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- A Very Little Big Deal
Last summer, I wrote about a visit I made to the pumice desert east of Crater Lake, to check up on our population of Leona's Little Blue, the tiny blue that is Oregon's only endemic butterfly species. It was a brief visit, and I left the site with more concerns than hopes, and more questions than answers. In my blogpost, I shared some of these concerns and questions about this tiny, relatively unknown blue. What followed over the next 9 months was just what I'd hoped for. My piece on Leona's Little Blue was based on a single afternoon site visit and with virtually no contact with others who might know more about the status of this tiny blue and its unique habitat. I knew I was thinking in a vacuum, but I wasn't sure who had their finger on the pulse of Leona and her range-limited population. That blog post helped connect me with just the people I needed to learn from. One of the first connections came via an email from Dr. David James, a Monarch expert from Washington State University, who had done repeated transect surveys for Leona over several years. He shared his view that the tree removal, which may have looked damaging while it was happening, actually was probably enhancing the habitat for Leona by creating more suitable open, meadow habitat for its larval hostplant, Spurry Buckwheat (Eriogonum spergulinum). Ecologically, that made a lot of sense to me, but I hadn't considered it when I saw what looked like habitat devastation from tree removal in the field in 2022. That contact led me to OSU Entomologist Dana Ross, who I'd known for years, but didn't realize had done many of the early surveys when Leona's Little Blue was proposed for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 2010. Dana, in turn knew Debbie Johnson who had gathered and mapped important data about the landscape of Leona and its unique characteristics. Debbie introduced us to Alta Harris, a biologist for the Klamath Tribes, whose ancestors had stewarded this land for thousands of years. We learned that in 1954 the Klamath Termination Act was passed by the US Congress, which took 1.8 million acres of land from the Tribe through condemnation, including the lands where Leona resides. As each person helped connect me and the growing group to additional concerned scientists, academics, agency staff, butterfly watchers, and land managers, the group expanded and we all learned more. The group, now known as the Leona Working Group met four times in 2022-2023, sharing information, and thoughts on how to go about providing on-going stewardship for this rare butterfly and its habitat. How rare is Leona's Little Blue? It may just be the most range-restricted butterfly on the planet, according to Dr. James. The entire known range of the butterfly comprises just 15 square miles. And remember this is not a subspecies--this is the range for the entire species. It is found nowhere else on the planet. Over our series of four online meetings, the group decided that a meeting in the field, within the Leona's Little Blue habitat, would be a good next step. We hoped to bring in folks from additional agencies and non-profits as well as representatives from the company that owned most of the land, to help them learn more about our rare and endemic blue. We also hoped to entice the Oregon Field Guide staff from Oregon Public Broadcasting to film the meeting, the butterfly and the habitat for a program highlighting the rarity and unprotected status of the Leona's Little Blue (they expressed interest, but weren't able to schedule filming this year--we are hoping for next year). The field meeting took place on July 6, 2023. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in the pumice desert. We met adjacent to Sand Creek, which flows through the pumice deposits that blew out of an exploding Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago. About a mile away was an area of recent tree removal, where felled trees were stacked among the clearings. Looking to the east, Mount Scott towered above the high desert pumice flats, with bright yellow Sulphur Flower Buckwheat in the foreground. A mile to the east, Hwy 97 roared with its constant flow of trucks and cars. Fifteen people drove from one to several hours from various parts of the Northwest to attend the meeting. Seven members of the Leona Working Group made it: Sue Anderson (Oregon Chapter of NABA), Neil Björklund (ButterfliesofOregon.com), Amanda Egertson (Deschutes Land Trust), Alta Harris (Klamath Tribes), David James (WSU), Debbie Johnson (Applegate Forestry), and Dana Ross (OSU). Our guests included: Chris Johnson (Shanda Corp.), Aidan Myers (Shanda Corp.), Sarah Ratay (The Nature Conservancy), Cory Galván (USFWS), Tom Valente (ODA), Eric Osbourne (ODOT), Lori Humphreys (Oregon Chapter of NABA), and Alex Corsten (interested butterfly enthusiast). The meeting started off with introductions all around, and we warmly welcomed Chris Johnson and Aidan Meyers from Shanda Corporation, the company that owns the majority of Leona's known range. Dr. James then gave the group an overview, including the discovery of the Leona's Little Blue by the late Harold Rice, the proposal for listing of the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 and the Federal rejection of that listing petition in 2015. He and Dana Ross then shared the results of early surveys as well as recent surveys showing the apparent rise and fall of the population from year to year. Debbie Johnson then gave us the big picture of the geology and geomorphology of the areas, describing the alluvial fan through the pumice that comprises the range of Leona. We discussed one of the great mysteries of Leona's Little Blue: Why does it occupy only a portion of the pumice desert where Spurry Buckwheat grows? Why hasn't it expanded into adjacent areas that appear to have essentially the same habitat character as where it does live? We don't know. Several people have noted that in the area where Leona lives, the pumice soil has tiny specks that sparkle in the sun, an apparent metalic component to these pumice soils. Could the soil "sparkles" have a role? Again, we don't know. Chris Johnson, Land Manager for Shanda Corp., joined us in the discussions with questions and observations. He reiterated what he had shared with me over the phone--Shanda Corporation's land managers were interested in Leona's Little Blue and wanted to learn about it. Chris was happy to hear that the tree removal they'd done to address a Pine Saw Fly infestation appeared to have been beneficial to the butterfly and the buckwheat it depends on. Indeed, when we later visited an area of recent tree removal conducted by Shanda Corp., we found thicker patches of Spurry Buckwheat, and greater numbers of Leona's Little Blue than we'd seen in nearby undisturbed areas. After the presentations we spent an hour meandering through the meadows looking for butterflies, especially, of course, Leona's Little Blue (LLB for short). Occasional cries of success popcorned across the site, and many photos of LLB were taken. Dr. James had netted a Leona's blue and had placed it in a viewing jar, enabling us to literally get nose to proboscis with Leona. People repeatedly marveled at how very small it is. Eventually, sun, heat and hunger drove us back to the shade near Sand Creek for lunch and more discussion. We talked about what we felt was next in our quest for long-term stewardship of Leona's Little Blue and the sparkly pumice desert she lives in. To start, we began to name many of the questions that we didn't have scientific answers for: What was limiting Leona to these 15 square miles? What part, if any did the metallic sparkles play? How far can and does Leona fly from where it leaves its chrysalis? How fire resilient is Leona--would a large intense fire during the flight season spell doom? What land managment practices would be beneficial for Leona and Spurry Buckwheat? What land management practices would be detrimental? These as-yet unanswered questions led us to a discussion of near-term funding needs--funding for research. How could we successfully steward these species and their habitat with so many unanswered questions? Yes, we concluded, we will need research funds. The Leona's Working Group members agreed to talk about research needs and the needed funding at our next meeting in the fall. The conversation then turned to considerations about long-term ownership options for the land. What long-term ownership arrangement would best serve long-term stewardship of Leona's Little Blue and Spurry Buckwheat? Would Shanda Corp. be willing to sell an easement or fee title? Could a conservation easement be effective? Could the land be returned to its original owners, the Klamath Tribes for long-term stewardship? Is there a win-win kind of outcome for all these interests? Interestingly, there was very little conversation about another ESA listing petition. My decades of work on the West Eugene Wetlands Management Plan taught me the value and importance of land acquisition that yields direct opportunities to manage the habitat for conservation, which policies and laws can't ensure. Thinking back over the past year, I can say we've made some definite progress. There is now an on-going collaboration of people , organizations and agencies that didn't exist a year ago. We've begun to compile and organize the studies, maps, and other data about Leona's Blue into a shared collection. We've begun to identify key research questions, and have some leads on funding. Its a start. And clearly there is a lot more work to do. More people and organizations need to be involved, and many more need to be educated about Leona's Little Blue and her relationship to this landscape. We've made progress in educating some key people, organizations and agencies, but Leona's Blue is still a relative unknown in Oregon let alone elsewhere in the Northwest or the United States as a whole. We'll definitely be courting folks from Oregon Field Guide and other print and broadcast media to help us spread the word. It's a long haul project for a long-term outcome with many variables, and many unknowns. For now we must keep talking, keep coordinating, keep organizing, keep learning and continue educating Oregonians and those around us in the Northwest about this tiny, indigenous, endemic jewel of a butterfly. I hope you will find a way to join us in this effort, this reconnecting of people and land and plants and animals and insects. We need all the help we can get, and so do they. List of species seen during our meeting and site visit (some scientific names may be out of date):
- The Great Butterfly Scrounge
Maybe I could blame it on iNaturalist. Well, maybe a little on my friend John, too. Although John and I are probably about even, since I helped get him hooked on butterflies, and he helped me get hooked on iNaturalist. If you've been wondering why I haven't been posting blogs for the past 5 months, its basically because I haven't been home enough to write them! You see, posting my butterfly photos to iNaturalist allowed me to easily see all the species of butterflies that I'd photographed in Lane County. And from there, one thing led to another, and pretty soon I was realizing which ones I hadn't photographed. I've been busy the last several springs and summers, trying to photograph the species I'd never seen or photographed anywhere in Oregon, and since those species have primarily been in the NE, SE, and SW corners of the "Big Gameboard" (AKA, Oregon), I hadn't spent that much time in my home county of Lane. So there I was, on a dull and dreary February day, sitting at home and dreaming butterfly dreams, longing for the sunny days of spring and summer. With nothing else to salve the pain of prolonged cabin fever, I sat down and made a list of all those Lane County butterfly species I hadn't photographed in the county, and started researching and mapping out the places I thought I had a decent chance of finding them. My list included 14 species that I felt I had a reasonable chance of finding in Lane County, and another 9 species that I am pretty sure don't occur regularly in the county. My goal was to photograph as many of those 14 regular species as I could in 2023. I get to make up the rules of the game, and that seemed like a fun challenge, with at least some chance of succeeding. Soon after I'd made the list, it seemed to take on a life of its own, as though it was quietly whispering to me, inside my own brain. List: "Typical human. You always think its all about you." Me: "Huh? Is my list actually talking to me? List: "Yes, I am talking to you, and you better get in gear. If you're going to get photos of all 14 of my species this year, you're going to have to focus." Me: "Oh my, I really have spent way too many days indoors this month. I've got to get out of this house." List: "uhhh-huhhh." Me: "You're going to let me be in charge of this, right?" List: "Oh, no. No-no-no. Don't be silly." Me: "Uh-oh. Have I created a monster?" List: (pregnant silence). On March 19, just a couple weeks after the birth of Mr. List, on the first day I'd seen any part of the sun for a while, I packed up my butterfly gear and headed out towards Lowell, Oregon to look for butterflies. It was barely 65°F, and there were thin clouds dialing down the strength of the sun. The level of pent up desire in my body and mind to be galavanting through summer fields of butterflies, was way out of proportion to the actual conditions out there in the physical world. The desire was winning, and Mr. List was taking full advantage of that. You might think it a bit ironic that Mr. List didn't actually contain any species that would be flying in March. In fact, he didn't even have any species that one could expect to be flying in April. Yet there I was, in mid-March, all cranked up to get going on this. Perhaps I fooled myself into going out with the idea that I would be honing my craft