For those of you who have been following the travails of the 2013 Butterfly Big Year that some of us have been conducting in Maryland, you’ll know I’ve waxed increasingly despondent over the season by my inability to find Bronze Copper. This species — one of the largest copper species in the U.S. — used to be widespread on the Coastal Plain of MD and well into the Piedmont region. Over the last few years, however, the population seems to have plummeted drastically — it is now only known from the Eastern Shore, and previous redoubts for this species near Easton and Cambridge have failed to produce sightings for us. The probable cause is increased mowing and intensive agriculture, supported in this case by herbicide-resistant crops that allow veritable saturation of fields and field borders with Round-Up and other herbicides, wiping out the larval food plants and adult nectar resources. Happily, the species seems to be doing a little better in Delaware and southern NJ, but that doesn’t help our MD Big Year effort at all.
But things were looking up a little this weekend after Jim Brighton emailed me last week
to say he and a colleague had seen and photographed a lone Bronze Copper on Hickory Point Road in Worcester Co. near Pocomoke City. This is the same location we’ve visited a couple of times this summer for the northernmost MD population (to my knowledge) of Palamades Swallowtail. Beth, Tom and I departed under rather gloomy skies Saturday morning for what could well be our last major foray into the field for butterflies this season.
The weather did not cooperate. We originally thought we might stop at the Easton and Cambridge locations en route to Pocomoke City, but the temperatures were cool and it was even spitting a little rain as we motored on down Route 50, so we kept going straight to Hickory Point Road. As we drove through Pocomoke City, we noticed a few faraway blue spots in the otherwise gray skies, but it was still solid overcast and cool when we pulled up at the very end of Hickory Point Road.
There isn’t a lot of nectar there: some asters, some goldenrod, and a good bit of blooming Umbrella Water Pennywort, but little else. The first thing we noticed was that Pearl Crescents were everywhere despite the clouds, and in a bewildering array of sizes, colors, and states of wear. A few Least Skippers wove thought the sedges, and a single Eastern Tailed-blue sat quietly on an aster flower.
But patience rewarded us with a couple of sunbursts, and in only a few minutes the picture changed dramatically. Hordes of Pearl Crescents and Least Skippers, and another dozen Eastern Tailed-blues appeared as if someone had turned on a butterfly switch. Beth spotted a Palamedes Swallowtail, one of six we would see in the next hour or so. We also picked up a very fresh Great Purple Hairstreak nectaring on goldenrod, a Red-banded Hairstreak, a Silver-spotted Skipper, and a Sachem. But the best sighting came as Tom yelled “Bronze Copper!” and Beth and I raced over to see a female Bronze
on goldenrod. We took a few pictures, did a few fist bumps, and then watched as the copper (a female, as it happens) left the flowers and started systematically making her way through the low grass near the larval host plants, water dock. She was pretty cooperative — read, unperturbed in what was apparently an oviposition mission — and we watched as last clouds broke up and the sky cleared up completely.
Bronze Copper — a life butterfly for me and Beth, and #105 on my list of Maryland butterfly species for 2013!