In pursuit of butterflies

Community journalism: Iowa City Butterfly Count a success

Chris Edwards (left) and Mark Brown survey Kent Park during a recent Iowa City Butterfly Count. (Rick Hollis photo/community contributor)
Chris Edwards (left) and Mark Brown survey Kent Park during a recent Iowa City Butterfly Count. (Rick Hollis photo/community contributor)

Editor’s note: Rick Hollis of rural North Liberty is past president and newsletter editor for the Iowa City Bird Club.

Rick Hollis, community contributor

It was nearly a perfect day for butterflies.

That’s a good thing, considering Mark Brown, Chris Edwards and I set off on a warm and cloudy last month for the Iowa City Butterfly Count at Kent Park.

We circled the two wetland/ponds near the center of the park and spent some time wading through this year’s waist-to-shoulder heigh prairie vegetation. Then we got in the cars and moved to the Valley View Prairie and wetlands on the northwest side of the park for more walking around the wetlands and wading through the prairie.

Toward the end, I stayed on the paths and let the younger guys do the hard work. One of the reasons we go through the prairies and around the wetlands is to find more species. We try to work through and around patches with interesting, butterfly-friendly plants. Butterflies vary according to habitat and plant host. To see everything there you have to move around.

Each time I take part in these counts, I feel a bit like baggage. The others know their butterflies far better than I and every year they identify butterflies I did not know existed.

But I am learning.

This year, I actually felt I made a real contribution. As we were leaving the park, I suggested a stop. Near the new headquarters building, a small wetland was built to slow runoff into Clear Creek. It was interesting and we were glad we stopped there. Among other things, we found a Horace’s Duskywing. While Edwards, a local compiler, sees them regularly at Shimek State Forest in southeast Iowa, this was only the second one he has ever seen on the Iowa City count.

It was one of our better finds for the day, not that I could identify it. During the morning we also saw two Dion Skippers, which are wetland specialists. Last year was the first time this species was recorded here. The duskywing and the Dion Skippers are not true butterflies, but rather are skippers. Skippers differ from butterflies in numerous ways, but are normally found in butterfly guides.

Around noon, having walked two or three miles, I decided I needed a long rest. Tom Jantscher joined the group and they visited Hawkeye Wildlife Area, Macbride Nature-Recreation Area, Lake Macbride State Park and Turkey Creek Preserve. In a little over nine hours we found 32 species (16-year average is 33) and 767 individuals. The 16-year average number for individuals is 980 because occasionally we have had very high counts of Clouded and Orange Sulphurs.

Our numbers included 112 Cabbage White, 184 Clouded Sulphur and 96 Great Spangled Fritillary, a record high.

The count is one of about seven held annually around Iowa. The North American Butterfly Association has a map that shows their locations. Each count is held in a 15-mile diameter circle.

Here is the entire count: Black Swallowtail 2, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 11, Cabbage White 112, Clouded Sulphur 184, Orange Sulphur 51, Little Yellow 24, Gray Copper 2, Bronze Copper 1, Coral Hairstreak 1, Eastern Tailed-Blue 30, Summer Azure 88, American Snout 1, Great Spangled Fritillary 96 (record high count), Meadow Fritillary 4, Pearl Crescent 13, Question Mark 2, Eastern Comma 3, American Lady 4, Painted Lady 4, Red Admiral 31, Common Buckeye 3, Viceroy 9, Common Wood-Nymph 24, Monarch 28, Silver-spotted Skipper 23, Horace’s Duskywing 1, Least Skipper 1, Peck’s Skipper 4, Little Glassywing 2 (record high count), Dion Skipper 2, Black Dash 4 (record high count), Dun Skipper 2.

Species with numbers significantly above average: Great Spangled Fritillary (record high count), Red Admiral, Silver-spotted Skipper, and Black Dash (record high count).

Species with numbers significantly below average: Common Buckeye, Red-spotted Purple (missed), Common Sootywing (missed), and Least Skipper.

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