July was a record month for hours of sunshine and days without rain. That should have been excellent for butterflies and those foolish enough to pursue them, but compared to reports in the past, overall abundance appears to have declined significantly. For example, in 2004 James Miskelly saw more species and more individuals at Mt. Cokely in one visit than I have seen in 5 trips this year. Obviously, this isn't a scientific measure, but since there isn't much science happening I can only relate to past anecdotal reports and my current personal experience. However, the scarcity of butterflies served only to increase my efforts to pursue them. I was enjoying the July heat and in HOT pursuit of butterflies for most of the month.
With the decline of butterfly populations and the overall lack of human interest, I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of undertaking my butterfly project. But, I continue to be amazed and inspired by the butterflies and their various behaviors. Discovering a new VI (new to me) species like the Great Arctic or Boisduval's Blue is always exciting. I would prefer to find all our list species on VI, but that's not possible. I'll be sneaking off VI for species that are extinct (Greenish Blue), extirpated (Chalcedon Checkerspot, Johnson's Hairstreak, Island Marble, Silver-spotted Skipper, etc ...) or rarely seen on VI (Melissa Arctic, Western White, Mormon Fritillary, etc ...).
Finding butterflies to photograph is my primary objective, but there is still more madness to my method. I'm enjoying the mental stimulation of learning about the butterflies; planning and scheming for my various outings; discovering new places; and sharing my discoveries with others. I'm less enchanted about my progress in sharing discoveries with others. I haven't taken up the Oceanside Star's offer to run a series on butterflies. My lame excuse is that I've been too busy pursuing and learning about the butterflies. I have been consistent in sharing my discoveries on the yahoo butterfly site, but that is probably an exercise in futility as most members of the group are inactive or disinterested. There are only about a half dozen members who have posted any information this year. My second medium is the NORTH ISLANDER newsmagazine published by the COURIER ISLANDER and distributed from Buckley Bay to Port Hardy. I've been regular with my biweekly column which used to be about birds but is now mainly about butterflies. This website is my hopefully my best medium. I know my journals have been infrequent, but it does take a long time to collect the pictures and compose the text.
July 2 - With the opening of the summer schedule on June 28 I decided it was time to visit Mt. Washington. My prime goal was the Great Arctic despite the wisdom of more than a few naturalists who cautioned that the Great Arctics were only seen on even numbered years. My secondary goals were to improve my photo quality of the Hydaspe and Western Meadow Fritillaries as well as any other species that was willing to pose for my camera.
For my first visit I decided to ride the chairlift up and walk down which was a decision I'm still regretting because of a lingering case of tendonitis on the outer side of my left knee. Since then I've walked up twice with no difficulty or injuries.
There were still pockets of snow near the peak and the air was crisp and fresh. Spring was evident everywhere especially with the fluorescent glow of the pink alpine heather. The various insects were flying including the occasional little blue butterfly. Most of the blues were mainly interested in flying, but I finally found one nectaring in the heather. From the pattern of spots on the underside of the wings I knew it was a Silvery Blue. It was in prime condition unlike the occasional tattered survivor at lower elevations.
The row of subterminal black spots with white halos on the underwings is a defining feature of the Silvery Blue.
The beautiful powder blue dorsal wings bordered by a gray band and a white fringe is characteristic of a male.
The second species I saw at the top was the Milbert's Tortoissehell. At first I only saw a couple that were basking on the rocks near the upper chairlift station. They were extremely wary especially of photographers, and I was frustrated after several attempts to get into photo range. As I descended I would discover many more, and I was especially pleased to see some nectaring in the heather.
Conditions were perfect for photography - full sunshine, a gentle breeze, no biting insects, and relatively cooperative subjects.
At one point I was sitting in a patch of heather with at least 4 Milbert's within a meter of my camera. They were busy nectaring, and that was the best time to get close for the photo. Yes, I was in butterfly heaven. While I had expected to see the Silvery Blues, the Milbert's was a pleasant surprise.
The only other species seen on the day was a few Zephyr Commas about half way down. I tried for a few shots but after a half hour I had nothing to show. Although several fluttered close by they were not very cooperative. If they landed, it was only for a fraction of a second. Most seemed to be checking out the arctic willows and white rhododendron for possible ovipositing sites.
