Friday, September 9, 2016

Picture perfect

Late August through September appears to be prime time to find Splendid Tiger Beetles atop the bluffs at Spring Green Preserve. Last fall marked the first time I had observed this species. I missed them during their spring flight, so had been looking forward to returning to feast my eyes on my favorite and the most colorful of Wisconsin's tiger beetles. 

Splendid Tiger Beetle

Alex Harman had found Common Claybank Tiger Beetles atop the bluffs both this spring and earlier this month co-mingling with the Splendids. I was hopeful my venture to the bluffs of Spring Green would yield this would-be life tiger beetle. I was not disappointed. 

Common Claybank Tiger Beetle
I arrived at Spring Green Preserve shortly after 9 a.m. with the intention to ascend the bluff trail as quickly as possibly. I acknowledged the challenge of accomplishing such a task given the likely enticing distractions that would present themselves along the way. Fortunately insect activity was minimal which made my objective far easier. The prairie was saturated with moisture from recent rains. The temperature hovered around a pleasant seventy degrees fahrenheit. The prairie was just emerging from being socked in by fog. I scattered the occasional grasshopper, but far fewer than I normally encounter on a late day outing. Eventually I stirred the intermittent Punctured Tiger Beetle. With the relatively cooler temperatures, their flights seemed more like a sluggish stupor than their typical explosive rapid escape. Like Superman deficient in kryptonite, these creatures needed sun and warmth to energize. Though I vowed not to delay with an attempt at photographing Punctured Tiger Beetles, I could not resist the one trapped in a veritable "rabbit hole."

Shortly after I began my ascent up the wooded backside of the bluff,  I discovered leaving the mosquito repellent behind was a colossal error. Foolishly I assumed biting insects would not be an issue in September. WRONG. The recent rains had clearly provided the substrate for a nice hatch of mosquitoes. I succumbed to being the sole blood meal for the swarm that awaited me. Defending myself against the mosquitoes and weathering the high humidity made the trek up the bluff feel more laborious than other recent climbs this summer. Upon reaching the top, I felt exhausted and a bit defeated. I was not feeling "it." Would I get skunked on my tiger beetle quest? Hell no. Just as I was catching my breath and righting my attitude, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a beetle along the rocky trail. Common Claybank! 

Common Claybank Tiger Beetle
Common Claybank Tiger Beetle, in situ

And further up the trail Splendid! 

Splendid Tiger Beetle
Splendid Tiger Beetle
My adrenaline kicked in and suddenly I was ready to traverse the ridge top to the old quarry. But not before I relished in the spectacular presence of the 14-16 Splendid Tiger Beetles scurrying around with the less numerous (all of two), but cooperative and sexier than ever Common Claybank Beetles. 

Scratching that itch, Common Claybank Tiger Beetle
Common Claybank Tiger Beetle strikes another pose

The sun emerged from the fog in perfect time to accentuate the intricate colors of these two species. 

Common Claybank Tiger Beetle

The numerous Splendids provided great opportunity to study the variations in maculations of this species. 

Splendid Tiger Beetle
After about an hour's time, the noon tornado sirens were ringing below in the town of Spring Green prompting me to make my way to the old quarry and western bluff of Spring Green Preserve East. I was in search of the Spiranthes magnicamporum, Great Plains Lady's Tresses orchid. Not a rare orchid, but this is the only place I've seen this species. I make it an annual trip to come back and visit this bloom that I first discovered a few years ago. The plant was not quite in peak fluorescence, but beautiful to behold nonetheless. 

Great Plains Lady's Tresses orchid
Once again I scoured the rocky terrain of the old quarry for signs of reptiles or tiger beetles. Not a one. 

Shadow art
By now the sun was heating up the landscape and I was low on water. It was time to make my way back down the bluff.  Along the wooded trail I encountered the fourth tiger beetle species of the trip, Six-spotted. This species is most typically seen in May/June. I am told a few can be seen in late summer/fall. This year seems to be a bit better than most for late season sightings of this species.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle
It was well into the afternoon when I finally emerged back on the desert prairie trail. The sun was blazing and temperatures had climbed into the uncomfortable 80s. Insect activity was strikingly much more abundant than during my cool morning hike. Festive Tiger Beetles (species number five for the trip) were flushing with great frequency. I estimated at least 15-20 individuals.  

It must have been race time because I encountered a larger racerunner bolting by me on the trail. When I rounded the bend in the traditional racerunner sand blow, I flushed at least five more Six-lined racerunners!
Six-lined Racerunner next to acorn cap for size reference

The sixth tiger beetle species of the trip, Big Sand, was also seen in this sand blow. I found one attacking prey and was sure this would afford an easy opportunity for a photo. Alas it did not and I was too weary, several hours into my desert trip, to maintain the patience to get a photo. 

I noticed during my morning and afternoon hike through the prairie that there seemed to be a decent flight of Eastern Tailed-Blues. In general, butterfly diversity seemed fairly good as far as my novice eyes could surmise. Additional species I encountered in singles to a few included Clouded Sulphur, Common Buckeye, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Comma species, American Copper, Silver-spotted Skipper, Monarch and what I believe is a Leonard's Skipper. 
Leonard's Skipper?
American Copper
To my surprise, I encountered two more Splendid Tiger Beetles along the prairie trail, far below their traditional rocky bluff habitat. One had more pronounced maculations than I have observed on this species.

Splendid Tiger Beetle with more pronounced maculations

More than five hours had past as I reached the conclusion of one of my most memorable adventures to Spring Green Preserve. 

Spring Green Preserve, east
The beetles were divinely picture perfect, yielding to my camera unlike before. And the Six-lined Racerunners, I was downright feeling giddy and spoiled by nature by time my eyes feasted on number three, four, five and six of this species! Nature had once again brought me joy unmatched by anything else. This was DEFINITELY what this girl was in need of. 

Rough Blazing Star

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