Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sand along the Water

"Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it."

― Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wisconsin River near Sauk City

Wood warbler migration has diminished significantly since the 15th of May, which seems early as southern Wisconsin bird migrations tend to go. I blame the weather, especially the three days of sustained south winds during the first week of May. Oh, there may still be a few gems flocking with the redstarts, but I've elected to move on and go with my entomological pursuits for the remainder of the green season. I'm sure there will be some birds, too.

I recently discovered a previously unexplored woodlot near my apartment that may be worth checking for Diptera (flies) and Coleoptera (beetles). Given recent muggle cluelessness at Pheasant Branch, I may not return there for a very long time. If I need a long walk through a prairie, Pope Farm Conservancy will be my destination. However, there are nearby spectacular natural areas worth driving to, especially Baxter's Hollow, Spring Green Preserve, and the Sauk City Canoe Launch where one can find an astonishing assortment of creepy crawlies.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Overcast skies ruled the morning, but I saw a break in the clouds on visible satellite imagery. Typically, tiger beetles don't emerge from their burrows until a specific temperature is reached. Arriving just ahead of the cloud break, I found only a single tiger beetle. But as sunlight began warming the sand, soon there were dozens upon dozens of them scurrying about in search of food or a mate. Naturally, there was no time to waste!

Big Sand Tiger Beetles preparing to mate.


The Big Sand Tiger Beetle is one of my favorite insects. I don't know what it is about them, but they give me the impression of being built like an armored tank. Can you imagine if these things were the size of trucks? (Starship Troopers, right?) In addition to Big Sand, there were also Bronzed, a single Hairy-necked, and lots of Festive Tiger Beetles.

Festive Tiger Beetle

The Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle pictured below, which I presume to be C. hirticollis hirticollis on account of geographical location, has maculations resembling C. hirticollis rhodensis. Perhaps there is significant maculation variation in both subspecies, but the former is often described with having thick "almost always complete white" maculations, and the latter with thin and often broken markings. Perhaps this warrants further investigation. Entomologist Mathew Brust makes a good point with a comment given the Tiger Beetle FB Group: "I have found more lightly marked ones than this along the Wisconsin River, as well as far more heavily marked ones along Lake Michigan. One cannot base anything on a single individual as there is a great deal of variation among individuals within most populations."

Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle

And there were a few other subjects of photographic interest ...

Arctosa Wolf Spider

What awesome camouflage!

Ant nest

Draba reptans

Blue Toadflax

At one location along the river I had a companion in the form of an extremely vocal Vesper Sparrow. I didn't get too close, as I feared stepping on a possible ground nest with eggs. Heat shimmering off the sand made it challenging to get good image clarity, but some of the sparrow's portraits turned out nicely. In the distance I heard another Vesper Sparrow song, so it's likely these two birds were counter-singing.

Vesper Sparrow

Other birds during my sandy sojourn included Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush (along the water's edge), Warbling Vireo, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, Gray Catbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, and more. The gorgeous weather held for the remainder of the day and I stayed out until dinnertime. Getting away from the nonsense of muggle subdivision pressure on Pheasant Branch was the perfect antidote for enjoying Nature's gifts.

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

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