2014: The Mid-Atlantic Butterfly Year In Review

new-year-2014-wallpapersThe flight season for 2014 will probably be best remembered more for the paucity of many normally common butterflies than it will be for the explosion of at least one uncommon species and a very robust finish to the season.

Late winter/early spring hard freezes here and (especially) to our south knocked down many spring and summer butterflies, including such usual early birds as American Lady, Painted Lady, and Red Admiral.  These three presumably reach us in most years as very early migrants from Virginia and the Carolinas; this year all three were in short supply and Painted Lady and Red Admiral were rather unusual good finds all year long.

Our hardy overwintering adult butterflies, the anglewings and Mourning Cloak, seemed not quite as much affected but still in smaller numbers than usual: The rather small spring flight of Cloaks belied the large summer 2013 flight (which would be the overwintering population).   I will be interested in seeing the 2015 early emergence of Mourning Cloak, since I don’t think the 2014 summer flight was very good.  Eastern Comma was uncommonly scarce in 2014.

Swallowtails had a uniformly poor first half of the year.  The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail spring flight was especially anemic, and while it built over the next two generations the absence of these charismatic garden visitors had many casual observers asking where the butterflies had gone this year.  Zebra Swallowtails emerged rather late and in small spring brood numbers that did not grow much in subsequent flights.  Pipevine Swallowtail (especially its first flight) was scarce, and Spicebush Swallowtail flew in much smaller numbers than normal as well.  Giant Swallowtail was reported in MD fewer than a dozen times this year (by my very casual perusal of the listservs), but this continues a poor showing by this species in the mid-Atlantic for the past four or five years.  Giant Swallowtail had a banner year in the Northeast.  By its second generation on the Eastern Shore, Black Swallowtail had built back its numbers from a poor spring flight.

Whites and sulphurs suffered in 2014, too.  While I am accustomed to a veritable dance of Cabbage (Small) Whites over my cabbage and cauliflower in the garden, I didn’t even trouble to pick off caterpillars this year.  Both Clouded and Orange Sulphurs flew in small numbers until very late in the year, and Sleepy Orange was a rare find until very late in the season.  Same for Cloudless Sulphur, which for the past few years has been showing up regularly as early as late May or June.  Little Sulphur was a complete no-show regionally for the second year in a row, and Dainty Sulphur has not repeated its irruption of 2012.  Falcate Orange-tip had a moderately good flight, and Olympia Marble flew well in the few places it still hangs on in western MD.

Harvester bucked all the trends, with multiple sightings across MD, VA and PA, often of multiple individuals at one time.

Blues and hairstreaks seemed to trend lower this year too, from azures to Eastern Tailed-blues (late, and small flights) to Striped and Banded HairstreaksKing’s Hairstreak was not reported at all this year, despite several forays to its known stronghold near the Delaware border.  Edwards’ Hairstreak seemed to have a regular flight year.  Coral Hairstreak, which was almost common last summer, was a very rare find in 2014.  While we had no local sightings, Early Hairstreak put in a rare showing of a second brood in Ricketts Glen PA, and observers in Massachusetts had more than 30 on one spring field trip.  Hessel’s Hairstreak in NJ had a small spring flight.  Red-banded Hairstreaks were almost entirely absent until late summer, when they pulled off a decent flight; same can be said of Gray Hairstreaks.  Great Purple Hairstreak sightings could be counted on one hand this year.

Elfins were a mixed bag regionally.  Brown, Henry’s and Eastern Pine Elfins flew in numbers well below their normal flights, but Hoary Elfin in NJ had a spectacular season in 2014.

Coppers generally were scarce, with single-digit reports of Bronze Coppers and low numbers of American Coppers. Bog Coppers in Cranesville Swamp WV seemed to have a normal flight in July.

Metalmarks were another trend defier.  During the height of their midsummer flight season in 2014, it seemed that almost every woodland sunflower in Green Ridge State Forest sported one or more Northern Metalmarks.

Satyrs had a pretty typical year, and Appalachian Brown may actually have been more abundant than normal.  Little Wood and Carolina Satyrs both flew well, and Carolina even showed up in Garrett and Allegany Counties in 2014!  While Common Wood Nymph was nowhere abundant, it was regularly seen in its known habitats, and Northern Pearly-eye, if anything, was more common than normal.

Among other nymphalids, Red-spotted Purples and Viceroys seemed to have pretty normal years, although purples appeared less common perhaps because of 2013’s very large midsummer flight.  Pearl Crescents – usually annoyingly common – never built up large numbers, and Silvery Checkerspot did not come anywhere near repeating its irruption of 2013.  Common Buckeyes were late and sparse.  The good numbers of Gulf Fritillaries in the Carolinas stayed there; no reports from the region in 2014.  Variegated Fritillary was mostly uncommon all season.  Tawny and Hackberry Emperor numbers were down on almost all counts and field reports.

Fritillaries were another mixed story.  2014 was probably as good a year as any in the recent decade for Meadow Fritillary, but numbers of Aphodite, Atlantis, and Great-spangled Frits were well below average (especially first brood Great-spangled).

Monarchs had a middling year, much better than 2013 to be sure.  The coastal migration was substantial, and most milkweed stands that we checked had eggs or caterpillars in late summer.

The skippers generally told the same story of low spring numbers that built in late summer (for multivotine species).  Early erynnids were down considerably:  Horace’s and Juvenal’s Duskywings were uncommon or absent in many areas where they are usually common in the spring, and first-brood Wild Indigo Duskywing was late to the party in the spring.  The more northerly Dreamy and Sleepy Duskywings seemed to take the late cold weather in stride and fly in normal numbers.  Both Wild Indigo and Horace’s recovered somewhat in later flights.  Same was true of Silver-spotted Skipper, although Hoary Edge in 2014 had a better flight in its Green Ridge State Forest locale than I can remember in recent years.  Sachem flew poorly early on, and only started building up numbers in August.  Zabulon appeared late and had a small flight; Hobomok likewise emerged late but with a somewhat larger flight.  Crossline, Tawny, Peck’s, Dun and Swarthy Skippers all flew in lower numbers than in the past couple of years.  By contrast, Saltmarsh Skipper flew well, but still not in the great clouds we sometimes see in heavy flight years.  Fiery Skipper appeared late and never reached big numbers in most places in the mid-Atlantic; Ocola Skippers migrated very late to our area and in small numbers.  Least Skipper had a smaller than usual flight this year.  Neither Eufala Skipper nor Whirlabout made it to the party in MD this year.  Long-tailed Skippers were mostly absent.

Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, which has had very strong flights in the mid-Atlantic in recent years, was virtually absent.  Leonard’s Skipper flew late and in small numbers in Soldiers Delight.

Northern and Southern Broken-dash, by contrast, had quite strong flights at midsummer.  Northern Cloudywing was almost abundant in early summer in Green Ridge State Forest, and both it and Southern Cloudywing were widely reported throughout the mid-Atlantic.

2014 was notable also for some accidentals or rarities, including a White Admiral on the DC annual count (in addition to a surprising Harvester), two reports of Brazilian Skippers in NJ, and a European Peacock, also in NJ.

That’s my wrap of 2014.  But take this with a grain of salt: As the gas mileage figures indicate, your actual mileage may vary and you may have had different experiences with some of these species.

With only about 10 weeks to go before we start seeing our early spring leps, it’s time to start brushing up on tricky skipper ID and field marks for Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail!  Hope yours was a wonderful 2014 season, and best of wishes for the New (Flight) Year!

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