Mass puddle parties of mixed duskywings are a common sight in the mountains this week [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA, photo by REB]

Mass puddle parties of mixed duskywings are a common sight in the mountains this week [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA, photo by REB]

Despite a few rocky weather days and a return to cool weather, FOY species were reported throughout the region over the past week, and this weekend should see most of the typical spring species out between showers.

All the expected local swallowtails except Giant Swallowtail have been reported, and it’s still early for Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail in the western provinces. While tiger swallowtails were abundant on a foray into south-central Virginia last weekend, they were all small, early-spring variants of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Clouded and Orange Sulphurs have been flying for a few weeks now, and even Sleepy Orange made an appearance at North Patuxent Research Refuge. Of the local elfins (Henry’s, Brown, and Eastern Pine), all have been reported; Henry’s Elfin in particular was in double-digit numbers in several locations. Brown Elfins have been much harder to come by, especially in their known locations in Frederick Watershed Forest, but were finally observed late this week in their traditional haunts there.

Of the nymphalids, American Ladies were seen in several locations, some ovipositing on blooming pussytoes. Singleton Red Admirals have been observed, likely brought north on strong southerly winds and presaging a good first local hatch in a month or so. Mourning Cloaks have already started to decline in numbers at lower elevations, although Eastern Commas are still pretty common. Question Mark has been uncommon so far this spring. By contrast, a surprise early Monarch showed up on Roosevelt Island in the District!  Pearl Crescents should be next up.

The azure complex has gotten more complex over the last week, now that Spring Azure is flying alongside “spring” Summer Azure. Presumably, Holly Azure is also flying on the Coastal Plain. We’re still a couple of weeks out from Appalachian AzureEastern Tailed-blue is now out, complementing the peak flight of Silvery Blue in the mountains.

Non-spreadwing skippers made an appearance this week, Appalachian Grizzled Skippers in the mountains of Virginia and Silver-Spotted Skippers in several locations nearer DC. And for spreadwings, Juvenal’s and Horace’s Duskywing numbers are building, Dreamy and Sleepy are at peak flight in the mountains, and the first Wild Indigo Duskywings will probably be seen this week.

Both White M and Gray Hairstreaks were reported this week; the first Juniper Hairstreaks were seen as well.  Red-banded Hairstreak should also be flying — I had it just today in TN — but the rainy forecast suggests it will be a long shot to see one this weekend. If you do spot one, 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.

Megathymus yuccae basking on warm asphalt between showers [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN; photo by REB]

Megathymus yuccae basking on warm asphalt between showers [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN; photo by REB]

I arrived by car a day early for a conference in the Knoxville TN area, fresh off the excitement of Saturday’s foray in Virginia for Appalachian Grizzled Skipper.  The weather took a decided turn for the worst later that day, though, and the last 24 hours had been rain-soaked and violent.  Even this morning I woke to a thunderstorm in progress, but checking the weather and seeing the potential for some clearing later in the day, I decided to chance a trip about 2 hours south to Chattanooga, where colleagues from the Tennessee Valley NABA chapter (Dave Spicer and Bill Haley) had tipped me off to the presence of a small colony of Yucca Giant-skippers.  This would be a life butterfly for me, but I was warned that a search for them last weekend turned up nothing — too early in the season.  Since then, they’d been seen in western TN, but not yet in the eastern part of the state. Giant-skippers of the genus Megathymus come by their common name honestly — they are VERY large skippers, looking much like heavy-bodied sphinx moths with short wings.  They flutter more than other skippers their size, and are most often seen at rest.

Promising clump of yucca to investigate for Megathymus [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN, photo by REB]

Promising clump of yucca to investigate for Megathymus [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN, photo by REB]

Yucca Giant-skipper, M. yuccae, is rare and local throughout its range in the Southeast, where the caterpillars bore down the apical meristem of yucca plants, killing the main stalk.  Adults are active very early in the season, hence my visit to Chattanooga.  The park where I’d been directed has clumps of yucca scattered throughout, but seldom in large quantities, so I was expecting a fairly intensive search.  Nor was the weather cooperating, with fresh thundershowers threatening at regular intervals.  Luckily, the rain held off and gave way by midafternoon to partly cloudy and warm conditions.

