Modest Relief from the Heat in the Mountains

Tom Stock (in the cap) and Barry Marts comparing notes on the White M hairstreak in the dogbane in the foreground

Tom Stock (in the cap) and Barry Marts comparing notes on the White M hairstreak in the dogbane in the foreground. 2018 July 1, Sand Flats parking area in background across Gambrill Park Road.

Tom Stock and I spent most of yesterday checking out nectar sources in the Catoctin Mountains, from the Sand Flats area of the Frederick municipal watershed to Gambrill State Park to the Ridenour Swamp near Wolfsville.  To say we had some relief from the heat by being at a little higher elevation in the forest doesn’t mean we weren’t one step from heat prostration most of the day.

Some of the best nectar stands — principally milkweed and dogbane — I’ve seen here in years, and we pored over hundreds of plants with very little to show for it.  ONE grass skipper the entire day (a Dun).  TWO hairstreaks (three invididuals, not a Banded or Striped or even a Gray or Red-banded to be had).

But we did have a couple of very nice sightings (I’ve appended Tom’s list from MDLepsOdes below), including a fresh White M we got on thanks to Barry Marts (whom we ran across on the trail).  We found our target species, Edwards’ Hairstreak, as well as uncommonly (in our experience) late Appalachian Azures. But then again the black cohosh is blooming very late this year as well, and the butterfly needs the developing ovaries to lay their eggs among.

The Appalachian Azures were buzzing about the black cohosh stand near the Gambrill State Park Tearoom; it looks like this population of cohosh was doused with herbicide this year by park personnel who clearly didn’t know what damage they could wreak on this small azure staging area.  About half the plants were blackened and shriveled; I can only surmise this was a poorly informed attempt to control invasives on this slope.   A handy Summer Azure gave us good opportunities to compare the two — Appalachian with its larger size and almost pure-white venter; Summer with its slaty gray and much more marked underside.  Summer facing left, Appalachian facing right:

The Edwards’ Hairstreaks were in their normal location, where mowing and maintenance practices in the watershed have seriously diminished their available food plant (scrub oak).  They too are running late this year.  A few Pearl Crescents (confirmed on close examination) have emerged here as well; could be a good midsummer flight.


Edwards’ Hairstreak in its historic location in Frederick Watershed Forest. [2018 July 1, photo by Tom Stock]


White M Hairstreak on dogbane at the Sand Flats parking area in Frederick (MD). [2018 July 1, photo by Tom Stock]

>>Tom’s notes from yesterday:  A very subdued (and rather warm) day lepwise in Frederick County today. Lots of nectar, few butterflies – which has been a common refrain around here these past few weeks. The heat may have driven the Edwards’ Hairstreaks up into the canopy. We were surprised to find just two. Our list for the day: 
Zebra Swallowtail (8) High Knob
Spicebush Swallowtail (1) High Knob
Cabbage White (3)
Orange Sulphur (1)
Edwards’ Hairstreak (2) Sand Flats Pond area
White M Hairstreak (1)
Eastern Tailed Blue (5)
Summer Azure (2) one at High Knob
Appalachian Azure (5) High Knob in cohosh patch
Great Spangled Fritillary (16)
Pearl Crescent (3)
Red Admiral (1) High Knob
Hackberry Emperor (2) High Knob
Silver-spotted Skipper (4) 
Dun Skipper (1) High Knob
Meadow Fritillary (1) Ridenour Swamp<<

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