After an unsuccessful hunt for grasspipers at the Central Sod Farm along Route 301 near Centreville this morning, I was heading down the Delaware marshes for some shorebirding when I stopped at the rest area just down the highway. Pulling back onto 301, I noticed a lot of nectar sources across 301 in the green strip between the gravel access road (Carville Price Road, it turns out) and the highway, running parallel to 301 and the RR tracks for about four miles between Hope Road to the west and Price Station Road to the east. This powerline right-of-way abounds with nectar plants right now: Joe-pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed, Ironweed, Mistflower, several kinds of Lespedeza, and Climbing Hempweed. There’s also quite a bit of Dogbane coming back into bloom. The areas to the left and right of the shoulder of Carville Price alternate from dry, field-like conditions to wet ditches; in the wet ditches with Joe-pye, in fact, are quite a few Chelone glabra (turtlehead) in bloom. But the biggest draw for tremendous numbers of butterflies along this strip was the clumps of thistles every few hundred yards. In the two miles of road approximately halfway between Hope Road and Price Station, I stopped counting at 100 each for Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, and Pipevine Swallowtail. Sachems were superabundant; Cloudless Sulphur, Variegated Fritillaries, and Common Buckeyes were everywhere. So, too, were Painted Ladies — several hundred, conservatively, outnumbering American Ladies 20:1.
But the biggest surprise was the couple of Checkered Whites I managed to pull out of the common Cabbage Whites at various points along Carville Price — it’s always great to see this uncommon lep, and I’d only seen one all season long this year (on a visit to Blackwater NWR with Tom Stock) and none at all last season. Imagine my surprise, then, when I stopped a few hundred yards shy of the intersection with Price Station Road — at a big cluster of Joe-pye and Climbing Hempweed — and found NINETEEN more Checkered Whites in one location, literally in sight at one time, with a lone Cabbage White hanging out with them! The day’s total of 23 Checkered Whites along Carville Price Road is double the number of this species I’ve seen in total in my life.
I also had the pleasure of running into botanist Ron Wilson, noted most recently for rediscovering the orchid hybird Platanthera x canbyi in the Nassawango drainage on the lower Eastern Shore. He was doing a botanical survey of the powerline ROW along Carville Price as part of his consulting work through Delmarva Botanical Surveys. We had a great chat about locations for food plants for some unusual or rare DelMarVa butterflies, including Hessel’s Hairstreak and Palamedes Swallowtail.
Anyone headed out 301 to the Delaware beaches this Labor Day weekend would do well to check out this little strip on the way.