Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2018 May 19


One of our primary targets in Worcester Co MD on the NHFS Butterflies of Spring field trip. Frosted Elfin on its caterpillar host, sundial lupine. [2018 May 12. photo by Judy Gallagher]

HIGHLIGHTS:  Silvery Checkerspot, Peck’s Skipper, Zabulon Skipper, Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail, Frosted Elfin, Dusted Skipper, Sachem, Least Skipper (late report after original posting)

Well, I didn’t exactly race this week to make sure the Forecast would be in readers’ hands for the start of the weekend.  The weather forecast has been a broken record since last weekend, when most of the current crop of FOY butterflies rolled in.  Since then it’s been a terrific week for snorkeling, but not butterflying.  Tomorrow looks the same.  Sunday only slightly better.

Much of the credit for the best sightings of the week goes to members of the Butterflies of Spring class organized jointly by Audubon Naturalist Society and Graduate School USA as part of the certificate program in Natural History Field Studies.  They hit a good number of targets last Saturday (remember?  when there was sun?) on the Eastern Shore.  Among the best sightings the group had were of Frosted Elfin on its host plant sundial lupine, and Dusted Skipper in one of the sandy barrens with bluestem that has in the past also produced Cobweb Skipper (but not this year).  It’s worth noting that the class spent time in the habitat known to some Maryland lepidopterists as the only known location in the state where Hessel’s Hairstreak has been seen.  We searched in vain for this butterfly, and consoled ourselves with the reminder that the putative record (from 70 years ago) has a cloud of uncertainty around it.

Elsewhere, grass skippers began their season emergence, with Peck’s, Sachem, and Zabulon Skipper all reported freshly out this week.  Silver-spotted Skipper reports continued, although in small numbers so far and absent from some expected locations.  The spring duskywings are fading (or drowning); Wild Indigo Duskywing is the only fresh one on the wing.  Among the MIA is Common Checkered-skipper.  [Update:  Least Skipper was reported to Maryland Biodiversity Project in a record I just found — I usually have to do a fair amount of digging through various web records and listservs every week because unfortunately not everyone reports butterfly sightings to LepLog or MDLepsOdes.]

Good numbers of Gray and Red-banded Hairstreaks were seen regionally last weekend, and the only azures reported were the second brood of Summer Azure (although Appalachian Azure is due out about now too).  A modest flight of Eastern Tailed-blues is out.


Dusted Skipper on a sandy barrens powerline in Worcester Co MD on the NHFS Butterflies of Spring field trip. [2018 May 12. photo by Lydia Fravel]

A rather poor showing of first brood Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is about washed up (pun intended), but at least one good candidate for fresh Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail came in from far western MD.  A few Zebra Swallowtails continue.  The dark swallowtails — Pipevine, Spicebush, and Black — are having a much better first flight.  Harry Pavulaan reminded those of us on the MDLepsOdes Google Group that “Black” Swallowtails flying in the Appalachian spine should be studied carefully as possible candidates for a cryptic woodland species similar to Ozark Swallowtail in the central US (sign up here for MDLepsOdes).

Among the brushfoots, Pearl Crescent is flying in small numbers, and Silvery Checkerspot has just emerged.  For all practical purposes anglewings are absent.  American Lady numbers are up, but Red Admiral and Painted Lady sightings are pretty low.  Another week of zero American Snouts. 

Falcate Orangetips are all but gone (although the NHFS group found one late female on the Eastern Shore).  Cabbage (Small) Whites are flying too but never had a good build-up this spring.  West Virginia White is out in Garrett Co.  No sulphur reports came in but that doesn’t mean they weren’t out there.

If by some miracle you find yourself in a sunbeam this weekend or next week, report back to us what you’ve spotted by commenting here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2018 May 12

Red-banded Hairstreak from the Glendening Preserve, Anne Arundel Co. This is a well-known, highly “butterflied” area in the Bristol Quad with more than 55 species tallied. And yet .. this very common butterfly was not one of them until Judy Gallagher snapped a photo of it on May 5 as part of the quad-busting we’re doing this term in the Natural History Field Studies certificate program.

