Hairstreak Hejira

After years of scrutinizing Banded Hairstreaks and trying to turn them into a lifer Hickory Hairstreak, it was so refreshing today to see squadrons of Hickory Hairstreaks that illustrate all the typical features they're supposed to have! [2015 JUN 28, photo by REB]

After years of scrutinizing Banded Hairstreaks and trying to turn them into a lifer Hickory Hairstreak, it was so refreshing today to see squadrons of Hickory Hairstreaks that illustrate all the typical features they’re supposed to have! [2015 JUN 28, photo by REB]

Last week while I was checking all the usual sources for the weekly Forecast, I noticed that Wade and Sharon Wander posted to the NABA Sightings Page an astounding triple digit tally for both Hickory Hairstreaks and Banded Hairstreaks (nearly 400 of the former, nearly 1000 of the latter) at a wildlife management area in northern NJ near the NY border.  I immediately started planning a day trip — Hickory HS would be a life sighting for me, let alone 400 of them — and conscripted Tom Stock to come with.  Originally, we were both signed up to do sectors for the western Montgomery Co MD count on June 27, so we planned for today, June 28.

Turns out yesterday would have been a complete washout weatherwise in NJ as it was in the DC area, and even today after our 4+ hour drive up the clouds were heavy and occasionally drizzling.  Armed with directions from Sharon for both the logistics of the drive and the best places to see butterflies here, we pulled into the parking lot with only slightly dampened enthusiasm.

One of the first butterflies, right in the lot, was Hackberry Emperor, which had in fact been predicted in that lot by Sharon as a puddler we should look for.  Otherwise, it was rather quiet — it had rained again a few minutes before, the temperature was a chilly 64F, and very weak sun was trying to leak out around the heavy cloud cover.  Nevertheless, we tucked our pants legs into our socks and set out into the soggy field Sharon had dubbed “Hairstreak Corner.”  Within minutes we found our first batch of dogbane, and with it LITERALLY A HUNDRED hairstreaks hunkered down under leaves and the undersides of dogbane umbels — mostly Hickory Hairstreaks.  Amazing.  Over the course of the next two hours and a total of about seven minutes of sunshine we saw hundreds more, again mostly Hickory, and noted that the Banded Hairstreaks seemed to prefer milkweed while the Hickories were mostly on dogbane.

In addition to numbers of Cabbage (Small) White and many Great Spangled Fritillaries, we also picked up Northern Broken-dash (FOY), Common Wood-Nymph (a very dark morph), Eastern Comma, a Meadow Fritillary, and a number of Little Glassywings — the skipper numbers were well below what Sharon and Wade saw last week because of the soggy conditions.  Tom and I ended up with maybe 300 hairstreaks.

FOY Northern Broken-dash [2015 JUN 28, photo by REB]

FOY Northern Broken-dash [2015 JUN 28, photo by REB]

Banded Hairstreaks were a bit more worn than the Hickories, and seemed to prefer the milkweed and thistles over the dogbane that held most of the Hickories.  [2015 JUN 28, photo by REB]

Banded Hairstreaks were a bit more worn than the Hickories, and seemed to prefer the milkweed and thistles over the dogbane that held most of the Hickories. [2015 JUN 28, photo by REB]

Rain was threatening when I suggested a further slog down another field, and of course it started raining, so we cut across one of the fields and got back to the parking lot just in time for the sky to brighten a bit (still no sun, just brighter clouds) and to enjoy an end-of-hike glut of black raspberries from the field.

Tomorrow we’re following up on another fine set of directions from the Wanders to visit Canal Road, about an hour away, in search of Eyed Brown, Baltimore Checkerspots, and maybe Delaware Skipper.

Tom’s list for the day:

In the following, notations of relative abundance follow NABA criteria. Exact counts of species numbering 10 or less are given.

C – Common: 11-20
A – Abundant: 21-100
S – Plentiful/Superabundant : > 100

June 28, 2015:  Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, Sussex County, New Jersey

Cabbage White (2)
Banded Hairstreak (abundant)
Hickory Hairstreak (plentiful) LIFER
Eastern Tailed Blue (1)
Summer Azure (6)
Great Spangled Fritillary (abundant)
Meadow Fritillary (1)
Eastern Comma (1)
Hackberry Emperor (1)
Little Wood Satyr (common)
Common Wood-Nymph (5)
Northern Broken-Dash (1)
Little Glassywing (common)

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