Firey Skippers and Marine Blues – One Last Time?

OK, you’re probably getting tired of hearing about them but that is about all that is flying that is even slightly interesting. Saturday I accompanied Jen for a day on the Junk Jaunt. Our first stop was at a multi vendor location along NE Highway 2 in Ansley. One of the vendors was selling plants (mums and asters) so of course we had to check them out both for plant opportunities and also to see what butterflies might be hanging around the nectar opportunities they were so kind as to furnish. So of course there was a Marine Blue there which was a Custer County record! The rest of the day passed uneventfully (butterfly wise), but was still a success in my book.

Sunday we rested from our Saturday adventure and made a new plan for Monday which ended up being an afternoon road trip to Harlan and Franklin counties. One of our butterfly hunting strategies is to check out city parks and see what might be blooming and what might be hanging around the flowers. That strategy paid off in Orleans (Harlan County) where at the fairgrounds there was a nice assortment of mums and marigolds. After visually sorting through the Sachem skippers we finally located a couple of Firey Skippers which hadn’t yet been reported from Harlan County. That brought the Harlan County species count up to 67. With no other prospects for county records there we headed east toward Franklin County where we hoped to find a Marine Blue.

Once past Harlan County Reservoir we took the river road east in search of any alfalfa field that had thus far escaped the fall cutting. We found none but did find several asters covered with a sundry assortment of butterflies but no Marine Blues. We reached Franklin (the town) and followed the signs directing us to the fairgrounds, hoping to duplicate our Harlan County success. Before we reached the fairgrounds we came upon the alfalfa field in bloom we had been searching for, complete with a plethora of butterflies. After about twenty minutes of searching a Marine Blue finally perched in front of us to complete our quest for the day.

The 90 degree temps have given way to the 60s. The cottonwoods are starting to drop leaves. Time is marching on and the butterfly season is definitely winding down. Here’s hoping for a few more weeks!!

Another Dainty Sulfur Record

Master Naturalist Colin Croft contacted me to report another county record for the Dainty Sulfur (Nathalis iole), this one from Scotts Bluff County where he has sighted/photographed it on numerous occasions. Many thanks Colin!!

That leaves eight counties without iole records. We likely won’t get them knocked out this year but be on the lookout in the few remaining weeks of the “season”.

Firey Skipper and Marine Blue Alert

This past weekend Jon Nikkila and Jen and I both found Firey Skippers (Hylephila phyleus) in previously unrecorded counties, Jon in Valley County and Jen and I in Polk County. In addition both Jon and I have seen Marine Blues (Leptotes marina) in our yards here in Buffalo County. Last weekend I saw one in Stanton County as well which, to my surprise, was not a county record. Apparently both of these southern species might presently be found statewide. Check the distribution maps below to see if you may be somewhere that still needs records for these species and be on the lookout for them. If you find any new records let us know at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com.

In addition Jen and I found two Dainty Sulfurs (Nathalis iole) at some sandy barrens and a Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on alfalfa in Polk county where they had not previously been found. From there we went searching for wetlands that might hold Least Skippers and Viceroys. We did find some promising sites but neither of the butterflies. We’ll have to check them again next year. To cap off the day we saw a Red-spotted Purple in a friends yard in Osceola which verified an old 4H record.

Plus we managed to snag/tag and release three Monarchs. All in all a pretty productive September day conditions being what they were – temps in the 90’s and a boisterous wind out of the south.

Godspeed AEJZ927 et al

Thursday afternoon (9/16) we went looking for Monarch butterflies to tag during their migration to Mexico. Waiting for them to find our asters in the yard had not proven to be a winning strategy so we went to a patch of alfalfa where they had been numerous in the past. The weather was warm enough (temps in the low 90s) but a stiff headwind from the south hindered the progress of the migrating Monarchs. Even the reliable alfalfa patch yielded only three Monarchs. Jen then suggested we try Coot Shallows SWMA as it was getting close to dusk and there is a tree sheltered lane that might be conducive to being an overnight perch. Her hunch was spot on and we found the seven more Monarchs that allowed us close enough to catch/tag and release them. I have 50 tags so I still have some “work” ahead but hopefully we’ll get them all put to use. I’ve always thought it was a cruel irony that in September the days warm enough for a cold blooded insect to fly are often accompanied by a stiff headwind out of the south. Combine that with a dwindling supply of nectar sources. I guess that is nature’s way of making sure only the fittest complete the journey to Mexico. Wishing them all the best!!

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.

Spurge Hawkmoths

Recently (Aug 29) Diane Miller noticed a large number (20+) of big colorful caterpillars on an ornamental spurge in Platte County. After doing some research we decided they were Spurge Hawkmoths (Celerio euphorbiae), European cousins of our abundant (Celerio lineata). Steve Spomer verified our determination. According to Steve (who keeps Sphnix Moth distribution maps for the state) the moth has now been found in 11 Nebraska counties, the majority of which are in the northeast corner of the state. Beginning in the 1960s these moths were introduced into the US (along with other moths, midges, and flea and stem boring beetles) in an attempt to control leafy spurge, a noxious exotic plant that is poisonous to cattle and quickly displaces native vegetation in rangeland. The moth, by itself, has not proven to be an effective control agent against leafy spurge but, with other management practices, remains a tool in the land managers arsenal.

