Weeks 40-47

Monterey CA Week 47 . . the end of a Butterfly Big Year?

No new species this past week as continued cool, unsettled weather in s. Texas sent me packin’ for my Monterey home a few days early.  Nothing is certain, but the Yojoa scrub-hairstreak may be my last new butterfly of the year.  At this season, the adult butterfly fauna in my Monterey county, CA home is limited to a few common fall hang-ons and overwinterers.  A report of a lingering cracker or a rare swallowtail at the NABA Butterfly Park in Texas might tempt a return there, but the holidays and long-postponed home duties keep me grounded.

With regrets, this will likely be my last blog, so I’ll do my best to briefly summarize:

FINAL COUNT:  my year species count now stands at 526 (Pelham) or 531 (Opler-Warren).  I expect to lose a couple under critical review (my own resolve is already wavering on the Mexican Sootywing).  

Personal Favorite Species:  among the many candidates - Colorado hairstreak, Blackened bluewing, Emerald aguna, Compton tortoiseshell, Reddish alpine, - my psyche clings to the solitary Chisos metalmark in Big Bend NP.

Target Species Found:  38/50, incl. Colorado hairstreak, Eversmann’s parnassian, Labrador sulphur, Hessel’s hairstreak, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, Leona’s little blue, Compton tortoiseshell, Sandia hairstreak, . . 

Target Species Missed: 12/50, incl. Baltimore checkerspot, Arachne checkerspot, Xami hairstreak, Gillette’s checkerspot, several eastern hairstreaks, . . 

Rarest Species:  very hard to judge, but arguably one of the many s. Texas finds, like Telea hairstreak, Yellow-tipped flasher, etc., etc. . . 

Favorite Butterfly Group:  Speyeria frits!! . . (what else?).  The roadside-skippers were also great fun.

Favorite Photographs:  most photos were taken for ID confirmation rather than esthetics, but a few are special, for various reasons (see photos below).

Goals Met:  500+ species, 500+ species photographed, 5 giant-skippers, 10+ national parks, 10+ arctics/alpines, any rare swallowtail, . .

Goals Almost Met:  a butterfly in every state (missed several northeastern states), 20 roadside-skippers (finished with 16), all the Speyeria (missed edwardsii), . .

Favorite Butterfly State:  Arizona.  Honorable mention to Alaska, California, Texas, Tennessee.

Favorite Butterfly Walk:  Sycamore Canyon in s. Arizona, with Alaska’s north slope a close second.

A special thanks to all the wonderful, engaging humans who accompanied me at various stages of this butterfly journey.  It started with Bob Pyle’s inspirational documentary of his 2008 Big Year (Mariposa Road) and his near-weekly responses of encouragement to my blog.  And ended with Marianna and the gang at the National Butterfly Center, whose gardens I walked in search of rarities for over 3 months.  In between, there were too many butterfly-searching amigos to recount here, but their names are sprinkled throughout the blog pages.

I worry sometimes that over-emphasis on total species tally may obscure quality measures of the value of a journey like this.  The quest for new species is really only a gateway to a range of special, unique experiences, across an amazing landscape, where one makes new friends, meets old friends, and sometimes wanders alone in solitary awe.  

In my case, at the age of 70, I initially simply wanted to cram as many new species as possible into a calendar year, before the final door slams shut on my life journey.  As the year progressed, other, perhaps more meaningful, rationale for this trip quickly crystallized.  And so now I can leisurely spend my waning years pursuing my Big Misses (I’ve already had several offers for Baltimore checkerspot.)

Hopefully this blog will inspire others to follow.  If their competitive fires are stoked, they may make a go at 526.  Or they may have their own Big Year motivations, which is how it should be.  Warning . . it can be really addictive!  

- Chris Tenney, Monterey, CA, 2 Dec 2015

New Species:  0    

Total Big Year species:   526 (Pelham catalogue)   

                                          531 (Opler/Warren checklist; Brock/Kaufmann field guide)   

                                          508 (NABA checklist; Jeffrey Glassberg)   

                                          533 (all sources)              

Species Photographed:  521


Hoary comma adrift in a sea of rabbitbrush,  Cedar Breaks, UT


Green comma, lookin’ like lichen on a log, near Missoula, MT


Red-spotted purple in morning sun, Chattanooga, TN


Malachite in a grassy forest glade, National butterfly center, Mission, TX

Mission TX Week 46

You know you’re seeing a rare butterfly when it’s not listed in the Kaufmann Field Guide.  Such was the case twice this week: first, a tiny, green Telea hairstreak, very difficult to see as it nestled snugly among small leaves in the upper branches of a Coma tree, along the “wall” just north of Bentsen SP; second, two Common melwhites (photo 3), nectaring avidly on crucita, one at the National Butterfly Center (NBC), the other at nearby Bentsen State Park.  

