Monterey to Arizona Week 39

Back in Monterey most of this week (family matters - wedding, etc.).  But by week’s end, Arizona beckoned yet again: a 4-day loop route north to Payson, west to Jerome and Parker, south to Yuma, then east to Sycamore and Madera canyons . . . mostly visiting sites, recommended by Jim Brock, for several target species.

A strong flight of Mormon metalmarks entertained me at several stops up the Mogollon Rim near Payson, but on Mt. Ord road, a possible Bauer’s giant-skipper disappeared upslope before I could confirm ID.  However the hoped-for Orange giant-skipper (photo 2 below) in the hills above Jerome more than compensated.  On a wind-blasted hilltop, at least two strong-flying males engaged in bouts of lively pursuit from rocky perches, while Fulvia and Theona checkerspots sheltered in clumps of grass.

A bit farther upslope from Jerome, meadows around Potato Patch campground offered my best chance for Apache skipper.  An hour of meadow-traipsing produced a dozen species, but no skippers.  Just steps from my car, I paused to put away my camera only to watch in wonder as a striking Apache (photo 3 below) landed delicately in the grass at my shoe-tops.  One of many serendipitous moments on this journey.

New Species:  Apache Skipper Hesperia woodgatei, Orange Giant-Skipper Agathymus neumoegeni 

New Species:  2    Total trip species:  485   Species Photographed:  473


Mormon metalmark, Mt. Ord road, near Payson, AZ


Orange giant-skipper, hilltopping, Jerome, AZ

PA010099 (1)

Apache skipper, Potato Patch campground, Jerome, AZ

West Virginia to Arizona Week 38

This meadow looked promising, only partially grazed, with scattered wildflowers, and with butterfly activity visible from the road.  OK, it’s really a glorifiied cow pasture, but in better shape than most of the West Virginia hillsides I’ve explored today.  My target was Meadow fritillary, and within minutes, a likely candidate zipped by, chasing a smaller Pearl Crescent.  Sure enough, farther uplslope a colony of these Boloria beauties patrolled clumps of deeper grass, occasionally alighting on the ground.  I haven’t seen this bug since my teen years in Illinois, and it will likely be my last new eastern species this Big Year.  The next few days were dedicated to the annual Tenney Family Reunion in Buckhannon, WV . . and little time to chase butterflies.

Arizona has been blessed this year with bountiful monsoon rains, but this was a bit much.  A late-season storm, which dumped over 5 inches on Mt. Lemmon above Tucson, postponed for two days my search, with Jim Brock, for Sunrise skipper.  So the next day, dodging showers under mostly overcast skies, I drove up the Mt. Lemmon Highway, where Rita Blues perched handsomely on their buckwheat host and Red-bordered Satyrs bobbed and weaved through the woods of the Chihuahua Pines campground.

Skies cleared the following day as Jim and I headed for Parker Canyon Dam, a known reliable site for Sunrise skipper.  Enroute, we stopped hopefully at a lush roadside bog where Jim had seen the skipper in prior wet years.  We quickly sighted several of these tiny, fast-flying jewels, but I’ll have to return for a photo.  Now, with extra time on our hands, we backtracked through Sonoita to Box Canyon, where Jim guaranteed Arizona giant-skippers would be mudding in the wash.  At our first stop along the upper canyon, Jim spotted one almost immediately, and we were soon, literally, a-wash in giant-skippers.  It’s seldom this easy!

