Monday, July 17, 2017

Along a River

"Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future."

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Wisconsin River near Sauk City

I set out for the Sauk City Canoe Launch on the Wisconsin River early Saturday morning hoping to find Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles (Ellipsoptera macra). I first discovered this species at this location on July 26th, 2015, almost exactly two years ago. A fellow tiger beetle aficionado found them a few days ago, which is a phenological testament to the predicability of this sort of thing. We naturalists just love the subtleties of patterns and variance.

Upon arrival, I was a little concerned about a heavy layer of fog blanketing the river and blocking out the sunlight, but it soon lifted revealing stunning scenes of natural beauty. Armed with my macro lens, my ears tuned to birdsong and my eyes turned to the ground, each step I took was a micro exploration. I so cherish my little adventures in Nature and enjoy writing about them.

Given our above-average summer rainfall, I wasn't at all surprised to find a dearth of sandbars along the river. The tiger beetles hadn't yet emerged; they were still embedded in their nocturnal burrows waiting for the sun to warm the sand and air. With time to spare, I did what any good nature photographer would and began looking for other subjects: scenery, plants, wildflowers, and even gull feathers covered with sparkling dew droplets held my interest.

Ring-billed Gull feather


After a cursory inspection of the area, I leisurely made my way back to the beach to check on the tiger beetle situation. Alas, my wait would continue for the moment. However, by this time other invertebrates were beginning to patrol the beach for sources of nutrition. Though this particular microhabitat hosts an array of fascinating predatory insects, a Painted Lady Butterfly paused to extract nutrients from the damp sand.

Painted Lady

An extraordinarily camouflaged Shoreline Wolf Spider readied itself for attack. Their patterns and colors closely match the substrate to avoid being predated. Eat, or be eaten, be quick, or be unseen―this is the law of the sandy shore.

Shoreline Wolf Spider Arctosa littoralis  

Robber flies! Some kill and eat tiger beetles, but not this smaller species:

Robber Fly Stichopogon trifasciatus

Robber Fly Stichopogon trifasciatus

But proctacanthus robber flies can, though I've never actually witnessed one take a tiger beetle.

Robber Fly Proctacanthus sp.

After an hour of searching, I finally spotted a few tiger beetles on the shoreline. I noted the time: 8:30AM. The first few were inadvertently flushed without identifying them. I reminded myself to slow down. On account of the cool night, I was hoping the typically aggressive beetles would be a little lethargic, making them easier to photograph. But they were emerging from their burrows active and ready for flight.

Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle

I identified two Bronzed Tiger Beetles scurrying over the sand. The next species I encountered was a gorgeous Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle. They're larger than bronzed with thicker maculations and tend to patrol the wet areas of sand several inches from the water. It took me a huge effort to get a decent portrait of this species a few years ago.

Here are a few portraits of Bronzed Tiger Beetles:

Bronzed Tiger Beetle

Bronzed Tiger Beetle

And a Big Sand Tiger Beetle, but this one was observed and photographed several yards away from the shoreline, as they prefer drier habitat.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

And then the primary reason for the trip! Most of the Sandy Stream Tiger Beetles were extremely skittish, but patience and persistence rendered an opportunity to collect some nice portraits of this species.

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle

Have I mentioned I just adore tiger beetles? My time along the river was worthwhile, though hours seemed to pass like minutes. I suppose it's one of life's mysterious ways of letting us know when we're spending our time wisely. Certainly, the time I spend observing, enjoying, and documenting Nature isn't going to change the world, but I sincerely hope a bit of my enthusiasm rubs off on you!

Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle

Indigo Bunting

And for the birds? Here's what I heard:

Sauk City Canoe Launch, Sauk, Wisconsin, US
Jul 15, 2017 8:00 AM - 10:30 AM
40 species

Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell


  1. Well, the storm woke me up so I decided to look at your wonderful photos. Just gorgeous. The iridescence on the beetles is just amazing. Their faces remind me of those of the aliens in District 9 which I though was a great science fiction movie. I paint landscapes so I am often looking at the bigger picture and your photos remind me to look close up, too. Now back to sleep!