Field Notes: Texas Butterfly Festival 2015

Red-bordered Pixies disported in the parking lot at Quinta Mazatlan.

Red-bordered Pixies disported in the parking lot at Quinta Mazatlan.

In an ideal world, I’d have been here Friday night and had a full day of birds and butterflies and botany in the Lower Rio Grande Valley under my belt already before arriving at the 2015 Texas Butterfly Festival.

But alas, this is not an ideal world.  Strong storms and heavy winds delayed our arrival to Dallas on Friday — Tom Stock and I were flying together for this trip — including a diversion to Tulsa for refueling.  By the time we reached Dallas, our last flight to McAllen had already left; the next one wasn’t until the following afternoon.  So we didn’t actually set foot in McAllen until 4 pm on Hallowe’en.

Luckily, one of the pearls that comprise the necklace of birding sites known as the World Birding Center sits right next to the airport in McAllen, and it’s well known as the home of the incomparable Red-bordered Pixies.  So we picked up the car and hustled over, where we immediately picked up this gaudy dandy in considerable numbers.  And while we were there, in something less than half an hour, Tom started racking up the life birds that south Texas has to offer — Plain Chacalaca, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Clay-colored Thrush, Pyrrhuloxia, and others.

The staff naturalist at Quinta Matazlan kindly showed us this Paraque dozing while camouflaged in dead leaves.

The staff naturalist at Quinta Matazlan kindly showed us this Paraque dozing while camouflaged in dead leaves.

Then it was off down the road to the hotel that is hosting the Texas Butterfly Festival, and a chance to meet up with the rest of the posse from the mid-Atlantic:  Jim Brighton, Tom Feild, Michael Drake, Barry Marts, and Matt Orsie.  We snacked a bit at the reception, met the various worthies of the North American Butterfly Association, and headed out for beers at a local brewpub before turning in.

This morning was an early one, with most of us turning out before sunrise to try to find a Tropical Parula warbler that has been hanging out at the visitor center of the state park that borders the National Butterfly Center in Mission:  Bentsen Palm State Park.  Even with the time change, we made it out as the sun came up to pick up a couple more good birds for Tom but dipped on the Parula.  As compensation we did manage a good collection of Common/White Checkered-skippers (inseparable in the field) to compare with Tropical Checkered-skipper, and a bewildering array of mostly plain brown skippers that would taunt us the rest of the day

We made it to the National Butterfly Center for a 9 am departure on a foray to see if we could relocate an

Manfreda, caterpillar host to the rare Manfreda Giant-skipper

Manfreda, caterpillar host to the rare Manfreda Giant-skipper

historical location for one of the amazing giant-skippers, Manfreda Giant-skipper, closer to the coast  along the Arroya Colorado river near Rio Hondo at a location called Cielo Escondido.  We did find good amounts of the giant-skippers’ larval food plant — Manfreda, an agave also colloquially known as Rattlesnake Agave — but failed to find either the adult giant-skippers or the distinctive “chimneys” the caterpillars make when they emerge from boring into the rosette of agave leaves.

But there were other great butterflies to see, and the new species came as relentlessly as the hot Texas sun!  Within the first couple of minutes out of the van we already had Portrillo Skipper, Red-bordered Metalmarks, and fleeting glimpse of Brown-banded Skipper.  Other interesting skippers during the Cielo Escondido foray included Mazan’s Scallopwing and Sicklewing Skipper; Two-barred Flasher added some color.  Mexican Bluewings were quite common, and there were several Zebra Longtails floating lazily over the roadway.  A Vesta Crescent hung out accomodatingly in the middle of the gravel road.

Silver-banded Hairstreaks were surprisingly common, mostly around blooming fiddeltrees.

Silver-banded Hairstreaks were surprisingly common, mostly around blooming fiddeltrees.

A trio of metalmarks — Fatal and Blue in addition to the Red-bordered — competed for attention with some very good hairstreaks.  Red-crescent Scrub-hairstreak was arguably the best of a batch that also included Mallow Scrub-hairstreak and the intensely green Silver-banded Hairstreak, several of which were laying eggs on balloonvine, a presumed caterpillar host.