of butterfly photography, and preparing for the spring season to come. I don't know, that day is a little hazy to me now. My first day of butterflying, on that cool, almost sunny March day, yielded a whopping 2 species: California Tortoiseshell and Mourning Cloak. This would be the start of what I came to call the Great Butterfly Scrounge. March and April were exemplary in their scrounginess. At the beginning finding butterflies was like trying to wring precious drops of water out of a sweaty t-shirt when you're really thirsty and have no other water source. But then something unexpected happened, and those dark clouds of scroungiosity seemed about to part... On April 26, I went birding up on Skinner Butte, a good spring migrant bird spot. There had been a sighting of a locally rare Red-naped Sapsucker, and the news brought many birders out. We were all standing out in the summit meadow, peering up into the top of a California Black Oak tree where the sapsucker had been seen, when somebody finally looked down, and blurted out, "oh look, a swallowtail!" How could I be so lucky? It was an Anise Swallowtail -- a target species for Mr. List! Not only was it there, in April, but it actually landed close enough to me that I could get a photo! This is what I call a "bird bonus butterfly." How you like me now Mr. List?! With that serendipitous success, next up on Mr. List was Common Roadside Skipper, normally an early May flyer, and a tough one to find because its so dang small and fast. With the cold wet spring we'd had, I didn't really know when they would start flying this year. Some butterfly folk were saying that butterfly emergence in the NW seemed to be delayed by up to three weeks. Crack-a-doodle! What to do? My best guess was that I'd have to start looking at the typical first flight date, and just keep scrounging until I found it, going out about every 7-10 days, and that hope my timing and its timing would coincide at some point. The Great Scrounge continued through a couple of unsuccessful skipper searches. Then, on May 12, my friend Forest and I undertook our second annual Willamette Valley Little Big Day, where we try to find 100 species of birds on the Willamette Valley floor in one day (we've made it both years). We were just finishing up our tour through the lovely and birdy Fern Ridge Natural Area, when I noticed a white butterfly flying in the meadow near us. I got my bins on it and I excitedly exclaimed "Cabbage White!" And promptly walked briskly over to it. Forest just stared at me with this quizzical look on his face--isn't that about the most common buttterfly ever, he asked? I admitted it was, but it was one of Mr. List's target species, and it was perched picturesquely on a Camas Lily! Who would ever think of trying to find a Cabbage White and photograph it? Obviously, I never had before. Bird bonus butterfly #2! Okay, that was fun, but now it was back to the "dastardly darter," the Common Roadside Skipper. After a couple more scandalously scroungy skipper whiffs, I decided to take a break from that species and go after another May species, the Western Pine Elfin. I'd seen them before in May among the coastal pines in and around the dunes, so I made my way out there on a sunny and gorgeous May 20. Upon arrival in late morning, I expectantly stepped out of my car, grabbed my camera, walked all of 20 feet, and boom!, I had the photo within 10 minutes. Mr. List was giddy. I was momentarily at a loss for what to do next--that was too easy! Thankfully hunger showed up with a pretty clear plan, so I ate lunch and took a lovely walk among the pines. As I was getting back in the car and intending to head home, I somehow let Mr. List convince me to not head home, but instead to undertake a scouting run into the coast range near Mapleton to find the site of an iNat sighting of Bramble Hairstreak (AKA Lotus Hairstreak) from the year before. The Brambles wouldn't be flying for another two to three weeks, so what exactly were we doing? The word "boondoggle" was lurking about in the back of my brain, aching to jump into action. I drove up and down those narrow, bumpy little winding gravel roads over those deeply forested ridges for seemingly EVER. There was no Bramble Hairstreak habitat up there. It was all shady forest. "BOONDOGGLE!" leapt out of that dark corner of my brain, like a cat on a toy mouse. Boon. Doggle. Mr. List wouldn't let me ruminate on The Boondoggle. After all, there were other species to find and photograph. Chop! Chop! I got that Pine Elfin photo on my 16th butterfly outing of the spring, and it would take five more outings to finally capture an image of the cunningly evasive little Common Roadside Skipper! This stretch is where the scurrilous scrounging really got a head of steam. I repeatedly went to the same spot in the HJ Andrews Forest, where Dana Ross had found this bug years before, since I didn't have any other past sightings to follow. On these visits, I dutifully photographed many of the species I saw and posted them to iNaturalist, but Mr. List was beating on me, and iNat-ing alone just wasn't getting him off my back. I kept at it until early June with no luck, and then while looking for another species... In the least likely habitat I could imagine, at the foot of a warm, south facing seepy cliff high up on a ridge, there he was. A dark blur with a flair for landing only for a second, before shooting away again. Being a savvy butterflier, I employed my old favorite "stake-out" tactic, and sat down very still next to a perch that he seemed to favor. And waited. It took almost 10 minutes, and then, there he was, right where I'd hoped he would land. Bingo, bango, bongo! Only minutes later, and just a bit down the road, I also scored some nice photos of the species I had gone up there to find, and, yes, it was a Mr. List target, the Bramble Hairstreak. A two-fer with a freebie! Dare I declare the Great Butterfly Scrounge to be finally over? Feeling very much on a roll, the next day I went out into the West Eugene Wetlands area, where I'd spent years working on a wetland management and conservation plan, years before. I was looking for Fender's Blues (not one of Mr. List's targets), and another target that I really couldn't believe I'd never photographed in Lane County: the Common Ringlet. Common as dirt in late summer, but with a subtle beauty that their commonness often prevents us from seeing, they are not often willing posers. With Mr. List egging me on, I persistently followed one ringlet after another out in the fields near Willow Creek for a good 40 minutes. The habitat there is a grassy meadow and everytime I could get near a Ringlet, there were about 50 blades of grass in the way. Me: "Do I really need to photograph this incredibly common species?" Mr List: "Yes, keep going!" A few minutes later, I dutifully added another of Mr. List's target species. Around that time, I went to Mann Creek in southern Linn County with my friend John, and was very surprised to find a Northern Cloudywing there. I'd never seen one there or anywhere else on the west side of the Cascade Crest in decades of butterflying. It wasn't even on my radar. And Mr. List didn't have it either. That changed about 1.2 seconds after seeing the Mann Creek cloudywing. "If it's here, then it's probably in Lane County, too!" New maps were studied, iNat records were scoured, and new trips were added to the schedule. Next thing I knew John and I were off on a hunch, a whim and some guesswork to find a Northern Cloudywing in Lane County. Who would've thought we'd have it at the very first site I'd identified? Are you kidding me? After never seeing one in Lane County over 30 years, I proceeded to see a total of 4 Northern Cloudywing at four different sites in Lane County this year. At this point, I noticed a part of me getting a little cocky, now almost assuming I'd get my targets every time out. "Hah!" said another part of me. Pacuvius Duskywing was up next, a species I'd frequently seen in Deschutes County, but never in Lane. After four failed Pacuvius outings, I was ready to just throw in the towel. The next trip out was not for Pacuvius, so, naturally, that's when I finally find a Pacuvius Duskywing, along Rd 23 south of Hills Creek Reservoir. It was basically hanging out in the vegetation in a wet roadside ditch. There it was--nothing to do but photograph it! Cha-ching! About 10 days later, with duskywing and cloudywing successes leaving Mr. List overflowing with fervor, I invited John to go on a Monarch hunt with me, venturing deep into the western Cascades where the purple milkweed grows. Earlier in June I had already checked every milkweed patch I knew of in the Eugene-Springfield area, and had seen just one Monarch. It took one look at me and my camera and flew all the way to Canada. Okay, it actually just flew out of sight, heading north, but it was probably singing Joni Mitchell's song "A Case of You" to itself as it disappeared. John and I had a fine afternoon exploring the steep meadows of Grassy Glade, its beautiful and unusual purple milkweed and many lovely butterflies not named Monarch. Me: "We tried." Mr List: "You'll be trying again next year." Mr List's next priority was a species that I had tried to find in Lane County several times in recent years to no avail, the Sierra Nevada Blue. My friend Lori Humphries had found it in Lane County, in an obscure wet meadow near the Douglas County line, inspired by Tanya Harvey's discovery of the same species just over the line in Douglas. If you haven't seen Tanya's website westerncascades.org, please check it out. There's a ton of information there about many beautiful sites with interesting flowers and butterflies. Tanya is an intrepid plant explorer, and she really knows every nook and cranny of the Cascades from her many years of dedicated searching. She's also not afraid to crawl down a very steep, crumbly, rocky meadow (that made me turn back) just to see what's down there. That 's why she's found all these amazing sites and I haven't. Kudos and gratitude to Tanya! So, it was Tanya as my guide that I was able to find the hidden meadows where this lovely blue is found. [Note: These meadows are small and very fragile, so I'm not sharing the locations here to minimize human impacts.] On the way to one of the Sierra Nevada Blue meadows, Tanya guided me on an adventurous ramble through the forest via a barely discernible path, to a large rocky meadow where we saw Glaucon Blue, Sheridan's Hairstreak and many other species. We saw a couple of whites there from a distance and I assumed they were Western Whites, but from afar something seemed a little off about their flight pattern. Later in the afternoon Tanya led me to another lovely spot she calls Lewisia Point, named after the wildflower Lewisia triphylla. As we were on the way there, we saw a couple of whites whiz by, and again I thought they were probably Western Whites, although again something about them seemed a little off. When we finally got close to one, I essentially yelled "oh my god, those are Spring Whites!" This is a species that I went all the way to Josephine County to find last year, and here it was right in my back yard! Mr. List was levitating with joy. I joined him there. After photographing 11 species over 37 site visits in Lane County that I hadn't photographed in the county before, Mr. List was pretty pumped up. So he had me out again in late July and early August looking for Small Woodnymph, which is easy to find in Linn County, but not so much in Lane. I got skunked in two tries and I already knew what Mr. List was going to say: "You'll be trying again next year." He really wanted to keep this going, but there weren't going to be any of his targets flying for another 5 - 6 weeks. Luckily, there were other enticing butterfly chases and activities in other counties that helped him survive the drought in late July and August. You'll be seeing some of those stories soon. Fast forward now to early August, when the endangered Oregon Silverspot flies out on the Oregon coast in a few isolated sites, including a couple in Lane County. Recently I'd been talking with Dr. Cheryl Schulz, Professor in Conservation Biology at WSU, about various butterfly species and conversation efforts, and she mentioned that she is working with a team of researchers and restoration specialists to support the Oregon Silverspots. When I told her I was planning to go out there to photograph them this summer, she said something like, "oh, good luck with that--those Lane County populations are really small!" I didn't mention that Mr. List was not giving me the option of not trying. So on August 11, on my 55th Lane County site visit of the year, I went out in search of some Silverspots. I searched the entirety of two sites, and found exactly 1 Silverspot, and thankfully, it landed near me to get out of the unceasing strong north wind, giving me Mr. List's target species #12. Me: "Phew! Can we take a break now?" Mr. List: "Okay, but there's one more for September and I'll be coming for you!" For all the frustrating early season scrounging, and gnashing of teeth with misses, in the end, I've made peace with Mr. List. I can even honestly thank Mr. List--for pushing me out the door again and again, getting me out into many canyons and corners of Lane County that I hadn't been in, or at times of year I hadn't been in them. I got to know Lane County's butterflies and their sites better than ever. It was a big push, but without Mr. List poking me in the butt over and over, I probably wouldn't done all of it. So to Mr. List and his benevolent overlord, iNaturalist.org, I am thankful for you, and what you've helped me learn. Note to self: think hard before making future butterfly target lists. Over those 55 site visits in Lane County, I saw a total of 81 species and photographed 78 of them. Here's that list of species seen: You can see many of my Lane County butterfly photos from this year on iNaturalist.org by following this link.
