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Reports From The Road

The Butterfly Big Year

Robert Michael Pyle, a veteran Orion columnist, hung up his word processor at the end of 2007 and set out in his trusty 1982 Honda, known as Powdermilk, to find as many American and Canadian butterfly species as he could in a single year. To keep Orion abreast, Bob promised to mail us tidbits from the trail and occasionally give us a call. Twice a month throughout 2008, we post Bob's notes from the road. His is a journal unlike anything else you've seen online.

Postscript to the Butterfly Big Year Blogs: Not Far Tortuga, But Close

January 12, 2009

Home Again

Dear Folks,

The trip is finished, and so are the blogs, but I wanted to provide a brief coda to bring it all back home.  As you know, the Orion and Xerces blogs have carried different, complementary content all along, But for this little epilog, I’ve decided to send a single note to both sources, and to do it with electrons via Thea’s computer.  Forgive me for not mailing any doodads or tree trunks or trash bits from the road this time.  I came home to our biggest snow in thirty years, which melted and rained and blew into one of our biggest floods within just 48 hours, and the road to the post office has been blocked by deep, rushing water.  So here, in conventional fashion, is a wrap-up to the whole deal:

The Christmas blizzard in Portland barely let me out of town, and Chicago was worse, with hundreds of stranded holiday evacuees still stashed and crashed around O’Hare wherever they could find prone space.  Yet I made it to Fort Lauderdale only a day late, where the incomparable Alana Edwards picked me up.  Alana and her mother Lana, bright lights in the Atala Chapter of NABA, made my valedictory trip to Florida possible.  Alana had arranged permits and transportation, including the rangers’ boat to stilll-wild Lignum Vitae Key.  For the next few days, we prowled hammocks and mangroves in the Glades and the Keys in search of butterflies I’d not yet encountered.

I had hoped to venture out to Dry Tortuga National Park, to see out the year in the most distal point of the U.S. However, time, expense, and the paucity of butterflies there all militated against a Tortugan finish. The next farthest place I could go, where I’d never been before and where exotic (=outlandish) species of butterflies drifted or blown in from Cuba or elsewhere in the Antilles are always possible, was Key West.  Alana kindly and heroically fought the holiday traffic (early mornings helped) to get me there, with interim outings on several of the Keys. Well acquainted with the butterflies, the plants, and the places, and extraordinarily observant, Alana was the best of guides.  Among other naturalists we met, resident butterflier, gardener, artist, and devoted conservationist Paula Cannon joined us, and led us to remnant habitats she’s worked hard to save. At her tranquil home on a quay in the Keys, Paula prepared and served us elegant, slender silver fish that she and her husband Gary had caught in local waters, with the wonderful name of look-down fish.

While only a few of the possible new species deigned to show up, they were very special ones: the brilliant Florida purplewing shining in dappled sunlight on Lignum Vitae; the endangered Miami blue, just one among hundreds of Cassius blues, on little Bahia Honda; and the bright, long-tailed Bartram’s hairstreak, which I’d been seeking off and on since early spring, right where we hoped it would be on Big Pine Key.  We toasted them all with Florida ale (some the year’s last) at the notorious No Name Pub on tiny No Name Key. These rare butterflies have survived, maybe just, in spite of the over-zealous burning of pine rockland, mosquito spraying, and overall development of these overloved and undervalued islets.  Horny hordes of Jurassic-looking iguanas throng the Keys, released and escaped and now all but in charge, skinning nickerbean and other butterfly host-plants from the thin coral soil. Hurricanes, too, have wiped habitats free of structure and diversity.  But perversely, sea heliotrope has proliferated along the beach of Big Pine since Hurricane Wilma, attracting a spectacular showing of big, bright hammock and mangrove skippers, tropic queens, and Martial’s hairstreaks.  We reveled in the waning year’s last butterfly throes. For me, anyway. Down here, they never stop.

Of course, I could have seen more novel species had I just remained in Texas: my friends in the Lower Rio Grande Valley spotted more than a dozen that would have been new for me within days of my departure. But then I would have missed Hawaii with Thea, Arctic Portland with our family, and this splendid immersion among these shimmering denizens of Old Florida, and those who love, study, and care for them and their besieged habitats. And has anyone else ever had the astonishing good fortune to seek butterflies on both Kaua’i and the Keys in the same week?

