Blue, White, and Orange at Alum Rock Park

I turned in early after my aborted chase for San Bruno Elfin, resting and icing my ankle injury acquired in the line of lepidopterous duty by stepping into a deep hole.  But anti-inflammatories are part of the life of serious butterfly observers, and I spent the evening going over notes David Rawlinson have provided for a location for two of my other target species for this California trip, Sonoran Blue and Margined White.

Since the canyon environment at the site David told me about, Alum Rock Park, didn’t heat up sufficiently until mid-morning, I did some work meetings at UC Davis in the morning and then headed south toward San Jose about noon.  Immediately I started seeing whites — large whites that would turn out to be Margined Whites, or at least the ones that sat still were.  As with many canyon species, Margined Whites were powering down the canyon trail with a purpose.  I finally got one to settle down long enough for a photo.

2016 Feb 24 Margined White, rather common at Alum Rock Park in Santa Clara Co CA this spring.

2016 Feb 24 Margined White, rather common at Alum Rock Park in Santa Clara Co CA this spring.

Other whites were flying, too, especially some dozens of Sara Orangetips (which resisted photography).  Before I walked up into the canyon, there were also a number of the local variant of Spring Azure, Echo Azure, drifting down the steep hillsides, and a Western Tiger Swallowtail sailing along the road.

As luck would have it, as I chased after this Margined White around with my quite unsatisfactory little Lumix point-and-shoot (why, or why didn’t I bring the larger camera? was space in my suitcase really that tight, what with the spotting scope, snake hook, and field guides?), a friendly couple with serious optics strolled up and we started chatting about the butterfly I was (at that point) still unable to get photographed.  Turns out they were none other than Donna Pomeroy and Leslie Flint, names that will be familiar to any butterfliers who troll through California’s iNaturalist postings.  And they were SO INCREDIBLY HELPFUL — pointing out that the Echo Blues hung around at lower elevations, but that Silvery Blues were flying well up the canyon trail.  And — so were Sonoran Blues!  They’d seen and photographed a few that very morning.

But only for a couple hundred yards of the trail, where their caterpillar host, Dudleya (same as for San Bruno Elfin) grows on a steep rock face.  And the activity was winding down as the sun moved westerly, throwing shade on the rock.  So after a few more notes exchanged about other local leps (they would later go to San Bruno Mountain and photograph San Bruno Elfin, lucky devils), I hustled up the canyon as fast as my limp would allow.

When I reached the spot as identified as “the” prime real estate, there was a constant stream of blues pouring down from the ridge above — all, far as I could tell, Silvery Blues.  Unfortunately, there was also a constant stream of mountain bikes and joggers.  And then I started seeing some smaller blues, flightier, often landing briefly on flat rock walls or the side of the trail (the Silveries never stopped anywhere!).  And when I got my bins on one of them, sure enough it had the telltale four orange patches that marked it as a female Sonoran Blue.

Sonoran Blue, one of about 11 on a canyon trail in Alum Park on 2016 Feb 24 (San Mateo Co, CA). This is a female; the male has orange patches only on the DFW.

Sonoran Blue, one of about 11 on a canyon trail in Alum Park on 2016 Feb 24 (San Mateo Co, CA). This is a female; the male has orange patches only on the DFW.

I patrolled the 300-yard-long strip for more than an hour, eventually tallying around 11 Sonorans, give or take considering how much they were flying around.  About that time, a park service truck came creeping slowly (and silently) up the trail; its occupants eyed me carefully before continuing a few hundred more yards and parking.  The two park employees got out — one with a point-and-shoot like mine — and also started patrolling the stretch of trail.  Eventually we said hello to each other, awkwardly, and danced around the elephant in the room until I finally said I was looking for Sonoran Blues.  Well, so were they, and it was a carefully kept secret for most park employees that this colony was here and (seemingly) thriving.  I pointed out a couple, they got some pics and we talked a little more before they went back to the truck and moseyed on back down the trail.

Soon I started back too — time for more ibuprofen — inspecting every large-ish white that barreled down the canyon in the vain hope one would turn into a Large Marble.  No such luck.  But I did score on a life species I did not expect — California Ringlet — that Donna and Leslie had told me was common and even flew 12 months of the year in this area.

California Ringlet at Alum Rock Park -- this Ringlet species is quite hardy and flies throughout the winter in the Bay Area.

California Ringlet at Alum Rock Park — this Ringlet species is quite hardy and flies throughout the winter in the Bay Area.

Only one other butterfly species made the list for this trip to Alum Rock Park, a lone Red Admiral down in the creek bed.  But the tally by the end of Day 2 on this lep excursion was 3/5, with a bonus Ringlet thrown in.

This entry was posted in endangered species, Field Trips/Annual Counts, general butterfly news, sightings. Bookmark the permalink.

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