Alabama/Alaska Week 24


"Mitchell’s satyrs everywhere!!” I exclaimed to Tommie as our long drive to the Talladega NF was quickly rewarded with multiple looks and great photo ops of this endangered species, our most common butterfly of the day!  No one registered disappointment when we could find no other target species . . later, enroute to a swamp metalmark site, we sadly learned that a flood two weeks ago may have wiped out the entire colony.


OK, no more grumbling about this year’s oddball weather.  My arrival in Fairbanks heralded a forecast of sunny skies, temps in the 70s-80s, for the entire week.  This bit of luck is no small thing - many lepidopterists before me have suffered a week or more of cold, rain, and fog, with few butterflies.  Motoring up the Dalton Highway toward the north slope, multiple stops bagged 12 new species, including 4 snazzy fritillaries of the Boloria genus: Mountain, Freija, Polaris, and Arctic.  My reward was a B&B stay in Coldfoot, AK for a shower, pancake breakfast, and grizzly bear stories from hosts Clutch Hicker and family; a second night of swatting mosquitoes in the back of my Dodge Journey rental was out-of-the-question.

As I chugged over Atigun Pass the next day, a high haze kept temps to a cool 45-50 F until about 2 pm.  Nevertheless, near Galbraith Lake, Ross’s, Banded, Disa, and Four-dotted alpines flushed from the treeless terrain as I walked what seemed like miles of ankle-breaking peat bog tundra.  At 11 a.m., as the sun poked briefly through the haze, several Arctic whites, fritillaries, and a frazzled Sentinel Arctic simultaneously rose from the turf.  Minutes later, a large yellow flyer swerved upslope toward me, appearing to be first a swallowtail (not likely!), then a large sulphur.  It landed some 30m away and I gasped, nearly choking on my butterfly bins at a bright yellow male Eversmann’s Parnassian!  Thus mesmerized, I forgot to take a photo, and a 2nd male barrelling past me did not grant me another chance.

After 2 p.m. the haze cleared and butterflies became more active.  The base of slopes seemed especially productive, but, remembering Bob Pyle’s lament (in his big year book - Mariposa Road) about dawdling too long in the valley, I re-traced my route back to the pass, adding several beauties like White-veined, Melissa, and Polixenes arctics, and a Mt. Mckinley alpine at the base of a rocky chute.

Returning down the Dalton Highway, Giant sulphurs flying in a roadside meadow capped my first leg of the trip, 34 total species, over 40% of Alaska’s butterfly fauna.

Addendum:  with ID assistance from the Butterflies of America website, Booth’s sulphur is now added to the list!

Next, the Steese Highway. . . 

New Species:  Eversmann's Parnassian Parnassius eversmanni, Old World Swallowtail Papilio machaon, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Papilio canadensis, Arctic White Pieris angelika, Giant Sulphur Colias gigantea, Palaeno Sulphur Colias palaeno, Booth's Sulphur Colias tyche, Unsilvered Fritillary Speyeria adiaste, Mountain Fritillary Boloria alaskensis, Dingy Fritillary Boloria improba, Polaris Fritillary Boloria polaris, Freija Fritillary Boloria freija, Arctic Fritillary Boloria chariclea, Mitchell's Satyr Neonympha mitchellii, Ross’ Alpine Erebia rossii, Disa Alpine Erebia disa, Taiga Alpine Erebia mancinus, Mt. Mckinley Alpine Erebia mackinleyensis, Banded Alpine Erebia fasciata, Red-disked Alpine Erebia discoidalis, Four-dotted Alpine Erebia dabanensis* youngi, White-veined Arctic Oeneis bore, Jutta Arctic Oeneis jutta, Sentinel Arctic Oeneis alpina, Melissa Arctic Oeneis melissa, Polixenes Arctic Oeneis polixenes, Arctic Skipper Carterocephalus palaemon, Common Branded Skipper Hesperia comma

New Species:  28    Total trip species:  329   Species Photographed:  316

Neonympha mitchellii

Mitchell’s Satyr, Talladega NF, central Alabama


Jutta Arctic, Dalton Highway near the Yukon River, Alaska


Old World Swallowtail, Murphy Dome, Fairbanks, AK

© Chris Tenney 2014