June 20/13 - Even as we are a day the longest day of the year there never seems to be enough hours to keep up with the basic every day chores and obligations let alone sneak out for some impromptu photography or some planned field trips. However, that's the way it has always been and it isn't likely to change.
For any newcomers to my column, Harry the Hummer is my resident male Rufous Hummingbird. Like most years he arrived back from his winter vacation around the first day of spring. This year it was March 22. Iím not sure exactly where he was for the winter, but It was probably somewhere in the southern U.S. or maybe Mexico. It doesnít matter. Iím just happy to see him back again. How do I know itís Harry? Well, remember that birds are very much creatures of habit, and site fidelity is a well-known trait. So thereís a good chance that any returning birds to your yard are the same ones that were there last year. Secondly, Harry behaves like Harry. He sits on exactly the same branches in the same spots as he has done for the past few years. And thirdly, Harry looks like Harry. He has a distinctive pattern of green spots on his back that is different from other male hummers Iíve seen. I canít tell you if it is exactly the same, but itís similar, and who knows if he has gained or lost a few green feathers over the winter.
Yes, it is possible that Harry isnít Harry. He could be an imposter, and if he is, he is a very good imposter. But, I donít mind. It's a pleasure to have him around even if he isn't Harry. I just hope he doesn't mind being called Harry.
Unfortunately, Harry just isnít getting the same exercise as he used to. He used to be busy from dawn to dusk chasing the ladies, but the numbers of female Rufous are still down significantly from the good old days. There used to be several hundred hummers in my yard for the breeding season. Now there are only a handful. Apparently, populations have been down in many locations since 2010. No one knows why the populations are down, according to an article in the Rocky Point Bird Observatory website, Rufous Hummingbird populations are down about 63% since the 1960ís.
Iím surprised that Harry keeps coming back year after year. I wouldnít blame him if he moved to another location to find some new lady friends. But, Harry has an admirable quality. Heís loyal to his entourage, and he's been loyal to me. Regardless of the reason, I certainly appreciate his presence. He's provided me with hours of entertainment just watching him interact the ladies as well as his competition. He's also given me hours of pleasure just trying to capture the perfect pose, and Iíve got a new portrait to commemorate his 2013 season. I hope he likes it.
"Hair today, gone tomorrow," sums up the ephemeral life of some butterflies like the Gray Hairstreak. According to my observations they were in flight from about the last week in April to the first week in May in the Nanoose Bay region. However, different locations have different schedules. Generally, further north and higher elevations would be later.
The Gray Hairstreak was on my wishlist of butterflies for the spring, and I was fortunate to encounter several. The first was on the way to the Garry oak meadows near Fairwinds, the second at the Nickson's at Garry Oak subdivision, and the third at Cross Road.
A change of scenery is the greatest remedy a stagnant mind and body, and I was overdue. Mind you, now that I'm back, I'm more exhausted than ever which seems to have negated any of the gains made on the trip. However, the trip was refreshing and interesting. Even though I've travelled a similar route in the past, there is so much to see and discover, that I could repeat it many times over and still only scratch the surface of all there is to experience.
The first stop on my trip was Ellensburg to check out Reecer Creek Canyon and Umptanum Creek Nature Park. Both were recommended by Bob Hardwick in his Washington Butterfly Blog. Even though or timing for butterflies was off, the wildflower meadows up Reecer Creek Road were spectacular. Endless acres of blue lupines and golden yellow balsamroot were a feast for the eye and more than compensated for the lack of butterflies although I did see a few blues, orangetips, and checkerspots.
I'd often heard of the Palouse which is a region of gentle rolling hills in eastern Washington and western Idaho. As is often the case, the reality surpassed any visions I had imagined - the soft, tactile rounded mounds of freshly ploughed honey brown fields contrasted with the multiple shades of green wheat fields fading into the horizon. My mind vacillated from the wonderment and joy of the unique and friendly landscape to the perplexity of how it came to be. It was easy to comprehend the immense forces that created our towering, jagged mountain ranges and the erosive forces of glaciers, rain, and wind that created our flat, unfertile, and unforgiving deserts, but small rolling hills??? In the end, it mattered not. As the saying goes, "Ours is not to question why. Just enjoy it while you can." (My apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
Palouse through the daytime haze from the top of Kamiak Butte is one of the many faces of the landscape that attracts painters, photographers, and other artists year-round.
A mystery tour to Kamiak Butte north of Pullman rewarded me with a trail full of butterflies; hazy pastel vistas of rolling hills; and gorgeous meadows of brilliant wildflowers.
Besides its inspiring beauty, the Palouse is a one of the most fertile and productive agricultural areas in the U.S.
The yellow lupines of Oregon are so delightfully different from our blues. I had to stop and a get a shot from the best angle. In the end I decided to lie down to get the distant farmlands in the background.
Capitol Reef. So many spectacular views and so little time. The red-rock landscape of southern Utah offers a lifetime of photo opportunities. Despite the multiple opportunities, I chose not to take very many pictures to give me more time to observe, absorb, enjoy, and contemplate.
I think you have to live it, feel it, and become part of it to know when to get the best picture.
