Trouble Keeping Secrets

Mark Walker (xvermontrz@att.net) posted a wonderful long message today on DesertLeps, echoing a feeling most of us in temperate America feel this time of year — even when it hits a stunning and record breaking 72 degrees in DC today!  I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.  Reposted with Mark’s permission:

>>What do butterfly aficionados do in the dead of winter? Mostly, they dream.

They dream of wild places and the thrill of adventure. They dream of warmer
climes and places where butterfly flights are strong – even while the rest
of the hemisphere is buried in deep freeze. Sometimes, they even muster up
enough gumption to seek out and fulfill such dreams.

Usually, cabin fever motivated gumption provides such butterfly weirdoes
with limited rewards – like sightings of overwintering Nymphalis or early
records for Cabbage Whites. But occasionally these dreamers score big –
they manage to find themselves in the midst of paradise, surrounded by
promising habitat, and inundated with real flying adult butterflies.

Winter in North America pushes such dreamers south to places like Florida,
Texas, California, and Arizona. Good choices, for sure, and I’ve
successfully pushed myself into some incredible January butterfly adventures
to such destinations over the years. However, for frigid North American
butterfly dreamers who really want to escape to paradise, there is perhaps
no better destination than Mexico. Indeed, over the years I’ve found that
dreaming of Mexico – it’s culture, cuisine, music, and landscape – is a fine
way to endure the winter doldrums.

But Mexico dreaming is not as cheap as it once was, and the notion of
embarking on weeklong adventures requiring air travel have become mostly
prohibitive. Instead, one begins limiting the expectations of such dreams
to locations that can be reached by vehicle. For those of us out west,
financial limitations tend to restrict us to desert habitats, but the desert
can be a wonderful choice for dreaming lepidopterists who are otherwise
shivering. “In the desert, you can remember your name, for there ain’t no
one for to bring you no pain”.

So, on January 26th 2012, my winter motivated gumption compelled me to head
out from Southern California and into the Sonoran Desert. My first stop
would be Tucson, where I would meet with other butterfly dreamers who were
gathering to enjoy some fellowship, exchange anecdotes, share enthusiasm,
and present their discoveries. Hosted by Jim Brock, this proved to be the
perfect antidote for winter induced depression – second only to actually
being in the field. Thanks Jim – I was happy to have finally met some folks
I knew previously only electronically.

The next morning I recruited Doug Mullins to drive south across the
international border, destined for San Carlos on the western edge of Sonora
and overlooking the fabulous Sea of Cortez. Though this part of Mexico is
arid, we hoped that it was far enough south to support the sort of warmth
that prompts the flights of butterflies – even in January.

I had never been to San Carlos before – or anywhere south of Hermosillo – so
I didn’t know for what I was in store. What I found was delightful – an
expansive and pristine desert landscape, greening up from winter rains,
silhouetted by rugged volcanic mountains, and framed by the blue of the Sea
of Cortez. Though the area has experienced rapid development (you must take
the time to enjoy the marketing video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_LMTRYXCaw ), it still retains the charm of
a sleepy fishing village complete with miles of white sand beaches and
private coves. Away from the sea, one is quickly reminded of its wild, wild
west history – and no trip to the area should be made without a broad
brimmed hat and a pair of hiking boots (or better yet, a caballo). The
terrain is harsh and unfriendly, with most of the plants equipped for severe
flesh shredding, but wonders abound for the naturalist who feels up to the
challenge.

As for January butterflies, I was astonished. Everywhere we trekked we
found adult butterflies, some of them endemic to the area and having
explosive flights. Highlights included large numbers (both sexes) of the
spectacular Chlosyne eumeda and frequent sightings of the creamy yellow
Euchloe guaymesensis. On the beach at San Carlos we found healthy
populations of Hypostrymon critola, while mangrove estuaries produced
sightings of Junonia genoveva and Ascia monuste. On one windblown hilltop I
even found a newly emerged Anthocharis cethura pima.

So, while the senorita in the marketing video urges me to refrain from
sharing too much about Mexico’s best kept secret, I find it hard to restrain
myself. As frigid February slowly looms forward, I will be strengthened by
vivid memories of the people, flora, fauna, rock, sea, and sand of
northwestern Mexico. And forever forward, January will stand as a reminder
that anytime can be butterfly time.

Mark Walker

Butterflies of Sonora, Mexico – 1/29/2012

Battus philenor – a few

Papilio polyxenes coloro – one

Danaus gilippus – common

Vanessa annabella – common

Junonia genoveva – in between flights

Myscelia cyananthe – one

Asterocampa leilia – one

Agraulis vanillae – common

Libytheana carinenta – common

Chlosyne eumeda – common

Dymasia dymas – a few

Brephidium exilis – common

Echinargus isola – common

Leptotes marina – common

Hypostrymon critola – many

Strymon istapa – one

Strymon melinus – a few

Abaeis nicippe – common

Pyrisitia nise – common

Kricogonia lyside – a few

Phoebis agarithe – one

Phoebis sennae – common

Zerene cesonia – common

Ascia monuste – common

Pontia protodice – a few

Anthocharis cethura pima – one

Euchloe guaymesensis – common

Lerodea arabus – a few

Copaeodes aurantiaca – a few

Systasea zampa – common

Chiomara georgina – a few

Erynnis funeralis – common

Erynnis ?

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