The Story of a Butterfly Big Year

Striped Hairstreak 2013 June 6, College Park, PG Co., MD [photo by Tom Stock]

Striped Hairstreak 2013 June 6, College Park, PG Co., MD [photo by Tom Stock]

It began as a crazy idea hatched in the doldrums of the long, nasty winter of 2012-13 – though “long” and “nasty” pretty much describes all winters for any butterfly field enthusiast who lives anywhere north of Florida. A freak sighting on a warm day in January by Rick Borchelt of an American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) was surely a spark. But when March arrived, and both Rick and Tom Stock spotted their first Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae), the idea bit them both – bit them hard. They decided to try to see at least 100 species of butterfly in Maryland and the District of Columbia before the end of the 2013 butterfly season. That’s 100 species in a state where the number of common butterfly species is well under 100, and one might expect to reasonably find no more than 116 species. From the outset, the challenge seemed daunting.

Rick and Tom, often accompanied by their fellow lep enthusiast Beth Johnson, traveled far and wide across the State, both together and solo, and on the way to reaching their goal encountered poisonous snakes, violent storms, debilitating heat and chilly mountain air, lepless days, obstreperous State troopers, swarms of biting flies, fog, drizzle . . . so many obstacles . . . and yet somehow managed to enjoy just about every minute of every day they spent in the field. And they rarely if ever had a bad meal anywhere along the way. Their “Lep Lunches” ranged from barbeque to fish tacos to crab cakes and crab soup to delicious steaks to refreshing sno-cones. Maryland, they discovered, has no shortage of good food!

Lord only knows how many miles they collectively logged – but their travels took them to all but a few of Maryland’s counties, from cranberry bogs in Garrett County to swamp woodlands in Worcester County, from serpentine barrens in Baltimore County to manicured gardens in the District of Columbia, from the tidal creeks of Charles County to the shale scree slopes of Allegany County, from tame suburbia to Maryland’s wildest corners. They covered it all, and of the State’s roughly 116 resident species, Rick found 105 and Tom found 102. And then they finished off their year with a smooth single malt scotch.

It has been about two years since this mad MD100 quest began. Looking back at the records on this blog, readers can track Rick and Tom’s progress. Tom has taken these tallies one step further and put together a narrative of the year, illustrated with lists of butterflies from every field excursion he made. That narrative is now available here on Lep Log. Read and enjoy, but be forewarned that you may be bit just as hard as he was and end up knee deep in a bog looking for some rare marsh skipper with a thick cloud of gnats around your head, wondering how you could be any happier.

Read Tom’s account of our 2013 MD100 Big Year, and make your own plans for 2015!

Weekend Lep Forecast for 2-3 August 2013

Palamedes Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed, 2013 July 27, Pocomoke City MD

Palamedes Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed, 2013 July 27, Pocomoke City MD

Both numbers and diversity have been picking up over the past week, building into what looks like it might be a very productive August, so different from the lep slump that has been much of the summer season so far.

The butterfly garden at the Parris Glendening Preserve’s Plummer House in Lothian was the hoppin’ place to be for butterflies on Monday, with four Southern Cloudywings at the top of the list.  This incredible small garden – with lots of lantana, several species of milkweed, zinnias, and verbenas, plus host plants of various kinds – also hosted multiple Sleepy Oranges, Cloudless Sulphur, American Snout, and an assortment of grass skippers including large numbers of Dun, Crossline, and Peck’s.  The Cloudless Sulphurs are showing up pretty much everywhere these days, with several booking it across the Beltway just this morning on my drive to work.

King’s Hairstreak was looking worn but viable still on Saturday at its location along Careytown Branch near Whaleyville MD.  The key, I’ve discovered, is that like many satyrium hairstreaks they retreat back into the canopy pretty early in the day so catching them before the sun is very high and the dew is still on the ground seems the best option.

Maryland also apparently supports at least one relatively robust population of Palamedes Swallowtail along the swamps of the Pocomoke River east of Pocomoke City.  At least seven and probably many more (they were not nectaring but skittering around through the dense vegetation) were seen on Saturday.  In the same general location were Great Purple Hairstreak, more American Snouts, and building numbers of Cloudless Sulphur, Common Buckeye, and Variegated Fritillary.  Clethra is in full bloom there and elsewhere on the Eastern Shore now and was drawing in dozens if not hundreds of Eastern Tiger, Spicebush, and Zebra Swallowtails.  Silver-spotted Skippers were flying in the hundreds.