HIGHLIGHTS:  West Virginia White, Spicebush Swallowtail, Frosted Elfin, Variegated Fritillary, Silver-spotted Skipper, Red-banded Hairstreak, Holly Azure

Reports are coming in from early spring counts and field expeditions up and down the mid-Atlantic, and generally they all agree on one thing — this has been a late spring, a slow spring, and a generally poor spring for butterflies.  While diversity is on par with more “normal” years, species numbers are way down for many butterflies, from overwintering adults (anglewings) to azures to crescents.  And yet some species seemed to thrive this year, witness especially Olympia Marble and Silvery Blue.  Recent warm weather is erasing the delays in emergence from the cold spring, but not building up much in the way of sheer numbers.

West Virginia White seems to be flying rather well, noted for the first time last week.  Falcate Orangetips are dropping off drastically, and few Olympia Marbles were reported this week (but that may be a function of search effort as well as of actual scarcity).  Cabbage (Small) Whites and the “normal” sulphurs — Orange and Clouded — were all seen but not in great numbers.

It looks like the second generation of Summer Azure is coming on, as univoltine Spring Azures are falling back.  Holly Azure is still being reported, along with Blueberry Azure, Hoary Elfin and Hessel’s Hairstreak, in the NJ Pine Barrens. Eastern Tailed-blues are flying but this is the second spring in a row their numbers have been modest at best in this first brood.  Henry’s, Eastern Pine and Brown Elfins were noted still on the wing this week.  I am confident Frosted Elfin is, too — it’s been seen in NJ — and am leading an expedition on Saturday to the Eastern Shore in search of them.  No additional Harvesters were reported after last week’s spot.

American Ladies have surged in the last week, and a single Painted Lady joined the ones flying in Gambrill State Park.  The season’s first Variegated Fritillaries were tallied, as were MonarchsPearl Crescent is flying but not in great numbers.

An addition to the swallowtail count this week is Spicebush Swallowtail, joining Zebra, Black, Pipevine and Eastern Tiger.  We could see emergence of Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail soon as well but haven’t spotted it yet.

The new skipper to join the rolls this week is Silver-spotted, although I strongly suspect that Common Checkered-skipper emerged last week too — or maybe even earlier.  Horace’s and Juvenal’s Duskywings are finishing up their modest first flight; Juvenal’s for the year and Horace’s until the second brood at mid-summer.  Wild Indigo Duskywing hasn’t been very common but is seen on most trips in the appropriate habitat.  Cobweb Skipper reports continue to come in but no Dusted Skipper as yet — we’ll be looking for that on the Eastern Shore this weekend, too.  My prediction is we’ll be seeing Zabulon Skipper this next week or, at the very least, in two weeks.

There is some excellent weather predicted at least for Saturday, so make butterfly hay while the sun shines this weekend — atmospheric instability might keep Sunday too cloudy or even wet for butterflies.  And we need the rain in the forecast for nearly every day next week.  If you get out — with your mother, perhaps, for Mother’s Day — report back to us what you’ve spotted at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2018 May 5


Cobweb Skipper, Hesperia metea, on Birdfoot Violet, Green Ridge State Forest [2018 April 28, photo by Frode Jacobsen]

HIGHLIGHTS:  Harvester, Brown Elfin, Cobweb Skipper, Hoary Elfin in NJ, American Copper, Black Swallowtail

The very summery blast this week undoubtedly shook loose some new first-of-season butterflies.  Last week was pretty productive for butterflies, but we’re already seeing the collapse of some early species — early azures, for example — and Falcate Orangetips already seem on the decline.  A nice flush of Cabbage (Small) Whites bucked the trend, but in general while diversity is decent we’re just not seeing the big numbers of butterflies we often have this time of the year.  Fresh Olympia Marbles were flying last Saturday (identified by the bright rosy flush of the wings); this has been an outstanding year for these.  Haven’t heard yet of any sightings for West Virginia White.  Sulphurs have been scarce compared to “normal” years.

