The current trend of sunny skies has been excellent for butterflies and those foolish enough to pursue them. After my abortive expedition to the Staircase in the Olympics for the extirpated Johnson's Hairstreak my focus has been to check out potential VI locations: Mt. Sicker was recommended by Cris G. as a possible site for the Oreas Comma; closer to home Rhodo Lake Road was where James Miskelly reported several species including a Dreamy Duskywing on June 25/07; James also suggested Mt. Arrowsmith was a possible location for Persius Duskywing and Western Sulphur as well as almost every alpine species on VI; Shawnigan Forest District has been highly touted by Derrick M. for Dun Skipper and many other species; Mt. Prevost has hosted many local species including the elusive Great Arctics; and Mt. Washington with easy chairlift access to the peak is no-brainer for alpine butterflying.
No one ever said the quest for VI butterflies would be easy, and I was under no illusions that it would be a walk in the park. The scarcity of current information is a huge obstacle. We know that some of our species have been extirpated, but many species like the Sylvan Hairstreak, Mormon Fritillary, or Melissa Arctic haven't been reported for years. Do they still exist on VI, and if they do, where? I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few of these species have also been extirpated. Weather is a problem for all concerned. For the butterflies it may mean the difference between surviving or perishing. Extended cold periods or an extremely wet spring can have disastrous effects on host plants, nectar plants, and the development of the butterflies themselves. Of course, for me the lack of extended sunny days not only limits the flying times for the butterflies, but also the number of opportunities I have to find them. A third concern is the lack of access to some butterfly habitats. Most private forest lands are gated with either no or limited entry permitted, and if the summer gets too hot, forest closures are imminent. Finally, the natural physical obstacles of distance and elevation like Mt. Myra are probably too challenging for my pair of ancient, gimpy knees. But, all I can do is try, and believe me, I have logged many hours and kilometers in the search for the elusive leps. What's that old saying? "It's better to have tried and lost than to have never tried at all," or something like that.
Fortunately, the weather has been very favorable with an excellent early spring. Mid-spring was cooler, but I was away for most of it anyway, and early summer has been excellent with many extended warm and sunny periods. As you will see from the rest of this journal, I have certainly put in the hours and kilometers. Finding new species is my major challenge, but improving the quality of some of my current pictures is also part of the process. Progress has been painstakingly slow, but at least there has been progress.
It was an extremely hot and sunny day on dusty Bonnell Road where I enjoyed a few productive days during the early spring. I didn't expect to see anything unusual, but I was still hoping for a surprise. I wasn't surprised to see a couple of Pale Swallowtails. They were nectaring on a snowball-like bush. It wasn't a new species for me, but it did present an opportunity for a better photo. Thinking back I realized that my Pale Swallowtail photos left a lot to be desired - worn or damaged wings and poor backgrounds. This was a chance to upgrade my collection. There seemed to be two or three frequenting the bush so I stayed close. It took about 20 minutes before one landed on the roadside of the bush, and that was my chance. It's a good thing that the Pale is a large butterfly because I didn't get very close before it flew off. However, I did get a couple of shots, and at least one was a keeper.
The only other butterfly seen was a comma in the same bush. I was actually surprised because I hadn't seen a comma for several weeks and assumed they had all gone into seclusion for their mating period. I couldn't get a good look at it because it stayed in the back of the bush. I waited a good 15 minutes, but it never came to the front of the bush. I was curious to see what species it was, but I got tired of waiting and moved on. In fact, after a quick and fruitless scan of the area, I decided to head home.
On the way home I stopped at the railway tracks near the Red Gap Market. I had seen a small pale brown butterfly there yesterday and decided to take a quick look heading west on the tracks. There was no butterfly to be found so I tried heading east. I didn't like the uniformly brown grass and vegetation on and beside the rail bed. My guess is that the tracks had been sprayed with herbicide the year before. I continued for about 75 meters and was about to quit when I flushed a comma from beside the tracks. That was a bonus because I didn't expect anything. It landed on some weed about 10 meters away. I carefully approached and got within 1.5 m for a couple of record shots before it flew. My best guess is a Satyr Comma.
The only other butterfly encountered was the invasive and most abundant Cabbage. The Cabbage Butterflies seem to be everywhere this year. They are prolific breeders and, much to the disgust of cabbage growers, their populations continue to multiply. In Fact, when I was in Victoria two weeks ago I stopped at Vantreight's farm on Central Saanich Rd. hoping their might be a sulphur mixed in with the 50 or 60 Cabbage Butterflies swarming in the field by the road.
Another half day in the field and nothing new to report. However, the cup was half full. The Pale Swallowtail was in mint condition with a pleasing natural background. The photo was a keeper.