Midday is definitely not the best time at Bryce to capture the colour and uniqueness of the formations.
The second half of our trip was supposed feature west coast butterflies. Unfortunately, the weather gods didn't know. One of the few pictures taken was at Cannon Beach. Haystack Rock is probably one of the most photographed monoliths in North America. It's so impressive no matter when and how you see it. This is between spring rain showers in May.
Of course, the focus of my trip was not just to photograph but also to learn more about butterflies albeit in a very inefficient and haphazard fashion. But, that tends to be my modus operandi. However, with butterflies, there isn't much choice. I don't know if any institution even offers a course on butterflies. My best reference was Bob Hardwick's blog on Washington Butterflies, and even Bob has no control on the weather which is the main factor in finding butterflies. The first half of the trip was good - hot and sunny. The second half was miserable - cold and wet.
Although Reecer Canyon did not yield many butterflies it did produce a couple of checkerspots on one of its windswept meadows. In fact, it was so windy that I didn't expect to find any butterflies. It was a complete surprise to find a checkerspot. Based on the ventral wing pattern, my best guess is an Edith's Checkerspot.
Bob's blog suggested Umptanum Creek which we found to be quite productive. Common Ringlets were abundant but they were not very cooperative. It took almost an hour before I found one that was interested in sitting and enjoying the sun.
Boisduval's Blues were also abundant and equally frustrating until I discovered the muddy creekside where they loved to puddle.
One of the spectacular May sights on the Washington prairies is the canola fields. After hundreds of miles of green and brown fields, we were pleasantly shocked by a shocking yellow canola fields. There weren't many which made them even more outstanding. After the initial excitement my mind turned to butterflies. Surely, there would be butterflies nectaring in the fields. I was right. The fields were full of skippers, Mourning Cloaks, Cabbage, and a few sulphurs. However, it wasn't until we reached Idaho that I found a canola field filled with Clouded Sulphurs. Fortunately the field was right beside the road with no fence to worry about.
The canola fields also harboured many skippers which I'm guessing as Common Branded or possibly Juba. At this point I haven't paid much attention to skippers, but the time is coming soon.
Mueller Park in Utah was recommended as a decent place to find butterflies. There were many swallowtails and orangetips, but I had my eye on a smallish white which finally settled on a dandelion to nectar. My first guess is a Large Marble, but I'll need confirmation.
The final butterfly of the trip came at Lakeview, Oregon. When we drove into town I was delighted to see that the town was built right beside a hillside covered with flowers. After registering at the motel I headed right to the hillside. The first butterfly I spotted was a sulphur. I tried for about 20 minutes to get a photo but never got a clear shot before it fluttered off. Next I spotted a pair of checkerspots jousting in the air. They suddenly split and one landed on a nearby bush. I had time for a couple of good quick shots before it fluttered off. I know it's a checkerspot, but which one? Apparently, you have to see the ventral side for the i.d.
May 26 - One of my first orders of business was to search for the Arctic Skipper. I had tried twice unsuccessfully just before my trip, but I knew I was too early. Now was the right time or was I too late? My first visit was to the Nanoose Creek Estuary where Guy had seen many about 6 years ago. Within 30 seconds I spotted a small butterfly in the grass. It was an Arctic Skipper. I was prepared to find a few more, but an hour more searching produced nothing.
Fortunately, the skipper was cooperative enough to permit a few shots of its topside then it disappeared. I wasn't too concerned as I expected to find more, but as mentioned, I didn't find any more at the estuary.
I was disappointed to only find one Arctic Skipper at the estuary because I wanted to get a side wiew and photo, but somehow it was my Arctic Skipper Day. My next stop was the base of the Notch where I stopped to check on the Propertius Duskywings and Mylitta Crescents. On my way back to my car I had to step through some tall grass, and I flushed a small butterfly. It was another Arctic! By now it had clouded over which may have forced the Arctic to close its wings. It was just what the doctor ordered. I had no trouble getting a few shots from the side.
Since my first encounter with the Arctic Skippers I have checked for them at least six times with no luck. I had a similar experience with the Two-banded Checkers. I wonder if this is indicative of the lack of abundance of these species. Apparently, they are close to being extirpated from the Victoria region.
When I finished with the Arctic I noticed that the resident female Mylitta Crescent was still on site. At first she kept her distance, but the longer I persisted, the more confiding she became. By the way, I refer to her as a resident because I have seen her there for almost a month. The reason she was on site was probably because that's where she laid her eggs.
June 2 - A sunny afternoon was my cue to grab the camera and head for Bonnell Falls Road. A bouncing Sara's Orangetip greeted me as I crossed the gate, but it showed no signs of slowing down or stopping for a drink. My second butterfly was a Western Spring Azure looking like it was trying to lay eggs on several different plants. I don't know if it did because it was just out range photos. It finally landed on a daisy beside the road where it I don't think it laid any eggs.