Masses of butterflies accompanied me down to Key West and all around it, and I enjoyed them fully, knowing they’d be the last, and have to last me, for a long time.  Even greater masses of human beings filled the final Key for its noted New Year’s blast. I mostly managed to escape them, finding tucked-away habitats among the city’s nature reserves, ancient salt flats and the remoter fringes of Civil War-era Fort Zachary Taylor, where mangrove buckeyes flickered and hundreds of various yellows mocked the winter. But the most exciting butterfly—what a finish if it had lingered, instead of sailing away far over a condo!—appeared at a patch of Spanish needles in a vacant lot by a busy intersection: a mystery beauty that to my eyes most resembled a Hypanartia, or mapwing: a tropical genus recorded no nearer than Cuba or Veracruz.

Just east of the spot billed “as the southernmost point in the U.S.” lies South Beach—some ways southward of the one where diet came from. There, my feet in the sea, my butt on an algal-green coral slab, I watched the sun set on the year and the venture.  When the last gulf fritillary, cloudless sulphur, and fiery skipper went to roost, I’d tallied 488 species, unofficially—489, if you count the mystery nymphalid that came and went over the Caribbean. The last sun of 2008 disappeared into a diffuse pink contrail from Havana, and that was that.

Of course I couldn’t quite escape the New Year’s craziness of Key West, from the drag diva named Sushi (another species of tropic queen) who descends in a big red high-heeled shoe at midnight, to the lightly clad legions promenading Duval Street in a viscous flow of sweat, skin, drink, and cigar smoke, all but impenetrable for an outlander with backpack and a butterfly net, complete with aluminum extendable handle. Pity I’d shed the tiki torch in Portland: it would have fit right in. I took refuge on the sofa of an Irish pub called Bogart’s until four A.M., when the bars closed, the human cacophony subsided, and the many feral roosters (just as in Hawai’i: here was the real link between Kaua’i and the Keys) began to crow. I recall a moment in there when an inebriated and pretty young blonde launched herself onto my lap with vigor, and another when a fellow leaned in from the street to insist that I was Ernest Hemingway resurrected. Those were the high points of an evening that suffered, on the whole, in contrast with that charmed week’s final field trips.

I found a tree in a secluded part of the fort with spreading roots that welcomed me for a couple of hours of sleep. And in the morning, after I’d mollified both the Navy folks and the State Park ranger who challenged my presence there, I discovered an isolated cove where I bathed, swam, and watched a great southern white fly off across the Straits of Florida. Then I greeted the New Year among a school of beautiful pipefish, their long, thin bills and tails the same color as the sea that stretched away toward far Tortuga.


I want to thank Hal Clifford and Scott Walker at Orion Magazine, and Sean Tenney and Sarina Jepsen at the Xerces Society, for their heroic stewardship of my motley materials to produce these weblogs of the first Butterfly Big Year; and for their generosity in sharing interlinks and this final entry between them. Especially, I am thankful to those of you who have read and followed along with me on this long strange trip in the charmed company of butterflies, or not. I hope what has come through more than anything is the sense of extreme privilege I have felt in spending a year of my life this way. I am deeply grateful to Orion and Xerces for allowing me to share it with you in this medium. There is much, much more to tell—but for that, you’ll just have to read the book. Happy New Year, and keep an eye out for butterflies in aught-nine,



Photo below by Paula Cannon: Pair of iguanas, male above, on Big Pine Key

Photo below by Paula Cannon: Sponge Bob

Photo below by Paula Cannon: Male Martial’s hairstreak, whose larvae feed on bay cedar in southern Florida

Photo below by Paula Cannon: A pair of gulf fritillaries, male above, in courtship display

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Some Florida Photos

January 12, 2009


The photos below are by Alana Edwards.

Below: Bartram’s at Navy Wells

Below: Bob Pyle eye-to-eye with Bartram’s Scrub Hairstreak

Below: Ranger Clark and Bob walking through the hammock at Ligunum Vitae Key

Below: Florida Purplewing on Lignum vitae Key

Below: Caterpillar tractor

Below: Mangrove Skipper pupa

Below: Leaving Lignum Vitae Key with park staff

Below: no name pub

Below: Dorsal Hammock Skipper

Below: Paula Bob & Alana

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Hawai’i Photographs

December 25, 2008

Hawai'i and Back Home

The following photos by Thea Linnaea Pyle accompany the Hawai’i/Christmas post.

Below: Nene geese and gosling

Below: A Land Called Hanalei

Below: Feral Fowl of Kaua’i—they seem like the island’s most abundant birds, since freed by a hurricane years ago

Below: Christmas decorations, Hawai’i-style

Below: red or starfish stinkhorn (Aseroe rubra), in Koke’e State Park, Kaua’i

Below: Native greenswords (a composite related to silverswords) at a Waimea Canyon overlook

Below: a spectacular succulent on Diamond Head, Oahu: name, anyone?

