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A Fertile Crescent

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

I'd only seen the Pale Crescent (Phyciodes pallida) one time in Oregon, or anywhere for that matter. And I only saw one of them. It was in 2004, in the lower Deschutes River canyon, north of Maupin. Back in those days, I was still shooting with slide film, while I was just beginning to learn how to navigate the world of digital photography.

Jones Canyon is a side canyon off the lower Deschutes River, about 8 miles north of Sherar's Bridge, where native people from the Warm Springs Reservation fish for salmon. Its a beautiful stretch of river there, where the river narrows through a roaring water fall, with dip-netting platforms on both sides below the falls. Jones Canyon is where I found the Pale Crescent in 2004. It's not a particularly pale butterfly, being bright orange and black. However, its namesake crescent on the underside of the hindwing is paler than in many other crescent species.

Last weekend I decided to visit Jones Canyon for the first time in 15 years. I was hoping to see and photograph Pale Crescent, Indra Swallowtail, and the Oregon State Butterfly, the Oregon Swallowtail. The weather looked quite favorable, sunny and in the low 80's. It was a blitz run, as I only had 2 free days. After rising early, I drove the 4 hours from Eugene and arrived at the Jones Canyon Recreation Area (AKA campground).

After loading up with cameras, binoculars, water, and my iPhone to keep the list of butterfly species, I headed up Jones Creek. About 100 yards up from the road, the creek channel broadened out and there was some nice mud for puddling butterflies so I hunkered down on a rock to see what species might be flying there. Within 15 minutes I saw a Sagebrush Checkerspot. Then a Northern Checkerspot flew through. Then what looked somewhat like a very large Mylitta Crescent landed on a dead branch about 10 feet away. When I realized it was a Pale Crescent, I got excited. Back in 2004, I hadn't been able to capture the underside, or ventral view, of the butterfly in my photos. As I thought back to that 2004 visit, it felt to me like this was almost the exact spot I'd seen Pale Crescent before. Just like in 2004, I saw only this one. Just like in 2004 I got only one photo. Just like in 2004, my photo was clear! I finally had the ventral view of the Pale Crescent, which is, after all, where the crescent is! (Its that cream-colored half-moon on the trailing edge of the hindwing, edged inwardly by reddish brown.) The instant I had this image, it flew away, and I never saw another Pale Crescent the whole weekend. That's some nice luck!

Close-up photo of the Pale Crescent butterfly.
Pale Crescent (Phyciodes pallida), Jones Canyon, May 12, 2019

I spent several hours over 2 days scouring the lower part of Jones Canyon, hoping for Indra, Oregon Swallowtail, or another Pale Crescent. Nope. Overall numbers and species diversity were much lower than on my early May visit in 2004, though I did see some other interesting species, like this Large Marble.

Close-up photo of Large Marble butterfly.
Large Marble (Euchloe ausonides), Jones Canyon, May 13, 2019

Next I continued on down the Deschutes River a couple miles to Rattlesnake Canyon. The creek bed was dry down by the road, but I suspected there would be water further up. Sure enough, about 1/4 mile up there was slow moving water in the stream channel. I hunted around the creek for an hour or so, and saw all the same species I'd seen in Jones Canyon, plus Boisduval's Blue.

The last stop was a lesser known canyon beyond Rattlesnake called Box Elder Canyon. It was pretty quiet there, but just as I was leaving, I saw a small, dark bug zipping around in front of the large culvert under the road. It was very hard to follow its flight, so I just stood for a while, softening my gaze to be able to see the movement more easily. Eventually the little zipper landed. What's this? A Sheridan's Hairstreak? It seemed late for this species, but there it was. Admittedly a bit flight-worn and ragged:

Close-up photo of Sheridan's Green Hairstreak butterfly
Sheridan's Hairstreak (Callophrys sheridanii)

A fun and unexpected find in mid-May. With that, I packed up and headed home, resigned to more trips in search of Oregon's State Butterfly. It seems weird that I've only seen one or two Oregon Swallowtails on the wing, and never even had the opportunity to photograph one. And that's part of the fun of the "big board game" of finding and photographing all of Oregon's butterflies within the boundaries of the state (the big board). You just never know what you're going to find out there.

Landscape photo of Jones Canyon, Sherman County
Early morning in Jones Canyon, Sherman County

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