LepTrek Notes from Buzzard Swamp PA

I’m off work this week, taking a respite through the July 4 holiday and spending some time lepping.  I’d been monitoring some of the interesting sightings at Buzzard Swamp in northeast PA on the PA listserv, and there were enough critters new to me I decided to drive up Sunday and spend two days in the area Monday and yesterday.

Am I glad I did!

Buzzard Swamp (and the nearby Beaver Meadows Campground) are a mix of open grassland, marshy meadow, reeds and sedges, deciduous forest, and mature hemlock/pine/spruce forest.  While I dipped on two of the leps I’d hoped to see (Harris’ checkerspot and black dash) the rest of haul was well worth it — relatively low diversity and numbers, but some really sought-after species.  And the rangers at the local Marienville ranger station were incredibly helpful in guiding me both the Buzzard Swamp and to the nearby Beaver Meadows area.

I arrived at about 1000 hours at the trail head for the loop trail, about 5 miles that winds through all the various habitats plus some fields cultivated for wildlife (part of the area is a state game lands block, too).  A good chunk is off limits and posted with “Wildlife Propagation Area” signs, but there was hardly any need to leave the level grassy road that takes you start to finish.  Most of the action was on both ends, but at a naturalist’s pace it took me about 7 hours to complete the circuit.

First off the bat were the distractingly abundant European skippers, attracted no doubt to the timothy grass along the path throughout the Swamp.  Northern pearly-eyes were also abundant, especially in the sunny wood margins lit by the morning sun.  One silver dollar size piece of scat had no fewer than 17 pearly eyes jostling each other for position with another few hovering around hoping for a chance at the dung.  I quickly picked up my first life butterfly for the trip, Atlantis fritillary, which proved quite abundant in the area.  Next up was a solo common ringlet, clearly at the end of their flight as Jim Monroe had noted in a recent PALepsOdes post that they were abundant two weeks ago.  I netted a smaller fritillary that turned out to be silver-bordered fritillary, another lifer.  There were a number of red admirals ranging from typical red-spotted purple to washed out reddish adults to a full white admiral, also a good find for me.  Hobomok skippers were as common there as Zabulon usually is here, and I also saw two long dashes that first day (another life list addition).

The middle of the loop was pretty uneventful.  Even though there were extensive stands of common milkweed, they were mostly empty save for tiger swallowtails and the occasional monarch.  One patch adjacent to some deciduous woods held a collection of 4 very fresh striped hairstreaks and a couple dun skippers.

As to the tigers, I ultimately assigned them all to Eastern as the local lep folks there have, but … going by the underside forewing submarginal spot band, these puppies were all over the place, from very distinct spots (typical Eastern) to fully contiguous (typical Canadian).  Possible an intergrade or speciation event?

I was scratching my head about the lack of pearl crescents when a rather large one floated by; I netted it only to find it was actually a northern crescent — a lifer.  My last life list butterfly came near the end of the loop, when I netted a worn, small skipper that turned out to be pepper and salt skipper, the final life butterfly of the day.

It was getting late when I got back to the car; I drank about two liters of water and headed over to Cook Forest State Park en route back to my lodging in Clarion (I’ll stay at the Microtel just down the road from Buzzard Swamp next time!).  In the very late afternoon I was still picking up some butterflies, including my third frit of the day, meadow fritillary.

Tuesday morning the 28th dawned very cloudy and damp, so I opted to bird the Forest Cathedral trails at Cook Forest– one of the few remaining virgin white pin and hemlock forests in the East.  To say it was stunning is an understatement, especially as I had the place to myself and the winter wrens and hermit thrushes, whose ethereal calls echoed through these magnificent trees.  When I emerged from the forest gloom around noon, there were a few breaks between the clouds and a weather forecast promise of sun in the afternoon, so I headed over to the Beaver Meadows Campground north of Marienville, still in the USFS and only 10 miles or so from Buzzard Swamp.  Needless to say, the weather forecast lied, and I had fitful sun, a strong breeze, and thunder by 1500 hours.  Neverytheless … in the intervening two hours I patrolled the berm of the dam that separates the lake from an adjacent reed/sedge meadow and found 3 two-spotted skippers happily nectaring in the cloudy afternoon from garden sweet pea that has naturalized along the berm.  This was a life list candidate.  That bright white racing stripe on the trailing edge of the hindwing is a dead giveaway, as is the white veining on the read underwing.

But the big surprise (for me) for the day was an inconspicuous comma anglewing on the concrete apron to the boat launch.  A sudden shaft of sunlight lit up the phosphorescent green patches on its underside with its silver comma laying on its back — a textbook green comma, and my final life butterfly of the trip.  The Atlantis frits and tiger swallowtails were flying thickly, and the last gasp of the early little wood satyr flight was hanging on around the edges of the campground road.

Altogether a great trip, and not that onerous a drive.  Maybe an extended WABC trip for next year?