Cold fronts with rain and high winds limited field hours this week, but those same fronts may have brought in some of these great bugs.  In addition to the above, a Pavon emperor (photo 1) made multiple visits to a bait log along a trail at NBC, later that day a Four-spotted sailor (photo 2; found by Mike Rickard) perched on the edge of a large leaf in the front garden of Bentsen SP.    

The week ended with two more s. Texas specialties . . a Green-backed Ruby-eye briefly visited yellow Esperanza blossoms (photo 4) at NBC in the early morning for a few lucky lepsters, then returned in late afternoon; mid-day, the “wall” produced another goodie . . a Yojoa scrub-hairstreak, which nectared in the same flower bed for hours, for all to see.  Too bad the Aquamarine hairstreak, observed only by Tom Nix and Deb Marsh, didn’t perform as well. 

New Species:  Common Melwhite Melete lycimnia, Telea Hairstreak Chlorostrymon telea, Yojoa Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon yojoa, Four-spotted Sailor Dynamine postverta, Pavon Emperor Doxocopa pavon, Green-backed Ruby-eye Perichares philetes

New Species:  6    

Total Big Year species:   526 (Pelham catalogue)   

                                          531 (Opler/Warren checklist; Brock/Kaufmann field guide)   

                                          508 (NABA checklist; Jeffrey Glassberg)   

                                          533 (all sources)              

Species Photographed:  521

Doxocopa pavon

Pavon Emperor, National butterfly center, Mission, Texas

Dynamine postverta2

Four-spotted Sailor, Bentsen State Park, Mission, Texas

Melete lycimnia

Common Melwhite, National butterfly center, Mission, Texas

Perichares philetes2

Green-backed Ruby-eye, National butterfly center, Mission, Texas

Siproeta stelenes

Malachite, National butterfly center, Mission, Texas

Mission, TX Week 45

When the call came in for the Emerald aguna at NABA, I was reminded about Bob Pyle’s prophesy in a recent email that I would be “getting help from all those eyes” at the festival.  It’s now post-festival, and “all those eyes” are still here, many festival-goers staying to explore parks, gardens, and refuges for fall rarities.  When one is found, the call goes out, and soon a mob gathers to observe, or in some cases, search for the bug.  A few leave disappointed, as re-finding a small butterfly in a large garden is no sure thing.

In addition to the aguna, other notable finds this week included a Band-celled sister and a Yellow-angled sulphur (the latter spotted by Mark Salvato) at Bentsen SP.  Ken Wilson and I successfully chased a Marius hairstreak at Santa Ana NWR and a Strophius hairstreak in Mike and Ginny Rickard’s back yard (both found by Mike).  Back at Bentsen, an odd-looking “dusky-blue groundstreak" in a fiddlewood tree proved to be a Ruddy hairsteak (identified by Mike).

Glassburg group

Jeff Glassberg (far right) with group at NABA festival 

A Falcate skipper, nectaring in a small garden at Estero Llano Grande SP for over a week, remained yet another day for Ken and I to enjoy.  Later that morning we ventured to Rio Rico Rd., where Karen and Bob Yukich were scrutinizing milkweed vines for the tiny Walker’s metalmark.  Bob spotted a male at the top of a distant flowery clump some 10m high; other Walker's soon emerged and joined in a nectar-fest with red-bordered and blue metalmarks.

Directions from Dan Jones’ blog guided me to Brushline Rd. north of Edinburg, where numbers of Red-crescent scrub-hairstreaks darted about along a dirt track with Lantana scrub-hairstreaks, Desert checkered-skippers, and four species of white-skippers. 

At week’s end Lorna Graham and I savored a pleasant (though windy) morning on Mike’s weekly Santa Ana walk, but no new butterflies.  Driving back to NABA after lunch, our conversation about an absence of recent exciting new species was interrupted by Linda’s phone call detailing a Yellow-tipped flasher at NABA!  Jogging down the trail toward the flasher, I halted briefly next to a an excited young woman, who described a butterfly with "red at the bottom edge of the hindwings.”  Thinking Red rim, I scanned the area, but the butterfly had disappeared.  (Well, maybe it was a Red admiral?)   I continued on to find the flasher patiently nectaring and got great photos, but back up the trail, a second group was excitedly waving and shouting.  Sure enough, they had re-found and confirmed a Red rim! . .  but I was seconds late!! Determined to find this rare tropical beauty, I thrashed my way through brambles, bugs, and spider webs into a ditch behind the trail, where, half an hour later, the Red rim posed handsomely on several leaf perches before flying into the canopy; minutes later, it dropped down to a trailside bait log for others to appreciate.  

Wow! . .  eleven new species this week, and two more weeks until Thanksgiving in California.  Can it get any better than this?!!

New Species:  Yellow Angled-Sulphur Anteos maerula, Strophius Hairstreak Allosmaitia strophius, Marius Hairstreak Rekoa marius, Red-crescent Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon rufofusca, Ruddy Hairstreak Electrostrymon sangala, Walker's Metalmark Apodemia walkeri, Band-celled Sister Adelpha fessonia, Red Rim Biblis hyperia, Emerald Aguna Aguna claxon, Yellow-tipped Flasher Astraptes anaphus, Falcate Skipper Spathilepia clonius, 

New Species:  11    

Total Big Year species:   520 (Pelham catalogue)   

                                          525 (Opler/Warren checklist; Brock/Kaufmann field guide)   

                                          502 (NABA checklist; Jeffrey Glassberg)   

                                          527 (all sources)              

Species Photographed:  515

Aguna claxon2

Emerald aguna, National butterfly center, Mission, Texas

Doxocopa laure3

Silver emperor, National butterfly center, Mission, Texas

Strymon rufofusca2

Red-crescent scrub-hairstreak, Brushline Rd., near Edinburg, Texas

Astraptes anaphus2

Yellow-tipped flasher, National Butterfly Center gardens, Mission, TX

Biblis hyperia3

Red rim, National Butterfly Center gardens, Mission, TX

S. Texas Week 44

Private ranches in s. Texas can harbor great butterfly habitat.  On one such ranch, Mike and Ginny Rickard and I explored a dense maze-like garden rich with the promise of new species . . like the Blue-eyed sailor, roosting next to a large cactus, which flew off before I could extract my camera.  While attempting to re-find this Mexican beauty, Ginny and I were treated to an accommodating Ornythion swallowtail (photo 1) slowly nectaring its way along a linear patch of white lantana.  Minutes later, Mike, who had wandered off on a separate track, yelled out “red-crescent scrub-hairstreak!”  This gray hairstreak look-alike would have been a great addition to my list, but it slipped away before we arrived.

Mid-week, a wave of high-energy Giant whites passed through the valley at numerous sites, occasionally stopping to nectar (photo 4).  During the 3-day NABA butterfly festival, a Double-dotted skipper (photo 5), discovered by NABA-founder Jeff Glassberg, worked a crucita patch in the old garden at Sabal Palm Sanctuary.  After several misses, a post-festival return to Santa Ana NWR finally produced an East Mexican white-skipper (photo 2), first reported by Mark and Holly Salvato.  A bonus that day was the dimunitive Violet-patched skipper (photo 3), which perched languidly on a crucita blossom along the tram road.

A special thanks to the many festival organizers and attendees from around the country, too numerous to mention here.  

New Species:  Ornythion Swallowtail Papilio ornythion, Giant White Ganyra josephina, Blue-eyed Sailor Dynamine dyonis, East Mexican White-Skipper Heliopyrgus sublinea, Violet-patched Skipper Monca crispinus, Double-dotted Skipper Decinea percosius

New Species:  6    

Total Big Year species:   509 (Pelham catalogue)   

                                          514 (Opler/Warren checklist; Brock/Kaufmann field guide)   

                                          491 (NABA checklist; Jeffrey Glassberg)   

                                          516 (all sources)              

Species Photographed:  504

Papilio ornythion

Ornythion swallowtail, private ranch, near McAllen Texas

Heliopyrgus sublinea

East Mexican white-skipper, Santa Ana NWR, near Pharr, TX

Monca crispinus2

Violet-patched skipper, Santa Ana NWR, near Pharr, TX

Ganyra josephina2

Giant white, Bentsen state park, Mission, TX

Decinea percosius2

Double-dotted skipper, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Brownsville, TX

Arizona/S. Texas Week 43

Just hours after escaping south Texas ahead of Hurricane Patricia, I reveled in silent awe at a Poling’s giant-skipper (photo 1) sunning itself on a granite shelf along the Arizona Trail.  While Texas was getting hammered, Tucson's sunny skies further beckoned me into Madera Canyon, where male Chiricahua whites (photo 2) floated lazily down from the treetops to sip water from the creek bed below.