The first brood of Summer Azure is pretty much done for, and most of the azures now being seen are Spring Azure and Northern Azure, with a few reports in NJ of American Holly Azure.  The next Summer Azure brood could be emerging any day now, though, given the early, staggered emergence of this azure this season.  Gray Hairstreaks and Olive (Juniper) Hairstreaks are flying (the latter in pretty good numbers for a change), and the three expected elfins are on the wing — Brown has just begun its flight in most of the region, joining Eastern Pine and Henry’s.  Hoary Elfin is flying in the NJ Pine Barrens. We expect Frosted Elfin about now as well.  And the first Harvester showed up in northern VA.  Silvery Blues in Green Ridge State Forest look like they’re having one of the best flights in years in 2018.  American Copper finally appeared in the field this week.

FOS Harvester for the area, 2018 April 30 in VA’s G.R. Thompson WMA near Markham [photo by Judy Gallagher]

Swallowtails are slow-rolling their emergence this season, or at least were until these last couple of days.  Zebra, Eastern Tiger, and Pipevine are still in the early stages of building up a flight; at this rate, it’s possible we’ll have the confusing situation of Eastern Tigers flying in numbers at the same time as Appalachian Tiger Swallowtails (there’s usually a little bit of daylight between the two broods locally).  Still no Spicebush in evidence, but Black Swallowtail is out in PA.

Skippers are a good news story at the moment, with all the expected spreadwings emerged now — Juvenal’s, Horace’s (in low numbers), Sleepy, Dreamy (just emerging) and Wild Indigo (emerged early).  Cobweb Skipper made its first appearance on the season lists last weekend.  A bit surprised nobody has reported Common Checkered-skipper yet.  Dusted Skipper, I suspect, is out on the Eastern Shore and should be soon (if not already) at Soldiers Delight and perhaps the serpentine barrens along the northeast MD border with PA.  We always keep our eyes peeled in these barrens for Mottled Duskywing, presumed extirpated in MD, but hope springs eternal where reality leaves off.  Pepper and Salt Skipper has been a no-show so far this season too, although some sightings have come in from WV.

It’s been a rather wretched year for nymphalids — low numbers of Eastern Commas, Question Marks, and Mourning Cloaks.  I suspect the seesaw of hot and cold may have done them in.  Nobody has reported Gray Comma yet, but that may simply be an issue of no observers in its habitat.  Low numbers of Pearl Crescent so far.  A couple early Ladies — both American and Painted — teased us in past Forecasts, but no sightings were reported this week; ditto for Red Admiral.  More Meadow Fritillary reports came in, though.

While the weather forecast is for cooler weather this weekend, it’s still mid-spring cool to bring out butterflies after our flirtation this week with soaring summer heat.  Unfortunately, the change of weather comes with a good chance of rain.  Go see the last of the spring univoltines before they’re gone, and report back to us what you’ve spotted at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.  Look for members of the Butterflies of Spring ANS/NHFS course out quad busting for butterflies in MD this weekend; if you see them give them a hand!

And a final editorial note:  Every week I get a couple of loyal readers pointing out that I didn’t mention X butterfly was flying because they’d seen it earlier in the week or month.  There’s a reason for this:  You didn’t report it!  I only fake being omniscient and prescient; it’s really all on your shoulders to make sure I have a good snapshot of what’s out and about in the mid-Atlantic.  And I’m usually compiling this on Thursdays, so drop me a note by noon Thursdays with your sightings for the past couple of days.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2018 April 28

Silvery Blue GRSF frode_jacobsen_40919361294_fa7ce78b5e_b

Silvery Blue in Allegany Co MD showing the diagnostic ventral polka dots and that incredible cerulean blue upperwing [2018 April 21, photo by Frode Jacobsen]

HIGHLIGHTS:  Meadow Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, American Lady, Silvery Blue, more White Ms.