Despite the lack of species I thoroughly enjoyed my day on the hill. I was extremely pleased with my experience with the Milbert's Tortoiseshells. I'd only seen my first one earlier in the spring, and I assumed it was a faded over-wintering adult. The ones today appeared to be a new generation of freshly minted adults. The question is, "Where were they born?" If they hibernated near stinging nettles then they would have been from lower elevations and migrated to the alpine to enjoy the spring flowers. Of course, the other possibility is that nettles aren't their only host plant.
July 4 - Cabbage Butterflies have been more abundant in my garden this year than any other year. Consequently, so has their sexual activity which has been very distracting when I'm gardening. You know my interest is photography so please don't think otherwise. By the way, the female is the one in the middle with yellow on her wings.
July 8/13 - Changes come suddenly in the alpine, and that was evident on my second visit to the alpine 6 days after my first visit. Still nursing my sore knee, we decided to walk up the ski hill. On the first section of the hill I was greeted by some fritillary butterflies. At first I thought they were Hydaspes, but on closer inspection I discovered they were Western Meadow Fritillaries. Most of them were basking, but a few would stop to nectar. They were all in fresh condition, and I assumed most of them had just taken flight in the past few days.
The Western Meadow Fritillaries were similar in colour to the Hydaspe on the dorsal surface but very different on the ventral side. The Western meadow is also much smaller in size. Comparative wingspans are about 4.1 cm to 4.8 cm.
Another diagnostic feature of the Western Meadow is the row of black subterminal chevrons pointing outward. On the Hydaspe the rounded chevrons point inward.
Just as last week the Silvery Blues were very common. It's always reassuring to see a mating pair preparing for the next generation.
West of the upper chairlift station I saw a fairly large butterfly land on the walking trail by some trees. It was approximately the size of a comma butterfly and showed a flash of orange. I knew immediately that it wasn't a butterfly I hadn't seen before. I held my breath until I saw the circle at the apex of his ventral forewing. "Great Arctic!" I whispered to my wife.
For the next hour we enjoyed the behaviors of the Great Arctics. Often they would stake out an area and challenge any intruders including photographers. After they got used to us they would land close by. In fact, one even landed on my hand and another took a liking to the handle of my backpack. Another frustrating behavior was the closing of the wings after landing. The arctics always landed with their wings open but closed them in a fraction of a second. I spent an hour trying to get the open-wing shot with no success. I vowed to try again in the near future.
Rivals - Hydaspe Fritillaries were also common in close proximity with the arctics. Friendly aerial jousting between the two species was a common occurrence as they intruded into each other's territory. (I'm assuming it was friendly since there was no physical contact, but maybe in butterfly language it was hostile.)
July 9/13 - As much as my first sighting of the Great Arctics was exciting, the photo experience was challenging and the results were still wanting in terms of the open-wing shot. With an free day in my schedule I returned the next day.
Just to give my knee a rest I decided to use the chairlift, but since I was early, I decided to walk up the first hill to work on some Western Meadow Fritillary shots. At first they didn't seem to be around, but as the sun warmed, I started seeing them regularly.
My actual target was a ventral wing shot of the Western Meadow. The best chance was one basking on the hillside vegetation. It was cooperative enough to allow close-up shots, but not quite at the best angle for the sun.
A bonus for the morning was a yellow-headed Hairy Woodpecker. At first I thought it might be a Three-toed, but it didn't have the right field marks. At this point I should have gone home, but I still had a date with the Arctics. I rode the lift to the top and found the arctics where they had been the day before. Unfortunately, I was unable to improve on my previous shots. To compound my misery the flying insects yesterday were now ravenous, and after multiple bites I had to resort to the insect repellant. What else could go wrong? Remember that cartoon character that always had a cloud around his head? Yes, the clouds rolled in and shrouded the peak. It was sunny everywhere else. I flew the white flag, packed up the camera, hopped on the lift, and hung head in defeat. The marmots didn't even appear to cheer me up.
July 13 - It had been exactly 2 weeks since I last visited Mt. Arrowsmith, and I was anxious to see how the butterfly situation had changed. Once again the weather was perfect - sunny and hot, and I was able to recruit the company of a former colleague, John Kurulak. Two weeks ago the Persius Duskywing was our new discovery. What would this week bring? My two targets were the Western Sulphur and Boisduval's Blue.
Our first stop was the roadside parking area for the Saddle Trail where a creek ran under the road. Right away I spotted a small blue. The pretty golden crescents cradling glistening sky blue spheres on the ventral hindwing stumped me at first until the Anna's Blue light bulb came on. I had seen one since last fall at Mt. Washington.
