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. 

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