LRGV Field Notes: Chasing Rarities, Mopping Up

One of the highlights of today in the LRGV: Frosted Flasher, Astraptes alardus, along the Chachala Trail at Santa Ana NWR [2015 Nov 5, photo by REB]

One of the highlights today in the LRGV: Frosted Flasher, Astraptes alardus, along the Chachalaca Trail at Santa Ana NWR [2015 Nov 5, photo by REB]

Today Tom, Jim Brighton, and Tom Feild spent the day with me tracking down the farflung rarities that had turned up over the week at places other than those we’d visited or in the interim since we’d been there.  Our first stop was Santa Ana NWR, where we’d heard that East Mexican White-skipper was flying, and we were once again inspecting the undersides of hundreds of Laviana White-skippers in the hopes of turning one up.  Little did we realize that this was a futile exercise; the East Mexicans were a mile or so away on another part of the refuge.  But we were finding other good butterflies; we had totted up Mimosa Skipper (surprisingly common at Santa Ana today), a stunning Falcate Skipper, White-patched Skipper, and a few Glazed Pellicias when a couple of out-of-breath fellow butterfliers came racing by looking for a reported Frosted Flasher at the bird blind on the Chacalaca Trail.  It was just a few hundred yards away, so we joined a handful of other folks who were lucky enough to get on this brilliant skipper before it bolted (presumably for the afternoon, since we didn’t hear of any reports after that).

But that wasn’t the end of great surprises that Santa Ana had in store for us.  Shortly after the Flasher took a powder, the word began spreading about an Evan’s Skipper that had been seen back toward the visitor on the trail.  We followed and soon were on this purplish skipper that looks like an Ocola on steroids.  We would find three all told, eventually, but that first one really blows you away.

Evan's Skipper in matching Crucita flowers [2015 Nov 5, Santa Ana NWR, photo by REB]

Evan’s Skipper in matching Crucita flowers [2015 Nov 5, Santa Ana NWR, photo by REB]

Purple seems to be the “in” color for skippers this seasons, and this Purple-washed Skipper was among many we saw on the refuge:

A rather worn Purple-washed Skipper, Panoquina lucas, also making confusion with Ocola Skipper rampant among those of us butterfly watching in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

A rather worn Purple-washed Skipper, Panoquina lucas, one of the Panoquina-type skippers creating confusion with Ocola Skipper rampant among those of us butterfly watching in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

We kept scouring the Crucita and other nectar sources until hunger forced us out of the refuge, picking up along the way Julia Longwing, While-striped Longtail, Great Purple Hairstreak, and Potrillo Skipper prominent among them.

After lunch we reconvened at the National Butterfly Center, where Malachite and Silver Emperor had been reported but with only sketchy details.  Soon after we arrived, reports came in by text of a Silver Emperor in nearby Bentsen State Park; Jim and Tom Feild opted to go chase it while Tom Stock and I decided to stay put at the Center’s gardens and see if we could relocate the one there.  Moments after they departed we got a text that they were looking at the Silver Emperor at Bentsen, which was showing quite cooperatively.  Tom and I almost dropped everything and ran, but decided to finish out the trail we were on first — we were just a few hundreds yards from the terminus.  Glad we did!  On one of the last bait logs on the trail Tom spotted the gaily striped Silver Emperor (a female; the Bentsen one was male) and word quickly spread on the grounds and folks started drifting over to see it.

Pristine female Silver Emperor in the National Butterfly Center gardens  [2015 Nov 5, photo by REB]

Pristine female Silver Emperor in the National Butterfly Center gardens [2015 Nov 5, photo by REB]

Silver Emperor jostling with Tawny Emperors for a place at the table on a National Butterfly Center bait log [2015 Nov 5, photo by REB]

Silver Emperor jostling with Tawny Emperors for a place at the table on a National Butterfly Center bait log [2015 Nov 5, photo by REB]

We chided our Bentsen-bound colleagues, now on their way back to the National Butterfly Center, for being so quick to give chase while we got our Emperor with relative ease.  We walked through the grounds a bit more as the day wore on, and were about to call it quits when the cry “Malachite!” rang out from the so-called “Olive Circle” part of the gardens.  Sure enough, end of the day, a somewhat tattered Malachite had taken up residence on a different bait log, contending with Red Admirals and Tawny Emperors and a hodgepodge of other insects. The size of this bright, acid-green butterfly impressed many of us, who had been thinking it was sized more like an Admiral or large sulphur, but no, this one was swallowtail-sized.

Malachite on bait log [2015 Nov 5, National Butterfly Center, photo by REB]

Malachite on bait log [2015 Nov 5, National Butterfly Center, photo by REB]

Malachite on bait log [2015 Nov 5, National Butterfly Center, photo by REB]

Malachite on bait log [2015 Nov 5, National Butterfly Center, photo by REB]

By this time, we were completely and utterly exhausted — the temperature had been in the high 80’s all day, in brilliant sunshine, and the humidity was reaching sauna levels.  So we decided to take a page from the playbook of one of the screech owls at the Center and call it a day.  But not before one more stop: watching the flocks of Red-crowned Parrots return to their roosts in a neighborhood in Weslaco, about 30 minutes away.  Once we checked that box, we finally stopped for dinner at the primo locale in the LRGV for tamales, Delia’s.

Tomorrow I plan on sleeping in a bit before checking on what is now promised to be rainy weather.  If so, it’s a birding day!

Napping Eastern Screech-owl at the National Butterfly Center [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

Napping Eastern Screech-owl at the National Butterfly Center [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

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2 Responses to LRGV Field Notes: Chasing Rarities, Mopping Up

  1. Very nice report–especially liked the Frosted Flasher and Evan’s Skipper pictures. Glad you got to see some rare butterflies.

    • Rick says:

      Evan’s Skipper and Malachite were probably my two favorites of the trip ….! And they’ve been having a bumper crop of rarities in the two weeks since — all timed to the rains.

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