New Species:  Rita Blue Euphilotes rita, Meadow Fritillary Boloria bellona, Red-bordered Satyr Gyrocheilus patrobas, Sunrise Skipper Adopaeoides prittwitzi, Arizona Giant-Skipper Agathymus aryxna

New Species:  5    Total trip species:  483   Species Photographed:  471


Meadow fritillary, cow pasture, Buckhannon, WV


Question mark, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia


Red-bordered satyr, Mt. Lemmon Highway, Tucson, AZ


Arizona giant-skipper, upper Box Canyon, se. Arizona

Florida to Virginia Week 37

“Two weeks late,” I muttered to myself, as Jeff Basham, Tommie Rogers, Abby Wolfe and I probed patches of piney woods near Atlanta, GA for Cofaqui giant-skipper.  Jeff had counted nine individuals here atop Arabia Mtn. SP in late August . . . but alas, not one today.  Nonetheless, what a beautiful setting for a day in the field with three special people!  The park is basically an elevated dome comprised of huge slabs of granite (called a monadnock) covered with vernal pools, wildflowers, and rare plants.  

Over the next 3 days, guided by Jeff, we visited sites near Chattanooga TN, finding both Southern and Creole pearly-eye (photos below), Long-tailed skipper, and 30+ other late summer species including Yehl and Dion skippers, White M hairstreak, and the female Diana Fritillary.  


James River, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

Next . .  a difficult decision, one I’ve faced often this year: either chase three new species, all near-certainties, but involving long driving-days, or explore, at a more relaxed pace, a long stretch of the Appalachian high country from the Smoky Mtns. to Shenandoah NP.  With apologies to big-year purists, I chose the latter, reasoning that the likely loss of a few species would have little impact on my expected year-end total of around 510 species.  In the Smokies, roadsides and meadow edges abounded with flowers and butterflies: Diana and Great-spangled fritillaries jockeyed with swallowtails for nectaring rights atop pink thistles and large yellow composites, while skippers, satyrids, and sulphurs cruised the grassy areas.  In less than an hour I counted up to 30 species.  More of the same as I drove the length of the scenic Blue Ridge parkway, adding American copper and Peck’s skipper to my day list.

I have a few more days here in the east, attending a national family reunion in Buckhannon, WV.  Now, how can I sneak out to look for those three species I shunned in Virginia?

New Species:  3        Total trip species:  478          Species Photographed:  465


Southern pearly-eye (note the orange antenna), Chattanooga, TN


Creole pearly-eye (note FW 5th eyespot and bulge on PM line), Chattanooga, TN


Red-spotted purple, Chattanooga, TN


Yehl skipper, Chattanooga, TN


White M hairstreak, Chattanooga, TN

Florida Week 36

Urban butterflying in coastal Florida can be quite productive - in fact several target species were waiting for me in the streets of Miami.  At the Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Statira sulphurs roamed flower beds with Cloudless sulphurs, Dina yellows, and Zebra longwings.  Adult Atala hairstreaks were not flying, but larvae (photo below) and pupae were abundant in the hostplant Coontie beds in these same gardens.  In nearby Homestead, several Pink-spot sulphurs nectared on firebush in a city park, just minutes before a torrential downpour drowned out the rest of my day.  

Enroute to the Everglades, a Bartram’s Scrub-hairstreak landed briefly for a hurried photo before voracious mosquitoes chased me into my car at Navy Wells Preserve.  Mosquitoes and heat shortened my walks on Everglades trails, where I missed the Florida leafwing yet again at Long Pine Key.  (Thanks Mark and Holly Salvato for precise directions to several of the above species!)

The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve in central Florida is known for its fall banquet of skippers - in my case up to nine new species were possible.  But trouble loomed as I entered the park.  Some flowers were bloomimg, but roadside ditches and trails were filled with water.  In the office I learned that recent heavy rains had flooded many trails and fields, so I was going to get wet.  Knee-deep in water, I watched from a distance as a few orange Palmetto skippers graced blue-spiked flowerheads with an occasional Berry’s skipper.  On dry ground, a single dark, diminutive Neamathla skipper flew low in the grass in an open field.  But I could find no other new species . .  am I too early?  Are conditions too wet?  I may return in October.

