Final Forecast of the 2016 Season — Week Beginning 2016 Sept 24

American Snout on thoroughwort in Howard Co MD [2016 Sept 20, photo by Jim Wilkinson]

A fresh American Snout on thoroughwort in Howard Co MD [2016 Sept 20, photo by Jim Wilkinson]

It’s the month of final hurrahs for summer butterflies; except for a few irruptive southern migrants like Common Buckeye we’re seeing the last of the large flights of butterflies for the season. If you’re lucky enough to have found the few spots of sunshine in the area today, or get out after the cold front passes tomorrow, you’ll still have some good butterfly observing and a chance at a couple of FOYs still this month.

Still MIA is Clouded Skipper, which is being seen in some numbers as far north as the Raleigh area but for which I have not yet seen any local records this year. Ocola Skippers are still being seen throughout the region, and Long-tailed Skippers are showing up in many locations. The normal grass skippers have peaked, including Sachem, but a new influx or emergence of Fiery Skippers is currently dominating a lot of area lantana patches. A few Leonard’s Skippers are still on the wing in their preferred habitat.

Monarchs are showing a strong flight in parts of the area, including dozens this week on the National Mall. A growing hypothesis is that the “dearth” of Monarchs in the mid-Atlantic area in the fall where they used to be common owes more to changing biogeography (and especially nectar sources) than it does to sheer numbers.

With one exception, swallowtail numbers are declining. There’s currently a fresh brood of Pipevine Swallowtails on the wing, where again a dozen or more were frequenting the Haupt Garden near the Smithsonian Castle in downtown DC this week. Palamedes is probably on the wing (and will be for another couple of weeks) in extreme Delmarva, and at least one Giant Swallowtail was noted in the past couple of weeks in the region.

Sleepy Oranges are in flight now; in some places in rather large numbers. Cloudless Sulphurs also are about in good numbers.

Hairstreak numbers also are dropping; exceptions are White M (several observations this week) and Gray. Azures still showed up very occasionally, and even Eastern Tailed-blues are tattered and dwindling. Great Purple Hairstreak should still be flying, however, in southern MD and DE. A few American Copper sightings came in, but no recent Bronze Copper observations (this species flies well into October on the Delmarva Peninsula).

Good numbers of Viceroys and Red-spotted Purples were also well represented in reports this week, as were laggard Meadow Fritillaries and diminishing numbers of Variegated Frits. Fresh Red Admirals were on the wing, giving hope for a final good flights. Commas and Question Marks were also reported; these are mostly on windfall fruit or puddling.  Fresh Snouts are out too.

This will be the last Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the 2016 season, which wraps up each year on the last weekend of September. But if you want to continue hearing about sightings until the first heavy frosts, follow MDLepsOdes on Google Groups.   Thanks for following us this year, and look for the Forecast to return in April 2017.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week Beginning 2016 Sept 17

One of several Sleepy Oranges on the trails of the Pickering Creek Audubon Center last Sunday [2016 Sept 11, MD Talbot Co, photo by REB]

One of several Sleepy Oranges on the trails of the Pickering Creek Audubon Center last Sunday [2016 Sept 11, MD Talbot Co, photo by REB]

This weekend promises – or at least hints at – rain, which the area needs very badly as the nectar sources typically don’t produce much nectar under drought stress. But the warm, dry weather has brought a spate of fall sightings locally and regionally.

Topping the list locally was Checkered White in Howard Co MD; there’s a large flight of Small (Cabbage) Whites currently in progress and I suspect there are more Checkereds among them for wont of close inspection. Little Yellow racked up a couple more (but sporadic) reports this past week, but it’s Sleepy Orange that has really piled on the sightings – a veritable irruption in northern VA and some dozens in Talbot Co on the MD Eastern Shore. Cloudless Sulphurs are also have a very strong flight, abetted in recent days I suspect by the southeasterly winds.

For many of us, FOY Painted Ladies showed up in the past few weeks, including four near Centreville MD in the ROW between Route 301 and Carville Price Road, which parallels 301. This is an especially rich, moist, nectar laden oasis that anyone on the way to the Delaware beaches or up to Eastern Neck NWR should check out en route. Filled with swallowtails (Spicebush, mostly, but also a few Eastern Tigers, a single Black, and a probable Pipevine), Monarchs (among the most common butterflies there), Common Buckeyes, and a selection of skippers – multitudes of Silver-spotteds and lower numbers of Leasts and Sachem, some unidentified duskwyings, and a solitary Ocola.

