Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 September 25 — FINAL REPORT for 2021

Gray Comma (L) contrasted with Eastern Comma (R), both on Josh Emm’s hand along Big Run Road in Garrett Co MD. The food plant for Gray Comma, Appalachian gooseberry, was just confirmed there last year [2021 Sept. 18, photo by Josh Emm]

Well, LepLog gang, that’s a wrap for another season, our 8th year for such sightings and prognostications. We hope you enjoyed this year’s reports. Let me know if you find these worthwhile, enjoyable, diverting from work email, or all of the above. I always swear off doing these again when the year ends (especially as they are more and more work as people post sightings on more and more different sites and platforms). But then I recant and commit to another year as spring rolls around. Your comments and interest are a big part of the reason I keep it up, so let me know in the comments section below or by dropping an email to MDLepsOdes@gmail.com or a tweet to @LepTreks.


What a difference a week makes. Across the states in the mid-Atlantic, diversity as reported on iNat dropped by a quarter or a third, and numbers of sightings showed a similar decline. The butterfly garden at the Parris Glendening Nature Preserve in southern MD yesterday was typical of what folks were finding in the field across the region. Gone were the clouds of yellow and orange skippers of varying pedigrees; the handful of Sachems on the wing were worn and frazzled to a dull brown, and Fiery Skippers were sparse. Gone too were all the swallowtails that were seen here just a week or two ago; gone the cloudywings. There weren’t even any sulphurs or whites in the meadows surrounding the garden, or American coppers in the dry fields beyond. There were a few fresh butterflies on the wing: Gray Hairstreaks on aster and boneset, a pristine new flight of Pearl Crescents. A couple of Common Buckeyes worked the short grass.

Among the butterflies that one can expect to see reasonable numbers of as the summer season winds down are the various anglewings and cloaks. Since they all overwinter as adults (and indeed can sometimes be seen during warm spells even in midwinter), they persist until the first hard frosts of the year, happily taking juices from fallen, fermenting fruit. So this was a week of good sightings for Eastern Comma, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, and a nice handful of Gray Commas in Garrett Co. where they are often found, the campsites along Big Run Road.

Along with the buckeyes, Variegated Fritillary numbers are still climbing as locally eclosed adults join northward immigrants. The greater fritillaries are fading, although long-lived females could still be encountered for another few weeks. Meadow Fritillaries have a final late flight that emerged recently, so they’re still relatively fresh.

And it’s a bumper crop year of Monarchs, apparently. But then that is often the case here in the mid-Atlantic, and many of our adults apparently make it to their Mexican winter roosts without incident (a few wind up in the Gulf States, where they serve as another source of repopulation for us in the spring). The issue for Monarch declines now seems to be that persistent drought and heat tied to climate change make the return trip north through Texas and the lower midwest increasingly fraught for the large heartland population, not that milkweed habitat is scarce when they reach their northern breeding grounds.

We haven’t had much of a flight this year of either Sleepy Oranges or Cloudless Sulphurs, two species we can usually count on for late season color. Cloudless Sulphurs in particular are already on the move southward; they are at least partially migratory in most of their range. An undocumented sighting of a Little Yellow in central MD raised hopes that others of this southern/western sulphur might be on the wing regionally .

Several blues and hairstreaks in addition to the aforementioned Gray Hairstreak persist well into fall, and there were the expected sightings of White M, Red-banded, and Great Purple Hairstreak. There were still American (Small) Coppers flying in spots other than the Glendening Preserve, and we typically have a flush of late Bronze Coppers (although none were reported regionally this week). The falling numbers of Summer Azures and Eastern Tailed-blues will drop quickly as the temperatures follow suite.

The one skipper that defied the downward trend this week was Ocola Skipper, which was reported as the most common skipper on the wing in extreme southern MD this week.

Food for Thought: Many of us marvel at the beautifully rippled and heavily textured wings of the giant silkmoths, and those of us familiar with tropical species have long speculated about function (or if there was a function) of the twisted and sometimes even gnarled ends of the long tails sported by many Saturniidae. Turns out this texturing and these odd tails serve as acoustic decoys, guiding bats away from the more important thorax and abdomen and allowing them to escape most bat encounters, as recounted in this Conversation piece from researchers at the University of Bristol.

While the Almanac is on winter hiatus, please share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

Posted in almanac, Forecasts, general butterfly news, sightings | 7 Comments

Climate change, not habitat loss or herbicides, the major cause of Monarch declines in the Midwest and East

Migrating Monarch at Point Lookout, Maryland, 2013.

Local (to us at LepLog!) researchers Leslie Ries and Naresh Neupane at Georgetown University are part of an international collaboration led by Michigan State University to understand the reasons for population fluctuations in Monarch butterflies east of the Rockies, particularly the large midwestern Monarch cohort. They are among the authors on a recent Nature article describing their efforts.