Tom and I also skived off on our own for a while to check out the river banks, where we scored both Green and Ringed Kingfisher, lifer birds for us both.

Just before we left Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, an oranged-faced Guava Skipper put in an appearance

Just before we left Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, an oranged-faced Guava Skipper put in an appearance

On the return to Mission, the party stopped briefly at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park near Harlingen, an extensive Texas Ebony forest.  Best butterfly of this stop was Guava Skipper, although we’re still scratching our head over an unidentified hairstreak that could be a contender!

And then it was back to the National Butterfly Center for the evening’s reception, complete with a margarita machine and excellent food before returning to our hotel to pore over the field guides and online resources to match up some specimens we couldn’t put a name to in the field.

Tomorrow it’s a boat ride along the Rio Grande with stops at some otherwise inaccessible locations where other butterflies might be found.  But that’s for another blog post!

Margaritas and fine food al fresca overlooking the National Butterfly Center gardens.

Margaritas and fine food al fresca overlooking the National Butterfly Center gardens.

Mid-Atlantic Weekend Field Lep Forecast for 2015 June 21-22

Matt Orsie's Coral Hairstreak find from Cool Spring WV

Matt Orsie’s Coral Hairstreak find from Cool Spring WV

The past week has finally provided a number of FOY grass skippers and hairstreaks, including Coral, Striped, and Edwards Hairstreaks and Salt Marsh, Aaron’s, Broad-winged, and Delaware SkippersBog Copper and Appalachian Brown also popped up.

Hairstreaks are finally coming up in numbers, tracking rather obviously the first flush of bloom on dogbane, milkweed, and butterflyweed across the region.  The first Edwards Hairstreak was reported from Frederick (MD) Municipal Watershed Forest, Striped Hairstreak was reported widely across the area, and a few Coral Hairstreaks reports have trickled in.  Of course any dark hairstreaks in this period should be examined closely to make sure they aren’t Oak or Hickory Hairstreaks.  Second-brood White M, Red-banded, and Gray Hairstreaks are also on the wing.

Appalachian Brown was reported several times this week, and more Common Wood Nymphs were also out.  Carolina Satyr in southern MD is looking rather tatty; by contrast, the Little Wood Satyrs with which it is flying are still pretty fresh.  Great Spangled Fritillary is everywhere now, and FOY Variegated Frits were reported at several MD locations.  Aphrodite Fritillary was flying in western MD, and Baltimore Checkerspot seems to be having a good flight year in its various known locations.  Diana Fritillary has been seen flying in the mountains in southwest VA.

Bog Copper is being seen in some of its normal relict bog haunts; Bronze Copper is flying to our north and in far northern Delaware.

The big news shifted from the western mountains to the Chesapeake marshes this week, with almost the full complement of marsh skippers out for viewing:  Salt Marsh, Aaron’s, Broad-winged, and Delaware Skippers.  One great place to see this diversity is Eastern Neck NWR in Kent Co MD; the buttonbush and milkweed there are in peak bloom.  Rare Skipper is still AWOL so far this season.  All the more typical grass skippers are in flight, with Dun, Crossline, Little Glassywing and Swarthy Skipper numbers picking up.

Monarchs are being widely reported, and in decent numbers, across the region.  Fresh locally-eclosed adults should be increasingly on the wing.

Predictions for this weekend and next week:  I’m putting Common Buckeye back on the list this week.  Southern Cloudywing and possibly Confused Cloudywing should be looked for, as should Mulberry Wing (including the distinct Chermock’s Mulberry Wing).   We’re also due for our first Cloudless Sulphur. Unfortunately, the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill will probably perturb our outdoor activities this weekend.

