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  • Sachem | ButterfliesofOregon

    Gallery Prev Next Boardman, Morrow County, August 24 - male Sachem Atalopedes campestris Size: Up to 1.5 inch wingspan ​ Key ID features: Larger and longer winged than other comparable Oregon skippers. Above orangish-brown, with dark brown borders. Male with large rectangular black patch around stigmata and vague light orange pattern on HW. Female above with dark patch on FW, with pale yellow spot band beyond that, and HW with light orange spot band. Male HW below with broad light yellowish patches sometimes nearly enclosing a darker rectangular patch . Female below, with darker HW ground color and curved band of smaller, more distinct spots. ​ Similar species: Yuma Skipper and Juba Skipper are of similar size. Yuma Skipper is plain above and below. Juba Skipper has green gray ground color below with bold white spot bands. ​ Host plant: Various grass species. ​ Habitat: Pastures, gardens, roadsides and open prairie. ​ Range: Cascade Range, Siskiyou Mtns, Willamette Valley, Columbia and Deschutes river drainages. ​ Season: Late May to late August ​ Abundance: Uncommon Conservation Status: Secure

  • American Copper | ButterfliesofOregon

    Gallery Prev Next Oregon State Arthropod Collection #0000819569 - male Thank you to Dana Ross and Paul Hammond , volunteers at OSAC! American Copper Lycaena hypophlaeas Size: 0.75- 1.25 inches wingspan ​ Key ID features: Above FW coppery orange with black spots and dark brown borders. Above HW gray-brown with wide orange band along most of trailing margin. Below HW gray with black spots, orange wavy submarginal line. ​ Similar species: Upperside is unlike any other copper. Separated from Purplish Copper by location and habitat. Host plant: Suspected to be Mountain Sorrel (Oxyria digyna) . ​ Habitat: Steep high-elevation talus slopes. ​ Range: High peaks in the Wallowa Mtns. ​ Season: Mid-August to mid-September ​ Abundance: Uncommon Conservation Status: Secure

  • Western Sulphur | ButterfliesofOregon

    Gallery Prev Next Prairie Farm Springs, Jefferson Co, July 1 Western Sulphur Colias occidentalis Size: 1.5 - 2.0 inches wingspan ​ Key ID features: Males above, bright lemony yellow with unbroken black border. Females above lighter yellow or cream, with less distinct black border. Below, central pearly "discal" spot in HW with single pinkish-brown ring, and few or no submarginal black or brown spots. HW below has black over-scaling, giving it a green cast. ​ Similar species: Clouded Sulphurs have heavier submarginal spots on HW below. Queen Alexandra's Sulphurs are larger, greener below, and usually lack pink discal spot-rim below. Host plant: Many species in the pea family. ​ ​ Habitat: Meadows, roadsides, dry steppe slopes and forest glades. ​ Range: Mountain ranges throughout Oregon, except Coast Range. ​ Season: early March to early November ​ Abundance: Common Conservation Status: Secure

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Blog Posts (47)

  • Searching for Spring

    Early this spring, just when we seemed to be heading for the most severe drought in Oregon history, winter seemed to suddenly wake from its slumber and say "oh, wait a minute, I guess I'm not done yet." Clouds gathered, rain fell, and then snow. The parched ground soaked it up like a sponge. Everywhere I went it seemed people were saying, "I really miss that sunny weather, but we really need this rain." Nowhere was that more true than in Josephine County, which had been designated as an extreme drought area by those scientists who do that sort of thing. Due to this cold, rainy spell, I'd had to cancel two earlier planned visits to Josephine County and its riverine jewel, the Illinois, to search for the elusive Spring White ( Pontia sisymbrii ). This would be my 7th try over a 20-year span. I have seen the Spring White (well enough to identify it) only three times: in May 2003 in the Warner Mountains, in June of 2003 on Soda Mountain, and in May 2006 on the Illinois. I managed one somewhat blurry and out of focus photo out of those three sightings (see below). Whites are notoriously hard to photograph, unless you are lucky enough to find them puddling on wet sand or mud or nectaring on a cool morning. Which is why I was targeting this river's edge habitat in early spring, when there is more puddling habitat around. Oh, and it's called the Spring White. As the rainy days of April crawled along like chilled salamanders, I kept watching the weather forecasts for southern Oregon. I was hoping, longing, to see some of those happy little sun icons. Nope. Just depressing little rain cloud icons strung across every day of the week. Then, about ten days ago, I saw that there might be a window of sun down in the Illinois Valley over the following weekend, and I started to press my foot on the hope pedal. I knew it would be iffy to set out a-hunting for butterflies after all that cold and rain, but I just could't contain my desire to start my butterfly season another week! I packed up my "lep trek"gear in my typical not-really-quite-ready, first-trip-of-the-year