Puzzling sighting of Funeral Duskywing by Kurt Hasselman from NJ's The Great Swamp NWR [see Kurt's Flickr account for better image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/dah_professor/15042760647]

Puzzling sighting of Funeral Duskywing by Kurt Hasselman from NJ’s The Great Swamp NWR [see Kurt's Flickr account for better image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/dah_professor/15042760647%5D

It’s been quite the interesting – and sometimes frustrating — season, an exceedingly slow start for many of our larger butterflies especially, low numbers but reasonable diversity through the summer, some puzzling absences of several usual suspects and few individuals of often-abundant species, and a final explosion of grass skippers but few of the southern migrants that makes autumnal lepping here in the mid-Atlantic so rewarding.

This final Forecast of the season on the weekend of the Autumnal Equinox fits the pattern; little new to report again this week from our region but the dwindling of most of our summer butterflies. No new migrants to share with readers; even Common Buckeye numbers are fairly paltry unless there’s a last-ditch emergence in late September or a surge from a coastal storm coming up from the Carolinas. But even to our south, in the Carolinas and Virginia, southern strays have been hard to come by.

From NJ comes our most interesting sighting, a report of a very fresh Funereal Duskywing in The Great Swamp NWR in Gillette. Odds are this is a hitchhiker on nursery stock or legume hay from the south; the mint condition could only have come from a locally eclosed specimen and the nearest Funereals are in the Deep South and Southwest.

A few Long-tailed Skippers have made their way into the region but still far to the south in VA and NC; true also of Eufala Skipper and Whirlabout. Ocolas and Clouded Skippers remain rare to unusual sightings for us locally. Gulf Fritillaries are having a good year – in southern NC, where Little Yellow numbers also seem to have recovered in this last brood.

Apple and pear windfalls make some of the most interesting observation posts for butterflies this time of year, with the last of the Red-spotted Purples, Viceroys, and the few Red Admirals we’ve seen this year clustered around rotting fruit. Lingering satyrids will also be found there, as will the anglewings – Comma, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak – that will soon hibernate for the winter and greet us again in 2015 as overwintered adults.

A Giant Swallowtail caterpillar was photographed for the Maryland Biodiversity Project website this week on cultivated rue at Cromwell Valley Park near Baltimore.

And I can close out the season’s Forecast with the good news that Monarch numbers are far above last year’s throughout the Northeast, and we should be seeing a quite robust southern flow of these butterflies along the coast and through the mountains for the next month or so. Reports from Canada and the Upper Midwest also note large roosting and staging congregations; whether these Plains populations do well crossing the many still-drought-stricken regions between them and the Oyamel fir forests in Mexico is anyone’s guess. While we’d all like to credit more Monarch Waystations and backyard milkweed patches with the boost, the scientist in us all compels recognition that – at least here in the East — these are just natural population fluctuations of a very resilient and hardy critter.

Thanks to all of you who’ve provided excellent fodder for the Forecast this year, notably Tom Stock, Beth Johnson, Matt Orsie, Barry and Bev Marts, Fran Pope, Monica Miller, Curtis Lehman, Harry Pavulaan, Kathy Barylski, Jim Wilkinson, Sheryl Pollock, Walt Gould, Michael Drake, Mike Smith, Rick Cheicante, Pat Sutton, faithful posters to MDLepsOdes, and the folks associated with the Maryland Biodiversity Project who, along with many others, helped me share sightings and field notes with readers of the Forecasts this year to expand and enhance our enjoyment of butterflying afield in the mid-Atlantic.

Look for the Forecast to return next spring with the Mourning Cloaks.

Best,

Rick

Leonard's Skipper on blazing star (Liatris) along the Choate Mine Trail at Soldiers Delight, Baltimore Co MD [2014 Sept. 6, photo by Tom Stock]

Leonard’s Skipper on blazing star (Liatris) along the Choate Mine Trail at Soldiers Delight, Baltimore Co MD [2014 Sept. 6, photo by Tom Stock]

Very little new to report this week; mostly continuations of end-of-summer populations that are dwindling and a few late fall specialties.