Fresh Juniper (Olive) Hairstreaks have been reported at a number of locations, especially in PA, this week.  Likewise, Zabulon Skipper (mostly males so far) is emerging for its next flight.  Viceroys have also been popping up in DE, PA, and MD.

The Monarch drought seems to be ending, with sightings this week in good numbers on the MD and DE Eastern Shore, PA, CT, VT, MA and elsewhere up and down the seaboard, although not in numbers we often see them.  Still, plenty of time to recover population density before the southward migration.  Most of the ones I was seeing appeared to be locally eclosed – very fresh and showing little or no signs of migration wear.

Hessel’s Hairstreak made an appearance in an Atlantic white-cedar swamp in Moore Co NC, nectaring late in the day on sweetshrub.  Ten Lace-winged Roadside Skippers shared this habitat.  Hoary Edge was still on the wing in Moore Co as well, in the Sandhills Community College Gardens, along with Fiery Skipper, Southern Cloudywing, and Whirlabout.  Several Mottled Duskywings were among the species seen at the Sandy Mush Game Lands in Buncombe Co NC on Sunday.  We could see Whirlabout here in the DC metro area this year; seems to be the start of a good flight of these Fiery Skipper-look alikes; it was also seen at the Pitt County (NC) Arboretum on July 30.  Ocola Skipper was found there on Monday as well; another one to watch for in the DC area on days following strong breezes from the south.

A last brood of Summer Azure is emerging now that will fly through early September; David Wright points out in a PaLepsOdes posting that these autumn azures frequently present with broader black borders and considerably more ventral spotting, occasionally showing up as f. ‘marginata’ with a brownish-black margin on the underside of the hind wing.  Red-banded Hairstreaks seem to be making a better showing with a summer flight than they did this spring, when they were very hard to find.

Harvester was reported ovipositing among woolly aphids near Pittsburgh PA this week; here in the DC area there haven’t been enough aphids to support a Harvester hunt, although the recent warm, humid weather might bring on more.

OF SPECIAL NOTE:  For those of you weathering the August heat on the Outer Banks or elsewhere in the Carolinas, the Carolina Butterfly Society has a number of opportunities for field explorations (info courtesy of Dennis Burnette; email below):

Aug. 10, Sat. — Carolina Butterfly Society will have an official butterfly walk at the Latta Plantation meadow and power line path and at Cowan’s Ford WR fields in Mecklenburg County near Charlotte. The event is being organized by Carl Ganser, who is on the CBS board. More information will be sent out, but you can contact Carl right now for details at, cell 312-351-5350.

Aug. 17, Sat.  — The Triad Chapter of CBS will hold a butterfly walk at Haw River State Park in Guilford Co. Well explore the power line right of way and woodland edges near the wetlands in this relatively new state park on the Guilford/ Rockingham County line. Leader: Dennis Burnette <>

Aug. 22, Thurs. — Rockingham County Butterfly Count. Counts are like regular butterfly walks except that a designated person records the species and numbers of individual butterflies we see and reported to the North American Butterfly Association. Beginners are welcome. Contact: Brian Bockhahn <>

Aug. 25, Sun.  Official Carolina Butterfly Society field trip: Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, McBee, SC. Because of the potential heat, we will drive various parts of the refuge, getting out of our air-conditioned cars to investigate when we see butterflies. Leader: Dennis Forsythe <>

Please let me know what you’re finding out there so I can pass it along to other readers of the Forecast!  Follow mid-Atlantic butterfly sightings at and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.


Old Hundredth — Reaching the MD100 Goal

King's Hairstreak, near DelMar MD, 2013 July 27

King’s Hairstreak, near DelMar MD, 2013 July 27

In Return of the King, Gandalf and Pippin look far across the expanse to Mordor, where Sauron’s armies are building and about to attack Gondor.  Pippin knows that Frodo and Sam have to avoid those armies to destroy the Ring, and everyone knew this was a dicey proposition from the get-go.  Pippin asks Gandalf:

 Pippin: Is there any hope, Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?

Gandalf: There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope.