My outing to Sycamore Canyon was thwarted by hordes of deer hunters, but a jaunt to Organ Pipe NM the next day with Jim Brock and Ken Kertell was sweet recompense.  In search of Gentry’s giant-skipper, we trekked up a rugged desert slope greened over by recent rains and dropped into a canyon lined with pools that seemed perfect for this rare Agathymus.  We couldn’t locate our quarry, but great company and grand desert landscape were ample reward.  

Back in Mission, TX at the butterfly center, I missed the Ornythion swallowtail by scant minutes.  The next day, Mike Rickard’s Wednesday butterfly walk at Santa Ana NWR delivered 3 new Big Year species:  a Ruby-spotted swallowtail (found by Mike) roosted on the wall of the visitor center; a Guava skipper (photo 4) nectared on crucita about 10 feet above the trail; and a Brazilian skipper perched briefly on a leaf before disappearing into the brush.

Next week . . . the NABA Butterfly Festival.

New Species:  Ruby-spotted Swallowtail Papilio anchisiades, Chiricahua White Neophasia terlooii, Guava Skipper Phocides polybius, Brazilian Skipper Calpodes ethlius, Poling's Giant-Skipper Agathymus polingi

New Species:  5    

Total Big Year species:   503 (Pelham catalogue)   

                                          508 (Opler/Warren checklist; Brock/Kaufmann field guide)   

                                          485 (NABA checklist; Jeffrey Glassberg)   

                                          510 (all sources)              

Species Photographed:  499

Agathymus polingi

Poling’s giant-skipper, Arizona Trail, Molino Basin, Tucson, AZ

Neophasia terlooii

Chiricahua white, upper Madera Canyon, near Green Valley, AZ

Pellicia arina2

Glazed Pellicia, Santa Ana NWR, south of Pharr, TX

Phocides polybius

Guava skipper, Santa Ana NWR, south of Pharr, TX

Phoebis philea

Orange-barred sulphur, Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX

S. Texas Week 42

Adventurous outings with great friends helped make this a memorable week.  Tommie Rogers (Chattanooga), Buck and Linda Cooper (Florida), Mike and Ginny Rickard (Mission), Marianna Trevino Wright (Mission), and Betty Perez (La Joya) joined me on various trips east to Brownsville and west to Rio Grande City.  A few of my favorite butterflies from several sites:  Curve-winged metalmarks on Rio Rico Rd; Lantana scrub-hairstreak at NABA; Giant swallowtail at the Perez Ranch; Pale-rayed skippers on Boca Chica Rd; Mimosa skippers at Santa Ana NWR; Orange-barred sulphur at Resaca de la Palma; Sickle-winged skippers everywhere!

Three new Big Year species - Hecebolus skipperPurple-washed skipper, and Evan’s skipper - all nectared on crucita in the same garden (NABA center) on the same morning.  Interestingly, these species are also congeneric, and, with the more common Ocola skipper, gave me a Panoquina grand slam for the day!

Just ten days until the National Butterfly Festival, and the NABA center in Mission, Texas is still waiting for its typical annual fall butterfly invasion.  Numbers of species in many groups - sulphurs, hairstreaks, crescents, even snouts - remain low.  Between occasional storms, the weather’s been quite hot, so maybe a cold front or a stiff wind out of the southwest is all that’s needed?  

Note that Total Big Year species (below) now shows my total species count as would be recognized by different authorities: JP = Jonathan Pelham; OW = Opler/Warren (similar to that used by the Brock/Kaufmann Field Guide); JG = Jeffrey Glassberg.  So the Opler/Warren taxonomy gives me the most species (503), while the Jeffrey Glassberg (NABA) taxonomy gives me the fewest (480).  In his 2008 Big Year, Bob Pyle followed the Jonathan Pelham taxonomy; that approach gives me 498 species.

New Species:  Hecebolus Skipper Panoquina hecebolus, Purple-washed Skipper Panoquina lucas, Evans’ Skipper Panoquina evansi

New Species:  3    

Total Big Year species:   498 (JP)   503 (OW)   480 (JG)   505 (all sources)              

Species Photographed:  493

Panoquina evansi2

Evan’s skipper, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Panoquina lucas

Purple-washed skipper, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Flag-tailed spiny-leg eating Large Orange sulphur2

Large orange sulphur, in the grasp of a Flag-tailed spiny-leg, NABA Center, Mission, TX

Astraptes fulgerator2

Two-barred flasher, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

S. Texas Week 41

Oh yeah!!  No. 500 for the year was . . .  Lantana scrub-hairstreak (photo 2), nectaring in the NABA butterfly garden . . . or was it?  

