Niobrara Valley Preserve Skipper Hunt

An abbreviated version (minimal participants due to the virus situation) of the annual butterfly count at the Niobrara Valley Preserve was scheduled to be held July 11 with myself, Jen and Jon and Bennett Nikkila set to participate. Long story short Jen and I were unable to make it and Jon and his son Bennett covered most of the traditional survey area making field notes and taking pics. They compiled a pretty impressive list of species and located three butterflies I had not yet found in 2020 (Little Wood SatyrMegisto cymela, Northern Broken Dash Wallengrenia egeremet, and Little GlassywingPompeis verna). So Jen and I finally made it to the Preserve Wednesday the 15th to see if we could find those three species and possibly add to Jon’s count. We ended up finding the first two in short order while searching a secret spot guarded by the world’s largest patch of poison ivy. We looked there for awhile for the third before giving up and moving to a prairie hillside Jon had not covered. Most of the purple coneflower that attracted us to that hill many years ago were past but some Liatris was starting to flower. I was covering the middle portions of the hill when Jen called my attention to a large golden skipper she had located on the hilltop. It proved to be a male Ottoe Skipper (Hesperia ottoe) – a rare find in Nebraska and the first found on the Preserve since 2012. After that we searched Middle Creek for Two-spotted and Dion skippers (Euphyes bimacula and E. dion) and came up empty there before heading to Chadron to chase down a Bates Crescent lead in King Canyon. So for Wednesday we added three species to the Butterfly Big Year list – Little Wood Satyr, Northern Broken Dash and Ottoe Skipper.

Northern Broken Dash – The habitat for this skipper is canyons in the Pine Ridge or moister areas near trees in the remainder of the state. It flies in a single generation from late June into mid July. Larvae feed on grasses in the genus Panicum. It is seldom encountered and records are scattered across the state. In the field it is easily confused with the more common Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris) and the even rarer Little Glassywing (Pompeis verna). This skipper is a NENHP Tier 2 species (see June 14 post)

Ottoe Skipper – This skipper is the ultimate prairie species and requires higher quality grasslands to survive. As such it is often used as an ecological indicator species. It flies in a single mid summer brood from late June through July. Larvae feed primarily on the bunchgrass little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius). Most records are from the center third of the state where mixed grass prairies are most common. Adults can be confused with Delaware and Arogos Skippers (see June 14 post) but are generally larger and easily identified if a dorsal view can be obtained. This skipper is a NENHP Tier 1 species (see June 14 post)

Little Wood Satyr – This butterfly inhabits open woodlands or woodland margins where it has a tendency to fly through vegetation rather than over it. A single generation occurs between mid June to early July. Larvae feed on a variety of grasses. With the exception of the extreme western counties the Little Wood Satyr is found statewide.

So Jen and I found two of the three species I needed that Jonathan and Bennett found (missing out on the Little Glassywing Skipper) but located an Ottoe Skipper instead. For the day we added three new species to the “Big Year” total which now stands at 97.

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