Arizona/California Week 19

Early in the week a late, unexpected cold front blew into Arizona (snow in Flagstaff!), altering my route west across the Colorado River toward the southeastern Sierra, a few days earlier than planned.  Here I caught a break: first, three days of nice weather, and second, Ken Davenport’s generous response to my request for location info on a few (well, actually, about ten) target species in Kern and nearby CA counties.  Ken, acknowledged guru among SoCal lepidopterists, offered to spend a day afield with me, but then the weather cooled again, directing me even farther west to my Monterey CA home county.

Although book-ended by cold weather, the short week was very productive - about 50/50 on target species, i.e., thumb’s up on San Emigdio Blue, Alkali Skipper, and Mojave Sootywing; thumb’s down on Desert Elfin, Small Blue, and Veined Blue.  Of course, while searching for these “goodies," I encountered many common species for a strong weekly total.  Finally, much to my delight, the dunes near Marina in Monterey Bay harbored a few late-flying Coastal Green Hairstreaks, seeking refuge from buffeting winds in sheltered spots near their Eriogonum host plants.

One of the species listed below, Rawson’s Metalmark, is actually a holdover from last week (Big Bend).  I refrained from posting it earlier because it can be confused with the more common fatal metalmark, which also occurs in Big Bend.  I include comparison photos below, both taken in the Chisos Basin, with the understanding that fatal metalmark can be quite variable, and the individual pictured below is somewhat worn.  One Texas expert has given the “OK” on the Rawson’s, but I invite additional comments from readers familiar with these species.

New Species:  Becker's White Pontia beckerii, California Marble Euchloe hyantis, Gray Marble Anthocharis lanceolata, Great Copper Lycaena xanthoides, California Hairstreak Satyrium californica, Sylvan Hairstreak Satyrium sylvinus, Hedgerow Hairstreak Satyrium saepium, Coastal Green Hairstreak Callophrys dumetorum, ‘Alpine' Sheridan's Hairstreak Callophrys sheridanii lemberti, Bernardino Blue Euphilotes bernardino, Bauer’s Blue Euphilotes baueri, Melissa Blue Plebejus melissa, San Emigdio Blue Plebejus emigdionis, Lupine Blue Plebejus lupini, Rawson's Metalmark Calephelis rawsoni, Leanira Checkerspot Chlosyne leanira, Northern Checkerspot Chlosyne palla, Field Crescent Phyciodes pulchella, Tawny Emperor Asterocampa clyton, Nabokov's Satyr Cyllopsis pyracmon, Persius Duskywing Erynnis persius, Mojave Sootywing Hesperopsis libya, Saltbush Sootywing Hesperopsis alpheus, Alkali Skipper Pseudocopaeodes eunus, Juba Skipper Hesperia juba, Yuma Skipper Ochlodes yuma

New Species:  26     Total trip species:  262    Species Photographed:  252


Leanira Checkerspot, desert form ‘alma', Westgard Pass, above Big Pine, CA


Juba Skipper, Westgard Pass, above Big Pine, CA


Alkali Skipper, Owens Valley, south of lone Pine, CA


Rawson’s Metalmark, Chisos Basin, Big Bend NP, Texas


Rawson’s Metalmark, Chisos Basin, Big Bend NP, Texas

Calephelis nemesis

Fatal Metalmark, Chisos Basin, Big Bend NP, Texas

Calephelis nemesis

Fatal Metalmark, Chisos Basin, Big Bend NP, Texas

Texas/Arizona Week 18

This week was largely devoted to west Texas - the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos mountains (Big Bend NP).  

Foremost was a long hike in the Guadalupes - for many years I’ve wanted to set foot in these mountains.  So I put butterflies to the back of my mind and hiked hard for several miles into a scenic canyon.  Of course, at trail’s end a seasonally early Canyonland Satyr crossed my path!  

Spring was late coming to the Davis Mountains (locals informed me of recent overnight freezes) but Big Bend in the Chisos was dazzling in its wildflower displays and butterfly activity.  Not thirty minutes out of the car, I had one of my targets - several Poling’s hairstreaks gamboling about in the tops of small oaks.  

