Dune and Swale
In Northwest Indiana, at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, you can find a remarkable ecosystem. Over the last 10,000-20,000 years, the Lake Michigan shoreline has been gradually receding. As the lake recedes, the sand dunes become stabilized by a shifting sequence of vegetative changes known as primary succession. What begins as a sandy community of grasses becomes a wooded ecosystem. The dune ridges remain as gently hills running parallel to the lakeshore. The swales between them remain wet, at least during parts of the year. The dunes and swales are home to a remarkable community of plants and animals.
Today Leon and I visited with John and Jane, longtime friends from the prairie restoration movement; Laurel, a longtime friend from prairie restoration who now works at the Field Museum. Our guide was Paul from the Indiana field office of The Nature Conservancy and steward of the two sites that we toured.
Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) and Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)
It didn't take us long to find our first ladyslippers. This is an amazing orchid. It's reasonably large (the pouches are over an inch long. Although a rare plant globally, it's extremely common in the dune and swale ecosystems in Indiana. We saw thousands of blooming plants during our travels today. Some were individaul sprigs. Others small clumps.
At times, there were large patches with hundreds of blooms in them.
As we walked further, we had to traverse numerous swales. It was a day of wet feet (and ticks...but let's not dwell on unpleasantries here).
At last, it the skies began to lighten. No butterfiles initially, but we did start seeing some other insects.
A net-winged beetle (Calopteron reticulatum)
Male Karner Blue, underside
This one embiggens well
The Dusted Skipper is a very rare species that lives in sandy areas. I am aware of only two populations in Illinois. They are a bit more abundant in northwest Indiana, but still a rare species. These posed for photos.
This was definitely a day to savor. I spent time with friends that I don't see often enough. We visited beautiful, rich and rare habitats and saw and photographed lots of rare plants and animals. Our day ended with pleasant conversation at a nearby Mexican restaurant.