Birders talk about their nemesis birds — the ones they try time after time to see but always seem to miss. Too much wind. Too late in the day. Flew off five minutes before.
Butterfliers have their nemesis butterflies, too. Mine are parnassians, those archaic tail-less swallowtails found mostly in montane or arctic environments across the northern hemisphere. Also known as apollos, there are two species that occur regularly in the mountain west: Rocky Mountain Parnassian, and Clodius Parnassian. I have search for either or both for years, every time I’m in the Rockies or the intermountain West. And all to no avail.
So I spent several of my days in Utah earlier this month trying to find parnassians, in this case, Parnassius clodius. And again, to no avail. The time I spent in the alpine meadows favored by this species were either cloudy when I got there, too windy for anything to be flying, or too cold for butterflies — one morning I even had sleet!
To be sure, my heart beat a little faster every time I saw that diagnostic black-and-white checkered pattern floating down a meadow path or over an alpine summit. But each time, it turned out to be a pierid.After many false starts over several days, I was on my last full day of butterlying and had just checked out a Western Swallowtail that had hunkered down in the face of an oncoming downpour. On the way back to the car, I saw that tell-tale checkered pattern again, but having been fooled a dozen times already I didn’t get too excited. Until it landed and I got a good look: Clodius.