Butterflies, Birds and Botany of Western Maryland Bogs

Walking the pine plantation on the way to the Cranesville Swamp boardwalk

Walking the pine plantation on the way to the Cranesville Swamp boardwalk [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

  Our three-day Audubon Naturalist Society extended foray began in early afternoon on Saturday July 19 at Finzel Swamp, a boreal relict fen in eastern Garrett County. Unfortunately, we started in drizzle and ended in steady rain. Despite the showers, we managed to kick up some Finzel butterfly specialties early in our trip: Black Dash, the very dark northern form of Common Wood-nymph, and Appalachian Brown. We also had a few more common leps, including Eastern Tailed-blue, Pearl Crescent, and Great-spangled Fritillary. We sorted through a few odes in the meadow at the parking lot, including White-faced Meadowhawk (and possibly a second meadowhawk species), a couple of damselflies, and a Slender Spreadwing.

Other insects of note included panorpid scorpionflies, Virginia Ctenucha day-flying moths, and a couple of diminutive pyrodoxine Yucca Moths buried deep in yucca flowers at the old homestead. We talked at length about the mutually beneficial relationship between the pollinating moth and its host; the moth pollinates the flower in exchange for a few of the ripening ovaries to feed its caterpillars.

Birds were notably hunkered down, but brief let-ups in the rain gave us Black-capped Chickadees, Purple Finch, Swamp Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and hosts of Cedar Waxwings cleaning up on black cherries. The human participants cleaned up on ripe blueberries.

White-faced Meadowhawk at Finzel Swamp [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

White-faced Meadowhawk at Finzel Swamp [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

The plants didn’t mind the rain nearly as much; we explored the many microhabitats created by varying water levels, from deciduous holly, to blueberry, to speckled alder. We also discussed the nutrient cycle in this nutrient- poor environment, and how changes in the hydrology of the Finzel area — including contamination with fertilizers — could tip the balance in favor of the invasive European plants that we saw on the path and around the margins of the fen as just trace amounts of fertilizer allow invasives to outcompete native flora that are adapted to the poor nutrient habitats. The large white Rhododenrons were blooming along the small pond’s edge near the parking lot.

We enjoyed a group dinner at The Hen House in Frostburg. The optional night hike at Finzel was called off because of the continuing rain.

Notable Butterflies for Day 1:

Orange Sulphur

Eastern Tailed-blue

Summer Azure

Pearl Crescent

Common Wood-nymph

Black Dash

Little Glassywing

 

Bog Copper on the flower of its larval host plant, small cranberry [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Bog Copper on the flower of its larval host plant, small cranberry [photo by Dave Pollock]

Day two came very early, with a dawn hike for those who wished just south of Frostburg to a known location for Henslow’s Sparrow. About half the group showed up in the hotel parking lot for the carpool down, and after a short hike into an overgrown pasture, we were able to get crippling views of Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, at one point posing within inches of each other on the same shrub and both singing – you couldn’t ask for a better side-by-side comparison of these two grassland sparrows! We talked at length about how weedy pastureland and grasslands are among Maryland’s most endangered habitats while watching Eastern Meadowlark and listening to Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, and other grassland birds singing as the sun emerged from the clouds.

We returned to the hotel, gathered the rest of the tour group, and headed west to Cranesville Swamp on the MD/WV border in the expectation of seeing Bog Copper, a specialist butterfly restricted to bogs where its host plant, small cranberry, creeps across the sphagnum floor of the bog. After a short hike in – with a number of Appalachian Browns along the way, and some fast-flying Great-spangled Fritillaries – we emerged onto the boardwalk and spent about 15 minutes looking for the coppers. While we looked for the butterflies, we also saw two odonate denizens of Cranesville – large, blue Spatterdock Darners and the diminutive Sphagnum Sprite damselfly. Bog plants in abundance also caught our attention, from American larch to carnivorous sundews to pale green orchids and myriad sedges and rushes. Finally, a burst of bright sunshine through the cloudy skies brought out a good number of the Bog Coppers, affording good views for everyone. The walk back provided good looks at plants more at home in the Maine woods than Maryland: trailing arbutus, dewdrops, wintergreen, and Turks-cap lily, as well as the original coniferous inhabitants of the area upslope from the bog, white pine and hemlock. Overhead, we heard singing Golden-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches in addition to the lazy whistles of Black-capped Chickadees; group members “pished” up a Yellowthroat that followed us for a good distance along the trail, scolding the entire time. As we returned to the parking lot, we discussed the essential differences between the bog-like habitats at Finzel and Cranesville, a conversation we continued over lunch in McHenry.