- The iNat Revolution
Welcome to my first Blog post of the year! I can't wait to share some updates from this new butterfly season with you. In the meantime, here's information about a presentation I am giving in April on how iNaturalist.org has transformed my experience of butterfly watching and study, and how it can do the same for you! I plan a blog post on the same topic soon, but in the meantime, I hope you can attend in-person or join this presentation by Zoom. Here are the event details: April 12, 2023, 7:00 p.m. Campbell Senior Center, Great Hall 155 High St, Eugene, OR 97401 For more information: email@example.com To view the presentation remotely, sign up for the live Zoom feed by emailing your name and the presentation title to: firstname.lastname@example.org Are you looking forward to the coming season of wildflowers and butterflies? Dreaming about what butterflies you’d love to see this year? Are you studying up on those hard-to-identify butterfly species? Planning some butterfly watching outings? Are you hoping to learn about new places to watch butterflies? Great! Do you want to find out how to inject more learning and enjoyment into your appreciation of butterflies? Read on fellow nature lovers! Neil Björklund, author of Finding Lane County Butterflies, co-founder of NABA Oregon, and creator of www.butterfliesoforegon.com will share how he stumbled into iNaturalist.org, and how it now enhances and expands the learning and enjoyment in the field. Over 30 years of watching, photographing and documenting, and teaching about butterflies in Oregon, Neil has seen many helpful changes, but he still longed for a way to share information with other butterfliers, and to learn from their observations. Now it’s here! iNaturalist.org, or iNat, as some affectionately call it, has become one of the world’s largest collections of citizen science and photo-documented sightings of wild, living organisms. It has grown rapidly in recent years, and with over 22,000 butterfly sightings now recorded in Oregon, it holds a treasure trove of information you can use to enhance your nature passions! iNat has radically enhanced the nature experiences of thousands of Oregonians, and you may be next! You can practice your ID skills, discover locations near you to watch butterflies, see what other people are finding and where, focus on the most common species or the most rare, find out how you can make important contributions to science, and even see how you rank compared to other butterfly watchers, if you’re into that sort of thing. Its all there on iNat, and its all free. Neil will demonstrate all this live on iNat before your very eyes! And of course you’ll be seeing many of Neil’s fabulous butterfly photos and hearing his stories from the field! Get your butterfly season rolling with Neil Björklund and NABA Oregon! Here's a portal with my recent sightings on iNat, just to give you an appetizer:
- Yes, We have Volcanos!
I've been known to describe my avocation of chasing butterflies in Oregon as a game played on the huge game board of the state of Oregon--"the Big Game Board." There's something about these lines drawn on a map, whether they be county or state boundaries, that inspires me to make up rules for a game in a way that motivates me to get organized, get out of the house, and go find something wonderful in nature on a regular basis. I play this game with both butterflies and birds, and I seem to gravitate most often to playing on the "Little Game Board" of Lane County, and on the "Big Game Board" of Oregon. I use these human delineations of the physical landscape to add an element of fun and challenge to my outdoor adventures. Back in August of 2020, I visited Crater Lake to look for two of our as-yet undescribed Blues, the Pumice Blue ("Square-spotted Blue" on Eriogonum marifolium) and the Shasta Blue (Icaricia on E. pyrolifolium var. coryphaeum). After finding both species at Crater Lake, and full of curiosity, I then hiked up into the pumice flats of Wickiup Plain near South Sister to look there. I wanted to find these species in Lane County if I could, and I did find them, which was a lot of fun. Later that fall, my colleague Lori Humphreys, an excellent butterflier and naturalist, told me she'd seen the Volcano Blue in Lane County, on the top of Twins Peak back in 2011. Ever since she told me that, I'd wanted to go see if the Volcano Blue is still there, in Lane County, and photo-document it--playing the game on the Little Game Board! I started a round of the game late last July, when I made the 3 mile, 1500-foot climb to Twins Peak, at over 7,000 feet elevation. Twins Peak is just east of Waldo Lake, in the central Cascade Mountains. On that visit last July, the weather was less than ideal and there was a lot of wildfire smoke around. The weather changed dramatically almost as soon as I got to the steep cinder fields on the west flank of the peaks, and clouds, wind and finally rain, soon drove me off the peak. I saw one blue that day I thought could be a Volcano Blue, but it was pretty beat up and not what I could call definitive. Undaunted by "losing" that round of the game, I planned this year's visit to coincide with the timing of last year's trip to Crater Lake, which was about a week into August. That timing looked like it might have been the peak of the flight season, so I decided to try that again. I knew that there were a couple of wildfires burning near Oakridge, Oregon and that there was the possibility that there would be too much smoke around Twins Peak to make the hike. I certainly didn't want to be sucking in smoky air while climbing up the peak for 90 minutes, but I also didn't want to wait another year for Round 2 of the game. Indeed as I drove through Oakridge, the valley was thick with smoke, and my heart dropped. But, having come that far, I thought it would be worth it to continue a bit further and see which way the smoke was blowing. When I got to the Waldo Lake Road, I saw blue skies to the north and east. Game on! At least I could make the hike up while breathing fresh air, and see what, if any, butterflies were flying near the summit. I hiked pretty fast through the forest, recalling my last time through, when mosquitoes buzzed, chased and bit me all through the forest. My strategy this time was to not stop and to move quickly enough that the mosquitoes might be able to follow the trail of carbon dioxide I was leaving behind, but not actually catch up to me. In case you didn't know, mosquitoes can detect concentrations of carbon dioxide (which we breathe out), and that's one of the ways they find us, even in the dark. My strategy worked pretty well, as I only got bit a couple times on the walk. I was glad when I got to the part of the trail that starts to rise more steeply towards the peak, as the mosquies tend to thin out there. As I reached the lower portion of the cinder field on the west slope, right away I began to see Marumleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum marifolium), the host plant for the Pumice Blue. The blooms were past their prime, but still standing. I saw just one small Euphilotes blue hanging around a Marumleaf Buckwheat plant, and got just enough of a look at it to confirm its identity. Based on the location, its association with this buckwheat species and its Euphilotes markings, I knew it was Pumice Blue. It was the only Pumice Blue I would see all afternoon. Likely, I was a bit late for the Pumice Blue flight period at this location. As I moved up into the cinder field, I started to also see scattered Shasta Buckwheat (Eriogonum pyrolifolium var. coryphaeum) plants, which are the host plant for the Volcano Blue. These were in various stages of bloom and senescence, but many were still quite fresh. "Excellent!" I said aloud to no one in particular. Not long after that I spotted a blue on a Shasta Buckwheat bloom. I carefully made my way closer to the plant, negotiating the slip-n-slide cinder so as not to stumble and spook the butterfly. I got my bins on it, and, voila! Volcano Blue! I don't really know why it made me so happy that Volcano Blue was surviving on the Lane County side of Twins Peak, but it did. Sure, I'd "won" this round of the game, but it felt like there was something deeper there, too. Something personal. As I slowly continued working my way up the trail, I got several photos of both male and female Volcano Blues, almost always on their host plant--how convenient! I was headed towards the boundary between Lane County and Deschutes County, which cuts a north-south line just a stone's throw east of the two summits. The red cinder field where I'd found the Volcano Blues lay on the west-facing Lane County side. I was curious to see what else was flying so I continued up the trail towards the summit, crossing into Deschutes County. Closer to the summit of the north peak I found several more species, in very small numbers--several species represented by just one individual. I was surprised to find that Volcano Blues were the most numerous species, at a whopping 7 individuals. Three Hydaspe Fritillaries (Speyeria hydaspe) worked hard to elude identification by consistently landing at an angle that prevented me from seeing their ventral disc pattern. However, with patience I got closer and better angle to see their reddish ventral disc and pinkish submarginal band. A couple of male Anna's Blues (Plebejus anna) working the edges of openings in the forest looked huge compared to the smaller Volcano and Pumice blues. I ate lunch facing a grand view out over the central High Desert, entertained by a Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia) dancing from flower to flower, and a Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris) who watched me warily from its rocky perch down the steep eastern slope. After lunch, before heading up the south peak, I walked back to the west side to check on the wind and weather conditions. I immediately saw that the smoke plume from the massive Cedar Creek Fire was now headed my way. I passed on the south peak and paused for a moment to ponder what was happening down there, where that smoke was billowing out of the forest, west of Waldo Lake. It was painful to let it sink in... Sigh. Okay, time to skedaddle back down the trail. Last year when I visited Wickiup Plain at the base of South Sister, I had found and photographed Shasta Blue (Icaricia shasta) and Pumice Blue in Lane County. This year, I felt a certain glow of satisfaction to be able to confirm that the Volcano Blue, our other high elevation blue of dry pumice and cinder habitat, is also living in Lane County. It's fun to play the game on these big, beautiful game boards, but that deeper feeling is also there. It has something to do with feeling connected to this land around me. It's important to me, and in some way, I hope to be important to it, to contribute to it. So I learn and share, and I hope to inspire others to know and love and care for this beautiful place we live in. That's more than a game, it's more a way of life. I saw a total of 8 species on the upper slopes of Twins Peak. Interestingly, all the blues were on the Lane County side, and all the other species were east of the line in Deschutes County.
- Wave the Checkered Flag!