The Sky Meadows (VA) NABA count is this weekend on Saturday, contact Scott Baron, for information.  Next Saturday, June 27, is the western Montgomery County NABA count; coordinator is Stephanie Mason at  Stephanie and Dick Smith follow up the count on Sunday the 28th with an Audubon Naturalist Society field trip to Governor’s Bridge Natural Area (MD, Prince Georges Co).  NABA counts for Richmond VA and eastern Frederick/western Carroll Counties (MD) are also up for June 28; check out the master field trip calendar at

If you see anything interesting on these or other field trips, please share your sightings with us using the comment function on or join us for discussion on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Mid-Atlantic Weekend Field Lep Forecast for 2015 June 6-7

Northern Pearly-eye claiming its territory last year on the Jug Bay Boardwalk trail sign [2014 July 3, photo by REB]

Northern Pearly-eye claiming its territory last year on the Jug Bay Boardwalk trail sign [2014 July 3, photo by REB]

The oppressive heat and rainy weather conspired to keep new sightings to a minimum in the mid-Atlantic this week, but improving conditions should boost the number of FOYs for this weekend. New to the Forecast this week were Tawny Emperor, Sleepy Orange, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, and Variegated Fritillary.

So far it’s been a very poor hairstreak year; even as dogbane and common milkweed are entering their first flush of bloom, few hairstreaks have been reported. Missing have been the summer hairstreaks, notably Banded, Striped, and Coral Hairstreaks. Red-banded Hairstreaks appear to be a rather anemic second brood. And as yet, no Great Purple Hairstreaks. It’s likely that this weekend of aggressively checking out dogbane and milkweed patches will help fill this gap. American Copper continues, but Bronze Copper is still MIA.

Harvesters continue to be seen across the region. Whites and Sulphurs continue their poor showing, although Sleepy Orange did grace a Maryland yard ovipositing on senna. Conspicuously absent this season so far has been Checkered White.

Brush-foots are mostly all on the wing now, including Great Spangled Fritillary, Meadow Fritillary, Viceroy, and Red-spotted Purple. Variegated Fritillary showed up on a few lists regionally this week. Both Emperors, Tawny and Hackberry, are flying. Silvery Checkerspot seems to be putting forth a small brood, especially given the large flights of two years ago.  One brood of Pearl Crescents – a very small early flight this year – seems already to be replaced with fresh adults from a second brood, especially in the southern parts of the region. Satyrids are out; Little Wood Satyrs and Carolina Satyrs are flying together in many locations now, and Northern Pearly Eye seems to be having a good flight. Monarchs are reported by most observers whenever they are in the field, and the milkweed crop looks pretty substantial – and will benefit from the week’s rains. And while it has not yet been reported, there is every likelihood that Harris’ Checkerspot is flying in western MD. Both American and Painted Ladies are out, with the ratio skewed heavily toward American, and Red Admirals are about in modest numbers.

New additions to the skipper list include Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, which I have looked for in several of its “go-to” locations this year but not yet seen, so it may just be a delayed emergence. Long Dash was reported from PA, so it should be flying too in Allegany, Washington, and Garrett Counties of MD. Least Skipper numbers are building.

Predictions: Since none of last week’s predictions actually happened this week, I’ll just repeat my predictions from the last Forecast. This next week — given warm and dry weather — should see the emergence of a host of hairstreaks, including Great Purple, Banded, Striped, and Coral Hairstreaks in addition to true hairstreak rarities like Oak Hairstreak.  Some of the coastal skippers – Rare and Salt-marsh – could show up in the marshes. The great floppy Common Wood-nymph should be seen bobbing up and down in tall meadows. The remaining two of the “three witches” should be on the prowl with fellow witch, Dun Skipper: Northern Broken-dash and Little Glassywing. Crossline Skipper and Southern Broken-dash should be joining them.

For anyone planning to join the Sky Meadows VA NABA Count, the data has been changed from June 21 to June 20.  Full details on the LepLog master field trip and event calendar, where the West Anne Arundel County count was just added for July 11.

Please remember to share your sightings with us using the comment function on or join us for discussion on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Mid-Atlantic Lep Field Forecast for Labor Day Weekend 2014

Cloudless Sulphur on lantana, Behnke's Nursery 2013 [REB]

Cloudless Sulphur on lantana, Behnke’s Nursery 2013 [REB]

The traditional end-of-summer holiday weekend should provide good opportunities – albeit hot and hazy ones – to go afield in search of wandering migrants.

