“I love to roam over the prairies. There, I feel free and happy.”—Chief Satanta
It’s one of those picture-perfect days for a quick trip to Nachusa Grasslands. Sunny, cool; a few puffy cumulous floating in the sky. Bison graze around the corral area, or rest in the tallgrass.
I’m not looking for megafauna today, however. I’m looking for small stuff. My hope is to walk three of my dragonfly routes and see if anything is flying. Odonata season–the time of year I chase dragonflies—is winding down.
On one route, I see nary a damsel or dragon. There are plenty of wildflowers, like this Common Boneset.
Boneset was once used medicinally to reduce fevers, both by Native Americans and early European settlers. It’s nectar and pollen attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, and it serves as a host plant for several moth caterpillars, including the Ruby Tiger Moth.
Nearby, Ironweed laces the prairie with purple.
The crunch of plants under my feet are a reminder of the drought we’ve experienced in parts of Illinois this summer. Even when I strike out on seeing dragons and damsels, and my data sheet is empty, the hike is never wasted. There is so much to see!
Every route, every trail leads to new discoveries.
Still, I’m a bit discouraged by that blank data form. I head for the next route. The pond is almost empty…
…only a Common Green Darner and a pair of Twelve-Spotted dragonflies hanging around. A couple of Common Whitetails. A damselfly or two. And then—I spot it! This pretty little damselfly: the Citrine Forktail.
Look at those colors! Like a dish of sherbet ice cream. Later, at home, I read up on this species in my “Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeastern Ohio” (a good field guide for Illinois!) and learn that the Citrine Forktail may be “irruptive” and “appear at newly mitigated wetland sites.” Notice the orange stigma, in a unique place for damselflies. At only .9 inches long, these tiny damsels blend in well with the rushes and sedges in our prairie wetlands.
I also read in Dennis Paulson’s “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East” that there is a population of this damselfly in the Azores that consists only of females. They lay eggs which are all female! It is the only parthenogenetic Odonata population in the world. Cool! Supposedly, they can remain into November in the Midwest, if temperatures stay warm. I find two more as I hike. I hope they’ll hang out here for a while longer.
There are other treasures to be found today. Deep in the wetlands, as I search for damselflies, I find the tiny skullcap in bloom. There are three different species at Nachusa—I’m not sure which one this is.
I admire it for a bit, then continue my route. The American Cornmint, crushed under my rubber boots, sends out a delightful tang. The air is refreshed with the fragrance of menthol.
As I hike, I almost stumble over a monkeyflower.
I crouch to take a closer look. The bees are working it over.
Not far away are stands of Purple Love Grass. What a great name!
I scan around it for damselflies, but come up empty.
As the day gets hotter, and I continue walking my routes, my steps slow. The better to notice the hummingbird working the jewelweed.
Or the Springwater Dancer Damselflies in the mating wheel.
A Variegated Meadowhawk patrols a stream, moving at such a fast clip I can barely get the ID, much less a photo. These are one of Illinois’ migratory species, and also, as Kurt Mead notes in his field guide Dragonflies of the North Woods, one of the most difficult to net. I content myself with having a stare down with a male Springwater Dancer damselfly.
Along the shoreline, a cranefly sits motionless.
Sometimes, people mistake them for dragonflies. You can see why! But look closely. Nope.
The last portion of my final route involves climbing to a high overlook. Look at that view!
My legs ache, and I’m hot and sweaty despite the cooler temperatures. It’s been a good day. So much to see.
After a week of depressing headlines, a few frustrating work issues, and crazy heat and humidity, today has been a respite. I came to Nachusa feeling empty. I’m leaving with a sense of peace.
Thanks, Nachusa Grasslands.
The opening quote is from Chief Satanta, Kiowa Tribe (1820-1878). Read more about him here.
All photos in this week’s blog were taken at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.
Join Cindy for a class or program!
September 9, 9:30-11 am– in person–“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Oswego Hilltoppers Garden Club, Oswego Public Library. Please visit the club’s Facebook page for guest information, event updates pending Covid positivity in Illinois, and Covid protocol.
September 27, 7-8:30 p.m.–in person–“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Arlington Heights Garden Club. Please visit the club’s website here for guest information, event updates pending Covid positivity in Illinois, and Covid protocol.
If you enjoy this blog, please check out Cindy’s collection of essays with Thomas Dean, Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit. Order from your favorite indie bookseller, or direct from Ice Cube Press.