At issue is what drives declines in Monarch populations. Initially, environmentalists blamed loss of midwestern habitat rich in milkweed, primarily from changing agricultural practices in the heartland that included the increased use of glyphosate herbicides (Roundup). This hypothesis spurred the development of massive schemes to plant milkweed corridors along highways throughout the midwest, and energized local “Monarch Waystation” planting schemes for home gardeners. Another theory suggested that mortality during autumn migration and on the wintering grounds in Mexico suppressed Monarch populations.

But after an analysis of 25 years of Monarch data encompassing more than 18K records, researchers found that heat and drought conditions over the spring breeding range were seven times more responsible for recent Monarch populations declines than any other sources. Owing to data limitations, this relationship is most clear from 2004-2018 (the last year for which data were available).

“If observed changes in spring and summer climate continue, portions of the current breeding range may become inhospitable for monarchs,” the researchers say. This could mean an end to the migration phenomenon from Mexico, although there are other wintering and breeding populations so the species would be unlikely to go extinct.

Not a lot that planting milkweed or bringing Monarch caterpillars indoors to rear and protect from predators and parasites can do to prevent that.

Posted in butterfly gardening, climate change, conservation, general butterfly news | Leave a comment

Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 September 18

Peck’s Skippers on mistflower, Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria VA [2021 Sept. 14, photo by Judy Gallagher]

Highlights: Fresh broods of Silvery Checkerspot (VA) and Carolina Satyr

Topping the leaderboard of butterfly sightings on iNaturalist for each of the tri-states of PA, MD, and VA this past week is Monarch, by a wide margin. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Monarch is the most common butterfly on the wing now, just the most photographed and submitted. But it does make one wonder how we can seriously consider a species “endangered” (as has been proposed) when it can be seen in practically every garden in the mid-Atlantic that has a nectar source?

Otherwise, numbers of most species are trending down, and diversity of species this past week showed its first sharp dip in more than a month across the region, a trend that will take us to the first hard frosts. The exceptions are a fresh new brood of Silvery Checkerspots (but only in VA, if iNat records are reliable — the IDs are all correct, but it’s surprising not to see any reports from neighboring states), and a new flight of Carolina Satyr (from locations across the mid-Atlantic). Very fresh new Zebra Swallowtails are also on the wing.

Other notables this week were additional Ocola Skippers across the region, and continuing Northern Pearly-eye, Common Wood Nymph, Viceroys and Red-spotted Purples. White M, Gray, and Red-banded Hairstreaks are still moderately abundant, and at least one Great Purple Hairstreak showed up. A few Clouded Skippers made the rolls this week, again widely scattered across our area.

The mystery this year has to do with Leonard’s Skipper, for which only one (probable) documented sighting exists on its serpentine barrens stronghold near Baltimore. The species continues to be well reported in the mountains this season. Did if fly early on the barrens and we missed it in 2021? Lots of us have been out trudging the Choate Mine trail at Soldiers Delight looking for and dipping on Leonard’s Skipper the past few weeks.

The flush of Long-tailed Skippers and Eufalas from the last Almanac subsided very quickly. Common Buckeyes and Variegated Fritillaries are showing a nice late fall uptick.

Food for Thought: It’s really quite seldom that we’re able to watch colonization of a new butterfly species in North America. One of the most recent additions to the North American (and now US) butterfly fauna is the Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, one of the most widespread European butterflies (analogous in many ways to the distribution of Eastern Tailed-blue here in the US). The first documented sightings of Common Blue were near Montreal, Quebec in 2005, but since then its spread has been rapid (for such things) and quite robust, despite its being a relatively weak flier. This summer it showed up in both VT and NY, documented by Bryan Pfeiffer and Josh Lincoln. Bryan’s photos from their expedition looking for this species are below. It’s likely many of us in the East could see this butterfly in the relatively near future, as the preferred host plant for the caterpillar, introduced bird’s-foot trefoil, is widespread; the blue also seems to have struck up a myrmecophilic relationship in Canada with the also widespread black ant, Lasius neoniger. Plus, the Common Blue seems to prefer urban, disturbed habitats.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus [2021 Sept. 4, photo by Bryan Pfeiffer]
Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus [2021 Sept. 4, photo by Bryan Pfeiffer]
Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus [2021 Sept. 4, photo by Bryan Pfeiffer]

Only one more Almanac is left this season. I’m hoping for a few new rarities to show up for our final edition! Brazilian Skipper, anyone?

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

Posted in general butterfly news | 2 Comments

Schaus’ Swallowtails on the Rebound

For the past nine years, volunteers working with the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Florida Park Service have trekked diligently through forest preserves on Key Largo in search of the federally endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly, more often than not coming back with more mosquito bites than butterfly sightings. Things seemed especially grim when, in 2012, observers were only able to find four adults, setting in motion a large-scale monitoring and breeding program to save the butterfly from extinction.F

This spring and summer, however, researchers and volunteers counted over 1,700 Schaus’ swallowtails, marking a more than 400-fold increase in the butterfly’s population size.