June 14, 2013 - I had never been to the top of Mt. Sicker or Mt. Prevost despite having driven by both a thousand times. In fact, I lived in the shadow of Mt. Prevost for all my childhood years as a resident of Paldi. I guess I never had any interest or opportunity to climb to the top before, but I discovered that both mountains had butterfly connections. Mt. Prevost was frequently mentioned as a butterfly destination by Derrick M. and various naturalists from Victoria. Mt. Sicker was mentioned by Cris G. as a possible site for the Oreas Comma. With those two thoughts in mind I decided that both mountains had to be checked out.
On June 14 I had one of those "spur of the moment" inspirations to go exploring. Since Sicker was closer that's where we started with hopes of finding an Oreas Comma. We were told that the Mt. Sicker road was too rough for my CRV because of the low clearance, but I decided to see how far we could get before we had to turn around. Half way up the we encountered a pickup truck coming down. We stopped for a chat with a friendly couple who lived in the vicinity and was just up the mountain to walk their dog. They told us that the road was decent and went all the way to Mt. Prevost and down towards Duncan. We decided to do the tour and check for butterflies as we drove. We stopped at a grassy side road to look for butterflies but only found Western Spring Azures. By the time we got to Mt. Prevost we hadn't seen any commas let alone the elusive Oreas Comma. As we continued we enjoyed great views of Ladysmith, Chemainus, and Crofton, but I had to focus on the driving. The road was narrow and rocky with a lot of dips and rough spots. I scraped the backend once on a dip heading up to Mt. Prevost and was fortunate not to get hung up. I was also fortunate not to get a flat as my tires were down to the wear bars. (I've since gotten new tires just to be on the safe side.)
When the road leveled out I decided to walk down a straight stretch hoping for better luck with the butterflies. Near the end of the straight stretch I saw a whitish butterfly heading towards me. I knew right away that it was a Parnassius Clodius. I stood still and hoped it would land. Just as it passed me it veered to the side of the road and landed on a sunlit thimbleberry leaf to bask. I was able to quietly approach it for some good shots of the dorsal view. It was my first VI photo opportunity for the species. Eventually it was flushed by a bumblebee but a few minutes later it landed again on a nearby blackcap bush where the following picture was taken. I was delighted with the photo opportunity, and some of the photos were keepers.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and we were relieved to see Duncan at the other end. There's always some anxiety when you travel the backroads. Adverse road conditions, mechanical problems, getting lost, and other unforeseen problems are always possible, but all you can do is prepare the best you can and trust that it'll all work out. The rewards are worth it. The best parts of VI are off the beaten path, and if you ever get the opportunity don't pass it up. Of course, for me there's another reason. That's where the Parnassius Clodius and a few other elusive butterflies live.
The Parnassius Clodius has two red spots on its hindwing. The second spot is barely visible through the forewing.
June 15 - I vaguely remember going to Rhodo Lake sometime in the very distant past, but don't bother asking me when. Anyway, from the archives of the yahoo butterfly site, I discovered that James Miskelly had reported several species including Dreamy Duskywing about seven years ago on Rhodo Lake Road which is an Island Timberlands logging road that does lead to Rhododendron Lake where there are actually rare Pacific Rhododendrons. That got me dreaming of the Dreamy so I decided to check out Rhodo Lake Road. Other than seeing a few Clodius and my first Lorquin's Admiral of the year the trip was uneventful. We did go all the way to Rhodo Lake, and the rhodos were still in bloom looking gorgeous amongst the conifers and deciduous riparian setting beside the lake.
My first of the year Lorquin's Admiral was seen on Rhodo Lake Road.
I think Rhodo Lake is the only place on Vancouver Island with with pacific Rhododendrons.
June 29 - It was my second foray to Rhodo Lake Road that was more eventful. On June 29 I decided to take another shot at the Dreamy. My plan was to drive 20 km up the road and then back. The trip started well as I spotted a Red Admiral soon after I entered the gated road, but it was mainly a Lorquin's Admiral day. By the time I reached the 20 km mark I must have seen at least 50 - 60 Lorquin's Admirals. Most of them were consuming minerals from the road. But, also by 20 km I was mystified. I didn't recognize a single landmark in the 20 km despite having walked several portions 2 weeks ago. On the way back I saw Lorquin's Admirals were still everywhere. I stopped counting because some were probably the same ones I saw on the way up.