Least Skipper found in Banner County

While Colin Croft was exploring the far reaches of Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area on August 22 he came across a Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) in a moist canyon. After consulting his GPS he determined he had left Scotts Bluff County and was in 150′ into Banner County where the Least Skipper had not yet been found. The great detective work by Colin “netted” him a county record (even though he carried no net). That leaves just 8 counties without Least Skipper records. The summer is slipping away – get out there and make the last weeks of warm weather count.

Painted Crescents by the Dozens!

This past Saturday (August 14) Jon Nikkila and I drove the back roads of the loess hills south of North Platte in search of Baird’s Swallowtails. We found none which, unless there is a late discovery makes this the second consecutive year without a Baird’s sighting. During our travels we decided to check out Wapiti State Wildlife Management Area in Lincoln County. Getting there is an adventure, crossing private land on a two track “road”, opening (and closing) several gates before encountering “the hill”. I suppose once upon a time the road was level with the landscape but over the decades it has eroded to the point where the road is 10-12 feet lower than the surrounding hill and the road is now also the ditch. Which can lead to some interesting navigation around deep washouts after a good rain. That was not the case this year as a dry spell had reduced the road surface to six inches of clay powder (I got to use 4 wheel drive).

Somewhere in the process of opening and closing gates we noticed an unusual number of crescent butterflies on the Rocky Mountain Beeplant growing along the road. On closer inspection we found them to be Painted Crescents (Phyciodes picta).

We found scores of them in a 50 yard stretch of road. Getting four Painted Crescents in one photograph has to be some kind of record – great job Jon!

Painted Crescents were probably never common in Nebraska which is on the northeastern edge of their range. Painted Crescent Phyciodes picta (W.H. Edwards, 1865) | Butterflies and Moths of North America. Here they have been found in the more arid western and southwestern portions of the state. There are several broods each year, with larvae feeding on asters and strangely, on an exotic, bindweed, as well. There was no bindweed in the immediate vicinity of this colony.

This butterfly was named described/named by William Henry Edwards, a noted lepidopterist of the late 1800s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Henry_Edwards) from specimens he received from another noted entomologist of his time, a Mr. James Ridings. Mr. Ridings collected these specimens from the North Platte vicinity , which became the type locality (see Jan 2 post for a type locality discussion). Mr. Edwards uses (Melitea) as the genus in his description. Melitea has since been incorporated into Phyciodes giving us the current taxonomy Phyciodes picta.

To my knowledge this latest sighting might represent the largest number of Painted Crescents ever found at one locality in Nebraska. They should be there until the end of the season. If you have a life list going and have not yet recorded this species this is a unique opportunity to do so.

Every day is an adventure – you never know what you might encounter!

Two More County Records

Monday, after a weekend visit to Keller State Recreation Area northeast of Ainsworth, Pat and Diane Miller, Jen and I road tripped to Boyd County to check out the local butterfly fauna. We made our way to Hull Lake SWMA, near a highway but still off the beaten path. Butterflies were not abundant but we did find a Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) patrolling the shoreline which was new to Boyd County. There were several Great Spangled Fritillaries still patrolling the woodland margins that were still in really nice condition. Things were pretty dry there (as they are in much of the state) but the locality is worth a second look next June when most of the single brooded summer species are out. From there we parted ways, each making their own way home.

On their way home the Millers stopped in Boone County at a site along Beaver Creek that they were familiar with for a look see and found a Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles) which also hadn’t been reported from Boone County. That made me feel guilty as I had traversed across Holt County (which also lacked a record for that butterfly) stopping only once along the Elkhorn River at a park near Atkinson for a late lunch and a quick survey. The later hours and low 90s temps with the wind dissuaded me from stopping at a couple more promising looking sites down the road. If I had and had found P. themistocles there that would have left only Wayne County without a record.

So we continue to chip away at species we know to be everywhere. If you find yourself in any of the counties needing records (see August 6th and 7th posts) and come across any new records send the data to us at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com. Happy hunting!!

Roadside Skipper found in Scotts Bluff County

August 10 Colin Croft took a picture of a couple of Roadside Skippers (Amblyscirtes vialis) in a ravine in the Wildcat Hills in Scotts Bluff County where they had not previously been reported. Congratulations and a thank you to Colin. This butterfly is still unreported from roughly one third of Nebraska counties. While most common in the spring later generations can be found throughout the summer. So if you happen onto one in any of the counties still lacking records be sure to let us know at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com. Colin also found a Western Branded Skipper (Hesperia colorado) that day. Every part of the state has it’s own unique flora and fauna but I’m always jealous of those who live where the Hesperia roam.