Goatweed Leafwing, a consolation prize early in the hike for finding no giant-skippers [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN; photo by REB]

Goatweed Leafwing, a consolation prize early in the hike for finding no giant-skippers [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN; photo by REB]

Meantime, I had other interesting sightings, notably five (or more) Goatweed Leafwings, many unidentified Juvenal’s/Horace’s duskywings, and Spicebush Swallowtails in addition to a squadron of Swamp Darners hanging in shrubs over a wet seep.  I was about to give up on the giant-skippers, having nosed around half a dozen clumps of yucca over the course of a couple of hours, when I decided to return one last to the largest clump I’d seen — now in full sun. I walked up to the yucca plants, some near the roadside and a few back under the trees, and poked around for a while, all to no avail.  But suddenly from a plant at the back of the patch a large, ungainly bat-like skipper rose out of the yuccas, only to return hovering and fluttering around the base of other yuccas and occasionally resting on bare ground or asphalt.  Shortly I spotted another along the roadside resting on asphalt.  Neither was terribly wary, allowing close approach even with my dinky point-and-shoot Lumix camera.

Success! My first Yucca Giant-skipper taking a break from buzzing the yuccas [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN; photo by REB]

Success! My first Yucca Giant-skipper taking a break from buzzing the yuccas [2015 APR 20, Hamilton Co TN; photo by REB]

The sun was quickly doused by rain clouds again, the breeze sprang up more fiercely, and both skippers disappeared back into the woods near the yuccas.  But not without indelibly imprinting on my memory!

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper on dandelion in Alleghany Co VA [2015 APR 18, photo by Matt Orsie]

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper on dandelion in Alleghany Co VA [2015 APR 18, photo by Matt Orsie]

I had been bummed when Mike Smith announced on a couple of local listservs that he planned to do a foray to a known location for Appalachian Grizzled Skipper in Alleghany Co VA on Sunday this weekend — a day I’d already be headed south of there for a week of work-related travel in eastern TN.  But the weather intervened, promising a soaking for Sunday, so Mike switched the trip to today — Saturday — and I was able to join the trip en route.

It’s a long drive from College Park, so I left after work yesterday and drove down to Covington where I picked a hotel and slept in to meet Mike the other foray participants by 9:30 at our caravan point, the old Humpback Covered

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper (ventral) on dandelion in Alleghany Co VA [photo by Matt Orsie]

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper (ventral) on dandelion in Alleghany Co VA [photo by Matt Orsie]

Bridge.  From there we trooped across Alleghany County to a series of logging roads over extensive shale.  Mike had promised us a hike of about a mile up to where the skippers had been seen previously, but it was a drop-dead gorgeous day with warm temperatures and full sun so even the prospect of a long walk wasn’t much of a damper on my enthusiasm.

And my optimism was rewarded.

Clouds of Dreamy Duskywings were all along our walk [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA; photo by REB]

Clouds of Dreamy Duskywings were all along our walk [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA; photo by REB]

After only about a quarter-mile in, along a logging road with exposed shale (on which was blooming dwarf cinquefoil, the grizzled skipper larval host plant), we stopped to admire Silvery Blues, which were so common by the end of the day they were quite ho-hum.  But not this early in the hike.  And while we watched a couple at the side of the road, along bopped a small gray-and-white skipper:  our target, Appalachian Grizzled Skipper.  And before we got even halfway to the ridgetop where prime viewing was supposed to start, we had more than a half dozen others, nectaring on dandelions, shale barrens pussytoes, and cinquefoil.

Matt Orsie points out another Appalachian Grizzled Skipper.

Matt Orsie points out another Appalachian Grizzled Skipper.

We had to work hard for the other four, spread out across the landscape.  But the search for more skippers also yielded elfins in double digits:  an elfin trifecta of Eastern Pine, Brown, and Henry’s Elfins.  We also saw a good selection of other FOYs for many of us:  Falcate Orangetips, Orange and Clouded Sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-blues, numerous Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (including dark morph females), Spring Azure, Spicebush Swallowtail, and a couple of puddle parties of mixed Dreamy, Sleepy, and Juvenal’s Duskywings.

