Beth and I headed to the New Jersey Pine Barrens early Sunday morning, arriving around 9 am in habitat well known for producing Hessel’s Hairstreaks — bog areas in the Pine Barrens that support a dense growth of Atlantic White-cedar (the only host plant for Hessel’s caterpillars) with a fringe of nectar plants in the sandy soil cheek to jowl with the bog — in this case, Sand Myrtle and Highbush Blueberry, both about half-way to peak bloom.
Our first FOY of the day was a sighting of a lepidopterist rather than a lepidopteran; Michael Drake had also driven over from Philly to check out the location and had arrived a half hour or so before us and struck out. Undaunted, we went back in and Michael came with us. Two hours later, we admitted defeat and returned to the cars, but not before we had White-M Hairstreak, Brown Elfin, azures, American Lady and Red Admiral among us (although not everyone saw all of them).
Michael led our two-car caravan down to Warren Grove and an extensive growth of Bearberry (Arctostaphylos) in a managed area of the Pine Barrens. No sooner than we’d closed the car doors than we were hip deep in Hoary Elfins, a life lep for both me and Beth — ovipositing, dog-fighting, nectaring and otherwise disporting themselves among the acres of Bearberry. I stopped counting Hoaries when I reached 50. We also met up with two other lep observers, Mike and Carol, and just as Michael left to return to Philadelphia we added Cobweb Skipper (a lifer for Beth). He’d seen both Brown Elfin and Eastern Pine Elfin there that we didn’t, so we called it even!
At this point, Beth and I realized we hadn’t eaten since McDonald’s at 5:30 am and it was now almost 8 hours later. Like generations of lep-trekkers before us we headed to Lucille’s Diner for a LepLunch of fine proportions: amazing Reuben sandwiches and the flakiest Forest Berry Pie you’ll ever find.
Restored to good humor, we decided to back-track to the Hessel’s area and try again. Soon, Mike and Carol joined us there too. And it’s here that I saw my second life lep of the day — a brief glimpse of a Hessel’s on Sand Myrtle, a similar brief glimpse for Beth, and then a killer look at a pristine second Hessel’s on another patch of Sand Myrtle that launched itself back into the cedars before I could get a camera on it or get Beth over to share the sighting. Another hour of diligent searching turned up no more hairstreaks.
On the way back home, we checked out the interesting small Webb’s Mill Bog and then treated ourselves to vanilla-orange twist ice cream (to match the orange Subaru) cones to celebrate.
Here’s a short album of other sightings during the Pine Barrens trip: