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Let the Season Begin!

Updated: Feb 22

After all that snow, who thought we'd see multiple days of 70+ degrees so soon! While we were throwing off our jackets and running gleefully outside like giddy children, the warmth allowed some of the early season butterfly species to "throw off" their chrysalides and emerge into the sunlight also.

I saw my first butterfly of 2019 on March 11, my mother's birthday, a fast fly-by California Tortoiseshell, along the Middle Fork of the Willamette. A few days later, another Tortoiseshell in the same area. That was enough motivation to get me to go out a couple times to see which species were out and about.

Close-up photo of California Tortoiseshell, upper side
California Tortoiseshell - Nymphalis californica

After a lucky morning of birding in Linn County, I headed to Fitton Green Natural Area near Corvallis, and it did not disappoint! Within minutes I saw a California Tortoiseshell, and then another. I probably saw 15-20 of them altogether.

Next, that flash of lavender-blue that only a Spring Azure has, and to my delight, it perched on the wet trail not far away. I got down in the mud, and scooted my way in slowly for several shots of the unique ventral wing pattern.

Close-up photo of Spring Azure, under side
Spring Azure - Celastrina echo

As I continued on down Cardwell Hill Trail, I started seeing nice seepy areas in the ditch along the road. I'll admit I was hoping for Oreas Comma, but I was not disappointed to see a freshly eclosed Green Comma. Green Commas can sometimes be tricky to separate from Oreas Comma at first glance, especially if the underside of the hindwing is dark and lacks the characteristic green band this species usually has.

Close-up photo of Green Comma, upper side
Green Comma - Polygonia faunus

In this case, the green band was not lacking, in fact it was quite bold. No mistake on this one. Oreas would be very dark below, and the white mark on the hindwing below would be a flattened white "v" with a point at the bottom, so there was nothing fuzzy about this ID.

I was very satisfied seeing these species and one Satyr Comma that I was not able to photograph--a very good day for March!

Close-up photo of Green Comma, upper side
Green Comma - Polygonia faunus

Over dinner, my friend Bruce was talking about early season butterflies and habitats and reminded my of a favorite of mine, Jasper Rocks, near Springfield. It's a great spot to see one of our other early fliers, Moss's Elfin. When I arrived, the sun was streaming down, and next to the south facing cliffs the temperature felt close to 80 degrees. I was sweating in a t-shirt, in March!

Moss's Elfins are small and dark and fast-flying, so it can take a few minutes to train your eye to spot them zipping around from branch to flower to rock. Sometimes it's their shadow that you see first, because the shadow below is bigger than the butterfly above. Their host plant in our area, Sedum oreganum, grows best on rocky, "cliffy," south-facing sites, and Jasper Rocks has some of just that. I saw a total of 7 of these beautiful little dark brown gems, and all of them were so bright and fresh that they probably had eclosed from their chrysalides that very morning. I only had about 45 minutes to poke around, but that was long enough to also see a Spring Azure and a Satyr Comma cruising by. I call this a great start to the 2019 butterfly season!

Close-up photo of Moss's Elfin, upper side
Moss's Elfin - Callophrys mossii

I hope you were able to get out and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather too! And let's hope the rain comes back soon!

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