Niobrara Valley Preserve, late summer – no new species but great day anyway

Last September 3 Jen and I met with Chris Helzer and his fellows at the NVP to look for Pawnee Skippers which we found. In addition we found one Lupine Blue and several Horace’s Duskywings. The latter two species had eluded me so far this year so Saturday I made a trip up to the Preserve to try to locate them for my Big Year effort. Thankfully a “cold” front moved through Friday and knocked the temps back about 10 to 15 degrees. With a cooler than normal morning I left a little later than normal and arrived there about noon. First stop was the hill where we had located Pawnee Skippers and the Lupine Blue last year. As is the case in much of Nebraska the plants were starting to show the effects of the heat and lack of rain. The gravely hill doesn’t look like much but its amazing how life holds on there. Once at the hilltop I found some Liatris in bloom and sure enough there were the Pawnee Skippers (Hesperia leonardus pawnee) – albeit only a few.

A lot of the Liatris in the area was yet to bloom so that probably made spotting a little tougher. This is the same hilltop where we found the male Ottoe Skipper (Hesperia ottoe) in July (the first sighting in Nebraska in 8 years). The larvae of both skippers feed on native grasses including little bluestem. What a hardscrabble existence! I’m always happy to find any of the skippers in the genus Hesperia. True native prairie specialists, they survive in some harsh looking environments and finding them always gives me hope that all is not lost. Unfortunately while finding skippers I was unable to locate any Lupine Blues.

The next stop was Middle Creek where I’d noticed a few Purple Loosestrife blooming by the culvert. They were covered with scores of cabbage whites while a thistle in the creekbed had attracted some regal and great spangled fritillaries. The fritillaries were females coming out of a mid summer period of inactivity to refuel before laying eggs from which larvae will hatch and overwinter. But no Lupine Blues or Horace’s Duskywings there either.

So I moved on to what last year was a thistle and purple loosestrife patch east of the HQ area where I had seen several Horace’s Duskywings last year. TNC had managed to knock the thistle population back to near zero but Purple Loosestrife was still abundant. There I found Eastern Tailed Blues and Tawny Edged Skippers to be abundant as well as some Checkered Skippers, Silver Spotted Skippers and Gray Hairstreaks. But the best find of the day was sighting a few Silver Bordered Fritillaries which had also been there the year before. But still no Horace’s Duskywings.

My last option was a leg of the hiking trail from the Fairfield Creek Road that ran along a spring fed rivulet back into the oak woodland. Along that small stream there were several thistles and some Joe Pye Weed in bloom on which there were several Giant Swallowtails. An anglewing (Polygonia sp) was also in the area as well as a few Monarchs.

Having exhausted my best options on the Preserve I headed back south with some time to kill. So I took a new road less traveled from Brewster to Milburn to Gates to Broken Bow, stopping to take a pic of the lone building remaining in Milburn – the Milburn Hall (1911) (note the outhouse in the lower right).

So while I was disappointed not to have found any new species for the big year it was a great day for a drive and some hiking around – sunny, temps topping out in the mid 80s with less wind than normal. I got to see Pawnee Skippers, Silver Bordered Fritillaries and Giant Swallowtails which doesn’t happen every day. I’m still at 102 species for the year with my options dwindling. But a great day anyway!

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