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A Spring Ritual

Updated: Feb 22

Welcome back to the Butterflies of Oregon blog! Now that spring has arrived in the Willamette Valley, you will be seeing periodic updates on my butterfly adventures in the field.

It has become a bit of an annual ritual for me to kick off the spring butterfly season with a couple of trips here in the valley to seek a couple of my favorite early season butterflies. One is the Moss's Elfin (Callophrys mossii), a lovely dark brown-to-maroon member of the hairstreak family. I often find these in late March to mid-April on steep, south-facing rocky slopes south of Springfield where Sedum oreganum (aka Oregon stonecrop), Moss's elfin's hostplant grows.

View of Rocky slope next to Lookout Point Reservoir
Rocky slope next to Lookout Point Reservoir

This year, I went to a site I hadn't visited in years--a series of steep rocky slopes next to Lookout Point Reservoir in Lane County. These last few days of sun and warmth have brought out the early spring butterflies, and these sites are especially warm due to the south facing rock faces. In the photo above, notice the patches of bluish green plants along the tops of the rock outcrops. Thats Sedum oreganum. Here's a close-up (see below).

color image of Oregon stonecrop (Sedum Oreganum)
Oregon stonecrop (Sedum Oreganum)

After searching a couple of rocky, seepy spots, I began to see the very dark, small, and fast-flying elfins. All were fresh and newly eclosed (emerged from their chrysalis). They always perch with their wings closed, but that's good since the underside of the wings is the most beautiful side. Fortunately, they often congregate on the vegetation at the bottom of the slopes, so its not necessary (nor advisable) to climb up the slope, where your precarious position would not only put you in danger, but make it very hard to get a decent photo. Trust me, I know.

Photo of Moss's Elfin butterfly (Callophrys mossii)
Moss's Elfin (Callophrys mossii)

These warm, rocky slopes also attracted several other species of early season butterflies, including Common Checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis), Propertius Duskywing (Erynnis propertius), Spring Azure (Celastrina echo), Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta), and California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica).

Photo of Common Checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis) butterfly
Common Checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis)

The following day, I headed north, to the Cardwell Hill area in the hills west of Corvallis in Benton County. I was hoping to see an early spring Oreas Comma. Their primary hostplant in our area is straggly gooseberry (Ribes divaricatum), which grows in these valleys in the foothills of the Coast Range. Here, my search strategy was to walk along the road, closely scanning each wet, seepy area along the road margin. On a warm, dry day in early spring, virtually all the butterflies were in these sunny, wet places. The species flying included Propertius Duskywing (Erynnis propertius), Spring Azure (Celastrina echo), Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta), Satyr Comma (Polygonia satyrus), Green Comma (Polygonia faunus) and California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica). The Spring Azures were out in force! But alas, no Oreas commas to be seen--I have seen them in this location earlier in the year, but not yet in early April.

Photo of Spring Azure (Celastrina echo) butterfly
Spring Azure (Celastrina echo) was more abundant than I could recall seeing before.

Since these butterflies were all "mud-puddling" or sipping mineral-laden water from the moist areas, I had to get down in the mud as well. On a gravel road, this means kneeling on wet, muddy rocks. So having sturdy pants and knee pads is a really good idea. Only I'd forgotten to bring my knee pads on this trip. Thanks to the very conscientious Benton County residents who were sheltering in place at home, there were very few people around to hear my cursing as the rocks poked into my weight-laden knee caps!

Photo of Comma (Polygonia faunus) butterfly
Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

Photo of Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) butterfly
Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)

After a couple weeks of gloomy, rainy sheltering in place at home, these sunny days out in the field lifted my spirits noticeably. Even though I am in fine health, I did intentionally go alone, and I visited places where I knew people would not be gathering--because I want to be part of the solution to COVID-19, not a "spreader."

May your adventures be safe, socially distant, and lovely!

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