Butterfly Big Year Update #4

I have not taken any long trips this week but I have added a couple of species.

On Monday I conducted my first butterfly survey of the season for the Iowa Butterfly Survey Network. I found this gorgone checkerspot at Swede Point Park near Madrid, Iowa.

This morning as I was getting ready to leave, I saw a silver-spotted skipper out on my deck. I did not have my camera, so I snapped a photo with my cell phone. The photograph was shot through the sliding glass door and screen door.

Neither photo is up to the standards of quality that I am trying to achieve. However, in both cases I can identify the butterfly to species. That puts the butterfly big year list at 15 species.

I have seen orange sulfurs and monarchs, but have not photographed either one yet this year.

I have not planned my next out-of-state trip yet. Maybe it will be Illinois. The project seems to be going slower than I had hoped, but the in-state butterflies should really pick up within a couple of weeks. We shall see…

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Butterfly Big Year Update #3

I went on a trip to Sauk City Wisconsin, chasing butterflies. The point of the trips is that they are a little bit spontaneous, depending on the weather and what other butterflies have been seen. However, I always feel a little bit unprepared. I thought I had forgotten my reading glasses so when I looked at my photos at the hotel I could not be sure what I had. Even though I dug through my suitcase several times at the hotel, when I got home I found them–at the bottom of the suitcase.

At Spring Green State Preserve I found this Olympia marble. This was the butterfly I had hoped to find with this trip. The colors on the undersurface of the wings are spectacular.

I also found this spring azure, which was a first of the year for me.

Duskywing skippers are always difficult to identify. After sweating through the IDs in the guidebooks and some online resources, I think this is a Juvenal’s duskywing, which is the same species I found in Missouri a few weeks ago.

So I have thirteen species so far. Progress, but a little slower than I had hoped. Still, the Olympia marble was a “lifer” for me.

I also found this nice tiger beetle. I will work on the ID later.

I am finding some challenges with the big year. Most of the places I have been going I have never been to before. I don’t know where the trails go or how difficult they are. Information online does not always give the full picture. Then, after driving for a day and finally finding the site maybe the weather does not cooperate–it rains, or is too windy or cloudy for the butterflies to get out. Still, I have had some enjoyable times so far.

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Butterfly Big Year Update #2

Yesterday was my birthday. I was feeling all of my 66 years. I went to the funeral for my last surviving aunt in the morning. I have been blessed in my life to have 9 aunts and 8 uncles. They were all wonderful people in their own ways, and I miss them all.

On the way home I drove down to Elk Rock State Park, which is on the south shore of Red Rock Reservoir, a little north of Knoxville, Iowa. It was cool in the early afternoon–it frosted overnight, and by the time I got there my car thermometer read 53 degrees F. Too cold for butterflies, one would assume. But there was no wind and it was sunny. I was surprised to see eastern commas on the access road and on a small tree next to it. The micro habitats were warm enough to allow the butterflies to fly.

There seemed to be some kind of damage to the tree–possibly from wood boring insects. The eastern commas were getting some nutrients from the sap.

A few yards down the road I saw some movement–a small dark butterfly.

It was a Henry’s elfin. I took a few photos, then went on down the road and into the equestrian paths, fairly sure I would see more.

But it was not to be. I did not find any more elfins, and when I went back I could no longer find the original.

I wondered around for about three hours and only saw a few additional butterflies. I added cabbage white and meadow fritillary to my list, and saw a couple of mourning cloaks as well.

I have eleven species for the year, although they have not all been verified.

I did enjoy my day. Thanks to all of you who wished me a happy birthday.

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Butterfly Big Year Update #1

Ever seen the comic strip Calvin and Hobbs? If you have, you probably remember Calvin ball. My big year is a little like that. I make the rules and I enforce them. I can make new rules at any time.

Well, I have to make a new rule. I submitted a fairly poor photo that I identified as an eastern comma to iNaturalist. Several people corrected me and identified it as a question mark butterfly. So in this case, and if a similar case happens again, I do not count it. Hopefully I will be able to photograph both eastern commas and question marks later in the year. For now I do not have either.

If I identify a butterfly to species before I submit it, by default I will consider it valid unless there is enough disagreement to throw it out. Once enough people agree with the ID the photo is market “research grade” by iNaturalist, and I will consider it valid and verified.