Ogling the Meadow Jumping-mouse at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

Ogling the Meadow Jumping-mouse at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

After lunch we continued our foray in Garrett County with a visit to Herrington Manor State Park. Our first stop there was the Grow No Mow meadow, a managed field near the lake with abundant wild oregano, heal-all, and scattered dogbane. This field provided some of our best butterflying of the trip, with ample opportunities to study the differences between the very similar Great-spangled Fritillary and Aphrodite Fritillary; more Black Dashes; the small Meadow Fritillary; many Common Wood-nymphs and Appalachian Browns, both sipping fermenting sap from a tree wound; our first Northern Pearly-eye of the trip; and Dun, Crossline and Little Glassywing Skippers in addition to the by-now-ubiquitous Silver-spotted Skipper. American Copper gave us our second copper species of the trip.

Damselflies shared the meadow with the butterflies,

Common Wood-nymph sipping fermented sap at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

Common Wood-nymph sipping fermented sap at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

and several large dragonflies – Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Common Whitetail, and Widow Skimmer – hawked for midges and mosquitoes. Calico Pennant dragonflies staked out the tops of the taller grass stalks.

Just downhill from the meadow we explored the lower margins of the parking lot, with even better opportunities for comparing fritillaries. But the scene-stealer here was a Meadow Jumping-mouse that afforded very good looks as it huddled in the short grass.

Closer to the lake we picked up more butterflies, including our first swallowtail of the trip, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Orange Bluet damselflies hung out along the lake edge, and Variable Dancers among others haunted the tall grass under the berm. Two Spotted Sandpipers flushed up, giving everyone a good look at their teetering exploration of the muddy shoreline.

Turk's-cap Lily along Snaggy Mountain Road {REB]

Turk’s-cap Lily along Snaggy Mountain Road {REB]

As the sun lowered, we made one last stop before returning to Frostburg: Snaggy Mountain Road, a short dirt road through hemlocks that provided an evensong of Hermit Thrushes and good but distant looks at a Scarlet Tanager. Snaggy also gave us good close-up looks at the flowers of Turks-cap Lily.

Offers to reschedule the Finzel night walk from the night before were turned down as the exhausted troops opted for an early night!

 

Appalachian Brown at Cranesville Swamp [REB]

Appalachian Brown at Cranesville Swamp [REB]

 

 

Notable Butterflies for Day 2:

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Orange Sulphur

Eastern Tailed-blue

American Copper

Pearl Crescent

Great-spangled Fritillary

Aphrodite Fritillary

Red Admiral

Common Wood-nymph

Black Dash

Long Dash (only a couple of us saw this)

Crossline Skipper

Dun Skipper

Little Glassywing

 

Rob Hilton holds one of EIGHT Imperial Moths we found lingering around the lights at the Citgo overlooking Sideling Hill Creek [REB]

Rob Hilton holds one of EIGHT Imperial Moths we found lingering around the lights at the Citgo overlooking Sideling Hill Creek [REB]

