William H. Cross Expedition, 20-26 June 2001, ALA., Baldwin Co., Weeks Bay NER Reserve and Bon Secour N.W.Refuge
by Joe MacGown
This year's expedition was again set in the subtropical climate of southern
Alabama at the Weeks Bay National Estuarine
Research Reserve and the Bon
Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Baldwin County. This was basically a
weeklong adventure that started on June 20th and ended on June 26th 2001. I
should say right here and now that this is probably not the best place to be
at this time of year unless one really enjoys intense heat, high humidity, and
billions of blood thirsty mosquitoes (not to mention eye flies, water moccasins,
rattlers, and rednecks). Fortunately, we are all into those very things.
Heading the list of participants this year was our expedition leader, Rob (ert) Brooks. Rob is a world renowned bee expert who joined us from the University of Kansas. Rob's knowledge of and about bees of the world was quite impressive, as was his amazingly muscular physique. Rob is also a guitar-playing singer of some notoriety and occasionally could be heard singing to bees in attempts to lure them into his net. All I can say is "what a guy". Rob also brought Ted Peterson along for the trip. Ted is a student at UK who works in the museum there doing pinning and other essential museum tasks. Ted is certainly an interesting person in his own right, and he brought along a peculiar sense of humor, which made the trip less dull at times. Ted was formerly in the Navy and his ability to always know where he was at all times proved crucial (actually, it didn't, but it sounds good). The next contestant was that Dave guy who has been on many trips with us while associated with our museum. Dave (Pollock) is now working at the Field Museum in Chicago and is quite interested in flies, especially the big pretty ones (aren't they all). Dave is a great collector who basically just walks in the field and insects swarm him. Amazing. Howard Grisham again joined us for a good percentage of the week. Howard is a lawyer/insect collector from northern Alabama who has really got the insect bug as of late. He brought a twenty foot sheet and a 1000 watt mercury vapor lamp to collect with. This was quite a set-up and could probably pull in insects from southwestern China. Drew Hildebrandt and his wife Maria Plonczynski came by for a bit, and also joined us for dinner one night. Drew is a carabid specialist and Maria is a noctuiid expert. This year we had a special guest in the form of a fourteen-year old girl named Teresa Knighten. Teresa is working for free in our museum this summer and as a reward for her great work we took her along so that she could continue the free work. Teresa's mom, Kathy, works in our department and consequentially Teresa has developed an interest in bugs. The rest of the crew consisted of us MSU museum people. That would be Richard Brown (moth guy), Terry Schiefer (bycid boy), Beverly Smith (bee girl), and myself, Joe MacGown (what else can I say).
We again had the awesome Weeks Bay facilities for our use during our trip (see last years log for more info). We arrived at Weeks Bay on Wednesday, 20 June 2001 and immediately got to work. We take a bunch of stuff including many different traps and even a freezer, so it behooves us to get right to it. As soon as we unloaded, everyone took off to collect or put out traps right away, so as to maximize the collecting. We basically collected and put traps in three different areas (with some additional collecting spots): the wooded area directly behind the H.Q. and leading to the estuary, the pitcher plant bog area down the road a bit, and Bon Secour Nat. Wildlife Refuge near Gulf Shores.
Our first destination of the day was the pitcher plant bog area down the road from the HQ. The bog was quite different than in August of the previous year. It was still quite dry compared to what it should have been and there were not great quantities of plants in flower, but there were some anyway. Some of the flowers blooming that we collected on were Lophiola americana (Gold-crest, mostly in bog), Lachnanthes caroliniana (bloodroot, more common on firebreak), Rhexia alifanus (a tall Rhexia), Rhexia petiolata (a smaller one), Sebatia macrophylla (a white flowered Sebatia), Eupatorium rotundifolium, Eriocaulon decangulare (hard heads), Xyris ambigua (yellow eyed grass), Polygala cruceata (purple candy root), Cyrilla racemiflora (a couple of these "titi" trees blooming on firebreak), and of course, the pitcher plants, Sarracenia sp. There were many other interesting plants here that we didn't collect on, or that were not in bloom such as: Drosera capillaris (a sundew), Lycapodium sp. (club moss), Hypericum brachyphyllum (St. John's wort), Tofieldia racemosa (false asphodel, in bloom), Zigadenus sp. (Crow poison, done flowering), Ludwigia sp., Lobelia sp., Liatris spicata, Aster dumosis (just starting to bloom), Rhus vernix (poison sumac), Ctenium aromaticum (toothache grass), Dichromena latifolia (white-topped sedge), Hyptis mutabilis, Clethra alnifolia (not blooming yet), Pinus elliottii (slash pine), and many others.