Eastern Pine Elfin was one of the elfin trifecta we had for the day [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA; photo by REB]

Eastern Pine Elfin was one of the elfin trifecta we had for the day [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA; photo by REB]

When we reconvened at the Humpback Bridge at midafternoon, I thanked our guides and caravan drivers and headed on south to get a little farther south before tomorrow, where I have a slim prospect of some early morning birding before rain sets in for the rest of the day.  En route I also picked up FOY Zebra Swallowtails and Juniper Hairstreaks on some of the back roads down to Roanoke.  Tonight I’m writing from a hotel in Wytheville, convenient to Mount Rogers for a morning outing before heading on down to Oak Ridge by end of day.  With a little luck the rains will hold off a bit in the morning!

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper Habitat [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA; photo by REB]

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper Habitat [2015 APR 18, Alleghany Co VA; photo by REB]

Olympia Marble in Allegany Co MD [2015 APR 15, photo by Walter Gould]

Olympia Marble in Allegany Co MD [2015 APR 15, photo by Walter Gould]

The temperatures have been moderate but rain over this past week has put a bit of a damper on FOYs this week. Judging from the reports, numbers but not diversity was building, and the hotspots of activity were N. VA and western Maryland.

Several of us spent time in Allegany County over the weekend and early week, checking out the mountain ridges and shale barrens for regional specialties. Olympia Marble is flying early this season, beating both Cabbage (Small) Whites and Falcate Orangetips to the early cresses blooming on south-facing slopes. Mourning Cloaks, Commas, and Question Marks were flying in Green Ridge State Forest, as were Sleepy and Dreamy Duskywings, Juvenal’s Duskywing, Silvery Blues, Spring and “spring” Summer Azures, and even an early Zebra Swallowtail.

Monday while exploring in Green Ridge State Forest, I stopped at the pulloff for Billmeyer WMA on Route 40 to check out the mature cedars here for Juniper Hairstreak (unsuccessfully, as it happens). But since it was right there and I wasn’t hiking in, I left my camera and net in the car and was scanning the trees with my bins looking for those dark shark fins at the tips of cedar branches. At the edge of my vision I saw a flash of orange, Comma-sized, and turned just in time to watch a MILBERT’S TORTOISESHELL stop briefly on a wild cherry trunk before diving into the spruces and out of sight. I hung around for an hour or so — with net and camera now, of course — but no repeat sighting.

Only Henry’s Elfin has been reported locally so far; searches in the appropriate habitats for both Eastern Pine and Brown Elfins were unsuccessful.  I expect folks will find both in the field on Saturday (but Sunday looks like a complete washout).

Sightings of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail and various duskywings are coming in from all over VA, so they should be flying here shortly.

In the appropriate habitats, West Virginia White is almost certainly on the wing but has not yet been reported. Ditto for Gray Comma.

There’s a planned expedition on Saturday to Covington VA for a chance at Appalachian Grizzled Skipper. Contact trip organized Mike Smith (foresmiths@comcast.net) for information.

The coming weekend is a mixed bag weather-wise, but 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.

Question Mark with a horde of Gonia frontosa flies on dried scat [2015 April 5, Green Ridge State Forest, MD -- photo by REB]

Question Mark with a horde of Gonia frontosa flies on dried scat [2015 April 5, Green Ridge State Forest, MD — photo by REB]

Finally, a weekend of warm and sunny weather on tap this weekend – at least from the vantage point of Thursday long-range forecasts! The warmer weather and sunshine should bring out another flush of new FOY butterflies.

As predicted, we had a number of “firsts” this past week – Falcate Orangetip, Cabbage (Small) White, Henry’s Elfin. Given a few more warm days, even if they are drizzly, the weekend sun should provide emergence of more azures (possibly Spring Azure as well as the “Spring” Summer Azure already about), Clouded and Orange Sulphurs, and two more elfins, Brown and Eastern Pine.

More reports came pouring in from Virginia over the weekend for flying Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Juvenal’s Duskywing, Zebra Swallowtail, and Sleepy Orange. We can expect all of these over the next two weeks in the DC area. And we can also hope for additional southern migrants like Painted Lady to be out on cress, henbit, dead-nettle, and dandelion. Early-season hairstreaks before the end of April are likely to include White-M, Gray, Juniper and Red-banded – any or all could pop early given a few extra-warm days.

