Barry Marts & co snapped this Brazilian Skipper this week at the botanic gardens in Norfolk. A harbinger of things to come in the /MDDC region?

Barry Marts & co snapped this Brazilian Skipper this week at the botanic gardens in Norfolk VA. A harbinger of things to come in the MD/DC region?

The big news this week is what’s NOT flying: Leonard’s Skipper, so far, at Soldiers Delight. Multiple sightings across PA, however. Liatris (also known as blazing star) is their preferred nectar source, and it’s already past peak given the hot dry weather this week, but several of us last weekend and through the week so far have checked out the Choate Mine Trail (the go-to spot for Leonard’s) in vain. Dick Smith is leading a walk there this weekend, so perhaps there will be some emergence before the field trip.  [Late breaking news:  Leonard’s just started emerging yesterday at Soldiers Delight, according to a report this morning from Barry Marts!]

Are there Brazilian Skippers in our mid-Atlantic future? Observers visiting Norfolk VA Botanic Gardens had this large southern skipper and canna specialist there this week, and that’s a rarity this far north even later in the season. Given the early sightings of Long-tailed Skipper and many Ocolas locally already, this may prove a very productive migrant skipper autumn.

Along the Carolina coast, multiple viewers reported thousands of Cloudless Sulphurs moving northward along the beach this week; with luck each of them have internal compasses fixed on DelMarVa. Little Yellow was seen in Howard Co MD earlier this week (first sighting in several years) behind Thomas Viaduct Middle School in Hanover. A first report for the county for many years of Hayhurst’s Scallopwing in the community gardens at the Howard Co Conservancy was also of interest but undocumented by photo or voucher; despite diligent searching only one individual was found, and that suggests perhaps it was an interloper brought in with nursery stock or garden supplies.

Multiple White M Hairstreaks were seen across the region this week, apparently the beginning of their final fall brood. At this time of year they especially favor the white Eupatorium species, like thoroughwort and white snakeroot.

Things were livelier to our south, where parties trekking Great Dismal Swamp NC/VA and environs (Virginia Beach and the afore-mentioned botanic gardens in Norfolk) found Creole Pearly-eye, Southern Pearly-eye, Great Purple Hairstreak, Duke’s Skipper, Palamedes Swallowtail, Long-tailed Skippers, Sleepy Oranges, Cloudless Sulphurs, and Gulf Fritillary (another southern migrant already pushing farther north than usual) in addition to the Brazilian Skipper above.

As noted earlier, Dick Smith is leading two field excursions this weekend:   Saturday, September 5, Butterflies Through Binoculars Foray – Elkhorn Community Gardens and Butterfly Meadow and Powerline Right-of-Way Vegetation Management Tract, 9:30 a.m. (2-3 hours); and Sunday, September 6, Serpentine Barrens Late Summer Butterflies – Slide Show and Hike, Visitor’s Center, Soldiers Delight NEA, Owings Mills, MD, 1-4 pm. See the LepLog calendar section for more details.

The Forecast is winding down for the year and we’ll do our last issue for the week of Sept. 19-20 (the autumnal equinox and astronomical start of fall). If you want to keep abreast of late-season sightings or happenings after that, sign up for MDLepsOdes on Google Groups.

Weather’s looking pretty good, somewhat cooler but sunny, for Saturday and Sunday of this long Labor Day weekend. Too far out to call Monday. If your weekend labors find you in the field and you see anything interesting, 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 in migration in 2013 at Point Lookout, St. Mary's Co MD [photo by REB]

Monarch in migration in 2013 at Point Lookout, St. Mary’s Co MD [photo by REB]

I noted in an earlier post that a spate of new papers representing long-term citizen science monitoring of Eastern Monarch fall migration populations published last month failed to observe the precipitous decline in Monarchs reported from their Oyamel fir wintering grounds in Mexico or trumpeted in the media for the American plains.  Here are two of the studies, one based on the well-known Journey North data (18 years) and Michigan’s Peninsula Point Monarch Monitoring Project (15 years).

Local researcher Leslie Ries at Georgetown University is among the coauthors of a paper that similarly found high variation year to year in Eastern summer Monarch populations reported from NABA and other counts but no statistically significant trend, downward, precipitous, catastrophic or other.  The trend in Mexico is grim, the authors say, but appears disconnected from summer populations, suggesting that GMO crops and other factors on the summering grounds have had minimal impact on Monarch populations.  Whatever is going on is likely either going on in Mexico or on the southward migration (likely linked to their passage through Texas, some researchers theorize).