Read the rest of the story from the Florida Museum of Natural History and view the accompanying video.

Posted in conservation, endangered species, general butterfly news | Leave a comment

Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 September 11

A beautiful specimen of Long-tailed Skipper with a full tail (often the ones we see in the mid-Atlantic are either naturally tail-less or their tails have been casualties of wear and tear). Glen Arm, MD 09/08/21 [photo by Mike Wright]

Highlights: Long-tailed Skipper, Leonard’s Skipper, Eufala Skipper

The story of this week in mid-Atlantic butterfly watching can be told by the leaderboard of sightings on iNat in Maryland since last Friday:

Sachem: 93; Monarch: 90; Red-spotted Purple, 64; Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (#1 a week before), 50; Variegated Fritillary, 37 (hardly any last week).

This is the pattern across the region as we make the turn into meteorological autumn. Our large summer butterflies are dwindling, especially greater fritillaries and swallowtails. Sachem has reached its anticipated population climax (this happens every year just as we say, it’s been a bad year for Sachems and then they explode like crazy), and migrants are flooding in (Variegated Fritillary) and getting ready to flood out (Monarchs).

With a few exceptions like the aforementioned Sachems, and Zabulon Skippers, grass skippers are much diminished, and the ones that are still on the wing are worn and many are indistinguishable from each other. Still, all the notables this week were skippers, all in low single digits but all sought after sightings. A handful of Eufala Skippers were in the area this week; they’re often a difficult ID because they are worn and nailing the identification requires clear shots of the upperside. Long-tailed Skippers were reported in widespread locations, too. Either or both of these could be associated with the strong tropical systems that have recently moved through the mid-Atlantic, but both are rare to uncommon but expected fall migrants. And Leonard’s Skipper sightings are coming in now from the more expected locations like the serpentine barrens near Baltimore, as well as new locations that diligent field observers have identified in recent years, especially the western counties of MD.

Otherwise, it’s been about as routine as our long stretches of fine weather have been. Lots of swallowtails, but fewer than there were. Good prospects this year for a fourth or partial fourth brood of Zebra Swallowtails because the recent rains will keep pawpaw leaves fresh and relatively tender for a while longer (they often drop their leaves early in drought years). A decent flight of Palamedes Swallowtails was reported in their northernmost haunt along the Pocomoke River on MD’s extreme Eastern Shore. Black Swallowtails are in their prime just now, but it’s as often reported this week as caterpillars munching parsley and dill to the nubbins as from adults on the wing.

The same caterpillar/adult dynamic is going on with Monarchs, where the handwringing has already started about whether the huge numbers of caterpillars being seen now are “too late!” and “how can I save them from freezing?” Relax, people. They’re going to be fine. And if they did come from eggs that got laid too late for them to develop and migrate naturally, all you do if you try to give them a boost is to perpetuate or even amplify defective genes for reproductive fitness in the population. End of soapbox (for now anyway).

As long as we’re talking nymphalids, it’s interesting to note that one reason there is such a long flight period for Aphrodite, Atlantis, and especially Great Spangled Frits is that they take a siesta during the hottest parts of the summer in our area. We’re usually not seeing fresh broods but mostly females that have conserved their energy for cooler temperatures and a little new growth on violets for the caterpillars to eat. Because most greater frits scatter their eggs in likely violet habitat and leave the larvae to find their hosts and fend for themselves, it’s important that the area be cool and relatively moist.

Red-spotted Purples, Viceroys, anglewings and cloaks make up a specialty guild of fermented fruit feeders this time of year, where they find windfall apples, pears, pawpaws, persimmons, and other fruit. Overripe hanging fruit trays in back yards at this season often draw them all, as well as the last of the Hackberry and Tawny Emperors and even a Northern Pearly-eye or Appalachian Brown or two.

iNat Hall of Shame this week: Viola Skipper (an Australian species), Western White (a typical white form female of philodice or eurytheme), Chestnut Bob (a south Asian skipper, in this case really a mushroom!), Paris Peacock Swallowtail (honestly I couldn’t even find a butterfly in this photo), a Straight Swift (Australo-Asian, this one is actually a female Sachem), and a host of Pearl Crescents labeled Northern Crescent (there apparently is a major glitch in the algorithm on these at iNat) and loads of Orange Sulphurs misidentified as Clouded. It’s apparent that iNat cannot pick up on the orange hues in photographs. I don’t even bother to correct these anymore; it would be a full time job and I already have a career.

But then there are the truly mysterious things that crop up here, like the Thick-tipped Greta (one of the glasswing butterflies) apparently flying free near Vienna VA. But then as I dug deeper I noticed that the sighting was near a commercial zoo experience destination, Roer’s Zoofari, that recently also opened a “Butterfly Experience” butterfly house. So no, appears climate change hasn’t shifted butterfly ranges that much yet after all.