kind of way and jumped on I-5 heading south, early on Saturday morning. I had estimated my arrival in the Illinois Valley at about 11 am, and that turned out to be pretty good timing, given that it was sunny, but still quite cool when I arrived. I started out walking on the Jeffrey Pine loop trail, near the beginning of Eight Dollar Road, where I soon encountered several Sara's Orangetips (after the taxonomic split, these are only found in Oregon along the border with California), a few tattered California Tortoiseshells and numerous Propertius Duskywings. It was pretty clear that cool weather-tolerant species would win this day. After about 30 minutes of walking, I saw a white flying about 50 feet in front of me. My first instinct was to reach for my butterfly net. However, in my first-trip-of-the-year packing frenzy, I had forgotten to pack my net (yeah, I know, I know). So, I would be at the mercy of this bug. Will it stop and nectar? Will it stop to sip some mineral water at a sand bar? Will it come land on my outstretched hand? To my chagrin, it didn't see or smell anything it considered vaguely attractive about (or anywhere near) me, and it flew on down the hill as if I didn't exist, standing there staring at it, churning with desire to know what species it was. "Why isn't that damn net in the car?" I said (carefully phrasing the comment to avoid any responsibility). I was headed for some sandy spots along the riverbank there, and hoped to get lucky with a Spring White or even two, happily sipping moisture from the riverside sand. As I traipsed along the river's edge, I spied two more of these whites, whatever they were. The second one stopped for about a millisecond to nectar on a white native mustard. Miraculously, I got one poor photo, but it was just clear enough to tell that this was a spring form of the Margined White, lovely with its bold black ventral vein bars, but, alas, not the object of my search. As I walked, I stopped to scan mustard family wildflowers wherever I saw them, as they are often visited by whites, orangetips and marbles. They are both preferred nectar sources, as well as larval host plants. In this area, I knew that I might see Sara's Orangetip, California Marble, Large Marble, Gray Marble, Spring White, Margined White or Western White. So when I began to see patches of Waldo rockcress, a purple mustard-family native flower in bloom, I let my hopes grow a bit. As it turned out, over the course of my two days along the Illinois, I would not see any whites at Waldo rockcress. Go figure. After a lovely walk around the Jeffrey Pine Loop, I headed back to my car for some lunch, and then headed east. I made a quick stop at what I call Butterfly Gulch, where two small unnamed streams flow down to and under Rd 4103. There I found several Sara's Orangetips, one California Marble, one Greenish Blue, one Gray Marble, a few Mylitta Crescents and a number of Common Checkered Skippers. No Spring White joy here either, but a nice variety of other early season species. My next site visit would be Sixmile Creek, a beautiful stretch of the Illinois with a dramatic rocky shore with many pools and seeps in the spring. Within a minute of exiting my car, I saw my first Pale Swallowtail of the trip, a couple of California Tortoiseshells and some Echo Azure blues on the sand below. A promising start. Gear on! As I made my way down the rocky access to the rock bed along the river, I noticed a stirring of a number of blues on a shaded rock, so I headed down there. I found a puddle club of many Echo Azures packed in cheek-to-jowl (just go with me here, I can't imagine jowls on a butterfly either) in a moist mossy spot that was partly shaded. I slowly moved in for a closer look, curious to see if there were any interlopers in the group. I counted them and got roughly 100, and at first I thought they were all Azures. I scanned them one more time... "gotcha!" One Western Tailed Blue was there, blending in nicely with its cousins, but slightly smaller, slightly more gray underneath, with its orange hindwing spot and tiny tail. Crawling all over and around the rocks at Sixmile Creek, I found several Mylitta Crescents, a few Common Ringlets (the really pale southern Oregon form), one Common Checkered Skipper, several Propertius Duskywings and a California Marble. I was satisfied that I had covered the site well, and I saw none of the larger white species so at least there was no question of whether a saw a Spring White. It was almost 5 pm by that point, and so I called it a day and headed to my Air BnB on the Rogue River for dinner and a night's rest. Next morning it was up early, a quick bird walk along the Rogue, and then a return drive down to the Illinois Valley. I started the day by walking down Road 011 off the Illinois River Road, which heads down to Star Flat and the Star Flat Fen (a bog with the strangely lovely Darlingtonia pitcher plant). The road continues past the fen, along Deer Creek until it reaches its confluence with the Illinois. There it meets the Kerby Flat Trail, which I had never walked. I decided to walk that all the