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.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in butterflies, Helen Fitch Parker, Henry W. Parker and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Alan @ it's not work, it's gardening! says:

    Love these shots! I can’t say that I’m as into butterflies as you are, but I do need to start paying more attention to these visitors in my garden. Just this morning I saw a small yellow butterfly that I didn’t recognize flit past. If it wasn’t raining I would have taken a closer look.

    Great stuff!

  2. theresagreen says:

    Sounds like a great trip and your butterfly images are beautiful as always. Pleased for you that you achieved a ‘lifer’.

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