Gray Hairstreaks and Red-banded Hairstreaks, and a good number of White M Hairstreaks, are the top attention getters among the lycaenids. Harvesters continue to crop up regionwide.

Bonus Pic: Here’s what I wish more of the butterfly photographs on FB and iNat and Flickr would do–actually show some aspect of biology or ecology. This is a Leonard’s Skipper ovipositing at one of the new locations known from Garrett Co MD. The caterpillar will feed until cold weather for just one or two instars (the dry stems of grass aren’t the best nutrition), then hunker down in the crowns of the grasses (usually little bluestem) and resume feeding on the lush new growth next spring. We have very little photodocumentation of many stages of butterfly life, especially eggs and young larvae and especially skippers.

Leonard’s Skipper ovipositing, Savage River State Forest, Garrett Co MD [2021 Sept 6, photo by Lydia Fravel]

Food for Thought: The labels on butterflies in a collection tell us as much as about the collectors and their travels as they do about the butterflies, as recounted in this blog post from the Triplehorn Insect Collection at The Ohio State University.

Only two more weekly editions of the Almanac left this season; we typically wrap up at the end of September. Let’s make these last two weeks count!

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

Posted in almanac, Forecasts, general butterfly news | 1 Comment

Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 September 4 — Labor Day Weekend

While Ocola Skippers have been scarce on the ground so far this season, the Fravels found this one in MD in the butterfly garden at the Parris Glendening Preserve in Anne Arundel Co [2021 Sept. 3, photo by Lydia Fravel]

The big news regionally this week was not about leps but about the remnants of Hurricane Ida that swept through mid-week, bringing torrential rains but also ushering in early fall-like weather. The long weekend looks like it will be tailor made for lep-watching, so let’s hope there well be more interesting finds next week.

Top billing this week probably goes to the couple of Ocola Skippers and Clouded Skippers in the region this week. Both are overdue for a population buildup if we’re going to have one this year. Sachems are everywhere, so about 99 percent of all unidentified skippers this week (and many that iNat identified as other things, like Leonard’s and Long Dash) are one of the myriad Sachem variations. Zabulon and Peck’s Skippers were likewise quite common. Other grass skippers were less common but still on the wing — Dun, Tawny-edged, Crossline, Little Glassywing Skippers among them. Both Horace’s and Wild Indigo Duskywings are still flying; Horace’s is declining but there was a new uptick in Wild Indigos this week. A good handful of Common Checkered-skippers showed up on the lists as well. Fiery Skipper has been surprisingly uncommon this season, although both Northern and Southern Broken-dashes have been having a good summer regionally.

Changes in the lycaenid lineup this week included a fresh brood of Great Purple Hairstreaks. We’ll see this iconic species until mid-October on the Coastal Plain. Gray Hairstreak and White M Hairstreak populations continued to grow this week, as did those of Red-banded Hairstreak. I think I called the Summer Azure end of season too soon — quite an irruption in some places after the rains this week. Both Bronze and American Coppers are on the wing. A modest flight of Eastern Tailed-blues continues.

Inland Sleepy Oranges are reasonably common; Cloudless Sulphurs less so. Along the Delaware coast, however, hundreds of Cloudless Sulphurs were spotted in migration on the beach.

Satyrid numbers are on the wane, but one could still find Northern Pearly-eye, Appalachian Brown, and Common Wood Nymph this week. Other nymphalids included good numbers of sightings still for both Tawny and Hackberry Emperors, Viceroy, and Red-spotted Purple. Common Buckeye numbers have still not bumped up for the season. There were a few American Ladies spotted, along with Eastern Comma, Question Mark, and Mourning Cloak as they get ready to hibernate as adults. Monarchs continue in good numbers, both adults and caterpillars, and some early southward movement along the coast was noted this week.

As for swallowtails, we still had decent numbers of most species on the wing, including Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Zebra Swallowtails, although both took a big hit in the heavy rains this week.

Notable Nectar: The various bonesets and thoroughworts are later-blooming relatives of the better-known Joe Pye Weed, but are no less avidly visited by butterflies and moths in their late summer bloom season. They are especially attractive to skippers, but they also comprise an important nectar source for Monarchs in migration.

Late-blooming Thoroughwort in my garden with purple buddleia in the background.

Food for Thought: Restoring butterfly populations often depends on more than just making sure you plant a few butterfly bushes or a handful of larval host plants. In Czechoslovakia, the reintroduction of grazing ungulates and other large herbivores — ponies, cattle, and European bison — has been critical to restoring the former Milovice military training range to its former status as a butterfly hotspot. The study in BMC Ecology and Evolution discusses the use of these large grazers as proxies for the original wild horses, aurochs, and bison that populated the area historically. The grazing regime favors botanical diversity and, important especially for some of the blues, populations of ants critical to lycaenid life history.