That was basically my perspective when I left the house at 6 am yesterday to make my FOURTH assay on the King’s Hairstreak location near DelMar.  I’d been three times – once solo, once with Tom Stock, and once with Tom and Beth Johnson, and we’d all dipped.  My hopes were not high, but at least two others have seen it here this season, and at least this time I had a new target – Palamedes Swallowtail – if King’s didn’t work out.  And being perpetually stuck at #99 on my Maryland Big Butterfly Year goal of 100 was getting old.  That and Starbuck’s provided the motivation to get on the road under cool, gray skies.

The drive down was uneventful (note to field colleagues – The restrooms at the Cambridge Sailwinds Visitor Center, the first stop on the Eastern Shore for many of us after crossing the Bay Bridge, are locked and you have to get the key, the ONE key, from the visitor desk.  And their hours aren’t posted.  Arrive early or late or when they’ve stopped out and you are crossing your legs for a while).  The temperature remained cool, in the low 70’s, and the cloud cover remained intact but thin.  The yard of zinnias one road over that had been swarmed by Zebra and Spicebush Swallowtails last week was empty.

I arrived at the King’s location at about 8:30, and nothing was flying.  Even the mosquitoes were mostly quiescent.  There was already a truck parked in the pullout (? At this hour) but nobody in evidence.  I parked in the other dip in the road along the canal and began to scrutinize the trailside vegetation.  Nothing.  I walked a couple hundred yards down one side of the trail, and slowly back.  Kicked up one dew-bedraggled Zebra.  I crossed the road and started on the other side of the bridge.

And suddenly the sun came out for a few brief moments.  My heart stopped for a few seconds as a Peck’s Skipper buzzed around before it came into focus as a skipper, not a hairstreak.  But sitting quietly just above it on a wide blade of grass was #100 — a King’s Hairstreak.  It posed cooperatively for documentary photos until 9 o’clock sharp when it launched up into the canopy.

I poked around the trail a little more to no effect, and walked down the road a little ways to check out the blooming Clethra.  Aside from a couple of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, it was still very slow.  The condition of the King’s I saw was clearly declining fast, so I suspect the season for them is pretty much over.

Milkwort, Polygala lutea, near Berlin MD

Milkwort, Polygala lutea, near Berlin MD

The Pocomoke River marshes that Jim Stasz kindly shared as a possible location for a colony of Palamedes Swallowtail is about an hour from the King’s location, but the weather had turned out fine and there is good botanical exploration along the way, including my first look at orange milkwort, Polygala, along MD113 on the way past Berlin.  I arrived at the dead-end road in question a little before noon.

The first thing I noticed was that one side of the road was lined with blooming Clethra, and of course only knowing Palamedes as the common swallowtail in Great Dismal Swamp smothering the Clethra there, I was sure I’d see them among the many Spicebush and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails working the ones here.  But no.  A couple of interesting other critters did get my attention – a Great Purple Hairstreak, a fair number of recently emerged Zabulon males, and a Snout among them.  There was dogbane in full bloom on the other side of the road, with more Great Purple Hairstreaks, Monarchs, and a veritable explosion of Variegated Fritillaries, Common Buckeyes, and Silver-spotted Skippers.  But no Palamedes.

I drove farther down the road, the sides of which soon turned into open wooded swamp with lots of bayberry, maple, and flowering hibiscus.  And – Palamedes, always staying just out of net reach and never stopping for pics.  I counted seven for sure, but more likely saw twice that number as they zipped in and out of the bayberry.  And I saw my first Maryland redbay, the Palamedes host plant related to sassafras and spicebush and endangered in Maryland, among the abundant sweet bay magnolia in the swamp.  The relative scarcity of redbay, and the swamp habitat preferred by Palamedes, accounts for infrequent sightings of the swallowtail this far north.

Great Purple Hairstreak on Clethra, 2013 July 27, Pocomoke City MD

Great Purple Hairstreak on Clethra, 2013 July 27, Pocomoke City MD

Unfortunately, redbay may be in serious trouble, even where it’s very common, from a fungus related to Dutch elm disease that is currently working its way north from the Carolinas.  The fungus is spread by a tiny beetle, an ambrosia beetle, accidentally introduced from Asia, and also affects relatives of redbay in the laboratory.

Palamedes Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed, 27 July 2013, Pocomoke City MD

Palamedes Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed, 27 July 2013, Pocomoke City MD

I finally found one Palamedes nectaring at a lone swamp milkweed and snapped a few shots before it sailed away again over the water.