I spotted several groups of Lorquin's at the junction of 155-90 (the side roads were numbered). I decided to try for some group shots, but as soon as I stopped the car I noticeded a very small, dark butterfly fluttering along the muddy roadside on the right. It had to be a Dun or Roadside Skipper. I grabbed the camera and slowly got out. I tried for a distant shot to identify the lep, but it was too quick. It skipped across the road to the other side. I tried again, but it suddenly disappeared. Although I have never seen one before, I was sure it was a Dun Skipper. I was disappointed not to have gotten even a distant record shot. I knew the chances of ever finding another Dun were extremely rare. My only option was to play the waiting game. With luck, the Dun might reappear. It was a good time for a lunch break anyway. After a leisurely peanut butter sandwich and a drink. I walked a short ways up 155-90 than a short ways back on 155 and a short ways on an unmarked road. The hour dragged like a glacier moving uphill, but I was uncharacteristically optimistic. As I returned to the wet area beside the road, I almost gave a shout. There it was, right on the hour! I was elated but quickly got into the stealth mode to stalk the little beauty. Unfortunately, it was wary - very wary. The closest I could get was about a meter. I wanted half a meter for a reasonable shot, but that was not to be. I had 3 chances to try to get close, but the Dun would have none of it. I had to settle for a very decent well-cropped record shot. Knowing how scarce and elusive the Dun is, I was thankful just to have found one and gotten any photo at all. I would have waited and tried again, but I only had 30 minutes before the gate would close.
In fact, I was more than lucky to have found Dun Skipper. It was a first for me. Remember how I mentioned that I didn't recognize any landmarks along the road? Well, that's because I had never been on that road before. There are 2 forks in the road on the way to Rhodo lake. At the first fork, you take the road on the right. At the second fork you are supposed to take the road on the left just like the sign says. However, I was so engrossed with the many Lorquin's Admirals on the road, and I had "stay right" engraved on my forehead from the first fork that I didn't even look at the sign. So I was on the wrong road, but by taking the wrong road, I DUN it!
The Dun Skipper was a first for me thanks to taking the wrong road.
The Lorquin's Admirals were sipping minerals possibly from urine deposited by some animal.
The other possibility was the dried up liquid remains of some roadkill.
To the winner goes the spoils ... The Lorquin's Admiral is known for its aggressive behavior in protecting its territory and will challenge anything that invades its space. I have often been amazed to see them fly at me to warn me of my intrusion. As for the snake, would you believe ... ? Of course not. Butterflies are good scavengers and find many sources of minerals including dung and decaying organic matter. The decapitated snake must have been the victim of another predator.
June 17 - Although we traversd Mt. Prevost on our Sicker-Prevost excursion, we never got up to the peak where I assumed there would be more butterflies. I decided to remediate that problem on June 17. It was another picture perfect sunny summer day when we pulled in to the parking area below the twin peaks. I had chosen a week day to avoid the weekend rush of para-gliders and mountain bikers. Apparently, on the weekends there is barely enough room to park. With no knowledge of which peak to climb, I randomly chose the left peak. The narrow and steep but well-worn trail ascended about 20 meters to several small meadows carpeted by stunted alpine flowers. The view of the Cowichan Valley was superb, but my wife was soon distracted by another sight - brightly-coloured para-gliders drifting off the other peak. We enjoyed the novelty of the airborne humans floating serenely by but soon turned our attention to a few butterflies. Several Anise Swallowtails had taken up residence on Prevost paradise. I spent a half hour trying to get a few shots of one, and when I finally succeeded, I was disappointed to see that it had lost its tails. What's a swallowtail with out tails? The only other butterflies were a pair of Pale Swallowtails that stayed away from me, a couple of first-of-year Hydaspe Fritillaries that kept their distance, and a few Western Spring Azures. The Hydaspe is a species that still requires improved photo quality so it was good to see the beginning of their season. Our luck never improved when we checked the other peak. However, it was great experience to finally step foot on the peaks of Mt. Prevost.
Mt. Prevost is a popular venue for para-gliders and mountain bikers.
Our timing was perfect to enjoy the small, delicate wildflower meadows on Mt. Prevost.
We were treated to several first-of-year Hydaspe Fritillaries, but the photo of one nectaring on stonecrop eluded me.
The Anise Swallowtail was also first-of-year. It looked to be in great condition but after almost an hour of trying for a good photo I was disappointed to see that it was missing its tails. However, I knew there would be many opportunities coming.
The only other butterflies seen were a few Western Spring Azures.
June 19 - Despite my preoccupation with chasing butterflies all over the island, I still enjoy the birds and shooting around home if the opportunities present themselves.
I hadn't spent as much time as I normally do with my hummers, but I did make a couple of efforts. I'm happy to report that there was an excellent crop of young ones even though there never seemed to be very many females around. For about two weeks I got up to two cups a day on the nectar feeder which is the most I've done in the past three years.
I knew it was time to look for European Skippers and decided to check a field on Powder point Road. My intuition was right on. I had no trouble scaring up a half dozen of these light brown imports.
The skippers were in the tall grass beside the hayfield and not very active as the sun was nearing the horizon.
Two days ago when I was butterflying on Cross Road I saw a House Wren on territory beside the road. I knew there were probably young ones around. I decide to dust off the telephoto and tripod for some photos. The adult was exatly on the same stump and quite happy to pose as long as i kept my distance.
