Our Quest to Find Mitchell's Satyr Butterflies--Part 2

Read part one "The story before the story" here

The one thing that you should know if you are going to go out and hunt for Mitchell’s Satyrs, is that you need to go with a friend.

It helps if your friend knows a whole lot more about fens and swamps than you do, especially if hunting for rare butterflies in elusive fens is something completely out of your scope of experience. You definitely want someone who knows how to avoid being trapped in quicksand-like black muck.  But you don’t want him to know TOO much about finding the little brown butterflies, because that would just make the whole thing too easy and take half the fun out of it. My perfect partner for the adventure was a newly found old friend at heart, a nature photographer, who has spent the last 30 years hunting for pictures in fens and bogs. Neither of us had seen a Mitchell’s Satyr—and he was just as eager to find and photograph them as I was.  

Finding Mitchell’s Satyrs isn’t easy. We didn’t know that when we started out.

In our case we had to figure out mostly on our own where in that vast expanse of 700 acres that little fen with the butterflies was.  The landowner spoke in riddles and dropped the occasional hint here and there on how to find them. But he wouldn’t come right out and TELL us where they were. And even more importantly, he didn’t tell us that half the land you have to wander on to get to the satyrs is thick black muck that wants to suck you down into its depths if you make a misstep.  He handed us a blurry map with impossible to follow lines and vaguely waved his hand—“Oh, they are out there. Follow the two tracks until you get to the creek and the ruins of an old shack. If you get to the lake you’ve gone too far. Follow the creek to the fen.  Oh and there are two creeks, make sure you don’t follow the wrong one. Go, explore, have fun!”

 Never mind that the two track has been long overgrown, the remains of the shack have apparently sunk into the earth, the lake is a cattail marsh, and you just might miss the creek if you cross it in the wrong place. As far as where the second creek is, I still have no idea where that might be.

But none of that mattered on the first day of our search.

We naively strolled across a lovely sloping pasture full of singing bobolinks and long stems of grass blowing in the breeze. We debated crossing the fence into the cow pasture that had a bull and a dozen cows in it as it seemed to be somewhat in line with that creek and lake he had vaguely pointed to. We decided to go around the cows instead and jumped the fence into a wet meadow full of sedges and poison sumac. And right there in front of us, without hardly any looking at all, we found little brown butterflies with spots, and we thought we had it made. We spent a hour in the hot sun, chasing the butterflies through the sedges and photographing them.

I went to bed that night tired and happy—thinking we had found the Mitchell’s Satyrs, but also just a little disappointed that we hadn't made it farther into the heart of that beautiful piece of land.

In the morning though, I woke up to an email from my friend. We had been ecstatic over finding Eyed Brown butterflies, not Mitchell’s satyrs. They are a common butterfly that shares some of the same habitat as Mitchell’s, with somewhat similar markings, and a very similar fight pattern.

Honestly though, we weren't that disappointed in the discovery as this simply meant that we couldn't make up excuses to not go back and explore some more of those rolling hills and wetland. 

Note the extra spot in the center of the wing. This is not a Mitchell's Satyr. This is an Eyed Brown butterfly. 

Note the extra spot in the center of the wing. This is not a Mitchell's Satyr. This is an Eyed Brown butterfly. 

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