In recent weeks, the numbers of Variegated Fritillaries has been inching up locally, and reports of Ocola Skipper remain uncommon but consistent. New to the region this week is Long-tailed Skipper from northern VA, which leads to the hope that others are in the area as well. Clouded Skipper is being reported regularly in VA and NC so should be showing up as well; there are a number of reports of Gulf Fritillaries to our south that suggest this might be a good migrant year for them. Cloudless Sulphurs are finally showing up locally, including two today at Pt Lookout State Park MD.

But the current big tease is the explosion of Little Yellow and Sleepy Orange in NC and VA, in numbers that in other years have signaled a good fall push into the upper mid-Atlantic. Sleepy Orange showed up this week for the first time this season in the Plummer House garden at Jug Bay (Anne Arundel Co MD). Common Buckeye is also building in numbers to our south; true to its name it was common but not abundant this week at Pt Lookout State Park in MD.

Otherwise, numbers and diversity are not too far off the mark from what you’d normally expect at the beginning of the fall flight season. Leonard’s Skipper has not been observed in MD yet, but is flying well from PA to MA. Grass skipper numbers are up; most lantana patches locally (including big box garden centers) have yellow clouds of Sachem and Fiery Skippers. Tawny-edge, Zabulon, Dun, Swarthy, and Crossline Skippers are still present given good nectar sources, and Southern Broken-dash numbers are still quite high.  Silver-spotted Skipper is winding down its flight.

A new brood of Northern Pearly-eye is on the wing, and seems to be expanding its range in the mid-Atlantic. Common Wood-nymph is still flying.  Carolina Satyr and Appalachian Brown were observed in St. Mary’s Co MD.  Tawny Emperor was still flying there as well.

On the swallowtail front, another local Giant Swallowtail sighting, this week from Baltimore. Pipevines are out and fresh, as are Black Swallowtails. Pipevines can even be seen in good numbers near the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall, where a couple of large, interesting tropical Aristolochias are planted in the Enid Haupt gardens. A Spicebush Swallowtail was there yesterday as well, also in very fresh condition. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are having a relatively modest late summer flight; most are showing considerable signs of wear already.

Grey and Red-banded Hairstreaks are having a good late flight; at Pt Lookout (St. Mary’s Co MD) today Grey Hairstreaks were abundant and Red-banded were common; two White-M Hairstreaks were also seen there mixed in with the Greys and Eastern Tailed-blues. Pearl Crescent is seen on most field trips but in nowhere near the numbers we usually find in late summer.

Dick Smith announced two field trip opportunities this weekend:

  1. August 31: Serpentine Barrens Late Summer Butterflies – Slide Show and Hike, Soldiers Delight NEA, 1-4pm. Dick Smith will present a slide show *(handicap accessible) on barrens butterflies and then lead the group for about 2 miles along trails *(not handicap accessible) through the globally rare serpentine barrens ecosystem at Soldiers Delight. In addition to locally-occurring and serpentine-endemic late summer butterflies such as the attractive Leonard’s Skipper, we will examine and identify many native grasses and wildflowers seldom seen in abundance in other locations around Maryland. Close-focus binoculars are recommended, but butterfly net-and-release (with in-jar identification) will be conducted by the leader. Hike will be cancelled if raining or overcast, but slideshow will be presented regardless of weather status. Children under 12 should be accompanied by an adult. Meet at the Visitor Center. Cost: Free! Donations welcome. Registration is not required; CONTACT: (443) 778-4973 (office – weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) or (410) 997-7439 (home) (please call after 7:30 p.m.).
  1. Butterflies through Binoculars in Columbia. 2-3 hours. Meet 9:30 AM at Elkhorn Garden Plots (Oakland Mills Rd opposite Dasher Ct). Enjoy searching for late-summer butterflies, and receive expert instruction on their identification. Easy walking in the garden plot and on paved paths near the right-of-way alongside open, flowery wet meadows and brushy hillsides. Bring close-focus binoculars to view nectaring behavior. Dick will also use net and jars to provide brief close-up examinations. Cancelled if raining or overcast. No facilities. CONTACT: Dick Smith, 410-997-7439. (home, please call after 7:30 pm)

If you spend time in the field this Labor Day, please remember to post or send your sightings for the next Weekend Forecast. In the meantime, visit us at and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Butterflies, Birds and Botany of Western Maryland Bogs