The second day in the Chisos was to prove quite special.  The night before, I had met SF Bay area naturalist, artist, and friend Liam O’Brien at the Chisos Mountain lodge, and he introduced me to several of his companions conducting Colima Warbler surveys.  Among them was Greg Lasley, longtime Texas bird expert and photographer; Greg offered to drive me to the Pine Canyon Trail the next day (one hour’s drive, part rough road, and 4-mile hike), where they had photographed some outstanding butterflies.  Joined by Mary Gustafson of Mission, TX, we added two of the three “Chisos” butterfly specialties: Chisos Banded-skipper and Chisos metalmark, missing only the Chisos skipperling seen the day before; also the second Sandia hairstreak of my big year, and my first good looks at Meridian duskywing.

Driving back roads from Big Bend to Arizona added no new species, but on the following day Mary Klinkel of Tucson joined me for a half day in the Catalina Mountains.  Mary took me to a known location for Cestus skipper, which we found and photographed, thus allowing me to correct a mis-identified Cestus on my list from the previous month.  Following Mary’s directions, that afternoon I crossed the valley to butterfly-rich Box Canyon in the Santa Ritas for Violet-clouded and Arizona skippers.  Thanks again, Mary!

New Species:  Poling's Hairstreak Satyrium polingi, Leda Ministreak Ministrymon leda, Palmer's Metalmark Apodemia palmerii, Chisos Metalmark Apodemia chisosensis, Variegated Fritillary Euptoieta claudia, Theona Checkerspot Chlosyne theona, Hackberry Emperor Asterocampa celtis, Canyonland Satyr Cyllopsis pertepida, Red Satyr Megisto rubricata, Arizona Skipper Codatractus arizonensis, Chisos Banded-Skipper Autochton cincta, Meridian Duskywing Erynnis meridianus, Oslar's Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes oslari, Texas Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes texanae, Slaty Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes nereus, Violet-clouded Skipper Lerodea arabus

New Species:  16     Total trip species:  236    Species Photographed:  229


Golden Banded-skipper, Big Bend National Park, Texas


Chisos Banded-skipper, Big Bend National Park, Texas


Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtail, Molino Basin, Tucson, Arizona

Missouri/New Mexico Week 17

Inclement weather and long driving days limited my time afield, but this pause in my journey was more than offset by good times with good people.  Three nights at my brother Jeff’s home in Missouri was a grateful respite from the pace of the previous weeks, especially with his wife Pam’s nutritious and tasty home cooking!  Pleasant walks and bike rides in the hills of the Missouri Ozarks did yield my first gray comma.

High winds, torrential rains, and tornado warnings tested my nerves on the long drive from Missouri to Albuquerque, NM.  There I reunited with local resident Joe Schelling, a companion on a 2014 Peru butterfly trip, and Ken Wilson from San Jose, with whom I’ve shared many recent butterfly experiences.  We were on a quest for the Sandia hairstreak, which frequents the slopes of the Sandia Range above Albuquerque.  Joe took us to his favorite sites, but, except for a brief glimpse of a Sandia by Ken, lingering cool weather stymied us.  We returned in mid-afternoon and soon encountered an individual sunning itself on a blade of beargrass, giving us our well-deserved photos.  The day became more special for me when we tallied spring white and southwestern orangetip, two species I failed to corral in Tucson last month.  

My week ended in the Franklin Mountains of nw. Texas, where I took a long back-country birthday hike (70th!).  On my descent I photographed what appears to be a Mexican Sootywing, which I post below for others to review.

New Species:  Spring White Pontia sisymbrii, Southwestern Orangetip Anthocharis thoosa, Sandia Hairstreak Callophrys mcfarlandi, Mormon Metalmark Apodemia mormo, Sonoran Metalmark Apodemia mejicanus, Gray Comma Polygonia progne, Arizona Sister Adelpha eulalia, Rocky Mountain Duskywing Erynnis telemachus, Mexican Sootywing Pholisora mejicana, Bronze Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes aenus

New Species:  10     Total trip species:  219    Species Photographed:  213


Arizona Sister, Franklin Mtns., Texas


Sandia Hairstreak, Escudito Canyon, Albuquerque

Pholisora mejicana

Mexican Sootywing, Franklin Mtns., Texas

Virginia/Tennessee Week 16

Wow, what a week, thanks largely to local expertise!  

