Our Quest to Find Mitchell's Satyr Butterflies--Part 3

This summer we have been searching bogs and fens for one of America's rarest and most endangered butterflies. 

Read part one "The story before the story" here.

Read part two--"Finding Mitchell's Satyrs Isn't Easy" here. 

                      ~Mitchell's Satyr Butterfly~

                      ~Mitchell's Satyr Butterfly~

A week later we went back out. This time we studied up more thoroughly on the butterflies, what exactly was their perfect habitat, what exactly were their host plants—and we looked at Google satellite maps of that 700 acres hoping to get a better feel for the lay of the land than what the map with indistinct blurry lines was giving us.

Day two of our search was a day full  of jumping  many 100 year old barbed wire fences, stumbling back and forth through marshes, gingerly stepping from hummock to hummock, trying to avoid getting sucked into the depths of of swampy water. We found the two track, the lake, and the creek, but at the time we didn't know it.

At the end of the day, hot, tired, covered with mud, and in tattered clothes, we had made it to the edge of a wetland near a woods. Every little brown butterfly we had seen up until then had that extra spot that identified them as Eyed Browns. On the edge of this wetland though, I spotted a little brown butterfly that seemed to have the markings of a Mitchell’s Satyr. It was gone in an instant, but I felt strongly we were finally in the right place. We were too tired to do much more looking, but we made note of the spot and resolved to come out later and hunt some more.

And this is why the person you go Mitchell's Satyr hunting with should know a whole lot more than you do—if not in the area of Mitchell’s satyrs, at least in the area of knowing something of what to expect when you have a wetland. If I had gone back out alone, I would have quickly given up, or have been drowned in the thick black muck, for that wetland where I thought I had caught a glimpse of the Mitchell’s Satyr, was by far the most difficult to traverse of all the wetlands we had been in so far. But my friend, being familiar with this sort of thing, knew to look for the fen in the center of what was a mucky and hard to penetrate moat protecting it.

And what a pretty little fen it was. It was the kind of place you would expect magic to happen, a grassy place filled with flowers and butterflies. It was surrounded on all sides by cattails and black muddy water, with tamaracks growing near the edges.  Michigan lilies were in full bloom. The air was filled with the jasmine-like scent of the blossoms of the American Basswood tree. We saw several different kinds of butterflies, found two different kinds of orchids, and many other pretty flowering plants.

And we found Mitchell’s Satyrs!

Or I should say, we thought we found them in the plural. We spent an hour or two photographing butterflies. One little brown butterfly posed for us for five minutes, spreading its wings and drying them in the sun, giving us the opportunity for wonderful photos. We thought we were going home with the perfect Mitchell’s Satyr photos, and that our quest was over.

It turns out our search was successful—but not as successful as we had thought. I had been home for only a couple of hours when my friend called me. Guess what—we had been photographing Little Wood Satyrs, not Mitchell’s Satyrs. He read the description of Little Wood Satyrs to me as I scrolled back through all my photographs on my camera. Yes, they were all Little Wood Satyrs—until I came to the very first butterfly we had photographed in that little fen. This one was different—darker in color, more spots; the bands on the edges of the wings were different. Mark looked at his own pictures—and confirmed, yes, that very first little brown butterfly we saw in that pretty little fen, was indeed a Mitchell’s Satyr.

When you are looking for Mitchell's Satyr butterflies, you really  have to count the spots. We mistook this Little Wood Satyr for a Mitchell's Satyr, and while they do look similar, the Little Wood Satyr has fewer spots. 

When you are looking for Mitchell's Satyr butterflies, you really  have to count the spots. We mistook this Little Wood Satyr for a Mitchell's Satyr, and while they do look similar, the Little Wood Satyr has fewer spots. 

So now that we FINALLY know what Mitchell Satyrs looks like, we still have to go back out, find more than one Mitchell’s Satyr and hopefully get the perfect photographs. Be warned, if you ever get started hunting for Mitchell’s Satyrs, you may catch bog fever and proceed to spend every day off you have all summer long hunting for butterflies and rare plants in swamps and fens. 


Now that you've read my story, take a minute and look at my friend Mark's photos from our adventures. (You also might like to follow his facebook page and browse his website while you are at it-- for always stunning nature photography and interesting lessons on botany, butterflies, and more.)

Eyed Brown Butterfly

Mitchell's Satyr

Little Wood Satyr

And here is the other butterfly that is sometimes mistaken for a Mitchell's Satyr--Northern Pearly-eye (This is the one mistake we did NOT make!)




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