Another decidedly low-key week for butterflies across the mid-Atlantic, and the off-on rain chances for the weekend are likely to dampen (pun intended) enthusiasm for being out in the field again.
Skippers provided the most interest over the past week, and their numbers and diversity are likely to build in the next week. Among the more interesting were a couple of observations of Common Sootywing, which has not been easy to come by this year, and of Swarthy Skipper, which in some locations is the most common grass skipper currently on the wing. Sachem –– our usually ubiquitous late summer skipper — is out, but not in the clouds of orange we’re accustomed to seeing over Joe-pye weed and butterfly bush. It’s a relatively good year for Southern Cloudywing, which was reported widely this week across the region (and of course always should be checked closely in case a Confused Cloudywing is hiding amongst them). Of particular note is the early appearance and wide distribution of sightings over the past couple of weeks of Ocola Skipper. We’re not the only ones seeing early visits by this migratory species; it’s been seen across a number of New England states this summer already. Hayhurst’s Scallopwing has been common in a couple of locations this week but certainly not widespread or abundant as it is in some years.
The current brood of Zebra Swallowtails is among the most beautiful we’ve seen in recent years, with extra-long tails that likely resulted from the exception quality of fresh leaves on pawpaw stimulated by the abundant rainfall. It’s possible we may even see a partial fourth brood this year, as we sometimes do when the quality of forage for the Zebras is high and if the autumn lingers warm with moderate rains. One Giant Swallowtail report came in from the immediate region (Harford Co MD) this week. Fresh Pipevine Swallowtails were widely encountered.
Little has changed on the lycaenid front the last couple of weeks: Red-banded and Gray Hairstreaks are the only ‘streaks reported recently. Eastern Tail-blues are present but require some diligence to find. No recent Harvester reports. Summer Azures are flying (the only azure that is) but again in modest numbers. Fresh American Coppers can be found now as well.
Sleepy Oranges and a few Cloudless Sulphurs provide the only relief from the normal whites and sulphurs. Probable Cabbage (Small) Whites along weedy verges, overgrown lots, and happily unkempt roadsides should all be double checked for Checkered White, while is probably often overlooked.
Not much movement on the brushfoot front, either — fritillaries included Great Spangled, Meadow, and Variegated, all in modest or falling numbers; a few Painted Ladies provoked a blip of interest; Snout numbers are up but at best uncommon. Last year’s spate of Gulf Fritillaries has not been repeated.
Monarchs are a bright spot this summer; you can find them in most fields with nectar and in many urban and suburban gardens. And many caterpillar reports. Whether this translates into a good flight next season as they repopulate the mid-Atlantic after migrating north from their wintering grounds remains to be seen; all the research so far suggests that it isn’t the raw numbers of Monarchs produced on the summer feeding grounds but something on the migratory route or wintering groves that drives down the numbers of butterflies returning the following spring.
NECTAR NOTES: There’s a lot of nectar about now, including native liatris, which means the annual watch for Leonard’s Skipper should be underway (our best sightings are usually around Labor Day). Sennas and partridge peas are in good bloom (and providing caterpillar resources for Sleepy Oranges and Cloudless Sulphurs). A late flush of buttonbush and the tail end of clethra are also good bets, especially for marsh and coastal skippers. The early fall native sunflower crop (crownsbeard, coreopsis tickseed, thin-leaved and woodland sunflowers) are the go-to native species to check for Ocola and other skippers.
LET US KNOW: Sunbursts when they come this weekend will also bring hungry butterflies between showers. Remember to report your sightings by leaving a commenting on this post here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.