Palamedes Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed, 2013 July 27, Pocomoke City MD

Palamedes Swallowtail on Swamp Milkweed, 2013 July 27, Pocomoke City MD

So – the MD100 count now stands at 101, practically unthinkable when we hatched this idea back in March.  One hundred was a stretch goal in itself – I had some tremendous serendipity and the help of dozens of local naturalists who made this happen.  There are still a few species this year that could boost the total to MAYBE 105.  After all, I still haven’t seen Painted Lady, and Ocola Skipper is due in the area soon.  Leonard’s Skipper will give me another species if I get to the right habitat during its short flight period.  Harvester and Bronze Copper have proved as elusive for me this year as last (low populations of woolly aphids for the Harvester, and who knows what’s up with the crash of Bronze Copper in Maryland); Little Yellow appears not to be flying here at all this year unless we get a sudden southern surge.

Of course, I’d love to get all of them on my 2013 Maryland Butterfly Big Year count.  But even more important to me now is making sure my friends and colleagues in the field also reach 100, or at least get their highest season count ever.  So you’ll still see me in the field for the next two months until the butterflies run out …

Weekend Lep Forecast for 27-28 July 2013

Clouded Skipper 2013 July 20 National Arbo
The break in the high temperatures and oppressive humidity this week is likely to lure more of us into the field over the weekend, so please let me know what you’re finding out there so I can pass it along to other readers of the Forecast!

The big story this week was not so much new species as huge numbers.  In particular, Silvery Checkerspot seems to be having a banner summer flight, with reports of high numbers in appropriate habitat from throughout the region.   A conservative 100 were on the Rudbeckia flowers at the visitor center of Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge North Tract last Saturday, with hundreds if not thousands more along the roadsides on Rudbeckia and fleabane.  Also in high numbers early in the day basking (if not baking) on the asphalt road leading out to Bailey’s Bridge at Patuxent were Red-spotted Purples; I did a quick scout there soon after the Tract opened for the morning and had 43 just on that portion of the wildlife drive.  Small numbers of Zebra Swallowtails and Sleepy Oranges were also on the Refuge.

Also reaching peak numbers across the area are Eastern Tiger Swallowtails; the single buttonbush near the butterfly house at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton had more than 50 on it at one time one late afternoon this week.  In this location, the percentage of dark-morph females is quite high.  The Verbena bonariensis stands near the lower entrance are always good skipper watching; mostly this week they were Sachems and Silver-spotted Skippers. To the west, Northern Metalmarks are still being seen in good flights visiting woodland sunflower along roads on the eastern side of Green Ridge State Forest, wherever the host plant round-leaved ragwort is found (it’s a shale specialist).

We’re still not seeing much of an influx of southern migratory skippers this year.  A few more Fiery Skippers have been seen but nothing to suggest a strong northward push.  An early Clouded Skipper was observed last weekend at the National Arboretum; Hayhurst’s Scallopwing and Common Sootywing are also both flying in the butterfly garden there – look for them low to the ground, zipping in and out of the (purposefully) weedy borders.  Red-banded Hairstreak, uncommon this year, was on the Clethra in Fern Valley.

Hayhurst’s were also at Eastern Neck NWR over the weekend.

Monarchs were flying in good numbers this week in the milkweed field opposite the temporary visitor center at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where the common milkweed is pretty bloomed out but monarda and perennial sunflowers are kicking in.  The field also had huge numbers of Black Swallowtails, as well as a few Sleepy Oranges and Cloudless Sulphurs.  In general, in contrast with recent reports from northern VA, milkweed, swamp milkweed, and dogbane stands are all quite lush on DelMarVa, and several less common species of milkweed were also observed in good shape there last weekend.  Dogbane and yard zinnias in Worcester Co. were swarmed with Spicebush Swallowtail and a few Zebra Swallowtails; much less activity for some reason in similar habitat in Dorchester Co.

Another personal foray (my third) to the Nelson Road location for King’s Hairstreak proved futile, although a second verified sighting was made there last week.  The consolation prize for the drive down for me and Tom Stock was a fresh Dion Skipper along New Bridge Road, although other skippers were hard to come by (even the normally abundant Broad-winged Skipper) in this location this year.  Nectar is pretty scarce there.  Nevertheless, one observer had six Great Purple Hairstreaks at that location last week. Summer flights of Little Wood Satyr were observed at both Nelson Road and New Bridge.

