Platte River Bottom Lands – Alda to Wood River

Chris Helzer sent me a skipper picture Wednesday which he had correctly ided as Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius). He’d taken the pic at a Nature Conservancy tract south of Alda and he commented that they were not uncommon there. As I had not yet sighted that skipper this year and it was only an hour’s drive away (not bad for Nebraska) I decided to go check it out on Saturday. With the forecast being for temps in the mid to upper 90’s and a 30 mph “breeze” I thought it prudent to get an early start to beat the heat. I arrived at the tract about 9:30 am. The weather forecast was spot on (temps around 80 with the called for “breeze”) except there was a stubborn overcast. The grass was still wet and the butterflies were just getting up. They were a little slow to go to nectar but as Chris had predicted Peck’s Skippers were not hard to find. I stayed at the TNC tract for about an hour and sighted a Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta, also new for my year) in an adjacent tree row. With some time on my hands I decided to explore several Game and Parks areas I’d never been to (Loch Linda and Martin’s Reach SWMAs) and found Least Skippers (Ancyloxypha numitor) at both of those sites, 2020 firsts for me as well. Martin’s Reach was interesting with a couple of backwaters and wet areas. Definitely on my go back to list.

It was kind of a funky day with the clouds, wind and temps. About 2 pm the clouds began to clear and the temps began their creep into the low 90’s. With the relentless wind the butterflies were reluctant to fly and nearly impossible to ID when they did. So with three new species for the day I headed for home. All told I sighted 11 species – Silver Spotted, Least, Tawny-edged and Peck’s Skippers, a Black Swallowtail, Cabbage Butterfly, Alfalfa Butterfly, Eastern-tailed Blue, Summer Azure, Painted Lady and Monarch. Earlier in the week a couple of Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis) visited our yard in Elm Creek which was new for us as well. So the four new species (Peck’s and Least Skippers, Summer Azure and Question Mark), brings my year to date total to 46. Three are highlighted below with the Question Mark having been covered in the May 8 post.

Least Skipper – (Ancyloxypha numitor) – the little skipper with the big name

This diminutive skipper produces several generations through the summer with adults having been found in Nebraska from late May to late September. Larvae feed on a variety of grasses. The Least Skipper is normally found near wet areas. The flight of adults is weak, but often going through vegetation rather than around or over it. It can be found statewide in appropriate habitats.

Peck’s Skipper – (Polites peckius)

Peck’s Skipper is also found statewide and flies throughout the summer well into September. While it is occasionally found in urban settings it seems to thrive in/near wetlands. One occasion that sticks in my memory is one September when I was looking for the headwaters of the South Loup River in Logan county I stumbled onto a patch of blue verbena in flower upon which hundreds of Peck’s Skippers were feasting. Larvae feed on grasses but I suspect Switchgrass is preferred. It is a smallish skipper and easily identified by the distinct markings on the ventral hindwing.

Summer Azure – (Celastrina neglecta)

It’s been said that one sure way (among many it seems) to start a heated debate was to put two taxonomists and an Azure butterfly in a room. The Azure genus Celastrina has been under constant revision for the 30+ years I’ve paid attention to butterflies. A 1981 North American butterfly checklist listed two species, ladon and ebinia with ladon having eight subspecies. The latest widely available checklist by Pelham in 2012 (http://butterfliesofamerica.com/US-Can-Cat-1-30-2011.htm) lists nine species containing six subspecies. Additional revisions have likely occurred in the interim. I don’t pretend to understand any of it.

I sighted one Azure across a fence bordering the Conservancy property. Being unable to quickly breach the fence for a close look I could only take note of it’s fresh appearance. As any Spring Azure should have shown some wear and tear by this date I lean toward this individual being a Summer Azure. While Summer Azures have been found well into August most Nebraska sightings are from June and early July. The primary larval host plant in our area is thought to be dogwood flowers.

Other recent sightings in the state include Dr. Matthew Brust from Chadron State College reported photographing a mating pair of Indra Swallowtails near Pants Butte Memorial Day weekend (just before my visit to the area) and Jonathan Nikkila followed that up with a picture of a Purplish Copper and Western Pine Elfin on the same flower at Gilbert-Baker SWMA the following weekend. Unfortunately (for me) I saw none of those three on my excursion.

On a June 4 Nebraska and Great Plains Butterflies and Moths Facebook post Joanne Langabee reported seeing 16 butterfly species at Fontanelle Forest including Buckeyes and Dainty Sulphurs. This might be the first Nebraska sightings of these two species in 2020.

Congrats and thanks to Matt, Jonathan and Joanne!!

We’re rolling into butterfly prime time – mid June through mid July where you want to be everywhere at once. Should be a fun ride!

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