Below: watching Xuthus swallowtail and painted ladies hilltopping on Diamond Head, above Honolulu

Below: welcome back to snowy Portland

Below: Christmas with grandson Francis, who knows there’s a Santa (or two)

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With the Locals - And Not

December 25, 2008


Click on any image to enlarge.

Christmas Day, 2008: Nativity Scene

From climbing Diamond Head, with painted ladies and Xuthus Swallowtails hilltopping the summit, to shoveling snow in Portland, was a rude transition. Christmas morning with grandson Francis & his folks made up for it, and in any case, I'll be in the Florida Keys in a few hours.

So, how should I regard a Xuthus Swallowtail on Diamond Head? A pale yellow and black-banded insect indigenous to Asia, it was first recorded in Hawai'i in 1971. Of the seventeen species of butterflies known in Hawai'i, only five are likely to have arrived there under their own steam, including the Monarch (after milkweeds became established) and one or two of the widespread genus Vanessa (the Ladies). Two species are autochthonous -- having evolved in place from prior immigrants, and thus endemic (occurring only there). Of these, we saw lots of Blackburns Bluet, but missed the hot magma-colored Kamehameha Butterfly.

Of course the introduced, or exotic, species count in my tally, being resident members of the United States butterfly fauna. But ought one to enjoy them? I know great, principled biologists in Hawai'i who seem unable to take pleasure in any of the islands' introduced species, bird, butterfly, toad, or posy. Many of the exotics are somewhat or immensely injurious to the indigenous elements, many of which are endangered, so such an attitude is entirely understandable. Yet I've always been able to enjoy individual animals and plants out of context -- a common waxbill with its pink breast that looks berry-stained from the livid beak, a big swallowtail circling high above the vast mess of Waikiki. This ability may be a weakness in a conservationist; but it makes life in the world as we get it more fun, more interesting. More lively.

While in Hawai'i, Thea and I had the opportunity (or serendipity) to take part in this issue directly. Last March, Honolulu photographer and lepidopterist Jim Snyder found a butterfly in Waikiki that had never been recorded previously in the Hawai'ian Islands. We visited the site with Jim and Denise and found hundreds of little blue flickers on the wing. The animal, obviously spreading, is called the Lesser Grass Blue (Zizina otis). But as things happened, Thea and I had already made its acquaintance. Several days before we went out with the Snyders, we shopped for a pineapple and some papayas at a Farmers' Market in Lihue. Waiting for the market to open, we were taking a walk, when Thea spotted a tiny blue flicker. It turned out to be a Zizina -- one of many present -- right there beside the K-Mart parking lot: the first record from Kauai!

How did these fragile and minute creatures make it to what biogeographers consider to be the most remote islands in the world? They feed, as larvae, on sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) -- a diminutive pink powder-puff of a lawn weed that thrives under mowing & grazing over much of the tropical world. The butterfly has followed the plant across a wide range, from China to New Zealand to the Siwa Oasis in western Egypt. Perhaps larvae on walkabout pupate in containers, or gravid females hitchhike on shipboard; or do the azurite mites ride the Trades on high, to fall-out wherever they may?

As a biogeographer, I am interested by such questions; and as a wandering naturalist, I am interested in all plants and animals, native or not. Oh, I'd push the button in a heartbeat to restore the Hawai'ian flora & fauna -- but pre-Polynesian, or not? Are humans just agents of biotic expansion after all? Perhaps we are the tools of the Lesser Grass Blues. Happily, Hawai'ian Blues survive too. Merry Christmas!

Hawai'i was pretty much like this for me. I'm the one on the right. Portland, Oregon, 24 Dec 08

Mark Twain, without having been here, called it the Grand Canyon of Hawai'i." They both feature impressive red terraces and strata, but this one is volcanic and boasts feral pigs, goats, & chickens. The other is mixed geology and has a lot more upright primates. After the heavy rains we experienced, the waterfalls were many and in spate. Beyond lies the great wild of the Alakai Swamp!

Hiking into the tributaries of the Waimea, one realizes the origin of the Kaua'i catchwords "red dirt": fall on your butt here and survive (as I did) and you'll be "red" from here on out.

This extraordinary topography was mostly lost to fog and rain during our visit, but finally came out in full. Even better, white-tailed tropic birds wheeled among the cliffs, and Blackburn's Bluets (aka Hawaiian Blue, or Koa Butterfly) haunted the rim, nectaring on the red bursts of Ohia blossom. In former times, native organisms were much more common -- and more known, used, and appreciated.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

December 05, 2008

Southwest Washington

Click on any image to enlarge.

