have seen blooming on the preserve.

The first swamp rose mallow I have seen blooming on the preserve.

Prairie blazing stars are just now peaking.

Prairie blazing stars are just now peaking.

Banks of yellow coneflowers and wild bergamot are providing gorgeous backdrops.

Banks of yellow coneflowers and wild bergamot are providing gorgeous backdrops.

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.

June Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

The season, as measured by first flowering dates at Mayslake Forest Preserve, continues to be early when compared to recent years. Median values in fact remained close to those in May. The median difference for 43 species was 17 days earlier than last year, with a range of 37 days earlier to 4 days later.

The wild bergamot was typical, blooming 17 days earlier than in 2011, 13 days earlier than in 2010, and 17 days earlier than in 2009.

The difference was less extreme between this year and 2010, with a median value of 8 days earlier for 35 species, and a range of 62 days earlier to 17 days later. Results for 2009 were similar to last year’s. The median difference was 19 days earlier this June for 39 species, ranging from 37 days earlier to no difference.

Winter Plant Puzzle

by Carl Strang

Today we return to winter botany, focusing on four species that are connected to one another in ways that are instructive, if not obvious. All grow in the same spot, Mayslake Forest Preserve’s south stream corridor prairie. It’s a fairly low area, and is enjoying considerable improvement thanks to Mayslake’s volunteer restoration crew. Let’s start with the common water horehound.

This plant stands a foot tall or so, and likes its feet wet. The clusters of spiky fruits radiate out from spaced points along the stem.

Here is what it looks like when flowering.

The common water horehound is not an imposing plant in flower.

Next we’ll move on to yarrow. Here is its winter form.

The various species of genus Achillea figure prominently in the folklore of Europe and Asia.

And, in bloom:

Yarrow is an attractive plant. The leaves have a fernlike featheriness.

Finally, let’s take a look at mountain mint (two species occur in this prairie; they are so similar that the photos work for both).

One easy way of distinguishing the common and slender mountain mint species is by presence or absence of a strong minty odor and flavor. I found that the dried and shriveled winter leaves of the common mountain mint hold that flavor.

Their flowers are identical or nearly so.

The mountain mint flowering period goes on for a long time in summer.

OK, so I’ve shown you the three genera (for present purposes placing the two mountain mint species together). Now the question is, which two are most closely related phylogenetically?

Superficially the nod would go toward placing the yarrow and mountain mint together, because at first glance their overall shapes are very similar. As it happens, though, the common water horehound is in the mint family, and so yarrow (a composite) is the odd plant out. One feature that separates yarrow from mints in winter is that yarrow has alternate leaves, while mint leaves are opposite (visible in the above photos). Let’s finish by enjoying close-up looks at the dried heads of those two superficially similar plants. Yarrow first:

Winter yarrow heads look like beautiful little pale cones.

Now, mountain mint.

The perforated look of the little mountain mint heads reminds me of the larger ones of wild bergamot, which is yet another member of the mint family.

That may be it for this year’s installment of winter botany, unless we get some well timed fresh snow to provide a backdrop.

Odd Bee, and Tour de France Catalpas

by Carl Strang

In the late afternoon of July 4 I was looking out the kitchen window at my prairie garden plots. Bumblebees, Bombus bimaculatus, were swarming the Culver’s root

and wild bergamot.

They were not showing very good fidelity, individual bees frequently going between the flower species rather than sticking to one. Then I saw a bee that immediately sent me grabbing for my camera. Like the bimaculatus it was moving between Culver’s root and bergamot.

This bee was almost all yellow.

What was wrong about it was the black abdominal segment in the middle of the yellow. If not for that, I would have passed it off as a Bombus fervidus. But fervidus should have a black strip between the wings, as in this one I photographed last year:

I did a web search, and found a photo of a bee somewhat similar to this one at a University of Illinois website. It was identified as an aberrant male Bombus bimaculatus. The eyes of the one in my yard seemed small, however, for a male.

Also, it seems early in the season for males to appear unless, as I suspect from last year’s observations, bimaculatus is limited to the early part of the year and is replaced by another short-tongued species, B. impatiens, in the latter part of the season. I decided to resolve this problem by creating an account in Beespotter and submitting my photos to the specialists there. I’ll report back with the results later.

P.S. In last night’s TV coverage of the Tour de France, the broadcast announcers’ table was placed in front of some catalpa trees in bloom. The British and American announcers all wondered aloud at one point what the trees were. I’m not sure which catalpa species it was, but clearly these or their ancestors had been transplanted from North America to that location in Spa, Belgium, for their floral display at this time of year.

Three Easy Winter Plants

by Carl Strang

One reason to appreciate plants in winter is to expand one’s ability to identify them in any stage and season. Some are easier than others to identify, and today I will focus on three that are both common and distinctive. The most widely distributed of these, Queen Anne’s lace, is not native to North America.

It has the appearance of an umbrella’s ribs from which the fabric has been torn. You may find it open, as above, or closed.

When flowering, these heads likewise have two forms. In some cases there is a purple flower in the center,

and in some, that flower is missing.

Numerous experiments have failed to demonstrate a difference in seed set between the two. Today’s second species is the common evening primrose. Its flowers in late summer were pale yellow.

In winter, the appearance is distinctive even at a distance.

Up close, the stalk is topped with a cluster of vase-shaped pods distinctively spreading at the tips.

Yet a third unmistakable shape is the spherical seed head of the wild bergamot.

The seed head is composed of tiny tubes radiating in every direction. Step back a little and the plant still is unique in appearance.

This species has become so successful in prairie and savanna restoration projects, spreads so readily, and also has become popular in garden plantings, that finding them in winter is no challenge. Here is one reason for its popularity.

Soon we’ll have green plants again to enjoy.

Summer Prairie Wildflowers

by Carl Strang

My groundwork for future phenology studies continues at Mayslake Forest Preserve as I record first flowering dates for summer blooming plants, with the greatest number now occurring in prairies and meadows. The first, wild bergamot, has a broad enough ecological range sometimes to grow in open woodlands, too.

Bergamot b

More confined to proper prairies is the yellow (also known as gray) coneflower.

Yellow coneflower b

One of my favorites is the plant from Mars, or so I think of its odd appearance, more commonly known as rattlesnake master.

Rattlesnake master 2b

Butterflies like it, too. Drier prairies are good places to find hoary vervain,

Hoary vervain b

while wetter prairies are home to its congener, blue vervain.

Blue vervain b

Those plants will be much more spectacular looking when they hit their flowering peak, but here I am focused on first blooms of the season. Whorled milkweed, with its linear leaves, has an unconventional look for a milkweed.

Whorled milkweed 1b

Butterfly weed, a milkweed lacking the milky looking sap, arrests the eye.

Butterfly weed 1b

It is protected by internal poisons. Another eye-catcher, the purple prairie clover, is less fortunate. Rabbits love it.

Purple prairie clover b

Towering above nearly all the other prairie species is the compass plant.

Compass plant 2b

Now for some more mints (bergamot was one): the slender mountain mint,

NL mountain mint 2b

the common mountain mint,

Virginia mountain mint b

and germander.

Germander b

The earliest sawtooth sunflower heads always seem to have these odd bits of green popping out of them.

Sawtooth sunflower b

We are late enough in the season that the blazing stars are beginning to bloom. First of these at Mayslake is the marsh blazing star.

Blazing star b

The season’s but half done. There’s much more to come.

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