Thursday, November 29, 2012

More Spring Butterflying

         If you are looking for a butterfly adventure, one in which you have a chance of seeing four of our most uncommon to rare butterflies, then drive to Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River during the first week of May.  If you know someone at WSU you can combine this trip with a visit to Pullman.  The most direct route to Lower Granite Dam is by taking I-90 passed Vantage, then take the exit to 26, the road to Pullman.  Go east until approximately 10 miles from Colfax then turn right (going south) on Sommers Road.  Head south past Wilcox to klous road.  Still heading south connect with the Almota Road.  Continue south until you connect with 194.  194 takes you still further south through Stine Gulch to Almota.  From there continue south east along the Snake river to Lower Granite Dam.  What a beautiful drive through the palouse.  Also some beautiful views of the Snake river and Lower Granite Dam.  Follow the road to the dam, then park in the gravel area next to the railroad tracks.  With net, binoculars, and camera start looking along the north (left) side of the railroad tracks.  As you approach the white blooming Yarrow look carefully on each flower head for the rare Pale Crescent.  Unfortunately the Mylitta Crescent flies here also, but the Pale Crescent is a larger butterfly, and by comparing the photos below, you can see the differences in the two species.

Pale Crescent  Phycioides pallida barnesi
Mylitta Crescent  Phycioides m. mylitta
Mylitta Crescent  Phycioides m. mylitta
Pale Crescent  Phycioides pallida barnesi


          As you walk along the railroad tracks keep on the lookout for the tiny Acmon Blue.  Look for them in the brushy areas above the tracks.  This is one of the few known colonies of this butterfly in the state.

Acmon blue  Plebejus acmon  male
Acmon Blue  Plebejus acmon  female
As you continue down the tracks look for a large grouping of lacy umbel plants.  Look in this area for the beautiful and uncommon Indra Swallowtail.  If you hit it right they may be large numbers of them in this area.
Indra Swallowtail  Papilio indra
If you are able to drive over the dam (it was closed to traffic after 911)  turn right as you cross the Snake River and drive to the boat launce area just below the dam.  Park there then cross the road and climb up into the canyon above you.  The very rare subspecies of the Clodius Parnassian  (Parnassius clodius shepardi) flies in this canyon.  Not only is it the earliest flying Parnassian in our state it is also one of the fastest and strongest fliers.  It has been reported in other canyons close by, but I have only seen it in this particular one. 
Clodius Parnassian  Parnassius clodius shepardi
There are also many other more common butterflies species that you will see along the Snake River, but I focused on the very special ones to see. 
Another alternate site to find the Indra Swallowtail during the first week of May is just north of Satus Pass in the Yakima Indian Reservation.  In the hills a mile or so north harbors a large population of Indra Swallowtails.  These hills are the open grazing lands for the Indian beef herds, so you should stay close to the road.  Cross the fences at your own risk.  These hills also are home to many other spring butterfly species. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Spring Butterflying

     As the days get longer and warmer, mid-April to early-May can be a great time to explore our Washington butterflies.  Several locations will provide a rewarding experience IF you can catch a clear, warm day. 
     A great spot is the lower portion of Umtanum Creek in Yakima Canyon.  Travel I-90 to Ellensburg then take the Canyon Road exit (not 97).  Turn left and meander your way along the Yakima river.  About 10 miles or so you will see a bridge across the river and a large parking lot.  This is the mouth of Umtanum Creek.  With net, binoculars, and camera cross the bridge.  You will be entering a large wildlife area.  You can walk the trails on either side of the creek, but the left side is used much more and is very open.  I prefer the right hand side even though the trail is not as good.  For some reason I find more butterflies along this route.  When you exit the bridge watch out for the railroad tracks.  I suggest that you start on the right hand side of the creek and look for a large patch of yellow-flowering Oregon Grape.  It is far enough from the tracks to be safe.  Butterflies will nectar on these flowers, and many butterflies will be flying by in this area.   Spend some time here.  When your interest here is exhausted move up the trail along the creek.  Check out the deciduous trees along the creek and the grassy area you will be walking through.  If this area is too difficult to negotiate, you can go over to the left side.  Over there you can walk for miles if you desire.
     By the Oregon Grape four of our spring "white" species can be seen flying by.  Look for the smaller-sized (spring brood)  Becker's White (Pontia beckerii), the Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta), the Spring White ( Pontia sisymbrii flavitincta), and the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae).  


Becker's White (female)

Desert Marble

Spring White

Cabbage White



     As you move up the trail on the right hand side of the creek look for Sara's Orangetip (Anthocharis sara), the fifth species of spring emerging whites. 


Sara's Orangetip (male)

Deciduous trees line the stream bed.  If you look along the trees you could very likely see two Nymphalids : the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), and the Satyr comma (Polygonia satyrus).    

Satyr Comma

Mourning Cloak

Walking through the grassy areas look for several species of blues.  The Lucia blue (Celastrina lucia), the Echo blue (Celastrina e.echo), and the Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus columbia) all fly in this area.

Lucia blue

Echo Blue

Silvery Blue
Flying rapidly along any of the trails or open spaces, the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio z. zelicoan) should be present.  You may also get lucky enough to see a Two-Tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudatus pasillus).

Anise Swallowtail

Two-Tailed Swallowtail

When ever you see clumps of Oregon Grape in bloom, check out the beautiful yellow flowers for our early flying hairstreak, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus atrofaciatus). 