East of El Paso, the scent of the creosote bush blew in the open window, the crescent moon strung between Saturn and Jupiter above. In the morning the wings of Dogface butterflies flew from the grills of semis. Just the Road, and more Road, as the odometer passed 387,000 miles, 35,000 for the year. It seems no place, no time, to be doing what I'm doing. But then beyond Jacumba, across Tecate Divide, I meet Koji under a cold blue sky. As the first day of December warms, we climb the Laguna Mountains in search of the ornamental eggs (like fancy-syped tiny tires) of Mountain Mahogany Hairstreaks—and find them! 28, in all. Then down into the western hem of the Colorado Desert, where a caterpillar of the California Giant Skipper awaited, plump body in the sun, shiny black head dug into the succulent leaf of a Desert Agave. Yes! (see pics. [below])

At home, heavy winds and rains -- which we are about to flee, Thea and I, to Hawaii.

Photos below by Kojiro Shiraiwa, author of the forthcoming book The Butterflies of San Diego County.

Below: RMP in the Laguna Mountains, hunting for hairstreaks again

Below: RMP with Kojiro Shiraiwa in the Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

Below: Habitat of the Mountain Mahogany Hairstreak (Satyrium tetra)

Below: A mass of hairstreak eggs on Mountain Mahogany leaf

Below: Close-up of Satyrium tetra eggs

Below: Desert Agave, hostplant of the California Giant Skipper, in eastern San Diego County

Below: California Giant Skipper (Agathymus stephensi) with its head burrowed into agave leaf

The two photos below: California Giant Skipper larva, head withdrawn, on agave leaf

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Judge Bean Country

November 30, 2008

Langtry, Texas

Click on any image to enlarge.

November 29, 2008
Langtry, Texas

My off-and-on late fall stay in the Lower Columbia no, that's where I'm going! This is Rio Grande Valley, produced many fine and exciting butterfly encounters -- though fewer, perhaps, than Border Patrol sightings, Winter Texans, chiggers, ticks, and other butterfliers. I have left it behind now for the endless Trans-Pecos, and the long journey west into winter, north to the green and wet. (T.B.C.)

This is a country of deep, scooped-out, pink-and-gray canyons with overhangs that look liked ravens' bills; of raptors on the poles, and rattlesnakes in the road. As I pass through it, I am watching for Giant Skippers among the Lechuguilla and Shindagger, agaves and yuccas. Butterflies are not quite over yet in the desert.

So it was that this hamlet lost a perfectly good entomological name. Even so, Lily never came to see "her" town until after Bean died. It is unlikely that this is where she rolled naked in the morning dew (ala Pattiann Rogers' poem), since every hillside is covered with those pointy host plants of the Giant Skippers (see previous card), cacti, or still other pricklers. For my part, sand burrs and acacia thorns will forever be a part of me -- or so say my feet.

I have been told that if this butterfly lark doesn't work out, there's a job for me here in Langtry as a Judge Bean impersonator. I've also been Kenny Rogered this year. I preferred Jerry Garcia!

Until Kauai, Bob.

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Two Texas Photos by Jan Dauphin

November 30, 2008


Two great rarities seen during my third stay in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, both highly prized by the remarkably cooperative community of Valley butterfly watchers.  Clench’s Greenstreak (Cyanophrys miserabilis) is the rarest of three species of these brilliant little green hairstreaks to appear in the LRGV.  We saw another one, the Tropical Greenstreak (Cyanophrys herodotus), the next morning, just a few yards away in a different bed of Eupatorium flowers.  Isabella’s Longwing (Euides isabella) appears infrequently on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.  Its larvae, like those of other species of heliconians (longwings), feed on leaves of passion flower vines, and the adults consume pollen as well as nectar, thereby living longer than most adult butterflies.  Doubly surprising, I saw one the next day also.

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November 15, 2008

Texas and South Texas

Click on any image to enlarge.

My host and butterflying buddy in S. Texas, Benton Basham -- a genial, solicitous, and kind fellow who also happens to be one of the most accomplished and admired birders in the land, and a Big Year veteran. Photo by Jan Dauphin, at the NABA Butterfly Garden, Mission.

The amazing Floyd and June Preston -- dear friends of mine for 47 years, and perennially peripatetic butterfly field investigators, living and working out of their camper when away from Lawrence. The malachite (below, lower left) and these photos are by Ben Basham.

(Read counter-clockwise, starting in upper left corner)
Two memorable watering holes visited on recent side trips in between South Texas stints:

Lovejoy's, unchanged in years and nothing fancy, lies at the bottom of lively 6th Street in Austin -- where I went in search of remnant colonies of the rare Apache Skipper.

