Weekly Summaries

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.    


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).

Papilio multicaudata
Danaus gilippus
Danaus gilippus

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

Heliconius charithonia
Battus polydamus
Polites baracoa

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 

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 skipper nectaring 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

Papilio glaucus

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.  

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

Monterey CA week 9

This week was a planned respite from butterflies, some quality time with family and friends in central CA.  One of the first words spoken clearly, with distinct syllables, by my two-year old grandson was "butt-er-fly.”  Now every morning he wants to look under my overshirt to see which butterfly t-shirt I’m wearing.  

Of course on my daily, mostly urban, walks I unavoidably encountered a few common butterfly species now emerging during California’s early spring.  Although the Sierra Nevada has a seriously low winter snowpack, inexplicably some coastal areas have had near normal rainfall, resulting in one of the better wildflower displays near Monterey that I’ve seen in several years.  Hopefully this will translate into a strong butterfly flight season.

New Species:  Western Tiger Swallowtail Papilio rutulus, Pale Swallowtail Papilio eurymedon, Cabbage White Pieris rapae, Bramble Green Hairstreak Callophrys dumetorum, Brown Elfin Callophrys augustinus, Acmon Blue Plebejus acmon, West Coast Lady Vanessa annabella, Common Checkered-Skipper Pyrgus communis

New Species:  8     Total trip species:  99      Species Photographed:  88

Callophrys perplexa

Highlight Species: Bramble Green Hairstreak

Browse any butterfly field guide and you’ll find few green butterflies, despite the obvious camouflage advantages.  One exception are the hairstreaks, like the green hairstreaks, including Callophrys dumetorum (above).  These weak fliers seldom stray far from their larval food plant - lotus, or deerweed.  Photographed in Soberanes Canyon.

Mission TX and Monterey CA week 8

My RV campground features a daily “happy hour” ritual of 20-30 folks co-mingling under a palapa at 4 pm to swap stories.  While I chatted golf with neighbor Fred, Lorna asked me (from a few tables away) if I had seen any new butterflies.  She couldn’t hear my first response above the clamor, so I loudly yelled “I saw a TWO-BARRED FLASHER!”  Immediately heads turned my way in puzzled, shocked silence.  Much laughter ensued when I added “uh, OK everyone . . . that’s a butterfly!”

Another cold front zeroed in on Texas, so I nabbed a Tuesday flight to CA to visit family, friends, and pick up a few early flyers in Partington Canyon on the Big Sur coast.  This warm coastal canyon attracts many late winter species and is reliable for the jewel-like Sonoran Blue (below) and, in April-May, Doudoroff’s Moss’s Elfin.

But before leaving TX, two 80-degree days brought in several new species, including the Two-barred Flasher and a rare White Scrub-hairstreak (below).  The hairstreak was fortuitous: in a frenzy of activity I snapped off photos of several butterflies on flowerheads, and discovered my prize only later that evening while reviewing and cropping photos.  I emailed the photo to Mike Rickard for ID confirmation.

In response to a few requests, I now provide a link in the main menu (above) to my species’ photos.

New Species:  Pacific Sara Orangetip Anthocharis sara, Boisduval's Yellow Eurema boisduvaliana, Mimosa Yellow Pyrisitia nise, White Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon albata, Western Tailed-Blue Cupido amyntula, Sonoran Blue Philotes sonorensis, Gabb's Checkerspot Chlosyne gabbii, Mylitta Crescent Phyciodes mylitta, California Sister Adelpha bredowii, Gemmed Satyr Cyllopsis gemma,  'California' Common Ringlet Coenonympha tullia california, Two-barred Flasher Astraptes fulgerator, Mazans Scallopwing Staphylus mazans, Propertius Duskywing Erynnis propertius, Mournful Duskywing Erynnis tristis, Umber Skipper Poanes melane

New Species:  16     Total trip species:  91      Species Photographed:  81

Astraptes fulgerator
Strymon albata

Highlight Species: Two-Barred Flasher, White Scrub-Hairstreak, Sonoran Blue

On name alone, the flasher merits featured-species status.  The tiny scrub-hairstreak nectared inches away from a Great Purple Hairstreak that Don Dunn and I were admiring.  The highly-prized Sonoran blue warrants a better photo to adequately display its ornate qualities.  Photographed respectively at the National Butterfly Center, Resaca de la Palma, and Partington Canyon.

Mission TX week 7

As expected, my weekly list of new species is trending downward as a sequence of cold fronts continues to delay spring.  I considered a quick jaunt to Florida, but a telephone chat with Buck Cooper convinced me to wait until April.  In fact, much of the country is in a deep freeze, so Barbara Kingsolver novels will have to entertain me through next week.  

