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  • Common Buckeye | ButterfliesofOregon

    Gallery Prev Next McDonald Creek Basin, Jackson Co, July 20 Gray Buckeye Junonia grisea AKA Common Buckeye Size: Up to 2.5 inch wingspan ​ Key ID features: Above mauve-brown with large eye spots on both FW and HW. FW above has curving band of ivory almost forming a "6" around one of the eyes, and two orange bars ringed in black on the leading edge. Relatively unmarked below, with irregular bands of pale tans and grays, and pale submedian row of spots on the HW. ​ Similar species: No other Oregon butterfly has large spots on FW and HW against lavender-gray ground color. ​ Host plant: A variety of species in the figwort family, including penstemons, paintbrushes, veronicas and monkeyflowers . ​ Habitat: Forest openings, riparian areas, subalpine meadows, mostly above 3,000 feet. ​ Range: Nearly all of southern half of Oregon, and both flanks of the Cascades from Wasco County south . ​ Season: Late May to late October ​ Abundance: Uncommon Conservation Status: Secure

  • Brushfoots | Butterflies of Oregon

    Brushfoot Butterflies Click photo for more details Monarch Monarch Danaus plexippus Zerene Fritillary Argynnis zerene Mormon Fritillary Argynnis mormonia American Lady Vanessa virginiensis Compton Tortoiseshell Nymphalis l-album Hoary Comma Polygonia gracilis Chalcedona Checkerspot Euphydryas chalcedona Sagebrush Checkerspot Chlosyne acastus Northern Crescent Phyciodes cocyta Small Wood Nymph Cercyonis oetus Silver-bordered Fritillary Boloria selene Callippe Fritillary Argynnis callippe Viceroy Viceroy Limenitis archippus Painted Lady Vanessa cardui California Tortoiseshell Nymphalis californica Green Comma Polygonia faunus Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon Northern Checkerspot Chlosyne palla Field Crescent Phyciodes pulchella Common Alpine Erebia epipsodea Pacific Fritillary Boloria epithore Great Basin Fritillary Argynnis egleis Weidemeyer's Admiral Limenitis weidemeyerii West Coast Lady Vanessa annabella Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa Gray Buckeye Junonia grisea Anicia Checkerspot Euphydryas anicia California Crescent Phyciodes orseis Common Ringlet Coenonympha tullia Riding's Satyr Neominois ridingsii Great Spangled Fritillary Argynnis cybele Northwestern Fritillary Argynnis hesperis Lorquin's Admiral Limenitis lorquini Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta Satyr Comma Polygonia satyrus Gillett's Checkerspot Euphydryas gillettii Leanira Checkerspot Chlosyne leanira Pale Crescent Phyciodes pallida Common Wood Nymph Cercyonis pegala Great Arctic Oeneis nevadensis Coronis Fritillary Argynnis coronis Hydaspe Fritillary Argynnis hydaspe California Sister Adelpha californica Milbert's Tortoiseshell Aglais milberti Oreas Comma Polygonia oreas Edith's Checkerspot Euphydryas editha Hoffmann's Checkerspot Chlosyne hoffmanni Mylitta Crescent Phyciodes mylitta Great Basin Wood Nymph Cercyonis sthenele

  • Pelidne Sulphur | ButterfliesofOregon

    Gallery Prev Next Bonny Lakes Trail, Wallow Co, August 2 Pelidne Sulphur Colias skinneri AKA Skinner's Sulphur Size: 1.25 - 1.5 inches wingspan ​ Key ID features: Smallish. Above lemon yellow, with solid dark brown to black borders. Below, HW dusted with black overscaling, giving olive cast. On HW below, discal spot small, thickly-rimmed in rose or reddish brown. Pink wing fringes. ​ Similar species: Clouded Sulphurs have double ring around discal spot on HW below. Western Sulphurs greenish on HW below. Pink-edged Sulphurs have more rounded wings, lack black overscaling below and have brighter pink wing borders. Host plant: Various species of Vaccinium (huckleberry). ​ ​ Habitat: High forest clearings and moist meadows with Vaccinium . ​ Range: In Oregon, only found in Wallowa Mtns and on Steens Mtn. ​ Season: L ate June to early-September ​ Abundance: Uncommon Conservation Status: Secure

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Blog Posts (34)

