Sunday, July 28, 2013

July...Wildfire Season Begins in Montana

Yesterday, smoke appreciably increased in the Bitterroot Valley. The video catches the line of smoke as it pans to the right (looking southward in the Valley). This activity is part of living in Montana.

Here's what it should look like (at sunset) viewing southward of the Valley:

The state of Montana has a variety of resources online to keep everyone informed of immediate wildfire dangers, but also secondary health concerns. Department of Environmental Quality has a 'smoke' scoring system for health effects:

Here's a map of current wildfire activity in western Montana from the Northern Rockies Coordination Center website: 

You can track the wildfires in your neck of the woods at InciWeb. Personally, have had only one incident in which our neighborhood was threatened by fire (nothing like coming home from work seeing a smoke column near your residence). Firefighters got on this "start", mere .5 mile away, quickly and in force...nothing bad happened. So a big THANK YOU to those who fight fire. Be safe everybody.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Butterflying...Testimonial of Sorts

"Oh, this is the coolest," she said. "I'm loving it." So spoke Katy Duffy, National Park Service interpretive planner. These words described a recent butterfly count at Yellowstone captured by reporter Kristen Inbody as a news story. A testimonial of sorts, still the gist of the story recounts the diversity, challenge, strategy, adventure, ecology of butterflies. It is a well written account capturing a lot of do's/don'ts of butterfly watching. I could identify with many of the participants and experiences. The bottom line for me, beauty and wildlife adventure are all around us, one need not go to Yellowstone to experience it on a pristine basis. Just like the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it (flower garden and/or wet spot in your own yard), these animals will come to you cutting down on some of the challenge. Here's a video snippet of my recent field trips to give you an idea of the action and beauty awaiting you:

So go ahead and dip your toe in the water, you won't regret wildlife watching butterflies :-)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Finding Blue...On Many Levels

Hey, it is great to be alive especially with the color blue in mind. Found a mountain top site accessible by road a mere 25 miles from my front door! Target: wildflowers and butterflies on a beautiful summer day.
Maybe ELO, a Spotify embed, will get you in the mood. If not music, how about video context?

Here are some photos of Blue Copper (Lycaena heteronea), Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa) and Boisduval's Blue (Plebejus icarioides) butterflies just below the peak in the video above:
Blue Copper

Melissa Blue

Boisduval's Blue
Hoping you are reading this on a blue Monday...or just another bluetiful day :-) Find something good.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Connecting the Wildlife Viewing Dots...What Should Be Obvious

It wasn't until yesterday that I connected the dots in finding Parnassian butterflies thanks to a Northwest Butterflies blog posting on the Gifford Pinchot NF. The author smartly included photos of the habitat visited...and there it was...steep, rocky road cuts. These areas typically are home to stonecrops (the sedum genus or succulent in general) which are the larval host plant for Parnassian butterflies. A mere fifteen minutes from my home is Blue Mountain (Lolo NF), which has windy steep road cuts in places (duh!!!!). So mid-afternoon I went on an adventure of discovery. Sure enough, as I emerged onto a south-facing straightaway I saw three white butterflies soaring Turkey Vulture-like low over the gravel road and vegetation. Quickly parked into the nearest pull-out and chased after the butterflies with camera in-hand. Never did get a "great" photo of the Rocky Mountain Parnassian (Parnassius smintheus), however did manage some diagnostic pics. As a bonus, found and photographed a White Bog Orchid (Platanthera sp.) and a Sinous Snaketail (Ophiogomphus occidentis) along ravine stream. Connect some dots today too :-)
Rocky Mountain Parnassian

Parnassian Habitat

White Bog Orchid

Sinous Snaketail

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why So Few Green-Colored Butterflies in North America?

In a crude search of the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America, I found only 18 species with green or 2.4% of all species. Green-colored butterflies are predominantly Hairstreaks, why is that? Below is a stunning Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) that I recently photographed (lifer). I did a Google Scholar search of the lepidopteria literature and could not find an answer to my question. Did come across Elements of Butterfly Wing Pattern by H.F. Hijhout which detailed that butterfly spots, stripes do not vary in positions across individuals, quite different than human fingerprints or zebra stripes and leopard spots. Hijhout states that butterfly spots/stripes are an "individuated"character that can be given a name and traced over the phylogenetic tree.
Juniper Hairstreak
Here's a couple of photos of the red/orange butterflies (can you identify to species?) coming to Sawmill creek (Sapphire Mountains of Stevensville, MT) to "mud"... find something great in your own neighborhood!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wood-Nymph's...No Special Plantings Required

 Encountered two Wood-Nymph butterfly species, Common (Cercyonis pegala) and Small (Cercyonis oetus) while watering yard plantings early this morning. Both butterflies did not nectar on any of the flowers in bloom. Instead they simply rested on the ground (wood bark mulch) as is their behavior at times. They do nectar more than other related species in the Satyrinae subfamily, but also utilize rotting fruit, dung and mud. Grasses are the host plant for larval development. Identification is dependent on size, shape and location of eyespots on underside of front wing. Both are somewhat easy to find in western Montana (Common is distributed throughout the U.S.), though they are definitely not flashy in coloration. Adults are active during July and August so now would be a good time to check your own yard or neighborhood for these insects.
Common Wood-Nymph

Small Wood-Nymph