way to Kerby Flat to maximize my time in the river corridor, and hopefully increase my odds of encountering a Spring White. I didn't know if it was a good plan, but it was a plan. It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk. From all the recent rain, there were puddles and seeps everywhere. In fact, there were so many wet spots, that I surmised that the relatively few butterflies must be spread out. In contrast, a good seep in summertime, when water is more scarce, will often attract a high density and diversity of butterflies to a small area by its relative rarity. It was cool again on this morning, and there were many more birds in evidence than butterflies. On the way down, I met a group of Forest Ecology students from Linfield College who had been down to see the Darlingtonia Fen. They were excited to be in the great classroom of the outdoors. They said they were studying for their finals by practicing their field skills, in the field . I commended them on their choice of places to study, and gave them my pitch. They seemed enthusiastic about visiting. I also met several Propertius Duskywings, a Persius Duskywing, a couple Mylitta Crescents, some California Tortoiseshells, a few Sara's Orangetips, and a couple Anise Swallowtails. They were a bit light on conversation, but I enjoyed their company. When I arrived at the confluence of Deer Creek with the Illinois I was greeted by a large sandbar which looked like fabulous puddling habitat, along its moist edge at the river. In one sheltered spot there, I found the only Indra Swallowtail of the weekend, with a couple of Anise Swallowtails, always a lovely sight. Just above that sand bar, I found the Kerby Flat trail and headed west on the rocky path. There were many patches of Waldo rockcress, a few Echo Azures, several more Sara's Orangetips, and more Anise Swallowtails. Eventually, I passed through a shady woodland and emerged into sunny Kerby Flat, the most obvious feature of which was the presence of several big, bright patches of Rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta). Each flower has a lovely pink ball of color at the end of a green stem. Within a few minutes I saw several whites, actually nectaring (!) on the plectritis blooms. Now we're talking (I said silently)! I slowly crept closer to each one to get a good view through my binos, and identified one Margined White after another--five in all. Lovely, and distinct in their spring form, but decidedly not Spring Whites. I was starting to feel pangs of hunger, so I about-faced, and began the 3 mile walk back to the car. Again a pleasant walk, but again with relatively few butterflies. Back at my car after eating lunch, I began to strategize about where to go next. Back to Sixmile? Try Jeffrey Pine again? Or to the area around Eight Dollar Bridge? The bridge area felt right to me. I knew there was good puddling habitat there so I drove back out Illinois River Road to Highway 199 and down to Eight Dollar Road. I had scouted the area the day before, so I knew the key spots to check. In the primo sandy puddling spot, I found a bright, fresh group of swallowtails all packed in tightly. They literally kept pushing into one another as though they couldn't get close enough. They reminded me of little boys snuggling up to their Dad. On that same beach I also found a couple of Persius Duskywings, a male and female, like smaller versions of the Propertius Duskywing, with slightly less bold markings. These little duskwings, whose larva feed on legumes, weren't on the wet sand, but on wet gravel and wet charcoal. Those sightings rounded out the excitement for this spot so I headed back to the car, and decided to go back yet again to the Illinois River Road, and check a couple spots there. When I arrived at "Butterfly Gulch," I found it so empty of butterflies that I was a bit shocked. I had never seen it that way before. The previous day, it had a lot more action. So that ended up being a very quick stop. It was getting late in the day, and I wanted to stop at a roadside seep near Snailback Creek, which I knew from previous visits could be a good late afternoon spot. It was a fun, though white-free stop, but I did pick up a few new species there, including Silvery Blue, Northern checkerspot and Brown Elfin. By this point, it was feeling like I would be counting this as a warm-up trip and as a scouting trip, and that I would be making the drive down to the Illinois Valley again soon, to continue my search for the Spring White. Hopefully in a week or two, there were be more signs of Spring, and perhaps a white or two to bring the joy! Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on my planned first search for the newly described Asher Blue, which was identified as a new species last year, and formally described this past winter by Caitlin Labar, Jon Pelham, and Norbert Kondla. This new blue is closely related to the Echo Azure. The story of the Asher Blue and its namesake is really lovely, so please come back for that one! Below is the complete species list (21 species) from my two days on the Illinois, with counts for each.