-==| Field Trip |==-

[abbreviations c=common, a=abundant, s=super-abundant following BIS convention]

Date: 06/27/2011
Number of Species: 22
Number of Individuals: 446
Location:
Buzzard Swamp, Allegheny National Forest
PA , USA   16239
Notes: A full day (1000 hours – 1700 hours) walking the loop trail
through Buzzard Swamp in Allegheny National Forest PA.  Bright and
sunny, warm, temperatures in the low 80’s.  Trail includes
spruce/hemlock forest, marsh, lakes/ponds, grassland, and cultivated
(row crops) landscapes.  Light breeze.  Full circuit 4.7 miles.
Nectar sources included common milkweek, crownvetch, ox-eye daisies,
white clover, and deciduous holly (very popular with a number of the
butterflies).

Common Name    Scientific Name Life Stage      Number Seen     Notes
Pipevine Swallowtail    Battus philenor Adult   1
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail       Papilio glaucus Adult   A       Netted
and observed a number of individuals; the forewing underside
submarginal spots ranged from distinct (Eastern) to fully contiguous
(Canadian)
Cabbage White   Pieris rapae    Adult   A
Clouded Sulphur Colias philodice        Adult   5
Orange Sulphur  Colias eurytheme        Adult   C
Striped Hairstreak      Satyrium liparops       Adult   4       All
very fresh; nectaring on thistle bordering deciduous woods
Eastern Tailed-Blue     Everes comyntas Adult   2
‘Summer’ Spring Azure   Celastrina ladon neglecta       Adult   8
Atlantis Fritillary     Speyeria atlantis       Adult   8
Silver-bordered Fritillary      Boloria selene  Adult   1
Northern Crescent       Phyciodes selenis       Adult   1
White Admiral   Limenitis arthemis arthemis     Adult   1
Red-spotted Purple      Limenitis arthemis astyanax     Adult   4
Viceroy Limenitis archippus     Adult   2
Northern Pearly-eye     Enodia anthedon Adult   A
Common Ringlet  Coenonympha tullia      Adult   1
Monarch Danaus plexippus        Adult   4
European Skipper        Thymelicus lineola      Adult   S
distractingly abundant along the trail edge
Long Dash       Polites mystic  Adult   2
Hobomok Skipper Poanes hobomok  Adult   5
Dun Skipper     Euphyes vestris Adult   1
Pepper and Salt Skipper Amblyscirtes hegon      Adult   1       very worn
———————————–
Date: 06/28/2011
Number of Species: 14
Number of Individuals: 123
Location:
Beaver Meadows Campground, USFS Allegheny Forest, Marienville
PA , USA   16239
Notes: Two hours at midday (1100-1300 hours) along the dam berm between the lake and adjacent rush/sedge meadows.  Partly cloudy and breezy, cool (mid-70’s) following heavy morning clouds and in advance of approaching cold front that brought more heavy clouds and thunder around 1500 hours.  Stiff breeze.  Nectar sources included garden sweet pea, deciduous holly, ox-eye daisy, crownvetch, and a low yellow legume.

Common Name    Scientific Name Life Stage      Number Seen     Notes
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail       Papilio glaucus Adult   A
Orange Sulphur  Colias eurytheme        Adult   1       white form
‘Summer’ Spring Azure   Celastrina ladon neglecta       Adult   C
Atlantis Fritillary     Speyeria atlantis       Adult   C
Green Comma     Polygonia faunus        Adult   1       on the apron of the boat ramp
Red-spotted Purple      Limenitis arthemis astyanax     Adult   1
Viceroy Limenitis archippus     Adult   1
Northern Pearly-eye     Enodia anthedon Adult   C
Little Wood-Satyr       Megisto cymela (includes viola) Adult   4       very worn, clearly the end of this flight
European Skipper        Thymelicus lineola      Adult   3
Crossline Skipper       Polites origenes        Adult   2
Long Dash       Polites mystic  Adult   1
Hobomok Skipper Poanes hobomok  Adult   1
Two-spotted Skipper     Euphyes bimacula        Adult   3       very distinctive white racing stripe and white-veined rear underwing

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4 Responses to LepTrek Notes from Buzzard Swamp PA

  1. Matt says:

    Hi Rick,

    I’ve recently gotten interested in identifying butterflies in the field and have seen you mention netting in several of your blog posts. Do you have suggestions on which types of nets are best for reducing harm to caught butterflies? I don’t plan to net all the ones I see, just ones that are harder to identify until I am more comfortable with ids on the wing.

    Also, you’ve posted photos with some larger butterflies held in the hand. What’s the best and safest way to do this?

    I grew up in the DC area and was into butterflies for a few years in the 1990s. It’s fun to read about some of my old haunts on your blog. If only I’d known about the DC butterfly club!

    • Rick says:

      Well met, Matt!

      I have gradually settled on a (very expensive, I have to say) black chiffon net from England. Black, because it seems to me that it startles both butterflies and odes much less than the white or even greenish colored nets. And chiffon because it does the least damage to the leps. It also has a flat bottom rather than a tapered end so it has less likelihood of crushing the insect in the tip. But it does sometimes make extracting the butterfly a little harder. For small ones, I usually snake a small jar up into the net and coax the butterfly into it so I can study it better (this works best when you have a few strips of accordioned paper in the jar to keep it from battering itself around). The larger ones, like swallowtails, I typically grasp gently but firmly with my left hand through the net, the gradually peel the net back so I have the right hand free to use my iPhone or camera. Seldom harms the critters.

      You can see the net here: https://leplog.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/a-yule-gift/

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