Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Birding Life, travels throughout the land - part two

After I returned from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, I had a week of getting work things in order before departing on a two and a half week trip to visit my family (and do some birding) back in my native Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

On the drive towards Michigan I deliberately chose a path that would take us past the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Kansas. This preserve much like the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma lies in the Flint Hills region. This region most of which lies in Kansas but spilling over into adjacent Oklahoma has some of the best Tallgrass Prairie habitat left in the world. The reason for this is the rocky soil of the Flint Hills wasn't suitable for cultivation so much of the area was used to graze cattle instead, cattle grazing, unlike row crop agriculture is actually fairly compatible with maintaining native wildlife. The National Preserve is actually owned by the National Parks Service, (the one is Oklahoma is owned by the Nature Conservancy), in addition the National Preserve lying several hours to the north is located more in the heart of the the Flint Hills, making it a somewhat better area to view native Tallgrass Prairie butterflies, which was the main aim of stopping at the preserve.

Our first stop was touring the still standing barn and outbuildings of the large cattle ranch who's lands would eventually make up the bulk of the preserve.

Nikki enjoyed the basement of the old barn, which addition to being delightfully cool, also housed some friendly barn cats.

After this we took a walk on some of the trails that lead up away from the buildings and out into the prairie. We were not dissapointed, butterflies were everywhere amongst the native prairie flowers and other vegetation!

We quickly spotted many different species, including this Variagated Fritillary above. In some places along the trails it was difficult to focus on individual butterflies before another species would fly by!

Tallgrass prairie birds were also in attendance with abundant Dickcissels like the one above singing away, as well as Eastern Meadowlarks and Upland Sandpipers.

The true part of my prairie quest remained elusive, so we continued on with our march through the bluestems and indian grass, past the butterfly milkweed and asters, searching for a rare and declining butterfly, soon a blur rocketing past me (at least as much as a butterfly can rocket) proved to be my quarry.

Ever since I began watching butterflies, I had my eye on two species in particular, both rare and declining both sexually dimorphic, beautiful and large. The Dianna Fritillary of the Appalachian and Ozarkian mountain meadows, and the above Regal Fritillary of America's dissappearing tallgrass prairies. Both of these species like other members of the genus Speyeria, feed on species of violets as larvae.

I was a bit worried that my mid June visit to the preserve would be a bit early for catching a glimpe of one of these butterflies, as they more typically don't emerge until a little later in June and into July. However, males, like the one pictured above do typically emerge a little before females which are a little larger and have white instead of orange spots on the back of their forewings.

The Regal Fritillary like its tallgrass prairie home has disappeared from much of its original range. Once occuring extensively in the east, they cling on east of the Mississippi only in a few scattered remnant populations, where a small amount of tallgrass has been spared the plow. Here in the Great Plains, where a bit more of the tallgrass has been preserved they still remain in seemingly stable populations in areas like the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Hopefully such places will continue to be protected so we can continue to catch a glimpse of this truly Regal creature of the prairie.

1 comment:

  1. it would seem that one of my friends is doing research at the TNC prairie =) sounds like we've got some lepping to do!