LepTrek: Bogs of Garrett County MD

Finzel Swamp and Cranesville Swamp in western Maryland’s Garrett County are more properly examples of bogs than swamps, and represent environments usually associated with northern boreal bogs.  They’re well known among birders as summer breeding sites for a number of birds at the southern limits of their summer range, and among botanists as the location for plant communities characteristic of the north.

Lepidopterists visit these bogs for much the same reasons:  A chance to see mostly northern-clime butterflies that don’t normally occur in the Piedmont or Coastal habitats of Maryland – and often are rare even in this specialized habitat.  Tom Stock and I headed out two weekends ago for a full-day LepTrek to these two special places.

We headed first to Cranesville Swamp, a frost bowl surrounded by mostly coniferous forest.  Conditions were cool but still pretty sunny; the day would turn progressively cloudy with rain by the end.

Bog Copper in full camouflage, photo by Tom Stock

The road into the preserve hosted a couple of stands of common milkweed in full bloom, and we quickly picked up the two fritillaries for which this area is well known:  Aphrodite and Atlantis, and both in good numbers.  They allowed very close views to help us cement our understanding of the diagnostic characters that distinguish the two.  European skippers were common here (timothy grass grows along the road and powerline cut at the trailhead), and a couple of small skippers – dun and little glassywing – were also working the flowers, as was another Cranesville specialty, our first long dash.  The wooded path along the swamp to the boardwalk through the swamp yielded two very nice satyrids, Appalachian brown and northern pearly-eye.

Long Dash, photo by Tom Stock

Appalachian Brown, photo by Tom StockBut it was the bog itself that gave us the best butterfly of the morning, bog copper.  We found several of these diminutive coppers flying in the swamp itself, almost impossible to see once they’d landed amid the sundews and sphagnum moss until they kicked up again.  And with clouds passing regularly across the sun and a rising breeze, they sat tight much more often than flew!

With an eye on the sky, we beat a quick track back to the car and backtracked along I-68 to Finzel, much more conveniently located near the Interstate and with no trek to get to the bog itself.  A small disturbed area at the trailhead – likely a tipping spot for soil from a nearby construction area, clearly one with garden plants – had a good growth of oregano and comfrey in addition to clovers, all in heavy bloom.  Black dash and long dash were both working these flowers, among the distractingly common European skippers.  We also saw Atlantis fritillary here, but not Aphrodite.  After eating a quick lunch, we headed into the bog along the boardwalk.

Our biggest test came in the bog itself, where we puzzled for the better part of an hour over the identity of fast-flying sulphurs.  The first one we were able to study closely we both agreed was a likely pink-edged, for which there are historical records in Garrett Co.; a second specimen was much more obliging and, rather than skitting nervously away every time we came close, posed for a number of photos that Tom and I took while it nectared on flowers at the side of the trail.  In all, we saw about six of these beasts, as well as two clear orange sulphurs.  BUT … when we got home and studied the photos, the one “pink-edged” we took a picture of was clearly an orange sulphur.  So we’re in a quandary that won’t be resolved until next year:  Was the first one we saw, and the ones that were behaving very skittishly in the bog, pink-edged or simply orange sulphurs with a little pink flush?  I’m sticking with pink-edged for the NABA report on the BIS database, but we may well revise that if we make it back later this summer or next season and study this population more closely (and compare it with the Spruce Knob WV pink-edged populations).  For now, it’s a questionable call leaning toward orange sulphur.

But we had another couple of surprises, including a couple of large, fresh Baltimore checkerspots.  While we observed one puddling at the pond edge, Tom noticed an anglewing a few feet away also taking mud nutrients.  Expecting an Eastern comma or question mark, we were both super excited to be glassing a gray comma, with its tell-tale white striations on a charcoal gray underside and its tapered sliver of a comma.  It didn’t stay for long, not long enough to grab a photo, or return to the spot even though we hung around for a while.

Clouds were building and we were hearing thunder by the time we completed the circuit of the pond that lies at the far end of the swamp, so we headed back  to the cars.  It was a little brighter as we headed back toward Washington, and even though the hour was late we did a quick detour to a couple of spots – uneventful save for a couple of pipevine swallowtails – before pulling in at Park ‘N Dine in Hancock for a celebratory coffee and piece of pie.  The drive back was through prodigious rain and thunderstorm activity, only to find said rain had completely bypassed our parched suburban gardens.

