Belated though this is, both Beth Johnson and I wanted to report on the outstanding experience this year on July 5 with the
Ft. Indiantown Gap (FIG) Regal Fritillary and Grassland Tour. This once-a-year event, usually held on two weekends around the Fourth of July, is a chance for non-military observers to get access to the largest remaining eastern colony of this once-widespread fritillary, which exists here on the National Guard training reservation owing to regular disturbance of the landscape from military exercises and the dedicated efforts of a team of wildlife specialists who keep tabs on FIG’s critters.
Despite the hot temperatures (sunny, slight breeze, low 90’s F.), more than 100 folks showed up on Friday morning July 5 at the FIG visitor center for an orientation and caravan to prime Regal-viewing territory. After everyone had arrived at the staging area, the line of observers stretched out for about an eighth of a mile, with rangers and volunteers strategically spread along the march. Regals were sighted right away, sometimes three or four at a time on single blossoms of common milkweed (also blooming were butterfly weed, green milkweed, common and spreading dogbane, and a number of other nectar sources).
By the end of tour at about noon, we’d seen hundreds of Regal Fritillaries, along with good numbers of American Ladies ovipositing on trailside pussytoes, Coral Hairstreaks, American Coppers, and a few Aphrodite Fritillaries, some of which posed for good side-by-side comparisons with Great Spangled and Meadow Fritillaries, which were also flying.
Beth and I also lucked into a colony of Baltimore Checkerspots in one of the FIG wetland areas, and also observed Spangled and Widow Skimmers, saddlebags and gliders hawking over the fields, and the occasional Common Green Darner chasing butterflies.