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The Admiral is in the House

Updated: 3 days ago

It seemed like a crazy idea, but then occasionally, crazy ideas actually work out well. The idea was to make a "rocket run" down to the Pueblo Mountains in Harney County to search for the Weidemeyer's Admiral, and return home in just two days. It would require 7 hours of driving each way, and getting up at the birdwatcher's hour of 5:30 am. Which I almost never do by my own choice. But it was either that, or wait another year to find this large, boldly black and white brushfoot butterfly in Oregon.

The family of "brushfoot" butterflies are so-called because their front pair of legs (of three pairs) is vestigial, or really tiny. They look like they have four legs, instead of the six that other butterflies have.

The rocket-run was an experiment, really, to see if my body (and mind) would handle so much driving in so short a time. I had a window of two days between other activities that were important to me (like hanging out with my friends on July 4), and I calculated that if nothing crazy went wrong, it would all work out. Whether I saw and got photos of the Admiral, well that was outside my control. So I went for it.

I had the car totally packed the night before, and when the alarm went off at zero-not-all-that-dark-thirty, I was excited to get going. Okay, I was actually pretty groggy and sluggish, but a shower (my form of coffee) helped with that. I loaded the food into the pre-cooled cooler, and drove away before 7:30 am. So far, so good!

The drive went smoothly. Amazingly smoothly. I took brief stretch stops about every 90 minutes. As I was heading south from Burns toward Frenchglen, with about two hours to go, I saw what looked like a mixture of thick clouds and smoke exactly in the direction of the Pueblo Mountains to which I was headed. After a moment of doubt, I decided to stay the course and take my chances with the conditions at Arizona Creek on the east side of the Pueblos. As I crossed over the pass through the Pueblos and headed down to Fields Station, I thanked myself for my stick-to-it-iveness--the smoke and clouds were much further east, leaving the Pueblos as clear as could be.

I arrived at Arizona Creek Road at about 1:30 pm and drove up the two miles of well-graded gravel to a grove of recently burned aspen along the creek. Next to the road was the largest patch of intact aspen trees, and the little creek flowed across the road there. Within 30 seconds, I saw a Weidemeyer's Admiral sallying from a perch next to the creek. It returned back to the perch 2 or 3 times, so I grabbed my cameras, and went to work. Shazzam! Within five minutes, I had this shot:

Close-up photo of Weidemeyer's Admiral
Weidemeyer's Admiral

Which is Number 148! Except then I lost a species, because a northwest butterfly expert saw my purported photos of Clouded Sulphurs and said they looked like Orange Sulphurs instead. So I'm back to 147 species, but very excited to finally get this guy. Last time I saw one was in 2003. Thank you to Gary Pearson for turning me on to this site!

I knew from previous visits to the Pueblos that the Weidemeyer's Admirals here were genetically mixing with Lorquin's Admirals, yielding the "fridayi" form, which shows varying degrees of characteristics from Lorquin's Admirals. The second butterfly I saw after the Weidemeyer's was a Lorquin's Admiral so I expected to find some fridayi individuals. Sure enough over a few hours of wandering around the area, I found two clear Weidemeyer's and about five of the fridayi form. I don't know if it was chance or something else, but both of the Weidemeyer's Admirals were more roughed-up and bird-nipped than the more fresh and whole "fridayi" individuals.

Close-up photo of Weidemeyer's Admiral, Limenitis weidemeyeri "fridayi"
"Fridayi" form of Weidemeyer's Admiral, showing a bit of the orange wingtips of a Lorquin's Admiral.

The next day, I swung around the south side of the Pueblos into Nevada and made a stopover on the lower west flank of the Warner Mountains. I hoped to find the Great Purple Hairstreak (which is blue, not purple) and the Tailed Copper. After not seeing the Great Purple for 15 years, I saw this one at my first stop on Kelley Creek.

Close-up photo of Great Purple Hairstreak
The Great Purple (Blue) Hairstreak is our lone member of a group of otherwise tropical hairstreaks.

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