The Iowa Prairie Conference was this last weekend at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. The fieldtrips were an important part of this well run and productive meeting. Among the many things we saw and photographed on the prairies were several butterflies. We went to three hill prairies on steep sided bluffs and a valley wet prairie with three trout streams, as well as enjoying the prairies on the Luther campus.
This Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone) was patrolling the ridgetop at the mile-long Solitaire Ridge, a hill prairie. It was worth the climb to get to see him. He would not sit for a sideview to verify his identification but a knowledgeable butterfly person was able to get downhill and look at the underside of his wings with binoculars. The Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) is quite similar.
Many people (the light colored specks along the incline) made the trek up the steep bluff. We took a slightly easier route along an old road/track up the wooded flank of the bluff to the top of the ridge. The valley below and cliff crown along the ridgetop were spectacular sights and a reminder that the Midwest has rugged areas.
At the trout stream prairie a friend spotted these two Eastern Tailed-blues (Everes comyntas) mating down in the grass. They stayed long enough for us to get a couple of images after she had finished making hers. Because of the sun’s angle and some shadows we used an external flash with a Rogue flashbender to direct a bit of fill light into the scene.
After the conference we made a stop at a nearby wildlife management area tucked in the hills where Baltimore Checkerspots had been found the week before. Years ago we had photographed some Baltimore Checkerspot larva while on an Iowa Native Plant Society fieldtrip at the same spot. We only found two adults: a dead one and a this tattered but very much alive one nectaring on Swamp Milkweed. Another reminder that important species may be short lived but still have important niches to fill in a healthy ecosystem.
Prairies are determined by what lives there – plants and animals. Some are flat, some are rolling and some seem to go straight up when the soil and conditions are right to support the species that make a prairie.