Best sighting of the week undoubtedly goes to Billy Weber, our PA colleague, who watched a Palamedes Swallowtail making a quick pass at street plantings in Ocean City.  Palamedes are very occasionally seen in Worcester Co., especially on strong winds from the south.

On our Nelson Road excursion, Tom and I had a brief but intriguing look at a very large white pierid beating its way down the canal-side path.  Our first thought was the accidental Great Southern White, but we never got a definitive enough look to rule out a very paleCloudless Sulphur (it was that large) or other species.  It is, after all, the right time of year for unexpected Dixie visitors.  Zebra Heliconians are beginning to pop up throughout South Carolina, and Ocola Skipper was noted at the arboretum in Raleigh NC Monday.

OF NOTE:  The Loudon Wildlife Conservancy NABA Count is August 3. The Count Circle stretches from White’s Ferry in the east to the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Center in the west and south to Lincoln. Locations include butterfly gardens, sanctuaries, roadside wildflower areas, and parks.  Past counts have accrued 2,000 butterflies of 50 species.  Registration Required:  Sign up online at or contact Nicole Hamilton at   Groups will meet at different locations at different times.  Sector leaders will contact group participants with directions and meet up times/places.  Some groups are meeting at 8 AM and others will meet at 9 AM or later.  All experience levels and ages welcome.  Rain Date:  August 4

Follow mid-Atlantic butterfly sightings at and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes. 

A Mid-Atlantic Megisto Mystery

Both Harry Pavulaan and David Wright (MD and PA, respectively) have put out data calls recently for information on summer sightings of Little Wood Satyr.  David explains:

>>The Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela) is one of our commonest butterflies and is found throughout Pennsylvania. Little known fact is there appears to be two biotypes (perhaps species) going under one name. This is most evident where the two biotypes co-occur, since their flights are offset by several weeks. The early flight appears in the period from May to late June, and then suddenly in late June & early July a new flight marked by fresh males appears. This is the beginning of the late flight; both sexes fly well into August.  These are univoltine insects. The early flight does not produce the late flight. The two biotypes are not too different in their markings, which makes it difficult to tell one flight form the other by simply looking at a single specimen or photo. The larvae also look similar, but their developmental rates diverge.  I’ve been mapping the two entities in Pennsylvania, but certainly could use some more records of the second (=later) flight. This flight is on right now. If anyone collects, photos or sights a Little Wood Satyr in late July and August, I would greatly appreciate it if you would post the finding [on] PaLepsOdes [in Google Groups].<<

Harry noted in an earlier email to me much the same thing with a similar request to let him know ( about summer brood Megisto in MD:

>>This season, I decided to make an effort to locate Megisto cymela here in northern Virginia or central Maryland (western DC suburbs and beyond), and have come to an interesting conclusion:

Megisto eurytris (sensu Gatrelle), which is the spring flight of “Little Wood Satyr” here in the DC area, is common and widespread in late May through mid-June. I can find it in most wooded habitats or along woods edges or hedgerows. I obtained eggs from a female on May 28 and the larvae are still barely 10 mm long. Not possible to produce the summer flight, so that answers one question: that the summer (cymela) flight cannot be a second generation of the spring flight (eurytris). 

Megisto cymela is the summer flight of “Little Wood Satyr” here. It is RARE here in the western suburbs (though reported frequently east of Washington D.C.). After searching through about a dozen sites, most of which have the earlier, common, eurytris flight, and most of which have what one would consider “prime habitat” for the summer flight, only ONE site supported a tiny colony. I only observed about 6 individuals total during three visits over a one-week period in early July. Three males and three females observed or netted, some fresh, some showing bird attacks. What was most interesting was their behavior. All of these were located perching on tree branches or flying several feet up between trees in deep shade, though one male was observed flying in an adjacent second growth area. Not what I had expected. 

Several eggs were obtained from this second flight. Females of both flights oviposited on random lawn and forest grasses. I intend to rear them to maturity through the coming winter. This should help document their developmental stragies through the winter and for producing their annual flights. We’ll see if they keep on schedule.

