The brief life butterfly glimpse of Hessel’s Hairstreak I had in the NJ Pine Barrens on Mother’s Day should have scratched the itch I’ve had for this little hairstreak for a decade or more, but instead only left me wanting more. So Tom Stock and piled into Orange Crush and headed up I-95 for the three-hour foray into the heart of the barrens to get life butterflies for him (Hessel’s, Hoary Elfin) and another good look at (and maybe even photo of) Hessel’s for me.
We pulled up at our first stop a little after 10 am, and once again the lepidopterist sightings were as good as the lepidoptera themselves. Michael Drake had just pulled up there a few minutes earlier (again! same as last Sunday! and completely unrehearsed), and shortly thereafter our MD butterfly/ode bud Rick Cheicante pulled in behind us. The sun was bright but temps were still quite cool — barely had hit 60 by then after a chilly night. The four of us did a quick sweep of the area, most of which was still in morning shade. Bee activity was quite intense and both the highbush blueberry (it’s V. corymbosum here) and the sand myrtle were in peak bloom.
But we saw no butterflies. At all. And almost no odes, either.
So we went down the road to a reliable Hoary Elfin location about 15 minutes away, where the viewing was good (Tom had about a dozen of this lifer for him) although nothing like the 50+ we had last weekend — the bearberry is about bloomed out. We had a male Cobweb Skipper; Rick C had a couple females farther back in the pines. We explored some of the back roads there until around 1:30, when it started clouding up. Some of us decided on Lucille’s for lunch, after checking out the blooming blueberry along Warren Bog. We dipped there for Hessel’s.
[Casual aside: We saw a number of fresh azures puddling on one of the back roads near a cedar swamp, and remarked at how pristine they looked. None of us thought to examine them closely on the assumption that these were still “Spring” Summer Azure because “Summer” Summer Azure isn’t even out here in the DC area and we just weren’t thinking about other azures. But other folks who’d been in the field it the same locations the day before were bandying about the possibility of Holly Azure, C. idella, and I think — based on photos that Michael luckily took — we’re inclined to agree. A couple of older, darker azures were likely Northern Azure, there more typically known as Blueberry Azure]
After lunch, we braved a pack of motorcyclists leaving Lucille’s and headed back to our original spot, but the clouds were heavy and not much was stirring. Rick C headed off to some odes territory down the highway; the remaining three of us decided to optimistically wait for a far-off cloud break to slowly drift over. Good decision. Just as the clouds brightened a fresh Hessel’s miraculously appeared on a blueberry leaf right in front of us, affording excellent views and pics. We summoned Rick back but by the time he got there it was cloudy again and getting late; he managed to jump one up and see it in flight. The day ended sunny and warm but too late to bring any more Hessel’s out. But a great trip nonetheless and glad we stuck to our plan.
Passing the photos around electronically the next day, clearly Tom’s was the standout Hessel’s. That’s the one at the top of this post.
Also saw Brown Elfin, Pine Elfin, Pearl Crescent, Eastern Tailed-blue, and Juvenal’s DW at various points during the day. Rick C scored a Mantled Baskettail.