Butterflies and birds of Lodi Marsh SNA

Today I headed back to Lodi Marsh to see what it’s like in summer. Spoiler alert: it is great. There was much more animal activity than the times I went in February and April. Having never been to the SNA until this year, I didn’t know what it would hold but I was pleasantly surprised.

I stuck to the prairie, as the path down to the marsh was thick with poison ivy. As I was making my way up the hill, a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) kept me company as it sang from the tree line. This mimid repeats a seemingly random series of lines in pairs of two. I heard it all the while I climbed.

The next bird sighting really surprised me. I have seen over 200 species in Wisconsin so I’ve added most of the common ones to my list. Additions to my life list in this state are not frequent, just a few a year, but there are still some less common birds I haven’t seen yet. One of these was on my wish list… until today. I have finally seen Henslow’s sparrows (Ammodramus henslowii). These grassland birds are the decline, mostly due to habitat loss, so the prairies that host them are very special indeed.

Henslow’s sparrow

Up at the top of the hill I had a few butterfly encounters. The most adorned one, and also a new one for me, was the common buckeye (Junonia coenia).

Common buckeye

On the far (southern) side of the hill I ran into the bluest bird in the state: the indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea).

Indigo bunting

The hour was growing close to noon as I retraced my steps back down the north side of the hill (with Henslow’s sparrows making another appearance) and back through the low areas. Down near the trailhead it was butterflies galore. Here are the highlights: I saw a few of my lifer eyed browns (Satyrodes eurydice) as well as a chance to view up close some of the fritillaries that had been avoiding my presence on the rest of the hike. I knew they were definitely some species of the large, orangey butterflies as I made my way through the prairie but I couldn’t tell which ones. They were always on the go.

These ones, however, were feasting. I flushed them as I walked close, unaware of their presence. I noticed the food they had left behind (more on that later) and decided to back up to see if they would return to their meal. They did- and I didn’t even have to back up that far. I was able to slowly walk back toward them and snap a few pictures so I could identify them later. This proved to be no easy task, as two of the species we get here are irritatingly similar. After an hour or so of studying pictures and species descriptions I have arrived at the tentative conclusion that the one in the background is a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) and the one in the foreground is an Aphrodite fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite).

Why yes, some butterflies get nutrients from scat. Don’t say you never learn anything from me.

One field mark the accounts say separates the two is a small marking on the Aphrodite’s upper wing. I’ve circled it in the picture below.

That little comma-shaped mark

This being said, butterfly identification makes birds and herps look like a walk in the park. I make no claims as to the exact identity of these butterflies.

I will keep Lodi Marsh in my mental list of places to go year-round. It is certainly a prairie with a lot going on, from sparrows to fritillaries.

Arboretum South

When I go to the UW Arboretum I usually go to the large section north of the Beltline. Today my friend Jon and I explored the southern end and I discovered it is a jewel in the city.

The Grady Kettle Forest and Grady Oak Savanna were our first stops. This was also a surprisingly quiet part of the arboretum even though it is close to the highway. The thick forest north of the savanna does a good job at drowning out the automobile sounds.

The main plant in bloom at the savanna was common spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), a knee-high plant with blue/purple 3-petaled flowers. One bird we heard was an eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), a large member of the sparrow family found at woodland edges. The standard mnemonic for its song is “drink your tea” with the tea syllable trilled. I also saw a few silver-spotted skippers (Epargyreus clarus). Skippers usually throw me for a loop but I was able to identify this species because of the bold wing markings.

Silver-spotted skipper

The biggest treat was the Greene Prairie. For a restoration, this sure has a lot of biodiversity. I couldn’t identify every plant and it would take a while to even recall all the ones I could. Just know this is not your typical restoration. Every twist and turn on the narrow trail led to a new floral discovery.

A small corner of Greene Prairie
Shadows on a prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) leaf

Jon mentioned that he’d like to see the prairie a few weeks from now when more plants have a chance to bloom. I agree. I would like to visit this amazing (and close!) prairie gem often now that I’ve had a taste. It would give me a chance to work on my plant ID’s that’s for sure. The sun was getting high by the time we got to the prairie (not good for pictures) but I would like to come back and do a few flower posts this summer.

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor)

May 31st


I spent the last day of May outside from 9-5. Sure beats spending it indoors. Several hours in southwest Wisconsin wading through ditches, walking through woods and prairies, and sneaking up on turtles along the Wisconsin River really paid off. My reward was sun and fun.

I got a few first-of-years too.

FOY birds:
Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri)
Northern rough-winged swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Bank swallow (Riparia riparia)
Lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)

FOY herps:
Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis)
Eastern spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera)
Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

FOY butterflies:
Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
American copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
Little wood satyr (Megisto cymela)
Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Forster’s terns on distant debris

The turtles were all easy to spot. The snapper was the only one that I never saw sunning. All the other turtles were out on the sand by the river. The stretch of shoreline I was at was remarkable; there were shelled creatures everywhere. The hard part was getting close enough to get pictures and to identify them under the piercing rays of the sun. They spook easily but I eventually found a good method. I would sneak up on them from above and behind, taking advantage of the steep bank behind them. It worked well until one would inevitably look my way and run wildly into the water with the others following behind.

Ouachita map turtles


Eastern spiny softshell turtle

The shore was also where I saw the bank swallows and most of the northern rough-winged swallows. Nesting in holes on the bank, they flew over the river in search of food and perched on bare twigs overlooking their watery domain.

The butterflies were all a little more inland, except for the eastern tiger swallowtail which was by a swift and narrow back channel.

Eastern tiger swallowtail

The American coppers and little wood satyrs were lifers for me, but only because I only took up butterfly viewing as a hobby this year. They’re quite common and it was nice to finally “meet” them. I was stunned by the simple beauty of the satyrs (those spots!). The coppers proved difficult to photograph as they were energetic and would fly to another perch just as I got the camera set on them. Getting a snapshot of their open wings was downright impossible but take my word that they look quite amazing spread.

I did not get pictures of the mourning cloak or the giant swallowtail. The former is a favorite from my childhood and the latter is uncommon in Wisconsin so they were real treats to see.

American copper
Little wood satyr

If the quality of a day is measured in sights seen and layers of mud on clothing then it was a great day on both accounts. What a wonderful time spent in my favorite river valley with its inhabitants.

Lark sparrow