Nebraska–It’s Not For Everyone. Big Year Update 11

On the trip home from Bugshot Montana I wanted to spend some time in Nebraska looking for butterflies. I picked an area called Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and planned to stay in a hotel that was about 25 miles south of the area, in Oshkosh Nebraska. Sunday night I stayed in Douglas, Wyoming. Oshkosh was about a three and a half hour drive. However, I looked at Google maps and thought I could save a little time by coming in to the wildlife refuge from the north rather than the south. With any luck I could get to the refuge visitor center by noon, get some additional information there, spend about four hours or so chasing butterflies, then head down to the hotel.

There were a few flaws in my planning. I knew the road from the south was an unpaved but passable road. I have driven gravel roads in Iowa, so that did not seem too intimidating. From the north, I got on some named roads that were asphalt, but they quickly narrowed down to a single lane. I followed the road past entrances to different ranches and across several livestock crossings–the metal bars that cover a trench, intended to keep cattle in and allow wheeled vehicles to cross. Google maps kept telling me I was getting closer as I drove past the entrances to more ranches.

As I continued to drive around ranches I suddenly found myself driving through a ranch. There was a house on one side of the road and ranch buildings on the other side. There were goats in the road–four of them free, and another one tied to a fence post. I continued on the Google maps path, and the road got bumpier and knocked my cell phone from its holder. I was able to pick it up off the floor, and it was still working.

At some point I saw a sign telling me I was entering the refuge. As I continued to drive I saw a sign saying I was leaving the refuge. The road alternated between public and private property. At some point I passed a group of about a dozen people who I took to be students on the refuge. They waved, but none seemed intent on talking. I continued on driving, knowing I was only a few minutes from the welcome center.

I did get to the refuge headquarters, only there was no welcome center. It was a large metal building and it was locked. There was a sign on the door saying they were sorry they missed any visitors, but the refuge had a small staff and they were usually out on the refuge doing refuge work.

There was a small lake and some mowed paths near the headquarters so I walked around on the paths. A steady breeze was blowing, enough to keep most butterflies down in the vegetation. There were clumps of showy milkweed, and I inspected them for butterflies. Milkweeds often attract lots of butterflies but there were none on this day.

I did see a few butterflies but I could not get close to them. I got terrible photos of some kind of crescent or checkerspot, and maybe a common wood nymph, but the photos were not good enough to identify anything.

I did get close to this Halloween pennant, however.

This was the end of a long week, and the conditions did not seem conducive to finding butterflies. I quit after about an hour, and decided head to the hotel. Google maps failed me then, and could not find Oshkosh. But there was a sign and an arrow–I followed the sign. It was pretty much straight south for 25 miles, so I got there with no problems. The gravel road to the south was much wider than the one to the north–it could handle two lanes easily. I had no problem finding the town or my hotel. I did have a few ticks crawling on me on the way to the hotel, but the numbers went way down after I took a shower.

This is a unique habitat and well worth exploring further. I would like to go back sometime when I am a little more rested and can spend some time. There are shallow lakes and sandhills and lots of wildlife yet to be discovered.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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