This was one of the best local outings either of us has had in recent years — multiple life leps for both of us — and we’d like to pick a time next summer to schedule a WABC field trip to these special areas.  The flight times for the best leps here is so weather dependent we would need to schedule it on relatively short notice, but keep an eye out on LepLog for details on a WABC return to Garrett County.

Date: 07/02/2011
Number of Species: 18
Number of Individuals: 139
Cranesville Bog, TNC, Oakland MD
MD , USA   21550
Notes: In the company of Tom Stock.  Beautiful weather, low 80’s and sunny, regular light breeze from the southwest.  Occasional clouds but never overcast for more than a few minutes.  Nectar sources at the trailhead included white and red clovers, ox-eye daisy, and common milkweed in full bloom.  Nothing of consequence of bloom in the bog proper. In the field on foot from 1030-1230 hours.

Common Name    Scientific Name Life Stage      Number Seen     Notes
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail       Papilio glaucus Adult   3
Cabbage White   Pieris rapae    Adult   3
Orange Sulphur  Colias eurytheme        Adult   1
Bog Copper      Lycaena epixanthe       Adult   5
Eastern Tailed-Blue     Everes comyntas Adult   1
‘Summer’ Spring Azure   Celastrina ladon neglecta       Adult   2       one seen by Tom only; one en route from Cranesville along Trap Run Road
Great Spangled Fritillary       Speyeria cybele Adult   5       in a milkweek patch along Trap Run Road near Cranesville
Aphrodite Fritillary    Speyeris aphrodite      Adult   9
Atlantis Fritillary     Speyeria atlantis       Adult   11
Red-spotted Purple      Limenitis arthemis astyanax     Adult   1       in a milkweek patch along Trap Run Road near Cranesville
Northern Pearly-eye     Enodia anthedon Adult   2
Appalachian Brown       Satyrodes appalachia    Adult   2
Monarch Danaus plexippus        Adult   2
Silver-spotted Skipper  Epargyreus clarus       Adult   17
European Skipper        Thymelicus lineola      Adult   A
Long Dash       Polites mystic  Adult   1       male
Little Glassywing       Pompeius verna  Adult   8
Dun Skipper     Euphyes vestris Adult   6

Date: 07/02/2011
Number of Species: 17
Number of Individuals: 104
Finzel Swamp,
MD , USA   21536
Notes: Midday to late afternoon in the Nature Conservancy preserve, Finzel Swamp.  Few nectar sources available other than ox-eye daisy and a few legumes along the trail and in grassy upland areas. Low 80’s, partly cloudy, regular light breeze.  In the field from 1400-1630 hours.

Common Name    Scientific Name Life Stage      Number Seen     Notes
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail       Papilio glaucus Adult   1       dark morph female
Cabbage White   Pieris rapae    Adult   3
Orange Sulphur  Colias eurytheme        Adult   1       one definite, several on the wing likely eurytheme
Pink-edged Sulphur      Colias interior Adult   1       1 definite, 2 probable on the wing
Eastern Tailed-Blue     Everes comyntas Adult   7
‘Summer’ Spring Azure   Celastrina ladon neglecta       Adult   6
Great Spangled Fritillary       Speyeria cybele Adult   2
Atlantis Fritillary     Speyeria atlantis       Adult   1
Baltimore Checkerspot   Euphydryas phaeton      Adult   2
Gray Comma      Polygonia progne        Adult   1       sipping at mud along the pond side, classic white striations and thin tapered silver comma, large orange spaces on FW
Common Buckeye  Junonia coenia  Adult   2
Appalachian Brown       Satyrodes appalachia    Adult   3
Silver-spotted Skipper  Epargyreus clarus       Adult   7
European Skipper        Thymelicus lineola      Adult   A
Peck’s Skipper  Polites peckius Adult   3
Little Glassywing       Pompeius verna  Adult   2
Black Dash      Euphyes conspicua       Adult   2       males

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