Leonard’s Skipper is finally on the wing locally, with up to 9 reported at a time last week from Soldiers Delight (Baltimore Co MD). Most of these were along the upper Choate Mine trail. Clouded Skippers were also reported there and from various other locations around the region, mostly associated with garden and other nectar sources. Ocola Skippers, too, are being seen infrequently in scattered locations. These latter two migrants have not yet arrived in large numbers in our area – if they will at all this season.

Monarchs, on the other hand, continue to rise in numbers. Reports from Northeast Coast in NY, MA, and CT all suggest the southward migration has begun in earnest and in good numbers. Several were working the nectar and laying eggs on the milkweed in the Smithsonian’s butterfly walk on the east side of the Natural History Museum this afternoon.

Red-spotted Purples are still out in decent numbers, as are Viceroys. But other nymphalids are in shorter supply. This week saw a couple of Painted Ladies in the area to round out the more common (but nowhere numerous) American Ladies that we’ve been seeing all season. There are fresh Red Admirals about, but again in quite small numbers – the suspicion is that the harsh winter knocked back the southern populations that normally would be our source of fresh broods that hatch and develop locally. Pearl Crescents are in a new brood but generally small numbers; nevertheless they were the most common butterfly at Soldiers Delight this week.

A very few Cloudless Sulphurs have made their way up from the south, but no Little Yellows. And the cold front moving through tonight means we’ll have mostly northerly winds the next few days with little chance of blowing southern specialties northward into our area. Clouded Sulphurs numbers are making a strong final showing, and both Small (Cabbage) Whites and Orange Sulphurs are maxing out in numbers we haven’t seen all summer.

Grass skipper numbers are falling off quickly; large numbers remain only of Zabulon and Sachem, although many of the others – Dun, Swarthy, Crossline, Peck’s, and Southern Broken-dash among them – will likely be around in single digit numbers for another week or two. Saltmarsh Skipper apparently is still pretty common in coastal areas where saltmarsh fleabane is blooming. We’re still awaiting our first report of Long-tailed Skipper locally; it’s been reported in VA and Carolinas already this fall. At their peak at the moment, by contrast, are the final brood of Wild Indigo Duskywing. Silver-spotted Skipper numbers peaked about two weeks ago but are still around in some force.

The last weekly Forecast for 2014 will be next weekend the Autumnal Equinox. After that, I’ll occasionally post to MDLepsOdes only if we have significant sightings.

The weather Saturday does not look promising, but Sunday does. If you make it out into the field this weekend, don’t forget to post or send your sightings for the next Weekend Forecast!  In the meantime, visit us at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Monarch on Tithonia Flower [2014 Sept. 1, US National Arboretum, DC.  REB]

Monarch on Tithonia Flower [2014 Sept. 1, US National Arboretum, DC. REB]

While overall numbers of many butterflies are declining as the summer draws to a close, diversity is still pretty high even though there are no regional FOYs to report this week.

We had hoped to report in this Forecast that Leonard’s Skipper was flying at Soldier’s Delight and had been seen on Dick Smith’s field trip there last week. Unfortunately, the participants dipped on this iconic species of serpentine barrens. I hope to bring better news next week; I plan to visit Soldier’s Delight myself this weekend, and expect the flight was only delayed and the skipper is flying this weekend.

Otherwise, the Forecast this week really hasn’t changed much from the previous few weeks. Good numbers of most grass skippers, especially Sachem which was especially abundant across the region, and the occasional Fiery Skipper or Ocola Skipper. Tiger Swallowtails have mostly faded away, as have Zebra Swallowtails.  Fresh Pipevine and Black Swallowtails are out, however.  The big news continues to be a huge explosion of Giant Swallowtails in the Northeast and, over the past two weeks, in PA, where more than 50 sightings have been logged from the current brood.

Monarch numbers continue to build slowly, a further testament to the resiliency of this species, at least here on the East Coast.  In fact, the Loudon County VA count last month logged more than 60; I have seen them on literally every field excursion I have made for the past 6 weeks anywhere in MD or DE. Not to throw a wet blanket on the “Save the Monarch” movement but these are not the population dynamics of a threatened or endangered species — at least here in the East.

Overall, the Loudon count had 55 species — near its historic high count — and more than 3,000 individual butterflies. Again, the gloom and doom of early summer predictions of butterfly crashes have not been borne out by field observations later in the year.

