Mile Marker 1- Worth the Wait

On the final day of our three day road trip we decided to revisit an area where the weather had shut us down back in May. So we went west on I-80 to mile marker 1 (one mile from Wyoming) and took the exit and started south. The target destination was a small rock formation a mile or two in where I had found Shasta Blues and Western Green Hairstreaks in the past. But we stopped well short of there at the first blooming milkweed we saw along the road and were immediately rewarded. There was a Western Green Hairstreak (Callophyrs affinis apama or a. homoperplexa). The day was already a success!! We road hunted milkweeds and thistles up to the rock formation and turned up a couple of skippers new for the “Big Year”, Pahaska and Uncas (Hesperia pahaska and H. uncas). I love skippers, especially the genus Hesperia. They are the ultimate insect symbols of the untamed prairie – like the buffalo only quite a bit smaller!! So with the day already a total success we headed east to check out a couple more spots on the way home.

Still stuck on the idea of checking a wetland we headed to The Garden County Wildlife Refuge next to the North Platte River south of Oshkosh. I’d been eyeballing it for awhile but had never made time to stop for a looksee. So make time we did. I pulled up next to an open gate and we got out to investigate. The ground I thought would be squishy was crunchy. There had been standing water there at some point but that time had long since passed. Disappointed we checked out a couple more spots along the road until there it was – a Queen (Danaus gillipus) taking nectar from a milkweed flower. The Queen is a close relative of the Monarch but does not migrate, instead showing up in our area as a southern stray. Having at least partially salvaged that stop but still not completely giving up on wetlands we went east to Lewellen and Road 46 just south of town.

We had visited Road 46 and its wet ditches previously (see June 13 post) and found some butterflies on milkweeds just beginning to flower. So now we revisited the site only to find the roadside milkweeds had been destroyed by the county under the guise of road maintenance. But farther down the road there was an extensive dogbane patch that had escaped the county’s wrath and was just coming into its own. As we road hunted (do you detect a pattern here?) Jen said she saw a copper so we jumped out to investigate. It ended up being a Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) – new for the “Big Year”. Thus encouraged we did some walking (technically still “road hunting”) along the dogbane patch. There was quite a bit of activity but nothing new so after a while I got back into the pickup to wait for my wife to do likewise when she exclaimed “That’s no Painted Lady!!” So I got back out to find her pointing out a mint fresh Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti), not unheard of for that area, but totally unexpected. So that was the cherry on the sundae. After one last quick stop in the loess hills southwest of North Platte to look for Baird’s Swallowtail larvae (no luck) we made our way back home. What a great three days!

Uncas Skipper – This prairie resident inhabits the mixed/short grass prairies in the western half of the state. Larvae feed on grasses including Blue Gramma and Green Needle Grass. There is a main early summer flight with a possible partial second brood. Adults have been found from May 23 to September 1. Checking Platte Thistle flowers is often productive.

Pahaska Skipper – Another of the prairie skippers Pahaska can be found in the panhandle where a single flight occurs. There are sightings from late May to late July. Larvae feed on grasses with Blue Gramma most frequently cited in literature. Adults have been found in hilly short grass prairies and grassy clearings in the pine forests of the region.

Bronze Copper – Multiple generations of this striking Copper fly in Nebraska where it has been sighted from late May to late September. It can be found statewide, most often in wet road ditches or riparian areas where its larval hostplants Docks (Rumex sp.) occur. This species is strongly sexually dimorphic with females having an orange upper forewing which is absent in males.

Western Green Hairstreak – This taxonomy of this minute hairstreak is somewhat confusing. Depending on the author you might find it listed as apama, affinis or homoperplexa. In any case the known range of this butterfly in the state is restricted to the southern panhandle where it can be found on/near rocky outcroppings where it’s larval hostplants (buckwheats, mainly sulfur flower Eriogonum umbellatum) occur. Adults have been found from late June into early August.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – This handsome butterfly is likely a resident in the panhandle, with strays found randomly across the rest of the state. It’s larvae feed on stinging nettles and adults are often found in moister canyons where the hostplant can be found. It is possible to see this butterfly the entire season as adults overwinter resulting in very early and late records.

Queen – This southern stray is reported from the state just about every year but only as an individual or two. With milkweeds being their larval hostplants breeding is possible but overwintering is not. It is not a migrant as is it’s close relative the Monarch but rather a resident from our southernmost states and into Mexico, Central and South America. As a stray there is no preferred habitat – it can show up anywhere.

So with six new species for the day the “Big Year” total is 78.

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