  • The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Checkerspot

    I was packing for a trip to the southern Blue Mountains to (hopefully) photograph Garita Skipperlings for the first time, when I got the email. My friend Stefan Schlick had been leading a birding tour in Wallowa County, and had seen, netted, and photographed a fresh Gillett's Checkerspot ( Euphydryas gillettii ) on Hat Point Road on June 26. He had posted the photo on, and sent me a link. I was astounded! As far as I knew, no one had reported Gillett's Checkerspots in Oregon since Andy Warren and Vern Covlin last found them in June and July 2004. In June of 2004, I also ventured out to look for the Gillett's Checkerspot, based on a conversation the previous fall with Harold Rice, the long-time Oregon lepidopterist who had discovered the Oregon population in 2003. My visit came about two weeks before Vern Covlin found them well below Summit Ridge. More than likely, my visit had been too early that year. In recent years, I had been wondering whether Oregon's outlier population of this northern Rocky Mountain species was still hanging on. Stefan had just answered that question! I immediately began strategizing to add a visit to Hat Point Road to my Blue Mountains trip. The confirmation that Gillett's Checkerspot had been seen just a few days before was plenty of motivation to rearrange my schedule to make the long trip extension possible. After two days enjoying the warm glow of success with Gartia Skipperling in Bear Valley, I headed north on Highway 395, aimed for Wallowa County. The trip from Bear Valley to Stefan's gillettii spot was about 6 hours, so I broke up the drive by camping along Bear Creek in the western Wallowa Mountains. I breakfasted on blueberry pancakes and broke camp early the next morning, hoping to reach the lower part of Hat Point Road by 8:30 am. I wanted to take advantage of the cool morning air and the more sluggish butterfly movement that often occurs when the sun is low. The weather seemed perfect, and my hopes were high. Driving in the early morning was a breeze--traffic was almost non-existent, and the golden light on the Wallowa Mountains was inspiring. I reached the town of Imnaha at about 8:30 am, dropped by the Imnaha Store and Tavern to pick up some ice for my coolers, and began the slow climb up Hat Point Road. It had been 17 years since I drove this road, and rather than memories of that last trip, I recalled my first time up that road as a 9-year-old. My childhood memories of those rocky, winding first 5 miles of the road are vivid and visceral. I was in the back seat of our low-slung 1964 Buick Special with my brother and sister, and I was on the passenger side. From that vantage point I felt way too close to the steep drop-off down the ridge slope from the edge of the rough, narrow road. To me, it looked like a vertical cliff dropping into a bottomless chasm, and I had to look away. It felt to me that we were in immediate danger of falling off that cliff. Those first 5 miles seemed to take a nerve-wracking, nail-biting eternity. Miraculously, it seemed to me, we made it through unharmed. This time around, the road seemed mild and manageable in my trusty Subaru Forester. When I arrived at the first viewpoint at Milepost 5, I got out to stretch my legs and get my bearings. Within a few minutes, a Forest Service rig pulled into the parking area, and two women climbed out, Immediately they opened the hood and began looking under the front of the truck. I could see that some kind of fluid was leaking heavily from the engine compartment. I said "hello" and asked if they were having trouble. An admitted beginner in auto mechanics, I knew that a ride was about all the help I could offer. It turned out the radiator was surcharging water from overheating during that steep 5 mile climb. We chatted while they waited for the engine to cool, and I soon discovered that they were biologists, one a botanist and the other an ornithologist. When they inquired about what brought me up Hat Point Road, I said I had come in search of a scarce butterfly that is found no where else in Oregon. Being curious naturalists, they wanted to know what it was called. When I said "Gillett's Checkerspot" they both looked at each other with an OMG! kind of expression. For a quick second, I thought that they had seen it, and were going to fill me in on the exciting details. Instead, the younger woman laughed and pointed to her name tag, where I saw that her last name was Gillett! It was even spelled the same. She was thrilled to know that a butterfly carried her family name and that it was found here, in her forest! We wondered aloud whether the Gillett whose name was given to this butterfly was related to her. When I showed her my website on my phone with a photo of Gillett's Checkerspot, she took a photo of my phone screen and texted it to her family. I loved that moment of techno-connection. I waited until they felt confident that their truck was going to get them home, just in case I need to ferry them down the mountain. They assured me they would be fine, and, amazingly, the cell reception up there was outstanding, so they had backup from town if they needed it. I was ready to head up the road before their truck was cooled enough to head up again, so we said "see you up the hill" rather than "good-bye" since this was the only road up and we were both headed the same direction. In the next few miles there were many flowery meadows along the road, dominated by large patches of Horsemint ( Agastache urticifolia ) and punctuated by splashes of golden-yellow native sunflowers. These meadows attracted many Pale Swallowtails ( Papilio eurymedon ), Western Tiger Swallowtails ( Papilio rutulus ) and smaller numbers of Two-tailed Swallowtails ( Papilio multicaudata ), along with many Mountain Parnassians ( Parnassius smintheus ) and Callippe Fritillaries ( Speyeria callippe semivirda ), and a handful of Hydaspe ( Speyeria hydaspe ) and Zerene (Speyeria zerene picta) Fritillaries. The butterflies were so focused on those Horsemint blossoms that they hardly noticed me snuggling in with my camera. Eventually I made my way up to the forested area where Stefan had found his gillettii . It was an odd place to search for a butterfly, with forest on both sides of the road, and few flowers or butterflies. That checkerspot must have been on the move, but going where? After searching enough there to be satisfied that his gillettii was not still hanging around, I headed up toward the Granny View area, where Vern Covlin had found one of his gillettii back in 2004. This area looked very promising, featuring small forest patches with a lush understory (possible host plant habitat), interspersed with wet and dry meadows, a spring, and lots of sun. It was a large and diverse area to search, and I settled in for an in-depth exploration. At the Granny View wayside, I saw my new biologist friends again. I was glad to hear that their truck was fine once the engine cooled. Linda, the botanist, and I discussed the larval host plants for gillettii --members of the genus Lonicera , or honeysuckles. The suspected species in this area were Black Twinberry ( Lonicera involucrata) and Snowberry ( Symphoricarpos albus) . She had seen a twinberry in the area, but she couldn't recall which species or exactly where, but clearly snowberry was widespread in the area, as evidenced by a large thicket of it right in front of us. She suggested I take the loop trail to the viewpoint that winds through some very nice meadows just below us, and I vowed to do so. The meadows were dotted with large patches of Parsnip-flowered Buckwheat ( Eriogonum heracleoides ) and smaller clumps of Sulfur Buckwheat ( Eriogonum umbellatum ) and attracted many Cascadia Blues ( Euphilotes heracleoides ), Lupine Blues ( Icaricia lupini ), Callippe Fritillaries ( Speyeria callippe ) and several Western Green Hairstreaks ( Callophrys affinis ). Let me highlight here that the Cascadia Blue has now been formally described by Kohler and Warren, and I'm glad to welcome this lovely blue to Butterflies of Oregon website species pages . All the frenetic butterfly action kept me busy, counting, identifying and photographing, but perhaps distracting me from my intended search for the elusive Gillett's Checkerspot. I saw a moderate number of Snowberry Checkerspots ( Euphydryas colon ), a few Northern Checkerspots ( Chlosyne palla ) and one Edith's Checkerspot ( Euphydryas editha ), but so far no Gillett's. By the end of day one, I was spent, both from the heat and from the effort to keep up with, identify and photograph all those butterflies! Thirty-two species was the day one count, and I had likely missed a few due to the sheer numbers of individuals. I got quality photos of 12 species that day. On day two, I decided to start at Granny Spring, because the habitat was so diverse there, and because I knew there had been a past sighting there. From there, the plan was to head up to Summit Ridge, north of the Hat Point observation tower. I spent about 90 minutes in the meadows around Granny View, and found 18 species. Still no gillettii to be seen. Where were those lovely creatures hiding? One of my theories (based on thin air and wild-ass-guessing) was that there is a source population of Gillett's Checkerspots somewhere higher up, like Summit Ridge, and that Stefan's individual and those recorded by Vern Covlin were wandering down the mountain from that source population. In the absence of any actual data, or anyone to disagree, I convinced myself that it sounded pretty solid. If nothing else, it gave me a glimmer of hope and a sliver of determination after a day and a half of not finding a single gillettii . I decided to go directly up to the canyon rim and search there next. The section of the road beyond Hat Point Lookout up past Warnock Corral and up to the ridge was much rougher than anything so far, but not as bad as the warning sign implied, and not nearly as bad as it was back in 2004. The sign called it a 4x4 track, not maintained for passenger vehicles, proceed at your own risk, your car will be forever ruined, etc., etc. Ironically the warning sign followed a much worse section of road than it preceded. And back in 2004, there were small trees down all across the road above Warnock Corral, and the only way to proceed to the rim was to drive right over them. Don't even talk to me about washboard--it was like putting my car in a paint mixer. By comparison, the conditions on this day felt like a walk in the park. The weather was still cooperating quite nicely, and I arrived at the southernmost part of the ridge with a grumbling belly calling loudly for food. After fueling my body and resting a bit, I decided to walk a trail that followed the rim of the canyon and poke around in all the nooks and crannies along the meadows just at the rim. If this bug was hiding in little hidden glades off the main trail, I was going to find them! The butterfly activity in these rim meadows was much lower than in the more lush meadows lower down, and after a couple of hours of searching, I had only one new species, a lone Half-moon