Tag Archives: busse woods

Prairie Streams of Consciousness

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” — Pema Chödrön.

****

If you want to get a fresh perspective on life, jump into the water.  That’s where I find myself this week, monitoring dragonflies and damselflies on the prairie. So much of insect life on the prairie is virtually invisible. To really see some of the damselflies requires full immersion.

It’s sunny—one of the few dry days this week.  Out on the prairie, the white wild indigo is in full celebration mode.

spma6918wm.jpgThe bumblebees are making the most of bloom time.

whitewildindigobumblebeeSPMA6818wmupperloop.jpg

Honeybees busily buzz around the wild asparagus blossoms.

honeybeeonwildasparagusSPMA6818upperloopWM.jpg

The gorgeous prairie wildflowers are offering a show in early June that would put Las Vegas to shame. Scurfy pea (what a great name!) throws purple all over its silvery tumbleweeds.

scurfypeaSPMA6518wm.jpg

Prairie sundrops earn their name, splashing light where they lie knee-high, barely keeping up with the grasses and wildflowers growing lushly all around.

PrairiesundropsSPMAwm6918pilosella.jpg

There’s plenty of dragonfly action on the prairie trails. Calico pennant dragonflies—red males, yellow females—might be mistaken for butterflies by the non-initiated.

Calico Pennant MaleWM 6918 SPMAUPPERLOOP.jpg

And who could blame someone for thinking so? Each year the pennants’ fluttering appearance seems magical. I could get easily get distracted from the morning’s task at hand.

femalecalicopennant6818wmSPMAupper.jpg

But today is for the prairie stream. I pull on my hip waders and get down to business. It’s a bit windier than I’d like for dragonfly monitoring, but the brook is nestled into a low spot on the prairie and there, the breeze doesn’t do as much as ruffle my hair. However, getting into a stream in waders is a challenge. Especially when the sides of the bank are steep and your knees aren’t what they used to be.  I sit and clumsily scoot-slide down the steep sides of the bank.

It’s a different world, down in the stream. The prairie above recedes from my view and my thoughts. All that exists is the water. It’s surprisingly high, well up to my hips.  I cautiously test my footing. Streams are always dicey; sometimes the bottom muck sucks your boots into it unexpectedly, leaving yourself in a bad predicament. Other times an unexpected hole opens up as you take a step and you lose your footing. I’ve never fallen—yet—but I fully expect that is in the cards at some point.

All it takes is a glint of color or motion out of the corner of your eye to distract you. You glance up. Ebony jewelwings! The white spots tell me this one’s a female.

ebonyjewelwingfemale6718wmSPMA.jpg

The males aren’t far off; spaced evenly along the stream. Perched on the grasses.

ebonyjewelwing6918wmWBSPMA.jpg

Look down, and there’s a violet dancer damselfly in all its shocking variations of purple.

violetdancer6718SPMAwm.jpg

Just to the side is a newly-emerged American rubyspot damselfly in the teneral stage, abdomen drooping, its colors in the process of brightening. Its wings look newly-minted.  I’ve been watching for this species, which hasn’t appeared along my stream-side route this month. Like clockwork, they knew when it was time to emerge.

TeneralAmericanRubyspotSPMAWilloway6718.jpg

There you are.  I’ve been wondering when you’d show up.

Picking my way down the stream, I test each step. The process gives “mindfullness” fresh meaning.  I stumble at one point, where a drop-off is invisible in the murky water, and grab at the closest vegetation. For the first time in my life as a prairie steward, I’m grateful for the invasive reed canary grass lining the shore.

As I regain my sense of balance, I notice a new form of a blue-fronted dancer damselfly—a blue morph female, rather than the more common orangey-tan— enjoying a protein-packed lunch of unknown bug. I’ve seen plenty of blue-fronteds over the course of my monitoring, but not this variation. Cool! I thought I knew this species. It’s another reminder that there is so much I don’t know.

bluefronteddancerwithlunchSPMAwm6718.jpg

The stream is the romantic hot spot of the prairie for dragons and damsels.  All around me are various stages of damselfly mating in progress.  In the early stages, the male (like this blue male stream bluet, below) grabs a likely-looking female behind the head…

StreambluetpairWMSPMAWillowayBrook6718

…and the two dragons or damsels form  “the wheel,” which often looks like a heart. Two ebony jewelwings make a beautiful one, don’t they?

SPMAebonyjewelwings2017wm.jpg

The male guards the female (either by hovering in the air, or continuing his death-grip behind her head) until her eggs are safely deposited in floating mats of vegetation, grasses, old wood, or directly into the water. Take a look below as a pondhawk female (green) dragonfly taps her eggs into the surface of the water, while the male (powdery blue) hover guards just above.

