Alfalfa Rules/Six New County Records

This past weekend Jennifer, I and the dog made a road trip to fill in a few gaps in the maps while the weather was still nice. We traveled to the Norfolk area with the number one goal of finding a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) in Boone County, the lone remaining county where it had yet to be found. Traveling east on state Highway 91 we passed the “Entering Boone County” sign and were greeted by a mile long alfalfa field. Unfortunately it was not in bloom but taking the alfalfa as a good omen we took the next county road north even though it said “no outlet”. About a half mile up the road the alfalfa field ended and was replaced by a nice prairie pasture. We stopped and walked the road checking the flowers in the ditch and adjacent pasture. A lone Regal Fritillary flew by, another good omen, before we spotted the object of our desire – a male Clouded Sulphur. The butterfly has now been found in every Nebraska county.

Mission One accomplished, we headed south on the same road heading toward Cedar Rapids. A couple of miles into that route we encountered another alfalfa field, this one in full bloom. Butterflies were everywhere. In a half hour we found two more county records, a Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius) and Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus). Awesome!!

Looking for access to the Cedar River we kept going south until we got to Cedar Falls where we found a city park that abutted the river. Knowing the Viceroy butterfly’s affinity for willows we scouted the riverbanks for about a half hour until one wafted by. Wow – four county records in less than two hours.

Flush with success we moved on to Madison County to look for Least Skippers, Gray Hairstreaks and maybe a Buckeye. We decided to try Yellowbanks SWMA for access to the Elkhorn River and Least Skipper habitat. We found a parking area with a trail headed toward the river and off we went. Unfortunately the trail was a prime site for sandburs. Our long suffering dog was less than appreciative, so after about a hundred yards we took pity on her (and ourselves) and turned back. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving about the countryside in a futile effort to find another alfalfa field before we gave up and sheltered in Norfolk.

The next morning we met our friends Pat and Diane Miller for breakfast before heading off to Wayne County in search of a half dozen common butterflies yet to be found there. We searched a road ditch west of Highway 35 on the Wayne/Stanton County line rife with Pitcher Sage in bloom. We saw a fair number of butterflies but only a Checkered White (Pontia protodice) that was new for Wayne County.

We then wandered into Stanton County, looking for Checkered Skippers, Gray Hairstreaks and Variegated Fritillaries. We eventually did find a corner of alfalfa that had not been cut and was loaded with butterflies. After an hour of searching the four of us came up with one Variegated Fritillary. I saw a Marine Blue which to my astonishment had already been found there.

With the afternoon slipping away we parted ways and started the three hour drive home. Of the six county records we found four were on alfalfa. If there is an uncut alfalfa field in your area check it out as those fields are butterfly magnets. If you are in any of the counties needing records for the above species keep an eye out for them. For maps of more butterflies with gaps to fill check out the August 6th and 7th posts. If you have records or photos to submit or would like a list of butterflies present/absent from any Nebraska county contact us at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com.

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