Hairstreak. The dimmer switch on my glimmer of hope was in a downward trend. I recalled the text I'd received a couple days before from fellow butterflier Greg Sigrist, who had guided me to find my first Oregon Swallowtail. He had come up to Hat Point Road a few days ahead of me to find Gillett's Checkerspot, and in a long day of searching, he hadn't found it. As I circled through the opposite edges of the rim-top meadows towards to the car, I considered the time of day, now 3 pm, and the drive to my evening destination of The Dalles. The drive would take over 6 hours, and I didn't want to drive through the Gorge in the dark. With no small amount of reluctance, I called off the search at about 2:30 pm. As I packed my gear back in the car, I kept glancing north toward the further reaches of the canyon rim where I hadn't searched... I had so many questions. Was there a continuing source population of Gillett's Checkerspot up on Summit Ridge? Had I not looked far enough north? Was early July too late to find them? How many were there during their peak flight period? Had they been there this day, right beneath my nose, but in such small numbers that I just missed them? If Stefan's individual was so fresh, why weren't there others still flying 7 days later? And if they were still flying, where had they gone? Did Stefan know how lucky he'd been? ( Ed. note: he does now. ) Mystery after mystery. There was no getting around it--if I was going to find and photograph Gillett's Checkerspot, I was going to have to aim my search right into the middle of all these unknowns. I decided to call this trip a scouting trip, always a good approach when other ways of thinking are more discouraging. Through this trip I got familiar again with the territory and the route to it. I learned that the high species diversity could be a distraction from the more focused goal of finding Gillett's Checkerspot, and that, in order to find it, I might have to actually focus in more closely on this one butterfly. Which of course would be contrary to all my learning about the boons and benefits of "looking" versus "looking for." Most importantly, I learned that there is a lot that I didn't know about this butterfly and this population on the far edge of its range. With both birds and butterflies, I have a strategic approach that I call "getting in my reps." It's a reference more commonly applied to practicing a new sport or art or other skill, in which you just have to get in repetitions of practice in order to develop. Without the repetitions, you don't learn the skill. With bird and butterfly searches, "getting in reps" translates to getting in a critical mass of days in the field in the area where the critter lives, and based on the best available information, doing that within the typical flight period. The more reps I get in at the right time in the right place, the higher the odds that I will be in a place when the target species is also there. As you might imagine, this strategy has a research component, in which I continue to research the species and learn as much as I can about when and where it is likely to occur--right up until the day I leave. All of which is to say, I'll be back on Hat Point Road again next summer. It will probably be an earlier and longer visit, and hopefully I will be armed with more site details from past sightings. And it may involve working with a team. Maybe we'll start a new NABA 4th of July Butterly Count up there. To me, this one of our most beautiful butterflies--it just doesn't feel right that we seem to have lost track of it. As Stefan Schlick commented after his gillettii sighting "this looks like a great area for butterflies!" He got that right. I saw a total of 32 species the first day (from Milepost 5 up to Granny View), and 33 species the second day (from Granny View up to the south end of Summit Ridge), for a grand total of 39 species over two days. The numbers of each species below are decidedly under-representative of the actual numbers. Had I taken time to actually count them all, I would not have made it more than a couple miles up the road! Think of these numbers as indicators of the relative abundance of each species. *Gillett's Checkerspot photo by Dana Ross, from the Oregon State Arthropod Collection

  • The Tao of Skipperlings

    The Taoist Masters of old speak of the principle of Wu wei, or non-doing, as being central to their way of understanding how the world is and how it works. As my western mind interprets this principle, it has to do in part with an approach of yielding to and following the natural unfolding of things in their own time. The Taoist masters invite us to "be like water, which is ‘submissive and weak’ and ‘yet which can’t be surpassed for attacking what is hard and strong’." This seems to go counter to the western concept of always pressing forward, working hard to accomplish things of value and thereby making oneself valuable. Perhaps the American stand-up comic known as "Larry the Cable Guy" summed this philosophy up best with his signature phrase: "git 'er done!" Chasing rare or scarce butterflies has been teaching me to be a bit less of a git-'er-done kind of guy, and more of a let-it-unfold-in-its-own-time kind of guy. The Taoist Masters of old learned that they could achieve better results with less effort and stress by acting in accord with the processes and cycles of nature. It makes perfect sense, then, if one's goal has to do directly with finding a critter in nature with its own process and cycle, that non-doing might be a suitable frame of mind for approaching