I found a mourning cloak yesterday and submitted the photo. As of now, only the Juvenal’s duskywing has no comments. I currently have seven “valid” species, with six of them also verified.

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The Butterfly Big Year has Started

Birders sometimes do something called a “big year.” During a calendar year, they try to see and identify as many of the bird species in a particular area as they can. A few butterfliers have done something similar, most famously Robert Michael Pyle, as he wrote about in Mariposa Road.

I am planning to do one this year. Doing it right takes a lot of planning. I have downloaded lists from the Butterflies and Moths of North America web site, and have spent a lot of time sorting through the lists on a spreadsheet. I have tried to figure out different locations to go by checking various citizen science websites as well. But time got away from me and the season has already started. I saw some eastern commas flying in a campground nearby so I decided I had better get moving.

I booked a hotel in Cassville, Missouri for a couple of nights. Butterflying is very dependent on the weather. There was snow on the ground in Iowa when I drove down, and even first interstate rest stop in Missouri had a little snow, but I could hear chorus frogs singing so I was encouraged.

In general most locations will be a day’s drive away. The plan is to drive to the location and make a few stops along the way to chase butterflies. If I stay two nights in a hotel, I will have a full day to butterfly and hopefully on the drive home I can make some more stops. Unfortunately, on this trip the weather only cooperated for one afternoon. All photos here were taken at the Roaring River State Park.

I will only count butterflies when I have an identifiable photograph of the adult. I am not done with the spreadsheet yet, so I don’t really know how many species there are in the area–I know it is more than 225. If I am able to get identifiable photos of 100 or more species I will be happy. I also hope to get ten or twenty good photos of species I have not photographed yet. I have no one refereeing my count, but I will post to iNaturalist and hopefully get the photos verified.

Here is an “identifiable” photograph of a pearl crescent.

I also saw eastern tailed-blue.

I think this is Juvenal’s duskywing. There are similar species. It will be interesting to see if and how soon this is verified.

There were three different swallowtails flying around. This is the spicebush swallowtail.

This is an eastern tiger swallowtail.

Zebra swallowtails were flying around all over the place.

These guys were sipping from the wet mud along the trout stream.

I got seven species in all–the eastern comma I saw is not pictured here. But in the Mexican restaurant I visited I saw some more that I haven’t found in the books yet.

I didn’t get any pie, but I did have the fried ice cream.

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How to find Henry’s Elfin In Iowa

Spring is here, and with it are all the wonderful things like spring wildflowers, birds and frogs calling, and early butterflies. Many of Iowa’s butterflies are pretty common, and you will run across them even if you are not looking for them. There are some, however, that you have to go looking for if you want a chance to see them.

Such is the case with Henry’s elfin. With a little effort and a little luck you should be able to find them.

Chase them with a camera or binoculars. Please don’t use a net, especially when in a public area where other people are trying to enjoy nature as well.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Henry’s elfin has one generation in Iowa, and they fly from about the middle of April through about the first week of May. If you miss that window, you will miss seeing the butterfly for a year.
  2. The caterpillar host plant of Henry’s elfin in Iowa is redbud. The adult butterflies can sometimes be found on redbud. Unfortunately, the butterfly seems to only be found in woodlands where redbud grows naturally. Redbud is widely planted as an ornamental but I have not seen the butterfly on any yard trees, even though I have looked for it.
  3. Henry’s elfin seems to only be found in the southern third of the state. The distribution map follows river valleys south of Interstate 80. Natural areas where it has been found include Waubonsie State Park, Slip Bluff County Park, Red Haw State Park, Cordova Park, and Elk Rock State Park.
  4. Best results will be on a sunny day without a heavy wind. Redbuds are very showy and you should be able to see them easily. Watch the trees closely and you may be able to see the small, dark colored butterflies flitting around.
  5. I have had pretty good luck finding them along walking trails–either on the ground or in the vegetation along the path, even in areas with no direct line of sight to redbuds. They are small and appear black. You might mistake them for a large fly or a skipper initially. You might not see them until they move.

Be patient and keep your eyes open.

If you are close to Red Rock Reservoir you might try either Cordova Park or Elk Rock Park. Elk Rock Park has an equestrian area that I would recommend.

This is the equestrian campground, off of 146th street. The red area is a parking area. Yellow areas, along the access road and the equestrian trails are general locations where I have seen this butterfly. There are usually horseback riders on the trails so give them a wide berth and don’t spook the horses. You will not see redbuds along the trails but they are present in several areas of the park.

