Hessel’s Hunt

On the way back from Chapel Hil last weekend, I overnighted in Chincoteague with the thought of birding and looking for butterflies on the NWR in the morning on May 2.  But it was cool and overcast, with partly sunny skies predicted for after lunch.  So I birded the morning away (picking up white ibis in the process) and then headed off to try to find Hessel’s hairstreak in the Atlantic white cedar swamps on the MD lower Eastern shore.

First stop was the area along Blueberry Road near Whaleyville, an area mentioned in a couple of the references to white cedar swamps I’d been meaning to check out for a while.  But after driving the length of the road a couple times and seeing only posted “No Trespassing” signs and little evidence of white cedar, I decided to head up Route 50 to Mardela Springs and a spot Jim Brighton had blogged about back in 2007.

Old Bradley Road runs along the Nanticoke River out of Mardela Springs to a couple of gated entries to the Chesapeake Forests state forest lands.  The largest gate, with a substantial parking area, provides a relative short trail back to a fairly extensive swamp and the Tom Tyler Nature Trail and Demonstration Forest.  Atlantic white cedar is common — and mature — there.  If there’s going to be place on the Eastern shore for Hessel’s, this is it.

But it was getting late already by the time I arrived, and it was quite probable that Hessel’s had already gone back up into the cedar tops.  Nevertheless, the scrubby area at the swamp edge clearly has some good nectar sources to bring them down — Vaccinium of several kinds had mostly already finished blooming, and mountain laurel was about a week from blooming.  Just nothing on the day I was looking!

I did pick up a solo Eastern pine elfin there, and had a quick glimpse of a dark hairstreak that bolted before I got a good enough look. No Hessel’s.  But you can bet I’ll be back, either in the next week or two or in time to check out the second brood in July.

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