Many of you have been following the exploits of those of us involved in the MD100 project, a Big Year attempt for butterflies in Maryland. We set the goal of 100 species seen in the state during the 2013 flight season — an audacious stretch goal, given that even last year, one of the best in recent memory, none of us came very close without relying on out-of-state sightings.
Despite the fact that this has been a generally poor year for butterflies, I’m as surprised as anyone to say that over the last couple days of June I broke the 90 species threshold for MD100 — more than I had in Maryland all last year. Tom Stock is breathing down my neck at 89 species. Not really surprising, since we’ve done most of our lepping in tandem this year, often accompanied by our mutual friend Beth Johnson, whose camera skills have improved these posts immeasurably and who helped us through the June doldrums with ode watching. She’s built an impressive MD100 total too.
One of the limitations this season, though, has been my Prius — an excellent choice for mileage, but impossible to take through some of the territory we needed to cover to reach MD100. So I broke down last week and traded it in for a Subaru CrossTrek, and Tom and I took it on its shake-down voyage Friday for what we planned as a two-day overnight to Garrett Co. The thinking behind this strategy was informed by Rick Cheicante’s intel that he had seen straggler Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail at Finzel Swamp (I had missed this species during its flight closer to home), along with dwindling Harris’ Checkerspot and Silver-bordered Fritillary. We also hoped for Black Dash, Long Dash, European Skipper (missed by everyone on the recent western Montgomery Co count).
Our plan was to hit Frederick Municipal Watershed Forest on the way west Friday morning to see if Edwards’ Hairstreak had begun its flight yet, then spend the rest of the day in Green Ridge State Forest tracking down Northern Metalmark and possibly Giant Swallowtail.
We were in one of the known locations for Edwards’ Hairstreak by before 10, and had an Edwards’ straightaway without even slogging the fair distance to a fallow field with oak saplings where we normally see this species. High fives for our good luck ensued, and I was also fortunate enough to pick up Tawny-edged Skipper there as well.
We were back out to I-70 as quickly as the odd interchange at Braddock Heights permitted, and early enough to stop at the Hancock Park ‘N Dine (a traditional stop for a LepLunch) before hitting metalmark territory along Swain Road. Inexplicably, though, Green Ridge State Forest was pretty dead when we arrived a little after 1 pm. Aside from some Great Spangled Frits on butterfly weed, we saw very few leps on the cliff faces and high roads of GRSF. A side trip down a road paralleling Sideling Creek, however, gave us both a great look at a pristine Delaware Skipper, and Tom got his FOY Common Wood Nymph.
The watch said 2:30 and there was little else to do in Green Ridge: It appeared we were early for Northern Metalmark and nothing else of interest was flying, so we made an executive decision to drive on over to Finzel Swamp and possibly get an early start on our Garrett Co list.
The weather had other ideas.
By the time we got to Frostburg, a line of heavy thunderstorms was pushing through with a severe storm warning for the entire county. We holed up at Burger King and watched the high winds wreak havoc in the trees down the valley. As the rain let up, we drove the additional 10 miles or so to Finzel.
It was still raining lightly as we pulled up at 4 pm, so we sat in the car and waiting until the storm passed about 20 minutes later and gave us some good bursts of strong sunshine for the next hour or so. Tom had our first European Skipper huddling in the wet grass within minutes, and as we looked closer we found literally hundreds in the tall timothy grass and other plants waiting to dry out. They were flying quickly — and were annoyingly common!
Soon enough, though, we got our FOY Long Dash (one of several) in a patch of meadow beyond the Finzel boardwalk path. Neither Harris’ Checkerspot nor Silver-bordered Fritillary made an appearance, nor did Black Dash, and we were too early in the season for the other western frits, Aphrodite and Atlantis. Hobomok Skippers and a Baltimore Checkerspot provided a certain amount of consolation, but the real spirit lifter for me was a huge, floppy, lemon-yellow Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail likely on its last flight popping down the path toward us. Appalachian Tiger was not the only worn early spring species still in flight; we also observed a very bedraggled Dreamy Duskywing.
The combination of clouds and setting sun put an end to leps for the day, and Tom I returned to Frostburg for an early dinner and a strategy session for the next day — spend the night and try for more species on Saturday? Drive back to DC and try again in a couple of weeks? Unluckily for us, the severe storms had knocked out power in most of Frostburg, so we drove on into LaVale. By the time we got to dinner, we were pretty much decided — pull the plug on day two, save the money for hotel rooms, and head back home. The weather was predicted to be unsettled in the mountains the next day; less so on the Eastern Shore. So we decided to head out again to the opposite end of the state the next morning. But that’s Part 2 …
June 28, 2013: Western Maryland
1. Frederick Watershed Forest, Frederick County, Maryland
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (1)
Spicebush Swallowtail (5)
Edwards’ Hairstreak (1) FOY
Gray Hairstreak (2)
Great Spangled Fritillary (8)
Silver-spotted Skipper (6)
Northern Cloudywing (3)
Tawny-edged Skipper (2)
Cross Line Skipper (5)
Northern Broken Dash (1)
Little Glassywing (2)
Dun Skipper (1)
2. Green Ridge State Forest, Allegheny County, Maryland
Orange Sulphur (common)
Eastern Tailed Blue (common)
Great Spangled Fritillary (common)
Common Wood Nymph (1)
Silver-spotted Skipper (9)
Cross Line Skipper (3)
Delaware Skipper (1)
3. Finzel Swamp, Garrett County, Maryland
Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail (1)
Orange Sulphur (1)
Eastern Tailed Blue (common)
Summer Azure (common)
Great Spangled Fritillary (2)
Baltimore Checkerspot (1)
Little Wood Satyr (3)
Silver-spotted Skipper (3)
Dreamy Duskywing (1)
Least Skipper (2)
European Skipper (abundant) FOY
Peck’s Skipper (4)
Long Dash (10) FOY
Hobomok Skipper (2)