  • Silverspotting

    The Oregon Silverspot (Argynnis zerene hippolyta) is a subspecies of the Zerene Fritillary (Argynnis zerene), found along the Oregon coast and in the Coast Range, in just a few locations. It's one of two butterflies whose common name includes "Oregon," and it's one of three butterflies found in Oregon that are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The Oregon Silverspot is listed as Threatened under the ESA, and its habitats along the coast are protected under that law. If you pay attention to latin names of butterflies, right about now you might be thinking "hey, wait a minute--Argynnis zerene? Where did that come from? I thought the Zerene Fritillary was in the genus Speyeria!" Well, it was. But then last year, a group of scientists published an article summarizing the taxonomic results from a massive DNA analysis of all North American butterflies (north of Mexico). Their findings have affected the taxonomy (official naming and classification) of 6% of North America's butterflies. Among other findings, they found that the group of butterflies that had been in the genus Speyeria really belonged in the genus Argynnis, because genetically speaking those in the Speyeria group were essentially subspecies of Argynnis. Confusing, I know. Here in Oregon, we will be seeing these taxonomic changes showing up over the coming months as the various online and printed sources catch up with these recent findings: As describec above, the genus Speyeria becomes Argynnis Most of our coppers change from the genus Lycaena to the genus Tharsalea, giving us Tailed Copper (Tharsalea arota), Ruddy Copper (Tharsalea rubida), Great Copper (Tharsalea xanthoides), Edith's Copper (Tharsalea editha), Blue Copper (Tharsalea heteronea), Gorgon Copper (Tharsalea gorgon), Lilac-bordered Copper (Tharsalea nivalis), Purplish Copper (Tharsalea helloides) and Mariposa Copper (Tharsalea mariposa) Our Ochre orCommon Ringlet is now Coenonympa californica, since it was split from Coenonympa tullia. What is now C. tullia is found in far northern North America and Europe. Our Arctic Skipper is now Carterocephalus skada, having been split from it's former Carterocephalus palaemon and a new species called Carterocephalus mandan. The study also suggests changes to the naming and classification of cloudywings, tortoiseshells, and commas, but there remain some mixed views on those changes at this point. Okay, now that we have that cleared up (?!), let's get back to our Silverspots! As I wrote last time, after seeing seven species of greater fritillaries in the central Cascades in recent weeks, I was inspired to finally go find and photograph our threatened subspecies of Zerene Fritillary, the Oregon Silverspot. The most robust Silverspot population is up on Mt. Hebo along the Tillamook/Yamhill county line, southeast of the town of Tillamook. It's about a two and a half hour drive from Eugene. With a weather forecast of haze and high heat, I hoped it would be tolerable up on the mountain. Indeed, when I arrived at about 11 am, it was hazy and already getting hot. My first stop was in a large, dry meadow near some radio facilities in the NW corner of Yamhill County, where I found my first Oregon Silverspot within minutes, nectaring on Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). I decided to settle down next to a nice patch of those flowers, hoping I could just wait for them to come to me. However, I found that when I sat very still next to a good nectar plant, the Silverspots virtually never came to that plant, though they would visit other plants nearby. This rendered my preferred "stakeout" tactic essentially useless. Surprisingly, I found that I could walk up slowly to a plant with one or more Silverspots on it and kneel down slowly and they would not fly off. I saw about 20 Silverspots in that first meadow and got some nice photos with my "molasses in winter" approach technique. There were also a number of Woodland Skippers (Ochlodes sylvanoides) and