Driving Virginia’s Back Roads for Dianas

2017JUN30 Diana Frit male 1_VA-Bath Co-Limekiln Rd

A male Diana Fritillary disputing territory with another large orange critter — my Subaru Crosstrek. [2017 June 30, Bath Co VA, REB]

I’ve been wanting to see Diana Fritillaries again ever since the late ’90s, when I last saw them around the trails I used to hike when I lived in Tennessee near the Smokies.  But for a multitude of reasons — teaching, or other field trips, or field work here in MD, or simply going to find them and coming up empty — I haven’t had any success.

I’ve been on some R&R this week, following a survey of some western MD boreal bogs with Beth Johnson, looking for butterflies of unknown status or conservation importance.  It was a great three days for botany and birds; for butterflies, not so much.  Our best butterfly of the long weekend last weekend was Northern Pearly-eye.

So I decided I’d do some personal pampering at the ritzy Greenbrier resort in southern WV and then hit the lep road again recharged.  Yesterday I spent most of the day botanizing in and around the Cranberry Glades special botanical area, where again the butterflies were few and far between — Peck’s Skippers were everywhere, and there were plenty of Great Spangled Fritillaries, but that’s about it.

Botanically it was amazing, the highlight being fields of grass pink orchids and a small seep with fringed purple orchids (with a thin sphagnum cover that sank with me and nearly swallowed me whole!)

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Greater Purple Fringed Orchid in Cranberry Glades. [2017 June 29, REB]

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Tuberous grass pink orchid, also in Cranberry Glades along the boardwalk. [2017 June 29, REB]

So I sort of suspected I might be in VA’s doldrums, but after the clouds burned off I left the hotel in Lexington and headed up into Bath Co. in George Washington National Forest.  I’d heard a lot about a Limekiln Rd (also known as Forest Road 194), a dirt/gravel back country road that is known for sometimes producing Dianas.  So I drove up to the north end of Limekiln near Millboro, and meandered southward on Limekiln as it parallels Douthat State Park Road until it joins back up to it just north of the state park.

No sooner had I pulled into the first real turn-out on Limekiln when a male Diana started buzzing my orange Subaru in an attempt to drive off the large orange interloper.  He was successful; I would note this behavior several times over the course of the next couple of hours from multiple Diana Fritillaries.

I racked up another seven or so Dianas along the road, most at milkweed, but some puddling on the road.  Almost all were solo sightings, although one milkweed stand had three males battling it out for primacy.

Diana Fritillary puddling on Limekiln Road, Bath Co VA [2017 June 30, REB]

As most of them were, this male Diana was on common milkweed [2017 June 30, REB, Bath Co VA]

In addition to Speyeria diana, two other greater fritillaries were flying along Limekiln, Speyeria aphrodite (four of them) and rather abundant Great Spangled Fritillaries.  Interestingly, the females of this population of Great Spangled Frits are VERY dark — they sometimes threw me for male Dianas when I saw them out of the corner of my eye.  Or gave me pause for Atlantis or Aphrodite. But the wide creamy band with no chocolate brown intruding into it cinched it, as did the totally normal males in attendance!

A very dark female Great Spangled Fritillary, typical of this Bath Co population currently in flight [2017 June 30, REB]

Same individual as above, ventral shot showing wide cream HW margin.  Note that the reddish-brown of the disc does not invade the cream band  [2017 June 30, Bath Co VA, REB]

Classical Aphrodite Fritillary, very dark with an almost complete reddish-brown VHW disc. And tawny/tan eyes — in life, Atlantis Frit eyes are eerily zombie-like, gray bordering on white. [2017 June 30, Bath Co VA, REB]

Other leps were unremarkable — lots of Silver-spotted Skippers, a few Eastern Tailed-blues, Red-spotted Purples, Common Wood Nymphs, a little Glassywing.  Despite the abundant milkweed and dogbane nectar, only a single hairstreak:  Striped, and I kicked it up off the roadside rather than nectaring.

Striped Hairstreak along Limekiln Road, Bath Co VA [2017 June 30, REB]

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