Here’s hoping to run into you in the field this weekend, looking for a stray Great Southern White, or Whirlabout, or Queen. If you see one, don’t forget to post or send your sightings for the next Weekend Forecast!  In the meantime, visit us at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

 

2014 SEP 1 Ocola Skipper_DC USNATom Stock and I ventured out into the sweltering heat and humidity for the closest good butterflying to home that we could find — the US National Arboretum.  Lots of nectar available as usual in the Washington Youth Garden, the Butterfly Garden, and the National Herb Garden; unusually, almost nothing there.

All the action was on the extensive meadow plantings around the USNA campus of native coreopsis, which I erroneously told Tom was Tickseed Coreopsis but in retrospect is almost certainly a different composite that I now have to key out.  It was loaded with skippers, 99 percent of which were Sachems.  Conservatively, just looking at the three or four patches we investigated, we had well over a thousand; tens of thousands across the Arboretum would not be unrealistic.  Interspersed were a few Southern Broken-dashes, Crosslines, Little Glassywings, and a lone Ocola, plus a few more (Tom’s list is below).

That was my FOY Ocola, but the big highlight of the day was this stunning very dark Variegated Fritillary hanging out in back of the Administration building on the patio.  We both did double-takes, but there’s no mistaking the pattern if not the ground color:

Dark Variegated Fritillary (underside) at US National Arboretum [2014 Sept. 1, Washington, DC, REB]

Dark Variegated Fritillary (underside) at US National Arboretum [2014 Sept. 1, Washington, DC, REB]

Dark Variegated Fritillary (dorsal) from US National Arboretum [2014 Sept. 1, Washington, DC REB]

Dark Variegated Fritillary (dorsal) from US National Arboretum [2014 Sept. 1, Washington, DC REB]

The full list:

Black Swallowtail (1) female
Cabbage White (9)
Clouded Sulphur (1)
Orange Sulphur (5)
Sleepy Orange (1)
Gray Hairstreak (1)
Red-banded Hairstreak (3)
Eastern Tailed Blue (common)
Summer Azure (5)
Variegated Fritillary (3)
Pearl Crescent (1)
American Lady (1)
Monarch (1)
Silver-spotted Skipper (8)
Least Skipper (16)
Fiery Skipper (2)
Peck’s Skipper (1)
Crossline Skipper (2)
Southern Broken Dash (11)
Little Glassywing (3)
Sachem (superabundant)
Ocola Skipper (1)

 

Southern Cloudywing_at St Mary's Lake MD [2014 Aug 29 by Beth Johnson]

Southern Cloudywing_at St Mary’s Lake MD [2014 Aug 29 by Beth Johnson]

Beth Johnson and I spent the day Friday visiting Point Lookout State Park for southern migrants and St. Mary’s Lake on an unsuccessful search for the newly reported Red-veined Pennant.  And today Tom Stock visited Calvert Cliffs and environs, giving us all sightings to share.

En route to St. Mary’s Co., Beth and I stopped off at an uncharacteristically quiet butterfly garden at the Plummer House in Anne Arundel Co.  Among the sparse butterflies was only one standout, Sleepy Orange.  Pt. Lookout, unfortunately, wasn’t much better — it had been mowed the day previously practically down to bare soil, we suspect in order to make it inviting for Labor Day picnic crowds.  Every vestige of nectar was removed in the process, with the exception of a few bush lespedezas and some knotweed.  This pretty much put a wet blanket on any real migrants — this is usually a great location for Long-tailed Skipper, Sleepy Orange, Clouded Skipper, hordes of Common Buckeyes, and Ocola Skipper, among others.  Not this year.

Consolation prize was an abundance of Grey Hairstreaks (more than 30 when we stopped counting), a dozen or so Red-banded Hairstreaks, and two White-M Hairstreaks — all concentrated on the little nectar there was.  There were a few Common Buckeyes and Black Swallowtails.  We did score our FOY Cloudless Sulphurs in MD, and a couple of Tawny Emperors.  Dragonfly watching was a little better — there were hawking swarms of Black and Carolina Saddlebags, Wandering Gliders, and a lifer for us both, Four-spotted Pennant.

