Tracking wily, winged creatures at Fort McCoy's Butterfly Field Day
This past Friday, July 26, found me on the steps of the administration building at the Ft. McCoy Airfield – Sparta Airport by 12:45 p.m., ready to attend the first session of three meetings hosted by Timothy T. Wilder, Chief, Natural Resources Branch of Ft. McCoy. These three, four-hour sessions were open to the public as a part of their 2019 Butterfly Field Days.
The first hour was spent on the second floor of the administration building getting a quick overview of information about butterflies on the Fort and how they are effectively being monitored and managed.
Part of Mr. Wilder's job is to keep track of the density of the local insect and bird populations on the Fort, especially those of the rare and endangered species.
In spite of heavy military use in some areas of the installation, Ft. McCoy has a much higher population of rare and endangered species than any other type of publicly maintained land such as DNR, state parks and forests, and national parks.
Knowledge of the needs and life cycles of a species gives one the power to plan and provide for those needs and thus increase their chances of survival. Knowing what foods are preferred and sometimes the only food of a species, makes the difference between survival and extinction. The planting of Lupine, also known as the Texas Blue Bonnet, has made the difference for the Karner Blue Butterfly on Ft. McCoy.
Ft. McCoy land management uses several tools to control a favorable habitat for all of the many creatures who live there. Fire is used in the early spring to clean up areas that create a fire hazard in the dryness of summer. Some of the ranges and the railroad right of way are burned every spring before the birds begin to nest and the fields begin to green up.
Sixty thousand acres is a lot of area to care for and the forester has his share to care for. Every year there is some logging being done on the Fort to thin out some areas and in other areas several acres of pine plantations are sold in one tract. Many miles of roadside get mowed to prevent tree encroachment in the ditches – but not until late summer - so as to provide more food and cover for wildlife.
The Karner Blue Melissa Butterfly was listed as endangered in 1992. Presently it is alive and doing well on Ft. McCoy, as evidenced by their abundance at the mud hole we stopped by. The Eastern Tailed Blue – a near look alike – was side by side with them getting a drink. So carry a good pair of binoculars with you to make your identification correctly.
We were a bit late to see the Frosted Elfin butterfly which is alive from the 10th of May until the 10th of June. They also feed on the lupine plant as larvae so have profited from the efforts to help the Karner Blue. The common Milkweed is the definite host plant of the Monarch butterfly but is also used by many other butterflies for food and nectar. The Regal Fritillary uses Wild Bergamot for food as a butterfly but in the larval stage they prefer violet plants. One of the rare butterflies that lives on the drop zone is the Ottoe Skipper. His flight time is from June into August. He is not even listed in the book I own.
Among the butterflies we saw on the field trip were Monarchs, Fritillerys, Eastern Tailed Blues, several kinds of Skippers, and Silvery Checker Spots. Later, at one of the mud holes I saw my first Common Sooty Wing Skipper.
So go gently as you walk the earth. The insect you might not like may be helping another creature to stay alive and that “worm” may be a butterfly in the making.