Several blues fluttered in the vegetation by the creek but one was a little larger. At first I thought it was a faded Silvery Blue, but then I realized that the white halos on the ventral hindwing without black spots were just like the photos of the Boisduval's Blue. Target 1 accomplished!
Here's another shot of the Boisduval's courtesy of Photoshop. When I took the photo I had inadvertently bumped the settings and the photo looked to be hopelessly blown out. I was able to salvage this photo using the "curves" function.
Our next stop was a small bog on a spur road near the gate to the former ski hill. It proved to be quite interesting with several species enjoying the damp conditions. Most common was the Western Tailed Blue which I hadn't seen for a couple of months at sea level. Most of them were feeding on the sides of the muddy roadside ditch.
Another species that is also common at sea level was the Purplish Copper. While second generation Purplish Coppers were starting to appear at sea level, the first generation was just appearing in the alpine.
In the roadside grass some familiar golden brown wings appeared. I was amazed to see several European Skippers. According to the experts, the range expansion of the skippers largely due to hitchhiking on agricultural products like hay. The appearance of this species about 50 km away and 4,000 m above any farm suggests that the skippers are capable of their own range expansion. I also saw the skippers a few days later on Mt. Washington and that was even further removed from any agricultural location.
Other species seen around the bog included Western Meadow Fritillaries, Zephyr Commas, and Silvery Blues.
On the way down from the ski hill we stopped to again at the Saddle trail. I didn't expect anything new, but I wanted a few more Anna's photos, and I was still hoping for a Western Sulphur. The blues were there in abundance, but the Western Sulphur was still a mythical creature.
The Anna's were in peak condition and relatively cooperative as photo subjects. Typical of most blues the Anna's male was mostly blue on the upperside. (see previous photo)
Female blues generally have grayish-brown on the dorsal surface.
We drove slowly on the way down to check out the roadside butterflies. As expected Clodius Parnassius was abundant, but most seemed to be males on patrol for females. A small white buttefly caught my eye but that turned out to be a late Sara's Orangetip and another turned out to be a Cabbage. Finally we caught up to a very yellowish white butterfly. It was patrolling down the roadside at a steady clip. We followed closely for about a 100 m until it landed. Praying that it wouldn't flush I carefully eased myself in position for some close-up shots. It wasn't totally exposed, but I was ecstatic to see that it was a Western Sulphur. Remembering Bob Pyles description of the Western as one of the most difficult butterflies to photograph, I was extremely pleased with the shots I got.
Another token bird photo - I think this Whiskey jack or Gray Jay was at Mt. Washington last week.
July 14 - Many decades ago (1965?) when Jack Miller was studying reproduction of Red Squirrels I spent a couple of days with him around Green Mountain. My only recollection was hiking up to the old ski chalet. I was surprised to hear from a couple of reliable sources that Green Mt. was an excellent butterfly habitat. That got the wheels spinning and through the miracles of the internet I discovered Lorne C. who is an avid back-country explorer. His blog convinced me that I had to visit Green Mt. Fortunately Lorne was also interested in visiting Green Mt. again, and he had a Timberwest contact who had permission to access the gated area. The planets aligned for me, and I got my visit to paradise.
Unfortunately, in the rush to get ready for the trip I forgot to replace the battery from one of my cameras that I had packed for the trip. That limited my flexibility for taking pictures. Although I did switch lenses a couple of times I had to focus mainly on the macro stuff.
I could have spent more than a few hours trying to capture the beauty of the mountainside of meadows, but I had to keep up with the gang (4 others) as well as be prepared for any interesting butterfly photo ops. A point of interest was that the lower meadows are dominated by ferns (bracken?)while the upper meadows feature shorter alpine vegetation and more wildflowers.
Wildflowers like phlox were sparse but even more beautiful because of its scarcity.
I've always associated bleeding hearts with damp,low-level streamsides and forested areas. Is there such a thing as an alpine subspecies?
The eastern slope of the mountain was mainly meadows until we reached the rocky peak.
Pink monkey flowers were common on the rocky ledges near the top.
Delicate saxifrage was also common at the higher elevation.
Green Mt. is also a site for the Marmot Recovery Project. We were able to observe 2 nest sites and they both seemed to be flourishing.
The highlight of the hike was a herd of of about 25 elk resting on a mountainside meadow.
Butterflies were common at all levels of the hike. I didn't see any new species, but it was reassuring to see a few Boisduval's Blues since they are considered quite scarce. Just below the peak Milbert's Tortoiseshells were abundant.