At St. Mary’s Lake (which we’d never visited before), we were impressed by the quality of lake perimeter trail, and especially a large open area before the dam and spillway where dogbane was just coming into bloom again.  It was too early in its bloom to attract much except a few grass skippers (Swarthy was the best of the batch), but the tall grasses held dozens of Halloween and Calico Pennants (but not our target Red-veined!–we should have checked with the original observers for more precise locations, since the trail is 7 miles long).  Beth had a Southern Cloudywing on the dam berm before I rejoined her, arguably the best butterfly of the day, although we also saw satyrs on the trail (likely Carolina Satyr, a new outpost for this species’ expanding range in MD, as Little Wood Satyr flight is over here I think) and several Appalachian Browns.  Dragonfly highlight was a lifer for us both, Clamp-tipped Emerald netted out of a small swarm of half a dozen at sunset.

Tom had better butterfly luck today during his southern MD sojourn, a flyby Giant Swallowtail crossing Route 5 at Solomons in Calvert Co and Ocola Skipper on the last of the blooming clethra at Calvert Cliffs State Park.  He also had Cloudless Sulphur in California, MD.

Cloudless Sulphur on lantana, Behnke's Nursery 2013 [REB]

Cloudless Sulphur on lantana, Behnke’s Nursery 2013 [REB]

The traditional end-of-summer holiday weekend should provide good opportunities – albeit hot and hazy ones – to go afield in search of wandering migrants.

In recent weeks, the numbers of Variegated Fritillaries has been inching up locally, and reports of Ocola Skipper remain uncommon but consistent. New to the region this week is Long-tailed Skipper from northern VA, which leads to the hope that others are in the area as well. Clouded Skipper is being reported regularly in VA and NC so should be showing up as well; there are a number of reports of Gulf Fritillaries to our south that suggest this might be a good migrant year for them. Cloudless Sulphurs are finally showing up locally, including two today at Pt Lookout State Park MD.

But the current big tease is the explosion of Little Yellow and Sleepy Orange in NC and VA, in numbers that in other years have signaled a good fall push into the upper mid-Atlantic. Sleepy Orange showed up this week for the first time this season in the Plummer House garden at Jug Bay (Anne Arundel Co MD). Common Buckeye is also building in numbers to our south; true to its name it was common but not abundant this week at Pt Lookout State Park in MD.

Otherwise, numbers and diversity are not too far off the mark from what you’d normally expect at the beginning of the fall flight season. Leonard’s Skipper has not been observed in MD yet, but is flying well from PA to MA. Grass skipper numbers are up; most lantana patches locally (including big box garden centers) have yellow clouds of Sachem and Fiery Skippers. Tawny-edge, Zabulon, Dun, Swarthy, and Crossline Skippers are still present given good nectar sources, and Southern Broken-dash numbers are still quite high.  Silver-spotted Skipper is winding down its flight.

A new brood of Northern Pearly-eye is on the wing, and seems to be expanding its range in the mid-Atlantic. Common Wood-nymph is still flying.  Carolina Satyr and Appalachian Brown were observed in St. Mary’s Co MD.  Tawny Emperor was still flying there as well.

On the swallowtail front, another local Giant Swallowtail sighting, this week from Baltimore. Pipevines are out and fresh, as are Black Swallowtails. Pipevines can even be seen in good numbers near the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall, where a couple of large, interesting tropical Aristolochias are planted in the Enid Haupt gardens. A Spicebush Swallowtail was there yesterday as well, also in very fresh condition. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are having a relatively modest late summer flight; most are showing considerable signs of wear already.

Grey and Red-banded Hairstreaks are having a good late flight; at Pt Lookout (St. Mary’s Co MD) today Grey Hairstreaks were abundant and Red-banded were common; two White-M Hairstreaks were also seen there mixed in with the Greys and Eastern Tailed-blues. Pearl Crescent is seen on most field trips but in nowhere near the numbers we usually find in late summer.

