Return to Box Elder/Jeffry Canyon WMAs – Three new species and a “midden”

After being stuck on 23 species for the year for 12 days due to the cold snap and still stinging from being shut out at the Scotia Chalk Mine I made another trip to Lincoln county to check out Box Elder WMA for third time this year. It took till noon for the morning clouds to clear so I left Elm Creek about 1:00 pm. Upon arriving at Box Elder I checked out the hilltops. Silvery Blues (Glaucopsyche lygadmus) were still flying but in lesser numbers as were Gorgone Checkerspots (Chlosyne gorgone) and Gray Hairstreaks (Strymon melinus) which had been found there on May 6. But new for the year I found several Dusted Skippers (Atrytonopsis hianna), a Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus) and another skipper which I did not immediately recognize. I was ten miles back down the road before a light came on and I realized it was a Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok). Not having seen one for a while they had kind of fallen off my radar.

Dusted Skippers are mixed grass prairie specialists. They fly in one generation a year from mid May through mid June. I always look for them in “shaggy” looking prairies which usually have lots of little bluestem, a bunchgrass which is also one of the larval hostplants. Adults take nectar from narrow leaved puccoon and locoweed among others. In the absence of good pics here is a link to some better ones: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Atrytonopsis-hianna. Our subspecies turneri has fewer and less defined markings than the nominate subspecies illustrated there.

Hobomok Skippers are an elusive bunch in Nebraska which is on the western fringe of their range. I do not know of a good location to reliably locate them. When you come across them they are never common, usually just an individual or two. I had not seen one in over 10 years so was very happy to see this one which was also a Lincoln county record. They fly in a single brood with most sightings in the mid May to mid June time frame. Larvae feed on various grasses.

Common Sootywings main flight is from late May-early June after which they occur sporadically into early September. They prefer open ground so are most often found on/along roads. Larvae feed on various weeds including Lambsquarters and Amaranths. The species is common statewide.

I also stopped back at Jeffry Canyon WMA on the way home where I’d seen something when we were there on May 6 that tweaked my interest. After poking around the internet I’d decided it was an eastern wood rat (aka pack rat) nest called a “midden”. I’d never seen one before so I hiked back up to the base of the tower to get a picture. Most interesting component of the nest was the prickly pear cactus “leaves”. I made sure to keep my car keys in my pocket!!

Also saw a few neat butterflies at Jeffry Canyon WMA including a Juniper Hairstreak and Goatweed Leafwing, both of which I’d seen earlier in the year but still neat to see.

So now is a good time to see these three species, the Dusted Skipper in mixed grass prairies, The Hobomok Skipper which could turn up anywhere and the Common Sootywing which will probably be found along rural roads. Happy Hunting!!

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