Observers should keep their eyes on those Silver-spotted Skippers this time of year, as Long-tailed Skippers have been reported to our south and as far north as New Jersey and CT. So they are clearly on the move now. Common Checkered-skippers are also flying; they’re one of the highlights of fall when they’ve been scarce most of the rest of the year. Aaron’s, Broad-winged, and Salt Marsh Skippers are still flying as well. Still waiting to make an appearance locally are Clouded and Eufala Skippers.

Viceroys and Red-spotted Purples are out and about as well, as are pristine Commas and Question Marks. The former will be in their last brood but may persist through the first frosts; the latter will join us again as overwintering adults next March. Pearl Crescents are having their best flight of the season, and there were also a couple of reports of Silvery Checkerspots mixed in regionally.

A very few Summer Azure reports trickled in (one from my back yard in College Park just this morning). There’s a modest flight of Eastern Tailed-blues (seems not to have been a particularly good year for them), and a number of White M reports to complement the much more widely observed Gray Hairstreaks. A couple of Red-banded Hairstreaks also make the list this week. No reports of coppers of any kind, or of Great Purple Hairstreak.

This cool weekend will again give way to high temps, high humidity and hot sunshine by midweek. If you dodge the clouds and and showers this weekend, please report back what you find to us for the next Forecast by commenting here at or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week Beginning 2016 Sept 10

Tom Stock's photo this week of Leonard's Skipper on blazing star (Liatris) at Soldiers Delight in Baltimore Co MD.

Tom Stock’s photo this week of Leonard’s Skipper on blazing star (Liatris) at Soldiers Delight in Baltimore Co MD.

Diversity and numbers are up this week, a last hurrah for the season, led by the seasonal emergence this week of Leonard’s Skippers at Soldiers Delight in Baltimore Co.  It’s all downhill from here, folks!

The major explosion of Sachems over the last three weeks is already starting to show wear and tear, but the numbers are still high, while Peck’s Skipper numbers still seem to be building. Singletons or low numbers of Crossline and Little Glassywing came in; no reports of either Broken-dash, Swarthy or Dun. Fresh Silver-spotted Skippers are flying, and large-bodied skippers like this should be double-checked to make sure they aren’t Long-tailed (which often as not lacks the long tail and then looks a lot like Silver-spotted at first glance). Fiery Skipper hasn’t been seen much after a spate of early promising sightings.

Ocola Skippers were widespread – and in fact widely reported well into New England (NY, CT, MA).

Otherwise there hasn’t been much change since last week, except to note the burst of Cloudless Sulphurs (they were omnipresent at Eastern Neck NWR last weekend). Fresh swallowtails – Spicebush, Black, and (surprising to me) Zebra – were also zipping around the butterfly garden there. Immaculately fresh Pipevine Swallowtails were noted several times on DC’s National Mall this week.

Clouds of Monarchs were also at Eastern Neck, predominantly female and clearly already in reproductive diapause with no interest expressed by any of the males. Intent nectaring for the flight south.

Tomorrow looks like a scorcher to (we hope) end the torrid summer, but Sunday looks picture perfect for butterflying from the forecast. If you go out, please report back what you find to us for the next Forecast by commenting here at or posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week Beginning 2016 Sept 3

Salt Marsh Skippers are flying in coastal habitats; look for them on goldenrod and salt marsh fleabane [photo courtesy Barry Marts, 2016 Aug 20]

Salt Marsh Skippers are flying in coastal habitats; look for them on goldenrod and salt marsh fleabane [photo courtesy Barry Marts, 2016 Aug 20]

With the remnants of Hermine due to visit the mid-Atlantic toward the middle and end of the Labor Day weekend, the Forecast is a little up in the air (pun intended) for what’s likely to be out and about in the markedly cooler weather. And of course, there’s always the possibility that some southern migrants might be pushed northward up the coast, although this storm is unlikely to produce much in the way of butterfly fallout.  If we get rain from it, that might freshen up the nectar sources a bit.

