Butterfly Frenzy

The past six weeks have evaporated like alcohol. Many sunny days have allowed for many days in the field chasing those elusive butterflies. It's the kind of problem I'm sure many of you would love to have. I can't recap the six weeks but here's a typical seven days: July 15 - Salt Spring to search for the endangered Zerene Fritillary. Found the endangered Dun Skipper instead. July 17 - caught the 6:20 am ferry to Horseshoe Bay to go to Whistler for the Chalcedon Checkerspot, Melissa Arctic, and Chryxus Arctic. Scored on all three with a branded skipper as a bonus. July 19 - Climbed Mt. Cokely for the Rocky Mountain Apollo - no luck but paid the price with the aching knees. July 21 - 8:40 am ferry to Salt Spring - one last shot for the Zerene. This time I was lucky. 4 trips in 7 days was my busiest stretch, but they're all hectic when you have to fit in domestic chores as well.

As usual, many trips were unremarkable - ok, no use sugar-coating the situation - disappointing is more precise. How about driving 200 km to Ralph River to see just a few common butterflies - no sign of the mythical Dreamy Duskywing. Even worse, 500 km to the Olympic Mountains with nothing to show except a flat tire. No one said it would be easy, but does it have to be so frustrating? On the other side of the ledger there have been a few success stories. In a previous journal I mentioned that the Oreas Comma would be my piece de resistance for the year, but now we have a few challengers - the rambling Western Sulphur, the reclusive Dun Skipper, and the serene Zerene Fritillary.

The Rambling Western

I think it was the venerable Bob Pyle who said that the Western Sulphur was one of the most difficult butterflies to photograph. It would fly forever just to avoid having its image captured - actually it was probably just a male in its constant pursuit of romance. My first experience proved Bob to be correct as the Western flew for a kilometer before finally ducking into some grass for a rest. The result were some photos of the front half of a butterfly. I was resigned to the fact that that would probably be the best I could do before I ran out of time to produce my book. Howver, the power of negative thinking worked. On an impromptu trip towards OK Lake I stopped to photograph some Clodius Apollos. I was just about to pack up when a yellow butterfly fluttered down to a self-heal flower. It was a Western! Unfortunately, it was directly behind a stalk of grass. Just as I cursed to myself it fluttered to another flower. This time there was a window through the grass. Smile - click! I had just improved my photo of the Western by 1000%!

Another Dun Deal

Last year I missed the turnoff to Rhodo Lake and was rewarded with the Dun Deal - my first Dun Skipper. On my July 15 trip to Salt Spring I took the wrong road on my search for the endangered Zerene Fritillary. The result was not one but six Dun Skippers which are also endangered. The skippers were merrily nectaring on Canada thistles along with an entourage of Hydaspe Fritillaries, Grey Hairstreaks, European Skippers, Woodland Skippers, and Painted Ladies. Apparently, it is difficult just to see one Dun Skipper in any location. To see six is a mega piece de resistance! The next time I'm looking for a Dun Skipper I'll have to remember to take the wrong road.

The Serene Zerene

If at first you don't succeed, try again, and that's what I did on June 21. This time I got my bearings right and found the correct road. It didn't take long to find a butterfly, but it was the wrong colour - dark brown. It flew up in front of the car, and I watched in the mirror to see it settle on the road behind the car. It didn't have a white border so I knew it was a Common Woodnymph - another endangered species. I already had some good photos from previous years, but this was a first of year for 2014 and worth a couple of shots. A short ways down the road an orange butterfly fluttered on to a roadside daisy. I stopped. Grabbed the camera and hopped out. The fritillary continued to nectar while I got a couple of clear dorsal shots. I couldn't tell if it were an Hydaspe or a Zerene. The it flew to a small yellow flower that barely held its weight. As the flower stalk bent I could see the ventral side of the wings. The subterminal space was clear - it was a Zerene. I saw a few more Zerenes on the road and finally got a half-decent ventral shot. I spent another hour trying but couldn't improve on what I had. I was satisfied. The cup was half full.

My main interest was to compare with the Fort Rupert Zerenes from last year. Now that I've seen both, they do seem different, but I don't have the time to really analyze and compare the shots at this time.

While I'm still on Salt Spring here's a few other species I encountered. I already mentioned the Common Woodnymph so here it is. I looks better on a flower but it insisted on sitting on the road. I suspect it recently eclosed from its pupa and was basking until its circulation was up to speed.

It's been a good year for Painted Ladies on the Island. Some years you're lucky to see any. This year I've seen them just about everywhere I've gone from Mt. Washington to Salt Spring. In April and May they were all faded and worn. These were the ones that overwintered in the southern California desert. As they flew north many of them mated and laid eggs. The eggs have since developed into adults and many have made it here. Perhaps they were encouraged by the drought and forest fires to continue north. In any case, they are fabulous butterflies and always a treat to observe and photograph. I saw about six while I was on Salt Spring.

A real surprise was a fresh Satyr Comma. Apparently, the species is double brooded, but I've rarely seen the first generation let alone the second generation. I think this is from the first brood, but I could be wrong. If it is then it can mate now and have time for the next generation to fly by late August or early September.

One of the smaller and more attractive butterflies is the Mylitta Crescent. This now time for their second brood, and I was lucky to have one fly right into the daisy patch I was standing by. Because of the median row of yellow spots on the forewing I think this is a female.

It's too heavy to carry a bird lens and a butterfly lens, but I wish I had. On the way out from Tuam Mountain we encountered a female Ruffed grouse with two chicks. All I had was my butterfly lens and that is usually inadequate for the birds.