 

The whole process of ovipositing—egg laying—moves fast, doesn’t it? But a dragonfly or damselfly’s life is a matter of weeks, sometimes days, or even hours. To keep life moving forward, they don’t mess around.

Unlike the dragonflies, there’s nothing fast about my work today. The rewards of stream wading are these: Reminding myself how it feels to move quietly and slowly. Learning that what I think I know isn’t always the whole story.  Finding new perspectives on places I thought I knew well. Surprises at every bend of the brook. Realizing that when I don’t jump in I miss so much. And most of all, perhaps, the mind-clearing effort of paying attention to every step, punctuated by new delights all around.

frogNGbisonponds53118wm.jpg

When I’ve finished wading my short stretch of stream, I’m exhausted.  The  careful focus on footing. The watchful parsing of shoreline vegetation for a flash of color, a glimmer of motion. The sheer energy exerted to get from point A to point Z in the water that is getting to be more of a challenge each season.

But the bombardment of marvels all around me in the stream fills up my “inner well.” You know that “well;” the one that is depleted by meetings and noise and front-page news and angry drivers and toxic people.  I always leave the stream feeling more at peace. Like the world is a beautiful place.

I don’t wade every pond and stream where I dragonfly monitor; it takes too much time. But there’s not a day when I don’t wish I could.  There are joys and revelations I’m missing because I stay high and dry on the shore, counting dragonflies where it’s easier. But I’ll always see less than I would from the sidelines than if I fully commit myself to the water.

ng53118bisonpondswm.jpg

Think about it. Every pond, every lake, every stream is filled with rhythmic dances of   life going on each moment. So many amazing things happening in the world!

NG53118lookingoutfromDotsknobwm copy.jpg

All we have to do is look. And keep our sense of wonder.

******

The opening quote is by Pema Chödrön (1936-), an American Tibetan Buddhist nun. Her books include,  When Things Fall Apart and Start Where You Are.

All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): white wild indigo (Baptisia alba macrophylla), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; white wild indigo (Baptisia alba macrophylla) with unknown bumblebee, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wild asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) with an unknown honeybee, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; scurfy pea (Psoralidium tenuiflorum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie sundrops (Oenothera pilosella) , Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; calico pennant dragonfly male (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; calico pennant dragonfly female (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), female, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), male, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; violet dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; American rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana), teneral, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; blue-fronted dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) (female, blue morph), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; stream bluets (Enallagma exsulans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis)  as seen from my kayak in Busse Woods, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Schaumberg, IL; green frog (Lithobates clamitans), Nachusa Grasslands Beaver Pond Stream, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL;  pond at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pond at Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.

The Dragonfly Chasers

If you are old and you wish to be young again, if only for a moment, try and identify a dragonfly. — Simon Barnes

***

In the prairie ponds, streams, and wetlands, they wait. Dragonfly nymphs are about to emerge.

Last summer, I watched the scene below from my kayak. Female dragonflies lay eggs in water or vegetation. The male pondhawk dragonfly (powdery blue) “hover guards” the female (green) so no other males disturb her. Tapping her abdomen into the water, the female ensures another generation of dragonflies, as the male protects her from above. It all happens fast. So fast.

The eggs may hatch in a matter of weeks. In their nymph or larval stage, dragonflies (looking like ferocious beetles) cruise the water, sometimes for years. Then, one morning, these denizens of the deep scramble up a blade of grass and commence the difficult work of change. “Teneral” is the scientific term for the transformation stage. Each dragonfly nymph sheds its ugly husk, and exchanges it for a beautiful winged body.

IMG_2656

No longer a water-breather. The dragonfly is now a creature of the air. She takes flight.

Dragonflies dazzle us with their agile antics as they fly; stun us into silent admiration as they bask in sunlight.

eastern amberwing2 sp 2015.jpg

This April, I’ll join citizen scientists at Nachusa Grasslands and other prairies in hiking the tallgrass, looking for dragonflies and their close kin, damselflies.

Wandering Glider -SP72316.jpg

A “citizen scientist” is an amateur who contributes information to a scientific body of knowledge. My academic background is in art, journalism, and natural resource interpretation. I have no background in the hard sciences, or specifically, entomology (the study of insects). Yet, the fieldwork I and others do helps build our collective scientific knowledge of  the dragonfly world.