If anyone knows of specific hosts, I’d be interested in learning what they use in different areas.<<

Tom Stock, Walt Gould and I had also noticed that the College Park MD colony we’re most familiar with was exhibiting a high-flying, tree-centric behavior at the end of June and early July as well.

I’ve resisted the urge (so far!) of claiming TWO Megisto species on my MD100 Maryland Butterfly Big Year, but if I’m still stuck at #99 for another couple of weeks I’m sure I’ll give in ….

Lep Forecast for Weekend of 2013 July 20

Many of us were in the field this past weekend, and there’s a lot to report.  As always, let me know what you’re finding out there so I can pass it along to the other readers of the Forecast!

This week has seen the return of Sachem in their second brood, which has shown up en masse in bewildering variety.  Tom Stock and I saw clouds of them at the US National Arboretum on virtually every nectar plant on Sunday.  Other grass skippers are flying now too, including multitudes of Dun Skippers we saw in most grassy environments in Garrett Co. over the weekend, as well as numbers of Delaware Skippers and Black Dashes.  Both Appalachian Browns and Northern Pearly Eyes were flying in good numbers in wet habitats in the western counties of MD.  A single Coral Hairstreak was noted hanging from the bells of Turk’s-cap lily along Blue Lick Road in Garrett on Saturday, the only hairstreak seen during two days in the field.

Bog Coppers are flying in western Maryland (and presumably WV) cranberry bogs, with more than a dozen observed in Garrett Co. on Saturday.  Odes flying in the bogs included White-faced Meadowhawk.  Other western mountain specialties that were noted included Aphrodite Fritillary at numerous locations in Big Run State Park, but we missed Atlantis Fritillary although it should also be on the wing.   Northern Metalmarks were seen by many observers over the past weekend in their usual haunts – nectaring on woodland sunflower growing on shale faces along Swain Hollow and Cliff Roads just east of Green Ridge State Forest.  One party counted THIRTY from their car driving along Swain Hollow before they got tired of counting.  Tom and I were happy with our seven.

On the Eastern Shore, Rare Skipper continues to be seen in the Blackwater area, along with Broad-winged SkippersMonarchs – hard to come by this year – were in the milkweed field across from the temporary visitor center at Blackwater NWR,; in fact, I saw Monarchs, usually singletons, at most of the many stops I made in Dorchester, Worcester, and Wicomico counties on Monday wherever there was much common milkweed.  Mixed results for King’s Hairstreak; one observer found and photographed several in Wicomico Co. on July 8, but another veteran observer at the same location a few days later (but admittedly late in the day), found none.  My mid-day visit to the same location was equally fruitless but stupefyingly hot on July 15.  Bronze Copper was again MIA on the Eastern Shore this week.  Zebra Swallowtails were as abundant as I’ve ever seen them on the white clover along parts of Sheppard’s Crossing Road between the DE border and Whaleyville MD.

Checkered White was present in small numbers on roadside white clover on roads near Delmar MD and Selbyville DE.  These whites (and Common Checkered-Skipper) were also observed near Beallsville MD at the equestrian center there, the site last year of Dainty Sulphur.

In addition to the Sachem swarms at the National Arboretum, Tom and I rustled up a surprising Checkered White in the lavender collection at the National Herb Garden, as well as several Sleepy Oranges at both the Herb Garden and the Butterfly Garden.  A huge new swarm of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails was hawking over the bottlebrush buckeyes across the road from Fern Valley, and a very fresh (and very large) White M Hairstreak was working blooms on another shrub a few yards farther down the road.  Hayhurst’s Scallopwing has a new brood zipping through the weedy verges in the Butterfly Garden.  A single Common Buckeye on the lavender gave a taste of larger numbers to come in the fall.

Now is the time to begin watching for southern skippers on their annual fall irruptions and migrations north.  Fiery Skipper is already being seen in growing numbers; Ocola and Cloudy Skippers can’t be far behind.

Giant Swallowtail was reported second-hand from the Maryland side of Great Falls this weekend; keep an eye out for the adults on mimosas and Joe-pye weed.  Giant Swallowtail was also reported last week from private gardens near Philadelphia.