Walking the pine plantation on the way to the Cranesville Swamp boardwalk

Walking the pine plantation on the way to the Cranesville Swamp boardwalk [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

  Our three-day Audubon Naturalist Society extended foray began in early afternoon on Saturday July 19 at Finzel Swamp, a boreal relict fen in eastern Garrett County. Unfortunately, we started in drizzle and ended in steady rain. Despite the showers, we managed to kick up some Finzel butterfly specialties early in our trip: Black Dash, the very dark northern form of Common Wood-nymph, and Appalachian Brown. We also had a few more common leps, including Eastern Tailed-blue, Pearl Crescent, and Great-spangled Fritillary. We sorted through a few odes in the meadow at the parking lot, including White-faced Meadowhawk (and possibly a second meadowhawk species), a couple of damselflies, and a Slender Spreadwing.

Other insects of note included panorpid scorpionflies, Virginia Ctenucha day-flying moths, and a couple of diminutive pyrodoxine Yucca Moths buried deep in yucca flowers at the old homestead. We talked at length about the mutually beneficial relationship between the pollinating moth and its host; the moth pollinates the flower in exchange for a few of the ripening ovaries to feed its caterpillars.

Birds were notably hunkered down, but brief let-ups in the rain gave us Black-capped Chickadees, Purple Finch, Swamp Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and hosts of Cedar Waxwings cleaning up on black cherries. The human participants cleaned up on ripe blueberries.

White-faced Meadowhawk at Finzel Swamp [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

White-faced Meadowhawk at Finzel Swamp [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

The plants didn’t mind the rain nearly as much; we explored the many microhabitats created by varying water levels, from deciduous holly, to blueberry, to speckled alder. We also discussed the nutrient cycle in this nutrient- poor environment, and how changes in the hydrology of the Finzel area — including contamination with fertilizers — could tip the balance in favor of the invasive European plants that we saw on the path and around the margins of the fen as just trace amounts of fertilizer allow invasives to outcompete native flora that are adapted to the poor nutrient habitats. The large white Rhododenrons were blooming along the small pond’s edge near the parking lot.

We enjoyed a group dinner at The Hen House in Frostburg. The optional night hike at Finzel was called off because of the continuing rain.

Notable Butterflies for Day 1:

Orange Sulphur

Eastern Tailed-blue

Summer Azure

Pearl Crescent

Common Wood-nymph

Black Dash

Little Glassywing


Bog Copper on the flower of its larval host plant, small cranberry [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Bog Copper on the flower of its larval host plant, small cranberry [photo by Dave Pollock]

Day two came very early, with a dawn hike for those who wished just south of Frostburg to a known location for Henslow’s Sparrow. About half the group showed up in the hotel parking lot for the carpool down, and after a short hike into an overgrown pasture, we were able to get crippling views of Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, at one point posing within inches of each other on the same shrub and both singing – you couldn’t ask for a better side-by-side comparison of these two grassland sparrows! We talked at length about how weedy pastureland and grasslands are among Maryland’s most endangered habitats while watching Eastern Meadowlark and listening to Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, and other grassland birds singing as the sun emerged from the clouds.

We returned to the hotel, gathered the rest of the tour group, and headed west to Cranesville Swamp on the MD/WV border in the expectation of seeing Bog Copper, a specialist butterfly restricted to bogs where its host plant, small cranberry, creeps across the sphagnum floor of the bog. After a short hike in – with a number of Appalachian Browns along the way, and some fast-flying Great-spangled Fritillaries – we emerged onto the boardwalk and spent about 15 minutes looking for the coppers. While we looked for the butterflies, we also saw two odonate denizens of Cranesville – large, blue Spatterdock Darners and the diminutive Sphagnum Sprite damselfly. Bog plants in abundance also caught our attention, from American larch to carnivorous sundews to pale green orchids and myriad sedges and rushes. Finally, a burst of bright sunshine through the cloudy skies brought out a good number of the Bog Coppers, affording good views for everyone. The walk back provided good looks at plants more at home in the Maine woods than Maryland: trailing arbutus, dewdrops, wintergreen, and Turks-cap lily, as well as the original coniferous inhabitants of the area upslope from the bog, white pine and hemlock. Overhead, we heard singing Golden-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches in addition to the lazy whistles of Black-capped Chickadees; group members “pished” up a Yellowthroat that followed us for a good distance along the trail, scolding the entire time. As we returned to the parking lot, we discussed the essential differences between the bog-like habitats at Finzel and Cranesville, a conversation we continued over lunch in McHenry.