a couple Hydaspe Fritillaries (Argynnis hydaspe) there. At about noon, the sun was getting quite warm, so I took a break, had a snack, and then headed toward the next meadow, just over the county line. My plan was to scout all the meadows just to get to know the area better. The second meadow was also quite dry, and I found very few nectar plants there. All of the Silverspots were on the move, with females looking for larval host plants (Viola adunca) among the dominant stubby ferns and salal, and males looking for females--no posing Silverspots there! Just as I was finishing my circle through the large meadow, I heard a car pull up behind mine, and then watched a man who appeared to be walking quite purposefully toward me. Immediately, I heard a voice in my mind say "am I getting ticketed for something?" Then I realized he wasn't in uniform, and probably just wanted to chat, so I headed towards him also. As I got closer, I recognized Paul Hammond, Oregon's top fritillary expert coming my way. What great luck! Paul was close to finishing up his annual two-day survey of the Silverspots, and he offered to show me the hotspots in the area. I couldn't have dreamed up a better chance encounter than Paul, who knows this site and this butterfly better than anyone else. Paul updated me on his survey, reporting that he had found over 1400 Silverspots, and he said overall they were doing pretty well. On one of the wetter meadows, he showed me where mechanical vegetation management was helping not only the Silverspot's larval host plant, but also an important native nectar plant, Indian Thistle (Cirsium edule). Within a couple years of the vegetation management intervention, the Silverspots began to show up, and today they are abundant there. As we walked around the sites, I peppered him with every greater fritillary question that had been rattling around in my mind of late. One topic was my curiosity as to why I found eight Coronis Fritillaries in Lane County after never seeing one in Lane County previously. Paul described the intense drought conditions he'd recently seen in eastern Oregon, and the virtual absence of nectar sources in large areas. He conjectured that these Coronis Fritillaries had flown west in search of nectar for their very survival. Paul noted that while we often think of the importance of larval host plants for the survival of butterflies, the nectar plants they need are equally important. The meadow where we stood, with it's robust patch of Indian Thistle, was a case in point. I saw more Silverspots there than in the other two larger meadows combined. Paul pointed out a Hydaspe Fritillary (Argynnis hydaspe) and noted that Hydaspes at Mt. Hebo are notably larger than those in the Cascades. I had noticed that right off-- they were so large that at a distance I had at first wondered if they were Great Spangled Fritillaries (Argynnis cybele). Before Paul headed off to finish up his work for the day, he mentioned that this area was quite good for the very dark western subspecies of the Oreas Comma (Polygonia oreas silenus) but that they usually came out a bit later in the year. Only minutes after Paul left, I spied a freshly eclosed Oreas clinging to a thistle stalk across the meadow a ways. As I walked over to get closer for a photo, it flew zig-zag fashion to a conifer tree at the edge of the meadow. Sitting there perfectly still, as if believing it was invisible, it let me get very close, and take several photos. At the end of the day, I was quite contented to have finally photographed the other "Oregon" butterfly, after finally capturing the Oregon Swallowtail this past spring. My chance meeting with the affable and humble Paul Hammond was a wonderful surprise. I headed home better acquainted with the Silverspot and it's Mt. Hebo home than I had expected to. Now I'm looking forward to getting a copy his updated and explanded book on Colias sulphurs, co-authored by Dave McCorkle. Here is my species list for the day (9 species):

  • Puttin' on the Frits

    In the central Oregon Cascade Range, as summer pushes on into July and early August, we get into the dreaded fire, smoke and haze season. We also get into the season of nymphalids, or brushfoot butterflies. Many of the skippers, hairstreaks, blues, crescents, and checkerspots of spring and early summer get more scarce or disappear for the season altogether. In their place we see more fritillaries, commas, tortoiseshells and wood nymphs as they come to the fore, especially in those habitats with enough moisture to keep flowers in bloom and to keep puddling spots moist. The Greater Fritillaries in the genus Speyeria are one of these late season groups in the central Cascades, and they are both challenging and intriguing. Over the past few weeks I took five trips into the central Oregon Cascades with an eye out for fritillaries, and of course whatever else happened to be around. I was initially inspired by Lori Humphreys' sighting of two Coronis Fritillaries on Frissell Ridge on the "4th of July" Butterfly Count on July 17. The previous year, we'd found one worn and tattered Coronis on Frissell Ridge on the count, just north of the Linn County-Lane County line. This year's sightings were in Lane County, which I thought might be a county record. However, Lori had already trumped her own sighting on the count with a Coronis Fritillary at Little Groundhog Mountain on July 3. For the count I teamed up with Bruce Newhouse, an accomplished botanist, butterflier, all around naturalist and good friend, and we had a splendid day of counting and photographing butterflies on the south half of Frissell Ridge, tallying 28 species for the day, including four species of fritillaries (see full species lists below). The subspecies of Coronis that we get in Lane County is the central Oregon one, Speyeria coronis simaetha. These are often larger than most of our fritillary species and often noticeably lighter orange on the upper side. On the underside, or ventral side, the silver spots on the hindwing are large and oblong, with brown "shadows" against a tan background. Partly based on last year's sighting, I had assumed that any Coronis we'd find in Lane County would be quite worn, presumably having made a long trip from the high desert. So to see the fresh individual that Lori found on Frissell Ridge got me curious. On the Butterfly Count, Bruce and I saw one of Lori's Coronis Fritillaries, as well as Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis dodgei), Callippe Fritillary (Speyeria callippe elaine) and Hydaspe Fritillary (Speyeria hydaspe minor), though none were in significant numbers. Overall the species diversity for the count was well below average, but we found much higher numbers of Mariposa Coppers (Lycaena mariposa) and Sylvan Hairstreaks (Satyrium sylvinus) than on past counts. Next up was a visit to Little Groundhog Mountain south of Oakridge with Gary Pearson. Gary had recently posted a photo online of a very small Callippe Fritillary (Speyeria callippe) with strong gray-green shading on the ventral hindwing. I was curious to see and photograph these, so Gary and I decided to visit there on July 23. We knew of a roadside patch of coyote mint (Monardella villosa) on the east slope of the mountain that is a great fritillary magnet, so after some meandering about we headed up there. The Monardella patch did not disappoint--it was thick with butterflies, especially fritillaries. One of the fun and/or challenging aspects of identifying Speyeria is that each of our 8 species has several subspecies in Oregon, and the subspecies can look very different from each other. To add to the "fun," (e.g., the occasional tearing out of one's hair) a subspecies of one fritillary species can look very much like a subspecies of another fritillary species, so depending on where you are, and which subspecies occur there, you may have a nice ID challenge on your hands. Most likely, you will have to study those fritillaries very carefully, especially the underside pattern, and know which subspecies occur where you are. I have found that there is an extremely small number of people who can quickly and confidently identify all the subspecies of all the species of fritillaries in Oregon. Actually that number is 1. That one person is Paul Hammond at the Oregon State Arthropod Collection. If your name isn't Paul Hammond, the good news is, when you are stumped in trying to identify a fritillary you see, you are in a very large club, and in very good company! In the case of these little Callippe Fritillaries at Little Groundhog, that green-gray shading on the ventral hindwing is a very good field mark to rule out our other Speyeria species. If that gray-green shading is worn off, and if you haven't seen any fresh individuals, that makes the ID game more challenging. I spent a good 90 minutes kneeling in the rocks, trying to get a good photo of a fresh Callippe. Time and again, just as I got the camera aimed and ready, a fly, bee or another butterfly would buzz my target and it would fly before I got the shot. Other times, the darn bug would never face the direction that would show its dorsal pattern in the sun. If I moved to get a better angle, it would fly. Even my compatriot Gary got in on the act, excitedly netting a nice fresh, well-marked Callippe that I was also watching (I didn't have my camera on it yet--Gary is very conscientious about not interfering with butterfly photographers). With persistence I did get some satisfying shots of those little Callippes, though none was as fresh and strongly marked with that gray-green shading as I'd hoped. Fortunately, there's always next year! At this coyote mint patch, the little Callippe Fritillaries were the most numerous, with Hydaspe Fritillaries a close second. We also saw 3 Northwestern Fritillaries (Speyeria hesperis dodgei), 3 large Coronis Fritillaries (Speyeria coronis simaetha), and just as we were leaving, a single female Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele pugatensis) flew over the car. The 