The strong southwesterly gales of this week seem to have brought early migrants up from the south; Common Green Darners were reported all over the Delmarva, the DC area, and into PA.  A Red Admiral turned up on Chincoteague Island, fresh and almost certainly migrant.

Here’s hoping the weekend forecast pans out, and 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.

Mourning Cloak, first butterfly reported on the wing in Maryland this season

Mourning Cloak, first butterfly reported on the wing in Maryland this season

Welcome to another season of weekend field forecasts!  This will be your weekly (time permitting) quick guide to what others have been seeing in the field over the past week or two and that could or should be showing up in our favorite field locations in the mid-Atlantic over the week to come.

It’s been a slow start to this spring; so far, from Maryland, only Mourning Cloak and anglewings have been reported, where in past years we often had whites, sulphurs and azures by the end of March. But the warm weather of this week is likely to boost the numbers of Commas and Question Marks on the wing by the weekend, and to bring out the first “Spring” Summer Azures (the first azures in flight in our area; it gets trickier by the time dogwoods are in bloom), Falcate Orangetips, and Cabbage (Small) Whites, in addition to Clouded and Orange Sulphurs. Last year was a poor one for these two sulphurs that mirrored a poor field season overall; perhaps early spring numbers in the next few weeks for these species will be an indicator of what to expect for the rest of the season.

Elfins should be up pretty quickly too, led off by Eastern Pine, usually in flight as shadbush and highbush blueberry reach their peak. Henry’s Elfin usually begins flying as the eastern redbuds break into bloom, and Brown Elfin can usually be found nectaring on the flowers of low-growing blueberries and other vacciniums.

To our south in the Carolinas, the season is already well advanced, with Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Juniper Hairstreaks, Meadow Fritillaries, Silvery Blue and Snout on the wing. A week of consistently warm weather here could compress our spring and bring everything out at once. And don’t necessarily turn your nose up at an opportunity to be in the field when the temps are still pretty low as long as there is strong sun: The Mourning Cloaks I had along the C&O Canal last Sunday near Downsville were flying on a 43-degree afternoon, although the temperatures close to the dark, moist soil of the old canal bed were undoubtedly considerably higher. When flushed, they stuck close to the ground instead of going up into the (presumably colder) trees.  Many early butterflies similarly stick close to the ground, where early cresses, dandelions, and other low-growing spring flowers hunker down out of the wind.

Looks like Easter 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.

Plate from V1 of Jones Icones

Plate from V1 of Jones Icones

William Jones (1745-1818) was a premier English naturalist and entomologist known today mostly for his collection of some 1,500 watercolors of butterflies and moths. The 6-volume collection, Jones Icones, in the hands of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, illustrates specimens from around the world, including specimens from the collections of Dru Drury, Joseph Banks and John Francillon as well as a few from the British Museum and Linnean Society collections.  Sadly, this stunning collection of illustrations has never been published.

On his death, the watercolors, Jones’ notepads, and a modest but historically important butterfly collection (including specimens of the now-extinct Large Copper Butterfly, Lycaena dispar), went to his cousin John Drewitt and remained in the Drewitt family until the 1920s, at which time they were transferred to Oxford.

Now the Heritage Lottery Fund has supported digitizing the watercolors and many of the other items in the collection, which was just loaded online as Flying Icons: The Collection of William Jones of Chelsea (1745-1818).  They’re amazing plates.

But for the keen lepidopterist, the Museum has a challenge:

>>Many of the butterflies and moths represented in Jones’ ‘Icones’ have never been identified, and no extensive attempt has been made to attribute all the Lepidoptera in the Icones with their modern species names. This would provide an invaluable resource to anyone studying Lepidoptera and could change our understanding of the history of the discipline and the naming of these species.

We need your help to accomplish this enormous task. If you are a Lepidoptera systematist, a keen and knowledgeable collector of butterflies or moths … or simply want to have a go at identifying butterflies and moths, then please request an account. If you already have an account, then please sign in and contribute!<<

You don’t need an account just to browse, though.

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