Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Good Day in the Desert Prairie

It was not on my radar as a destination, but I found myself at Spring Green Preserve this afternoon. What I thought would be a couple hour excursion turned into 6+hour adventure. Despite the sun and 80 degree temps, the low humidity and wind rendered a rather pleasant afternoon in the desert heat. By late August the brilliant colorful array of blooms meld into mostly greens, yellow and brown, August is the corpse month for many plants with others not far behind. The magenta Prairie Blazing Star stood out from the monotony of green and gold.

But I had not come here in search of blooms. Insects, specifically tiger beetles, were my objective. I would like to say the day was "splendid" but I settled for a "festive big-headed" kind of day. that is in a tiger beetle sort of way.

Festive Tiger Beetle
Indeed tiger-beetling was quite productive. Along with the abundant Punctured Tiger Beetles, I found 3 additional species

Punctured Tiger Beetle

Punctured Tiger Beetle

Punctured Tiger Beetles caught "in the act"

I finally had some success with photographing Festive Tiger Beetles, but not without the effort of retracing the path many times over.

Festive Tiger Beetle

This single Big Sand Tiger Beetle was observed shortly after I began my walk in the desert prairie.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

However, by far, the most rewarding beetle of the trip was finding a Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle! I spied this bugger at the eight o'clock hour as I descended the path toward the parking area in fading light.

I had not intended to remain in the prairie past sunset, but as I found the day diminishing I resigned myself to remain as long as I desired. After all, nothing was beckoning me other than Nature who had been revealing one wonder after another. I was easily enticed into her fold for a little while longer.

As the sun was setting I pondered what nocturnal creatures I might find. Recalling Mike Reese's discussion of Virginia Big-headed being a nocturnal species, the possibility of finding one came on my radar. Shortly after a pleasant encounter with an 82 year-old steward of the desert prairie, I spotted a wiley beetle rapidly scurrying down the path. As it headed off into the grass, the early civil twilight caught the green elytra on this large beetle along with the rust colored legs. I was fairly certain I had found myself a Virginia Big-headed! I located it hiding in the grass confirming my ID.

Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle doc shot. Focus challenged in near dark conditions
As I tried to get a better visual, the chase was on again. I opted to catch the bugger, something I had not attempted before with a tiger beetle. Upon being bitten (lifer tiger beetle bite!), I dropped it into the open path attempting to capture an unobstructed photo. However the race ensued as soon the beetle hit the ground. In the fading light, auto and manual focus were failing against this speed racer. Eventually I lost it but was nonetheless thrilled at my discovery! I found it interesting how the Virginia Big-headed runs along the terrain versus employing the fly and flee strategy often seen with the other tiger beetles.

Phidippus apacheanus

Phidippus apacheanus

The day's adventure did not stop with the tiger beetles. The path through the prairie also yielded robberflies, a striking Phidippus apacheanus jumping spider, dung beetles and grasshoppers. Some of the robberflies eluded me for photos, but this Proctacanthella cacopiliga female allowed rather close approach.

Fueled on water and a Latte Miel and Raspberry Cream Cheese Danish from the Prairie Cafe, I embarked on the climb to the bluff as well as further westward along the ridge of Spring Green. My motivation was the lure of possibly seeing a lifer Splendid Tiger Beetle. I scoured the bluff looking but found none. However the hike was worth the effort regardless. I find the westward trek along the ridge to provoke quite a sense of wonder and discovery.

The desert had been nearly void of birdsong. However upon entering the woods to ascend the bluff, the typical forest birds, Eastern Wood Peewees, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, Downy and Pileated Woodpecker, and Tufted Titmouse were heard calling. Upon reaching the crest of the bluff trail, I flushed three roosting nightjars, presumably Common Nighthawks, from a nearby juniper.

Spiranthes magnicamporum, Great Plains Lady's Tresses, 29Sept2014
I had hoped to find the Spiranthes orchid on the southern ridge of the "quarry" where I had discovered this plant last year, but I could not locate evidence of any blooming. However I had not found this species blooming until late September last year, so perhaps it was too early. I skirted the southern ridge of the "quarry" for a different view being mindful of the potential for rattlesnakes. Alas my path once again did not cross this beloved reptile.

The "quarry", iPhone capture
By the time I started back down the bluff, I was feeling rather exhausted and hungry. Initially I thought to beeline it back to the car, but the numerous hoppers I was seeing beckoned me to get my camera back out for more photography. It was at this point I realized I had been shooting all day with image stabilization set to "off." Doh!

Entylia carinata treehopper
Two-striped Planthopper
Red-banded Leafhopper
Hoverfly species
Finally back to the woman I encountered upon leaving the prairie. I spotted this woman lying in the prairie looking up at the sky after sunset. As I approached her, she sat up to inquire what I had seen explaining that at 82 she could no longer make it up the bluff. "What's new up there?" she asked. We chatted about the tiger beetles, hoppers, reptiles and the preserve. Being a longtime local resident, this young appearing 82 year-old, dressed in an army fatigue jacket with salt and pepper hair flowing to her shoulders, conveyed a deep passion and connectedness to Spring Green Preserve. With darkness rapidly approaching, I eventually went on my way to discover the Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle. Her parting words to me, "It was nice talking with keep an eye on this place"

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Few Notes on Tiger Beetles

I was searching the internet to find information on field marks to separate Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle from Bronzed Tiger Beetle when I came across resource. Its significance is it shows a photo of a tiger beetle larvae. Mystery solved!

I had photographed the above strange creature running across the sand along the Wisconsin River yesterday having no clue as to its identity other than it was clearly some larval creature.If I owned a field guide for tiger beetles its identity might have been more apparent.