Bonus Pic:

A Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillar photographed at Leesylvania SP in Woodbridge VA [2021 August 30, photo by Judy Gallagher]

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

Posted in almanac, Forecasts, general butterfly news, sightings | Leave a comment

Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 August 28

A satyrid sap party with a Hackberry Emperor and Northern Pearly-eyes at the Parris Glendening Preserve in Anne Arundel Co MD [2021 Aug 14, photo by Lydia Fravel]

No actual Highlights to share this week. As will be the case for most of the rest of the fall, nothing really earth-shattering showed up this week in Lep World. But there were bright spots, certainly.

Let’s start with skippers, many of which are still (or finally, depending on the skipper) building to their normal fall crescendos. There’s a really good flight just emerging of Swarthy Skippers in numbers I haven’t seen in a few years, as well as a huge bump in Sachems this past week — they’ve been rather sparse until now. Most of the Horace’s Duskywings have finished up now, but there’s a new push of Wild Indigo Duskywings flying. There were scattered reports of Brazilian Skippers in southern parts of the region, and this Gulf species could show up anywhere there is ornamental canna being grown.

Harvesters still seem to be on the wing, and there are other interesting lycaenids to spot. Fall is usually the best time to see White M Hairstreak, and true to form both it and Gray Hairstreak are being seen across the mid-Atlantic. Summer Azures are dwindling, and the final Eastern Tailed-blue flight of the season seems modest. American (Small) Coppers are out (they often flight late in the season, too).

This week we again had representatives of all the expected swallowtails for the mid-Atlantic save the spring-flying Appalachian Tiger. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flight is especially robust just now; quite a few Zebra Swallowtails are on the wing too. More caterpillars than adults are being reported for Black Swallowtails, but they’re still flying in some numbers.

Fall generally belongs to the brush-foots, and we’re seeing our anglewings and cloaks out now in their winter forms. Mostly they will be feeding on sap and fermenting fruit until frost, when they find a nook or cranny to spend the winter in before emerging as our first butterflies of the spring. But few nymphalids have reached the irruptive numbers we often see in the summer and fall for such species as Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Variegated Fritillary, and Painted and American Ladies, all of which showed up this week but in relatively small numbers. Fresh Pearl Crescents are out. Fritillary numbers are declining, although fresh Silver-bordered Fritillaries were on the wing in PA. Red-spotted Purples and Viceroys were well represented, and Monarchs continue their impressive 2021 buildup in the East.

Sleepy Orange and Cloudless Sulphur sightings were again rather modest; this has been a trend through the mid-Atlantic and eastern Gulf states as well, for the most part. I regularly peruse the listservs and iNat and run across a lot of Little Yellow sightings that invariably turn out to be Sleepy Orange or Clouded or Orange Sulphurs. Cabbage (Small) White numbers are high, and I have pored through many this past week looking in vain for Checkered White.

Notable Nectar: Blazing-stars, various species of Liatris, are one of the most productive butterfly magnets this time of year, especially in the typically xeric habitats favored by some members of the genus. In shale and serpentine barrens especially this is the only nectar going right now, especially at the height of skipper diversity and abundance. The relationship between Liatris and some skipper species is so strong as to be almost an obligate one, as with Leonard’s Skipper and blazing star at the Soldiers Delight serpentine barrens near Baltimore. There are also earlier blooming Liatris spicata cultivars suitable for gardens available in the horticultural trade that are larger and more robust, but equally attractive to butterflies.

Blazing Star, probably Liatris spicata, in peak bloom on the serpentine barrens at Soldiers Delight NEA near Baltimore MD [2012 August 27, photo by REB]
Blazing Star, probably Liatris spicata, in peak bloom on the serpentine barrens at Soldiers Delight NEA near Baltimore MD [2012 August 27, photo by REB]

Food for Thought: An enlightening (pun intended) new study from Science Advances notes the deleterious impact of artificial light at night on nocturnal insect life. From the abstract: Reported declines in insect populations have sparked global concern, with artificial light at night (ALAN) identified as a potential contributing factor…We found that street lighting strongly reduced moth caterpillar abundance compared with unlit sites (47% reduction in hedgerows and 33% reduction in grass margins) and affected caterpillar development. A separate experiment in habitats with no history of lighting revealed that ALAN disrupted the feeding behavior of nocturnal caterpillars. Negative impacts were more pronounced under white light-emitting diode (LED) street lights compared to conventional yellow sodium lamps. This indicates that ALAN and the ongoing shift toward white LEDs will have substantial consequences for insect populations and ecosystem processes.

Bonus Pic: In non-butterfly lep news, Frode Jacobsen hosted a massive Black Witch at sugar bait in his Baltimore-area back yard on Aug. 21.