Dick Smith announced two field trip opportunities this weekend:

  1. August 31: Serpentine Barrens Late Summer Butterflies – Slide Show and Hike, Soldiers Delight NEA, 1-4pm. Dick Smith will present a slide show *(handicap accessible) on barrens butterflies and then lead the group for about 2 miles along trails *(not handicap accessible) through the globally rare serpentine barrens ecosystem at Soldiers Delight. In addition to locally-occurring and serpentine-endemic late summer butterflies such as the attractive Leonard’s Skipper, we will examine and identify many native grasses and wildflowers seldom seen in abundance in other locations around Maryland. Close-focus binoculars are recommended, but butterfly net-and-release (with in-jar identification) will be conducted by the leader. Hike will be cancelled if raining or overcast, but slideshow will be presented regardless of weather status. Children under 12 should be accompanied by an adult. Meet at the Visitor Center. Cost: Free! Donations welcome. Registration is not required; CONTACT: (443) 778-4973 (office – weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) or (410) 997-7439 (home) (please call after 7:30 p.m.).
  1. Butterflies through Binoculars in Columbia. 2-3 hours. Meet 9:30 AM at Elkhorn Garden Plots (Oakland Mills Rd opposite Dasher Ct). Enjoy searching for late-summer butterflies, and receive expert instruction on their identification. Easy walking in the garden plot and on paved paths near the right-of-way alongside open, flowery wet meadows and brushy hillsides. Bring close-focus binoculars to view nectaring behavior. Dick will also use net and jars to provide brief close-up examinations. Cancelled if raining or overcast. No facilities. CONTACT: Dick Smith, 410-997-7439. (home, please call after 7:30 pm)

If you spend time in the field this Labor Day, please remember to post or send your sightings for the next Weekend Forecast. In the meantime, visit us at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Harvester from the DC Annual Count at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens [2014 Aug. 17, Tom Stock]

Harvester from the DC Annual Count at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens [2014 Aug. 17, Tom Stock]

A couple of very interesting finds in the region this week that suggests we may have a strong finish to this middling 2014 season.

Four Bronze Coppers were sighted (with Salt-marsh Skippers) along Raymond Pool at Bombay Hook NWR in DE last weekend, nectaring on second-blush dogbane. This is same area that had Salt-marsh and Broad-winged Skippers two weeks ago, and that occasionally also sports Great Purple Hairstreak (although that has been an uncommon find this year, after a pretty good flight in 2013). Numbers of Great Purple Hairstreak were down on the recent Dismal Swamp Count as well. Both the hairstreak and the coppers will fly well into early fall.

Closer to home, in Harford Co MD, comes a report of the county’s first record of Giant Swallowtail, a single adult that seemed to be just moving on through. And a second Giant Swallowtail report came early in the week from near Route 15 just shy of the PA line in Frederick Co MD. In PA itself there were reports of this swallowtail from both Wyoming and Northampton Cos.

And closer still, on the DC Annual Count last weekend, spotters found a textbook White Admiral high in the trees at the Washington Youth Garden of the US National Arboretum. At the other site in the count circle, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the team had a single Harvester plus numerous Appalachian Browns and a Broad-winged Skipper. Both locations were overrun with Southern Broken-dashes: 2014 had a record high count of 63 between the two locations. Little Glassywing was numerous as well, with a conservative 49 observed. A single White-M (in its go-to spot for this species near the large stand of clethra near the entrance to the Arboretum’s Fern Valley) and 11 Red-banded Hairstreaks were also logged. The first flight of Red-banded was somewhat skimpy but this brood seems quite robust; in New England they’ve been especially common this month.

Even dipping on a number of usual “gimme” species for this location (for example, we had only one sulphur species, no ladies, no emperors, no buckeyes), the species total for this count was still the highest ever at 36. Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, usually a fixture on this count, was not seen.

Ocola Skipper made its first local appearances at several locations in the DC area this week. Several Fiery Skippers were in the reports, as were assorted other grass skippers: Sachem, Crossline, Zabulon (with fresh females now flying as well) and Peck’s. Lantana is the big draw at this point of the season. Leonard’s Skipper is just out in PA so is likely on the wing now or soon will be at its Soldiers Delight MD redoubt.

While we have yet to see numbers of these, there has been a veritable explosion in VA and the Carolinas of Sleepy Orange and Common Buckeye; a little southerly flow and we should be seeing better flights of these migratory species here in the mid-Atlantic.

While they aren’t leps, DC/Baltimore readers might enjoy participating in the 2014 Cricket Crawl project Friday night (weather permitting), a sound census for eight target cricket and katydid species. See http://pick18.pick.uga.edu/cricket/DC/ for details.

Looks like Sunday will be a decent day for leps this weekend, so if you’re in the field please remember to post or send your sightings for the next Weekend Forecast. In the meantime, visit us at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

 

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