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.