Coming into bloom locally this week are the massive flowers of Devil’s-walking-stick, Aralia spinosa, one of the best magnets for hairstreaks this time of year.  Joe-pye and ironweed are both breaking bud in many locations, and the perennially popular with butterflies and wasps Pycnanthemum (mountain mint) species are in full bloom in many spots now as well. The poor stands of dogbane on the Eastern Shore I lamented about last week have actually recovered (some were mown earlier in the year and are just now blooming) and there are extensive stands in peak flower on many of the roads around Blackwater NWR.

Note of interest:  The popular VA Great Dismal Swamp NABA count was postponed last weekend because of the rain; the new date is August 10.  Don Schwab, the count organizer, says that Clethra should be fully bloomed by then, and that swallowtail numbers are building over the scarcity of previous weeks (presumably that includes Palamedes Swallowtail, a Dismal specialty).  On this count in the past I’ve also had Yehl Skipper, Lacewing Roadside Skipper, and Creole Pearly-eye, all canebrake specialists.

Follow mid-Atlantic butterfly sightings at and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes. 


Field Notes — Bog Copper in Maryland

Turk's-cap Lilies, Blue Lick Road, Garrett Co.

Turk’s-cap Lilies, Blue Lick Road, Garrett Co. — REB

Saturday morning was as unpromising as they come for me and Tom Stock, holed up at a hotel in Frostburg and afraid our planned Garrett Co. trip was a wash-out.  The forecast for the day got worse every time we checked Weather Underground.  We confirmed with our local guides to some bogs on the Maryland side of the state line – we’d seen Bog Coppers and other bog specialists in Cranesville Swamp in years past, but they wouldn’t count for MD100 — that we’d meet them at the Deep Creek Lake visitor center in McHenry at 10.  Beth Johnson had decided to brave the weather too and agreed to meet us over breakfast at the Princess Restaurant diner in Frostburg – and we three waited in vain for the heavy fog cover to lift.

We ditched Beth’s car and headed west toward McHenry.  The rain got worse, the fog lowered, the temperature dropped.  By the time we were at Deep Creek at 10, it was just drizzling.  And when we came back out of the Visitor Center at around 10:30, mirabile dictu, there were actually blue patches between the clouds!

Appalachian Brown on Blue Lick Rd

Appalachian Brown, Garrett Co MD

Our local hosts drove us first to wetland area known for Silver-bordered Fritillary, but not much was flying – the clouds had thickened again.  Nevertheless, Tom quickly got on Black Dash (FOY! And a lifer for Beth) and some European Skippers.  Satyrids popping in and out of the wetland grasses proved elusive to ID until I waded out and netted one – FOY Appalachian Browns for Tom.  There was clearly some large fritillary action way out over the wetlands, but too far to tell what they were or to trudge out to.

Bog Copper, Garrett Co MD

Bog Copper, Garrett Co MD

Our next stop was a local cranberry bog that required a very long hike in.  But the trek in proved fruitful too – more Black Dash, some very cooperative Delaware Skippers basking on grass blades, numbers of Northern Pearly Eyes, and large fritillaries flitting around too quickly to net or ID.  The bog, however,was another story.  After wading out until the vegetation thinned to almost nothing but sphagnum moss and cranberry, small grayish leps started popping up out of the cranberry blooms – Bog Copper! And in Maryland.  FOY for me and Tom, lifer for Beth.  Plus some incredible plants, including orchids, sundew, meadowsweet and rhododendrons.   We could easily have stayed all day – and the weather was drop-dead gorgeous by this point, blue skies and warm but not hot temperatures.

Delaware Skipper in Garrett Co MD

Delaware Skipper in Garrett Co MD

On the hike out I finally nabbed two of the frits, which proved to be Aphrodites (FOY for Tom and MD100 for all three of us; Beth and I saw it over the Fourth of July weekend at the Ft. Indiantown Gap grasslands tour).  We also confirmed that some of the others were Great Spangled Fritillaries, but Atlantis eluded us for the rest of the trip.

canadian tiger in hand Garrett July 13b

Presumptive Canadian Tiger Swallowtail in hand, Big Run State Park, Garrett Co MD — Beth Johnson