that goal. Obviously, I can neither cause a butterfly to show up in a given place and time through force of will nor move the flight period of that butterfly to more conveniently fit my schedule. Yet, I have often let a western cultural habit of "pushing the river," or being driven by a motivation towards more success now , to affect my planning for butterfly searches. I have seen this manifest as planning a trip to find several species with slightly different but overlapping flight periods, and counting on finding them all even though the goal of finding them all is motivating me to aim for the fringes of the flight periods for some of them, increasing my odds of missing them (which has occurred often). Note to self: the I-want-it-all-now approach has not been particularly successful. All of this musing led me to employ a calmer, simpler approach to this year's search for Garita Skipperling ( Oarisma garita ), a small, but kind of classy-looking grass skipper that flies in late June and early July. The diminutive ending "ling" on the end of "skipper" is our clue that they are small, even for a skipper. The Garita is widespread and locally common throughout the Rocky Mountain states, and is found in wild grassy mountain habitats as well as disturbed and weedy ones. A butterflier from central Montana might bust a gut if I told her I had repeatedly driven several hours across Oregon trying to find even a single garita . But it would be true. I have tried repeatedly to photograph this little skipper, ever since I saw one in the lawn of a seemingly abandoned motel in Minam, Oregon in 2004 . In recent years, Oregon lepidopterists have documented that garita has spread further into Oregon from its former range to the east of us. Dana Ross and Dennis Deck both found it several years ago in wet meadows around Bear Valley, in the southern Blue Mountains near the town of Seneca. Last year I scouted this area, and after finding no garita , concluded that I had arrived before garita began flying. This year, I planned a trip to find just this one species, and to drop right into the middle of its flight season, in those wet meadows around Bear Valley. The combination of being both more relaxed and having a simpler goal yielded a plan of spending 2-3 days searching for this one species, and a feeling that it would be fine if I didn't find it. Dutifully following the navigational guidance of Captain Google, I approached Bear Valley from the south. As I turned north onto Highway 395 from Highway 20 just east of Burns, I had my eye on a large thunderhead to the northeast. I was hoping it was not heading towards Bear Valley, as it looked dark enough to dump a good bit of rain on me and the butterflies. As I was driving north, it seemed more and more like that thunderhead was heading for Bear Valley. I then decided perhaps I could outrun it in order to get some time in the meadows before the storm hit, so I notched up my speed on the cruise control. However, the storm seemed to guess my strategy, and as I sped up, it seemed to do the same. We arrived within minutes of each other. So, it was with the sound of thunder rolling over the hills and meadows that I began my search in some meadows along Forest Service Road 3925, north of Seneca. As I stepped into the drier fringe of the meadow, winding my way through the shrubby cinquefoil, I began to see Northern Crescents ( Phyciodes cocyta ), both males and females. As I moved out into a slightly more moist zone, I saw the speeding blurs of Field Crescents ( Phyciodes pulchella ). And soon, a small orange-ish skipper, too fast for me to ID in flight. Though the thunder head was now beginning to shade the meadow, the butterflies were still fairly active. I watched the skipper zig-zag rapidly just above the grasses and wildflowers until it landed. Ah, Sonora Skipper ( Polites sonora ). That's good, because they often like the same habitat as Garita Skipperlings. Within a few minutes, I spotted a Garita Skipperling. It's slower, slightly more relaxed flight pattern, together with the silver flashing of its wing edges and torso made it possible to distinguish it in flight from the Sonora. Very helpful. At this point, the thunderhead was fully overhead, and the light grew quite a bit dimmer. What I had earlier seen as bad news (dark skies, no direct sunlight and possible rain) now worked in my favor. As the sunlight faded to gray, the butterflies slowed down, and they began to bask to warm up their flight muscles, and the skipperlings were no exception! With the booming of thunder in my ears and a dark cloud hung directly over me, I got my first clear photo of a Garita Skipperling, basking on a blade of grass. That wasn't so hard. Being in the right place at the right time, and leaving behind the desire to hurry in order to get on to the next species, made it all feel so easy. There were other species basking in the cool shadow of the thunderhead, such as Western White, Greenish Blue, and in the drier sections of the meadow, Edith's Copper. As I zig-zagged in a general northerly movement through the meadow I saw a wetter section of the meadow with sedges and cattails at the northeast end, so I headed over that way. I saw a several Western Whites ( Pontia occidentalis ) and a few more Garitas as I walked, but none perched long enough for a photo. Even with the clouds, they were still quite sensitive to my approach. As I got close to the wet swale at the north end, I caught a glimpse of a grass skipper down in the vegetation, and it looked distinctly larger and lighter than the Sonoras and Garitas, even