Despite the paucity of butterflies, several nice walks with new and old friends brightened my week.  Today Deb and Bill Marsh from Columbus, OH, acquaintances from last year, made a surprise appearance on Mike’s Santa Ana NWR weekly walk, where we counted 27 species on a cool sunny day.  Tom and Ruth Nix from Michigan (?) were daily companions on several outings.  Tom spotted our year’s first Clytie Ministreak, whose winter form closely resembles the much rarer White Scrub-hairstreak.  But local expert Mike Rickard walked up and dashed our hopes, casually pointing out the diagnostic field marks.

To the envy of many of us attending Rick and May Snider’s Estero Llano Grande walk on Friday, Lorna Graham had a solo encounter with the week’s best butterfly, a Pavon Emperor at the National Butterfly Center.  I spent the next two days trying to relocate this gorgeous bug, an iridescent-blue male.  Jeff Glassburg, President of NABA (North American Butterfly Association) and author of several butterfly ID books, joined the hunt, but to no avail.  

New Species:  Clytie Ministreak Ministrymon clytie, Cassius Blue Leptotes cassius, Curve-winged Metalmark Emesis emesia, Whirlabout Polites vibex

New Species:  4     Total trip species:  75      Species Photographed:  68

Emesis emesia

Highlight Species: Curve-winged Metalmark

Metalmarks, named for their metallic markings, reside mostly in the tropics.  Last fall a small colony of this species, normally a rare stray, was discovered along the Rio Grande.  Photographed at Rio Rico Rd.

Mission TX week 6

Four consecutive days of sunny skies allowed me to chase down a number of species that had eluded me, but no real rareties yet - they’re more likely in the fall.  Perhaps most exciting were the Zebra and Julia heliconians within minutes of each other in the Butterfly Center garden.  A couple from the midwest found the Julia, and ran over to me to show me their photo on the camera monitor.  They wanted confirmation of their find, and were so thrilled they were still exuding enthusiasm an hour later to other visitors and employees in the Butterfly Center office.

And thanks to Lorna for spotting the Soldier at Santa Ana WR.  Actually, we were ready to shrug it off as another Queen until Mike took a closer look and shouted “Soldier,” our first for the year.  

In two weeks I fly to CA for a week with family and friends.  Until then, I expect finding new species here in s. TX will be increasingly difficult, at least until March, when warmer weather following good winter rains will hopefully yield strong flights of many spring species. 

Everyone please note that I have added a “Totals” tab to the main menu above, which includes a species list-to-date and weekly cumulative totals.

New Species:  Great Southern White Ascia monuste, Julia Heliconian Dryas iulia, Zebra Heliconian Heliconius charithonia, Bordered Patch Chlosyne lacinia, Tropical Leafwing Anaea aidea, Soldier Danaus eresimus, Sicklewing Skipper Eantis tamenund, Turk's-cap White-Skipper Heliopetes macaira, Common Sootywing Pholisora catullus, Southern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia otho

New Species:  10     Total trip species:  71      Species Photographed:  65

Dryas iulia
Heliconius charithonia

Highlight Species: Julia and Zebra

These tropical longwings reach the U.S. in our southern states, primarily Florida and Texas.  The larvae feed on passion vines, which contain chemical toxins passed on to the adults, making them noxious to predators.

Mission TX week 5

Jan 29-Feb 4

Yet another cold front to south Texas shortened my butterfly week to just two days.  On Thursday Mike and Jenny Rickard chauffeured me to the Falcon Dam area for a few new species, including Red-bordered Pixie, and the next day I joined Rick Snyder’s weekly outing at Estero Llano Grande.  

Since then, during the rain and cold, I’ve read 3 books, played cards with my campground neighbors, attended several yoga classes, and watched Sunday’s entertaining Superbowl on the RV park’s big screen.  Most of us were Seahawk supporters, and we all looked at each other in disbelief and stunned silence after the last interception, as if thinking “Did that really just happen!?!”  Now it’s four days later and sportstalk radio shows (I have no TV) are still chattering about it.

The good news is it’s warming up, with temps near 80 this weekend.

New Species:  Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor, Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes, Western Pygmy-Blue Brephidium exile, Red-bordered Pixie Melanis pixe, Elada Checkerspot Texola elada, Texan Crescent Anthanassa texana, Texas Powdered-Skipper Systasea pulverulenta, White-patched Skipper Chiomara georgina, Funereal Duskywing Erynnis funeralis, Sachem Atalopedes campestris, 

New Species:  10     Total trip species:  61      Species Photographed:  54

Brephidium exile

Highlight Species: Western Pygmy-Blue

The smallest butterfly in North America.  Larvae are “myrmecophilous,” or tended by ants.  The larva exudes a sugar solution eaten by ants, who then protect the larva from predators.  Photographed at Estero Llano Grande.

© Chris Tenney 2014