Gray Hairstreak

you will very likely see other species of butterflies as well.  Also, enjoy the hiking, since on the left side of Umtanum Creek trails go for miles.  Have fun!

Another mid-spring location is located west of the Cascades.  The Tahuya area of Mason County can provide a look at a good number of our spring butterflies.  Late April or early May is best, and of course a sunny warm day (which is rare on the west side of the mountains).  Begin at Elfendahl Pass.  Travel to Belfair then go west past Belfair State park to the Elfendahl Pass road.  Travel to the pass area, and look for butterflies along the brushy sides of the road, and along the trail passing through the young pine trees.  Be sure you are looking in vegetation that contains Salal, Kinnikinick, Lotus, and other shrub-like plants.  Our western Washington green hairstreak flies here, the Bramble Hairstreak (Callophrys p. perplexa or d. dumetorum).  Also look for the Echo Blue (see photo above), the Gray Hairstreak (see photo above), and on the Kinnikinick the Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios obscura)


Bramble Green Hairstreak

Hoary Elfin

Two Duskywings can be seen in the area as well.  Roadside ditches or puddles will usually attract them.  The Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus) and the Persius Duskywing (Erynnis persius) will frequent these wet areas. 

Dreamy Duskywing (male)

Persius Duskywing (male)
Two of our Elfins also can be found here, the Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus iroides) and the Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon sheltonensis).  The Pine Elfin usually flies later in May and is closely associared with its larval food plant- Lodgepole Pine. 

Brown Elfin

Pine Elfin

Other areas of Tahuja are equally productive.  Drive over the pass then explore the roads that go past clearcut, disturbed undeveloped areas.  Check out any gravel road that follows by disturbed brushy areas.  Once again your plant icons will be salal, kinickinick, lotus and other brushy plants.  One of the spring flying whites may fly by, the Margined White (Pieris m. marginalis).  It will also fly with the Cabbage White (see photo above).

Margined White

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Early Spring Butterflying

     This fall and winter I would like to share with you places to go to find some of our special butterflies. 
These are places I have been to (some on many occasions) and find them excellent to find some of
our less common or less known butterflies. Note that each spring and summer varies as to snowpack,
rainfall, and drought.  On certain years a time adjustment may be necessary to enjoy these areas.

     When March rolls around in Washington most of us have cabin fever and are tired of the cool, damp
weather we have had for the last four months.  We are anxious to get out of storage our butterfly net, dust
it off, and take a few practice swings.  It is also time to get the batteries charged for the camera and get the
outdoor clothing in order.  
     We often jump the gun in late march or early April, but some years will provide us with a few warm (at least 50 degrees F) sunny (at least partly sunny) days.  During this early spring period, we can often see
two very special butterflies that are in flight.  Both of them fly in eastern Washington, but are found in different locations.
     The first location is Schnebly Coulee.  Take I-90 past Ellensburg then exit at the town of Kittitas.  Pass
through town to Broadview Road.  Turn right and go a short distance to S. Caribou Road.  Turn left (north)
and travel to the Vantage Highway.  Turn right on the Vantage Highway and travel 10-12 miles until you
come to the coulee.  When there, look down and find the dry creek bed that extends down the coulee.
Walk along the creek bed and look for rhe Sheridan's Green Hairstreak (Callophrys sheridanii newcomeri).
They will fly up and move to another place along the creek bed.  On a good day the butterflies will be 
abundant.  Also look for a white butterfly that will fly along the creek bed.  This the the Spring White
(Pontia sisymbrii flavitincta).  Both are very early spring butterflies.  If you go later in April, you may
miss these butterflies, but other species will present such as the Sagebrush Checkerspot  (Chlosyne acastus sterope). 
           The second location is the lower-most meadows of the Reecer Creek area.  Take I-90 to Ellensburg.  Take the first exit and drive to the first major intersection.  Turn left (now on 97) and
watch closely for the Lower Green Canyon Road.  Turn right onto this road and continue all the way up the canyon until you reach a T in the road.  Turn left and you are now on the Reecer Creek Road.  Continue on this road past all of the farms and up into the hills.  When you reach the first set of meadows stop and look for the plant Stonecrop (Sedum).  If you see this plant, you are in the correct spot.  If not, drive to the next upper meadows and repeat.  Walk the meadows and look for a small hairstreak, Moss's Elfin (Callophrys mossii schryveri).  This is another one of our early spring butterflies.  This area is famous for delayed snow melt.  In late March the area can be free of snow, or still snowed in.  Before you head out be aware of the snowpack we have had during the winter, and if we are having an early or late spring.  Adjust you field day accordingly. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

About Me

I was born and raised in Bellingham, Washington. From a very young age I was known to catch and study all sorts of small animals and insects including snakes, grasshoppers, frogs, and especially butterflies. I would scour the hollyhocks, willow trees, and nasturtiums in my neighborhood and in nearby Cornwall Park for butterfly larvae to rear. My interest brushed off on the kids in the neighborhood and soon many kids chased butterflies in the lazy days of spring and summer. I became more serious about my study of butterflies while attending Western Washington University. Inspired by my entomology professor, Dr. Gerald Kraft, I began to study butterflies with a more scientific approach. I became determined to see every species of butterfly in the state, and I spent as much time as possible in the field to acquaint myself with all of the various ecosystems of Washington from the Blue Mountains to the Selkirks, and the ocean coast to the Okanogan highlands. I taught high school biology, botany, and environmental science for 36 years. I currently live with my wife of 48 years in Gig Harbor, Washington, and have four children and six grandchildren.