Fields of Green and Gold
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
With only 12 Oregon butterfly species yet to photograph, you might expect that each one takes me further into the remote and rugged wilds of Oregon. And for the most part, you'd be right. One of the twelve, however, is not only common, but also very widespread. It was just a lack of focus that allowed the Clouded Sulphur to elude my lens for so long. Oh, and there was the little matter of mis-identifying an Orange Sulphur as a Clouded Sulphur that made me think I already had a photo of it.
From my past trips through the high desert of central Oregon, I knew a place where I could find not just some, but actually thousands of Clouded sulphurs: the alfalfa fields around Gateway, Oregon, just northeast of Madras.
Back in 2002, I had seen the alfalfa fields attended by large numbers of Clouded Sulphurs, along with a few Orange Sulphurs, Mylitta Crescents, Purplish Coppers and Common Checkered Skippers. On that trip, I hadn't been able to get any photos--they were too easily startled and flew too fast and too far. Now, in 2019, armed with more experience, more patience and a more capable camera, I again visited those alfalfa fields.
As soon as I drove alongside the first field, I realized I was quite lucky: the field had been irrigated deeply the previous night and there were muddy patches around the edge of the field. And, in another lucky coincidence, there was ample room to pull off and park next to this field. As soon as I was out of the car, I saw that the male Clouded Sulphurs were in mud-puddling mode and there were lots of them.
Within 30 minutes I had many good images of male Clouded Sulphurs posing cooperatively in the mud.
Next up was to find and photograph a female. Which I found to be much more difficult. First off, I was seeing very few females, and secondly those that I saw (through my binoculars) were nectaring and laying eggs on the alfalfa plants well away from the edge of the field. At this point, it was about 95°F with no breeze. I spent a very toasty hour missing one photo after another, and then getting one that was either out of focus or blurry from their fast movement, and then missing a few more. The best I could do that afternoon was to capture this somewhat blurred image of a male and female doing their courtship dance:
I chose not to persist for a perfect photo of the female, and chose instead get a reasonable start on the three and a half hour drive home.
I would be remiss if I didn't also share a photo of the lovely Mormon Metalmark, which I found in healthy numbers nearby along the Deschutes River at Trout Creek Campground. They were flying their fast and crazy zig-zag flight paths among the white-flowered eriogonum along the former rail bed. Fortunately, when they stopped to bask or nectar, they stayed put for some nice photos: