Chasing the Elusive Red Admiral–Big Year Update #16

With summer ending I wanted to make one last trip. This time, rather than visiting some new location I thought I would visit a couple of sites I had been to before. I planned to visit the Barkhausen-Cache River Wetlands Center in southern Illinois, and the Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City, MO.

In Iowa I have been seeing about a dozen species or so every time I go out, but I have missed out on some butterflies that should still be possible–question mark, black swallowtail, giant swallowtail, and red admiral to name a few. I had seen a red admiral on one or two occasions, but I had failed to get an identifiable photo each time.

Red admirals are backyard butterflies. Most summers I see them almost every night. They land on the deck and the house shortly before twilight, and fly out to chase anything that flies past them. I am not sure why I haven’t seen them this year–others are posting photos of them to citizen science and social media sites.

The weather forecast was a little worrisome. Wednesday, the travel day, would have highs in the 90s. Thursday and Friday had forecast highs that were lower–in the 60 to 70 degree range. I thought that there was a chance that the days I hoped to find butterflies might be too cool or cloudy for them to fly. I got to the Barkhausen-Cache River Wetlands Center at about 9:00 and my dashboard thermometer said 58 degrees. There were thin clouds in the sky. So I wandered around the site for a while. Butterflies did not start flying until around 10:30 but it wasn’t long before they started to show up in numbers.

The first to show up were pipevine swallowtails, drinking nectar from thistle flowers. Gradually others appeared. There were pretty good numbers of eastern tailed-blues (top photo) along the closely mowed grass paths between the prairie area and the woods. I already have both of those species on my list.

Cloudless sulfurs are large butterflies–not quite as large as monarchs, but pretty close. Several showed up and flew around. I took a bunch of photos but they were all blurry and out of focus. In order to get a good photo, I need them to settle down somewhere, and then I need to get within a few feet of them without them getting spooked. I followed them around for probably an hour and a half before I finally found a one drinking nectar on a thistle flower and got a photo. I had seen cloudless sulfurs at other times this summer, but never got an identifiable photo until now.

So the list now has 66 species….

I found a couple of gray hairstreaks. This one is waving its little tails and flaring its wings outward. This is commonly described as a decoy to distract potential predators–birds, lizards, and jumping spiders. I am not so sure I buy that explanation, but it is fun to watch.

Fiery skippers are widespread and common, but I still find them quite beautiful to look at.

By the afternoon I was hot and tired. I took a little break, had some lunch and re-hydrated. There is a path along the edge of the wetlands center with a mowed trail. It did not look too promising, but I walked it anyway.

There I found this clouded skipper. 67 species…

I think I was on about the forth “this is my last trip then I will go” walk, when I finally saw it. A red admiral flew out into the prairie, about 30 feet away from me.

I did not get a great photo, but it is easy to recognize. 68 species…

On the trip down I found myself obsessing a little about red admirals. On at least two occasions I was pretty sure I saw red admirals flying across my field of view. They look black when on the wing–you do not see the red band from most angles. Although getting a poor photo of a red admiral seems only a small victory, not getting one would have seemed like a big defeat.

My plans to spend about four hours chasing butterflies at Runge Conservation Nature Center were foiled by the weather. I was able to walk around in the cool mist, and spent some time in the nature center building itself, but I saw no butterflies.

Just this guy.

Summer is over. Chances of adding to my big year list are pretty slim. Time for long pants.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in butterflies, common buckeye, eastern tailed-blue, gray hairstreak, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Chasing the Elusive Red Admiral–Big Year Update #16

  1. Paul Winn says:

    Hoary Edge Skipper from Runge on the 17th on Raccoon Run down below the marsh pond, the one with the dock.

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G, an AT&T 5G smartphone Get Outlook for Android

  2. Thanks, Paul. I wish I could have spent more time and had better weather.

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