It’s been a good week locally for grass skippers, after a rather anemic summer so far for these species. Zabulon Skippers are hanging on in some spots longer than is their normal wont, and Common Checkered-skippers are making a good showing throughout the region. Fresh female Sachems are out this week to join the clouds of male Sachems flying over the past ten days, and the new brood of Peck’s Skippers seems pretty much everywhere too (and by that I mean on most buddleia bushes with any amount of bloom on them). Other grass skippers are less common. Least Skippers were ubiquitous this week in the right habitats. Salt Marsh and Aaron’s Skippers are flying well along DE coastal marshes (Bronze Copper is still flying there as well); Salt Marsh Skipper this time of year is especially fond of salt marsh fleabane as a nectar source. Ocola Skipper is having a banner year so far with most observers reporting multiple sightings from field trips. No reports yet of Leonard’s Skipper, but I suspect it will be seen this weekend if the weather cooperates; neither Clouded nor Long-tailed Skippers have been reported locally yet either but could show up any day.

Among the duskywings, Horace’s is especially plentiful this late summer, although Wild Indigo is still in flight as well.

Cloudless Sulphurs are now pretty much overspread in the mid-Atlantic; look for them especially on various sages. Little Yellow is having its best year in the past four or five summers, although some usual locations are still missing them.

Fritillaries on the wing have included surprisingly long-lived Great Spangled, increasing numbers of Variegated (possible the prelude to a huge final fall flight), and a few Meadow Frits. Red-spotted Purples, Red Admirals, both anglewings (which will hibernate and re-emerge in the spring), Common Wood-nymph, both emperors, and Northern Pearly-eye round out the assortment of other widely reported nymphalids this week; no Viceroys made the lists, nor did any Ladies.  Common Buckeyes are living up to their name but none of the fall “rosa”form have been reported yet locally.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, and fresh Pipevines are currently on the wing. Few reports of Spicebush, which seems to have finished up, and no Giant sightings.

If Hermine doesn’t wash out the weekend and you make it out into the field, please report back to us for the next Forecast by commenting here at or posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week Beginning 2016 Aug 27

Second-generation Delaware Skipper from the Lancaster PA area this week [photo courtesy Tom Raub]

Second-generation Delaware Skipper, one of several seen the same day, from the Lancaster PA area this week [photo courtesy Tom Raub]

This week begins the Season of the Sachem. Every lantana, every zinnia, every Joe Pye weed flowerhead has its golden-brown skippers in attendance, 99 percent of which will turn out to be Sachems. This week the preponderance is overwhelmingly bright orange males; females will turn out over the next week or 10 days in numbers as well.

Other grass skippers are still around, too, if dwarfed in number by Sachems. Fiery Skipper has yet to be seen in any numbers, but Southern Broken-dash is still being seen regularly if only as singletons. Ocola Skippers are well represented by sightings this week, especially the farther south one goes. Crossline, Tawny-edged, Dun, and Swarthy Skippers were few and far between, as was Little Glassywing; Silver-spotted Skippers have already begun to decline from a sizable brood only a week or two ago. The common duskywing in flight at the moment is Wild Indigo, although Horace’s is still around so each duskywing should be inspected. Dion Skippers in some numbers were reported last week and should be watched for in estuarine marshes on pickerel weed where it is blooming. Salt Marsh and Aaron’s Skippers remain on the wing in the coastal marshes.

The most interesting skipper sighting this week is of a local population explosion of Delaware Skippers as a fresh brood in south-central PA. While we normally think of Delawares as single brooded in our area, it is reliably double- or even triple-brooded farther south, and there are records in regional databases of late August and early September specimens still in pretty fresh shape that suggest this species is double-brooded here at least in some years (an irregularity much like Hessel’s Hairstreak that sometimes skips its summer generation in poor years responding to environmental cues we don’t fully understand). This time of year they might be confused if mixed in with fresh, bright male Sachems.

Summer nymphalids are wrapping up; a single Meadow Fritillary made the lists this week, and greater fritillaries are done for until 2017. Searches for female Dianas in the VA and NC mountains turned up empty but did score worn males; veteran observers in the mountains have noted this has been a poor flight year for Great Spangled, Aphrodite, Atlantis and Diana Fritillaries. A couple of Silvery Checkerspot reports have come in, but generally they are scarce in the current generation, and the normal large flight of Pearl Crescents seems to be much reduced this season. Comma and Question Mark were reported across the area, as was a single Mourning Cloak. The latter three should be looked for on windfall apples and pears in old orchards this time of year, along with Red-spotted Purple, Viceroy (if the orchard is near willow), ladies, and Red Admirals. Feeding trays with rotting fruit are also quite productive in late summer and early fall. Buckeye numbers are low but should be laying eggs on gerardia and plantain for a good final brood in late September and October.  Wet woods are still yielding a final generation of Appalachian Brown, and open meadows have the final flight of Common Wood Nymph.