Spring continued its slow rollout this week in the mid-Atlantic, with cool drizzly weather.  The weekend looks like it might offer some sun and warmer weather, but unfortunately the warmth looks likely to come with clouds or rain, and the sun comes with chilly breezes.  Nevertheless, butterfly diversity is ramping up somewhat, albeit at a slower pace than in most recent years.

Of the whites and sulphurs, Falcate Orangetips and Olympia Marbles are still on the wing; apparently a very good year for our Marbles in Green Ridge State Forest, a so-so year for Falcates regionally.  Cabbage (Small) White is also having a rather modest spring flight, although in the past couple of days there’s been a mini-population explosion in some areas (like around BWI airport, as I noticed yesterday).  I suspect that observers in western MD will be seeing West Virginia White on the wing beginning this week.  A surprising number of the early spring Colias sightings have been Clouded Sulphurs, fewer have been Orange Sulphurs (the opposite of normal occurrence data in the DC environs).

On the lycaenid front, the first flush of Celastrina neglecta (spring brood Summer Azure and the first azure to emerge in most of the mid-Atlantic) is spent or nearly so, and Celastrina ladon (Spring Azure) should be flying — a good phenological tip is to look for ladon when its primary host plant, flowering dogwood, is about to bloom.  In about two weeks the next brood of the multivoltine Summer Azure will fire up and these successive broods will continue through the summer and early fall.  It may be that Harry Pavulaan has scared off our azure ID enthusiasm by (rightly) noting how difficult the challenge of this complex is, but nobody has reported Holly Azure, Northern Azure, or any of our other exciting “specialty” azures that we’re pretty sure are out there.

Silvery Blue made its first appearance this week.  Gray and Juniper Hairstreaks are on the wing and so, I wouldn’t be surprised, is Hessel’s Hairstreak in the NJ Pine Barrens. I might go hunt that one down next weekend.  More White M Hairstreaks were reported, too; it’s been a good spring flight for them.   I think all the “expected” elfins are out regionally — Brown, Henry’s, Eastern Pine Elfins –– and there are reports from NJ of Hoary Elfin.  Frosted Elfin is probably not out yet.   Eastern Tailed-blue sightings are still sparse but a few did show up this week.  No reports yet of American Copper (which strikes me as unusual).


The very definition of a cooperative White M Hairstreak [2018 April 21; photo by Josh Emm]

Same swallowtails as last week — Zebra, Eastern Tiger, and Pipevine.  Spicebush Swallowtail will likely emerge this week, and it’s also likely we’ll see Black Swallowtails, especially on the Coastal Plain.

Anglewing (Eastern Comma and Question Mark) and Mourning Cloak sightings continue, but frankly not as many as in most springs.  I’ve not heard yet of any Gray Comma sightings.  No additional Painted Lady sightings came in, but American Lady showed up for the first time this season this week.  One additional Red Admiral sighting was reported.  Possibly the most interesting nymphalid noted this week was FOY Meadow Fritillary from at least two locations.  Pearl Crescent made the 2018 roll this week as well.

American Snout continues its unexplained absence so far.  Usually Snouts are one of the first of the spring butterflies, especially along the coast.

Fingers crossed for sun *and* warmth this weekend and next week.  If you get out there and see something interesting, please let us know here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.  Look for me and my crew in the field tomorrow (weather permitting) in Green Ridge State Forest.




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In the Field with NHFS


FOY American Lady on the NHFS Butterflies of Spring field trip to Patuxent Research Refuge, North Tract [2018 April 21, photo by Lydia Fravel]

Saturday, our group from the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Natural History Field Studies program (all taking the Butterflies of Spring class) trooped out to Patuxent Research Refuge in search of early leps and other interesting bits of natural history.  We did a good bit of hand wringing in our Thursday night class over whether to attempt Saturday or Sunday (the forecast two days out was for cool and bright on Saturday, cloudy and warm on Sunday), and decided to try for Saturday but delay our start time by an hour to 11 am.

