Leps of Wisconsin’s Great Pine Barrens

follow-the-gooseI’m at a meeting this week of an NSF-funded project on communicating about nanotechnology, hosted by the Minnesota Museum of Science in St. Paul. Seemed a good time to take a few days before and after to explore one of the areas that, as a naturalist, I’ve heard so much about – Crex Meadows.

Along with Amsterdam Slough and Fish Lake, all centered around Granstburg, WI, Crex Meadows was formed from the meltwater of the last great ice sheet during the Pleistocene. The sand that forms the foundation of much of landscape in these areas was picked up across hundreds of miles of glacial front and then dropped as the ice melted. The resulting landscape consists mostly of sand barrens and freshwater marsh. Crex Meadows is the ultimate example of this landscape.

I arrived late on Saturday, delayed by mechanical problems on Delta out of Baltimore. I pulled into Granstburg around dark and was met by lep and ode field colleague Beth Johnson, who drove up from Fort Dodge after having spent a few days with family. Together we explored Crex and a number of the surrounding areas during a three-day lep-blitz of sorts.

Top of every lepster’s wish list when visiting Crex Meadows is Karner Blue, and of course it topped our target list too. Along with Gorgone Checkerspot, Northern Crescent, Persius Duskywing, Mottled Duskywing and Canadian Swallowtail, these would be lifers for us both.

Northern Crescent, Crex Meadows WI [2015 May 31, Rick Borchelt]

Northern Crescent, Crex Meadows WI [2015 May 31, Rick Borchelt]

But the trip started inauspiciously, with very cold weather on Saturday night and a slow warmup with high clouds on Sunday. Nevertheless, Sunday was probably our most productive day, starting with a stop at a promising dirt road to Hay Creek. Despite the sometimes gale-force winds, we were able to see American Copper, Hobomok Skipper, Arctic Skipper (lifer for Beth), Dreamy Duskywing (easily the most common duskywing in flight at Crex this week), Common Roadside-skipper and Silvery Checkerspot. Paydirt came with clear views of upper and under sides of Northern Crescent, and a killer upperside view of Gorgone Checkerspot. And this spot had little to recommend it save that it was out of the wind and had a fringe of white clover on the side of the road. We saw tiger swallowtails that could have been Canadian, but they were in flight and we lacked the confidence to call them. At least one Monarch sailed through, and we saw Red Admiral as well.

Gorgone Checkerspot, Crex Meadows.  [2015 May 31, Rick Borchelt]

Gorgone Checkerspot, Crex Meadows. [2015 May 31, Rick Borchelt]

Our next stops were at great stands of lupines along Abel Road, where – again in a few wind-protected pockets, and with the sun out again – we had our first of what would be three Karner Blues at this site, followed by Eastern Tailed-blue and unexpected (for us) Western Tailed-blue. American Ladies showed up here (as they did most everywhere else the next couple of days), but Silvery Blues were the dominant blue species. Another real highlight here was Persius Duskywing, one of only two we saw during our foray.

Persius Duskywing, Crex Meadows [2015 May 31, Rick Borhelt]

Persius Duskywing, Crex Meadows [2015 May 31, Rick Borhelt]

The wind was rising and clouds were thickening as me we our way to the highest point in Crex Meadows, Crex Ridge. There had been reports on the wisconsinbutterlies.org site of Mottled Duskywing there in the past week, but we struck out. More Clouded Sulphurs, but far and away the most common lep on the ridge was Dusted Skipper. They were everywhere! There were also good numbers of Silvery Blues, Dreamy Duskywings, and a couple more Karners. Nearly flattened by the wind on the ridge was our first (of two) Common Ringlets, and a good half-dozen Northern Cloudywings. By now the sun was pretty far down and the Meadows were cooling fast. Sandhill Cranes were calling, Sora were whinnying and Pied-billed Grebes were yodeling as we drove out of the refuge to celebrate at The Pour House in Siren, WI, near our hotel. The recap was glorious, with four of our six targets in the bag!

Karner Blue, federally endangered and the top priority on our Crex target list! [2015 May 31, Rick Borchelt]

Karner Blue, federally endangered and the top priority on our Crex target list! [2015 May 31, Rick Borchelt]

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