Posts tagged ‘butterfly’

36 Hours on the Prairie: The aptly-named Regal Fritillary

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

One of my main goals in going west was to find and photograph the rare Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia); a truly regal creature of tallgrass prairies. I had seen them at southwest Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park, and got some not-so-great photos at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois, but now I wanted some publication-quality images.

I had no luck on my first day, even though I scanned about a thousand Blazing Star flowers (a preferred nectar source). Then on day two I decided to hike out into the Felton WMA. Within about 20 yards I kicked up my first Regal, followed by half a dozen more in the next 15 minutes. But getting close to them is another story.

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1474fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1462

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1630fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1635fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1607fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1480fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MN IMG_1469

 

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Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7289

Whooping Cranes, Karner Blue Butterflies, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Barrens Tiger Beetles…These are the reasons I made my first visit to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge near Nacedah, Wisconsin on July 20th. I was headed from my home in Wrenshall, Minnesota to pick up my kids at the home of my brother- and sister-in-law’s in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

I ended up spending 6 hours here! This is one of those refuges that welcomes visitors and really concentrates on education, unlike many of our National Wildlife Refuges.

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I hiked the 1.75 mile Boghaunter Trail and Boardwalk. It is named for the very rare Ringed Boghaunter dragonfly that lives in this fen. They emerge in May and have a short flight period so I did not see one on this trip…But I will be back!

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2528

Karner Melissa Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI

I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that the nickel-sized Karner Blue butterfly was abundant, and easily the most common butterfly species out and about. Its caterpillar food plant is the native Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) which was just done blooming, but that doesn’t phase the adults which nectar on many flower species including the abundant roadside flower Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

This butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies of the Melissa Blue.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f9; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink orchid fen Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2387

Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Swamp-Pink (or Grass-Pink) orchids dotted the fen near the Boardwalk along the Boghaunter Trail. This species likes fens that are not as acidic as bogs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 98mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f13; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2512

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2582

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia punctulata) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Though I did not find my lifer Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle, I did see many of the small Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata) named for the colorful pits on its elytra (wing covers). The are ferocious predators of other insects which it stalks on open sandy soil.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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Pine barrens savannah Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah, Wisconsin

Necedah NWR protects some of the original Pine barrens/savannah landscape of pre-settlement Wisconsin. Pines were mainly Red (Norway) Pine and Jack Pine. This spot was thick with Red-headed Woodpeckers.

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Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2283

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The habitat in the photo above is perfect for the Red-headed Woodpecker, a species which loves open savannah type landscapes with larger trees in which it excavates its nest cavities.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/4000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.33ev; hand-held]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2435

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). The lupines were WAY past peak, and only a few remained in flower.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 131mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f8; ISO 250; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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A “bachelor” group of American White Pelicans.

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Sandhill Crane feather Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Whoopers are not the only crane at Necedah; a Sandhill Crane feather is stained with iron-rich mud which the Sandhill coats its feathers with.

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Remains of a small bird; a snack for a bird of prey.

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Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2466

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 163mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/100 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2481

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/640 sec. at f7.1; -0.66ev; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7272

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7268

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

I’d never heard of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty) until I read the first Necedah NWR brochure I picked up. It is at the far northeastern edge of its range in Central Wisconsin. It is most common along the East Coast and Southeast U.S. It prefers open, wet and acidic sites.

Also known by the fun name, “Handsome Harry.” It is in the Melastomataceae, a family of mostly tropical wildflowers. The pink petals are asymetrical in shape, and the stamens are bright yellow, thick and bent. A very cool “lifer” for me.

Rhexia virginica range map

Range map of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty or Handsome Harry). As you can see it reaches its northeastern range limit in south central Wisconsin.

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2565

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/200 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2553

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The above two photos are of a Northern Broken-Dash butterfly on Liatris wildflower (Gay-Feather).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 145mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2403

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2406

Plastron of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2417

Plastron and yellow throat of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2421

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

You don’t see Blanding’s Turtles every day so I was very excited to find this large (and presumably old) specimen along the boardwalk on Boghaunter Trail. He was shy but I flipped him over to examine the beautiful red-marked carapace, and his bright yellow throat. Don’t worry, I quickly tipped him back upright after I snapped a few photos.

“One of the most critically imperiled turtles to be found in North America is the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), named for William Blanding, a Philadelphia naturalist who first described it. They are found from Ontario, Canada; south to Iowa and back east as far as New York. There is a small population of about 300 found in Nova Scotia. The highest population densities are found in the Great Lakes region. They are listed as state endangered or a species of special concern in nearly every state they are found in. The biggest threat these turtles face is the loss of habitat due to agriculture and from major modifications to streams and rivers, such as dam building. Blanding’s turtles have very specific habitat requirements that include marshes, sloughs, ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, and vernal pools with shallow water, soft bottoms and large amounts of aquatic vegetation.” [Text from the Rattlesnake Education & Awareness Blog]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7276

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7293

Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7302

Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7316

Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7317

Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7294

Crane sculpture outside Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Iowa Prairie Monarchs…from 4 inches away!


I really have a passion for “wide angle wildlife”…which can be a challenge with critters…most of which would rather be a long ways away from us stinky, scary humans. And, of course, to get the bird, mammal, reptile or butterfly a respectable size in the frame, and not just an indistinguishable dot, you have to GET CLOSE!

So, on September 6th I found myself taking a detour off the highway near Lime Springs, Iowa to check out Hayden Prairie State Reserve. It is a 242 acre parcel of tallgrass prairie..and sadly the largest tract in the state outside of the Loess Hills. The prairie honors Ada Hayden, an Iowa farm girl who became one of the first woman botany professors in the country, receiving her PhD in 1918.

I had a few hours to shoot before sunset and I noticed many Monarchs feeding on the sunflowers and goldenrods. But getting close to the Monarchs was not easy…First I tried just walking up to nectaring Monarchs on the head-height sunflowers…but they didn’t appreciate that. Then I discovered a patch of goldenrods where the nectar must be especially good and abundant. The butterflies were a bit more tolerant here. And as anyone who’s shot a lot of wildlife knows, every individual has a different comfort zone. So I just kept trying to find a mellow Monarch.

The image I had in my head was getting the Monarch large in the frame, shooting into the sun so the sky was dark and the sun would be a starburst. Backlit subjects can make for tricky exposures. I knew I had to shoot at high-speed sync in order for the butterfly and sky to be in the same exposure range. I’d pre-set my camera on manual exposure to f22 at 1/1250 and my Canon flash was set to high-speed sync. Then I autofocused on my hand at 4 to 6 inches and then turned off the lens autofocus. The technique was to crawl as close as I could to the Monarch, then extend my arm with the camera and start shooting…keeping my finger on the shutter button as I reached out towards the butterfly. It was low percentage shooting but lots of fun. My knees paid the price though.

The photos here are images you could not get with a telephoto lens…Note the extreme depth of field in the shots.


Crawling through tallgrass prairie can be tough on the knees…and jeans!
The Monarchs were starting their migration south to Mexico’s Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve where they would overwinter. As any school kid knows, this migration is one of the most amazing in the animal kingdom…A fragile butterfly flying several thousand miles south to the mountains of Central Mexico where this species has likely overwintered for thousands of years. Even more amazing may be the fact that it is a different generation of Monarchs that returns to the north each spring. You can actually track the Monarch’s southward flight on the internet. Check out Journey North’s Monarch Migration map here to check on their southward flight.
To get the “starburst” sun you need to be shooting at f16 or smaller aperture.

Baptisia leucantha Largeleaf Wild Indigo or White Wild Indigo, a unique tallgrass prairie plant. Note the crazy large seed pods.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20mm lens (between 10mm and 16mm) at f22, ISO 400, 1/1250 second, Canon 420ex flash set to high-speed sync at -2EV]

A Butterfly Big Year: Mariposa Road

If you’re looking for a summer book to read at the beach (or in the photo blind), then I’ve got a goody for you. Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road is a hybrid between Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway and William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. The subtitle says it all…“The First Butterfly Big Year.” And I am a sucker for Big Year books!

If you’re not familiar with the concept, a “Big Year” is a quest to see as many species in North America as possible in one calendar year…almost always this means birds. In fact the recent Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson movie was about just that, “The Big Year.” But Pyle wanted to do the first official Butterfly Big Year.

Robert Michael Pyle is a legend among naturalists…as an author, and as a conservationist…Yale-trained and Guggenheim “fellowed,” he also founded the Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to invertebrate conservation. He also wrote one of the first butterfly field guides…and the classic books Chasing Monarchs and Where Bigfoot Walks.

So I was more than thrilled when he came to Duluth last winter to speak and do a book signing at Hartley Nature Center. The room was packed and he did not disappoint. The man is also a dead-ringer for the off-season Santa Claus…big belly, big white beard and booming voice.

His trusty steed for this noble quest was his 1982 Honda Civic, a vehicle he lovingly referred to as “Powdermilk.” He took the back seat and the front passenger seat out, replacing them with a sleeping cot. And Powdermilk was faithful, carrying Bob 40,533 miles criss-crossing the continent. Shunning hotels and fast food, he camped roadside. One of the most interesting aspects to this book is his ability to meet and converse with strangers of all kinds

His only Minnesota venture involved crawling through a snow-dusted and frozen Cedar Creek bog vainly searching for Bog Copper eggs (eggs count!…as do caterpillars)

Pyle’s quest also raised $46,000 for conservation. A noble cause.

My only real complaint with the book is that he only uses Latin names in the text…This means I spent a lot of time looking up species in the Kaufman Guide that I kept handy. Also there is no Index 😦

Just for fun, I perused the appendices for the species he MISSED during his Big Year (After all, a human can only be in one place at one time, so inevitably some species were understandably missed). Here are a few that I have been fortunate to see and photograph, that Pyle missed.

Jutta Arctic (Oeneis jutta) Black Spruce bog in the Ditchbanks, Carlton County MN

Golden Banded-Skipper (Autochton cellus) Big Bend National Park, Texas

Indian Skipper (Hesperia sassacus) Hubbard County, Minnesota

Harris’s Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) Black Spruce bog (Nickerson Bog) Carlton Co, Minnesota

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Bog Copper (Lycaena epixanthe) Open bog in Carlton Co, Minnesota

Mariposa Road
Robert Michael Pyle
Houghton-Mifflin
558 pages
ISBN: 978-0-618-94539-9
Buy it at Amazon here