from a distance. I walked very slowly to where I had seen it flutter, and peered down among the sedges, grasses and cinquefoil. Now this is a surprise--its a Peck's Skipper! I hadn't expected to see that in southern Grant County, but here it is. What a nice surprise. The dark heart of the thunderhead was now overhead, and it was sprinkling lightly while thunder rumbled around. All of which made that Peck's Skipper want to just stay parked where it was, posing patiently while I immortalized it in digital imagery. In this un-named meadow (which I dubbed "Sugarloaf Meadow" after a nearby butte), I found 14 species under those ominous skies, and got a nice dorsal photo of Garita Skipper. I call that a good day's work! I had planned on camping that night and visiting another meadow about 12 miles to the south the following day, so I packed up and headed down Izee-Paulina Lane. The forecast was for clear skies in the morning and I was excited for that. I wanted to get out in the meadow by 8 am, to find the butterflies basking in the cool morning air, soaking up the sunlight. I made an early night of it, and after a tasty oatmeal breakfast and a morning bird walk, I headed down the hill to the meadow. The light was lovely, and I imagined what I could do with that light and a cooperative Garita... As I spiraled through the meadow, many butterflies were waking up and I saw my first Garita at about 9 am, unfortunately not the cooperative type. Greenish Blues ( Icaricia saepiolus ) and Sonora Skippers were abundant, and Field Crescents and Northern Crescents also made a good showing. It was already getting quite warm and the butterflies were getting more active. The Garitas I saw wouldn't let me get closer than about 10 feet before flying. These conditions I can deal--I've got strategies. I opened up my tactical "toolbox" and pulled out a strategy that had recently worked well for both Gray Marbles and Mountain Parnassians--the Stakeout. I watched the meadow to see which plant species the Garitas went to most often, and then picked one of those plants that had been visited several times over a span of a few minutes. I sat down a few feet from a small golden-yellow groundsel flower, and plucked a couple blades of grass so I had a clear shot of the flowers. Then I waited for them to come to me . After about 5 minutes I wondered if I had picked the wrong flower, but I decided they just needed more time to get used to me being there. That was the right conclusion. A few minutes later, a couple Garitas made very quick visits to "my" flower. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. I held my camera at the ready. And sure enough, a few minutes later a bright fresh Garita came to my flower for nectar and hung around long enough for me to get a series of shots. Bingo! I checked the images on my camera, and zoomed all the way in--they looked good: well-focused, well-lit, with plenty of depth-of-field. Mission accomplished! I had a couple more hours before I needed to move on, so I just played in the meadow after that. Several very fresh Great Spangled Fritillaries ( Speyeria cybele leto ) showed up and perched on the shrubby cinquefoil at the upper end of the meadow. A few minutes later, a lovely Hydaspe Fritillary ( Speyeria hydaspe ) came in for nectar at the same groundsel species that had drawn my prized Garita. A couple of Small Woodnymphs ( Cercyonis oetus ) darted around, and I spotted several Mormon Fritillaries ( Speyeria mormonia ), and a couple of Common Ringlets ( Coenonympha tullia ) as I walked. This "mission" had felt so relaxed and so pleasant, compared to many other trips. I concluded that my mental framework was a big factor in that, along with the fine weather, and finally being aligned with the timing of my quarry. I found I was liking this "non-doing" influence on my butterflying. I might just want to not-do more of that. By my count, there are 165 species-level taxa of butterflies documented to regularly breed in Oregon, including three as yet undescribed blue species and 162 officially described species. The Garita Skipperling was the 160th of those 165 that I'd photographed in Oregon, leaving just 5 to go. I know that four of those remaining five might be really challenging to find, let alone photograph. Compton's Tortoiseshell ( Nymphalis l-album ) and American Copper ( Lycaena phlaeas ) haven't been recorded in Oregon in many years, and no one seems certain whether they still breed in Oregon. The Checkered White ( Pontia protodice ) is challenging because it looks so similar to Western White, and because there is no reliable site or group of sites for it--its hit and miss out in the Great Basin. It also may not breed in Oregon every year. And the Gillett's Checkerspot ( Euphydryas gillettii ) hadn't been recorded in Oregon for 17 years, until a single individual was found earlier this summer. Stay tuned for my next post as I go after Gillett's Checkerspot. The fifth species, Spring White ( Pontia sisymbrii ) might be a bit easier to find. I just need to get the timing right and some good weather in early April down in Josephine County next spring. I've been at this for 17 years, so there's no hurry. All in good time, and all in their time--the timing of the butterflies themselves. I found 21 species over two days in the Bear Valley area, but those Garita Skipperling photos -17 years after that abandoned motel affair - were a special treat. Perhaps most of all, however, I enjoyed the ease and flow of this trip. I could get used to that.

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