I only saw one Sara's and that was at the very lowest meadow.
The only butterfly that was seen at all levels was the Silvery Blue.
My first butterfly of the day was the Boisduval Blue. It was only about 9 am, but they were active on the eastern slope trying to bask in the sun.
All the ones I saw opened their wings as soon as they landed which made the ventral views almost impossible. I didn't have much luck even when laying down in the wet grass.
You can probably guess what we saw at the peak. Fresh Hydaspe Fritillaries were common and very active.
Another expected species was the Great Arctic. I saw two, and like their cousins on Mt. Washington, they closed their wings when they landed.
Fortunately, they often landed at the same spot and I was able to grab a quick shot before the door closed.
One trip is never enough to discover all the butterfly possibilities in one location. It was obvious that Green Mountain was a great location, but without a 4x4 and the right connections I know it was only a once in a lifetime trip. For that I am grateful, and perhaps it's just as well for the sake of the marmots, elk, and mountain meadows. Too much human exposure and traffic could ruin everything.
July 15/13 - A day after a West Coast Lady was reported on Mt. Tolmie, I was there a day late and a dollar short. I guess you've heard that before, but it's often true. For every success there is usually more than one failure.
My only photo of the day was a pristine Anise Swallowtail. I saw at least eight at Mt. Doug including a couple of Hydaspe Fritillaries. Unfortunately, the fritillaries only flew by several times and didn't land. If I had an ultra-fast focussing lens I might have gotten a few flight shots.
July 20/13 - Just to clarify, Mt. Arrowsmith and Mt. Cokely are both part of the Arrowsmith massif. Mt. Arrowsmith is the larger section to the south and Mt. Cokely is the lone peak on to the north. There is no boundary markers to separate the two so it is sometimes unclear which mountain you are on. As well, just to add to the confusion, the old Arrowsmith ski hill was on Mt. Cokely, not Arrowsmith.
My target today was a Rocky Mountain Parnassius, and I hoped to find one on Mt. Cokely.
Clodius Parnassius was common along the roadside. I stopped for photos several times when I saw one land. In most cases the Clodius flew to the car for a brief inspection. That was a consistent behavior observed on several trips.
At one point I watched two Clodius Apollos collide in mid air.
As it turned out, the violent confrontation turned out to be the mating procedure.
The parking spot for the Saddle trail is usually my first stop. A couple of Purplish Coppers were present along with a few blues.
I wasn't surprised to see my first Reakirt's Purple of the year as it was time for them to fly.
They were fairly common at the small bog near the gate to the ski hill road.
Western Tailed Blues were still showing well. I spotted this female in the muddy roadside ditch where I had seen several on my last visit.
The faded Zephyr Comma was still in the same spot near a pond as it was on my previous trip.
I was half way up the old ski hill when I encountered stonecrop and my first Milbert's of the day.
My reward for climbing Mt. Cokely was a few hyperactive Hydaspes. I only saw one fly-by Parnassius species, and it was probably a Clodius. My consolation of the spectacular 360 degree panoramic views, sparkling pink alpine heather meadows, and crisp mountain air wasn't hard to take.
July 22/13 - It is my intention to check Mt. Washington and Mt. Arrowsmith as many times as possible during the season. I didn't expect anything new this trip, and there wasn't except for the appearance of the Reakirt's Coppers.
July 24 - As mentioned previously, there are some species on the VI list that I don't expect to see on VI. Whistler was a possibility for several of my wishlist species - Chalcedon Checkerspot, Melissa Arctic, and Western White. I decided to take my wishlist search to Whistler which was a long shot - a verrrry lllloooooonnnngggggsssssshhhhooottt. It would be the needle in the haystack game with a monstrous haystack. What were the odds of finding even one of my wishlist? The word miniscule comes to mind.
To make a long story short, would you believe I found all 3? That was winning the butterfly lottery. And, would you believe, I might have found a 4th. I didn't get the good photo, but is it possible to have also seen the Mormon Fritillary? Anyway, I don't want to get carried away. I'm happy just celebrating the unlikely trifecta.
This is what I expected to see on Whistler.
Here's the mystery fritillary. I saw several, but they weren't interested in any photos. I couldn't get closer than 2 meters from any.
This was a new species for me but not on the VI list. I later identified it as a Vidler's Alpine.
Success #1 - The first white butterfly I saw was definitely smaller than a Cabbage Butterfly. Could it be a Western White? It landed on the dirt several times for record shots but eventually decided to nectar. It must have been hungry as it nectared on the same flower for several minutes.