You’re right, they’re not butterflies!  While searching for Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak at Navy Wells, two moths (below) sharing a red-and-white, black-and-blue theme simply screamed to be photographed.  (Addendum: blog-followers Deb and Bill Marsh of Ohio have responded with a name (Faithful Beauty) for the first pictured moth below; also, thanks to Chuck Sexton and John Kern for ID of the 2nd moth, Polka Dot Wasp Moth, Syntomedia epilais).

New Species:  7        Total trip species:  475           Species Photographed:  462


Atala hairstreak larvae, Fairchild Tropical gardens, Miami, FL


Pink-spot sulphur, Modello wayside park, Homestead, FL


Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, Navy Wells Preserve, Florida City, FL


Faithful Beauty, Navy Wells Preserve, Florida City, FL


Polka Dot Wasp Moth, Syntomedia epilais, Navy Wells Preserve, Florida City, FL

Monterey CA Week 35

My trek to Chews Ridge (Ventana Wilderness, Monterey Co) for the late-flying, crepuscular Golden hairstreak was a success - it took only a few handfuls of gravel, tossed high into the Canyon live-oak treetops, to flush several individuals from their daytime roost.  A weekend family visit (grandson’s birthday) to LA might have added Harford’s sulphur and Wandering skipper, but circumstances prevented me from chasing down these species that Ken Wilson had generously staked out for me near San Diego. 

Then it was back to Monterey for R&R, including repairs for me (dental work) and Chalcedona (50,000 mi. service).  A touch of stomach flu also laid me out . . .  third time this year that a cold/flu bug has afflicted me at a family gathering.

Those of you who thought I might accrue close to 600 species this year might want to backpedal a little.  I know I have.  A realistic assessment of my prospects for the next three months (I exclude wintry December) puts me just a little over 500 species.  A late summer-early fall swing through the southeast should garner maybe 10-15 species, followed by, in Oct-Nov, another 20-30 in s. AZ and TX, assuming a typical fall showing of Texas specialties.  I had hoped for many more in s. Texas, but a perusal of my year list revealed that my summer wanderings across the southwest have already snagged many fall species. 

So I look forward to the pursuit of my “adjusted” goal of 500.  Every new species now becomes very special, and there are some real beauties awaiting, especially in s. Texas, where several gems reported by Mike Rickard and others through the year have had me drooling.

But first, off to Florida . . 

New Species:  1         Total trip species:  468           Species Photographed:  455

Limenitis lorquini

Lorquin’s admiral on its territorial perch, Garrapata SP, Big Sur CA

Habrodais grunus (2)

Golden hairstreak, HIGH up in a Canyon live oak, Chews Ridge, Monterey CA

Ochlodes sylvanoides

male Woodland skipper in “jet-plane” mode, Garrapata SP, Big Sur CA

SE Utah Week 34

This week my year-long quest takes a break, as I set aside my butterfly fervor to honor a very special person.  Driving down Utah highway 24 toward the Colorado River, I’m reminded of my wife May’s passion for canyonland country.  Before dying of lung cancer two years ago, she explored the many wonders of this region - Zion, Escalante, Bryce, Paria, to name a few - for over 20 years, mostly on foot.  She organized and led national Sierra Club backpack trips, guiding neophytes into red rock marvels - Neon Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, etc. - that can only be truly experienced by leaving the car.  She eventually lured me from my favored Sierra high country into this incredible desert, and I became her co-leader on many memorable outings.  


Navajo National Monument, AZ

At the beginning of this year I circled Week 34 on the calendar as a time to celebrate and re-live some of those memories.  So this week I have hiked portions of May's favorite trails, emptied small cannisters of her ashes in appropriate sites, and captured a few photos, which I share below.  Legend has it that backcountry places, small towns as well as natural attractions, seemingly never change . . .  are truly timeless.  That was certainly my experience as I walked the streets of Escalante and Bouldertown and re-visited familiar shops, hotels, and restaurants.  These sights helped recall faces of comrades from around the country, people who became part of our small temporary community as we moved about the landscape, sharing daily adventures.  Out on the trail, configurations of rock, sky, water, flora and fauna generated flashbacks of special moments, like the raucous frog mating orgy at Wilson Camp that kept us up much of the night; or the intestinal gas attack, following a dinner of beans and onions, that drove most of us out of our tents, only to have frenzied kangaroo rats jumping on our sleeping bags through the night.  Or the time Roger and I climbed over a hundred feet to the top of an overlook to urinate . . only later did we realize that a popular hiking trail passed directly below the overlook.

