I failed to find the Poweshiek Skipper (but my trip was still a success)

I have a particular obsession with a butterfly that I have never seen (at least in the adult stage).  Oarisma poweshiek was discovered in Grinnell, Iowa and described by Henry Parker in 1870.  Or maybe his wife discovered it–but that is another story.  But I was born in Grinnell, and grew up hearing the name Poweshiek often–it was the county just to the north of us.  So the butterfly resonates with me.

This butterfly has been extirpated from Iowa and Minnesota, and apparently still can be found in two areas in Wisconsin.  I corresponded with Scott and Ann Swengel who are experts in the butterflies of Wisconsin.   They gave me some information and a map on where and how to look for it.  I knew up front that the butterfly would be difficult to locate.

So I drove up to Wisconsin to look for it.  I stayed in Portage.  The first night, rather than taking a long drive, I found a little State Park called Parfrey’s Glen.  It was heavily wooded and mossy–a pleasant little area.  I photographed the butterflies I saw there–red spotted purple, great spangled fritillary, and eastern comma.  Nothing too unusual there in the short time I visited.

The next day I visited Puchyan Prairie, near Green Lake.  Here is where Poweshiek has been found.  Although I made a wrong turn before I got there and went about 20 miles out of my way, I was rewarded for the trip with a sight I did not expect.  I saw sandhill cranes wandering around in the corn fields, some as close as about 100 feet away.  I saw four altogether before I got there. That alone was worth the trip for me.

But there was also this:

Baltimore checkerspots are very rare in Iowa.  When you find just one it is a rare treat.  Apparently not so in Wisconsin, or at this particular site.  They were everywhere, especially on the milkweeds.

Another butterfly that seemed to be common here was the eyed brown.

I have only seen this butterfly a couple of times, but they seemed pretty common here.

I photographed a mulberry wing butterfly–a “lifer” butterfly for me.  I spent all morning walking and wading in the marsh (not such an easy task, by the way), until I was worn out and dehydrated.  Then I drove to town and ate, and went back and did it all again.  I spent a lot of time photographing pearl crescents, particularly trying to get a picture of the lower surface of the wing.  I thought they could be northern crescents but it turns out they weren’t.  Damn.

Puchyan Prairie is a big place, and hard to get around in.  Some places the walking is relatively easy, but other places it is extremely difficult.  I think I understood the map and hit the good spots, but I don’t know that for sure.  Maybe I was too late in the year–they come out for only one generation, and the adults live for a week or two at most.  Maybe I was too early in the year.  Maybe they were in the prairie, but just not in a spot that I looked.  Maybe I was there at the wrong time of the day.  Maybe this is a bad year for them.

The next day–July 4th–I went to a butterfly and dragonfly walk that was sponsored by the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association.  After spending all day by myself in the prairie the thought of company was pretty pleasant, even though I did not know anyone there.  I take better pictures when I am alone, but I learn more when I am with others of similar obsessions.

There were a number of butterflies there–a mix of the familiar, like great spangled fritillaries, with some others.  My lifer butterfly–the mulberry wing-was seen here, also.


The participants had the same problem I had when trying to find this butterfly in the guide books.  You look in the index under “skippers” and there are dozens, but no mulberry wing.  That is because the common name of the butterfly is “mulberry wing”, not “mulberry wing skipper.”  Yet you have crossline skipper, long dash skipper, etc.  The common name of Oarisma poweshiek is officially “Poweshiek skipperling,” even though it is technically a grass skipper and not a skipperling.

We also ran across a gray comma in the road.  This butterfly is uncommon in both Iowa and Wisconsin.  Not really rare, but not seen all that often.


I think I entertained the crowd by laying down in the road and crawling up to get the shot. But they still haven’t seen me really go after a butterfly!

I enjoyed the event and was grateful for the opportunity to meet some of the fine folks.  Thank you to any of you who happens to read this.

I have to get back home and back to work, but I took my time.  I stopped at a rest area just outside of East Dubuque, and  got a photo of a tawny emperor enjoying something the dog left.


Back to the real world and all that goes with it.


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Mob Rule

Yesterday I saw some ants on a gravel road.  I don’t know the species but I am guessing Formica obscuripes.  As near as I can tell a number of workers are holding down and killing another worker of the same species.


But I don’t know.  Ants have interactions that I don’t understand.

And the world goes on.

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Today’s Bugs

There was a lot of insect activity today.  Loads of butterflies, although nothing I haven’t already seen for the year.  Lots of odonates, also.  But along with the “good” bugs were a bunch I wasn’t so fond of.  Mosquitoes and especially deer flies were pretty thick.


Pearl crescents are pretty common, mating among the flowers.  The males are hanging out on the gravel road, sipping water and trying to get minerals.


Summer azures are still pretty common, although most are looking pretty worn.  I really did not see any fresh ones today.


There are a few question mark butterflies around.  They are almost invisible with their wings closed, but are spectacularly colored orange and black from above.


And this ebony jewelwing was quite spectacular as it flew among the flowers.

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Photo of the Day


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Butterflies from Unusual Perspectives

We have had some hot, humid and stormy weather lately–weather that is great for butterflies.  Tonight after work I chased the butterflies for a little bit and ended up with a couple of photos from unusual perspectives.

We had a couple of small trees toppled by the wind.  I found this red admiral resting horizontally on the trunk–if the tree was upright, the butterfly would be facing down.


This individual seemed to have an unusual curvature to the upper part of its wing surface.

I also saw a great spangled fritillary.  It flew down into the tall weeds in the prairie.   I slowly tried to sneak up on where it was.  Then I saw a monarch butterfly on a common milkweed.  I wondered if my eyes had deceived me.  But when it flew off I could see the original butterfly.


It didn’t stick around long enough for me to get another picture.  This was not the photo I was trying to get.  Still, I kind of like the result.

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Syritta pipiens

To celebrate the end of pollinator week, here is a photo of a small syrphid fly, Syritta pipiens.


Just another pollinator.

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A Swarm of Something

A swarm of some small insect–probably some small fly–formed a temporary lek in the sunlight.


I am only an observer.  I have no observations beyond what you see.  Nor can I explain why I took the photo or posted it.

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Spend a warm summer day on a slow river or along a gravel road in Iowa and you will likely see little tufts of cottony threads floating through the air.

These carry the tiny seeds of cottonwood trees.  Cottonwood trees can be majestically large, but can also be hollow and sometimes fall down or break off limbs in storms.


The tiny fluffy threads can pile up alongside the road or float down a river.

The threads get entangled in the vegetation.


Even insects can be inconvenienced by the threads.



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Flies are Pollinators, too

This is national pollinator week.  Insects are getting some long-overdue conservation attention.

I wish I could tell you what this is.  It is some kind of fly, possibly a dance fly.  Beyond that I don’t know.


Hundreds or probably thousands of flies are pollinators of our flowers and crops.  They get little attention.  But if you look closely some can be quite charming.

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Rain and Butterflies

When it rains in the spring you will not see butterflies.  Not so with summer rains.  I did not get outside this morning, but went out with my camera shortly after noon.  I had to change my plans soon, though, because it started to rain.

And it rained some more.

Then it poured.  We got two inches of rain within a few hours.

But then the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Water was still dripping from the wet trees as I went out and looked for butterflies.

This least skipper was trying to get nectar from a red clover flower that had fallen over from the weight of the rain.  It was undeterred by the moisture.


This red admiral was able to find an upright red clover for its meal.


I have never been quite able to get the photo of a meadow fritillary that I want.  This was not what I was trying for, but I did like the result.

Butterflies were very busy right after this heavy summer rain.

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