Later I saw two more whites chasing each other. Eventually they landed, but there was no reproduction going on. The deflated male was coldly rejected.
After a couple of hours searching various trails we decided to check out the peak. That was a cogent move. Almost immediately I spotted a blackish butterfly fly to the cliff's edge. I followed but couldn't see it anywhere. I took another step and it flew off. It had been right next to my feet. I was sure it was a Melissa Arctic but couldn't prove it without a photo. As I continued searching I spotted another butterfly. From the darkish base colour and bright checkers, I knew it had to be a Chalcedon Checkerspot.
The Chalcedon was nectaring on phlox until it was distracted by another Chalcedon.
Nothing materialized from the brief encounter and both went their separate ways. Fortunately, one landed close by for a few decent photos.
After the Chalcedons I checked another peak. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were several arctics fluttering back and forth and jousting with each other. At first I thought they was just one species but soon decided there were two. This is the Melissa Arctic I was looking for. I couldn't get the transparent wing shot but I was happy with any shot.
The other arctic had a circle on the apex of the forewing and defined white and black areas on the ventral hindwing. I'm calling it a Chryxus Arctic until I find out it's not.
With all the running around I've done, it was time to check up on the homefront which includes also includes Nanaimo.
One of the reasons I have been checking the Nanaimo Esturary because it was a former site for the Field Crescent. The last report was about 7 years ago. Sadly, there have been no reports since and I have not seen any in 5 visits. Lately, there have been a few Purplish Coppers and one Anise Swallowtail.
The Anise is very striking with its contrasting black and yellow pattern. It rates very high on my favorites list.
Another favorite is the Pine with its elegant black on white markings. I saw my first of the year in the garden on July 26.
July 26 was also a good time to check for Woodland Skippers and Common Woodnymphs. The traditionally appear near the end of July and I wouldn't be surprised if they were at least a week early. Off I went to the Garry oak meadows and just as anticipated the skippers were abundant.
Woodland Skippers might be the most abundant butterfly on VI
As expected, Common Woodnymphs were also in flight but not as abundant as I expected. The few I saw were very wary and only interested in basking.
July 27/13 - On July 27/04 James Miskelly reported 23 species up the Saddle between Cokely and Arrowsmith. You bet I was anxious for my first trip up exactly 9 years later. The run of perfect butterfly weather was continuing and the day looked promising, but the results were discouraging. We counted 12 species on the day and many were just single individuals.
It had been many years since I participated in student field trips to the Saddle. The route was the same and the views were still great. That's Port Alberni in the background.
The lake of many names - I've heard it called Emerald, Crystal, Jewel, and Hidden. There are probably a few others.
Summer snowballs - photographers always take the brunt of the punishment.
Believe it or NOT! - Yes, we encountered three intrepid skiers heading to the top for a little summer skiing on Arrowsmith.
Anna's Blues were probably the most common species of the day. They were common from the beginning of the trail to the high alpine.
The beautiful Anna's is one of my favorite photo subjects.
Silvery Blues were still in prime condition in the high alpine. At the lower end of the trail they were near the end of their run.
A couple of Great Arctics were intent on basking on the rocks at the top.
One of the Arctics was perplexing with an orange forewing showing. On closer inspection you can see that it's missing its hindwing. Despite the handicap it seemed fly quite well.
It had over a month since I walked the clearcut at Cross Rd. I had no expectations except for a couple of Cabbages and/or swallowtails, but I was in for a little surprise. The second generation of the delicate Gray Hairstreaks and Mylitta Crescents were flying.
The Mylittas were enjoying the roadside patches of everlasting.
Most were in prime condition, but a few were already showing some wear and tear. That shows how fragile they are.
Another surprise greeted me at the Nanoose Estuary. I didn't find any Purplish Coppers there earlier in the spring, but they were common on this day.
Most seemed to be mostly interested in in the blooms of a small salt marsh plant.
A second choice was the bright gumweed that was in full bloom around the estuary.
Common Woodnymphs were flying in many locations around nanoose Bay including my back yard. I found one basking on a balsam fir tree.
To my surprise the Woodnymph opened and closed its wings to provide me with several photo ops of the dorsal surface of the wings. This was the first time in many years that I had a good look at the dorsal side of the Woodnymph.
July was indeed a busy month. Will August be just as busy? It certainly started well with two rare species: the Fort Rupert Fritillary and the Common branded Skipper. Stayed tuned for the next journal.
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.)