22 species we saw in total were fewer than I typically see at this site in early July, when its rare to see fewer than 30 species. The following day, I decided to visit Box Canyon Meadows, another good late season site north of Oakridge in Lane County. When I arrived, the meadows appeared to be in good condition, and lots of nectar plants were blooming. I stepped out of the car and looked around, and within a couple of minutes I noticed that I couldn't see a single butterfly flying. Which was very strange for a warm sunny day in late July at an excellent meadow site. In the first 30 minutes I saw so few butterflies that I nearly decided to pack it in and l head home. Instead, I did a little scouting of some nearby Forest Service roads that I hadn't been on, looking for patches of Golden Chinkapin (Chrysolepis chrysophylla), the larval host plant for the Golden Hairstreak (Habrodais grunus). My scouting route eventually took me back through the main meadows and I decided to stop and commit to spending a couple hours searching the full extent of the meadows. What I found was a somewhat unusual combination of high species diversity with very low numbers. For example, in the past at this time of year I had seen many Mormon Fritillaries (Speyeria mormonia erinna) here, but on this beautiful day, I had to work hard to find just 3. Western Branded Skippers (Hesperia colorado nr. oregonia), Anna's Blue (Plebejus anna ricei) and Common Wood Nymphs (Cercyonis pegala incana) were the most common species, with most others just represented by one or a few individuals. As I ate my lunch, it occurred to me that I had never searched in the small sun-dappled meadows in the patch of forest at the north end of the main meadows. I wandered over there after lunch, and chased a couple of fritillaries that I could neither catch up with nor identify. As I was walking out of the forest, a large, bright female Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele pugatensis) flew past me and then back into the small clearing I had just walked through. It's uncommon for me to get a good opportunity to photograph a fresh female Great Spangled, so I turned back to follow it. It didn't appear to be laying eggs, or even looking for host plants. It would fly around a bit, then perch. Then do it again. I followed it through several cycles of this behavior before I had a good angle from a close enough position. Fortunately it was in the sun, and I wasn't. Click! I only saw that one Great Spangled that day, so I was grateful to get a photo of her. However, she was not the only fritillary frolicking in the forest. Remember those two Speyeria that I hadn't caught up with? After thinking for the second time that I was ready to call it a day, another orange fritillary zipped across one of the small openings in the forest--only this one was large and pale orange. It seemed to have the same modus operandi as that female Great Spangled (flying, perching, flying, perching, etc.). Again, I couldn't detect any ovipositing activity. I wondered if it was newly eclosed, and not at full flight strength yet. Just like the Great Spangled female had done, this one landed in a small sunny opening in the forest. Again I used the shadows to cloak my very slow approach, and again it worked. I got close enough for a good ventral view, and saw those large, oblong silver spots on the hindwing, with brown shadows on a tan background. Amazing! This was my 6th Coronis Fritillary in Lane County this year! A week later I decided to visit the grassy meadows around Lost Lake in Linn County, just over the Cascade Crest on Highway 20. I was partly inspired by past reports of Checkered Whites at this site, so in addition to the fritillaries, I had my eye out for whites. Thus far in 2021, I had seen very few California Tortoiseshells, a brushfoot species whose populations mysteriously boom and bust from year to year. On the mudflats at the edge of the summer remnant of the lake, I saw several times more of them than I'd seen everywhere else this year combined. My estimate of 75 individuals was likely greatly under-representative. The other dominant species was Western White, a species I had never seen in such numbers before at any single site. After chasing whites through the grassy meadow, and photographing commas on the mud flats, I made my sweaty way back to the car for lunch. While I was munching on crackers and black bean dip, I noticed a very bright orange fritillary nectaring in a small patch of asters in a shady spot to my left. I set my half-eaten lunch down, grabbed my camera and walked over there. Since I over the crest of the Cascades, I knew I had a chance at a couple of east side Speyeria species including Zerene Fritillary (Speyeria zerene picta) and possibly (wishfully) Great Basin Fritillary (Speyeria egleis moecki). When I got close enough to get a good look through my binoculars, I knew I had a Zerene. The bold pattern of elongated silver spots on the ventral hindwing, with bold red shadows on a tan background is distinctive. It was kind enough to hang around long enough to allow me to get both ventral and dorsal photos, always a great luxury with Speyeria. Back at my car, resuming my lunch, I had the thought that this might be the closest site to Eugene for Zerene Fritillary, given that the Willamette Valley subspecies (Speyeria zerene Willamette Valley segregate) is now considered extinct. Later, I realized it was possible that one of the smaller coastal populations of the Oregon Silverspot (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) might be closer. That sequence of thoughts led me to make a date with the Oregon Silverspot later in August! In all, I found 12 species at Lost Lake, and got a lot of practice identifying Western Whites--making sure they weren't Checkered Whites. I saw two more Zerene Fritillaries on the mud flats, along with a dozen Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis zephyrus), a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus rusticus), and