I first started looking for the enigmatic Checkered White (Pontia protodice) back in 2004, at Picture Rock Pass, in Lake County. It was, of course, Andy Warren who suggested that I search there, as he had found them there the previous year. It was hot, dry, beautiful high desert landscape--just what Checkered Whites usually prefer. In the past five or six years, more and more online resources have been developed by which people can report butterflies they've seen and photos they've taken of them. In the late summer and fall, I enjoy perusing people's photos and sightings and offering some help with identification of Oregon species that folks are struggling with. Last summer, while poking around on the "Butterflies and Moths of North America" website (www.butterfliesandmoths.org, I was surprised to come upon a photo taken by my friend and former colleague Cary Kerst. I knew he was a real dragonfly enthusiast, but I didn't recall that he was into photographing butterflies. What was more surprising was that the photo was of a Checkered White, taken in Linn County, Oregon! I had known that there were scattered records of Checkered Whites in the northern half of Oregon over the years, but I hadn't realized that there was a documented sighting within 90 minutes drive of Eugene! As you might imagine, when August rolled around, I was duty-bound to make the trip over to Lost Lake to learn check out the area, where Cary had taken that photo, and perhaps find Checkered White. I had been there in early spring for birding once or twice, but never in late summer. I went on the exact date that Cary had found his, thinking that might put me in good timing for the flight period. What I found were many Western Whites (Pontia occidentalis), zipping hither and yon, inviting me to chase them all over the meadow with Hooper, my trusty butterfly net. They were landing infrequently, and it was a gusty afternoon, making them even faster fliers than normal. So when I say that I found many Western Whites, what I actually mean is that out of the many whites flying that afternoon, the only ones I could see well, photograph and identify with certainty were Western Whites, and I assumed they all were. But a couple of them looked iffy to me. Just to be sure, I shared some of my photos with Ken Davenport, one of California's preeminent lepidopterists, who is very familiar with Checkered Whites, as he encounters them frequently down where he lives. "All Westerns," Ken replied. I decided I needed more preparation and study to be able to find and identify Checkered White, so I deferred further searching to 2022. I had studied many photos of Checkered Whites, and picked Ken's brain for identification tips. He noted that the gray markings at the forewing tips of males are generally smaller, lighter, and have more white space between them compared to the very similar Western Whites. I also learned that the veins on the ventral hindwing are more yellow on Checkered, and more greenish on Westerns. And I learned that the dorsal markings on many female Checkered Whites are more brownish-gray than bluish-gray, as you would see on a Western White. I found a little chart graphic that highlighted these field marks and saved it to my phone for reference. I felt more prepared this year. I again planned my visit around the date on which Cary had photographed his Checkered White, but delayed it a week to take into account the late, wet spring. That put my arrival date on August 10. In spite of heavy wildfire smoke in the central Western Cascades, Lost Lake had crystal-clear, blue skies. It was surprisingly cool that day, however, only 70°F, and I saw only one Western White and one Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). I did see 15 other species altogether, including a surprising "clump" of Sylvan Hairstreaks (10 in one small patch of Pearly Everlasting). I concluded that I was a bit early for Checkered White this year, and planned a second visit. I returned to Lost Lake 10 days later, on August 20. Again, I was blessed with clear blue skies, and it made it into the upper 70's in the afternoon. Still very few whites flying. I spotted six whites out in the meadow, and try as I might, I wasn't able to turn any of them into Checkered Whites. Hydaspe Fritillaries (Speyeria hydaspe) and Golden Hairstreaks (Habrodais grunus) were the most numerous species among the 16 that I saw that day. I decided that I would just keep returning to Lost Lake until I felt satisfied that I had adequately experienced the flight period of the whites there or until I found Checkered White, whichever came first. My next visit was six days later, on August 26. Another glorious day and again smoke-free, with temps in the upper 70's, and breezy with some gusts in the afternoon. I wasn't thrilled about the wind, as it can really wreak havoc with butterfly photography. Imagine a small broad-winged insect that weighs virtually nothing, is easily carried off by the wind, perched on a bendy little plant that swings and sways with every breeze. Now throw in an occasional gust of real wind. Not helpful! All that wind-induced flopping around can make it devilishly difficult to get a sharp image! All part of the challenge and the fun. Riiiiight! This trip, I was accompanied by two friends, John and Rich, who are excellent birders, and quite good with butterflies also. The more eyes, the better! We walked out into the meadow adjacent to the lake, and I noticed a few whites flying, but still not the numbers I had seen here last year. Still, I hoped that our timing was better this visit, and that there would be at least one Checkered White somewhere out in that meadow. We noticed that the whites were heavily favoring purple-flowered asters growing in the higher drier parts of the meadow, away from both the water and the woods. The Orange Sulphurs were also going for them. John and I hung out in those dry areas near the asters, trying to photograph every white we could get in our sights. That's when I saw it: a white that was fresh, but with much lighter markings on the dorsal forewing margin. It landed on an aster near me and I snapped a few photos of it. John got on it right away and also got some photos of it. When I zoomed in to view the photo on my camera's LCD screen, I clearly saw those sparse gray forewing markings, and the yellow veins below. It looked good for Checkered White! Could this be it? Did I just photograph Oregon species number 170? I spent the next hour following that White around the dry meadow, getting as many photos of it as I could. I wanted to make sure that, if I was right that it was a Checkered White, I was not going to miss the opportunity to get a decent photo of it! I easily took 100 photos of that butterfly! Luckily, several of my photos came out clear and showed the needed field marks. When I sent them to Ken Davenport, he said "yes, that is Checkered White." Bingo! Shazam! Cue the "Rocky" theme! I was particularly happy to find this butterfly so close to home, saving a lot of gas, greenhouse gas pollution, time, and effort compared to driving all over southern Oregon on numerous search excursions. It has been both pleasing and surprising to finally find several of my "nemesis" butterfly species relatively easily this year after many years of trying in vain. The experience seems to underscore one of my favorite phrases: "you just have to get your reps in." It works for photographing butterflies, and finding birds, and meditating, and a lot of other things. If the goal is to get reps in, that feels very doable. Focusing on getting to the finish line, on the other hand, means you're constantly looking ahead to see where that finish line is, and that makes it seem farther away, and harder to get to. Its almost like you don't notice that you got to the finish line because you were just focused on getting in your reps--so it almost comes as a surprise. On that third trip to Lost Lake we found 21 species, my highest number for that site. Golden Hairstreaks were still numerous, and Great Spangled Fritillaries (Speyeria cybele) were flying. I went back to Lost Lake a fourth time, just two days later. I was hoping to get even luckier, and find a female Checkered White. On August 28, I did find a worn, bird-struck female white that appeared to have the characteristic brown-gray markings, but its hard to tell what it looked like fresh. Possibly a Western White with flight wear making the markings appear brown? That fourth visit was fun, because it felt like the pressure was off. I found 20 species, including 9 fresh Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) and many fresh Hoary Commas (Polygonia gracilis) and Green Commas (Polygonia faunus), and a variety of ladies, fritillaries, and tortoiseshells. It was like a nymphalid festival! What a fun series of visits to Lost Lake! So--now we're down to it: just three Oregon species yet to go (American Copper, Compton Tortoiseshell, and Gillett's Checkerspot). The three hardest for sure, and all three in Wallowa County. Maybe they still breed in Oregon. Maybe some years they don't. All of the recent sightings of Gillett's Checkerspot were smack in the middle of where the Double Creek fire just burned virtually all of Grizzly Ridge in Wallowa County. Perhaps there were some enclaves higher up on Summit Ridge that didn't burn. I don't know. We'll see. I guess I'll be putting some visits to Wallowa County on my calendar for next year! In my four visits to Lost Lake in August, I found these 29 species:
- Let's Go Dutch!
Nope, I'm not talking about coffee--I'm talking about the peak in southern Oregon. You know, Dutchman Peak, in the Siskiyous. It was apparently named after a German miner who got stuck up there in a snowstorm and perished in the 1870's. I think its weird that people name places after people who died there tragically, but who am I to judge? Although it was cool for a summer day when I went in early July to the site of that miner's demise, snow was not an issue I was concerned about. Initially, all I was concerned about was not missing the opportunity that my friends Rob Santry and Stefan Schlick had alerted me to: Spring Whites (Pontia sysimbrii) were flying on Dutchman Peak. Lots of them! Why was that a big deal? Only because I had tried and failed to photograph Spring Whites for years! I had never heard the word "lots" and Spring White in the same sentence before, so I was stoked! Stefan emailed me, relaying info from Rob, who knew that Spring White had been a "nemesis butterfly" for me for several years now. Rob and Stefan had seen several of them near the summit of Dutchman's Peak as part of the Mt. Ashland 4th of July Butterfly Count, and Rob knew I'd want to know. He got that right! I started preparing immediately to drive down to Josephine County the next morning. I emailed both Rob and Stefan to get more information about the best route to get there, and exactly where they'd seen them. When I didn't hear back that evening, I decided I just had to go anyway. After years of unsuccessfully trying to photograph Spring Whites, I decided that I couldn't let some little details get in my way. I hoped to catch up on the details in the morning, one way or the other. I prepared food the night before, gathered my gear, and set the alarm for early o'clock. Everything went smoothly in the morning and I was on the road by 8 am, headed south on I-5. Traffic was light, and the weather looked great. Stefan called me back as I was nearing Roseburg, and gave me the 411. They'd seen the whites near the summit, and then he described the route to get there. He suggested I pull over to take notes on the route, since there were some important nuances. "No" I said, "this I will remember!" I also didn't want to take the time. Ninety minutes later when it came time to recall the details from my "steel-trap" memory those salient details about where to turn... my recall was a bit hazier than I'd hoped. I knew there was a Y junction where I needed to stay left, and a 5-way junction where I needed to take the the second road on my left. The only problem was I couldn't recall exactly how to get to those locations. Where exactly was that first turn off Hwy 238? I made a guess, and, let's just say there were some consequences. Some rocky, washed-out, gnarly, worried-about-the-tires-and-undercarriage-of-my-car consequences. I had turned up Little Applegate Road, when I was supposed to continue on Upper Applegate Road. It was so unfair--that they would name those two very different roads so similarly! From the photo of the peak above, you already know that I made it to the top, but rather than the smooth, gravel highway that Rob later described to me, it was more of a 4WD Jeep track that I chose. By the time I hit the really bad part of the road, I was half way up the ridge. I wasn't 100% sure the road would go all the way through, but my maps made it look like it did. It would take a lot of extra time and delay to go back down and find the correct route, so I white-knuckled my way up that nasty excuse for a Forest Road, and stayed the course. When I came to the top, I realized that I had bypassed the Y junction and the 5-way junction altogether, so I didn't even get to use the measly scraps of the route that I did recall. But I was really relieved that my gamble of not retracing my route to avoid that bone-cruncher had paid off! I was almost to the peak, where I would get my best chance yet at photographing the elusive Spring White! The gate was closed on the road up to the Fire Lookout at the summit, so I would walk up. Stefan had shared that they saw the Spring Whites along this road and at the summit itself. I strapped on my cameras and binos, and started to walk the road. I don't always carry or use Hooper, my beloved butterfly net, but when we're talking about whites near the top of a mountain, they can be hyper-active, madly chasing each other around and wicked hard to identify, let alone photograph. Many species of whites are "hilltoppers," meaning they patrol the area around the summit and engage in aerial battles and chases with others of their kind as well as other species, and sometimes other classes of insects. One theory is that this "king of the hill" game is about earning and defending the most advantageous spot for meeting up with the opposite sex, and ultimately mating therewith. I always thought that theory a bit weak. As I walked along the road, I saw several whites, but could not ID most of them on the wing, nor could I net them as the whizzed past me just out of reach. They would be either Western Whites or Spring Whites, and likely some of both. When I got up to the Lookout, sure enough, there were several species hill-topping: whites, swallowtails, and greater fritillaries. I consciously tried to ignore all but the whites. Occasionally I did see a white land ever so briefly, and was able to confirm that there were indeed both Western Whites and Spring Whites frenetically flying about at the summit. I sat down to watch their flight to see if any patterns emerged, and soon noticed that there was indeed a pattern. Many of the whites seemed to repeat a rough figure 8 along the ridge of the summit, usually passing fairly close to the south side of the Lookout structure. I strategically stationed myself there, intending to net a few of them and see what the numbers were for each species. After netting several, they seemed to be skewed towards Spring Whites, which was a good sign! I pondered how I would get a photo, with the crazy mayhem of hill-topping going on. I reflected on how many years I'd been trying for this photo, the miles driven, the fuel burned, the time spent, the frustration experienced. I decided to consider break from my tradition of only photographing butterflies where they decide to land. I concluded that the only dependable way to get a clear photo was to use what I like to call the "chill and thrill" method: net the butterfly, put it in a cooler with ice for a few minutes, and release the butterfly from the viewing jar in a suitable spot for a photo. To that end, I scouted around for good photo locations: easy access, good light, and a good background for a photo. Nearby I found a couple of beautiful flat-topped stones that were easy to get to. Photo location: check! Then I resumed my station next to the Lookout building. The first couple Whites I netted were Westerns, and I immediately released them. Then a few minutes later, a lucky swing netted a darting Spring White. I carefully maneuvered the butterfly into the viewing jar, put the jar in my insulated lunch box, which had a couple small blocks of blue ice. I set a timer on my phone for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, I brought out the butterfly, and released it onto my flat rock, leaning over it to keep it in shade until I was ready for the shot. Okay, ready, set... gone! Spring whites, being early season flyers, and fairly tolerant of cool temperatures, recovered from the brief chill very quickly--within a minute and a half to two minutes. So I realized I had to work very quickly! The first two flew off before I even got a shot. I repeated my oft-used butterfly photography mantra to myself ("it only takes one"), and went back to my strategic post next to the Lookout with Hooper in hand. The third time was indeed a charm. I verified that I had a Spring White in the net, and again set it in my lunch cooler. I got set up and was poised for photos as I released the butterfly to my chosen rock, and got the following series of shots as the butterfly warmed, spread its wings, and then flew off at breakneck speed. There it is. Finally. After all these years. Spring White! Woo-hoo! This was the first time in about 30 years of photographing butterflies that I concluded that I likely wouldn't get the photo using my tried and true practice of letting the butterfly control where and how I photographed it. I was thrilled and relieved to get such good images of a butterfly that had eluded me for so long. No more long drives to Jackson County in early April to try yet again for Spring White. Now if I go, it will be without pressure, just to enjoy it all. Spring White is the 169th Oregon butterfly species that I've photographed in Oregon. Now there are four left to find: Checkered White, American Copper, Compton Tortoiseshell and Gillett's Checkerspot. I've been searching for all four of them for years, and some or all of them may not breed in Oregon every year. Walking back down the hill, I thought about how lucky I will need to be just to see one of these species, and realized this might not be the last time I need to use the Chill and Thrill technique! I want to give a shout out to Rob Santry and Stefan Schlick again for their key role in helping me finally photograph this species. Thanks so much guys--I literally could not have done it without your help! I feel bad for that German miner who had such bad luck up there--my luck had been decidedly good! This was my first trip to Dutchman Peak, and it was most memorable! Without a doubt I plan to go back again with a broader focus. While I was intentionally excessively focused on finding and photographing Spring Whites, I did happen to notice a few other species. My narrowed attention surely caused me to miss some species, as well as to forego tracking down the Speyeria sp. and Euphilotes sp. to identify them to species. Next time! Here are the 14 species I identified:
- Loving Leona
Leona's Blue (Philotiella leona) is Oregon's only known endemic butterfly. It has been found only in the pumice flats created by the explosion of Mt. Mazama, which also created our famous and beloved Crater Lake. Viewed at the scale of states, countries or the planet, this butterfly is extremely rare and very localized. In 2010, a group of scientists and conservation organizations petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Such a listing would have put protective regulations in place to help avoid impacts to the butterfly and it's habitat. The species entire population was originally estimated to be just 1,000-2,000 individuals, living within a 6 to 12 square mile area of dry pumice desert. Later estimates indicated the the population might be much larger, perhaps as many as 20,000. Yet, further searches did not locate any other populations--that 6-12 square mile patch of desert is all Leona has. The federal government declined to take action to protect it under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Service responded to the ESA listing petition by saying "After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing Leona’s little blue butterfly is not warranted at this time." In early July (2022), I went back to visit the pumice desert for the third time over many years, hoping that the late spring had pushed the Leona's Blue flight period back a week or two. Normally it's peak flight is in late June, but I was headed there on July 8, with my fingers crossed. The original location that I learned about after Harold Rice found this butterfly was near Sand Creek, along Hwy 97 in Klamath County. The first time I visited the site, there were many Leona's Blues there in a patch of pumice flat with many Spurry Buckwheat (Eriogonum spergulinum var. reddingianum) plants and many Sulphur-flowered Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) plants. The diminutive and pale pink Spurry Buckwheat is greatly overshadowed by its bigger, bolder and sympatric cousin Sulphur-flowered Buckwheat (see photo below), which is a favored nectar source for Leona's Blue. On this trip, I went back to check on that original location, and was a bit alarmed by what I saw. I found it ravaged by a logging operation, which left huge piles of cut logs, and significant ground disturbance that dominated the landscape. Driving through the logged area, which was much larger than the area where I originally saw Leona, I saw no butterflies of any species. It appeared that the logging operations had damaged a big chunk of the Leona Blue's habitat. Further investigation is needed to verify this. Further west and south from the "original" site, I did find some Leona's Blues, and happily, several of them were in very fresh condition. To really appreciate them, you either need to get really close (if your near vision is good), use binoculars, or both. Seeing that habitat disturbance, and seeing how few Leona's blues I could find in the area over several hours of searching caused me some concern. I don't know when the last survey for Leona's Blue was conducted, or how much of its known range has been impacted by logging and other human activities. The part of Oregon that contains this pumice desert habitat has been so dry for so long now, that the federal government has designated it as an area of extreme drought. In the long run, these extreme drought conditions may adversely affect both the butterfly and the plants it depends on. Leona's Blue is so small that when Andy Warren first gave me guidance on finding it, he said "look for the shadow of the butterfly, not the butterfly. The shadows are bigger and easier to see." The tiny host plant, Spurry Buckwheat, is just as easily overlooked, even though it is more widespread than Leona's Blue. The small range of this butterfly, together with its short flight season and small size allowed it to be overlooked until 1995, when Harold Rice and his wife Leona discovered it. In several hours of searching, I found a total of 8 Leona's Blues. They were noticeably smaller than the Summit Blues (Euphilotes glaucon) and Lupine Blues (Icaricia lupini) in the area, and their flight pattern was distinctive. They had a slower, more fluttery flight pattern than the other blues, which made it easier to spot them. I'd previously seen that the late, wet spring had depressed numbers of many species in Oregon this year, so I can't make any conclusion about the state of the population based on what I saw on this single site visit. Leona's Blue is a butterfly that most Oregonians have never heard of, let alone ever seen. It is vulnerable because its habitat is so very limited and its range is so small, but also because few people even know that it's there. That means there are few who would stand up for protecting it, if it's population was in crisis. A large wildfire, or more extensive land disturbance in that area could be devastating to this population. All of which is to say that I believe we need to take care of this lovely little butterfly, which is a tiny flying symbol of one of our best known natural attractions, Crater Lake. We need to take care of its habitat, and the web of life that depends on that habitat. It's part of Oregon. I'm wondering if it's time to conduct new surveys, both to check on the current status of the butterfly's population, and also to assess the current extent of healthy and suitable habitat. In writing this post, I contacted the Xerces Society, who had coordinated the ESA listing petition for Leona's Blue back in 2010. I asked whether any on-going monitoring is happening, and if so, who is leading that effort. I have yet to hear back from them, but I hope I do. This butterfly may not survive on its own. Even though you may never have seen one, it is part of an intricate and interconnected ecosystem that we all depend on, which took millions of years to evolve. That's partly why the existence of Leona's Blue, for me, is not trivial. I care about Leona's Blue and its habitat, and I hope you do too. Thank you Harold Rice, for all the great contributions you made to our knowledge of Oregon butterflies during your lifetime. I hope we who are still here can help conserve all that you found. In several hours of searching in the pumice flats near Sand Creek, I found 9 species of butterflies:
- The Bigfoot of Butterflies
We humans tend to love stories about mysterious critters that may or may not exist or persist out in the wild places. The Northwest's on-going love-affair with Bigfoot and the continuing controversy as to whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker yet survives in some remote southern swamp are lively examples. I'm not immune to the appeal of that narrative of chasing something wild and elusive. It is, in part, what drew me out to Wallowa County again this year, hoping to finally see and photograph the elusive Gillett's Checkerspot (Euphydryas gillettii). Two people, one of whom is a friend of mine, saw and photographed Gillett's Checkerspot in late June last year, along the Hat Point Road in Wallowa County, Oregon. I saw their photos. They were clearly Gillett's. Those were the first sightings that I know of in Oregon in 16 years. Gillett's Checkerspot is a species that I started looking for in 2004, the year after the late Harold Rice first found them on Summit Ridge, the rim of Hell's Canyon. Gillett's is a Rocky Mountain species that spills over into several mountain ranges across Idaho, and at least in some years, into northeastern Oregon. This year, based on those photo-documented records from last year, I planned a longer, more thorough search, focusing in the area where they were found last year. I surmised that in my previous searches, I had spent too little time there altogether, and tried to cover too large an area. So I planned to search before, during and after the dates of last years records, and really look hard in a more confined search area. I arrived on June 25, a day before the date of last year's sightings. The weather was beautiful and plenty warm, but as I noted the plants that were blooming and not yet blooming, it appeared that summer had not arrived yet. There were large mud puddles, indicating recent rains, and in terms of plant phenology (timing of growth and flowering), it was still spring. Luckily, I found an open campsite very close to my search area, and as I pulled into the site in the late afternoon, several species of butterflies were active there. The one that got my attention first was a checkerspot, but clearly not Gillett's Checkerspot with its broad red bands along the outer wing edge above and below. They looked a bit like Edith's Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha), but different from those in the western Cascades. I watched these checkerspots quite a bit, since some were right in my camp site, and eventually got some nice photos of them. After studying the photos and considering the possible species in this area, I initially leaned towards calling them Anicia Checkerspot (Euphydryas anicia). They differed from most Edith's Checkerspot in having less red above, pure white spots above rather than the cream or off-white spots of Edith's and the forewing shape was longer and more pointed than are typical of Edith's. Dorsally, they resembled the Anicia Checkerspots I'd seen in Deschutes and Harney counties more than they resembled any Edith's I'd seen. However, several of them did show a black "editha" line (see above) with a narrow indistinct reddish band on the basal side of that line. The NE Oregon segregate of Edith's Checkerspot tends to have these indistinct red bands on the basal side of the "editha" line, and that pushed me over to the Edith's side. Although they were greatly outnumbered by the Snowberry Checkerspots (Euphydryas colon), they got a lot more of my attention, due to the enjoyable ID challenge. I decided to consider it a hopeful sign that I was seeing good numbers of Euphydryas checkerspots even if they weren't Gillett's. I planned to start the search in earnest the following morning, and would spend the evening thinking through my strategy. That night I awoke to a dark sky ablaze with stars, accompanied by the low, slow-paced hoots of a Flammulated Owl. I fell back asleep with a smile on my face. In the morning that smile quickly emerged again as I took in the beauty of the dawning of day. Perched on top of a high ridge, first light came early, around 5:30 am. My plan was to get to know this area in depth, to explore every nook and cranny. I had allowed myself four days to do this. I wanted to understand the habitat, the plant