Tarheel Trek

I spent a few days at meetings in Chapel Hill NC recently (well, let’s just say that there were meetings and I was in Chapel Hill, but my colleagues did not have pleasure of my company for the one really nice, sunny day — April 29).

I had scouted Occoneechee Mountain state natural area just outside Chapel Hill on the day before, which dawned nice enough but by the time I got to the mountain it was clouding over.   Not much flying — a couple of Eastern tiger swallowtails, a cluster of Carolina satyrs at the start of the loop trail, a worn duskywing too tattered to ID, and my first spicebush swallowtails of the year.  But by the time I reached the overlook, the wind had come up strong, and even the birding was getting dicey.  Then the thunder started, and by the time I reached the car I was soaking wet.

Undaunted, I came back for what I expected to be about an hour-and-a-half the next morning, in brilliant sunshine and Carolina blue skies.  And very glad I did — had a great day with a lifer for me.  I started that morning on the pond side of the loop trail, where I immediately picked up a fresh emergence of the year’s first sachems, and a duo of fresh variegated fritillaries.  I poked the abundant red cedar for juniper hairstreaks to no avail, but I did roust one interesting looking hairstreak-ish critter that in the net turned out to be a (rather late, I’m thinking) brown elfin.  It was one of two I would see that day; neither on the namesake Brown Elfin Knob Trail.

It’s a good thing I’m not bored by common butterflies, because I was scaring up a good number of small brown satyrs that, based on my experience of the day before, I normally would have assumed were Carolinas.  But a close look revealed that most of what was flying on the 26th was, in fact, gemmed satyr — a species I haven’t seen for years and have yet to find in Maryland (though all my lep friends in MD know I am convinced it’s there).  They flew all the way up to the summit.

The summit around the towers was the hoppin’ place to be.  The powerline right of way was funneling up a ton of good stuff, including two silvery checkerspots, and a very nice two common roadside-skippers, another species I don’t see very often.  Hoary edge skippers and silver-spotted skippers were all over the blooming blackberry in the ROW, as were tiger, black, spicebush, pipevine and zebra swallowtails.

By now I’d given up any pretense of getting to the meetings during the day and pledged to meet up with the gang for dinner.  I hiked down along the river for a bit, coming out in the very dry, scrubby area at the base of the overlook, and the transmission line running along there — also very hot and dry.  And while I had seen a couple of erynnis duskywings, in pretty bad shape, I stumbled on a very fresh large Erynnis with a very bright tan HW fringe.  Checking the underside of the HW and seeing very pattern, I knew I’d picked up my lifer for the trip — Zarucco duskywing. The full Occoneechee list is below.

I finally left around 3 pm after about five hours in the field; a great place and I’m surprised I don’t see it referenced very often in the NABA sightings or carolinaleps.

After the meeting ended Sunday the 30th, I took a little time late in the afternoon to visit the area around Falls Dam.  That late in the day, not much was on the wing, but I did pick up two of the hackberry specialists there (lots of hackberry around):  snout and hackberry emperor, in addition to Zabulon skipper and common checkered-skipper.  Nice, but nothing like Occoneechee!

Driving back home to the DC area on Monday (also Mayday!) I stopped off in the midafternoon to walk along the Washington Ditch trails in the VA side of Great Dismal Swamp.  The late afternoon sun lit up some nice trail-edge clearings, oe of which yielded lace-winged roadside-skipper.  The white clover blooming in the middle of the trail/road also gave up another lifer for me — two Carolina roadside-skippers.
April 29, 2011; Occoneechee Mountain state natural area

Pipevine Swallowtail (1)
Zebra Swallowtail (1)
Black Swallowtail (1)(hilltopping)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (common)
Spicebush Swallowtail (common)
Brown Elfin (2)
Eastern Tailed-Blue (1)
Variegated Fritillary (2)
Silvery Checkerspot (2)
Pearl Crescent (5)
Question Mark (1)
Eastern Comma (2)
Mourning Cloak (1)
American Lady (1)
Red Admiral (1)
Common Buckeye (2)
Red-spotted Admiral (common)
Gemmed Satyr (common)
Carolina Satyr (2)
Silver-spotted Skipper (3)
Hoary Edge (3)
Juvenal’s Duskywing (1)
Zarucco Duskywing (1)
Sachem (common)
Common Roadside-Skipper (2)

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