Saturday, June 10, 2017

Operation Patruela (No. 14)

"The wild is where you find it, not in some distant world relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future; its presence is not black or white, bad or good, corrupted or innocent ... we are of that nature, not apart from it. We survive because of it, not instead of it."

― Renee Askins

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Owing to a tip originating from entomologist Mathew Brust, Mark Johnson and I set out early Friday morning for our "lifer" tiger beetle species #14: Northern Barrens Cicindela patruela. Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County is probably better known as the summer home of Wisconsin's Whooping Crane population as well as excellent habitat for Red-headed Woodpeckers. Truth be told, my last visit to the refuge was nearly a decade ago. In returning to its oak-pine barrens as a slightly more seasoned amateur naturalist, I was awed by its stunning flora and fauna and the smell of the pinewoods was intoxicating.

Pink Lady’s-slipper  Cypripedium acaule

Our target tiger beetle search area was a sandy refuge road approximately 500 yards in length. Though we failed to find even a single tiger beetle during our first pass along the stretch of road, I was thrilled to find a small patch of Pink Lady's-slipper orchids. Not concerned about the dearth of beetles, I surmised we must have arrived before the they had emerged from their burrows.

Numerous dragonflies took to the air as we walked. Though my mind was focused on finding tiger beetles, I paused to photograph a Chalk-fronted Corporal and a few other dragonflies. Friends of ours also reported numerous Six-spotted Tiger Beetles at this particular location the previous weekend. Color-wise, they closely resemble the green form of Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle. We needed to be cautious and certain about identifying any green beetle observed on the path ― a quick glimpse wouldn't likely count.

Chalk-fronted Corporal Ladona julia

And then it happened. I spotted a green beetle a few yards ahead of me. Viewing it through my binocular, I could clearly see from its maculations (elytra patterns) that it was the insect we were looking for. I carefully approached and managed to snap a documentation photograph of my first-ever Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle. How exciting! Now there are only 2 remaining species for Mark and I to find in Wisconsin: Cow Path and Boreal long-lipped Tiger Beetle. I know of a few spots to find the later, but the former may prove to be a bit more difficult.

Link: The 16 Tiger Beetles of Wisconsin

Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle Cicindela patruela

Having recently emerged for the morning hunt, several more of began foraging along the path. For the next two hours Mark and I did our best to obtain quality portraits. But like most tiger beetles, they were alert, fast, and largely uncooperative subjects. Many times my systematic and careful approach resulted in practice and not a picture.

The brown form of the species was also present. According to Pearson, the green form occurs throughout the majority of the species' range, but a small proportion have the green replaced with muddy green, brown, or black. These have been described as the subspecies huberi, but recent research suggests they're a local color variant.

In a reminder of Nature's pitiless indifference and survival of species, a grasshopper became food for a colony of ants. They made quick work out of the barely alive insect. When I came back to this scene about a half an hour later, the ants had largely disassembled the grasshopper, carrying pieces of it back to their formicary.

The temperature began to climb as we moved into late morning, but it wasn't expected to be much warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This was the main reason we both took Friday off work to do this trip; Saturday's forecast called for temperatures 10 to 15 degrees hotter. In such conditions, tiger beetles will take to shady areas under vegetation so that they don't overheat, making them even more difficult to find.

There was an abundance of Orange Hawkweed in the area where we were photographing tiger beetles. It's an exotic invasive plant species, but it's rather striking nonetheless. And that's precisely why there's so much of it here today.

Orange Hawkweed Hieracium aurantiacum

There were native wildflowers, however...

Blue Toadflax Nuttallanthus canadensis 

Long-leaved Bluet Houstonia longifolia 

Starflower Lysimachia borealis

Wild Lupine Lupinus perennis

Once we were content with our tiger beetle photographs, we decided to try to find Karner Blue Butterflies. The Karner Blue is endangered and would be a new species for both Mark and I. For the best chance of seeing one, we headed over to Lupine Loop Trail on the north end of the refuge.

We eventually found dozens of the little blue butterflies, but they proved to be even more difficult to photograph than tiger beetles. With patience and persistence, I was eventually successful in obtaining a few decent quality portraits from the trail.

Karner Blue Butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis

Link: Karner Blue Fact Sheet from USF&W

As far as birds went, I didn't do any digiscoping. However, while focusing my macro lens on tiny critters and plants I heard Red-headed Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, Gray Catbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Wood Thrush, Least Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Dickcissel, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting, Blue Jay, Common Raven, Sedge Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Ovenbird, and Golden-winged Warbler.

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell


  1. nice report and good finds we usually are there twice a year. several years back Jane Goodall was up in a ultralight there with the OM crew