Driving north from Florida, my two primary targets were West Virginia white and falcate orangetip, with some concern that these early flyers might be finished, and expecting little else in mid-April.  Fortunately local butterfly guides had other ideas.

On Sat. the 18th Mike Smith led a group of eight into the Virginia Appalachia on a Grizzled skipper expedition.  This is an isolated, declining population considered by some to be a distinct species.  With near-perfect conditions (sunny, no wind, near 80 F) we had a record-setting day, with 10+ grizzleds, 3 elfin species, and lots of duskywings to sort out.  Oh, and falcate orangetips were common.

Two days later Tommie Rogers, a Chattanooga friend with considerable local knowledge, helped me to my 2nd target, West Virgina white, and the stunning yucca giant-skipper (photo below).

The following two days Jeff Basham, butterfly guide extraordinaire, led Tommie and I on a whirlwind tour of the Cherokee National Forest for several difficult species, including mottled duskywing and cobweb skipper.  I first recognized Jeff’s talents at the 2014 NABA convention and hoped to hook up with him during my big year.

Finally, thanks to several of you who confidently IDed the two skippers I posted last week as variations on the female Whirlabout theme.

New Species:  West Virginia White Pieris virginiensis, Falcate Orangetip Anthocharis midea, Clouded Sulphur Colias philodice, Harvester Feniseca tarquinius, Henry's Elfin Callophrys henrici, Eastern Pine Elfin Callophrys niphon, White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album, Eastern Tailed-Blue Cupido comyntas, Spring Azure Celastrina ladon, Eastern Comma Polygonia comma, Goatweed Leafwing Anaea andria, Golden Banded-Skipper Autochton cellus, Dreamy Duskywing Erynnis icelus, Mottled Duskywing Erynnis martialis, Wild Indigo Duskywing Erynnis baptisiae, Grizzled Skipper Pyrgus centaureae, Cobweb Skipper Hesperia metea, Zabulon Skipper Poanes zabulon, Pepper and Salt Skipper Amblyscirtes hegon, Lace-winged Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes aesculapius, Common Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes vialis, Yucca Giant-Skipper Megathymus yuccae 

New Species:  22     Total trip species:  209    Species Photographed:  202

Erynnis martialis

Mottled duskywing, Cherokee National Forest, Chattanooga, TN

Megathymus yuccae 

Yucca giant-skipper laying egg (see bottom of yucca), nature trails, Tyner, TN

Pyrgus centaureae

Grizzled skipper, Appalachian race (P. c. wyandot), Covington, VA

Florida Week 15

Thank you, Susan Kolterman, for guiding me to three s. FL specialties - Florida duskywing, hammock skipper, and Florida purplewing.  We searched several hammocks in the upper keys before melting in the near-90 degree afternoon heat; then Susan mapped directions to several Martial and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak sites.  And thanks also to Linda Evans for directing me to Susan.

My camper was to be serviced on Monday, so I spent the weekend hiking trails in the everglades.  Not many butterflies in this dry season, but some great walks among the gators with very few mosquitoes.  

Two days later my weekly food shopping at Wal-Mart was marred by the burglary of my van (while a Wal-Mart guard was sitting (sleeping?) just a few cars away).  Maybe it’s all just context.  The small version: the shock of having my vehicle vandalized; the larger version: on a planet where so much of humanity must survive day-to-day, I have the time and means to engage in a mad year-long pursuit of butterflies.  So I move on, and hope that the proceeds from my computer and camera feed a few hungry mouths.

On my way to Tennessee, stops at Kissimmee Prairie SP and Osceola NF were also productive, including lots of attractive loammi skippers and the Zarucco duskywing.   A couple of skippers photographed at Kissimmee have me flummoxed, so I post them below with the hopes that a follower of this blog can help with the ID.

