Friday, January 25, 2013

June Butterflying in Western Washington

             If you can find a clear weather day in June on the west side of the Cascades, head for the foothills or forested areas in search for butterflies.  Even though the Western Tiger Swallowtail and Cabbage White may fly through your backyard at home, getting away from human development will provide the maximum diversity of species that inhabit the western part of the state.  By no means will this compete with the species diversity of the east side of the mountains, but for people that have limited time,  it could provide a fun adventure.
     There are many places one can explore, but I will discuss several of my favorite spots.
     One of our rarest butterflies flies in western Washington,  the Johnson's Hairstreak (Callophrys johnsoni).  The peak time to see this butterfly is early to mid-June.  There is potentially several areas to see this butterfly, but the areas must contain stands of old growth Hemlock that will support the larval food plant Dwarf Mistletoe.  The butterfly only occurs in these western Washington hemlock forests.  The best spot that I know of to see this butterfly is above Lake Cushman in Mason County.  To get there drive along Hood Canal to Hoodsport.  At Hoodsport turn left and continue driving up to Lake Cushman.  Follow the road along the lake all the way to the end.  Paved road will turn into gravel road near the end of the lake.  Before entering Staircase, turn left at the end of the lake and cross over the bridge (over the Skokomish River) then
turn right and drive up the forest service road.  The road was washed out last year, but they have been working to fix the damage.  If the road is not open, you can walk up quite easily.
     Once you get above the view of the lake, begin looking along the drainage areas and flowering wildflowers for the Johnson's Hairstreak.  The butterfly is our largest hairstreak and a beautiful one as well.  Another smaller hairstreak and far more abundant, the Cedar Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus plicatoria),  will also be present.  I generally see about ten Cedar Hairstreaks for every one Johnson's.  The dorsal surface of the Johnson's Hairstreak is an immaculate chocolate brown color, however, at rest you will only see the ventral surface.  Also present along this road will be several species of late flying blues, the Tiger and Pale Swallowtail,  and the Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis ruralis).  By studying the photos below the larger size of the Johnson's and the different ventral surface markings will allow one to tell the two hairstreaks species apart.  Remember, it can be clear weather at your house, but cloudy over the Olympics during the month of June.

Callophrys johnsoni
Callophrys gryneus plicatoria

Pyrgus r. ruralis
     One of my favorite butterfly areas in western Washington is the Bald Hills of Thurston county.  I love the solitude and beauty of these foothills of the Cascades.  To get there drive to Yelm, then take the  Bald Hills road up into the foothills.  Follow the road past Clear Lake to the very end.  At the end a metal gate will close the road to vehicles going any further.  Park along the side of the road and walk from there.  You can walk for miles along this road into the hills.  As you walk, you will see many Western Tiger Swallowtails and Pale Swallowtails.  The Clodius Parnassian (Parnassius clodius claudianus) will be very abundant flying along the road.  You will pass a large clear cut area, then forested areas.  Be sure to take the roads or trails through the forest areas.  In the forested areas look for the Silver Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus californicus), and the Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris).  They are more commonly found near wet areas.
The Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus atrofaciatus) also flies in the hills.  Colorful day flying moths are also abundant during June.  Margined Whites (Pieris marginalis marginalis) should be a given here.  Tattered spring emerging butterflies may still be on the wing, mixed with the fresh emerging summer forms.
    If you are in the Bald Hills later in June, you will see fresh specimens of the Hydaspe Fritillary (Argynnis hydaspe rhodope) .  In July the Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele pugetensis) will make its.    appearance in the Bald Hills.  This gorgeous butterfly is fun to watch, as it seeks out thistles to nectar on.  Occasionally I have been lucky to see the Zerene Fritillary (Argynnis zerene bremneri) as well, but this is in July.  Enjoy the Bald Hills.  You may be the only person in this huge area during your adventure.

Parnassius clodius claudianus  male
Parnassius clodius claudianus  female

Epargyreus clarus californicus
Euphyes vestris

Strymon melinus atrofasciatus
Pieris m. marginalis

Argynnis hydaspe rhodope
Argynnis cybele pugetsensis male

Argynnis cybele pugetsensis  male
Argynnis cybele pugetsensis female

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