Tag Archives: schaumburg

Tallgrass Prairie Dragons

“One dragonfly—even the most silent of ponds comes alive.”—Scott King

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They’re here. All around us. In the prairie wetlands. Scattered in the tallgrass ponds.

Dragons.

Sterling Pond, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Dragonflies, that is. When the sun shines on cold days. While the ice is deep on the prairie ponds.

Bison track (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2017)

“What?” you might say. “Cindy, there aren’t any dragonflies flying through the snow.” Truth. And yet…under the water’s surface, rumbling across the substrate of silty river bottoms, dragonfly nymphs are going about their business. They look a bit different in their larval stage, don’t they?

Hine’s emerald dragonfly nymph (Somatochlora hineana), Urban Stream Research Center, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL. (2019)

These tiny nymphs eat. Grow. Molt. Eat some more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until that magical day when nature tells each species GO!

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2017)

They emerge, exchanging a life in the water for a short life in the air.

Teneral dragonfly gaining its coloration, unknown species, Busse Woods, Schaumburg, IL. (2016)

Their lives will flare into color, channeling sunlight. And then, all too soon, their time is up. It might end with the snap of a bird bill. The splash of a fish, as it snatches the dragonfly in motion. Or a bullfrog, tonguing the dragonfly out of its flightpath.

Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Crosby’s backyard pond, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2018).

Now you see it.

Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2019).

Now you don’t.

Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) wings, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

Or, if a dragonfly is lucky, it will live a few weeks before dying its natural death.

Calico pennant (Celithemus elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

A life so short! Shouldn’t we admire them while we can?

And then, there are the migratory dragonflies. Big, bright, and ready to return to the Midwest this spring.

Common green darner (Anax junius), Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2020).

Not all dragonflies migrate. But the ones that do—common green darners, wandering gliders, black saddlebags, and other migratory species—left in the autumn en masse, bound for warmer climes. The Gulf of Mexico, perhaps, or even Central America. And now, their progeny return singly. We’ll see them as early as March in Illinois, ready to complete the remarkable cycle.

The wandering glider, found on every continent but Antarctica, is known to travel more than 8,000 miles!

Wandering glider (Pantala flavescens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2016)

Dragonflies don’t have the excellent press agents that monarch butterflies do, so it’s up to citizen scientists, researchers, and organizations such as The Xerces Society to collect data and learn more about these far-ranging insects.

Black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

For most of us, it’s enough to know dragonflies will soon be back in the Midwest to brighten our gardens and enliven our world. Returning migrants and also, the nymphs living in the water here, will appear. They’ll zip around stoplights, catch bugs at ballparks, and pose on wildflowers.

Blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) on rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) , Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2016)

Such motion!

Common green darner (Anax junius), Turtle Ponds, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2021)

Such color.

Carolina saddlebags (Tramea carolina), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2019)

Such pizzazz.

Eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera), Children’s Garden, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2022)

Though snow still flies in the Chicago region, my dragonfly “EDS”—early detection system—is on high alert. What species will I see first? When will I spot it? Where?

Great blue skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2021)

From that moment on, my days will see constant attention on the skies and wetlands. I can’t wait.

Let the dragonfly chasing season begin!

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The opening quote is from Scott King (1965-2021) in his book with Ken Tennessen and Kobayashi Issa, Dragonfly Haiku (Red Dragonfly Press, 2016). King, an engineer who grew up in northern Minnesota, was also a naturalist who wrote several books about insects. He was the founder of Red Dragonfly Press, which relied on vintage typesetting and printing equipment, and he hand-bound the poetry chapbooks he published with needle and thread. In a tribute to Scott in the Minnesota Star Tribune, he was lauded by one friend as “that rare combination of technical genius and poetic soul.” Said another friend, “He was constantly drawing your attention to what is around you that you might not be seeing or noticing.”

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Requiem for Bell Bowl Prairie

On March 9, 2023, despite public opposition, one of Illinois last prairie remnants was bulldozed by the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. Once a prairie remnant is lost, we are unable to replicate it. Let this travesty be a wake-up call for all of us who love and care for tallgrass prairies anywhere. Wherever you hike, volunteer, or see a prairie, ask yourself—is this prairie legally protected? If not, advocate for its protection now. Let this be the last prairie remnant we lose in what we’re so proud to call “The Prairie State.”

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Join Cindy for a Class or Program in March

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE — March 15, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by Bensonville Public Library. Free and open to the public, but you must register for the link by calling the library. Contact information here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE –March 16, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by the Rock Valley Wild Ones. This event was formerly a blended program and is now online only. Open to the public; but you must register. Contact information is here.

Literary Gardens — In Person —– Saturday, March 18, 9am-12:30 pm. Keynote for “Ready, Set, Grow!” Master Gardeners of Carroll, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside Counties through The Illinois Extension. Dixon, IL. Registration ($25) is offered here.

The Morton Arboretum’s “Women in the Environment Series”: The Legacy of May T. Watts— (in person and online)—with lead instructor and Sterling Morton Librarian extraordinaire Rita Hassert. March 24, 10-11:30 a.m., Founders Room, Thornhill. Registration information available here.

Literary Gardens–In Person — Wednesday, March 29, 7-8:30 p.m. La Grange Park Public Library, LaGrange, IL. (free but limited to 25 people). For more information, contact the library here.

See Cindy’s website for more spring programs and classes.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

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Calico pennant.

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Springwater dancer.

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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.

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It will be time well spent.

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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. 

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)…

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A bison, or two or three (and bulls)

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And a butterfly or two, if bees are few.

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

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Perhaps a tree or trees (nearby)

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

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

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Someone who cares enough to see

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A volunteer or two,  ensures that weeds are few.

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

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Swirling clouds, perhaps a breeze (calm)

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

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

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Egrets and birds,  all feathery

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Tall grasses bright of hue, if birds are few.

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To make a prairie … it takes you.

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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.