Friday, May 11, 2012

Scatter Creek

Cheryl was doing something, so I took off by myself.

I was heading for one of our favorite portions of the Scatter Creek WMA, to the north of us in Greene Co. The last time we had been there I had caught a glimpse of, and got a poor photo of a species of grasshopper that was unfamiliar to me, and I had been waiting for a chance to go back and try to get a better look at it. The path on the way to this grasshopper was also a very good one to see large numbers of Hairstreaks. (This is how I justified the carbon footprint to myself. People marvel at birders driving across the state to see a bird; we insect people drive across the state to see a bug!)

Grasshoppers are divided into three major groups. First come the Slant-faces. These are mainly small species that hide deep in the vegetation. They are characterized by their slanting profiles. The second big group are the Band-wings. These tend to be largeish grasshoppers, with long wings often in bright colors, red, yellow, blue. When they suddenly fly up in front of you, if you are not used to them, you may mistake them for butterflies. The third group, the Spur-throats, characterized by a little sort of bump in their throats, are medium-sized and miscellaneous in appearance and behavior. The one I was after this day was a Slant-face, which I believed would turn out to be a Velvet-striped Grasshopper, one of the species which should appear in Arkansas, but which I had missed last year.

I parked at the entrance of the wildlife management area. It was on the western edge of Crowley's Ridge, so I began my walk on a road that went straight up to the highest point on the ridge. I then walked a couple of miles along the ridge trail. There were Banded Hairstreaks on territories all along it. I tried to get a good look at each one in case there was something special. I finally spotted one that was different. Not a rarity, but a nice one anyway, a Striped Hairstreak. I'll put it up here next to a Banded, to give you an idea of the marks we look for. On the Banded there is a big blue square down at the bottom of the wing. The first difference to note is that on the Striped there is a big orange cap on top of that blue spot. Then next you will note that it has a lot more stripes.

There it is, simple as that. I hope I will eventually have some rarer species to show.

At this point, as almost always, a bit of serendipity intervened. I had been seeing a lot of Plains Yellow-winged Grasshoppers along the trail, a common spring species. This is one of the Band-winged group, and one that I had seen last year. But one I had missed last year, and a close relative of the Yellow-winged, is the Sulfur-winged Grasshopper. I had seen them for the first time recently at Petit Jean in the middle of the state, and gotten a rather unsatisfactory picture to put on my grasshopper Picasa Web Album. I assumed they only occurred in the western part of the state, but suddenly there was one here in front of me on Crowley's Ridge, and he posed for a number of pictures. I was beginning to notice something about their behavior. They (or at least the males) seemed to sit with their abdomen hanging down, so that it's bright yellow coloring showed, along with the stripe of yellow down their back. One suspects this is to be attractive to the opposite sex. In the event of a predator coming by, they could lift the abdomen up, it would be concealed under the wings, and they would disappear into the substrate.

I felt a bit relieved to have this good luck, because finding that fugitive Slant-faced grasshopper concealed in all the tangle of vegetation would not be easy.

I walked to the end of the trail where it came out onto a pine barren, which was the hot spot for grasshoppers.  I was immediately startled by an Orange-winged Grasshopper taking off at my feet and flying off with its brilliant wings. There were several of them in the more open areas, and I had to try to check each one by getting directly overhead and looking straight down on them. You see, there is a species I have never seen, the Coral-winged Grasshopper, which should occur in Arkansas, and evidently looks exactly like the Orange-winged. The way you separate them is, the Orange-winged has blue at the base of the inside of the hind femora, and the Coral-winged does not. It's relatively easy if you have a net and simply catch each one you see and examine it in your hands. It's trickier, but quite possible, however, to do it photographically. These all turned out to be Orange-winged. Here is an example.

(This species comes in a green and a brown form. I believe I showed the green form in a previous blog.)

I now began a careful search of the area where I had seen the Slant-face previously. I saw a few other species of grasshopper, but not that one. Though there was no water around except for a couple of seeps, there was a rather attractive damselfly flying along the sparsely vegetated ground, with the rather attractive name of the Springwater Dancer.

On a cherry tree I saw a small brown moth which I recognized as the moth that laid the eggs that gave rise to the defoliating Eastern Tent Caterpillars. This one, to judge by its furry antennae, was a male, perhaps waiting there for females to come by, since the cherry is their caterpillar food tree of choice. If so, he must have been doing very well, because the tree was covered with the eggs of this species, in hard-coated egg nests that circled the branches, and which would remain all summer and winter, until the caterpillars came out in their hundreds next spring.

There were lots of butterflies and other insects around, but the Slant-face I had come for was nowhere to be found. Well, what the heck, I had found the Sulfur-winged, and that was just as good. So I turned around to head back to the car, and there it was sitting on the path in front of me. A very nice one, and it even stayed to pose for me, and it was indeed the Velvet-striped Grasshopper.

So there it was; I had achieved all my goals and more. I got back to the car and, if only I had left things alone, but no, I took a quick check around a grassy area near where I parked. There was a tiny Slant-face, sneaking around in the vegetation. I was on my hands and knees following it. I couldn't get much of a glimpse of it, and I had no idea what it was. I finally managed to get a quick shot of it, but from nearly head-on, and from below, an angle from which I could see no helpful fieldmarks. Then it disappeared forever.

Now I'll have to go back and look for it.

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