Here’s the deal: my actual species count depends on which published taxonomy I use - in my case, the species that are recognized by that taxonomy.  In Bob Pyle’s words, “the situation is dynamic.”  At the species level, authorities disagree on species splits/lumps.  In his 2008 Big Year, Bob followed Jonathon Pelham’s Catalogue (2006), currently used by most working lepidopterists.  Recreational butterflyers can choose from a number of field guides, two of the more recent authored by Jeffrey Glassberg (2012) and by Jim Brock/Kenn Kaufman (2003).  Before my current Big Year, I compiled a U.S. species checklist from all these sources, choosing to maximize possible species.  My final species list will reflect the differing views of my sources.

Leading up to No. 500, Pale-rayed skippers chased and courted (photo 3) in the desert-like scrublands along Boca Chica Rd. near the Texas coast.  Also at the NABA garden in Mission, a late-in-the-day Silver emperor (photo 1), first found by Mike Rickard, graced the front garden; the previous day a Violet-banded skipper nectared on crucita just behind the visitor center.  A Glazed pellicia at Resaca de la Palma and a Pale-banded crescent at the Edinburg wetlands rounded out my week.

New Species:  Lantana Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon bazochii, Pale-banded Crescent Anthanassa tulcis, Silver Emperor Doxocopa laure, Glazed Pellicia Pellicia arina, Pale-rayed Skipper Vidius perigenes, Violet-banded Skipper Nyctelius nyctelius

New Species:  6    Total trip species:  501   Species Photographed:  488

Doxocopa laure2

Silver emperor, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Strymon bazochii

Lantana scrub-hairstreak, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Vidius perigenes2

Pale-rayed skippers courting, Boca Chica Rd., Brownsville, TX

Chiomara georgina

White-patched skipper, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

Arizona to Texas Week 40


Well, actually, California - I crossed the Colorado River near Parker for Macneill’s sootywing, a few of which flew low in the quailbush along the highway south of Vidal.  Thanks again to Jim Brock for this location.  Back in Arizona, another delightful romp in Sycamore Canyon yielded 42 species, including Arizona giant-skipper, Elf, and Mexican fritillary, but nothing new.


Six months ago I left s. Texas with a little over 100 species.  Now, upon my return, as my year aggregate approaches 500, recent reports raise some concern that this total may be more difficult to achieve than expected: species counts from the National Butterfly Center (in Mission, TX, along the Rio Grande) show few species new to my list, and the fall influx of rarities has yet to begin.  On the first hour of my first morning at the Butterfly Center garden, an Olive-clouded skipper played tag with its close relative, the Eufala skipper, allowing good comparison photos.  Common mellanas, though uncommon, nectared in scattered flowers throughout the garden.  Upriver, Coyote cloudywing and Zilpa longtail greeted me in the Falcon State Park garden.  

The next day I joined Mike Rickard’s weekly walk at Santa Ana NWR.  We quickly ticked off both Rounded and Red-bordered metalmarks, and soon patches of blue-flowered crucita were alive with skippers, notably Mimosa skipper, Potrillo skipper, and a relatively rare Tailed Aguna.  All right!! . .  now I can relax . . .  at this rate I should top 500 species some time next week!

New Species:  Rounded Metalmark Calephelis perditalis, Red-bordered Metalmark Caria ino, Zilpa Longtail Chioides zilpa, Tailed Aguna Aguna metophis, Coyote Cloudywing Achalarus toxeus, Potrillo Skipper Cabares potrillo, Mimosa Skipper Cogia calchas, MacNeill's Sootywing Hesperopsis gracielae, Common Mellana Quasimellana eulogius, Olive-clouded Skipper Lerodea dysaules

New Species:  10    Total trip species:  495   Species Photographed:  483

common mellana

Common mellana, National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

mimosa skipper

Mimosa skipper, Santa Ana NWR, near McAllen, Texas

rounded metalmark

Rounded metalmark, Santa Ana NWR, near McAllen, Texas

tailed aguna

Tailed Aguna, Santa Ana NWR, near McAllen, Texas

zilpa longtail

Zilpa Longtail, Falcon State Park, near Roma, Texas

© Chris Tenney 2014