communities, and all the little niche habitats that attract butterflies, as well as the times of day that butterflies use them. And of course I wanted to see and identify as many species of butterflies as I could, hopefully including Gillett's Checkerspot. Early on in my exploration, I noticed that the gravel Hat Point Road itself was a key habitat feature that attracted various butterfly species, especially Pale and Anise Swallowtails, Margined Whites, Echo Azures and Hydaspe and Callippe Fritillaries. It was a flight corridor through the patch of forest there, and it provided a sunny opening in that patch of forest. It also offered warm gravelly spots for basking and a modest offering of nectar plants along the road margins. It was the only location where I saw Lupine Blue or Mourning Cloak. Below the road was a large bowl-shaped area that had been partially logged, opening up the understory, which created a unique set of habitat characteristics. Shrub species that normally were tucked into the understory of the forest were out in the open here, visible, and in the sun at least part of the day. The bowl concentrated moisture at its lower end, and this supported moisture-loving plants that didn't occur in its higher, drier areas. This area supported many Julia's Orangetips, and several Green Commas. As I zig-zagged through the bowl and through the forest understory across the road, I began to realize that here was a huge population of Utah Honeysuckle (Lonicera utahensis) scattered throughout the bowl and across the road. Knowing that Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) had been documented as a host plant for Gillett's Checkerspot, I wondered if Gillett's could be using this locally abundant Lonicera as a host plant. It wasn't too far-fetched an idea, since Gillett's had been recorded using several other shrub species as hosts, including Western Valerian (Valeriana occidentalis), in addition to Twinberry. The part of the Hat Point Road I was exploring followed Grizzly Ridge for several miles, and in some spots lay right on its narrow summit. On both sides of the ridge was an interconnected series of mostly steep, rocky meadows with a variety of native flowers and shrubs providing both host plants and nectar sources. These meadows were favored by the Anicia Checkerspots, as well as Persius Duskywing (Erynnis persius), Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus), Western White (Pontia occidentalis), Western Green Hairstreak (Callophrys affinis), Greenish Blue (Plebejus saepiolus) and Callippe Fritillary (Speyeria callippe). I was getting to know well the lay of the land on Grizzly Ridge. No Gillett's yet. I knew that it was a distinct possibility that the late spring could be driving the emergence of Gillett's Checkerspot as much as 7-10 days later, as I had seen with some other species. This would mean that even if they showed up this year on Grizzly Ridge, I might miss them. But, I was here, and the drive out here was very long, so it felt like the only thing to do was just keep looking, and enjoy whatever I saw. After a couple of days, I spread my search a bit wider, driving both further down and further up the ridge. Going up the ridge to the Granny Springs area, it was clear that summer was going to come even later up there. The temperature was noticeably lower, fewer wildflowers were in bloom, and fewer butterflies were flying. Based on those factors, I decided not to search any higher than that. I went down the road and scouted for good habitat niches. Under the right conditions, old fire pits can attract butterflies as a source of mineral salts, so I pulled off to check an empty campsite just off the road. Right away I saw several Snowberry Checkerspots puddling in the moist sandy soil at the entrance to the sight. Then I saw a spectacular green flash -- a fresh Western Green Hairstreak in full sun. Breathtaking. After getting lucky with some photos of the Western Green, I noticed what appeared to be a dark hairstreak land down by the road on the moist soil. When I got my bins on it, I gasped! My fourth super-fresh Thicket Hairstreak of the summer! So richly colored and fresh! Wow. Apparently this is the year of the Thicket Hairstreak! By the end of day four on Grizzly Ridge, I had been out on for a total of 9 days. I was tired, dirty, smelly, and sore. Bushwhacking through that rough terrain was making my legs cramp at night. My store of prepared-ahead-of-time food was almost gone. The reasonable thing to do was probably to pack it in and head home. Then I started in on a little "what if?" thought process. What if the gillettii emerge in the next couple of days--right after I leave? What if someone else were to find them just after I left? What if there's an even more confounding weather pattern next year? What would it take to stay and spend a couple more days searching? I worked it out that I could drive into Enterprise and replenish my food supply, take a shower somewhere, do laundry and get more stove fuel. It would just be one afternoon and not that long a drive to get there and back. I could leave my camp set up where it was. The weather had been great except for an early morning squall that that morning, which had only dribbled rain on me. The forecast looked good. Why not? It was something I hadn't done before on one of my butterfly search camping trips, so I decided I had to try it--just to see how it would go. I found a shower at an RV Campground, and got fuel at the hardware store. I did my best to provision my non-mainstream food preferences at the Safeway in Enterprise, and did my laundry at a clean and quiet laundromat in Joseph. That was easy! I headed back up to my campsite in time for dinner, cleaned up and refreshed, to resume my search. I spent two more enjoyable days searching on Grizzly Ridge, not knowing what would happen next, just enjoying the breezes, bird songs, sunsets, wildflowers, smells of forest and meadow, and of course the butterflies. No Gillett's Checkerspots made an appearance close enough for me to see them. Perhaps, like Bigfoot would, they were staying just out of site nearby? For me, Gillett's Checkerspot remains elusive elusive, out of reach, and mysterious as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And that made it all the more alluring to me. The harder they are to find, the more thrilling the finding is. I find Gillett's Checkerspot to be one of our most beautiful butterflies, and you can rest assured that I will search again next year. It has grown into a tradition! This trip was a glorious experience of being surrounded by nature's beauty for days on end, no roof overhead, grand vistas, clear light, open air, and I felt a strong connection to this place I called home for 7 days. I have begun a habit of thanking and saying goodbye to my campsites, and this time, to my surprise, I was spontaneously moved to tears. I'd never had that happen before, but then all of this had never happened to me before. I felt gratitude for this experience of feeling love and connection for a place--its something we need more of in this world. Over my 6 days of searching for Gillett's Checkerspot, I found these 40 other species:
- A Double Scoop of Rocky Road
Back in May I visited a few of the sites where Andy Warren had studied azure blues back in the early 2000's. At several sites, mostly in northeastern Oregon, he found what later was designated as the new species, Asher's Blue (Celastrina asheri). On my visit this past May, I had found an apparently small population of Asher's Blue along the Metolius River, but didn't find any asheri at historical sites in the Ochoco Mountains (in May) or on the Clackamas River (early June). Considering the unusual spring weather this year, I didn't make any conclusions about whether asheri still exists at those two sites. My curiosity about Asher's Blues in Oregon was not quenched by those site visits in May and early June, so I decided to visit another one of Andy's asheri sites as part of my big eastern Oregon trek in late June 2022. Andy had seen Asher's Blues along Rock Creek in the Elkhorn Mountains near Baker City on June 21, 2001. Almost 21 years to the day after his visit there, I would go up to see what I could see. I had followed in Andy's footsteps many times trying to find butterfly species where he had already found them. Along the way, there were many dusty, poorly-maintained roads, and my trusty Subaru Forester navigated them all with relative ease, albeit with a few flat tires along the way. So as I headed north from Baker City, I was expecting that a run-of-the-mill forest road would take me up to Rock Creek Canyon. Once I got off the paved rural roads north of Baker City, the road was a well-maintained, smooth gravel road, and I continued to assume a quick trip up the canyon. My plan was to find a campsite first, and then continue up the next day to the part of the canyon where Andy had found the asheri. That well-maintained gravel road did not last long-- the road suddenly changed from smooth and well graded, to rocky, rough and gnarly. Not what I was expecting! I didn't know if this was just a rough stretch of an otherwise good road, or the beginning of a long, rough ride, but it seemed like it would be passable with my Forester. I often had to slow to a creeping crawl as I navigated large rocks, washouts, gullies and general roadbed mayhem. I didn't know how far up I'd have to go to find a suitable campsite, and I was slightly apprehensive about the condition of the road, knowing that the only spare tire I had was one of those "baby tires" that is only meant to get you across town to a tire shop--on paved roads. My tires were only a year old and they were the same type that I'd been driving on forest roads for years without trouble. But if I got a flat up here, would that baby tire get me out? It was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was getting lower in the western sky when I came to a wide spot in the road with a patch of sun. I saw a couple butterflies flying there, so I pulled over for a stretch stop. One was some kind of comma, and the other appeared to be a hairstreak, which created a little adrenalin surge. In this habitat which hairstreak might that be? I saw it fly again, and luckily it landed on the moist roadbed not far from me. A Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)! I hadn't seen one in years! I went back to the car for my camera, but by the time I got back with it in hand, the Thicket was gone. The comma turned out to be a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus), fresh and dark. I dearly coveted a better photo of a fresh Thicket Hairstreak for my website, so this near miss was both disappointing and hope-inspiring. Surely I wouldn't see another Thicket here, after not seeing any for a few years... would I? A couple miles further up the road, I was relieved to see a Toyota Rav 4 coming down the road. That told me that the road would be passable for me and my Forester, at least to wherever they had been, which was likely a trailhead I'd seen on the map a bit further up than where I was headed. That was the only other passenger car I saw on that rocky beast of a road. I was happy to find a very nice hunter's campsite down a side road before long, only a couple miles from the asheri site. So far so good! I set up my tent and "kitchen," heated up a delicious bowl of soup that I had made at home ahead of time and settled in for the evening. That night, at about 3 am, I was awakened by an odd sound--a sound I didn't recall having heard in the woods before. It was a scritchy-scratchy sound and it seemed almost as though it was coming from my own head, or perhaps from my pillow. In my barely awakened state, my clearest thought was "what the heck?" It was louder when I laid my head back down on my pillow, so maybe that the sound was coming from under me--something was tunneling under my tent! I didn't want some dang critter to chew a hole in my tent, so I slapped the floor of the tent several times where the sound seemed to be coming from. Keep moving you little digger! Eventually the sound ebbed, then died out, and I assumed it had tunneled deeper or away from my tent. In the morning when I got up, I saw the confirming evidence--a tunnel-track that went directly under my tent, right under where my head had been. It had been scrabbling through the topsoil inches from my head looking for food. Later I concluded that it was probably a Pacific Mole (Scapanus orarius), since that looked to be the only native mole commonly found in Baker County. The weather forecast had predicted immaculate skies for the period of my trip, and glorious blue skies were again above me. It was chilly in the morning, in the upper 40's. The asheri site was at about 5500 feet elevation, so I must have been in the upper 4,000's. I hoped the midday sun would yield enough warmth to get the butterflies active! The target meadows along Rock Creek were surprisingly close, and it didn't take long, even at my snail-crawl pace as the road continued it's rough and tumble ways. I arrived in mid-morning, and it was still cool. I had met the worst of the road, and my trusty Forester got me through once again. Here the rough and rocky road gave way to smooth roads of dirt, and I set out to explore the area by walking these roads, since that seemed to be where there was more sun and a bit more butterfly activity. The road bed was quite moist from recent rains. Early season, cold-temperature-tolerant Green Commas, Milbert's Tortoiseshells (Aglais milberti) and Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) were the first to appear. I had to remind myself that I was looking for Asher's Blue here, because I could easily get distracted taking photos of the beautiful, fresh nymphalids. The asheri search would involve both searching out its host plants (Red-osier dogwood and possibly Oceanspray), and checking puddling spots close to the creek. As I walked along, my eyes were glued to the road, checking for puddlers. Wait--what's that hairstreak? That's another Thicket Hairstreak! Two of them in two days--what are the odds? This one was very engrossed in its mineral mining from the wet road bed and did not fly when I approached. Woo-hoo! I'd been wanting this photo opportunity for years! And here it was! As I continued to scout the area, I saw more commas and tortoiseshells, and then some Margined Whites (Pieris marginalis), and one Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus) and several Western Pine Elfins (Callophrys eryphon). Later on, I saw a surprising third Thicket Hairstreak. As the morning warmed, I also began to see Celastrina blues here and there, but to me they all looked like Echo Azure (Celastrina echo): white ventral ground color, and small and consistent gray/black ventral markings. I searched the area as best I could following the roads and the stream corridor, looking for Red-sier Dogwood, willows, Snowbrush and Ocean spray. I found none of these, which was puzzling. At this site, Warren had written, he'd seen these duskier and more variable asheri associated with Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus). Only one of the 18 azures I saw looked like a good candidate for C. asheri, and it was on the lighter end of the asheri spectrum in terms of ventral markings (see photo below). It appeared slightly worn, but was more dusky below than a typical Echo azure, with ventral markings that were more gray-brown than gray-black. I did not see any of the irregular, bold black, brown or gray patches on the ventral hindwing that I'd seen on the Metolius asheri. In Warren's description of his 2001 visit, he said he saw no Celastrina whose ventral markings resembled the clean, consistently marked pattern typical of Celastrina echo west of the Cascades. What I saw appeared to be almost the opposite. Without knowing where my visit landed relative to the timing of this year's weather-altered butterfly emergence, I couldn't make any firm conclusions based on what I found and didn't find. There may have been a more notable flight of asheri either before or after my one-day visit. As you can see from the list of species I saw, they were primarily cold-tolerant, early season flyers--basically, it was still spring up there. In a more typical year, I'd likely see a different suite of species on this date. Which makes me very glad that I tasted that rocky road during this particular late spring, and got those fabulous looks at Thicket Hairstreaks. Now that I know that the Rock Creek road is rough and nasty but doable, I will know what I'm in for if I decide to go back. And now I carry a full-sized spare tire. Here are the 19 species I saw in Rock Creek Canyon:
- The Art of Waiting
In today's world, if you haven't had the experience of being put on hold by a technical support representative, then you likely don't have a telephone. It's woven into our high-tech world that we often don't know how to make some gadget we own do what we think its supposed to do. So we call technical support. I used to get so frustrated with technical support representatives on the phone--the long waits on hold, the seemingly byzantine process by which they sifted out what I knew, the seemingly inane questions ("Had I pressed the power button to turn it on?"). And they could tell how frustrated I was. I didn't realize it until relatively recently, but I was in a state of feeling entitled. I felt that I was entitled to have my problem solved quickly and directly by that person on the phone. It is sad to recall how rude I was at times. They were doing their job as best they could, and I was venting my frustration at not being able to make things go the way I expected them to go. Photographing butterflies can be like that. Our unspoken (and often unconscious) expectations come alive when the butterfly behaves... like a butterfly. When it doesn't conform to our wishes. When it repeatedly flies away just when we get our camera on it. When it always lands with its wings configured in the opposite way from that which would make the photo we want. When it always lands just a little bit too far away to allow us to get that perfect photo. Argh! I recently explored this territory again in June while trying to photograph a small, fast-flying butterfly, called the Nevada Skipper. I wrote about it a year ago, after I was finally able to get a single photo of a somewhat ragged individual. I decided to try again this year, this time aiming for a bit earlier in its flight season, in hopes of more and better photos. This year, with the heavier than normal spring rains, spring was running late and moist. This yielded a greener, lusher environment along the southeast edge of Baker County, where I intended to search. The Nevada Skipper flies very fast and low in treeless habitats on windswept ridges. When the wind is gusting they can just disappear when startled--flying off so fast and far that I can't follow them in flight to see where they land. It was under just these conditions, with a gorgeous azure-blue sky overhead, that I began walking up the ridge where I'd seen Nevada last year. This year, I'd continued to notice that the unusual spring weather both delayed the emergence of many butterfly species, but also lowered their numbers on any given day. My untested theory is that butterflies, like salmon, have a genetically encoded "behavior" that manifests when weather conditions are abnormal--that they spread out their emergence over a longer period when weather is dicey. I'd also been seeing a greater overlap of spring species and summer species, and therefore an uptick in species diversity, which makes for fun butterflying. These patterns held true of my observations in SE Baker County. Overall numbers were low, but diversity was higher than in past visits. Species like Half-moon Hairstreak, Western Green Hairstreak, Desert Marble and Common Alpine were nice surprises as I made my way through the waving grasses. As I approached the crest of the ridge, I began to scan for Nevada Skippers and potential nectar plants, including the yellow composite I'd seen them on last year. That flower did not appear to be in bloom yet. I continued meandering along the rolling ridgetop, and came to a distinctive sandy, partly barren patch with very pale lavender asters that were only 6-8 inches tall. That's where I spotted my first Nevada. It was a zig-zag blur of orange, and then landed 20 feet from me. Good. They're here--and at least this one is fresh! Before getting too focused on photos, I wanted to get the "lay of the land," to see more of the area and any other potential nectar plants and hotspots, and especially to see if there was a favorite type of plant for perching and/or nectaring. So I continued along the sinuous ridge line, where I found a couple more patches of those pale little asters, where again I found Nevada Skippers. Perhaps a pattern is emerging! My laser focus on butterflies was disturbed when I heard an odd sound coming from down the east slope of the ridge. It sounded like huffing and puffing. I thought of the cartoons I'd seen of a bull scraping its hooves on the ground, about to charge. I walked towards the east slope and soon saw the source of the sound. A beautiful male Pronghorn Antelope. He was facing directly at me, looking right at me, and making these percussive huffing sounds. My impression was that he was not very happy about my presence. I wasn't about to leave without photos of my target butterfly, so I told him as much. He didn't seem impressed. I watched him for a moment, then turned and walked back up the slope and resumed my reconnoitering. A few minutes later, there he was again, having sidled around the slope to the south of me. Again he was facing me, huffing, snorting and staring me down. For a moment my hair stood on end. He looked like he was about to charge me. I knew what to do when challenged by bears, cougars, geese, etc., but I was drawing a blank on pronghorn. I couldn't recall any stories of antelope harming humans, so after watching him to see what he was going to do, I just backed away from him, to let him know I was not challenging him to any kind of duel. Do pronghorn males do that battle of locked horns thing? I didn't know, and being decidedly hornless, I wasn't interested in finding out through experience. Eventually, the pronghorn either got bored with me, or decided I was not a threat and wandered off. It was about 85°F now and the wind was picking up in the afternoon. I was seeing Nevada Skippers, but the photo opportunities were scant. I could get distant telephoto shots, but not the crisp, clear close-ups I was hoping for. I began to get a little frustrated with the repeated pattern of seeing a Nevada, walking towards it and it "gleefully" (or so I thought) zipping out of sight was soon as I got near photo distance. I paused, and took my frustration as a cue to ask myself whether my approach might be a mis-match with the situation. I sat down, closed my eyes, and just breathed for a minute or two. Okay, I thought, my approach is scaring them off. Maybe I need to let them come to me? It was getting late in the afternoon now, so I thought: why not experiment? I sat down in one of the aster patches and just waited. Before long, I saw a Nevada zipping around the patch. Not close to me, but still encouraging. I waited some more. "How long would it take before one came near me?" I asked myself. Not long it turned out. About 5 minutes. But when I made the slightest move in the direction of the skipper, it made the jump into hyperdrive and evaporated into the dry desert air. I waited again. 10 minutes. Same result. Experience has told me that sometimes when things aren't working well, it is best of step back and look at the situation in a larger frame, rather than to keep trying the same approach with more effort (and stress). So I stepped way back in my thinking. I was on day 2 of a planned 9-day trip. Instead of heading to the next site this afternoon, I could actually afford to spend the night nearby and come back in the morning, in hopes that the skippers would not be so hyper-drivey and skittish in the cool of the morning. It felt like a good theory, so I went with it. I knew of a decent campsite in the area and headed there to set up camp. It was in the 50's as I made breakfast the next morning, and I enjoyed the songs of MacGillivray's Warbler, Cassin's Finch, Williamson's Sapsucker, and Clark's Nutcracker. I hoped to catch that Goldilocks part of the day where it wasn't too hot and it wasn't too cold. I wanted the skippers to be flying, but with reduced exuberance. Was it too much to ask? It was a beautiful, crisp blue-sky day when I ascended the ridge again to try Strategy #3. I was hopeful, but also keen on balancing that with an intention to accept whatever happened. I marched up to the smallest of the aster patches, thinking that if they landed there, they would have to be closer to me than in one of the larger patches. I plucked a few grass stalks that would have interfered with photos, and sat down in the dirt and waited. It was 60°F now, and few butterflies were flying. "I have all day," I told myself. After about 15 minutes, the first Nevada Skipper appeared. Ever so slowly I turned my camera towards it. It was holding its spot. Sweet! Maybe this would actually work! Over the next hour this pattern repeated: from one to three skippers would enter the aster patch and they would perch on an aster flower or a rock. I would very slowly move closer (think of pouring molasses that you've had in the fridge) and aim my camera. I would get a few shots and then they'd fly off, usually at the same time. Then there would be no skippers for 5-8 minutes, after which one or a couple would return. This pattern required me to really slow down. I couldn't hurry them, and if I sped up I'd have no chance. In this case slower actually was faster! I'd been observing this phenomenon of "slower is faster" in many diverse situations recently. Slowing down made me more aware and present, and I tended to see (and therefore have) more options. I had applied this in some recent conversations with technical support representatives on the phone. If calmed myself, and my internal world slowed down, it was easier to let go of my expectation of instant gratification. I became more open to the human on the other end of the phone, and they in turn gave me better service. Sitting in the dirt like a monk on top of a windswept ridge in the middle of nowhere was not only enjoyable, it was effective! Over three hours I got several nice images of both the dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) views of several fresh Nevada Skippers! I had begun my search for Nevada Skippers back in 2004, following guidance from--you might have guessed--Andy Warren. I scoured Ironside Mountain (Malheur County) and King Mountain (Harney County), to no avail. Then, after gleaning more from Andy's book Butterflies of Oregon, I started searching again in 2018 near Pine Mountain (Deschutes County), whiffing on three consecutive days. Finally, I searched near the SE corner of Baker County last year and saw my first Nevada Skipper. All of which led to my trip this June and photographic success! To add frosting to the cake, the Desert Marble photo below was an unexpected bonus for this visit, as this species has also been very hard to photograph and it wasn't even on my radar for this site. The trip was a success, but probably only because I made repeated course corrections in my strategy and attitude. Maybe the impediments to my success had been more internal than external all along? Slower is faster. Sometimes literally. Below are my observations for the two days:
- A Boy and His Butterfly
Earlier this spring, I learned in an unexpected way about an obscure disease called 4H Leukodystrophy. It is an inherited genetic disorder that disrupts the body's ability to create the protective sheaths that normally surround nerve cells in our brain and spinal cord. Without these protective sheaths, the nervous system doesn't function normally and many profound physical, mental and developmental difficulties arise. No cure for the disease is known. You may be wondering why I'm writing about a little-known human genetic disorder in a blog about Oregon's butterflies. Stay with me! It turns out that these topics are very much connected. But first, I need to lay some groundwork by sharing a little about a group of blue butterflies in the Pacific Northwest that has long puzzled experts. The blues in question are in the genus Celastrina, which we commonly call Azures, and this genus includes our common and widespread Echo Azure (Celastrina echo). We used to call it the Spring Azure, until the species was taxonomically split in two, giving us westerners the Echo Azure and leaving the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) to the east side of the continent. The Echo Azure has a very light ground color underneath, and all the dark gray markings are relatively small and tidy. You'll see shortly why those identification details are important. Over the past 20 years, lepidopterists in the Northwest have puzzled over what appeared to be a highly variable form of Azure that some considered to be a sub-species of the Echo Azure. They've been found in British Columbia and in Washington and Oregon and are a duskier gray ground color below, and while the typical Azure markings are present, they are larger and darker, and often augmented by large, dark irregular gray or black patches. It has often been found flying with Echo Azure, but often in smaller numbers. In 2001 to 2003, Andy Warren studied populations of this "form" across nine Oregon counties, mostly east of the Cascade Crest. He pondered the possibility that it represented an as-yet-undescribed species and tentatively referred to it as Celastrina nigrescens. A third Celastrina also occurs in BC and Montana, called the Lucia Azure (Celastrina lucia), which bears some resemblance to this highly variable "form" that