Fingers crossed, we convened at the Visitor Contact Station at Patuxent North Tract at 11 to find the parking lot jammed and half the refuge closed until noon for a youth turkey hunt, a scavenger hunt, and a bring-your-dogs day.  And temperatures only in the high 40’s.

So we cooled our heels (literally) on a walk along the river trail to see a terrific selection of spring ephemeral wildflowers, including acres of bluebells at peak bloom (but no Zebra Swallowtails), and Dutchman’s breeches, yellow trout lily, spring beauty, and wild ginger in bloom (the latter presided over by a crew of weed warriors pulling invasive buttercups who gave us a good look at the ground-hugging flowers and stimulated a discussion about the strange pollination strategies of the ginger).  We also spent some time learning butterfly caterpillar hosts pawpaw (Zebra Swallowtail), spicebush (Spicebush Swallowtail, and judging from the couple of cocoons we found, Promethea silk moths), and wild cherry (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail).  We also observed what might have been the obligate bee pollinator of spring beauty, bee flies, and a number of other early pollinators — but zero butterflies.  Temps were still in the low 50’s when we came back out of the woods at about noon.

The youth hunt ended at noon so we headed to our original first destination, the sandy road leading up to Rieve’s Pond.  And just as we hit the trail there the temperature hit that sweet spot and leps started showing up regularly — a number of Henry’s Elfins (for us, mostly the dark chocolate brown morph), a fresh American Lady hunting the road margins for pussytoes, a female Falcate Orangetip, and a selection of large dark duskywings that we eventually consigned to Wild Indigo because in the field none of us could see a white cell spot on the dorsal forewing.  But possibly our best sighting was fellow lepster Tim Reichard, who had seen Juvenal’s/Horace’s and two good candidates for “green” Henry’s Elfin.  Which was good intel for the class participants, since at their last session in May they’re charged to come up with hypotheses for what’s behind this extreme polymorphism in Callophrys henrici.


A spring duskywing we called Wild Indigo in the field at Patuxent North Tract. The very faint cell spots were not visible to us under field conditions; this photo by Judy Gallagher using fill flash picks up some very faint cell spotting that gives us a little pause. Open to discussion; it could be Horace’s/Juvenal’s (we didn’t check the underwing because, well, we tallied it as Wild Indigo). [2018 April 21]

We also had some other nice spring sightings in the North Tract, including a very fresh (still pumping fluid into its wings) Snowberry Clearwing and multiple Harlequin Darners (one of which adorned Judy Gallaghers T-shirt for a time).

Another bit of guidance Tim left us was that the Pine Trail on the North Tract was lepless that morning, so we could skip that destination and head down to the South Tract for our hoped-for Eastern Pine Elfin.  Twenty minutes later we were eating our lunch at the National Wildlife Visitor Center on the South Tract and then began our circumnavigation of Cash Lake.


One of Tim Reichard’s “green” (viridissima) Henry’s Elfins from Patuxent North Tract that our group missed. [2018 April 21]

On our power walk to the end of Cash Lake (and the extensive population of high-bush blueberries in near-peak bloom), we kicked up an FOY Pearl Crescent before beginning to see more Henry’s Elfins.  We looked in vain for Eastern Pine Elfin until late afternoon; after most of the class had departed, the few diehards who remained (our attention arguably more focused on good birding in the powerline cut) finally scored a last butterfly, Eastern Pine Elfin, nectaring confidently at the top of one of the blueberries.

Next up for the class is our field trip next weekend (weather permitting) to Green Ridge State Forest in search of Olympia Marbles, Silvery Blues, azures, and Dreamy and Sleepy Duskywings.

