Recently returned from an excellent 9-day, 3000 mile road trip in search of butterflies in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. Planned for more than a year, we had a number of locations and several target butterflies in mind and would explore a few other locations in the course of seeing nearly 70 butterfly species (8 lifers for me!). The weather was hot and humid with ticks and chiggers about, but always sunny and good for butterflies. And it was absolutely great to return home just as our summer monsoon season had begun and finally getting some rain, puffy clouds, and delightful temperatures. Of the 655 photos that came home with me, I ended up keeping 159, and thought I’d share a few of them in this post.
One of the (lifer) butterflies I’d hoped we might find, the Gorgone Checkerspot, surprisingly turned up at our very first stop and then showed up just about everywhere else.
An early morning stop at the J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma was quite productive, giving us our first look at (lifer) Byssus Skipper and plenty of other butterflies.
For example, we’d see a good dozen Banded Hairstreaks, each warming up on a leaf in the early morning sun,
had a Red-spotted Purple right at the entrance sign,
and two Northern Pearly-eyes right on the road.
It was also a treat seeing a Diana Fritillary (a species we’d only seen before in Tennessee during the 2014 NABA meeting),
and the first of what would become several Zebra Swallowtails during the course of the trip.
Another swallowtail seen regularly during the trip was the Spicebush Swallowtail, this one busy collecting pollen from an orange day lily.
On the fourth day of the trip, we headed for Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri in search of a major target species, the Baltimore Checkerspot. We’d seen several reports of them at the park including one just the previous week somewhere along the 6.5 mile Turkey Pen Hollow Trail. We easily found the trail and saw a few butterflies early on, but soon turned around when the habitat changed to dark forest with few nectar sources and without having seen the host plants. Not quite ready to give up, after a short break we started up the trail again to give it one more shot and hadn’t gotten very far at all when something caught my eye some distance off the trail – yep, (lifer) Baltimore Checkerspot!
Not only that, but earlier that morning Eastern Comma made an appearance,
as did one of the many Question Mark butterflies we’d see at most locations.
The next day, it was off to Runge Conservation Nature Center near Jefferson City, Missouri in search of another of our primary target species, the Swamp Metalmark. (We’d looked unsuccessfully for this locally rare species on a field trip in Alabama also during the 2014 NABA meeting.) One of the friendly greeters in the Visitor Center pointed us to a couple of spots on the trails that might be good for butterflies and we slowly made our way over most of the 2.4 miles of trails, seeing some good butterflies but having no luck spotting the metalmark or even its host plant, swamp thistle. Another lifer appeared during our morning walk, Gray Comma.
After a nice picnic lunch, we returned to the Visitor Center (air-conditioned, don’t you know). When Rebecca mentioned the metalmark to the guy behind the desk, he instantly told us to hang on while he ran back to find Austin Lambert, one of their resident naturalists. Austin and his co-worker, Sara Easton, dropped everything to take us out to find one. They seem to have an active butterfly group conducting weekly surveys of the Nature Center and are constantly monitoring their Swamp Metalmark population. Once again, we found ourselves off trail and stumbling through the underbrush collecting ticks and chiggers when finally Sara called us all over to one she’d found –> ta-da, lifer Swamp Metalmark!
The next day had us checking out a few locations around Columbia, Missouri, including Overton Bottoms in Big Muddy NFWR someone we ran into mentioned as the best spot in the area for butterflies. We didn’t have much luck that day, but it was fun seeing a couple of Little Yellow butterflies.
Next, it was on to Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, Kansas, where we’d hoped to find Regal Fritillary after seeing reports of it at this time of year for the last five years. Got there a little late in the afternoon and it was just too hot and humid to walk very far in the open sun. We would see a few butterflies, but nothing very special in the limited time we spent there. A Great Spangled Fritillary, a species we’d see in many locations, posed nicely on a purple coneflower.
The day before we’d head for home, we made a visit to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. In July 2019, we’d stopped here on our way back from Mothapalooza in Ohio where a friend had mentioned seeing Regal Fritillary and Arogos Skipper a few weeks earlier. We were unsuccessful in seeing them there that time (although we had gotten a single Regal Fritillary at a site in Missouri), but held out hope for success this time. Starting in a good-sized milkweed patch close to the parking lot, we’d see two more lifers, one a single Arogos Skipper, and a few of the Gray Copper.
There’d also be a number of Delaware Skippers on the milkweed, another species we’d see in various locations on the trip.
Checking in with the park rangers about where to see butterflies, they directed us a short distance up the road to the old Fox Creek School. After looking around a bit without seeing much nectar or many butterflies, we decided to cross a fence and start off on a trail heading deep into the large tallgrass prairie. Almost immediately, we’d see a couple Monarchs flying around and thought to head over to a patch of purple coneflower a short distance away. Right about then, Rebecca spotted a couple of butterflies out in the field she’d realized were almost certainly Regal Fritillaries.
We’d spend most of the next half hour watching up to eight individuals zipping around the meadow and doing our best to try to photograph them. Quite the highlight experience of the whole trip!
For the last night of our trip, we stayed in Oklahoma City for an early morning visit to Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge where we’d add our final lifer for the trip, Bell’s Roadside-Skipper. And then off on the 8-hour drive through Oklahoma and Texas home to Albuquerque.
In addition to all the butterflies that were the focus of the trip, it was always fun seeing and photographing other creatures a few of which I thought I’d share for the rest of this post. Among the odonates, we’d come across lots of Ebony Jewelwings,
several different dragonflies including Widow Skimmer,
and an Eastern Ringtail.
Snowberry Clearwing Moths were seen in quite a few places, too.
The only lizard I photographed was a Six-lined Racerunner, first I’d ever seen and quite colorful with its bright green skin.
And of course, there were a few birds around not seen all that often (if at all) around here. Multiple sightings of Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Tufted Titmouse, but no decent photos. Commonly seen (and occasionally photographed) were Dickcissel,
and Northern Cardinal.