Ogling the Meadow Jumping-mouse at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

Ogling the Meadow Jumping-mouse at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

After lunch we continued our foray in Garrett County with a visit to Herrington Manor State Park. Our first stop there was the Grow No Mow meadow, a managed field near the lake with abundant wild oregano, heal-all, and scattered dogbane. This field provided some of our best butterflying of the trip, with ample opportunities to study the differences between the very similar Great-spangled Fritillary and Aphrodite Fritillary; more Black Dashes; the small Meadow Fritillary; many Common Wood-nymphs and Appalachian Browns, both sipping fermenting sap from a tree wound; our first Northern Pearly-eye of the trip; and Dun, Crossline and Little Glassywing Skippers in addition to the by-now-ubiquitous Silver-spotted Skipper. American Copper gave us our second copper species of the trip.

Damselflies shared the meadow with the butterflies,

Common Wood-nymph sipping fermented sap at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

Common Wood-nymph sipping fermented sap at Herrington Manor SP [REB]

and several large dragonflies – Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Common Whitetail, and Widow Skimmer – hawked for midges and mosquitoes. Calico Pennant dragonflies staked out the tops of the taller grass stalks.

Just downhill from the meadow we explored the lower margins of the parking lot, with even better opportunities for comparing fritillaries. But the scene-stealer here was a Meadow Jumping-mouse that afforded very good looks as it huddled in the short grass.

Closer to the lake we picked up more butterflies, including our first swallowtail of the trip, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Orange Bluet damselflies hung out along the lake edge, and Variable Dancers among others haunted the tall grass under the berm. Two Spotted Sandpipers flushed up, giving everyone a good look at their teetering exploration of the muddy shoreline.

Turk's-cap Lily along Snaggy Mountain Road {REB]

Turk’s-cap Lily along Snaggy Mountain Road {REB]

As the sun lowered, we made one last stop before returning to Frostburg: Snaggy Mountain Road, a short dirt road through hemlocks that provided an evensong of Hermit Thrushes and good but distant looks at a Scarlet Tanager. Snaggy also gave us good close-up looks at the flowers of Turks-cap Lily.

Offers to reschedule the Finzel night walk from the night before were turned down as the exhausted troops opted for an early night!


Appalachian Brown at Cranesville Swamp [REB]

Appalachian Brown at Cranesville Swamp [REB]



Notable Butterflies for Day 2:

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Orange Sulphur

Eastern Tailed-blue

American Copper

Pearl Crescent

Great-spangled Fritillary

Aphrodite Fritillary

Red Admiral

Common Wood-nymph

Black Dash

Long Dash (only a couple of us saw this)

Crossline Skipper

Dun Skipper

Little Glassywing


Rob Hilton holds one of EIGHT Imperial Moths we found lingering around the lights at the Citgo overlooking Sideling Hill Creek [REB]

Rob Hilton holds one of EIGHT Imperial Moths we found lingering around the lights at the Citgo overlooking Sideling Hill Creek [REB]

Day 3 had a leisurely start as we waited for the sun to rise over the hills in Green Ridge State Forest and warm the shale shoulders of the woodland roads through the Sideling Hill Creek drainage. On the way to Green Ridge from Frostburg we stopped first at the State Forest visitor center, where – unbeknownst to us – the restroom facilities were closed owing to a septic problem. We walked the short path to the overlook, where we had additional close-ups of Scarlet Tanager and enjoyed a lively discussion of the finer points of flycatcher ID as we watched an Eastern Wood-pewee darting out from dead branches near the overlook. A skipper on the ground next to the path proved to be a Horace’s Duskywing, leading to a good conversation about the essential differences between the grass skippers and the spread-wing skippers, and a refresher on moths, skippers and butterflies more generally. From the overlook platform we also could see at least six species of oaks, and talked about the remarkable genetic promiscuity of oaks in general and how the areas of mixed-growth forest like Green Ridge are hotspots of genetic diversity and speciation, as opposed to landscape-like plantings in urban settings and monocultures on tree plantations.