I'm assuming it was a mother wren as the dad probably didn't care to be babysitting.
I knew there had to be young ones somewhere and patience paid off. After about twenty minutes I saw at least two or three fledglings.
June 30 - Despite seeing the Mt. Arrowsmith in the distance almost every day when I leave home, I had yet to check it out for butterflies. My first opportunity came when James Miskelly suggested that we give it a shot. I didn't give James a chance to forget, and we settled on June 30. James had previous experience with butterflies on Arrowsmith so he had a good idea where to check. On the way I asked him what species were on his wish list for the day. He didn't hesitate and responded, "Persius Duskywing and Western Sulphur." A few minutes later we came to a seep (wet spot) in the road we stopped. James said this was a good place to stop. He checked the hillside where a Branded Skipper was once found while I checked the seep. Immediately, I spotted a dark butterfly fluttering around with some blues. While I checked the blues for a Boisduval's, James identified the dark butterfly as a Persius Duskywing! I was ecstatic. It was another new butterfly for me, and James' reputation as a butterfly expert was instantly elevated another notch in my books. If he were able to also conjure up the Western Sulphur, he would have been elevated to a deity.
Wildflowers weren't abundant, but a few scattered columbine lit up the roadside.
The Persius Duskywing is very similar but much smaller than the Propertius Duskywing found near Garry Oak meadows.
As expected, the Clodius Apollo (Parnassius) was quite common along the roadside.
The trick was to find one that was interested in nectaring or basking.
It was a treat to see Milbert's Tortoiseshells in bright, fresh condition.
The Milbert's are usually abundant in the alpine which is an enigma to me since their host plant is supposed to be stinging nettle. I've never seen stinging nettle in the alpine.
Alpine heather was in full bloom to brighten up the alpine landscape.
James' wife, Kirsten, was particularly interested in alpine plants. She was delighted to discover some olympic onion which is a rare plant on VI.
She also pointed out some pink monkeyflower which is a common alpine plant.
The value of travelling with a butterfly expert was apparent when James discovered an egg laid by a Sara's Orangetip. It was smaller than a pinhead. There was no was that I would have discovered it, and if I did, I wouldn't have know what it was.
James pointed out another interesting butterfly behavior. When the female gives the tail-up signal, it means NO!
A male Sara's was very deflated when he was rejected by the tail-up signal.
The female showed no interest in the male. Perhaps she was the one who had just laid the egg. By the way, it was refreshing to see the Sara's at high elevation after not seeing them for a month at sea lavel. As we all know, spring comes later at high elevation.
Our final butterfly of the day was a few commas. I think they were of the Zephyr variety. I'm not sure if the Satyr likes the high elevation because there is no stinging nettle for host plant. Yes, that contradicts what I said about the Milbert's. I'm still searching for an explanation.
July 1 - I had often seen reference to Shawnigan as a great butterfly location. The only problem is that it covers thousands of acres with a myriad of logging roads. Unless you have an experienced guide, it's basically a needle-in-the-haystack exercise in futility. However, there's only one way to find out, and I also wanted to reciprocate with Aziza who kindly showed me the Field Crescent and Common Ringlet locations in Victoria. The only butterfly I was sure of was the Clodius Apollo which would be a new one for Aziza.
It was another fine VI day of blue sky and sunshine. After picking up Aziza at the Cowichan Station Community Hall we headed for the Island Timberlands logging access. Just before the gate we stopped and thoroughly checked the grassy field where Derrick had found a Dun Skipper a few years ago. We weren't as fortunate and only came up with a few European Skippers. After a pleasant chat with the friendly gate-keeper we headed off on the western branch of the logging road. Right away we started seeing comma butterflies. We stopped but the commas didn't. They were all probably males looking for the females. As soon as we got into the forested area, we saw an apollo. We stopped, but once again, our target didn't. We followed another in the car for about a kilometer, but it didn't stop either. That pretty well set the tone for the day. Finally, we stopped for lunch on what appeared to be an unused spur road. I thought I saw a comma fly over the car so didn't check. Meanwhile, my wife and Aziza did check, and it turned out to be a Hydaspe Fritillary, another new species for Aziza. Fortunately, it did stop to nectar, and we all got a few shots. I was particularly pleased with this closed wing shot showing the magnificent colour and pattern of the ventral side of the wing.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We did take a side-trip to some lake about 20 kilometers out of the way, but we weren't rewarded for our efforts. All we saw was a freshly minted hyperactive Satyr Comma. The closest I got was about 10 feet away while it was perched in a fir tree. Aziza got a better shot that revealed a very reddish-coloured ventral wing. Overall, we only saw about six species which is about a third of what we anticipated based on past reports. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Sometimes it's just timing, and it could have been much worse.
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.)