Tom Stock and I looked at the weather for the July 13 weekend last Wednesday. I was finishing up the weekly Lep Forecast, and was reviewing what we would need to get to 100 species in Maryland yet this flight season. FOYs were coming in very slowly; we’d missed some significant ones, including West Virginia White for us both and Frosted Elfin for Tom. So we had ground to make up.
Looking at the forecast and our target list, we decided by email that we’d both take off from work on Friday and head out to Garrett Co. by way of Green Ridge State Forest. Our targets: Northern Metalmark in Allegany Co., and in Garrett Co. we needed Bog Copper (in a Maryland bog, not at Cranesville across the state line); Aphrodite, Atlantis, and Silver-bordered Fritillaries; Gray Comma (for Tom); Black Dash; and Applachian Brown (also for Tom). Our hopes were high looking at the forecast Thursday night. We made arrangement to meet a colleague in Green Ridge for the metalmark hunt, and then hit some areas in the Savage River drainage of Garrett before checking in to a hotel in Frostburg for an early start Saturday. Our friend Beth Johnson was going to join us on Saturday for an exploration of some cranberry bogs in Garrett Co. and along the rich stream valleys and roadsides in eastern Garrett.
Friday dawned with rain pounding a demoralizing rhythm on my skylight even before I got up. Cloud maps showed somewhat more favorable in mid-afternoon out past Hagerstown. Another quick conference by email: We decided to reassess the situation at noon, maybe cancel the hotel rooms and drive out Saturday. I canceled the meet-up with the friend we were going to chase metalmarks with, and went back to bed and cursed the clouds. But when I got back up at 10 with a pot of tea to back me up, it looked a little brighter. And the Saturday forecast for Garrett Co. was delightful – sunny, warm, little or no chance of rain until very late in the day. Back online with Tom; we decided I could be at his house by 11:30 and we’d take a chance on some cloud breaks on the way out.
Our hopes faded with every mile west that we drove. Steady rain, then low clouds and drizzle that lasted all the way to South Mountain. By then the rain had stopped but the sky was steely gray with nary a sunbeam in sight. Nevertheless, when we hit the Swain Road exit off of I-68, we turned south along the edge of Green Ridge State Forest to check out the known colonies of Northern Metalmark that make the local roads their home. We turned again onto Swain Hollow and parked at the first of the shale cliff faces we’d visited two weeks ago. When we were there then, nothing was in bloom. Friday, woodland sunflower and spotted knapweed were in full bloom – but dripping wet. It had rained hard within the past hour, it was already midafternoon, and we were pretty sure this was a fool’s errand. We walked the roadbank both ways from the car, finally ending up in the little swale between the two first roadside shale banks. It warmed up a tad. Brightened just noticeably.
And suddenly there was a metalmark trying its best to bask on a leaf by the road. Life butterfly for me and FOY for both of us. A little more searching along the road gave us six more, mostly coming out finally to nectar on the sunflowers. Rejoicing at our luck even in defiance of the weather gods, we continued on our way west.
The rest of the trip proved uneventful. Few other leps were out, although we did stop to poke around Sideling Hill Creek and spent some time watching a Wild Indigo Duskywing colony along Orleans Road on the way out of Green Ridge. An early dinner at a steakhouse near Frostburg provided some of the best sightings of local wildlife of the day, albeit the two-legged kind. Checking our email we learned that a colleague who had tried for the metalmarks earlier in the day had dipped completely, and that other friends who followed us along Swain Hollow Road by about an hour stopped counting at THIRTY, there were so many. “There was one on every sunflower,” they said. “We didn’t even have to get out of the car to see them.”
We emailed Beth after dinner to tell her that the forecast had turned a bit worse and that it was in fact drizzling Friday night and would likely rain at least half the day on Saturday. She could change her mind if she wanted. We were stuck with our rooms at that point, though, or we would very likely have come home.
[Metalmark photos above are Tom’s]