I now head west through Yosemite to the coast, in search of a Golden hairstreak . . 

New Species:  0    Total trip species:  467   Species Photographed:  452


Zion National Park from our favorite campsite, Springdale, Utah


Desert Bighorn Sheep, Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada


Red Rock Canyon, Utah


Hoary Comma on Rabbitbrush, Cedar Breaks NM, Utah

Arizona/Colorado Week 33

While parsing clouds of butterflies in Sycamore Canyon, I’m thinking, yeah, perhaps I’ve lingered too long in SE Arizona.  There are few new species left to chase here (this would be my 4th straight day without one), but I wanted to hook up with Ken Wilson of San Diego and just revel in this natural butterfly garden one more time.  About a mile downcanyon I broke my 4-day slump as a gorgeous green-and-black Malachite (photo below) lazily drifted by, landed on a flower just inches from Ken, and gave us great closeup pics.  Buoyed by this rare sighting, we dragged our weary, sun-drenched bodies back to the car and up the hill to Pena Blanca Lake.  Here, in the intense 100 F afternoon heat, Ken spotted a small, odd-looking pale lycaenid perched on a leaf with wings folded up.  It proved to be a Creamy Stripe-streak, another tropical influx species this area is noted for.  Our final species day-tally of 54 is my high for the year.  I’ll be back soon, Sycamore!


White Mountains, AZ

Enroute to Colorado, I followed Ken Kertell’s directions to several stops in the White Mtns. of AZ.  Along a small creek below Luna Lake, Nokomis fritillaries streaked past me, arcing and banking like magnificent jet fighters, equally ignoring nectar sources and my camera lens.  Just west of Eagar, AZ, a White Mountains Ruddy Copper nectared, well, eagerly in a small meadow on purplish asters.  The isolated population here was only recently designated a new species.

It was a fritillary flying in front of the car that caused me to pull off the road, just north of Durango, CO.  Edward’s fritillary would give me a clean sweep of the Speyeria.  As I futilely searched the woods for frits, about 100m ahead several butterflies chasing in the treetops caught my eye.  Looking around, I saw a few scattered pines among mostly Gambel’s oaks, the latter a host plant for . . . could it be, finally, YES!  Colorado hairstreak (photo below) has been high on my want-list all summer!!  I left with a satisfied grin, no longer thinking about Speyeria.

At Monarch Pass (elev. 11,400’), on the last day of my week, a steep leeward slope in high winds harbored one Scudder’s sulphur among many Colorado alpines.

New Species:  Scudder's Sulphur Colias scudderii, White Mountains' Ruddy Copper Lycaena ferrisi, Colorado Hairstreak Hypaurotis crysalus, Creamy Stripe-streak Arawacus jada, Nokomis Fritillary Speyeria nokomis, Malachite Siproeta stelenes, Colorado Alpine Erebia callias

New Species:  7    Total trip species:  467   Species Photographed:  452

Siproeta stelenes

Malachite, Sycamore Canyon, near Nogales, AZ

Hypaurotis crysalus (4)

Colorado hairstreak, Silverton Highway, near Durango, CO


rattlesnake, Ruby Road, near Nogales, AZ

Arizona Sky Islands Week 32

What a fun week!  Two high-powered butterfly counts, Ramsey Canyon (86 species) and Patagonia (97 species), each followed by days to chase down target species, all while dodging monsoon storms.  Just now, minutes after photographing Moon-marked skipper in Madera Canyon, a sudden deluge drenched my lightly-clothed torso as I scrambled a mile upslope for refuge in my camper Chalcedona.  The smell of ozone was everywhere, and the skies crackled with a deafening boom after a near simultaneous lightning-thunder discharge.  