Male dobsonfly at the Citgo lights [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Male dobsonfly at the Citgo lights [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Before descending into the lowlands of the state forest, we stopped at the Citgo gas station at High Germany Road. The moths must have known it was the start of National Moth Week – the lights at the convenience store the night before had pulled in tremendous numbers of moths, fishflies, stoneflies, Dobsonflies, beetles, and other nocturnal insects. We knew we were in for a treat when our first sight was eight – EIGHT! – huge Imperial Moths and a Royal Walnut Moth right off the bat. There were dozens of Dobson-flies, including several large-mandibled males. Other moth sightings included The Angel, Pandorus Sphinx, Rosy Maple Moth, Beautiful Wood-nymph, Clymene Moth, Banded Tussock Moth, and a variety of geometers, emeralds, tiger moths, and others.

The early morning fog was lifting as we left the gas station and

Beautiful Wood-nymph moth under the Citgo lights [Sheryl Pollock]

Beautiful Wood-nymph moth under the Citgo lights [Sheryl Pollock]

drove into the state forest along a shale-lined roadside with tall golden woodland sunflowers along the shoulder. Sure enough, several of these sunflowers sported small brown butterflies with intense coppery undersides – Northern Metalmarks! – found here where their food plant, the shale barren obligate round-leaved ragwort, occurs in conjunction with the sunflowers for adult nectar.

After everyone had their fill of metalmarks, we moved down along the banks of Sideling Hill Creek, where our first sighting was of a Louisiana Waterthrush on the far bank. The muddy shoreline and rocks provided lots of good dragonflies and damselflies, including Powdered Dancer, Black-shoulder Spinyleg, and Stream Bluet. Spiders included a huge-jawed tetragnathid, an orb weaver with fangs that fold in half and that builds its webs horizontally over streams and ponds to capture emerging midges and mayflies, and a Dark Fishing Spider clinging to a rock in the stream. Also on a rock in the stream was an imperturbable Northern Banded Watersnake. Birds in addition to the waterthrush included Northern Parula Warbler carrying food. Along the road we saw a blue-tailed skink – Five-lined or Broadheaded – wedged into a massive Poison Ivy vine. As we left, a Spicebush Swallowtail sailed in to explore some of the streamside phlox.

Several group members peeled off at this point, the last official stop of the trip, but a couple of die-hards accompanied me up onto the ridge over Sideling Hill Creek along Hoop Pole Road for more metalmarks, a Pipevine Swallowtail, and a completely surprising Common Roadside-skipper. With clouds rolling in again right on schedule, we ended our western Maryland field experience and headed back to DC to beat the afternoon rush hour.

Highlight of our last day -- Northern Metalmark along "metalmark alley" in Green Ridge State Forest [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Highlight of our last day — Northern Metalmark along “metalmark alley” in Green Ridge State Forest [photo by Sheryl Pollock]

Notable Butterflies from Day 3:

Spicebush Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

Northern Metalmark

Horace’s Duskywing

Common Roadside-skipper


Regal Frit Tour Dates set for Ft. Indiantown Gap

Regal Fritillaries mob milkweed on the 2013 Ft. Indiantown Gap tour

Regal Fritillaries mob milkweed on the 2013 Ft. Indiantown Gap tour

From the official news release:

This July, visitors are invited to see the only population of rare Regal Fritillary butterflies in Pennsylvania at Fort Indiantown Gap, near Annville, Lebanon County.Free guided tours will be given at 10 a.m. on July 4, 5, 11 and 12.

Those wishing to attend should arrive at least 30 minutes early to fill out necessary paperwork, attend a mandatory safety and orientation briefing, and receive driving instructions. Tours will last approximately three hours, but attendees can leave earlier if needed.The tours, which have been offered for more than 10 years, allow the public to see this rare butterfly and its associated habitat on military training ranges, as well as many other natural spectacles on the 17,000-acre military post, which serves as the Pennsylvania National Guard’s headquarters.

