Monday, February 18, 2013

July in Western Washington

     When the lowlands begin to dry up in July, it is time to venture into the hills and mountains.  Always check on the snow pack before heading out, for some years the higher mountains are still snowed in even in late July.  There are many great places to explore.  Practically any forest service road or mountain area will provide a variety of butterflies.  I will focus on several of my favorite places to visit.
      If you like to hike and don't mind a three mile hike with a moderate climb, I recommend the Mt. Townsend trail near Quilcene.  This is one of the most beautiful hikes in Washington and gives you a great sample of the butterflies that make their home in the Olympic Mountains.  If you are not a hiker, a road trip up to Hurricane Ridge and a walk around the lodge trails can provide many species of butterflies to see.
     Getting to the Mt. Townsend trail head, head south past Quilcene on highway 101, stop into the ranger station and get a trail map, then head a few miles south to the Penney Creek Road.  Turn right and follow the road all the way to the trail head.  It is an excellent road and paved for most of the way.  Be sure to go all the way up to the second (higher) trail head, for this will cut a mile or so off your hike.
     Park at the trail head and start up the lower wooded part of the trail.  Make sure to enjoy the wildflowers along the way.  About halfway up the trail, the area will open up with extensive meadows of wildflowers.  You could spend your whole day in this switch-back area of meadows, but the very special butterflies of the Olympics await you at the summit.  Remember, in the mountains spring, summer, and fall are condensed into two short months, so you will see (spring flying) Sara's Orangetips, and Silvery Blues flying with normally summer flying checkerspots and fritillaries.  Look in these meadows for the Clodius Parnassian (Parnassius clodius claudianus), Purplish Copper (Lycaena h. helloides), Mariposa Copper (Lycaena m. mariposa).
A Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria) my be present, and during peak years, the Painted Lady            (Vanessa cardui) and the California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica) can be abundant in the meadows.  Two crescents are a given in the meadows: the Mylitta crescent (Phyciodes m. mylitta) and the Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella owimba).  The very beautiful Vidler's Alpine (Erebia vidleri) is common in these meadows as well as the Snowberry Checkerspot ( Euphydryas colon peridiccus).  The Hydaspe Fritillary Argynnis hydaspe rhodope)  might make it appearance as well.  Look for other surprises that might show up in these meadows.  If you are going to enjoy these meadows and also plan to go to the summit, be sure to begin your hike at the trail head early in the morning.

Parnassius clodius clodianus
Lycaena h. helloides)

Lycaena m. mariposa
Vanessa atalanta rubria

Vanessa cardui
Nymphalis californicus

Phyciodes m. mylitta
Phyciodes pulchella owimba

Erebia vidleri
Euphydryas colon peridiccus

Argynnis hydaspe rhodope

     As you continue your climb to the summit, the meadows will change to high mountain wildflowers, and the species of butterflies will change as well.  Be sure to look at the spectacular views of the Cascades.  Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Rainier and sometimes Mt. Saint Helens are all visable on a clear day.  Look for the Space Needle in Seattle, and see Hood Canal and Puget Sound.  When you reach the summit, the habitat becomes a grassy area with high mountain species of wildflowers.  Here flies very special Olympic Mountain butterflies.  The fast flying white Mountain Parnassian (sometimes called the Olympic Parnassian) (Parnassius smintheus olympianus) is home here.  The Chryxus Arctic (Oeneis chryxus valerata) can be very abundant up on top.  This is a great place to see several very special blues.  The unique looking Arctic Blue (Plebejus glandon megalo)  and the high mountain subspecies of the Lupine Blue  (Plebejus lupini spangelatus)  is also present here. Look for the Olympic subspecies of the Boisduval's Blue ( Plebejus icarioides blackmori) on top. Two hill-toppers will also fly here, the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio z. zelicaon) and the Western White (Pontia o. occidentails).  The lower meadow flying Hydaspe Fritillary and the Snowberry Checkerspot will also be present on top. Another special butterfly to look for is the Edith's checkerspot (Euphydryas editha colonia)  Later in the summer the Common Branded Skipper (Hesperia comma  hulbirti) will fly with the very common Woodland Skipper (Ochlodes s. sylvanoides).).  

Parnassius smintheus olympianus  male
Parnassius smintheus olympianus  female 
Oeneis chryxus valerata male

oeneis chryxus valerata female

Plebejus glandon megalo male
Plebejus glandon megalo  male
Plebejus glandon megalo  female
Plebejus lupini spangelatus  male

Plebejus lupini spangelatus  female
Plebejus icarioides blackmori
Papilio z. zelicaon
Pontia o. occidentalis

Euphydryas editha colonia
Euphydryas editha colonia
Hesperia comma hulbirti
Ochlodes s. sylvanoides

     In the Cascades, the trails in the Paradise or Sunrise areas of Mt. Rainier National Park will provide quite a variety of butterfly species to see when the wildflower bloom hits its peak.  Once again, the time varies each year because of the snow melt.  Generally by the last week of July the areas will be good to explore.
Early August is also going to be a good time to investigate these mountain areas.
    One of my favorite places to butterfly in late July is the Crystal Mountain ski area.  You can take a chairlift   up to the top of Green Valley then leisurely walk the trails down through the vast meadows of wildflowers, or you can wander the ski access roads as you hike up a ski run.   It is also possible to hike to the top beyond the bunny slope to a small lake then hike to the left up to the Pacific Crest Trail.  there are many butterfly opportunities along the trail as there are many open meadow areas.  The butterflies seen here will also be seen in the Sheep Lake area of Chinook Pass.  This is also on the Pacific Crest Trail and is my my favorite short hike in the Cascades.  
 To get to Sheep Lake, take highway 410 to Chinook Pass.  Park in the north parking lot near the restrooms. Take the Pacific Crest Trail that runs parallel to the highway for about a mile then turns north up through a valley.  Sheep Lake will be about another mile from this point.  Butterflies can be seen all along the trail and into the forest as well.  Dwell at meadows along the way to check out what is there.  When you reach the lake be sure to spend time at its upper end, where a large wet area of wildflowers exists.  If you hit the bloom right, many species of butterflies will be present.  "Spring" flying Sara's Orangetips, and Silvery Blues can be seen.  Besides the Edith's Checkerspot, several other Nymphalids will be present.  The Mormon Fritillary (Argynnis mormonia washingtonia) and the Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea rainieri should be abundant nectaring on the wildflowers. The Hoffman's Checkerspot (Chlosyne hoffmani manchada) makes its home in these meadows.  Two species of commas frequent these meadows.  The Green comma (Polygonia faunus rusticus) and the Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis zephyrus) are often present.  Along the dry creek bed to the far left of the meadows the Great Arctic (Oeneis n. nevadensis) will be at home.   Look for the Boisduval's Blue (Plebejus i. icarioides) in the wet mud.  Two coppers will be present as well.  The Purplish and Mariposa coppers are quite common in the meadows.  Look for other butterflies as well.  There always seems to be a surprise showing up in the mountain meadows of the Cascades.   

Argynnis mormonia washingtonia
Argynnis mormonia washingtonia

Boloria chariclea raineri

Boloria chariclea raineri
Chlosyne hoffmani manchada
Polygonia faunus rusticus

Polygonia faunus rusticus

Polygonia gracilis zephyrus
Polygonia gracilis zephyrus
Oeneis n. nevadensis  male

Oeneis n. nevadensis  female
Plebejus i. icarioides

These mountain areas should be good to study from mid-July to well into September (the weather varies each year so timing is an art).

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