a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa antiopa). After my Lost Lake trip, I now had six Speyeria species in this run. It seemed like a good idea to keep going and try for Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia erinna) also. So my last trip of this Speyeria series was a visit to the Scott Lake area along Highway 242 in eastern Lane County, on the edge of the grand and glorious Three Sister's Wilderness. My friend Magnus Persmark joined me for the day, and our plan was to focus on birding, especially in the morning, and to spend some time with the butterflies in the afternoon. I let Magnus know that I was keen on photographing Mormon Fritillary, and since that would be a new species for him, that was no problem. The first spot we explored was a burned area south of Scott Lake, with a dry stream channel that was supporting a lot of wildflowers. After finding and watching a family threesome of Black-backed Woodpeckers in the morning, there was a "whole lot of nothing" going on with the birds, so although we kept trying, we had much better luck with the butterflies. After an hour or two of dismal birding, we spontaneously and melodramatically dubbed our birding experience the "Silence of the Birds" (cue the spooky background music). We joked a lot about how incredibly quiet it was in terms of bird sightings, songs and sounds. Lots of birds are molting (losing their old feathers and growing new ones) this time of year so they are naturally more quiet and hidden, but this day was extremely quiet! We speculated that perhaps the heavy wildfire smoke in the area the day before might have further dampened the birds' singing, and perhaps driven some birds off the ridge in search of cleaner air. From my past visits to the area, I knew that it would not be hard to find Mormon Fritillaries flying this time of year. Indeed, we saw them at each of the sites. However, the second site, Hand Lake, was hands down the hotspot for them. I counted 25, but there were likely several times that number. The lower areas and the partially shaded fringes of the meadow sported healthy patches of asters and that's were the fritillaries were. We continued cracking jokes about the Silence of the Birds as we walked through the meadows to the lake and then down to the south end of the meadows. We saw lots of the Mormon Fritillaries zipping around the large meadow, but we just couldn't get close enough to them for photos. After slowly zig-zagging through most of the meadow, we finally found one--perhaps very recently eclosed--that wasn't so skittish and zippy. We snuck up to it and got some nice photos of it nectaring. Then we spotted another Coronis Fritillary a ways off, but again couldn't get close to it. About the time our grumbling stomachs started hollering at us to head back to the car, another Coronis came into view and landed not far from us--a poser. This would be my 7th Coronis Fritillary in Lane County this year! The final site of the day was the nearby Summit Meadow, tucked amongst the trees on the east side of Highway 242. The light was just beginning to fade as the orange haze-dampened sun sank lower in the west. We spent about a half hour walking around the meadow and saw mostly Mormon Fritillaries, and one Hydaspe. Then at the far end of the meadow, a nice look at yet another Coronis fritillary--my 8th in Lane County in less than 3 weeks! In all my previous years of chasing, watching and photographing butterflies in Lane County, I had never seen a Coronis Fritillary in the county. So seeing 8 of them in the last 3 weeks across 5 different sites in Lane County was astounding! It might not be enough to call it an irruption of the species into Lane County, but it really stands out among my sightings this summer. Over these last five trips, I recorded 50 total species and over 1,000 individuals. It was especially satisfying to find and photograph all 7 of the Speyeria species that occur in the central Cascades. I'd missed only the Great Basin Fritillary (Speyeria egleis moecki) among our 8 Oregon species (and that would be a very rare find in this area). It was a great opportunity to practice identifying Speyeria in the field, as well as back home while going through my photos. It's not that uncommon for me to revise an ID of a fritillary after studying my photos at home, or to send a photo to someone more skilled in their identification than I am. I did revise one of my IDs from Frissell Ridge based on photos, realizing that I had mistaken a Speyeria hesperis dodgei for a dark Speyeria hydaspe minor. No shame there! These Speyeria can stump the best of us. Several of my friends and colleagues have suggested that I create a guidebook to the Greater Fritillaries of Oregon based on photos of live butterflies. Certainly, I see how helpful that would be for folks trying to ID them in the field. I continue to ponder the idea. I will likely take an inventory of which subspecies I am missing the fall just to see where I stand. And I do plan to go after the Oregon Silverspot yet this summer, so that would add another Zerene Fritillary subspecies to my portfolio. Honestly, it would be great fun to get out to the NE and SE corners of the state and to the Warner Mountains to photograph those Speyeria subspecies that I haven't captured with my camera yet. For now, though, my mind is on finding those elusive last 5 species that are breeding (theoretically, at least sporadically) in Oregon: Checkered White, Spring White, American Copper, Gillett's Checkerspot and Compton's Tortoiseshell. Here's to clean air, and healthy habitats! Frissell Ridge, Lane County, July 17, 2021, 28 species: Little Groundhog Mountain, Lane County, July 23, 2021, 22 species: Box Canyon Meadows, Lane County, July 24, 2021, 28 species: Lost Lake, Linn County, August 1, 2021, 12 species: Scott Lake Area, Lane County, August 4, 2021, 15 species:

  • 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 iNaturalist.org, 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

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