California/New Jersey Week 20

A cold air mass settled in over much of California, giving me sound reason to hop a flight to New Jersey and chase down some really cool hairstreaks.  After the grizzled skipper quest last month in Virginia, Matt Orsie of New Jersey (?) gave me precise directions to Frosted Elfin, Hoary Elfin, and Hessel’s Hairstreak, all near Cape May, NJ, and all lifers.  Two days would be sufficient, since little else would be flying in the early NJ spring.  

The elfins (photos 2-3 below) were easy, right where Matt had described, but the Hessel’s (photo 1) took some work.  Three afternoon hours searching the area with another lepidopterist came up empty.  As I sat in my car at 5 PM, googling a motel room for the night, Garry and Annie Kessler of Massachusetts pulled up and we agreed to extend our search.  Stepping into the forest, a Hessel's immediately flushed and landed atop a sand myrtle flowerhead.  I snapped off a couple of photos and briefly turned my head to beckon the others over, but when I returned my gaze to the flowers, the butterfly had disappeared!  We searched another 15 min., then I left, feeling both uneasy (that the others had missed the Hessel’s) and puzzled that it had vanished so mysteriously.

By late the next day the mystery was solved.  Garry and Annie returned to the same site and, at 5:15 pm, a Hessel’s flew out of the trees onto the same flowerbed, then moved UNDER the flower and disappeared from view.  Efforts to dislodge the butterfly failed.  One wonders if this behavior is typical of the Hessel’s, possibly to evade predators, or was it simply finding a roost site for the night?  

Goldhunter’s Hairstreak and Mahogany Hairstreak can be difficult-to-find species in my home county of Monterey.  Late in the week I drove to a warm, sheltered location on Fort Hunter Liggett, where a few years earlier Goldhunter’s had nectared on Eriogonum fasciculatum.  The buckwheat was alive with butterflies: first, a Mahogany, then a mix of California, Sylvan, and Goldhunter’s hairstreaks, followed later by a Brown Elfin.  Five hairstreak species on the same plant!  Add to those the Hedgerow hairstreak earlier that day, and the Moss’s Elfin later on the coast . . .  seven hairstreak species in one day!  Append to that the three eastern species, and it’s a 10-hairstreak week!!

New Species:  Tailed Copper Lycaena arota, Gorgon Copper Lycaena gorgon, Gold-hunter's Hairstreak Satyrium auretorum, Mountain Mahogany Hairstreak Satyrium tetra, Moss’ Elfin Callophrys mossii, Hoary Elfin Callophrys polios, Frosted Elfin Callophrys irus, Hessel's Hairstreak Callophrys hesseli, Holly Azure Celastrina idella, Callippe Fritillary Speyeria callippe, Little Wood-Satyr Megisto cymela

New Species:  11     Total trip species:  273    Species Photographed:  262


Hessel’s Hairstreak, on sand myrtle, near Warren Grove, NJ


Frosted Elfin, Lizard Tail Swamp Preserve, power line cut at county road 652, NJ


Hoary Elfin, Beaver Dam road, near Warren Grove, NJ

© Chris Tenney 2014