Terry and I put 2 malaise traps out at the pitcher plant bog. One trap was placed across a firebreak just outside of the bog in a somewhat wet patch of woods, while the 2nd trap was placed in the bog itself next to the tree line of the surrounding forest. We then set up 2 interception traps, one unbaited Japanese beetle trap, and a Lindgren funnel trap. One of the interception traps was placed just beyond the bog and just off the first branch of the boardwalk to the right past the big loop (you had to be there). This trap was placed in a wooded area with lots of moss under foot. As you continued down the boardwalk toward the river, the boardwalk intersected the firebreak again, and this is where the rest of the traps were placed. Also, while here at the bog, we did some general collecting (Terry, Dave, Teresa, Bev, & myself). Dave put out several baited pitfalls at the bog as well. Richard, Rob, and Ted also went to the bog and Richard showed the guys around a bit. Rob and Ted put up some barrier traps while here, and then headed back to the headquarters to put traps out in that area. As the rest of us were going back to the HQ, went ran into Howard, who had just arrived. He stayed at the bog for a while collecting, and then joined everyone at the HQ. As the day was wearing on, Ted, Bev, and Teresa went to town to buy some supper and breakfast. Meanwhile, Terry and I put out a malaise trap in the woods behind the HQ. We also put out a Jap. Beetle trap (JBT, unbaited) and a Lindgren funnel trap. I then helped Howard with his elaborate light set-up, which he put up on the pavilion at the end of the boardwalk behind the HQ. Terry and David put out two flight interception traps (FITs), one more Jap. Beetle trap, and one more Lindgren funnel trap. The FITs were both placed in the woods just off the boardwalk behind the HQ. The JBT and Lindren funnels were placed on the nature trail behind the HQ/Environmental Center. I believe Ted and Rob put out some FITs somewhere in these woods also. Richard put up three sheets and blacklights on the boardwalk and one sheet with a blacklight and a mercury vapor lamp at the rear of the HQ. This blacklight/MV lamp illuminated sheet stayed up the entire week. Richard put a blacklight box trap at the pitcher plant bog. He also put a wine/sugar soaked bait rope out on the rail of the boardwalk in the woods behind the HQ, which yielded at least one good cerambycid.
After eating some pizza for supper, we hit the sheets. The collecting was somewhat slow, but steady. There wasn't an overabundance of moths and larger insects for sure, but they added up by the end of the evening. Howard's giant 1000 watt MV light was my favorite by far. There were many more insects at his sheet, especially small beetles. Eventually, everyone went to bed (well after midnight).
Exciting day today, June 21, my 37th birthday, sparks were in the air. I was so excited that I put out six pitfall traps out in the woods at HQ. Richard got up bright and early and retrieved his boxtrap. Terry put out 4 beer/molasses/ yeast bait traps in various places at HQ woods. Richard sorted out the box trap sample and the rest of us went to the bog to collect. The collecting was very slow and it was already steamy at 9:00 AM. We did get some stuff, however. Some bees, quite a few beeflies, scoliids, other wasps, robber flies, etc. I found some Cyrilla blooming on the firebreak and collected some bycids, scoliids, a couple of scarabs, bees, etc. on it. Terry found some Callicarpa americana (beautyberry) in bloom at the beginning of the nature trail in the parking lot across the road from the bog. He had some luck collecting on this. Dave collected a big mydas fly in the parking lot. Rob, the bee nut, realized very quickly that the bees were sparse, so he did some alternative collecting. He sprayed select tree trunks with "Raid" insect killer and collected insects that crawled out from the bark. Sometime around noon, we went to the HQ and grabbed a sandwich.