Black Witch coming to sugar bait in the Baltimore ‘burbs [2021 Aug 21, photo by Frode Jacobsen]

Prognostications: Leonard’s Skipper should show up more widely in the mid-Atlantic; the mountain populations of Leonard’s seem very different (early) in their phenology than those we see in the Piedmont regions. In their population center in MD at Soldiers Delight they typically fly around Labor Day. We should also be seeing our last broods of Bronze Coppers and Great Purple Hairstreaks, both of which fly well into October. Now’s also a good last chance to look for Gray Comma (and possible Green Comma) in the mountains. And depending on how quickly Ida moves, watch for storm waifs from the Gulf after the system passes next week. And we should note some of the red-pigmented ‘rosa’ form Common Buckeyes sprinkled in among the normal brownish forms

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

Posted in almanac, Forecasts, general butterfly news, sightings | Leave a comment

Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 August 21

A male Queen, a very rare southern stray to the mid-Atlantic, photographed in Laurel, MD. The only previous documented record for MD for Danaus gilippus is from 2003 [2021 Aug 17, photo by the original observer Walt Gould]

Highlight: Queen

I mean, in a week where a pristine male Queen shows up at a suburban retention pond, what else is there to talk about? This butterfly has been seen and photographed by many observers over the course of the week since it was first reported (still being seen today, in fact); its location has abundant mistflower, swamp milkweed, and other nectar sources so it really has no need to wander further — except if it wants to find a mate.

Otherwise it was a pretty quiet week, still very high diversity and increasing numbers of fall specialties like Brazilian Skipper and Long-tailed Skipper in VA, Clouded Skipper, and slowly rising numbers of Sleepy Orange and Cloudless Sulphur. Grass skipper numbers are about what one would expect for the end of August — high numbers and diversity. White Sachem numbers are low compared with other years, both Northern and Southern Broken-dashes are flying in larger than usual numbers: The rest of the skippers fall somewhere in between except for a veritable blizzard of Southern Cloudywings at the butterfly garden of the Plummer House in Lothian, MD. Zabulon Skippers are everywhere — and that accounts once again for the dozen or so misfires at iNat of Zabulons as Hobomoks. There were a good handful of accounts of normally uncommon Common Sootywing.

There was a surge of coastal skipper sightings (mostly in NJ) this week: big flights of Aaron’s Skippers and Salt Marsh Skippers, and more fresh Delawares.

In other happy happy news, the so-rare-it-is-a-candidate-for-endangered-species-status Monarch was THE MOST REPORTED butterfly on iNat in PA this week (81 sightings), second most reported butterfly in MD (99), and third most reported butterfly in VA (75). They could all get wiped out by a hurricane during their southward migration next month, but for now can we please stop the caterwauling about how your yard has not been blessed by the butterfly gods yet — even though you planted three milkweed plants for them, ungrateful churls — and that this is an omen of the end times for all insect life.

It’s also a good month for many other nymphalids — Viceroys and Red-spotted Purples are out in good numbers; still plentiful sightings of Appalachian Brown, Northern Pearly-eye, and Common Wood Nymph; the week even gave us an increasingly rare report of Georgia Satyr in NJ. We saw rising numbers of Variegated Fritillary, Common Buckeye, and Red Admiral, but Ladies — both Painted and American — are rather sparse on the ground. There’s a good flight of Pearl Crescents underway, which means major flights of fancy on iNat where there were many reports of Northern Crescent that were indistinguishable from Pearls but were almost all from habitat that would never support Northerns. Our anglewings are still mostly in summer aestivation, but will increasingly be venturing out between now and the end of summer to imbibe from rotting windfall apples, pears, pawpaws, and such.

All the mid-Atlantic’s swallowtails are on the wing currently — every species — including Eastern Giant and Palamedes Swallowtails.

Not much change in the lycaenid lineup this week. Eastern Tailed-blues and Summer Azures are both flying; we had plenty of reports of Gray and White M Hairstreaks. Harvester had a good week too, with reports from throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Food for thought: I thought I was doing hardship lep work this week getting my legs scratched by tearthumb and black locust while angling for a photo of the above Queen. But my travails were peanuts compared to what it takes to study Raetzer’s Ringlet in the Swiss Alps.

Bonus Pic:

A very nice Southern Broken-dash from central MD, a terrific orange contrast to the purple Buddleia flower [2021 August 20, photo by Jim Wilkinson]

Prognostications: There really isn’t much left to predict this season. Leonard’s Skipper is imminent. Checkered White has a chance to make an appearance for the season any time between now and frost, but this is their peak window. We are overdue for a visit from Southern Dogface; perhaps the constant stream of tropical systems over the area might produce one for us, or even drop off a Great Southern White or two.