By contrast, the fall count at Long Point on Lake Erie shows high variability that, corrected for some factors, shows a gradual 3% year over year decline that the authors postulate is related to lower egg densities in milkweed habitat (i.e., Monarchs appear not to be laying more eggs in remaining habitat to compensate for habitat loss, a finding of the Oberhuaser lab at the University of Minnesota).  Another Oberhauser paper in the set suggests a predetermined egg-laying density that Monarchs observe regardless of milkweed abundance, that might be related either/both to predators/parasites and disease.

Taken together, these papers paint a rather confusing picture of Monarch abundance.  The only compelling evidence of a drastic decline in Monarch populations seems to be on the overwintering grounds, and it’s hard to reconcile this with historically quite stable populations on the summer grounds (anecdotal observations notwithstanding).  But one thing seems pretty certain — planting Monarch waystations across the Eastern US is unlikely to make much of a dent in populations here, which seem to have enough milkweed and then some for larval food supplies, especially as there is likely much more milkweed available in the East now from agriculture and road construction that ever existed historically prior to European colonization (when most of the East was forested).

 

 Ed. Note:  I recently ran across this very interesting October 2013 blog piece on Blogspot from Beatriz Moisset’s excellent (and excellently referenced) Pollinators site (the specific URL for this article is http://pollinators.blogspot.com/2013/10/when-did-common-milkweed-become-common.html)
Moisett raises the concern I have voiced for some time, that in aspiring to restore late-twentieth-century numbers of Monarchs to those population levels we are attempting to recreate an historically inaccurate population level, a level artificially created by European settlement and sod-busting of the American plains.  Enjoy Moisett’s post, which begins below the illustration.
 

Monarch on common milkweed. © Beatriz Moisset. 2010

 

The prairies of this continent used to be rich in biodiversity before they were plowed under and turned into cropland. We can only guess at the structure of those lost plant communities by studying the remaining plots of prairie. A couple dozen species of milkweed (Asclepias) prospered in the Midwest two centuries ago, each adapted to its own habitat. Certain species preferred high moisture, others, drier spots. Some showed a preference for coarse, loose, damp, or undisturbed soils; still others did well on almost any soil type. Some needed more sunlight than others. A few survived drought or fire better than others.

Among this variety of habitat preferences, common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, a “weedy” or pioneer species, does best in disturbed areas, patches that, for a variety of reasons, have lost their established vegetation. In a few years, it is displaced by other species when the ecological succession continues. Two hundred years ago, disturbed spots must have been rather uncommon. Everything changed when the prairie became farmland and was annually plowed. Many species of these plants lost ground under the new treatment. However, plowing created ideal conditions for the common milkweed. It can grow between rows of plantings and along edges, and its deep rhizomes, underground stems, allow it to survive year after year despite plowing. Is this when common milkweed earned its name?

For many years, farming practices in the Midwest continued to disrupt the land creating the conditions that this plant prefers. Farmers dislike this plant for its tenacity. It is said that farmers rejoice at the sight of big fat yellow and black caterpillars devouring the cursed weed. By now, you probably guessed that those caterpillars are monarchs.

USDA map of corn production

Monarch butterflies feed on most types of Asclepias, but Asclepias syriaca is by far their main food source. Perhaps, when the prairie became our breadbasket, it also became the monarch’s breadbasket, who took advantage of the spreading weed.

In the meantime, all along the Eastern United States, forests were being cut down. A tree-covered area is not the right habitat for any types of milkweeds. When forests were cleared, the conditions favored by common milkweed emerged. Populations of monarchs must have grown along with the expansion of this plant.

If all this is true, and much of it may be just speculation, then these butterflies must have benefited from these man-made changes. We must ask ourselves: what were the monarch’s populations like before the expansion of common milkweed numbers? Were they as abundant before the early 1800s as in recent times? What were the population sizes in their overwintering sites in Mexico? We became aware of the monarch butterfly migration in the past one hundred years. The whole story of their incredible trip to Mexico became known only in recent years. Curiously, no references to monarchs in Mexico can be found until 1890. By then, the transformation of the Midwest with its expansion of common milkweed was well underway. Were their numbers in Mexico so low before this time to escape notice?