After lunch the wild bearded wonder (Rob, he even has a cape) was ever ready to get back to the bog and the nature trail there to collect more bugs. So, he and I went back that way and got to it. We starting out on the nature trail across the road from the bog. We looked for beetles in mushrooms and fogged tree trunks and otherwise had great fun. After 30 minutes or so, I went across the street and collected in the bog and the woods over there. I caught some forked fungus beetles (Tenebrionidae) on some hard polypore type fungus on a dead tree and quite a few other beetles on the same tree with the Raid method. Collected a Mellisodes bimaculata on Lachnanthes. Oooh
We eventually collected all of the bugs there and went back to the HQ to take care of our stuff and eat supper. While we were at the bog area, everybody else was either pinning or collecting near the HQ. Supper was quite tasty and was in the nature of Lasagna and salad. Cool enough to eat.
Collecting this night was to be had at the Bon Secour NWR near Gulf Shores. We arrived there close to dark, but had time to put up the sheets and even a malaise trap. Richard put up three blacklights and sheets along a trail just behind the main foredune area, and Howard put his sheet up in the west foredune area. Terry and I put a malaise trap up in the backdunes. Unbelievable is one word that comes to mind when I think of the gazillion mosquitoes that tried to cart me and other bodies off. I like pain as much as the next person, but enough is enough! As young Terry and I battled the bloodsucking forces of evil in a heroic effort to put up the malaise trap, we realized that the connecting piece for the jar was missing. We struggled for what seemed an eternity to come up with McGyver like solutions, but finally agreed to give up until the next day brought us back with duct tape (and before we were totally exsanguinated).
The insects at the sheets were, again, somewhat on the sparse side, at least as far as interesting bugs go. But, we did get some moths, a bunch of a couple of species of scarabs, tenebrionids, elaterids, and an Eburia distincta just as we were taking down the sheet. Howard's sheet was very interesting in that one complete side was virtually covered with mosquitoes. It was a no-man's land over there, and no one lasted over 3 seconds on that side. Needless to say, we took the sheets down somewhat early this night. There was no complaining about that since we still had 30 minutes to drive back to HQ and another sheet there to check.
On the morning of June 22nd we all headed back to Bon Secour to collect (with the exception of the Brown man, who stayed to pin moths). When we got there Terry and I managed to fix the malaise trap with some duct tape. Everyone collected on flowers on the foredunes or west foredunes area, and Dave and Bev also collected on the Pine Beach Trail. In the areas behind the foredunes, there were low lying swales full of flowering plants such as Lachnanthes, Rhexia, and Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush). There were many bumble bees and other bees on these plants. Ted put out some colored bowl traps with soapy water to collect bees in one of these areas on the west side of the road. Rob said he saw a giant water moccasin there, or maybe a rattlesnake, or cobra, but definitely poisonous. On the other side of the road in the foredunes (the east foredunes), we collected on several flowers including Cakile edentula (sea rocket), Ipomoea stolonifera (beach morning glory), Paronychia erecta (square flower), and Licania michauxii (gopher apple). There were quite a few mydas flies buzzing around the gopher apple, especially next to and in the scrubby, stunted live oak patches. We collected several of these, both male and female, and also some wasps and flies. Around lunch time, Ted, Rob, and Teresa took off for the HQ. Terry, Dave, Bev, and I also headed back after another hour or so and picked up some groceries on the way.