SPMA-halloweenpennant62516.jpg

Dragonfly monitors hike routes through the prairie and pencil hash marks on species lists, ticking off each dragonfly we discover. Green darner? Check. Halloween pennant? Check. Oohhhh… Jade clubtail! Check.

IMG_8247 2.JPG

As I monitor dragonflies,  I pay attention to anything that lifts off from the tallgrass at my approach. Is it a dragonfly? I watch closely.

carolinasaddlebags-sp2014.JPG

Yes! I log it on my list. Bonus: I observe other critters–such as bees and butterflies– as I walk. I note their presence in my journal, and alert site managers if I see something unusual.

monarch 2014.jpg

How does observing dragonflies and damselflies benefit us? The violet skimmer damselfly (below) and other species are complex and colorful. But besides the aesthetics, why should we care?

BLOGviolet dancer SP2015 copy.jpg

Here’s why. Because dragonflies spend the biggest part of their lives in the water, the changes in health and populations of dragonflies and damselflies tell us a lot about how the quality of water changes over time. Clean water is essential to life and our well-being. Clean water is also a non-negotiable resource for future generations.

IMG_9293

And so, this summer, you’ll find me in the tallgrass, wandering along shorelines, or deep in a prairie stream, chasing dragonflies. Netting some for a closer look; photographing others. Carefully checking for identifying field marks.

IMG_8180.jpg

Sure, it’s citizen science. But it’s art as well. Those colors! Those wing patterns! Their names are poetry. Ebony jewelwing.

NG Ebony Jewelwing 2014.JPG

Calico pennant.

IMG_5286

Springwater dancer.

Springwater Dancer NG71816.jpg

Their names help form the vocabulary of the prairie community.

If you love the natural world as I do, dragonfly monitoring is one enjoyable and simple way to make a small contribution to keeping it in good shape. Wherever you live, the dragonflies are waiting for you to notice them. Learn a few of their names. Make time to sit and watch them.

P1050709.jpg

It will be time well spent.

***

Simon Barnes (1951-), whose quote opens this blogpost, is a British sportswriter and wildlife columnist. Once employed by the London Times, he was fired from the newspaper after more than 30 years, supposedly for angering hunters with his remarks in an opinion column about saving an endangered bird. His 16 books include Birdwatching with Your Eyes Closed and How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): video of eastern pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) at Busse Woods, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Schaumburg, IL; female eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wandering glider (Pantala flavescens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; jade clubtail (Arigomphus submedianus), Warrenville Grove, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Warrenville, IL; close up Carolina saddlebags (Tramea carolina), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on new England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; violet dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; little dragonfly chaser, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) on ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; male calico pennant (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; springwater dancer (Argia plana), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Prairie Walk Pond and Dragonfly Landing sculpture (Sculopterayx metallicaea), Lisle Park District, Lisle, IL. 

A Walk on the Spring Prairie

Every spring is the only spring — a perpetual astonishment. ~Ellis Peters

 

A cold wind blows through Illinois, then relents. The hot sun unleashes heat on the world. It suddenly feels like spring.

Early wildflowers press their way into view around the edges of the prairie.

IMG_4243

IMG_4271

 

The last pasque flowers open, then fade in the heat.

IMG_4744

IMG_4765

 

Squirrels munch withered crabapples, gaining strength for the new season ahead. The mamas tend their babies, born just weeks ago.

IMG_3479.jpg

 

The prairie ponds are freed from their scrims of ice. The water, released, stands open and clear.

IMG_4146 (1).jpg

 

The first dragonflies and damselflies emerge from their underwater nurseries. Green darners, mostly, but Halloween pennants…

halloween pennant sp 715.jpg

 

…and violet dancers are not too many weeks behind.

 

BLOGviolet dancer SP2015 copy.jpg

 

If you’re patient enough–and lucky enough– you can see the dragonflies emerge to their teneral stage; not quite nymph, not quite adult. Slowly, their fragile new wings pump open. Then, they take on colors, warm to their new lives, and fly.

IMG_2657.JPG

 

As you walk the prairie, a butterfly or two may stir the air with its wings. Only the early ones are out–the commas, the mourning cloaks, a cabbage white or two. But they remind  you that a whole kaleidoscope is on the way. Like this swallowtail.

IMG_8755.jpg

 

There’s not much for them to sip now on the prairie, but more nectar-rich flowers are coming. The tallgrass will soon be ablaze with color and light.

IMG_7351.jpg

 

Soon, you whisper.