Good luck and act fast.

You might also see spring azure, eastern comma, red admiral, and cabbage white in flight.

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The Flag Gets Complicated

I went to the Post Office the other day to get some stamps. I asked the postmaster (who I don’t really know) what varieties of forever stamps he had, and mentioned that I did not want flags because I did not want to send the wrong message.

I should learn to keep my big mouth shut.

He mentioned that he was a veteran and suggested that we might be ready to get into a heated conversation that neither of us wanted. But he kept it civil and I kept it civil and I bought a couple of books of the western wear theme (which is pretty lame, but not as lame as the espresso theme set of stamps). In retrospect the flag theme was probably what I would have chosen out of the three available if I had not already gone there. I just bought my stamps and left.

But I feel that there is a part of the conversation left unsaid.  When I drive through town, there is a particular house I drive past that always has the American flag flying.  Right underneath it on the same flag pole is a “Joe Biden Sucks” flag.  Now I don’t agree with those sentiments, but I do think the individual has a right to voice them, and even to fly that particular flag.  But should it share the same flag pole?

Up in Canada there is a big anti-vax trucker protest.  That event is being fueled by right-wing media.  Photos of the event show big trucks flying Canadian and American flags while they try to intimidate people.

Last year’s insurrection at the Capital had thousands of Trump supporters, carrying Trump flags and American flags and Confederate flags, even while the organizers of the event were trying to disregard the results of the election.

Why is it that the people who seem to have the biggest grievances with the government want to wave the flag the most? I’m kind of tired of it.

The flag does not belong to the party of Trump.

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Can You Teach about Osceola in Osceola?

Osceola County in Florida is currently dealing with a significant amount of controversy regarding recent bans on the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” and the teaching of “divisive concepts” with regard to race. This brings up an interesting question: Can you teach about Osceola in Osceola?

Osceola was a Native American of the Creek tribe who traveled to what is now Florida when his tribe was removed from their ancestral lands (land now in Alabama). There he fought alongside the Seminole. He was captured when he attended a “peace talks” under a flag of truce, and placed in jail. He died three months later of illness that was likely made worse by his imprisonment. George Catlin painted this portrait a few days before he died.

At the time the capture, imprisonment, and subsequent death of Osceola was a national source of disgrace, especially because of the violation of the white flag of truce. The incident made such an impression that numerous geographical features, buildings, towns, and counties were named after him. Iowa has both a city and a county named Osceola. So many things named after Osceola shows the extent of the shame that our ancestors felt.

Iowa passed a law banning the teaching of “divisive concepts”, quite similar to that of Florida and a number of other states. Should I, as a white man, feel any shame over the treatment of Osceola? Should I feel shame over “Indian removal”? Am I living in an area that was previously occupied by people who were coerced to leave so my culture could occupy the land? Should my children and grandchildren know about this?

Can you teach about Osceola in Osceola?

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A Warm Weather Photographer in the Cold

I am mostly a warm weather photographer. Warm weather is when the good stuff is out. But there are things to see in the winter, too.

So I waded out into my back yard through the deep snow to have a look at my weed patch.

No bugs today…

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Saving the Butterflies with the Environmental Defense Fund

I got a letter today from the Environmental Defense Fund, asking me to help me save the butterflies. Their suggestion is that I should send them money so that they can fight climate change, and therefore save the butterflies. They included some little notecards with photos of butterflies–the monarch, the eastern tiger swallowtail, the common blue (from Europe), and the blue morpho (from South America).

Now saving butterflies is a noble cause. So is fighting global warming. There are butterflies whose habitats and whose existence are threatened by global warming.

There are better ways to try to save butterflies, however. Plant a pollinator garden in your back yard. Don’t mow so much. Support efforts to preserve or establish native prairie plants. All of those ways are more effective, and you can see the results.

The top two photos are of silver-spotted skippers, and the one right below it is a gorgone checkerspot. Those butterflies were thriving in my back yard this summer because I planted native plants and let them grow tall. The bottom photo is a regal fritillary which pretty much needs original prairie areas along with its host plants prairie violet or bird’s foot violet to thrive. I don’t expect to find it in my back yard.

Of course we need to fight global warming. But if you want to save butterflies, start in your back yard.

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