Monarchs were reported by many if not most butterfly observers in the field this past week, including a dozen or more on the National Mall today. Red-banded and Gray Hairstreaks were reported, along with dwindling numbers of Summer Azures. Great Purple Hairstreak was noted in a few locations on the Eastern Shore over the past few weeks, as has Bronze Copper (in DE). American Coppers have not had a good year in the mid-Atlantic and the current flight is no exception.

Among the swallowtail tribe, Black and Spicebush are still flying; the large brood of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails two weeks ago has diminished sharply. Pierid diversity is up, with the best year in the past four or five for Little Yellows. Cloudless Sulphurs were widespread (although in modest numbers) as were Sleepy Oranges.

Butterfly observers should watch carefully over the next two or three weeks for Leonard’s Skipper, as well as for migratory Clouded Skipper and Long-tailed Skipper. Less likely but also possible in the waning summer and early fall are Eufala Skipper and Whirlabout.

This weekend we return to high temps, high humidity and hot sunshine – generally good for butterflies but enervating for butterfly watchers. But should you make it out to winnow through the Sachems for other grass skippers, please report back what you find to us for the next Forecast by commenting here at or posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week Beginning 2016 Aug 20

Howard Co MD Sleepy Orange photographed by Jim Wilkinson [2016 Aug 13]

Howard Co MD Sleepy Orange, one of three photographed by Jim Wilkinson [2016 Aug 13]

Finally we’re getting some southern migrants in numbers this week, partly driven I suspect by better nectar availability since the drought broke and partly from favorable wind and weather patterns across the east coast.

Of particular note this week have been multiple sightings of Ocola Skippers across the area, where they are especially fond of tickseeds, perennial sunflowers, and bonesets. Clouded Skippers haven’t been observed locally yet, but should be making an appearance at any time through the first frost. And of course we’re nearing the season for Leonard’s Skipper, the emergence of which is timed to blooming of liatris on barrens and dry hillsides. The peak for this species is usually around Sept. 10 each year. Common Checkered-skipper is flying now, with several local reports. Long-tailed Skipper has not been seen yet this year. Hayhurst’s Scallopwing has been reported from only a couple of locations, but it seems to be hanging on well.

By contrast, grass skippers generally have had a short and rather unimpressive flight that wound down early, including Zabulon, Little Glassywing, Swarthy and their ilk. But that may be turning around for the final brood. A few Broken-dashes – both Southern and Northern – were reported, but this is clearly not going to be one of their banner years. Peck’s, Fiery, and Sachem seem to be building in numbers, and coastal skippers like Salt Marsh and Aaron’s are having a good current flight, especially in NJ.  Silver-spotted Skippers are common throughout the region.

Little Yellow was reported sporadically around the area, as was Cloudless Sulphur, although on a drive down from DC to Charlottesville yesterday there were a number of road-crossers that suggest to me we’ll be seeing more Cloudless in our area soon. Sleepy Oranges have been scarce but occasionally spotted, including three recently at Robinson Nature Center (Howard Co MD).

All three of our hackberry butterflies – Snout and the two Emperors – are still flying. The greater fritillary flight is about bust, but Variegated Frits are still being reported in small but increasing numbers. No recent Meadow Fritillary reports. Red-spotted Purple, American Lady, and Red Admiral are all on the decline. Buckeyes are flying but in only modest numbers so far.

Bronze Copper is enjoying a good third flight that has just emerged in some numbers in NJ; observers should be looking for it in the Delmarva marshes.

The best flight of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in some years is currently on the wing. Black, Spicebush and Pipevine Swallowtails are also flying, but no local reports of Giant recently.

Looks like a decent weekend with moderate temps and sunshine should make this a good weekend to hit the field in search of southern skippers and others. If you make it out, please report back to us for the next Forecast by commenting here at or posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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New Addition to the Library: Caterpillars of Eastern Forests

p1 1997 Caterpillars_of_Eastern_Forests

I’m happy to add the PDF version of the USDA’s 1997 Caterpillars of Eastern Forests, a 118-page guide to caterpillar identification, rearing, collection and identification.  At this size, it’s not going to be comprehensive, but I was very impressed both with the depth of coverage and with the excellent photographs (each species is illustrated) and fine descriptions.  Highly recommended.

1997 Caterpillars_of_Eastern_Forests PDF version

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