The meeting I’d come out to the Bay Area for ended late on Friday; Saturday and Sunday my birding buddy Jeff and I based ourselves in Salinas and birded around Pinnacles National Park, up through the Panoche Valley, and then along 17-Mile Drive in Monterey Bay. Nice birds, one lifer: Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Early on Monday morning I took Jeff back to San Francisco to visit family, and as luck would have it David Rawlinson — a veritable font of information for Bay Area butterflies — was also free and offered to meet me at the summit of San Bruno Mountain and show me the spots to look for elfins. After dropping off Jeff I headed up Guadalupe Canyon to San Bruno Mountain State & County Park, paid my $6 fee, and continued to the summit. There was David, blazing red sweater to match his car, inspecting the roadside where San Bruno Elfins are usually found. We knew they were flying because Donna Pomeroy had posted pictures from last week on iNaturalist taken on San Bruno Mountain. But it was still very cool — the car thermometer never got above 60 degrees — and the breeze stiff.
Still, we checked out the area thoroughly and were rewarded by a single elfin that bore all the classic marks of a San Bruno Elfin — white etching of the marginal line; grey frosting on the VHW — in the few seconds it sat before rocketing up the slope away from us. We spent another 20 or so minutes before heading to a couple other places David had seen or expected elfins before. One was in full sun but still pretty breezy; it wasn’t all that warm yet. David’s rule of thumb is that it’s warm enough for elfins when he’s tempted to doff his sweater, and it was nowhere near that yet. Nevertheless, we very quickly chalked up two or three more but missed out on photos; the one I got my bins on was clearly San Bruno Elfin.
By this time the wind had dropped and temps had climbed a bit more, so David suggested that we skirt the summit on a piece of the Ridge Trail under an obvious bare rock scree slope. As we approached, we jumped up one elfin; it disappeared quickly. The next up was a rather drab and featureless brown elfin; David and I both snapped pretty bad pictures of it before it spiraled up and out of sight with another elfin. Still, it was identifiable as a probable Western Brown Elfin. We walked that section of trail a bit more before David opted to go back to the original site to see if flights had improved before the rock face was entirely in shadow.
I stayed near the scree slope and continued watching the trail carefully. My patience was rewarded with a couple of very fresh elfins sunning on large leaves along the trail; I got pics of one that is my best candidate for San Bruno Elfin.
Meanwhile, David had a more classically marked specimen up at the original roadside site, with much more obvious frosting, like the one we had seen first and again on the sunny site that was our second stop.
It was hard to leave the mountain on this picture-perfect butterfly day — the temperatures eventually warmed into near-record territory, the wind died down, the skies stayed sunny enough to crisp my ears where I’d forgotten to lotion up. In addition to the elfins we saw a few Anise Swallowtails, an unidentified Lady, a couple of Echo Blues, and a quartet of Gray Hairstreaks spiraling up and out of some small pines. We dipped on a hoped-for sighting of Coastal Green Hairstreak.
All through this, David proved the perfect host — genteel, intent on showing me as much of San Bruno Mountain as I wished, and full of facts and info about elfins and other California butterflies. Sometimes the best sightings on a lep trip are of other lepsters.