Present day discussions about monarchs and their preferred food plant, common milkweed, seem to accept the numbers reported around the 1950s as the norm. Those were the highest numbers ever recorded, and it is assumed that these had remained the same for a long time, perhaps from the days when glaciers receded, tens of thousands of years ago. However, we must consider the possibility that milkweeds and monarchs were never as abundant as in the twentieth century; that this is largely a man-made phenomenon. The numbers of both, plant and butterfly have been going down steadily in recent years. Is the new normal similar to the old normal of hundreds of years ago?

Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed. © Beatriz Moisset. 2010


Long-tailed Skipper from Harford Co MD this week

Long-tailed Skipper from Harford Co MD this week at Swan Harbor Farm [photo courtesy of and copyright Denis Quinn]

A couple of very exciting FOYs get headline billing in this Forecast: very early Clouded and Long-tailed Skippers. The Clouded Skipper was reported from the Howard County Conservancy property (MD) last weekend, and the Long-tailed Skipper from Swan Harbor Farm in Harford Co. MD, posted to NABA’s sightings page. Both are quite early records.

Other skippers also are showing well this past week, including a veritable explosion of Sachems. The DC count broke every record in its books since starting in 1996, and Sachem led the way with an astonishing 535 individuals – more than the combined total of individuals of all species on any previous DC count. Among the other skippers on the count at either the National Arboretum or Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens were Common Checkered-Skippers, Dion Skippers (six, at KAG; when the species was only first reported from DC just the weekend before; nine were reported the next day), and 12 Ocola Skippers. Southern Broken-dashes were also quite common. Elsewhere, Leonard’s Skipper has been reported from several PA locations but not yet spotted at our local go-to Leonard’s spot, Soldiers Delight near Baltimore. Other common grass skippers this week were Peck’s, Zabulon, and Tawny-edged; Fiery, Dun, and Crossline less so.

The summer hairstreak peak has come and gone, but fresh Gray and Red-banded Hairstreaks are being reported. Until today, the closest White M sighting to come in was from Philadelphia, but this afternoon one was observed briefly observed in Howard Co MD at the Gateway Business Park in Columbia.  However, you’d have to go all the way to the Great Dismal Swamp for a Great Purple Hairstreak, where a singleton was observed early last week. American Copper is scarce in the current brood, and Bronze Copper remains MIA. Eastern Tailed-blues aren’t exactly uncommon, but it’s a significantly smaller than expected brood currently on the wing. Summer Azures are tapering off but still flying.

Monarchs were reported on most field trips this past week, sometimes in considerable numbers. Northern Pearly-eye, Appalachian Brown, Red-spotted Purple and both Emperors (Hackberry and Tawny) are also flying. Red Admiral numbers have dropped precipitously. Variegated Fritillary has been seen in a number of locations this past week, as have fresh Meadow Fritillaries. While most Great Spangled Fritillaries are ragged almost past recognition as butterflies, a singularly pristine one was flying at the Plummer House butterfly garden in Anne Arundel Co MD on Sunday. Gulf Fritillaries are making their way rather far north already, well into NC. Carolina Satyr continues its expansion into Maryland, especially the western shore of the Bay, and are out in a new brood just now.

On the sulphur side, Cloudless Sulphurs are finally showing up in numbers locally, with 17 seen today in St. Mary’s Co MD.

Cliff Hence will be leading a Butterfly/Ode Walk this Saturday 8/29 at the Heinz NWR at Tinicum located near the Philadelphia Airport. This walk is free and open to the public. Meet 9 AM at the refuge Visitors Center.  For more information on this and other events at the refuge go to: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/John_Heinz/visit/upcomingevents.html

Forecast contributors mourn the passing last week of the long-time curator of the National Arboretum’s butterfly garden, Bob Speaker. Bob was a veteran butterfly counter and a gracious mentor to many of us exploring the unique connections between butterflies and botany in the mid-Atlantic. He will be sorely missed.

The weekend looks warm and dry with scattered clouds, generally very good butterfly weather. Remember if you go out butterfly hunting 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.

