I recently made two trips to Hovey Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, in extreme southwestern Indiana. I visited Hovey Lake regularly from 1999 to 2011 while working on my book, primarily to photograph immigrant species. Immigrant species are not permanent residents in Indiana but instead immigrate to our area in late summer and fall from the south. These species, which include Dainty Sulphur, Little Yellow, Sleepy Orange, Southern Dogface, Cloudless Sulphur, Checkered White, Common Checkered-Skipper, Ocola Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, and Sachem, are regularly seen at Hovey Lake. All of these species are residents of the southern states where winters are mild—none of their life stages are adapted to survive our winter. They continue to reproduce, with adults appearing throughout the fall, until all life stages are killed by hard frosts. Although it is unknown why these species expand their range northward if they are only going to succumb to freezing temperatures, their distribution patterns are of interest for climate change studies, since several of these species are now occurring here with greater regularity, in higher numbers, and earlier in the season.
I visited Hovey Lake for the first time in several years on Friday, October 28. My main goal was to see and photograph the fall form (form “rosa”) of Southern Dogface, which is washed with pink on the underside and has more pointed forewings than the typical summer form. I did see a few, but I was surprised to find an apparently healthy population of Ocola Skippers—at least 18 individuals, in varying stages of wing wear—so I spent most of my time trying to photograph them. Ocola Skippers (Panoquina ocola ocola) can be readily identified by their elongated forewings, highlighted veins (when fresh), and faint spots on the hindwing. When I wrote my book, I considered Ocolas one of our most infrequently encountered immigrant grass skippers, typically quite rare and appearing in small numbers. I don’t recall seeing more than two Ocolas in one day when I was visiting Hovey Lake regularly in the fall. In fact, I only have a few old slides of Ocolas from Hovey—one from 1999 and another from 2005. The photos in my book are some that I obtained while visiting Pigeon Mountain in northwestern Georgia, where they were far more common than at Hovey. It will be interesting to visit Hovey again next fall to see if this was just a “banner year,” or if they are beginning to occur here with greater regularity and in larger numbers, as are many of our southern immigrants.
I returned to Hovey on Saturday, November 4. There were fewer Ocola Skippers flying around (although it was a cooler day—temperatures only made it up to the mid-60s), but there was a fresh crop of Common Checkered-Skippers. Common Checkered-Skippers (Pyrgus communis communis) are spread-wing skippers and are the only checkered-skipper in Indiana. They are also immigrants, but are much more frequently encountered than Ocola Skippers. I see them often when I visit Hovey, but not always in such pristine condition. The first individual I saw was a female, so I was anxious to try to get photos. As with many other butterflies and skippers, female Common Checkered-Skippers seem to be more secretive than males, probably staying even closer to the larval host—in this case, plants in the mallow family (Malvaceae). So, I see fewer females and have fewer photos of them. Male Common Checkered-Skippers, on the other hand, are usually quite visible as they perch in a prominent location watching for passing females. The male I photographed also frequently flew about 25 yards up and down the trail, stopping often to watch for females. Males are similar to females but have more white on the wings and more bluish scaling on the abdomen.
I hope our temperatures remain above freezing for a few more weeks. If they do, I might try Hovey again for another try at a late emerging Southern Dogface. If not, discovering a nice population of Ocola Skippers was a fun diversion!