Day 3 had a leisurely start as we waited for the sun to rise over the hills in Green Ridge State Forest and warm the shale shoulders of the woodland roads through the Sideling Hill Creek drainage. On the way to Green Ridge from Frostburg we stopped first at the State Forest visitor center, where – unbeknownst to us – the restroom facilities were closed owing to a septic problem. We walked the short path to the overlook, where we had additional close-ups of Scarlet Tanager and enjoyed a lively discussion of the finer points of flycatcher ID as we watched an Eastern Wood-pewee darting out from dead branches near the overlook. A skipper on the ground next to the path proved to be a Horace’s Duskywing, leading to a good conversation about the essential differences between the grass skippers and the spread-wing skippers, and a refresher on moths, skippers and butterflies more generally. From the overlook platform we also could see at least six species of oaks, and talked about the remarkable genetic promiscuity of oaks in general and how the areas of mixed-growth forest like Green Ridge are hotspots of genetic diversity and speciation, as opposed to landscape-like plantings in urban settings and monocultures on tree plantations.

Male dobsonfly at the Citgo lights [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Male dobsonfly at the Citgo lights [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Before descending into the lowlands of the state forest, we stopped at the Citgo gas station at High Germany Road. The moths must have known it was the start of National Moth Week – the lights at the convenience store the night before had pulled in tremendous numbers of moths, fishflies, stoneflies, Dobsonflies, beetles, and other nocturnal insects. We knew we were in for a treat when our first sight was eight – EIGHT! – huge Imperial Moths and a Royal Walnut Moth right off the bat. There were dozens of Dobson-flies, including several large-mandibled males. Other moth sightings included The Angel, Pandorus Sphinx, Rosy Maple Moth, Beautiful Wood-nymph, Clymene Moth, Banded Tussock Moth, and a variety of geometers, emeralds, tiger moths, and others.

The early morning fog was lifting as we left the gas station and

Beautiful Wood-nymph moth under the Citgo lights [Sheryl Pollock]

Beautiful Wood-nymph moth under the Citgo lights [Sheryl Pollock]

drove into the state forest along a shale-lined roadside with tall golden woodland sunflowers along the shoulder. Sure enough, several of these sunflowers sported small brown butterflies with intense coppery undersides – Northern Metalmarks! – found here where their food plant, the shale barren obligate round-leaved ragwort, occurs in conjunction with the sunflowers for adult nectar.

After everyone had their fill of metalmarks, we moved down along the banks of Sideling Hill Creek, where our first sighting was of a Louisiana Waterthrush on the far bank. The muddy shoreline and rocks provided lots of good dragonflies and damselflies, including Powdered Dancer, Black-shoulder Spinyleg, and Stream Bluet. Spiders included a huge-jawed tetragnathid, an orb weaver with fangs that fold in half and that builds its webs horizontally over streams and ponds to capture emerging midges and mayflies, and a Dark Fishing Spider clinging to a rock in the stream. Also on a rock in the stream was an imperturbable Northern Banded Watersnake. Birds in addition to the waterthrush included Northern Parula Warbler carrying food. Along the road we saw a blue-tailed skink – Five-lined or Broadheaded – wedged into a massive Poison Ivy vine. As we left, a Spicebush Swallowtail sailed in to explore some of the streamside phlox.

Several group members peeled off at this point, the last official stop of the trip, but a couple of die-hards accompanied me up onto the ridge over Sideling Hill Creek along Hoop Pole Road for more metalmarks, a Pipevine Swallowtail, and a completely surprising Common Roadside-skipper. With clouds rolling in again right on schedule, we ended our western Maryland field experience and headed back to DC to beat the afternoon rush hour.

Highlight of our last day -- Northern Metalmark along "metalmark alley" in Green Ridge State Forest [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Highlight of our last day — Northern Metalmark along “metalmark alley” in Green Ridge State Forest [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Notable Butterflies from Day 3:

Spicebush Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

Northern Metalmark

Horace’s Duskywing

Common Roadside-skipper

 

This entry was posted in Events and Meetings, Field Trips/Annual Counts, general butterfly news, sightings. Bookmark the permalink.

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