As the wildflower bed in the front yard begins to mature, the pollinators have come in droves. I really enjoyed getting to know the members of the Hesperiidae (skipper butterflies) this year. Although suburbia seems to support only a few species, their numbers were great in my yard. Most of these are considered “grass skippers” due to their host plant needs. It makes sense that these species would do well in a suburban area with plenty of flowering natives. Most grass skippers will use zoysia and Bermuda grass as host plants. I hate to think how many larvae get destroyed in the neighborhood each season with the relentless lawn mowing.
These first three photos are the sachem (Atalopedes campestris). This is a very common species in the yard and they seem to have a very long flight season. I noticed they come in a variety of shades and patterns that can make identifying them a bit troublesome.
Next up is the overlooked beauty but common Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius). Along with the sachem, this guy was common for most of the flowering season.
The final skipper from the yard is a favorite among anyone who cares to notice skippers. The brilliant fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus). Although I found a scattered few in May, June and July, they seem to have a little later season than the others. I found them in the tens in August and September.
If you want to have lots of skippers, I highly recommend planting asters in thegenus Symphyotrichum. This will attract skippers and many other insect pollinators who need these plants.
Finally, I found a very interesting solitary bee that was feeding on the Asclepias tuberosa that was blooming in the glade garden that installed around our mailbox this past May. This is a male carpenter-mimic leafcutter bee (Megachile xylocopoides).
Unfortunately, the story of the family in this nesting season has an unfortunate, and uncertain ending. At least, I do not know the final outcome of everyone. In early June, we had heard that the father was struck and killed by a vehicle on the River Road, within a few hours after Miguel and I left for the day. Our next opportunity to visit was a few days later. This was devastating news, obviously. In this species, both parents are critical in providing for the chicks and ensuring the best chances of successfully raising the entire brood. Still, with mom being a great provider and at least one, or potentially two, chicks capable of flight, we had good hopes that she could finish raising 1-3 of the chicks successfully. Once fledged, the parents still need to provide for the chicks for another 6-8 weeks until they are capable hunters. It would be a long hard struggle, but we had high hopes she would do her best.
Then more unfortunate news found its way to us. Another male had moved into the territory. At first this seemed like it might be good news, potentially someone to help mom complete the job of raising the brood. But as time went on, he seemed to be getting very aggressive with both mom and the chicks. He thwarted the mother’s attempts at bringing in food and harassed the chicks relentlessly every time they took to the air. Miguel and I visited for a number of hours over a few day period during this time and the number of successful feedings we observed were pitifully few – seemingly not enough for the chicks to complete their growth and perhaps move with mom to a different territory. We ended our observations around this time. I have heard through second hand accounts that mom was seen with two or three chicks flying away from the territory, so maybe there was a happy ending but I do not know.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have an opportunity to get back to the nest site until late May. When we returned, we found the parents were busy raising four already good-sized chicks. The photography was challenging. We had to contend with the too-speedy traffic of the river road that lied between us and the bluff face where the nest was located and the heat distortion that this blacktop created. There is also the issue of trying to photograph the fastest vertebrate on the planet.
Miguel and I spent a few hours in the spring and early summer of 2022 photographing a pair of Peregrine Falcons in Madison County, IL during their nesting season. In this first post, the photos were taken in March. There were likely no eggs in the nest at this point and the pair was bonding by the male bringing in food for the female and the two soaring the skies of their territory. It wound up being a pretty dramatic nesting season. Lots more pics to follow.
Back in late June, Miguel and I took a trip to the “Cole Camp Prairies” near Sedalia MO. Here, we were after a target I had long wanted to photograph, the regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia). Once abundant across the ancient prairies, lands that are now mostly used to grow the crops feeding us, the regal fritillary are now listed as a G3/S3 species, meaning they are vulnerable to extinction. The reason for this is that the regal fritillary host plants are violet species that only grow in the scarce remnants of the once vast ocean of prairies that covered much of the central United States. Fewer acres of prairie means fewer prairie violets that leads to fewer butterflies. Fortunately, the pitiful amount of prairie remnants left in the Show-Me State do still support this fantastic butterfly and Miguel and I did our best to find and photograph some.
The Cole Camp Prairie complex is a list of approximately eight mostly postage-stamp sized publicly accessible prairies located north of the small town of Cole Camp in Benton County. I did some research to find out which prairies had confirmed sightings in the previous years and which were more likely to have a sizeable population. I knew we would focus on these, but because these prairies are pretty close to one another, we wound up visiting seven locations just to see the differences between them and to give the entire area a good scouting for the regals.
Our first stop was at Paint Brush Prairie Conservation Area. This is one of the larger of the Cole Camp Prairies and was reported to hold one of the better-sized populations of regals. Our visit coincided with the early portion of the regals flight period and this would hold ramifications that would complicate the achievement of our goals. Here, we did find an estimated two dozen regals. However, these were all most likely males that typically emerge earlier than females. Although some plants were in bloom, these males were not interested in feeding. Instead, they were constantly cruising, inches above the vegetation, assumedly waiting for one of the first females to emerge and an opportunity to mate. We tried our best. Once in a while, one would stop to rest for a brief second or two, but it was never long enough to get in position, find focus and take the shot. I then tried to see if it was possible to photograph them in flight. This proved to be about as fruitless as it sounds. After hundreds of shots, I wound up with only a single keeper, pictured here.
Our next stop, just a quick drive west, was at Friendly Prairie C.A. This wound up being our most successful stop. Success in photographing these beasts lies in your visit’s timing with flowering plants. In late June, we missed the prolific blooming of most of the Echinacea and Asclepias and were a tad too early for the blooming period of the native Cirsium that support the energy needs of these butterflies over mid to late summer. Thankfully, we did find a few Asclepias tuberosa at peak bloom and the regals had found them as well. We only found four regals here, but they were cooperative indeed!
We continued our tour of the Cole Camp Prairies, visiting the holdings that the Missouri Department of Conservation had to offer as well as one restoration property owned by The Nature Conservancy. Towards the end of our time, we stopped at the largest prairie parcel in the area – Hi Lonesome Prairie C.A. This prairie was very dry and, perhaps consequentially, we found very few plants in bloom. There were, however, still a number of butterflies. Here we found monarchs and a diversity of swallowtail species as well as five regals. Almost all of these were flitting around the bushes that spotted the prairie’s many hillsides. This prairie also held some nice bird diversity. In addition to the ubiquitous Dickcissel, we found Grasshopper Sparrows, Henslow Sparrows, and Bell’s Vireos. Around a couple of this area’s large ponds, dragonflies were in abundance as well. I took some time to hop the electric fence around the larger pond, finding out the hard way that it was indeed working to keep out the cattle that graze the prairie, and spent some time working with gorgeous Halloween pennant’s (Celithmis eponina). See attached photo.
I had wanted to give the Cole Camp Prairies a good tour for quite a while. I’m happy that we spent the day doing this although I know it was but a snapshot over the course of the seasons. Finding the number of regals we did was thrilling and I’m happy to have gotten a few worthwhile photos from the day. Although these prairies are a good hoof from the StL, at a little less than a three-hour drive, they are still much easier than getting to other prairies in different parts of the state. Hopefully my next visit comes soon.
Miguel and I found an aggregation of the catalpa sphinx moth caterpillars on a caterpillar hunt in early September. I have been looking for this species for a while so this was a nice find. Of the ten or so we found, one was infested with the parasitoid braconid wasp cocoons. See photos below.