While I was lying down on the road to photograph the azure, a small brown butterfly landed close by. Although I had never seen one before, I knew it was a Cedar Hairstreak. I had checked the Goldstream campsite prior to my trip but was unsuccessful. I did not expect to find one here because there weren't many cedars, but I wasn't wasn't about to question why. I was just happy to get the picture. That meant I didn't have to go back to Goldstream or check out Yellowpoint which were two places Cris had recommended.
June 3 - Scouring the Yahoo butterfly site produced Aziza's 2012 report of a Field Crescent in a field by Stelly's X-Road and an offer by her to show me the location. Our trip on was a success as we found three of the elusive butterflies. Unfortunately, the Field Crescent seems destined for extirpation from the Victoria region and Vancouver Island. The Stelly's site seems to be the only reliable population left, and it appears to be on its last legs and wings. As well, it only seems a matter of time before the Stelly's site is developed. There has been no reports of the Field Crescent at Nanaimo Estuary for over 6 years.
Without Aziza's help the Field Crescent would have been more of a challenge. I am grateful for her assistance, and as a bonus she guaranteed the Victoria Ringlet at Viaduct Flats. True to her word she led us to a field where we saw about 30. Unlike the crescent, the ringlet's habitat seems to be secure as it is on park land. However, the habitat is threatened with invasive plants like Scotch Broom. I know Aziza has spent a lot of time in there with her pruning shears, but will that be enough? The Victoria Ringlet is already a species of concern, but will that translate to any action to prevent its demise?
The Common Ringlet is red listed in B.C. The Vancouver Island subspecies (insulana) was once the most abundant butterfly on VI, but it is now found only in a few locations around Victoria like Rithet's Bog, Viaduct Flats, and Island View Beach where grassy fields are available. The loss of these grassy locations will likely mean the extinction of Common Ringlet on VI.
As far as anyone knows, the Johnson's Hairstreak is extirpated from Vancouver Island. Its survival depended on mistletoe which is a parasitic plant on old growth hemlock. With most of the old growth hemlock decimated by the forest industry, the Johnson's was probably extirpated as collateral damage. In an effort to photograph a Johnson's, I was able to enlist the help of Bob Hardwick in Washington. Bob is an expert on Washington butterflies and invited me to join him on a trip to the Staircase (Olympic Mountains) in early June. Unfortunately, the Johnson's was a no-show. Bob speculated that the cold and damp spring may have affected the flight times or even affected their survival.
On the way back from the Staircase I ventured up to Hurricane Ridge which was still covered by snow. However, I noticed a few butterflies on the way up so I stopped on the way down. I saw several Sara Orangetips, a few Green Commas, a few Silvery Blues, but the prize was a Clodius Paranassius. It wasn't exactly cooperative, but I was pleased with a reasonable medium distance shot. I know I've seen Parnassius on Mt. Washington but none of them ever stopped for the photo shoot, so I don't know if they were of the Clodius or Rocky Mountain species.
After Hurricane Ridge we caught the 12:45 pm Black Ball ferry to Victoria and beetled out to Saanich to check on the Field Crescents. I wanted to find one without any wing damage. On our trek to the far end of the field I was skunked. All I got were a few tent caterpillars crawling on me. On the way back it was a different story. In the first row of daisies coming back I encountered 3, in the next row there were 2, and in the next row there were 3. None of them were very cooperative until the last one which was number 8. If you know anything about Chinese tradition, you'll know that 8 is a lucky number. 8 seems a lot but it is a far cry when the field contained "thousands."
The day before someone reported a West Coast Lady at Mt. Tolmie. I couldn't leave Victoria without checking. The wind was gusting when I got out of the car. I didn't think any butterflies would be present. I was surprised to see a Painted Lady land at my feet hanging on for dear life. It hung in there for about 30 seconds before it was dashed off by another gust of wind.
On the way home I decided to check the Nanaimo Estuary.
I had promised myself to stop there as often as possible to see if the Field Crescent still existed at that location. I was hopeful when I spotted a butterfly nectaring on yarrow, but it turned out to be a Purplish Copper.
In the next 20 minutes I was surprised to find another half dozen Purplish Coppers. These were the first Purplish Coppers I had seen this year. It was a fine way to end the day.
It was a long day from Port Angeles to Nanoose Bay or from Clodius Parnassius to Field Crescent, to Painted Lady, to Purplish Coppers. Considering all the times I've travelled hundreds of kilometers with nothing to show, I have to consider it a successful day.
As mentioned in my last journal, my plans for 2013 include a book on butterflies. Since then I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and support offered by all the major experts in the butterfly community. Cris Guppy replied immediately to offer his enthusiatic support and since then, Norbert Kondra and Jon Shepard have also offered to help any way they can. The big news is that that our own island expert entomologist, James Miskelly, is joing me as a co-author and will be constructing distribution maps, assisting with the photography, and vetting the write-ups.
On the technical side of the production, I have my new ISBN number and a quote for the printing cost. Tentatively, I'm aiming for October printing and November release. My decision to only publish a 1,000 copies hasn't changed so it's essential for anyone who wants a copy to pre-order by emailing me. I'm hoping to sell all books directly which means they might not be available in the stores. So far I have orders from as far as Minnesota.
My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster has been produced in a more manageable size and is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)