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

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