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 August 14

Palamedes Swallowtail in the fastness of Hickory Point Swamp near Pocomoke on the Eastern Shore
[2021 Aug 9, photo by Lydia Fravel]

Highlights: Ocola Skipper, Hoary Edge, Palamedes Swallowtail, Bronze Copper, Clouded Skipper

Butterfly diversity remains high at this “elbow” season between summer and fall; all three local mid-Atlantic states (MD/DC, PA, VA) had between 50-60 species this past week, with a few new or unusual additions to the landscape. And that’s even discounting the 10 or so Hobomok Skippers on iNat (which I duly noted to the posters were all Zabulon), an Austro-Asian Common Grass Yellow, an Ariadne caterpillar (this is a Asian genus), a western Orange Skipperling (Least Skipper), and the usual Pearl Crescents from weedy coastal plain fields misidentified as Northern Crescents.

It always feels good to say “I told you so” — thus the influx of sightings in MD and VA of Ocola Skippers forecast in last week’s Prognostications was quite gratifying. One can now safely assume they could turn up in any location in the region from now until mid-autumn as long as there’s abundant nectar, especially sunflowers and other composites. Clouded Skippers also were reported from VA and MD, suggesting this southern species is beginning its fall incursion into the area. Zabulon Skipper was the most widely reported butterfly period this week (which accounts I guess for the large number of iNat false returns for Hobomok Skipper). Other grass skippers were well represented too — Sachem, Fiery, Little Glassywing, both Broken-dashes, Crossline, Tawny, Swarthy, and Dun among them. Both Wild Indigo and Horace’s Duskywings are still in flight, and there was a questionable iNat record of Funereal Duskywing from the Pittsburgh area that could simply be an artifact of backlighting — Funereal of course has that broad white fringe on the hindwings that is lacking in the other two Erynnis species out now, but angle and lighting could account for the purported fringe on this one. There continue to be a good number of Common Sootywing reports. Cloudywing numbers dropped off considerably this week, with only one Northern Cloudywing report across the entire region. I confess to being blissfully unaware that Hoary Edge has a THIRD brood in the mid-Atlantic; there was a good handful of reports of fresh specimens of this skipper from VA this week. Learning these things is one of my prime motivations for doing this Almanac every week!

Also flying in large numbers (81 records this week in iNat for MD alone, same number as for the very good flight of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this week) is Monarch, which as we all know is about to blink into extinction if you read press reports and missives from alarmist environmental groups cashing in on “save the Monarch” campaigns. Its mimic Viceroy is still on the wing, as is the Viceroy congener Red-spotted Purple. Also climbing the observation charts this week were Red Admiral, Variegated Fritillary, American Lady, Snout, and Common Buckeye, all expected late-summer “blooms” of abundance. All three large satyrs were on the wing this week — Northern Pearly-eye, Appalachian Brown, and Common Wood Nymph — as well as Carolina Satyr. Meadow Fritillary is still out in good numbers while Great Spangled Fritillaries have declined dramatically over the past two weeks.

If you can brave the Devil’s Anvil of heat and humidity on the Eastern Shore, Bronze Coppers are flying. Numbers of Red-banded Hairstreaks spiked considerably this week, and Eastern Tailed-blue is out in a fresh flight, while Harvester, American Copper, and Gray Hairstreak numbers are down in most places in the mid-Atlantic. The Juniper Hairstreak flight appears substantially over with only a few scattered reports of worn individuals. There were low-number reports of Summer Azure.

Also disporting themselves on the Eastern Shore were more Palamedes Swallowtails. Across the mid-Atlantic, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail numbers are peaking at high levels, as are Black Swallowtails (especially on the Coastal Plain). We might squeeze out a partial fourth brood of Zebra Swallowtails in 2021 locally; the current flight is declining.

The expected late summer surge in Cloudless Sulphur numbers appears nigh, with good reports from across the region — including 60 at Dix WMA in southern NJ on Tuesday. Sleepy Orange sightings continue to creep up a bit each week.

Bonus Pic:

Fiery Skippers are one of our most abundant grass skippers just now, and we often take this southern specialty for granted. Here’s a close-up of a male Fiery from last month that will make you sit up and take notice, especially of the “toothed” black fringe on the FW [2021 July 2, Meadowood SRMA, Mason Neck VA, photo by Judy Gallagher]

Food for Thought: Jack Miller and Dale Schweitzer discuss the habitat and larval host dynamics of Dion Skipper in southern NJ in this excellent blog post from the South Jersey Butterfly B/Log. This post makes me realize just how little we know about oviposition records for many of our butterflies (especially skippers, where the standard host plant line is “grasses”) and how much the beauty pageant fixation of FB and iNat and other online observation sights discriminates against standard, non-sexy pictures of butterflies laying eggs and doing other non-photogenic things.

Calendar: Larry Meade will lead the Alexandria Circle NABA count on Sept. 18 sponsored by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Locations in the circle include parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and DC and will include the Smithsonian pollinator gardens, Huntley Meadows, Dyke Marsh, Green Spring Gardens, Mount Vernon (maybe), Fort Belvoir, and some smaller venues in Alexandria and Arlington. if you are interested in participating or being a leader, or if you have any questions, please call Larry at 571-275-2523.