lepidopterists were finding throughout the Northwest. Some populations of Celastrina in the state of Washington were thought to be the Lucia Azure, which added to the complexity of the Celastrina picture in the region. Over the past several years, the identity of these dusky, variable Celastrina blues confused and intrigued lepidopterists in Washington and surrounding regions, leading to an effort to shed more light on just what they are. All of the puzzle pieces finally came together in the last two years, resulting in the conclusion that this highly variable "form" is indeed a new species. Thanks to the work of Caitlin LaBar, Jon Pelham, Norbert Kondla, their colleagues and their army of citizen scientists, we now have answers to that Celastrina puzzle. At the end of April 2022, Caitlin, Jon and Norbert (from Alberta) released the official paper describing the new species. The paper clarified that the new species occurs in both Oregon and Washington, as well as in southern British Columbia and the Rockies in Idaho, Montana and SW Alberta, and that the Lucia Azure (Celastrina lucia) does not occur in Oregon or Washington. In the "Etymology" section of the paper, the author's explained the name they had chosen for the new species: Asher's Blue (Celastrina asheri). As I read who Asher was and why they named the butterfly after him, I got a bit teary-eyed. I felt proud of my colleagues for their choice of names. Asher is an 8-year-old boy, who has 4H Leuko- dystrophy. From my reading about the disease, I know it is a profoundly difficult disease for him and his family, which is why this quote from the species description paper was so moving: "His perseverance and kind heart inspire everyone around him, bringing rays of sunshine into the daily struggle of living with a disease that has no cure. Asher loves blue, which is also the representative color of Leukodystrophy, and he loves spending time outdoors, especially in the mountains. In naming this butterfly Celastrina asheri, Asher’s Blue, it is our wish to bring joy to Asher and his family and help promote awareness of this disease with the hope that one day a cure will be found." I warmly congratulate Caitlin, Norbert and Jon on their excellent taxonomic study, sleuthing work, survey organizing, data management, and especially for their good-hearted naming choice. When I received the email from Caitlin announcing the formal species designation, I was immediately seized with a strong urge go find and photograph Asher's Blue as soon as the droughtiest-turned-rainiest spring weather would allow. I said aloud to the empty room: "Asher, I'm going to find your blue!" The opportunity came the week before Memorial Day with a favorable weather forecast, and I headed towards central Oregon to see what I could see. I had read in Andy Warren's book (Butterflies of Oregon, Their Taxonomy, Distribution and Biology), that he had found them in May 2003 along the Metolius River and along creeks in the western Ochoco Mountains. I immediately went to my own records to see when my past visits to the Metolius and to the Ochocos had occurred. Somehow, I had managed to go to these areas only before or after, but never during, the flight period of Asher's Blue. So this butterfly had been almost in my backyard (2 hours away), yet I had never seen it! With Andy's excellent documentation of where and when he'd found this butterfly, this was one of the easiest species to add to my website. I went straight to the Metolius River, which was already one of my favorite sites. I pulled into the little parking area next to the bridge, grabbed my camera and binoculars, and walked not more than 50 yards along the river trail, when I spied a puddle club of blues. Through my binos, I could see they were mostly Echo Azures, but within seconds, I spotted one Asher's Blue in the group! What I didn't realized at that moment was that over my three days on the Metolius virtually every puddle club of blues would have just one or two Asher's Blues, and nearly all the rest would be Echo Azures. It was curious how consistent that pattern was. When I re-read Warren's account of his visit there in 2003, he had seen the same pattern in the puddle clubs. After getting some satisfactory photos of puddling Asher's Blues along the river that first day, I decided to head east into the Ochoco Mountains to search there, where Andy had also found them in 2003. For years, I have been constantly following the footsteps of Andy Warren, and this trip was no exception! That same afternoon, I headed east, planning to camp in the Ochocos overnight and search along several streams the following day. After an hour searching for a suitable camp site, I settled in for the night to the sound of gobbling wild turkeys and tooting northern pygmy owls and wondered what kind of weather I would have in the morning. In the morning, luckily, there was just enough sun to get temps up to the low 60's, which I hoped would be adequate for Celastrina blues. I devoured up my bowl of sweet potato oatmeal, and packed up for a day of stream walks. As I drove the side roads in the western Ochocos towards my first search site, I soon saw that almost no butterflies were flying at mid-morning, not even cold- tolerant Azures. Not what I'd hoped for. I stayed the course, however, and visited six different streams over several hours, and found a whopping total of three butterflies: 2 Mourning Cloaks and 1 California Tortoiseshell. Definitely not what I'd hoped for! After a couple moments of pondering, it began to make sense that the higher elevation of these streams combined with the cold wet weather in preceding weeks had delayed butterfly emergence far behind what Warren had seen in 2003, and behind what I'd just seen on the Metolius. My hypothesis was supported by the delayed development of native shrubs and wildflowers in the areas. They appeared to be just barely beginning to wake up from their winter slumbers. I guessed it might be a couple weeks before spring really arrived up there. As the morning progressed, the cloud cover in the Ochocos deepened, and the temperature dropped slightly. I gazed longingly to the west, where glorious blue skies appeared to be over the Metolius River. My first thought was "I should be over there!" My second thought was "do I really want to chase that sucker hole?" I had learned the term "sucker hole" for ephemeral patches of blue in a cloudy sky that weren't where I was. Oh so great is the temptation to make a mad dash to get in that lovely sunny spot that must be "just over there." My experience told me that those chase-inducing patches of blue, more often than not, are gone by the time I get there or not where they appeared to be. Sucker hole or not, I decided my chances were better at lower elevation and closer to the Cascade Crest, where the drought-driving rain shadow might work to my (short term) benefit. This time it worked! I arrived on the Metolius in a little more than an hour, greeted by sun, very thin clouds and temperatures in the upper 70's. There I met a friendly local fisherman named Gary, and after a necessarily one-sided chat about the challenges of fly-fishing for trout on the Metolius, he asked what I was up to. He seemed genuinely interested in my search for this new butterfly species, and he told me about a couple spots along the river where he had recently seen a lot of blues. I was impressed that he'd noticed the butterflies at all, let alone remembered where he'd seen blues in particular. It was about 3 pm when I set out to search along the east bank of the river, where the afternoon sun had warmed everything nicely. It was an enjoyable river-side ramble as I continued to find an Asher's Blue here and there, while new species were showing up in the warmth of the afternoon. I had Pacuvius Duskywing, Dreamy Duskywing and Persius Duskywing in quick succession, followed by Juniper/Cedar Hairstreak, Brown Elfin, Western Pine Elfin and Hoary Comma. I always get a charge out of seeing a diversity of species, so this elevated my spirits even more. Gary had told me about a spot further down the river that he called "the swamp." His moniker made it sound like a large area, but upon my arrival, it turned out to be only about 20 feet by 20 feet, situated between the trail and the river. However, the small size didn't discourage the many butterflies congregating there, where boggy ground and wet, decaying dead grass attracted Duskywings, Two-banded Checkered Skippers, Silvery Blues, Echo Azures, Asher's Blues, Pale Swallowtails and California Tortoiseshells. I was so enjoying the butterflies, the pleasant weather and the relative low numbers of people, that I decided to stay another night, and make a third search the next day if the weather was favorable. The next morning at 6 am when I poked my head out of my tent, I couldn't help but smile--the skies were almost completely clear. I felt happy and optimistic as I made breakfast and listened to the Cassin's Vireos, Chipping Sparrows and Western Tanagers singing in the conifers around my camp site. I allowed myself a slow morning while I waited for the day (and the butterfly action) to warm up. When an Echo Azure flew through my campsite, I decided it was time to head down to the river's edge. This time I searched the west bank of the river since I now had morning sun from the east. There were larger puddle groups of Azures now, and while there were still only one or two Asher's Blues in each group, the numbers of Echo Azures swelled, and a few Silvery Blues joined the party. I continued photographing mostly Asher's Blues, and counted butterflies as I walked. I added Northern Cloudywing, Green Comma, Juba Skipper, and Mylitta Crescent to an already nice list of species. Warren's book and the species description paper described Asher's Blue as having highly variable ventral markings, and my experience on the Metolius bore that out. The four Asher's Blues presented here fairly illustrate the range of variation I found. The collection of images in the description paper shows that the variation in ventral hindwing markings diverges even further than what I saw. My visit to the Metolius piqued my curiosity about other Asher's Blues populations in Oregon, and I began to formulate a plan to explore the populations of Asher's Blue further east, in the Blue Mountains, Elkhorns and in the Wallowas later in the year. As I read it, the story of Asher's Blue has many layers. To me, the decades of not knowing the taxonomic status of these butterflies, the perseverance of many scientists and citizen scientists to find answers, the tag team of people that contributed over the years to the effort, and the weaving of this inspiring young boy into the picture, all speak of the importance of our relatedness. It speaks to the ways in which people build relationships with nature when have access to it and opportunities to learn about it. Some people get deeply interested in fish, and learn all about where they live, what they eat and when and how to catch them. Others become interested in birds or butterflies or fungi or flowers or dragonflies. Their growing knowledge further fuels their curiosity as they venture out more into nature to see, to feel, to hear and to learn. These kinds of relationships between humans and non-human life and land are so important to the survival over time of we humans and the complex living system that we depend on. We need to be connected to nature and nature needs us to be connected to it. In a similar way, we humans need to be connected to each other--to learn about each other, listen to each other, accept each other, include each other and care about each other. This kind of relatedness, like that which I imagine inspired Caitlin, Jon and Norbert to bring Asher into this story, is needed more and more in our world--the knitting together of humans to humans, and of communities of humans to nature. I'll likely never meet Asher, but now he is part of my world. And now Luecodystrophy is also part of my world. I read some of the stories from families dealing with this disease on the website of the Yaya Foundation. The foundation is named after a little girl with 4H Luecodystrophy, and was started by her parents. It was heart-wrenching to read what these families are having to deal with on a daily basis. My thoughts diverged to some of the many other fierce challenges we humans are encountering right now. Many of us are finding it heart-wrenching to read about what Ukrainians are facing daily in their war-torn country, or about what African Americans are experiencing in a country where systemic racism and anti-blackness continues to impact their daily lives in painful and traumatic ways. At times, I have seen in myself a tendency to become so focused on my love of butterflies and birds that it would begin to shield me from being aware of the pain that many other people in the world are currently experiencing. I suspect other people see this tendency in themselves as well. Meanwhile our economy seems to be largely based on selling us distractions from what is tragic and painful in ourselves and in our world. In these times of such worldwide turmoil and change, it is a source of comfort to escape into nature and its creatures. I know because I have done this over the past couple years of COVID. However, I recognize that I have advantages and privileges that not everyone has, and that these allow me to put the pain and challenges of others out of my mind. Many other people, like Asher and his family, the people of Ukraine, and most African Americans, can't just ignore their hardships and their pain--it is daily life for them. I love the story of Asher's Blue because, to me, it points to our possibility of being aware of our impacts (positive and negative) on both nature and people, and how we can make a difference through working together to make a positive impact on both. More of that! We need to actively weave a culture that enables us to work together to nurture the health and strength of both our human culture and the living natural system, both of which our lives depend on. To that end, I am trying to balance my soul-nurturing time in nature and the natural sciences with making active and meaningful contributions of my time and energy that will help address the painful challenges that people both near and far from me are facing daily. Lately, it has felt to me that not doing so would be to lose some of my humanity. --- You can learn more about the Yaya Foundation and their support for research on 4H Luecodystrophy as well as their support to people and families dealing with the disease at https://yayafoundation4hl.org/. Over the three days I spent on the Metolius River continuing to weave my own relationships with nature and people, I saw more than 400 butterflies, fully three-fourths of them being Echo Azures. Below is the full list of 20 species:
- 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 ButterfliesofOregon.com 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.