Very soon.IMG_3615.jpg

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom) Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; dogtooth violet/yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flower fully opened (Pulsatilla patens), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) fading, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; squirrel, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Meadow Lake with prairie plantings, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Halloween pennant, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; violet dancer,  Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; dragonfly, teneral stage, Busse Woods, Forest Preserve of Cook County,  Schaumburg, IL;  Canada swallowtail, John Deere Historic Site, Grand Detour, IL; butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa); prairie at Fermilab, Batavia, IL.

Ellis Peters, whose quote begins this essay, is the author of the “Brother Cadfael” medieval mystery novels.

To Make a Prairie (With Apologies to Emily Dickinson)

“To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee.” So begins Emily Dickinson’s well-loved poem. It’s doubtful that Dickinson ever saw a tallgrass prairie, of course; cloistered for years in her bedroom in Amherst, MA. Nonetheless, her verses on prairie live on.

But are “a clover and one bee” enough to make a prairie?  With apologies to Dickinson, here are a few more suggested ingredients. What would you add?

 

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee (tle)…

IMG_7997 2

 

A bison, or two or three (and bulls)

IMG_1373.jpg

 

And a butterfly or two, if bees are few.

IMG_0237.jpg

 

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee (fly)…

2012-09-12 19.45.22.jpg

 

Perhaps a tree or trees (nearby)

IMG_2629 (1).jpg

 

 

A prescribed burn or two, to keep the trees so few.

IMG_6222.JPG

 

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee …

IMG_6310.jpg

 

Someone who cares enough to see

IMG_1356.jpg

 

A volunteer or two,  ensures that weeds are few.

IMG_8607.JPG

 

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee (balm) …

beebalmwithbutterflynachusa

 

Swirling clouds, perhaps a breeze (calm)

IMG_2630 (1).jpg

 

A pond or stream or two, if drops of dew are few.

IMG_0284

 

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee …

IMG_7107.jpg

 

Egrets and birds,  all feathery

IMG_8301.jpg

 

Tall grasses bright of hue, if birds are few.

IMG_1389.jpg

 

To make a prairie … it takes you.

IMG_9236.jpg

 

Poetry excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems (1924) Part Two: Nature XCVII. Complete poem: To make a prairie/ it takes a clover and one bee./One clover, /and a bee. /And revery. /The revery alone will do, /if bees are few.

All photographs copyright Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom) Beetle on white prairie clover (Dalea candida), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bison (note that males and females both have horns), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; buckeye butterfly, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bee fly on pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; stand of trees, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; prescribed burn, Schulenberg Prairie savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bee on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; volunteer Tricia Lowery shooting photos, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; a few members of the Tuesdays in the Tallgrass prairie work group, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; silver-spotted skipper on bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL; overcast sky, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; pond, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; bee on white prairie clover (Dalea candida), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; egret, Busse Woods, Forest Preserve of Cook County, Schaumburg, IL; tallgrass, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL;  Autumn on the Prairie, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

 

Prairie Metamorphosis

IMG_8060

Have you seen them yet?

As they begin their journey upward

From the bottoms of ponds,

the streams, the creeks that edge the tallgrass.

Will you be there?

carolinasaddlebagsbodyshot-sp2014

When they surface,

Clamber out of the water, then, trembling,

Grasp grass blades while

IMG_2656

The sun pulls itself over the horizon and

Illuminates, their dark, drab bodies

IMG_2671

Which split open and become something new.

Have you seen them yet?

IMG_9118

Those ferocious denizens of the deep,

Now in transition, they

Pump tensile strength lace into wings

blacksaddlebags-sp2014

While those eyes, those amazing eyes,

Move in a thousand directions and finally

Turn their gaze on you.

IMG_8879

Have you seen them yet?

Suddenly,

They rise into the air, everywhere,

IMG_8068

Dazzling damselflies and

dragonflies.

Note on Dragonflies and Damselflies. They begin life as eggs, which are laid in the water. Then, they hatch into ugly, drab, beetle-looking nymphs;  dragonflies and damselflies live in this stage for as long as eight years in ponds, streams and other wetlands. Responding to many different signals we don’t fully understand, they pull themselves out of the water and their bodies turn from drab and unattractive into the beautiful flyers we know. This process is called incomplete metamorphosis. As adult dragonflies and damselflies, they may live for as little as a few minutes if snatched by a passing bird, or as long as several months here in Illinois.

All photos by Cindy Crosby. Top to bottom: American rubyspot, Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum; Carolina saddlebags, SP; Teneral stage dragonfly, Busse Woods Forest Preserve, Schaumburg, IL; mating green darners, BWFP; Violet dancer,  Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL;  Black saddlebags, SP; White-faced meadowhawk, NG;Ebony jewelwing, NG.)