New Species:  Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus, Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis, Eastern Pygmy-Blue Brephidium pseudofea, Cuban Crescent Anthanassa frisia, Viceroy Limenitis archippus, Florida Purplewing Eunica tatila, Hammock Skipper Polygonus leo, Confused Cloudywing Thorybes confusis, Florida Duskywing Ephyriades brunnea, Zarucco Duskywing Erynnis zarucco, Least Skipper Ancyloxypha numitor, Tawny-edged Skipper Polites themistocles, Dun Skipper Euphyes vestris, Loammi Skipper Atrytonopsis loammi, Ocola Skipper Panoquina ocola 

New Species:  15     Total trip species:  185    Species Photographed:  178


Loammi Skipper at Kissimmee Prairie SP


Unidentified Skipper at Kissimmee Prairie SP


Unidentified Skipper at Kissimmee Prairie SP

Week 14 

Week 14

Monterey Week 14

The hike up the steep fire road to the ridge above King City was physically demanding, but filled with promise.  Columbian Skipper and Thicket Hairstreak have always been here on this upper Pine Canyon hilltop in April, but this was April 3rd . .  am I too early?  I had already whiffed today on Edith’s Checkerspot (too dry?) and Moss’s Elfin (too early), so surely fate wouldn’t be that cruel.  The skipper was first, and easy, perched on bare ground as usual, as he posed for some admiring photos.  Usually 2-3 hairstreaks chase each other around the hilltop manzanita, but, with no visible activity, I resorted to bush-tapping.  After two tries a hairstreak flew out and landed practically on my nose, for another good photo.  Wish it was always this easy.

The rest of my week in hometown Monterey was dedicated to taking care of long-delayed unfinished business (like taxes), visiting with friends, and a family Easter weekend.  Wednesday the 8th I return to Florida.

New Species:  Thicket Hairstreak Callophrys spinetorum, Boisduval's Blue Plebejus icarioides, Lorquin's Admiral Limenitis lorquini, Two-banded Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus ruralis, Northern White-Skipper Heliopetes ericetorum, Columbian Skipper Hesperia columbia, Rural Skipper Ochlodes agricola

New Species:  7     Total trip species:  170     Species Photographed:  159

Highlight Species: Sara Orange-tip, Silvery Blue, Boisduval’s Blue

(top) Pacific Sara orange tip nectaring on fiddlenecks in Garrapata SP, Big Sur.   Differentiating Silvery (middle) and Boisduval’s (bottom) blues can be tricky, but note the extra row of spots along the outer edge of the underside of the forewing in Boisduval’s.    

Week 13

Tucson AZ Week 13

Tucson has had a great butterfly spring, and my visit was timed to coincide with Tucson's Sabino Canyon spring butterfly count.  Kudos to Mary Klinkel and Fred Heath for organizing this annual affair, which tallied a record high 67 species!  

Thanks also to Dave Bartholomew of San Jose, who abandoned his wife Frances at the shopping mall to join me in the field.  Dave spotted an Erichson’s white-skipper flying among all those checkered-skippers in Sabino Canyon, and together we listed 46 species on count day, capped off by a black checkerspot at the upper end of Mt. Lemmon highway.

The next day I drifted south to Madera, Box, and Sycamore canyons, familiar locales from my birding years, but equally good for butterflies.  In Sycamore, bleary-eyed from scrutinizing white-barred skippers along the creek for something different, I was startled by a large butterfly which flushed from the creek bed, circled my head once, and disappeared into the nearby woods.  It figured to be a lost cause, but I pursued the intriguing bug, threading my way through brush and briar into an open glade, where, to my delight, a blackened bluewing, an Arizona rarity, straddled a small log. 

The mathematically-inclined among you have no doubt calculated that at this date (1/4 of the year) I should have counted a minimum 150 species to reach my 600 year-end goal.  However this straight-forward analysis is deceptive, because I’ve already ticked many common species, some of which fly all year.  In the spirit of fun, Bob Pyle has contributed a chart (see TOTALS menu above) comparing his well-documented (Mariposa Road) 2008 Big Year to my current effort.

