Chasing a Frustration Butterfly

I like to photograph butterflies.  I have a pretty good file of photos I have taken of butterflies.  Some are common, some are rare.  I have a special category for some that I call “frustration butterflies.”

Frustration butterflies are those that I have spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to locate and photograph.  They may or may not be particularly rare, but they usually have a short flight time and behaviors that make them difficult to locate.

Henry’s elfin is one of those butterflies.  It is a small hairstreak that only flies for a few weeks in April or May in Iowa.  It is associated with redbud in Iowa, and apparently mostly with wild-growing native redbuds, not so much with those that have been planted in the cities.  I have searched for this butterfly unsuccessfully for several years now.  I always have a hard time getting time to be in the outdoors in April or May, let alone in a time when the weather cooperates.

I saw a recent posting on bugguide of this species found at Cordova Park in Iowa.  The only other Iowa record on bugguide was at Elk Rock Park.  Those parks are on opposite sides of a river impoundment called Lake Red Rock, and are about an hour’s drive away for me.

Today was warm but rainy.  I figured if the sun came out I might be able to see some.  I quickly located some redbuds at Cordova, along a road.  Unfortunately, they were in some heavy brush and down a steep hill, so I knew that if I saw the butterfly I would have a difficult time photographing it.

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Redbud has a pretty little purple flower which sort of looks like a bean or a pea flower.  One way to know that you have found redbud is that you can find the flowers growing out from the barky stems of the trees–kind of a unique feature that is not seen on most local trees.

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I spent a lot of time trying to find a better stand of redbuds without success.  I did take time to climb the observation tower in the park–an old water tower that was retrofitted for the new purpose.  I was not familiar with either park, and I thought the high view would help.   But I ended up back at the original spot, looking for the butterfly.

As I watched, I saw a small dark figure flying high up around the tree.  I did not get a good look, but I thought I had my butterfly.  So I got a lawn chair out of my car and just sat and watched with binoculars.   I ended up seeing a total of four, all high up and far away in the trees.

Here is a photo I got with my short telephoto macro lens.

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See it?  I thought not.  I had three similar photos, and this was as close as I came.  So I examined the photos at high magnification.  It took me a while to locate the butterfly, but here it is, heavily cropped.

Henrys elfin

Since I knew it was on redbud, and it was in fact, the butterfly I was looking for, the scalloped edge of the forewing identifies it as Henry’s elfin.  One of the other photos shows both antenna, and the butterfly is in slightly different positions in each.  I can now say with a high degree of confidence that I have seen Henry’s elfin, and have a photograph of it.

Now I just need to get a good photograph of one.

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About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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