 

 

 

 

Friend and mentor Bob Speaker

Friend and mentor Bob Speaker

As many of you learned from Tom Stock’s report of the DC Annual Count results, the area lep community lost one of its most vibrant and respected mentors recently in the passing of Bob Speaker:

>>At the Youth Garden, I heard the terribly sad news that my friend Bob Speaker had passed away earlier in the week. Bob was a frequent participant on DC counts over the years, and had worked for years on the butterfly garden adjoining the Youth Garden. Bob has left me with many great memories of being together in the butterfly garden talking for hours about many things — politics, our lives, Chincoteague, birding, gardening, barbeque from Hogs on the Hill, and, every now and then, butterflies. Those of us who knew Bob will not forget his welcoming smile, his wry and self effacing humor, and his dedication to the butterfly garden. He will be missed.
I would like to dedicate this 18th District of Columbia Butterfly Count to Bob. He would have loved counting with us, as I feel he was in some way. <<

RootingDC also mourned Bob’s passing in a post on their Facebook page on Friday:

>>From our friends Kaifa Anderson Hall and The Washington Youth Garden: “A beloved member of the Washington Youth Garden — Bob Speaker, a.k.a, “Butterfly Bob” received his butterfly wings today and took flight. He devoted almost 20 years of volunteer service to the Washington Youth Garden, capturing the imaginations of all who entered the garden with his passion for and sea of knowledge of all things butterflies. Every inch of the garden was touched by his hands. He was the most humble teacher and mentor and most importantly an endearing friend to so many. His metamorphosis is now complete. Soar on Butterfly Bob, soar on the wings of love!”<<

A surprise Dion Skipper, new DC record, found by Tom Stock and Walt Gould scouting for the DC annual count at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens [2015 Aug 16, photo by Walt Gould]

A surprise Dion Skipper, new DC record, found by Tom Stock and Walt Gould scouting for the DC annual count at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens [2015 Aug 16, photo by Walt Gould]

Early appearances of southern specialties and the return of some recently scarce butterflies top the Forecast this week. Little Yellow was seen again this past weekend at Eastern Neck NWR in MD, along with a half-dozen Cloudless Sulphurs.  Sleepy Orange has also been making its way back into the area, evidenced by scattered reports throughout the region.  Checkered White was on the wing in the Catoctins.

The final Zebra Swallowtail flight of the season is at peak, at least at Eastern Neck, while Spicebush and Eastern Tiger flights are winding down. Fresh Black Swallowtails are still being reported, but Pipevine Swallowtail has been laying low or not flying this past week except for one report in southwest PA.

Skippers have finally started building in numbers, beginning with the near-irruption of Ocola Skippers throughout the region. Fiery Skippers are also abundant this year in most locations, along with both Southern and Northern Broken-dashes. Swarthy Skipper is especially common; so too is Silver-spotted Skipper. Sachem is not, surprisingly. Common Checkered-skipper has been reported sparingly, and the current broods of Horace’s and Wild Indigo Duskywing are several weeks into their last generation. Zabulon Skipper is quite common (including further incursions into southern PA) this season. Least Skipper is flying but not very common this year. A surprising Dion Skipper was spotted by the scouting party for the DC count in Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a likely new record for the District. Peck’s, Crossline, Dun, and Little Glassywing are also still out, but not in great numbers.  A very early (in my mind anyway) Leonard’s Skipper was observed in north-central PA this week; visitors to Soldiers Delight or other barrens this weekend should keep their eyes sharp for this one.  Aaron’s and Saltmarsh Skippers were flying at Bombay Hook NWR DE.

Fresh hairstreaks out now include Red-banded and Gray, but White M has not been reported since spring. Nor has Great Purple Hairstreak been reported from the MD Eastern Shore yet this year. Eastern Tailed-blues are in a modest flight, but Summer Azure is flying pretty well just now, especially in the vicinity of blooming Devil’s Walking-stick shrubs.

Monarchs were very common at Eastern Neck and showed up on almost every observer’s list this week, still in oviposition mode. Viceroy is out, a fresh brood of Red-spotted Purples is out, and fresh Pearl Crescents are flying. The promise of a large final summer brood of Silvery Checkerspot, signaled by large numbers of caterpillars seen earlier in many stands of Wingstem, seems to have fizzled out. Eastern Commas were observed laying eggs on nettle this weekend; Question Mark is also on the wing. Common Wood-nymphs are recently out again, and fresh Appalachian Browns were picked up in several spots. American Snouts were all over the Devil’s Walking-stick at Eastern Neck and reported from a number of other locations, as have both fellow Hackberry specialists Tawny and Hackberry Emperor.  Very fresh Red Admirals were widely observed in the mid-Atlantic.