Finally, thanks to Fred Heath (again) for ID confirmation of both Carus and Cestus skippers.  I welcome critical review of my ID photos (menu above) from any and all followers of this blog.  Many of the species-to-come will be new to me, so mistakes are possible, if not likely! 

New Species:  Two-tailed Swallowtail Papilio multicaudata, Desert Marble Euchloe lotta, Pima Orangetip Anthocharis cethura pima, 'Siva' Juniper Hairstreak Callophrys gryneus siva, Arizona Metalmark Calephelis arizonensis, Black Checkerspot Chlosyne cyneas, Fulvia Checkerspot Chlosyne fulvia, Sagebrush Checkerspot Chlosyne acastus, Tiny Checkerspot Dymasia dymas, Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa, Tropical Buckeye Junonia evarete, Red-spotted Purple Limenitis arthemis astyanax, Blackened Bluewing Myscelia cyananthe, Short-tailed Skipper Zestusa dorus, Desert Cloudywing Achalarus casica, Acacia Skipper Cogia hippalus, Golden-headed Scallopwing Staphylus ceos, Arizona Powdered-Skipper Systasea zampa, Sleepy Duskywing Erynnis brizo, Desert Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus philetas, Erichson's White-Skipper Heliopyrgus domicella, Orange Skipperling Copaeodes aurantiaca, Pahaska Skipper Hesperia pahaska, Carus Skipper Polites carus, White-barred Skipper Atrytonopsis pittacus, Cestus Skipper Atrytonopsis cestus, Sheep Skipper Atrytonopsis edwardsi 

New Species:  27     Total trip species:  163     Species Photographed:  149

Highlight Species: two-tailed tiger swallowtail, queen (TX), queen (FL)

(top) An ovipositing two-tailed tiger in Sabino Canyon, AZ.  From previous weeks, showing regional differences in the queen butterfly: Texas (middle) and Florida (bottom).

Week 12

Florida Week 12

Ahh, the Everglades - snakes, Cypress swamps, gators, wading birds - seductive names like Okefenokee, Okaloacoochee, Fakahatchee.  There aren’t many butterflies in the deep swamp forest, but it’s a magical place, so I took time nearly every day for solitary walks or bike rides away from the crowded tourist trails.  A 6.5 mi. hike in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve began with a half-mile of semi-open pine prairie with blooming thistle and assorted nectaring skippers, followed by 6 miles of dense forest with a few birds, snakes (a cottonmouth!), and a face-full of spider webs every few feet.  The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary seemed very dry - only a small section of the elevated boardwalk was actually over water.  Along the walkway in late afternoon, my tired psyche was lifted by occasional flutterings of ruddy daggerwing, zebra longwing, and gulf fritillary.

Twenty new species is a pretty good week, but there are still many Florida specialties to chase down . . . when I return from a two-week respite to visit family in CA and AZ.  My camper, which I’ve named Chalcedona, is quite cozy, but that 3 ft. x 10 ft. space becomes confining after several weeks of travel.  

So today (Wednesday) I stowed Chalcedona at the Miami airport and flew to Phoenix to visit my sister Lynn in Buckeye, AZ.  Of course, her home is only two hours away from the butterfly canyons of Tucson . . . 

New Species:  Polydamas Swallowtail Battus polydamas, Orange-barred Sulphur Phoebis philea, Dina Yellow Pyrisitia dina, Fulvous Hairstreak Electrostrymon angelia, Little Metalmark Calephelis virginiensis, Mangrove Buckeye Junonia genoveva, Ruddy Daggerwing Marpesia petreus, Georgia Satyr Neonympha areolatus, Mangrove Skipper Phocides pigmalion, Silver-spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus, Dorantes Longtail Urbanus dorantes, Northern Cloudywing Thorybes pylades, Three-spotted Skipper Cymaenes tripunctus, Baracoa Skipper Polites baracoa, Delaware Skipper Anatrytone logan, Palatka Skipper Euphyes pilatka, Monk Skipper Asbolis capucinus, Twin-spot Skipper Oligoria maculata, Salt Marsh Skipper Panoquina panoquin, Obscure Skipper Panoquina panoquinoides, 