We bid farewell to our guides, and drove on down to Big Run State Park, where we’d been told to check out the campsites (especially at Whiskey Bottom) for commas, harvesters, and other puddlers.  True to the prediction, a huge puddle party was going on at Whiskey Bottom, with dozens of Dun Skippers, some Tiger Swallowtails, Eastern Tailed-blues, Silver-spotted Skippers (which resolutely resisted being converted to Hoary Edge), and three commas.  Tom worried over the commas – all Eastern Comma, no Grays – while I changed into dry shoes and socks from my soaked ones from the bog.  Then Tom called us both over to look more closely at the swallowtails, which we had taken for Eastern Tigers.  But Tom and I had had a chance recently to review field marks for a probable Canadian Tiger seen recently at Spruce Knob, and the one swallowtail left at the puddle exhibited the classic diagnostic characters.  Just then an SUV plowed through the puddle party, scattered everyone to wind.  Took a long time for the swallowtail to return, at which point I netted it for some in-hand review.  We’re checking it out with Papilio experts.  Here’s Tom’s analysis (and note the small size relative to my thumb as well):

 >>>Notes on Canadian Tiger Swallowtail: Came upon a large group of mixed butterflies puddling at the first pullout along Big Run Road in Garrett County (coming down the hill about a mile from New Germany Road). The group included two small (slightly larger than a nearby Red-spotted Purple), pale yellow Tiger Swallowtails which were initially identified as Eastern. After studying one of the Swallowtails (ventral view), noted the very broad black band on trailing margin of the hindwing, as well as a nearly continuous yellow marginal spot band on the forewing. The specimen was netted and studied further, and several photographs were taken. Field marks consistent with Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, as outlined in Cech and Tudor, Butterflies of the East Coast (2007). <<<

[Further notes on Canadian from Rick:  Without DNA analysis, assigning this butterfly to canadensis is probably uncertain, and the good money — from a genetic perspective — is that there are no canadensis populations in MD or WVA.  I plan on a more thorough discussion including commentary by Harry Pavulaan in a future posting]

Leaving Big Run, we continued up the east side of the Savage River drainage, ending up at the lovely (but short) Blue Lick Road.  Along the way a ton of other great plants, including American bellflower, black and blue cohoshes, American spikenard, an incredible scarlet monarda that was everywhere, pink spireas, and several really showy stands of Turk’s-cap Lily, the botanical star of the day.  Our last stop gave us a very unexpected Coral Hairstreak suspended under the bell of the one of the lilies.  And bright sunshine to the end of the day, along with the ethereal song of Hermit Thrushes cascading down the hillsides as we drove back out to Westernport Road.

Altogether, one heck of a super Allegany/Garrett Co. sweep.  Left both me and Tom within spitting distance of our MD100 goal, and gave us all lifers for the weekend.

List for the trip (courtesy of Tom):

July 12, 2013: Allegany County, Maryland mainly just east of Green Ridge State Forest
Heavily overcast, cool.
Pipevine Swallowtail (1)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (1)
Spicebush Swallowtail (3)
Cabbage White (10)
Orange Sulphur (2)
Northern Metalmark (7) FOY — found along Swain Hollow Road nectaring on woodland sunflower
Pearl Crescent (2)
Silver-spotted Skipper (2)
Wild Indigo Duskywing (6)
Least Skipper (1)
Little Glassywing (3)
July 13, 2013: Garrett County, Maryland
1. Mosser Road Wetland
Appalachian Brown (8) FOY
Common Wood Nymph (1)
European Skipper (common)
Black Dash (5) FOY
2.  Cranberry Bog in Garrett Co.
Common unless otherwise noted.
Bog Copper (9) FOY
Summer Azure
Great Spangled Fritillary (2)
Aphrodite Fritillary (1) FOY
Northern Pearly Eye
Appalachian Brown
Silver-spotted Skipper (1)
Delaware Skipper (4)
Black Dash
Dun Skipper (abundant)
3. Big Run State Park
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (2)
Spicebush Swallowtail (2)
Cabbage White (4)
Clouded Sulphur (1)
Orange Sulphur (1)
Coral Hairstreak (1)
Eastern Tailed Blue (5)
Summer Azure (common)
Great Spangled Fritillary (4)
Aphrodite Fritillary (3)
Pearl Crescent (1)
Eastern Comma (3)
American Lady (1)
Red-spotted Purple (2)
Silver-spotted Skipper (3)
Peck’s Skipper (1)
Tawny-edged Skipper (1)
Little Glassywing (1)
Delaware Skipper (3)
Dun Skipper (abundant)
Tom and Beth admiring new car