Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spring Green West in the Rain

I feel like I can't get a blog post together these days to save my life. It's not for lack of material. On the contrary, I've been out taking photographs and observing all sorts of whimsical bugs, captivating scenery and flowers. Hopefully some of the images will find their way onto this blog in the near future. If only the pace of life would slow...

For now I'll focus on my recent outing. A few days ago I found myself in the late morning rain at the west unit of Spring Green Preserve. I came here because the plants have been more interesting at the west versus east unit this year. Additionally, the rare-for-Wisconsin Blue Grosbeak offers an added attraction to visiting this area. This bird has been present at the west unit of Spring Green since June 3. Both male and female were observed early in the season. There's a good chance breeding occurred despite not being confirmed.

The most striking visual when I entered the preserve was the contrasting colors of sumac, Dotted Horsemint and oak leaves that yielded a tapestry of red, white and green reminiscent of Christmas. Coupled with the fog over the bluffs, it was a quite a sight to behold.

Dotted Horsemint
Initially my walk in the rain was fairly intense with all the delightful components of Wisconsin thunderstorm. When the sky lit up followed by thunder, I had to remind myself that the odds of being struck by lightning were actually very slim despite my propensity toward often putting myself in circumstances where this phenom is more likely to occur.

Field Sparrow
Eventually the rain subsided, and with that, the bird activity increased. Among the 28 species I observed, the predominant species was Field Sparrow. Adults and young were busily foraging and singing.

Brown Thrasher
Other birds observed included an adult and juvenile Lark Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, Brown Thrasher, a family of Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Phoebes, American Kestrels, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird and a lone American Redstart. Shortly before noon, the star of the prairie, the male Blue Grosbeak, was heard singing and then sighted atop an oak. He was quickly chased off by an Indigo Bunting. He perched once more, gave another sexy shout out, then disappeared upon further harassment by the pesky bunting.

Eastern Tailed Blue
With a break in the rain showers the insects became more active along with the birds. I noticed a significant number of Lacewings working the foliage along the path as well as a few butterflies and dragonflies.

Few plants are currently blooming which is typical for most areas in the northern Great Lakes region in late August. Rough Blazing Star is among one of the more striking flowering plants the punctuates Wisconsin prairies during late summer.

Rough Blazing Star
Rough Blazing Star
And of course, I had to take advantage of photographing the nice water droplets left behind by the rain. Observing how the rain decorates the foliage is certainly one of the more appealing features of visiting natural areas in the rain.

Round-headed Bush Clover
On my first pass down the trail, I missed this rather large snake shed (see below). However having made a return visit along the same section of trail, afforded my slow gaze to find what I later learned is a Timber Rattlesnake shed. I saw no evidence of the owner of this skin and am told finding snakes this time of year is actually quite challenging. I have also come to learn Timber Rattlesnakes will forage in the lowlands despite their preferred habitat of the rocky bluffs over-looking Spring Green. While I generally tread with care at Spring Green due to my purposeful looking for insects, herps and plants, I now know to be even more cautious in the event I encounter such a lovely venomous creature. It sure would have been incredible to find the actual snake! Perhaps that will be on my bucket list to look for next spring.

Timber Rattlesnake shed

Sunday, August 3, 2014

DuPage Lake Peatlands State Natural Area

DuPage Lake Peatlands SNA
July 29 en route home from banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Gogebic County, Michigan, I made the point to visit one of the state natural areas in northern Wisconsin. I quickly perused the Wisconsin DNR website and read up on a few I had seen on the map along my route. I chose to visit DuPage Lake Peatlands State Natural Area on the possibility of adding large round-leaf orchid (Platanthera orbiculata) to my "life list." According to my web sources I had the possibility of finding these orchids in "deeply shaded, rich mesic woods, and shaded to semi-open bogs." Well DuPage Lake had both such habitats which meant a lot of ground to cover, more than I possibly had time for. I gave this orchid quest an honest effort in the hour or so I was there. Despite my efforts, I didn't find any Large Round-leaf Orchids. However, I discovered plenty of Nature's other little treasures!

DuPage Lake Peatlands SNA
This Spotted Coral Root (below) was among a patch of 8-10 plants I found when I happened to duck my head under the dark canopy while walking the roadside. Discovery of this orchid brought my annual total orchid species for the Great Lakes Region to twelve (since I'm not counting the not quite blooming Orange Fringed Orchid I saw in Lower Michigan a few days prior).

In another wet shaded forest area beneath a stand of hemlocks, I found a bounty of the saprophytic Indian Pipe blooming. Some were emerging in plain black and white tones, but several fluoresces were delicately colored in greenish blue and peach.

The roadsides were lively with several brown skippers for which I am too lazy to try to ID at this writing. This pair appeared to have been found in a randily compromising position. One of the two was fluttering its rear end at the other. Unfortunately coitus interruptus had to come along with her camera.

Robber flies resembling bumble bees were present too. But they were far too fast for me to capture any images.

I also came across of cluster of these Graphocephala species (likely coccinea) leaf hoppers. I think these horny little buggers were also attempting some late summer sexual frolicking in the leaves. I have seen Red-banded Leafhoppers which appear more brilliant red, blue and yellow in color in southern Wisconsin. However these were a bit different appearing with more greenish and red-orange hues. I'm not sure if there is variation in coccinea coloration or if this is a different species than what I've seen in southern Wisconsin. I'll save that knowledge quest for another day when I have more energy and time.