That afternoon it rained like a hound dog and all the rest, so being the worn out bunch that we were (it is really hot on the dunes), we all basically took a nap. That night (after supper), we blacklighted at the bog. We had three sheets with blacklights on the boardwalk in the bog, and two more on the nature trail across the road near the parking lot. Howard had his MV sheet over on this nature trail too. Scott Phipps and his wife, Marla Favor came by and joined us in the collecting for a while. Unfortunately for them, the collecting was very poor. My favorite sheet was the one in the pavilion on the boardwalk. It seemed to have the most little beetles on it. After we pulled the sheets down, we went back to the HQ. Some people did some additional collecting at the sheet there, while the others took care of their specimens.
The next morning, 23 June, everybody except Richard (moth pinning) went collecting at a couple of sites Howard knew about. The first site was 1/2 mile N of Roscoe Road on the Foley Beach Express and was a large, sandy disturbed site with some common flowering weeds present. This area proved to be fairly good collecting. Some of the plants we collected on were Sambucus canadensis (elderberry, in bloom), Verbena brasiliensis, Polypremum procumbens (a small plant with little white flowers), Richardia brasiliensis (a low prostrate vine-like plant), Hyptis mutabilis, and Pyrrhopappus carolinianus. We collected two species of tiger beetles here, and numerous bees, wasps and flies. At 11:00 A.M. we went to a spot near the intracoastal waterway, but didn't collect here because there didn't seem to be much flying here. We next went to a pine savanna habitat 5 km NW Lillian that was somebody's hunting camp. We found some Cyrilla blooming there and this was a great draw for wasps, bees, flies, and other insects. There was also some Hibiscus (aculeatus?) and Rhexia blooming here. This area was totally saturated with chloropid flies (eye flies) and we were beginning to think we were in some Egyptian plague movie. Rob and Howard next collected 4 km down the same road. While there, they apparently found some Sambucus canadensis to collect on. The rest of us headed back to the HQ, with the exception of Terry who seemed to be rooted in position near one of the Cyrilla trees. When Howard and Rob got through down the road, they came back and picked him up, strapped him to the roof and headed back to HQ. Dave, Beverly, and I collected the rest of the afternoon at the bog and surrounding woods.
Supper that night was conducted at a local seafood joint, Pelican Point, not too bad (not too good either considering the price), but the music was too loud. Had to shout at people, which can be fun at times anyway. Drew, Maria, their daughter, a friend of the daughter, and Howard and his wife Sheila all ate supper with us. This was to be Howard's last night with our amazing group of bug catchers.
That night's blacklighting festivities took place at the HQ area. We put 5 sheets with blacklights out along the nature trail. Richard and I put out the boxtrap on the boardwalk at the HQ in the sawgrass overlook area. Collecting was, again, not great. I collected some fungus beetles on a polypore on an old live oak near one of the sheets. Also, found some beetle, millepedes, etc. on bases of trees. The beetles were the same types that Rob was collecting with the Raid spray during the day. Packed it in at some point and checked the sheet behind HQ. Took care of bugs and talked to Rob about all the great bees we have in our collection. Rob, being a bee guy, didn't really blacklight all that much, but he had plenty to do in the evenings identifying our unsorted bees. Yes, thats right, we brought along 16 or so drawers of bees from our museum so he could check them out. We didn't want that guy slacking one bit. Everybody liked that Rob guy and it didn't hurt that he doled out snack food such as hot tamales (candy).
Well, June 24th was a somewhat strange day in that Richard didn't stay in to pin moths, but went out in the field with the bee dude. They went back to the 2 sites we had visited the day before, Foley Beach Express and the Hunting Camp land, and possibly made a couple more roadside stops as well. They collected on some of the same plants as the day before and also on another species of Verbena (possibly officinalis?, halei?, simplex?). That same morning Terry, Beverly, and I went to the bog to collect and ended up going on a plant walk through the bog with the Alabama native plant society. There were several people there who knew the local plants quite well and they verified our plant identifications for us, and also identified some plants for us. It was indeed providential meeting up with them.