The Cool Clodius and a few Cokely Leps

It's always fun to see the Clodius along the forest roads. Invariably it will fly up to the car as if to say, "Stay away from my territory." Then it will continue searching for a mate or looking for a flower to nectar on. If it settles on to a flower I always stop to try for the perfect shot. This time it landed on a self-heal which provided great colour and contrast for the composition. On this occasion I'm giving myself 9 out of 10 because it's my best so far. What do you think? I can't give myself 10 out of 10 because what if the next shot is better? I suppose I could go 11 out of 10.

For some unknown reason I've seen a lot of Persius Duskywings this year. My first of the year was at Thelwell Creek, and I've since seen about 7 on Mt. Cokely. I keep hoping I'll find one without the white spots.

One of my targets for Mt. Cokely this year was for improved photos of the Boisduval's Blue. Last year I think I was about two weeks late. This time my timing was perfect. The Boisduval's was there in abundance, and I got the photos I wanted. The white halos on the ventral hindwing are diagnostic for the Boisduval's.

The Hydaspe is one of the most photogenic butterflies. It looks good from the dorsal side and even better from the ventral side especially when its's sitting on a flower. In fact, I like it so much that I've promoted it to the cover photo on my new book. In this photo it is nectaring on pink clover by the base of the old ski hill.

Just one more for Cokely. The Western Tailed Blue loves the muddy ditch just off the Cokely road. There was about a dozen all in one spot with a few Boisduval's and Silvery Blues dining on the mud.

Mt. Washington Arctics

On July 8 I made my first trip to the peak of Mt. Washington. I was curious to see if the Great Arctics were more abundant. According to Butterflies of BC there are more abundandant in even-numbered years. It didn't take long to find out. last year I didn't seen any until I was near the summit. This year I started seeing them a fair bit below the summit. At the summit they were quite abundant. As usual most of them were basking with their wings closed. With the cryptic colouring of the underwings they certainly blending in with the ground.

Another expected butterfly was the Western Meadow Fritillary. They were common on the trail going up. Most must have been males patrolling for females. Occasionally one would stop. I assumed these were females.

Whistler Blitz

Last year I photographed some checkerspots at Whistler on July 24, but they were faded and worn. I knew I had to go a bit earlier this year to find them in good condition. The forecast for July 17 was for cloud and showers, but by the evening of July 16 it reverted back to mostly sunny. I couldn't procrastinate. I was up at 4:30 am the next day and on the 6:20 am ferry. The dark, overcast skies at Horseshoe Bay were a concern, but I was optimistic. From Squamish to Whistler I saw nothing but blue sky. By 10:45 I was looking for butterflies beside the Roundhouse. After a half hour I had seen Vidler's Alpines, Silvery Blues, Western Whites, and an Anise Swallowtail. My next targets were at the peak.

Conditions at the peak were ideal with a gentle breeze and full sun. The abundance of alpine flowers beside the trails were encouraging, but after a half hour I still hadn't seen a butterfly. I was just about to stop for lunch when a dark butterfly landed close by. It was a dark checkerspot. I managed a couple of shots before it flew. I tried to follow but soon lost sight of it. There were lots of small, dark, fuzzy moths flying around, but one of them seemed a little quicker. When it landed I saw that it was a skipper. I managed a couple of quick shots and saw that it was probably a Common Branded Skipper. I was hoping it would be a Western branded Skipper. I would learn later that it didn't resemble either so I have no idea what it is.

After a lunch break I decided managed to flush a checkerspot that was basking by a large rock. It only flew about 3 meters then landed. It was very sluggish and didn't fly when I got close for some photos. I eventually got some ventral shots to prove that it wasn't an Edith's Checkerspot. I was hoping for the Chalcedon Checkerspot, but my team of experts hasn't been conclusive and is non-commital. I'm stuck between Chalcedon and Anicia.

After finding a few more checkerspots it was time to look for the Arctics. On the way I spotted the golden-winged butterfly that sparkled like gold in the sunlight. It landed and allowed for some good photos of the dorsal side but only a glance at the ventral side. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I finally got it. It was a Lustrous Copper, a new one for me.

When I finally got to the Arctic rock a black butterfly flew up right away. In the sunlight I could see that it has semi-transparent wings. It was a Melissa Arctic. I knew it would be difficult to get a photo and after three tries all I had was a distant record shot.

When I got up from my last effort I spotted a a big bird watching me. It was the local garbage Raven looking for a treat. I'm not going to say it I gave it a treat or not, but it did pose for a few photos.

After the Raven break it was time to stalk the Melissa again. I wasn't sure where it was but it conveniently landed about three meters away. This time I was able to crawl a bit closer for a better shot.

My next target was the Chryxus Arctic. I had just seen one flying by while shooting the Melissa. I found it on the next rock and got a few shots.

I was just about to pack up when a skipper showed up. As I slowly moved closer a second skipper flew in an the two suddenly disappeared. I decided to play the waiting game and sure enough, one of the skippers reappeared and landed on a small flower. I got a couple of shots before it flew. I played the waiting game a few more times with similar results before it was time to catch the lift. With all the butterfly activity I didn't want to leave, but I didn't want to spend a night on the mountain either.

It was a long day but conditions were perfect and the butterflies abundant. Were were in time for the 7:40 ferry home and arrived before it was dark. It was a good day.

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2013 SHORTFALL ...

My plans for 2013 were to photograph as many butterflies as possible from the Vancouver Island list and then produce and publish VANCOUVER ISLAND BUTTERFLIES. Unfortunately, I only managed to find 50 out of the 69 species, and not all of them were suitably photographed. Consequently, I have decided to delay the publication until the fall of 2014. That has also worked out well for James Miskelly who was very busy with other commitments. James is still onboard as my co-editor and will provide as much updated information as possible. My apologies to all those who were waiting anxiously for the book launch, but theoretically, with more time we should be able to produce a higher quality publication.



Bird Poster

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.)
























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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