"Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this."
― Thomas Henry Huxley
Spring Green Preserve
Mark Johnson and I spent the entire day on Saturday exploring three different habitats for insects. Our first mission was to inspect the sand blows at Spring Green Preserve for Ghost Tiger Beetles Ellipsoptera lepida. Though extremely uncommon in Wisconsin and listed as "special concern," this species is peaking at other locations in the state right now. Unfortunately, we failed to find any despite what appeared to be excellent habitat. Apparently, they were once present at Spring Green as the species is listed in historical records for the site.
Note (from WI NHI): "Special concern species are those species about which some problem of abundance or distribution is suspected but not yet proved. The main purpose of this category is to focus attention on certain species before they become threatened or endangered."
Naturally, there's still much more to see (and hear) at the desert prairie of Wisconsin. The Lark Sparrows were busy caring for their young and Grasshopper Sparrows were singing their lengthy insect-like trills throughout our hike. With these and other species like Chipping, Field, and Vesper, the place is a veritable sparrow factory. In the sparsely wooded area just before the forest there were singing Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Eastern Towhees. I also heard a single Dickcissel calling from the field just to our south. Note: On Sunday two birders found a pair of Blue Grosbeaks at this spot, but we didn't hear them on Saturday.
In terms of numbers, the butterfly du jour was the American Copper ― they seemed to be perched on every flowering stalk of Hoary Vervain throughout the prairie. Other butterflies included Monarch, Silver-spotted Skipper, Peck's Skipper, Common Wood-nymph, and Mark saw just a single hairstreak, but wasn't able to identify the species.
We found just two tiger beetle species: Big Sand C. formosa generosa and Punctured C. punctulata; only one of the former, and a mere handful of the latter. Spring Green Preserve is renown for having incredible tiger beetle diversity, but this particular day did not render a stellar sampling. Still, I love all tiger beetles and spent time photographing the punctulata.
Punctured Tiger Beetle
Perhaps the current tiger beetle population owed its sparseness to the monstrous Robber Fly Proctacanthus hinei. Though I've never observed one being attacked or consumed by this particular robber fly, I'm aware it does occur. There were no tiger beetles at the large sand blow at the corner just before the entrance to the woods, but there were several of these predaceous insects present.
Robber Fly Proctacanthus hinei
Spring Green Preserve--East, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
Jul 9, 2016 8:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Great Crested Flycatcher
Pleasant Valley Conservancy SNA
Our next stop was Pleasant Valley Conservancy Sate Natural Area for a species of robber fly that would be new for both of us. Mark got a tip from Mike Reese, but we weren't really sure the precise location and thought the prairie would be the best place to start searching. It didn't take us long to notice small robber flies ovipositing on Purple Coneflowers.
Robber Fly Efferia aestuans
Aren't they just adorable?
The prairie was decorated with a multitude of vibrant wildflowers, but I didn't spend too much time photographing them. Pleasant Valley is also known as a great place for Red-headed Woodpeckers. They were calling during our entire hike around the valley, but I had left my digiscoping rig behind. In addition to the red-headeds, there was also Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated, and Downy Woodpeckers. We found a few Six-spotted Tiger Beetles on a gravel trail that went through the oaks, but didn't obtain images worth sharing.
Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Jul 9, 2016 12:30 PM - 2:45 PM
Our final destination for the day was the Sauk City Canoe Launch. Upon arrival, we were pleased to see the large sandbar present last year was no longer underwater, thus raising the prospect for higher numbers of Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles. I worried the few sunbathers present on the sandbar were a little creeped out by Mark and I walking around with our cameras, so I made a point of loudly announcing insect names as I was finding them. (Is that any less creepy?) Anyway, we found around 6 to 8 Sandy Stream, but they were incredibly fast and nearly impossible to photograph. Mark got the top-angle photograph he was hoping for. On the other hand, Big Sand Tiger Beetles were very abundant and a little more cooperative for quality insect portraiture.
Big Sand Tiger Beetle
Last year it was late July when the Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles reached peak population levels, so Mark and I will likely return to the canoe launch in a few weeks. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the time appreciating Nature was well spent. For those readers hoping for more avian content, you'll just have to endure my proclivity for insects for now. Fall migration is well underway and songbirds will begin moving through southern Wisconsin next month!
Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle
All images © 2016 Mike McDowell