The storms are very local, and every day one can find butterflies flying somewhere.  If a storm builds in the Santa Ritas, I cross the valley to search the sunny Catalinas for Nais metalmark, or Carr Canyon for Arizona hairstreak and Scudder’s duskywing (thanks, Jim Brock), or Patagonia Lake for Tropical least skipper, or Sycamore Canyon for Elf and Toltec roadside-skipper.  Of course a day that begins with clear skies, like today, can change quickly, but I enjoy these cooling showers and the renewal of life they bring to the mountains.   

On the Ramsey Canyon count,  Florida white roosted along the San Pedro River and Orange-edged roadside-skippers perched low in trailside vegetation in upper Miller Canyon.  (Note: Western cloudywing, observed and photographed weeks ago in the CA Sierra, was added this week only after extended ID analysis).

From now until Texas in October-November, my plans are rather sketchy, as summer flights for many species are ending, and potential for new species is limited.  A family reunion in West Virginia in September will give me a few days to pursue eastern species, and I’ll target several late-flying giant-skippers in the southwest.  Also a week in Florida is likely (several chance meetings in these AZ mountains with FL residents Mark and Holly Salvato led to an offer of assistance there), but s. Texas remains as the next big push to my year list.

New Species:  Florida White Appias drusilla, Arizona Hairstreak Erora quaderna, Zela Metalmark Emesis zela, Nais Metalmark Apodemia nais, Elf Microtia elva, White-striped Longtail Chioides albofasciatus, Western Cloudywing Thorybes diversus, Scudder's Duskywing Erynnis scudderi, Tropical Least Skipper Ancyloxypha arene, Moon-marked Skipper Atrytonopsis lunus, Toltec Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes tolteca, Orange-edged Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes fimbriata

New Species:  12    Total trip species:  460   Species Photographed:  446


Elf, Sycamore Canyon, near Nogales, AZ


Nais metalmark, Mt. Lemmon Hwy., near Tucson, AZ


White-striped longtail, Harshaw Cyn. Rd., Patagonia, AZ


Sonoran (Mormon) metalmark, Patagonia, AZ

Arizona Sky Islands Week 31

This is more like it!  No long driving days this week and next, just short forays into the species-rich canyons and mountains of SE Arizona.  After several weeks of monsoon rains, "second summer" is now well underway, with lush-green roadsides and grasslands, upland meadows strewn with wildflowers, granite-rock canyons with pools, and wet washes . . . ideal butterfly attractants.  Some 30+ new species are possible here!

Cave Creek Basin Mullin'sHill PortalBC 080215-4 5 6HDR

Chiricahua dawn - photo by Tom Deecken

Leaving the White Mtns. and Mt. Graham, I rolled into the Chiricahua Mtns. west of Portal, AZ, where high floodwaters forced an overnight stay in a friendly rancher’s driveway.  By morning, the high waters had mostly abated, but stream debris gave Chalcedona some tense moments at several mud-and-gravel crossings.  Early that morning I teamed with Tom Deecken of Sierra Vista on the Portal butterfly count.  Despite a day with near-constant cloud cover, we flushed out both Four-spotted and Edward’s skipperlings, Taxiles skipper, and a Drusius cloudywing.  Tom, a knowledgeable, wizened veteran of the Chiricahua high country, joined me at an overnight campsite and through noon the next day, as we notched Pine Satyr and Orange-headed roadside-skipper.  

After lunch, while walking a wet wash on the flats near the entrance to Chiricahua NM, a large, flying “object,” surely a hummingbird or day-flying moth, entered my field of vision from the left.  As it circled about and disappeared briefly into the trees, I realized that no, this was more likely a giant-skipper!  Fortunately it returned for another look and passed within arms-length, close enough to confirm field marks as the Ursine giant-skipper, the only species of its kind flying here at this season. 