The Regal Fritillary is considered a Pennsylvania invertebrate species of immediate conservation need.”As one of the busiest National Guard Training Centers in the country, Fort Indiantown Gap is also a leader on the environmental forefront because we place a very high priority on being environmentally aware,” said Lt. Col. Robert Hepner, commander of Fort Indiantown Gap. “These butterfly tours, given by our biologists, provide excellent insight on not only the regal fritillary butterfly but also on the flora, fauna, and wildlife that inhabit beautiful Fort Indiantown Gap and our dedication to safeguard these spectacular natural resources.”

Participants should meet at the Fort Indiantown Gap Recreation Center in Building 13-190, located at the intersection of Asher Miner Road, Clement Avenue and Route 443 (GPS coordinates in decimal degrees: North 40.431, West 76.591).Visitors of all ages are encouraged to bring cameras and binoculars and should wear appropriate clothing and footwear for a nature walk on well-maintained trails or mowed paths. Feel free to bring insect repellent, sun screen, and other personal comfort items. Drinking water will be provided. No reservations are required and no rain dates will be scheduled.The tours also will include information related to current efforts to restore native grassland habitat across Pennsylvania and current efforts to raise Regal Fritillary caterpillars from eggs in a lab with support from the PA Wild Resource Program and in partnership with ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park and Pennsylvania State University. The ultimate goal is to return the Regal Fritillary to areas where they were located in the recent past.

Fort Indiantown Gap is home to 112 Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan priority species. It also provides a wide variety of habitats for 36 species of mammals, 143 breeding species of birds, 34 species of reptiles and amphibians, 25 species of fish, 792 species of plants, and many notable species of invertebrates including 85 species of butterflies and 243 species of moths. The installation also features 1,000 acres of scrub oak and pitch pine barrens and over 4,500 acres of native grassland habitat – the largest in the state.Fort Indiantown Gap is the only live-fire, maneuver military training facility in Pennsylvania. It balances one of the region’s most ecologically diverse areas with a military mission that annually supports 19,000 Pennsylvania  National Guard personnel and more than 130,000 other states’ Guard, military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel each year. For more information about the tours, send email to:, or call the Wildlife Office at 717-861-2449.

Lep Course Among 2014 Southwestern Research Station Offerings

Southwestern Research Station, Portal, AZ

Southwestern Research Station, Portal, AZ

Ants of The Southwest: 26 July-5 August 2014.
This workshop is designed for students, biologists, and other individuals who have some background in biology at the college level. This course is designed with curriculum that complements rather than competes with the California Academy of Sciences Ant Course. Although we will cover basic taxonomy and systematics, the major focus of this course will be on the ecology and behavior of ants. For the full announcement click here:

Lepidoptera Course: 14-23 August 2014.
Designed for students, amateur naturalists, conservation biologists, and other biologists who have an interest in learning more about butterflies and moths, the course will emphasize taxonomy, ecology, and field identification of lepidopterans in southeastern Arizona. Lectures will include background information on the biology of animals and their importance in pollination biology. Field trips will provide participants with collecting, sampling, and observation techniques and lab work will provide instruction on specimen identification, preparation, and labeling.

Weevil Course: 5-13 August 2014
The Weevil Course is targeted towards students, postdocs, and other biologists who have a strong interest in understanding weevil diversity and taxonomy. The course will emphasize weevil taxonomy, identification, and natural history, with an emphasis on North American taxa including the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Lectures will include background information on the diversity and biology of weevils and their ecological relevance. Lab identification practices will introduce key identification resources and focus on recognizing key diagnostic features for weevil families, subfamilies, genera, and (where suitable) species. These practices will draw upon a wide range of reference taxa provided by the instructor team. Field trips to diverse shrub and desert habitats of the surrounding Coronado National Forest will provide participants with specialized collecting, sampling, and observation techniques for weevils.

Dawn S. Wilson, Director Southwestern Research Station P.O. Box 16553
Portal, Arizona 85632

Phone: 520-558-2396

Fax: 520-558-2018