The DC Annual 4th of July (or thereabouts) NABA Count will be held Saturday (Aug. 22), with the count circle centered on the US National Arboretum. In addition to the Arbo, the count team expects to cover Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Last year’s count yielded up a surprising White Admiral at the USNA in addition to Harvester at KAG. The rain date is Sunday, Aug 23 — though at this point, the long range forecast does not include rain. Counting will start at 9:30 a.m. Meet in the parking lot of the Arboretum Visitor Center near the R Street entrance. There will be NO FEE for this count. However, if anyone wishes to make a voluntary $3 contribution, it will be passed along to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) to cover the costs of coordinating the counts and compiling the data. If you would like to participate or have any questions, feel free to get in touch with Tom Stock, via email: altomomatic |AT| Verizon |DOT| net.

Whether as part of the DC count or otherwise, 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.

Ocola Skipper in Harford Co MD [2015 Aug 3, courtesy of Matt Hafner]

Ocola Skipper in Harford Co MD [2015 Aug 3, courtesy of Matt Hafner]

 Ocola Skipper headlines this forecast, with a report last week from a Harford Co MD yard. As regular readers know, we’ve been predicting a good fall for southern migratory skippers, but this is still the only Ocola reported so far in our area.

Other skippers of note this week included both Northern and Southern Broken-dashes, Aaron’s Skipper at Eastern Neck NWR, increasing numbers of Fiery Skippers across the region, an abundance of Tawny-edged and Swarthy Skippers in Anne Arunded Co MD, and a fresh brood of Horace’s Duskywing (evidenced by their pristine conditions). Little Glassywings were everywhere, fresh Zabulon Skippers are out, Harper’s Ferry gave us Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, and Silver-spotted Skippers are still superabundant in most places. Crossline has been surprisingly uncommon this season, as has Least Skipper (although a few reports trickled in this week). Peck’s and Sachems are out in modest numbers in most locations. A single Common Checkered-skipper sighting came in this week; ditto a single Delaware Skipper. Broad-winged Skippers are beginning another flight.

In the western MD mountains, multiple Gray Commas and Harvesters were reported, as well as continuing good numbers of Monarchs, fritillaries (Aphrodite, Great Spangled, and Meadow). Appalachian Brown is also flying there. Variegated Fritillaries were reported sparingly across the area, even as southern Canadian butterfly observers are experiencing what looks like the beginning of an invasion year for this species. If you are willing to travel to Rickett’s Glen PA, more than a dozen Compton’s Tortoiseshells stole the show on a recent foray there. American Snouts were seen at multiple locations in crisp, newly emerged shape. Pearl Crescents are common in most expected habitats; some observers report good numbers of Silvery Checkerspots and others report none (despite large numbers of cats earlier in the season). Red Admiral numbers are waning from a peak the past two weeks. Common Buckeye, while not yet common here, have been reported mostly as singletons across the region. Northern Pearly-eye was seen by several observers this week, as were both Hackberry and Tawny Emperors.

Cloudless Sulphurs are still mostly MIA except for a handful on the VA Eastern Shore count, but Sleepy Oranges apparently are pushing their way north, with a dozen on the Loudoun Co VA butterfly count. Several separate visits to Eastern Neck NWR failed to turn up the previously reported Little Yellows.

Another Giant Swallowtail turned up this week, this one near Harper’s Ferry. A large flight of Zebra Swallowtails is on the wing, and all the other expected swallowtails were seen in numbers except for Pipevine, which was not reported this week locally but was seen in western PA.

Among the blues and azures, only Summer Azure is flying now and it is relatively common in most areas. Fresh Eastern Tailed-blues are out, as are immaculate Gray Hairstreaks and Red-banded Hairstreaks.  White M is unaccountably absent, as has been Great Purple Hairstreak.  American Copper is flying again, but Bronze Copper regionally has not put in an appearance.

The upcoming weekend should be cooler and partly cloudy for butterfly watching after some heavy rains late this week. As always, if you see anything interesting, please share your sightings with us using the comment function on LepLog.wordpress.com or join us for discussion on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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