Our sightings:

Patuxent North
Falcate Orangetip (1)
Henry’s Elfin (6)
American Lady (1)
Wild Indigo Duskywing (3)
And of course Harlequin Darner, Gomphaeshna furcillata; and Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis (I recall we determined the legs were black, which differentiates diffinis from the other local clearwing species, Hummingbird Clearwing, H. thysbe).
Patuxent South
Henry’s Elfin (5)
Pearl Crescent (1)
Eastern Pine Elfin (1)



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Coming Soon to a LepLocale Near You!

Check out the more than FIFTY regional butterfly field activities posted on the LepLog master calendar so far for the 2018 season!  This is the largest number of butterfly field events we’ve ever had, and I’m sure there are still some being planned that will show up here eventually, so keep checking back regularly.


Posted in Events and Meetings, Field Trips/Annual Counts, general butterfly news | 2 Comments

Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for Week of 2018 April 21


Juniper Hairstreak making the most of a bad situation — invasive Callery Pear hybrids — on 2018 April 13 at Occoquan Bay NWR [photo by Judy Gallagher]

HIGHLIGHTS:  Juniper Hairstreak, White M Hairstreak, Gray Hairstreak, Eastern Tailed-bue, Appalachian Grizzled Skipper, Painted Lady, Red Admiral.

We had a brief flirtation with spring temperatures again last weekend before the temperatures plummeted during the week; the weekend coming up looks like sufficient sunshine and possible warm enough temps to bring out more butterflies.

Gossamer-wings are out and about in good numbers now; Juniper Hairstreak with several reports, an Eastern Tailed-blue, several reports of White M Hairstreak (which may portend an irruptive spring for this species, the first in several years), and Gray Hairstreak are all out.  Silvery Blue was flying this week in the shale barrens of south-central Virginia; so far only Summer Azure has been confirmed this season here but Blueberry Azure and Holly Azure are flying in NJ.  Henry’s and Pine Elfins are both on the wing.  This next week should see reports of Brown Elfin and American Copper (the latter has already been reported in NJ)  if not Red-banded Hairstreak.

The same expedition that recorded the Silvery Blues also found Appalachian Grizzled Skipper; as far as I can tell this handsome relative of Common Checkered-skipper has been extirpated from its former MD haunts in Green Ridge State Forest (but we continue to look!).  Other skippers noted this week regionally were Juvenal’s and Dreamy Duskywings.  Probably Horace’s Duskywings are flying among the Juvenal’s and just haven’t been picked out yet [UPDATE:  Soon as I posted this I saw an email from Walt Gould of Horace’s flying in College Park MD].  Odds are that Cobweb Skippers are flying with Olympia Marbles and in similar bluestem grass habitat around the area.  Wild Indigo Duskywing has become a rather early spring butterfly in recent years, signaling some kind of shift in its phenology, and I would be surprised if we don’t have reports of this skipper before May 1, even in this sluggish spring.


Appalachian Grizzled Skipper in Virginia shale barrens country [2018 April 18, photo by Barry Marts]

Swallowtails that have been seen so far this season include Zebra, Eastern Tiger, and Pipevine.

Additional flights of Olympia Marble were observed this week in Green Ridge State Forest, and multiple locations yielded both male and female Falcate Orangetips.  This is apparently a rather poor spring for Cabbage (Small) White, which is being seen late and in small numbers.  Orange and Clouded Sulphurs were both reported this week.

Brushfoots out and about currently include the Eastern Comma and Question Mark anglewings, a few Mourning Cloaks, Red Admiral, and a lone Painted Lady (which I suspect may be a lucky escapee or release from a school science project, given timing and location).  Conspicuously absent locally so far is American Snout, usually among the early arrivals on the nymphalid scene, but it has been spotted by NJ observers.  We’ll probably have American Lady this coming week as well.

Dicey weekend weather, sunny but unseasonably cool, although as of this morning the weather forecast has improved sufficiently to make me optimistic about my scheduled field trip for registrants in the Natural History Field Studies course on spring butterflies tomorrow in and around Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge. If you also get out and find the right microhabitats that are holding some butterflies, let us know here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Posted in Forecasts, sightings | 4 Comments