It’s a long drive from College Park, so I left after work yesterday and drove down to Covington where I picked a hotel and slept in to meet Mike the other foray participants by 9:30 at our caravan point, the old Humpback Covered Bridge. From there we trooped across Alleghany County to a series of logging roads over extensive shale. Mike had promised us a hike of about a mile up to where the skippers had been seen previously, but it was a drop-dead gorgeous day with warm temperatures and full sun so even the prospect of a long walk wasn’t much of a damper on my enthusiasm.And my optimism was rewarded. After only about a quarter-mile in, along a logging road with exposed shale (on which was blooming dwarf cinquefoil, the grizzled skipper larval host plant), we stopped to admire Silvery Blues, which were so common by the end of the day they were quite ho-hum. But not this early in the hike. And while we watched a couple at the side of the road, along bopped a small gray-and-white skipper: our target, Appalachian Grizzled Skipper. And before we got even halfway to the ridgetop where prime viewing was supposed to start, we had more than a half dozen others, nectaring on dandelions, shale barrens pussytoes, and cinquefoil.
We had to work hard for the other four, spread out across the landscape. But the search for more skippers also yielded elfins in double digits: an elfin trifecta of Eastern Pine, Brown, and Henry’s Elfins. We also saw a good selection of other FOYs for many of us: Falcate Orangetips, Orange and Clouded Sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-blues, numerous Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (including dark morph females), Spring Azure, Spicebush Swallowtail, and a couple of puddle parties of mixed Dreamy, Sleepy, and Juvenal’s Duskywings.When we reconvened at the Humpback Bridge at midafternoon, I thanked our guides and caravan drivers and headed on south to get a little farther south before tomorrow, where I have a slim prospect of some early morning birding before rain sets in for the rest of the day. En route I also picked up FOY Zebra Swallowtails and Juniper Hairstreaks on some of the back roads down to Roanoke. Tonight I’m writing from a hotel in Wytheville, convenient to Mount Rogers for a morning outing before heading on down to Oak Ridge by end of day. With a little luck the rains will hold off a bit in the morning!