After the plant walk and after lunch we collected in the woods behind the HQ. At some point in the afternoon, Dave and I went in to spread moths. Other folks pinned insects or continued to collect. Drew and Maria came by late in the afternoon and picked up their 2 batteries and sheets, which we had borrowed the previous two nights.
That night we blacklighted at the bog area again. We put 3 sheets on the boardwalk in the bog and one sheet across the road in the woods near the parking lot. Blacklighting was again slow and we packed up a bit early. By the time we made it back to the HQ, Rob had finished sorting all our bees. He found a new family for our collection in there, an oxyaeid collected by Drew Hildebrandt. Also, of note, were two specimens of Mellita from southern MS collected by myself. In addition to these there were several good species from here and there, especially some from Texas collected by evil Dave.
On the next morning, 25 June, Richard, Dave, Bev, Rob, Ted, and Teresa all went to the Grand Bay Savanna in Mississippi to collect. Terry and I went to Bon Secour that morning to take down the malaise trap there. After we took down the malaise, we went to the Jeff Friend Trail and collected on it. We collected a bunch of cassidines on Serenoa repens, also a mating pair of walkingsticks, and numerous insects along the trail. That afternoon Terry and I took down all the traps at the HQ and at the bog. The malaise trap in the firebreak at the bog seemed to have the most stuff in it.
The other guys showed up later in the afternoon tired and hot, but otherwise miserable. Everybody cleaned up and we ate supper at some pseudo-Mexican place. Our waitress was quite a character, even overwhelmingly annoying at times, and yet, she was worth the visit to the restaurant itself. She was the mother of the new owner who had just opened the restaurant and she was a nut. Unfortunately, the food, although cheap, was below the level of Taco Bell, and I'm thinking they need a new cook.
We put three sheets up at the HQ boardwalk that night, plus the one that stayed up all week at the HQ. Collected some things, lots of little beetles, some roaches, and a few moths. As I was heading in the building, I collected a nice noctuiid at the MV/BL sheet at the HQ. It was a tropical fruit sucking species in the genus Gonodonta. That was very exciting. In fact, I can't stress just how exciting it was to see this beautiful tropical moth in immaculate condition just sitting there on the sheet ripe for my picking. That was the last bug I collected. You have to know when to say when.
The next morn, June 26th, was the day of departure and we got up, ate, loaded up, and headed out. On our way back, at a stop at a gas station in Buckatunna, Beverly collected a nice cerambycid on the door of the gas station.
Weeks Bay Sites
Weeks Bay H.Q. Area
Weeks Bay NER Reserve
Pitcher Plant Bog Area
Weeks Bay NER Reserve
Woods across the Road
from Pitcher Bog nr.
Weeks Bay NER Reserve
Bon Secour N.W.Refuge sites
Bon Secour N.W.Ref.
Bon Secour NWR
Bon Secour NWR
Pine Beach Trail (half way down trail)
Bon Secour NWR
Jeff Friend Trail
Bon Secour NWR
Foley Beach Express
2 mi S of Foley
(1/2 mi N Roscoe Rd on
Foley Beach Express)
stopped here on 24 June 2001)
6 mi E of Foley
Hunting Camp, site 1, Cyrilla site
5 km NW Lillian
Hunting Camp, site 2
9 km NW Lillian
Grand Bay Savanna
Grand Bay Savanna
Habitat Information for 2nd labels
Weeks Bay H.Q.
Pitcher Plant Bog/Boardwalk area
Pitcher Plant Bog
Woods just past Bog on and nr. Boardwalk
Bog and woods Mixed
in Bog & Mixed
Woods across Rd. from Bog
nr. parking area
Plants at Bog that we collected on
Plants at HQ that we collected on
Patrinia scabiosifolia (beardtongue)
Plants at Bon Secour that we collected on
Foley Beach Express plants
6 mi E of Foley
Verbena officinalis?, halei?, simplex? (go with Verbena
sp., or Verbena officinalis sp.grp. apparently these species are virtually indistinguishable in the field)