New Species:  20     Total trip species:  136     Species Photographed:  123

Highlight Species: Zebra longwing, Polydamas swallowtail, Baracoa skipper

Some butterflies of the Fairchild Gardens near downtown Miami: copulating zebra longwings, nectaring Polydamas swallowtail, and the tiny Baracoa skipper 

Week 11

Mission TX, LA, FL Week 11

Thursday-Sunday - Mission, TX:  

Well, two nice weather days out of four isn’t bad.  On Thursday we (Lorna, Dan Jones, and I) counted 35 species at the National Butterfly Center, including a brown-banded skippernectaring on spring mist flower.  The next day Lorna joined me for a stroll into the Yturria Brush Tract near La Joya, adding Nysa roadside skipper and common streaky-skipper.  Sunday was a farewell breakfast at IHOP, most snowbirders heading north, while I skirted the Gulf Coast toward Florida.

Monday-Wednesday - LA and FL:

Dawn at High Island, a birding mecca near the TX-LA border, greeted me with clear skies, but by 10 A.M. dense cloud cover drove me east into Louisiana.  After lunch at Waffle House (yum . . . pecan waffle), skies cleared and, just east of Lafayette, a dirt road (Highway 975) off I-10 took me into the Atachafalaya NWR.  Roadside clumps of asters promised butterflies, and, within minutes, three new species - eastern tiger swallowtail, red-banded hairstreak, and Horace’s duskywing.

Tuesday I hopped on my Schwinn mountain bike for 20 miles of the Tammany rail-to-trail near Mandeville, LA.  My wife May and I rode many rails-to-trails over the years, with good butterflies, but not today.  Locals complained of a recent freeze, that today’s heat and clear skies were unusual.  The highlight of several roadside stops in Appalachicola NF were five swallowtail species: eastern tiger, Palamedes, pipevine, zebra, and giant.

New Species:  Zebra Swallowtail Eurytides marcellus, Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus, Palamedes Swallowtail Papilio palamedes, Barred Yellow Eurema daira, Red-banded Hairstreak Calycopis cecrops, Cyna Blue Zizula cyna, Question Mark Polygonia interrogationis, Carolina Satyr Hermeuptychia sosybius, Brown-banded Skipper Timochares ruptifasciata, Juvenal's Duskywing Erynnis juvenalis, Horace's Duskywing Erynnis horatius, Common Streaky-Skipper Celotes nessus, Nysa Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes nysa, Celia's Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes celia

New Species:  15     Total trip species:  116     Species Photographed:  102

Highlight Species: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

One of several tailed, tiger-striped swallowtails in the U.S.  The closely-related Appalachian tiger swallowtail flies in the GA high country, the next state on my route.  Photographed in Appalachicola NF.  

Week 10

Monterey CA week 10

Before returning to Texas, reliable Partington Canyon delivered again - 23 species in just a short 1/4 mi. of dirt road and trail.  Ken Wilson joined me for this warm, sunny romp along the rugged Big Sur coast just south of Carmel, and when he mentioned this was his high daily count for the year in CA, I realized the same was true for me.  

My "new species" count is lagging, so off to Texas where hopefully spring has finally arrived.  If not, the Gulf Coast and Florida beckon, perhaps earlier than planned.  Many “snowbirds” in my RV campground, including some butterfly-hunting friends, are migrating north this week, and I’m itchin' to explore new places.

New Species:  Silvery Blue Glaucopsyche lygdamus, Variable Checkerspot Euphydryas chalcedona

New Species:  2     Total trip species:  101     Species Photographed:  88

Highlight Species: Brown Elfin

Elfins are slow-flying, brown-patterned mostly tail-less hairstreaks that fly early in the year.  This Brown Elfin, a chaparral-lover, was photographed near Mt. Madonna, CA

© Chris Tenney 2014