Butterfly Church–Butterfly Big Year Update #8

I went to my Butterfly Church yesterday. It is a special place where I usually can find that feeling of peace that I don’t often have in my life. I chase butterflies there, but I also take a folding chair and sit in the shade for a while. And that makes things right.

My Butterfly Church is the minimum maintenance road on the east side of Medora Prairie in Warren County, Iowa. It is a dirt/clay road that often has deep ruts and should not be driven on in wet weather. Most times I have been there I have had absolute solitude. Occasionally I have run across other people there but it is never crowded.

I have been adding butterflies a few at a time to my list. I got an acceptable photo of a tawny-edged skipper at Swede Point Park last week. I drove across the state last Sunday in a largely unsuccessful butterfly chase, getting only a couple of common butterflies, the hackberry emperor and the summer azure. Both could be easily obtained without all the driving. My list was at a paltry 32 species prior to the Medora visit.

At Medora I was hoping to get gray coppers. There is sometimes a good population there, and I had some photos of that butterfly on butterfly milkweed dated June 18, 2010. But the butterfly milkweed is not quite blooming yet, and I saw no gray coppers. In a few days there should be many.

I saw good numbers of hackberry emperors, little wood-satyr, cabbage whites, orange sulfurs, and meadow fritillaries. They are already on my list. There were lots of great-spangled fritillaries flying around, but they did not settle down where I could get a good photo. I shot some photos of what I thought were tawny-edged skippers, not taking too much time on them because I already have a good photo of them.

Finally, I was able to find and photograph a new butterfly for the list, this battered and beaten red-spotted purple (or red-spotted admiral as it is officially known now).

I walked in the prairie for a little while but was not really able to get anything. The few flowers that were blooming did not seem to be attracting butterflies.

The roadsides have a lot of bird’s foot trefoil on the edges. I checked it carefully and while I did I saw a whitish butterfly flutter in to it. I took a couple of photos when it first landed, but it flew off before I could get closer to it. I tried to follow it but I lost track of it.

Turns out it was a marine blue. This butterfly is occasionally seen in Iowa, but is pretty rare here. It is common in the states to the south of us, though.

When I got home and downloaded my photos, I decided that what I had identified in the field as a tawny-edged skipper was in fact a European skipper. I wished I had spent more time and attention while photographing it.

My list now has 35 species. Should I have allowed myself to count butterflies that I identified without an identifiable photo? I watched cloudless sulfurs flying around in Illinois, and saw great-spangled fritillaries, a single giant swallowtail, and a silvery checkerspot yesterday at Medora, all without a good photo. But no, what is the point of having rules if you can change them midway through? I wonder if I am only chasing mediocracy sometimes. Are my photography skills slipping as I get older and less able to crawl around on the ground?

But my Butterfly Church (nobody else calls it that, by the way) came to the rescue. My head is in the right place for now. It is not about the destination, it is about the journey. There is the old saying about a bad day fishing…

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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