Monday, September 15, 2014

Butterfly Watching...Pick the Right Habitat for the Season

Bass Creek National Recreation Area (mature Ponderosa Pine habitat) is a premier butterfly watching late winter, spring and summer. Not so much late summer, early fall. Found only four species (9-15-14) of seven butterflies. Why? It might be lack of flowers (nectar) and moist soil (for uptake of minerals).

The grassland/Ponderosa Pine habitat immediate to my yard doesn't look like much. But embedded in the brown cured grasses is rabbitbrush (expanded blog treatment -, a nectar "well" for many butterfly species. Yesterday (9-14-14), under similar weather conditions as today, found seven species of butterfly comprising 25+ individuals. The photographic opportunity was...excellent (see below).

William Leach (2013) published Butterfly People An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World and summarized the butterfly naturalists of the 1800's: "...began their careers in this way, awash in the heat and smells of the meadows and forest, sensitive to something worth losing oneself in, worth knowing, worth a lifetime of vocational loyalty and reflection." That's how I feel, for sure not with their accomplishments though :-)

Try this activity... you will find it overlaps the many themes of history, culture, biology, ecology, research, exercise, critical thinking and learning to name a few.
Purplish Copper

Hoary Comma

Milbert's Tortoiseshell

Orange Sulphur

Painted Lady

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Create a Great Butterfly Watching Experience...Discover Spreading Dogbane First

So what the heck is Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)? It is a perennial flowering plant related to Milkweed that grows between 10 and 40 inches in height. Fragrant, small, bell-shaped flowers hang downward from the apex of the plant. Meadows, forest openings, and ravines in disturbed or intact habitat are home. Distribution includes most of the country, avoiding the southeast and southern Great Plains. Extensive background information of the plant can be found at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Finger Lakes Native Plant Society websites.

Spreading Dogbane
This plant flowers at at time when many other wildflowers have bloomed and gone to seed. I touched on this topic, plant phenology, on my blog earlier this spring. Essentially, wildflowers adhere to a timetable that is very ephemeral in nature...for us that is. Plants main job is to reproduce, in the form of a seed or fruit. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies are part of the fertilization process. Wildlife seems to have an innate intelligence concerning the where, when and how of food/resources. It is taking me a while to discover this. I know in early spring find sap wells for overwintering adult butterflies. As the season progresses my looking targets specific wildflowers and mud puddles:

When late summer and fall roll around, I'm checking out the blooming Rabbitbrush. I've been missing a plant(s) that is attractive to butterflies for mid to late summer...until six days ago. A mid-elevation Sapphire Mountain wildflower meadow was the destination for a Fritillary finding expedition. As I zig-zagged made my way up Sawmill Creek Road, spied a stand of flowering plants at the 3.5 mile mark:

Dogbane Location (red rectangle)
I stopped the car, nice pull off on switchback corner, and walked over to see if there was any activity. To my surprise it was teaming with butterflies, mostly Fritillary species. Took many still photos and video of the butterflies in action:

Perhaps Spreading Dogbane is in your area to make for a great butterfly watching experience. Or don't worry about this fact...go to your favorite forest preserve, nature center, wildlife refuge and make your own wildlife discoveries :-)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blues Legend, Johnny Winter RIP

IMHO, one of the greatest live albums produced.

In celebration of life, here are other forms of the "Blues":

Arrowhead Blue

Boisduval Blue

Greenish Blue

Silvery Blue

Sunday, June 8, 2014

First Skipper Species of the Year

Tried a new location for wildflowers (mid-elevation meadow [first photo below]) the other day and got a bonus...Common Branded Skipper (Hesperia comma). Skippers in the Hesperia genus look very similar and much of identification criteria revolve around the white chevrons (size, shape and location) on the underwing. This butterfly was not nectaring on any of the wildflowers present (photos below); simply perched on bare soil of trail. Bunchgrasses are the primary food source for larvae; definitely appropriate habitat for them here.


Common Branded Skipper

Cushion Buckwheat

Silvery Groundsel

Found a second Skipper species, Long Dash (Polites mystic), nectaring on Lavendar at the Pollinator Garden of Lee Metcalf NWR. This species is also partial to grass, however it is on the wet/moist side of the spectrum. World of wildlife is waiting for your discovery...go outside and find some.

Long Dash

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Positioned for Success...Working on Something Else

I bought 15 Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) after work and was planting them in the yard when a butterfly lit on last years spent flower closeby. Quickly noted the small size with smudgy brown underwing with multiple arrowhead markings. Wow, been trying to photograph Arrowhead Blue (Glaucopsyche piasus) for a while; photo I have is diagnostic, but out of focus for most part. Ran for the house, retrieved camera, sprinted back. Still there!!!  I took 50 photos, most at minimum focus distance with 70-300mm lens.

Sure enough, it was an Arrowhead Blue. The photo meant to replace was taken 2 years ago, almost to the date...June 3 (today) vs. June 4 (blog posting of event: a mere two hundred yards apart!!! Sure ignited my joy though a "small win" (read the Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer 2011). Have you had such an experience?

Arrowhead Blue

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dragonflies...Found Far From Water

While photographing butterflies and wildflowers this morning in the neighborhood, encountered some dragonflies. Our home is about 4500 feet from the Bitterroot River and about upslope by 100 feet. Good wildflower stands of Arrowleaf Balsmaroot, Wyeth's Lupine, Leafy Spurge (sic) and Meadow Death Camas were attracting a variety pollinating insects. So it seems logical that predatory insects (dragonflies) would be around. Dennis Paulson (Damseflies and Dragonflies of the West 2009), odonate authority, states that "non-breeding immatures (and mature females) can be found well away from water..." Much for me to learn on just this dragonfly behavior; seems that much luck is involved looking for these creatures away from water.

Pictured below is an immature male Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta) perched on plant stem that I bumped into and photographed. Also saw in flight a darner, likely California Darner (Rhionaeschna californica) and a meadowhawk, likely Variegated (Sympetrum corruptum). One particular dragonfly that took me a couple of seasons to find, Sinuous Snaketail (Ophiogomphus occidentalis), have now found regularly in the upland conifer forest...does not intuitive!!! Does add to the challenge and fun...give it a try in a wild, albeit from water, area near you :-)

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Sinuous Snaketail

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mimic Plant Phenology...Become A Recurring Wildlife-Watching Phenomenon

I went outside after dinner, conditions were good (warm and sunny) for finding...butterflies. The hillside below our house is a grassland with interspersed conifers. The highlight is a large area of Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamrhiza sagittata) flowering now. Sure enough, spied two butterflies that were pretty skittish: Boisduval Blue (Plebejus icarioides) and Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice), photos below.

Success at finding wildlife can and is influenced by knowledge of phenology. Phenology defined: "The scientific study of cyclical biological events, such as flowering, breeding, and migration, in relation to climatic conditions. Phenological records of the dates on which seasonal phenomena occur provide important information on how climate change affects ecosystems over time" (The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin). So by knowing that flowers are important food sources for some butterfly species, one can narrow down butterfly searches to places that have flowers in bloom.

If you repeatedly use this strategy...well your behavior becomes a recurring phenomenon (a remarkable person!), though not dictated by climate :-) The bolded words are a positive meme, but they are really a call to action...get outside and wildlife watch even if for only 15-30 minutes a day. It's guarantee you will discover a world of beauty and wonder.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Boisduval Blue

Clouded Sulphur