Soldier Creek, Gilbert-Baker, Sowbelly Canyon

On day two of our three day western Nebraska field trip Jen and I started out by doing some exploring since the morning skies were cloudy and we had time to be tourists. Neither of us had ever been to Soldier Creek Wilderness (National Forest Service) adjacent to Fort Robinson State Park so we took the road through the park to check it out. Just as we got to there the butterfly gods smiled on us and the sun broke through. There was a milkweed along the road and lo and behold a skipper had just come out for breakfast. It was a Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles), a new species for my “Big Year”. It was a little early in the year for that skipper to be out so that was a pleasant surprise. We kicked around there for a bit before moving on to our intended destinations Gilbert-Baker SWMA north of Harrison, Sowbelly Canyon and the Pants Butte area. Upon our arrival there we quickly found Icarioides Blues (Plebejus icarioides) to tally our second “Big Year” species of the day. Butterflies were not crazy abundant but enough were around to keep us looking. A lot of what we saw we had seen the previous day at Wildcat Hills – numerous Aphrodite Fritillaries, an occasional Weidemeyer’s Admiral and lots of blues to check out, mostly Melissa and Reakirt’s. We headed up to the Pants Butte area where I had seen Shasta Blues back in the day but could not locate them. Thinking perhaps a little change of scenery was in order we decided to see if we could find any accessible wetlands along the Niobrara River some 40 miles to the south. So we drove down Highway 29 to the parking area of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument near the river and checked our road ditches looking for any signs of life. It was getting a little late and perhaps the butterflies had already closed up shop. In any event we were unsuccessful there as well so we called it a day with two new species, one expected and the other a complete surprise.

Taxiles Skipper – This western skipper reaches the extreme eastern limits of its range in northern Nebraska where it has been found as far east as the Niobrara Valley Preserve in Brown and Keya Paha counties. Larvae feed on various grasses and adults have been found from 22 June to 1 August with peak numbers normally found in early to mid July. Steve Spomer is looking at designating our Nebraska populations as a new subspecies based on some morphological differences between ours and the more western populations.

Icarioides Blue – This Blue’s Nebraska range is restricted to the panhandle region where it flies in a single generation from late May well into July. Larvae feed on lupines. Adults frequent the canyons and buttes near the hostplants and can sometimes be abundant.

With the two new additions the “Big Year” species count stands at 72.

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