Pepper & Salt Surprise

The cool, sunny weather today (coupled with a forecast for a soaking tomorrow) got me up and out of the office early today for a trip up the road to Gambrill State Park near Frederick MD.  This is my go-to location every year for Appalachian Azure, and as Kathy Barylski has been noting in her forays in the area, it’s been a slow spring on Catoctin Mountain.

So I was very happy to see at least two Appalachian Azures bopping hopefully — but one imagines frustratedly — over the lush stands of black cohosh the caterpillar feeds on.  The cohosh is late too; the flower stalks are just now beginning to shoot up, and it will be a few days still before the azures find the emerging flower buds on which they prefer to lay their eggs.  They were far too skittish to allow a photo, however, especially with the new camera I’m just getting used to.

Walking back to the car, I stopped briefly to watch a dogfight between a couple of very small, dark skippers that I couldn’t immediately place.  Very few of the expected grass skippers are out yet; certainly none this dark.  They weren’t duskywings.  And then it clicked:  Pepper and Salt Skippers.

A surprising Pepper and Salt Skipper in Frederick Co MD, basking on a black cohosh leaf.  Note the strongly checkered fringes on the wings [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

A surprising Pepper and Salt Skipper in Frederick Co MD, basking on a black cohosh leaf. Note the strongly checkered fringes on the wings [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

Pepper and Salt Skippers are rank S2 in Maryland, in need of conservation.  And I’ve only ever seen them in the three far western counties, in early spring.  Seeing them in Frederick County was a complete surprise!

Also flying in Gambrill SP were Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (nothing that approached Appalachian Tiger was flying yet), Red-spotted Purple, a single Sachem, and Horace’s/Juvenal’s Duskywings (the two who showed their undersides were Juvenal’s).

Poor but discernible ventral shot of Pepper and Salt Skipper in Gambrill SP [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

Poor but discernible ventral shot of Pepper and Salt Skipper in Gambrill SP [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

I continued out of the park and north on the mountain into the Frederick Municipal Watershed Forest, to a famous spot for local butterfly watchers called the Sand Flats ponds.  There’s a short walk through weedy meadows and second-growth woods to two ponds that are mostly in open sun; this is a great place for odes in the summer and — this time of year — for both Hobomok and Indian Skippers.  Both usually make their appearances with the blooming of blackberries along the margins of the ponds, and sure enough the blackberries were just coming into bloom and a handful of Hobomok males were working them.

Indian Skipper at the Salt Flats in Frederick Municipal Watershed Forest [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

Indian Skipper at the Sand Flats in Frederick Municipal Watershed Forest [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

And at the end of the blackberry patch a single Indian Skipper, incredibly fresh, posed conveniently on the dirt path.

Always great to see the skipper diversity beginning to build for the summer, but especially so with these highly sought-after species!

Hobomok Skippers were actively working the blackberry bushes along the ponds at the Sand Flats.  [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

Hobomok Skippers were actively working the blackberry bushes along the ponds at the Sand Flats. [2015 May 20, photo by REB]

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

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