Prognostications: We might have a chance at some southern waifs like Queen and Gulf Fritillary if tropical weather system Fred gains speed and strength. Otherwise, it’s likely there are Eufala Skippers and maybe even Whirlabout to spot while sifting through all the expected grass skippers.

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

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Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Field Almanac for the Week of 2021 August 7

First noted Long-tailed Skippers in the region this year; this one a somewhat worn individual spotted by Curt Lehman near Pittsburgh [2021 July 31, photo by Curt Lehman]

HIGHLIGHTS: Long-tailed Skipper in PA; Banded Hairstreaks (late records); Silvery Checkerspots; Palamedes Swallowtail; Hayhurst’s Scallopwing; Brazilian Skipper; Carolina Satyr.

The late-summer influx of southern skippers has officially kicked off, with Brazilian Skipper caterpillars in Cape May NJ and Long-tailed Skipper flying in PA.

But probably the biggest surprise this week was a wide-ranging Palamedes Swallowtail along the Potomac just upstream from DC. This has been a good flight year for Palamedes (they were observed this week also at their nearest-to-DC known habitat in the Pocomoke River drainage, and the recent Dismal Swamp count picked up more than 70). They are strong fliers, with historical observations as far north as NJ and westward to the mountains. It’s also not inconceivable that a chrysalis latched to a car or trailer while on a sojourn in the south emerged closer to DC. Multiple reports of Eastern Giant Swallowtail point to a good second flight for them as well, and Eastern Tigers are quite abundant.

Diversity of grass skippers remains high, with records of Swarthy and Tawny-edged Skippers especially edging up this week. New flushes of coastal skippers are also being reported, including Aaron’s. There were a ton of misidentified Hobomok Skippers on iNat this week (in addition to blunders like Mariposa Copper and Umber Skipper), all of which were of course Zabulon Skippers, currently experiencing a good flight. Lots of Hayhurst’s Scallopwings this week, too, especially in NJ. It’s unclear to me why this is such an uncommon species, since its larval host plants of pigweeds and lamb’s quarters are nearly ubiquitous.

Another surprise this week was multiple reports of Banded Hairstreaks in PA and MD, at least one of which was in a pretty sharp condition. Otherwise it was a pretty typical lycaenid week, with more reports of Bronze Coppers on both Delmarva and in their upland strongholds in PA. American Coppers are still flying. There were again multiple reports of White M Hairstreak, as well as the more expected Gray and Red-banded Hairstreaks. Eastern Tailed-blue should pop out in numbers again for a final flight; they and Summer Azures were reported sparingly this week.

As I suspected last week, it’s turning out to be a very good season for Monarchs. This won’t of course stop the despair of the people who planted three milkweeds and want to know where the butterflies are, or prevent the annual spate of stories about the impending extinction of this adaptable and widespread species. PA iNat this week alone logged 70+ observations of Monarch. Of course there’s always the chance that severe meteorological conditions en route to Mexico (for the ones from the East Coast that don’t spend the winter in the Gulf States) or on the wintering grounds won’t knock the population back again. But really there’s almost nothing we can do here in the East that would make a material difference for Monarchs except plant more fall-blooming nectar sources to make up for the loss of seaside goldenrod that has been replaced by condo developments along the shore.

All the greater fritillaries — Atlantis, Aphrodite, and Great Spangled — are still flying, and female Dianas turned up this week too in the mountains. Meadow and Variegated Fritillaries are also on the wing. We’re still seeing low numbers of Common Buckeye adults, but reports of caterpillars presage a larger fall flight. Silvery Checkerspots are emerging across the region, but in somewhat smaller numbers than we have seen in recent years for this second brood. And there were a batch of iNat reports of Northern Crescent, none of which to my eye could be distinguished in the photos from Pearl Crescent, which is flying now and is the go-to Phyciodes for our area. Plus most of them were from weedy field habitats, wrong for the cocyta-group butterflies. Appalachian Brown, Northern Pearly-eye, and Common Wood Nymph were flying this week, and so was a surprising number of Carolina Satyrs picked up on MD’s western shore.

Bonus Pics:

Ventral and dorsal views of Carolina Satyr, found in good numbers by the Fravels this week in various locations in Charles Co MD [2021 Aug 21, photos by Lydia Fravel]

Food for Thought: Intriguing research about the complex chemical arms race between moths, viruses, and parasitoids turned up in Science magazine this week. Entomologists studying these interactions determined that some viruses actually pass along to their moth hosts the ability to make parasitoid-killing proteins (PKFs, parasitoid killing factor), providing some protection for the caterpillars from the parasitic flies and wasps that compete with the virus for caterpillar hosts.

Prognostications: A reported Leonard’s Skipper in PA turned out to the Peck’s, but Leonard’s is the next skipper up to emerge in the next few weeks. The looked-for Ocola influx didn’t materialize after last week’s early sightings, but they should be showing up in some numbers as the composite bloom intensifies.

Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.

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