Over the next few days, exploration of Hunter and Brown canyons yielded Mexican fritillary and Large and Cassus roadside-skippers.  In the Coronado NM, over a hundred tiny Many-spotted skipperlings dabbled in the mud with sulphurs and blues at the Copper canyon stream crossing; continuing on a dirt road to Parker Canyon Lake, where Dull firetip and Elissa roadside-skipper graced the shoreline of this reservoir, I missed the hoped-for Sunrise skipper.  Ah well, next week I get another chance . . .

New Species: Pine White Neophasia menapia, Mexican Fritillary Euptoieta hegesia, Painted Crescent Phyciodes picta, Pine Satyr Paramacera xicaque allyni, Dull Firetip Apyrrothrix araxe, Drusius Cloudywing Thorybes drusius, Four-spotted Skipperling Piruna polingi, Many-spotted Skipperling Piruna aea, Edwards’ Skipperling Oarisma edwardsii, Taxiles Skipper Poanes taxiles, Large Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes exoteria, Cassus Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes cassus, Elissa Roadside-Skipper Amblyscirtes elissa, Orange-headed Roadside-Skipper, Amblyscirtes phylace, Ursine Giant-Skipper Megathymus ursus

New Species:  15    Total trip species:  448   Species Photographed:  435


Dull firetip, Parker Canyon Lake, AZ


Pine white, White Mtns., AZ


Fatal metalmark, San Pedro River, Sierra Vista, AZ


Many-spotted skipperling, Brown Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ

California Sierra to Arizona Week 30

Watching my grandsons play in the sand at the water’s edge of Angora Lake above Lake Tahoe was a great way to unwind after two relentless weeks on the road.  For three days I relaxed with son-in-law Ben, my two daughters Heather and April, and Heather’s sons Max and Oliver, pondering butterflies only on short afternoon walks at Carson and Ebbett’s passes.  


Dana Meadows from Mt. Dana bench

This has been a poor butterfly year in much of the California Sierra - a consensus of butterfly counters at Monday’s Yosemite count concluded that the combined effects of a 4-year drought and an early-July snow-and-hailstorm has shortened flights and depleted numbers of many species.  The Yosemite count recorded over 40 species, but total numbers were quite low, including very few fritillaries and coppers, and no hairstreaks at all.  Happily, the greenish Sierra sulphur was flying strong in upper elevation meadows, and a few Sierra Nevada parnassians patrolled forest edges near timberline, just above these meadows.  Last year Ken Davenport led Liam O’Brien and I up a steep talus slope above Ellery Lake to enjoy a Heather Blue colony in a patch of red and white heather blossoms fringing a rock wall.  This year’s re-visit was no less rewarding.

Enroute to Arizona, fast-flying Carole’s fritillaries entertained me as they zipped along a dry creek bed in Nevada’s Spring Mtns.  A recent split from Speyeria zerene, carolae is found only at this isolated locale.  Along the Grand Canyon’s south rim, a Spalding’s blue nectared on buckwheat, and Mead’s wood-nymphs bounced merrily along the rim drive; one individual entered Chalcedona through the open sliding side door as I nibbled on a peanut-butter sandwich!

New Species:  Sierra Nevada Parnassian Parnassius phoebus behri, Sierra Sulphur Colias behrii, Spalding's Blue Euphilotes spaldingi, Heather Blue Plebejus cassiope, Carole’s Fritillary Speyeria carolae, Mead's Wood-Nymph Cercyonis meadii

New Species:  6    Total trip species:  433   Species Photographed:  420


Spalding’s blue, south rim Grand Canyon, AZ


Purplish copper female, Dana Meadows, Tioga Pass, CA


Chryxus arctic, (two-headed?), Mt. Dana bench, Tioga Pass, CA


Carole’s fritillary, nectaring on Monardella, Spring Mtns., NV

© Chris Tenney 2014