Halloween was definitely the wrong night to try to get into Lovejoy's, or even into Austin. But the next night, after the Day of the Dead parade died down, I managed to get in for a pint of the shockingly hoppy Dennis Hopper Ale.

A few days or weeks later, my train was sidetracked for an hour in Shelby, Montana. I found this little cowboy bar open, and dropped in for a glass and a chat -- definitely not Dennis Hopper Ale -- half the bar was devoted to fish bait for the Miras River. Back at trackside, I came upon an amazing thing. There, just behind the last car, lay a dead great horned owl -- spread-winged beside the cold rail.

A young Navy vet came over to see what I was looking at, and he pronounced the owl's wingspan and beautiful plumage to be "insane." The two of us carried the owl over to a lone cottonwood tree…

and laid it down beside the trunk, then covered it with cottonwood leaves, there in that bleak little eastern Montana town.

The reason for going north in November -- not an intuitive strategy during the waning days of a Butterfly Big Year -- was to attend a research summit for the Children and Nature Network. This gave me a chance to look for the winter stages of several species I had earlier missed seeing in the northern states.

Remarkably, with the assistance of knowledgeable local lepidopterists, I managed to find some of these by slogging and creeping about snowy winter bogs and swamps: Karner Blue eggs and Swamp Metalmark larvae! Bog copper eggs: Ø

Then a relaxing ride on the rails from St. Paul to Spokane and on home for a much-needed visit with Thea.

This time I saw no butterflies from the train, as the asters and goldenrod were all bloomed out in the snowy landscape. Lots of pronghorns, though, and time to pore over lists of all the butterflies I still need to see when I return to Texas, if I am to reach my goal of 500 species. Check out the blog for complementary details.

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Florida to North Carolina

October 30, 2008

North Carolina

Click on any image to enlarge.

So I am coming up against autumn, and my chances of reaching my goal of 500 species are narrowing. If any place will get me there, it will be the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where (I am told) two species new to the United States turned up last week. So I will continue to haunt the Valley, in between trips out.

One of these, back to Florida for pay-the-bills lectures and intensive outings, brought me in contact with half-a-dozen new tallies in some still-flowered habitat remnants (see Linda Cooper's fine photos). One sight I will never forget: dozens of Florida Atala butterflies -- brilliant sapphire and vermillion on black velvet -- fluttering all over a tall native lantana at the Deering Estate in Miami. This butterfly was once thought to be extinct!

Pine Rockland Habitat -- haunt of Meske's and Dotted Skippers


There is something about a friendship from early childhood – 55 years in this case -- that nothing else quite touches. Jack Jeffers and I lived across the street from one another throughout our school days -- 1 to 12. We became best friends and butterfly buddies, heading out to the wilds of the High Line Canal with our nets all spring and summer long. So naturally, during the Butterfly Big Year, I wanted to visit Jack and to re-visit our days as kid lepidopterists.

I took the train (the Silver Star) from Del Ray Beach in Florida to Raleigh, North Carolina, where Jack is retired with his young family, Loreé and Jake, and his golf clubs. Between ping-pong, pool, and a pumpkin-carving party with Jake and their extended family, Jack and I headed out to fulfill a long-held ambition: a day swinging golf clubs, and one swinging butterfly nets.

I at least struck the ball most of the time, and Jack had not lost his groove with the net. We drove to the North Carolina Sand Hills, where we sought the Yehl Skipper and White-M hairstreak. These we did not find in the autumnal woods of little nectar. But we did encounter 14 species of butterflies, and reconnected in their pursuit across half a century of different lives, different strokes. Different lives, but united in what Nabokov called the "ecstasy of being among rare butterflies and their food plants," or something close to that. And it was.


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Photos from Florida

October 16, 2008

Photos by Linda Cooper

Arogos Skipper (Atrytone arogos) on Carphephorus corymbosus (Paint Brush)

Lopsided Indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum)

Meske’s Skipper (Hesperia meskei) nectaring on Liatris species (Gay Feather or Blazing Star)

Pine Lily or Catesby’s Lily (Lilium catesbaei)

same lily with Longleaf Pines in background (Pinus palustris)

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Southern Beauties

October 16, 2008

South Texas

Click on any image to enlarge.

En route, S. Texas—N. Florida

It took me three weeks to drive from home to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. On the way, I prowled Nevada ridges, Arizona canyons, and New Mexico borderlands. I moved a dozen black-tailed rattlesnakes off a lonely road one night, the Border Patrol investigating me almost every time; and I watched a roadrunner pecking big grasshoppers off the grills of autos at the Basin in Big Bend. Butterflies increased all along the way. At last I reached the storied Valley -- the almost-ruined Texan tropics, where reserves and butterfly gardens abound among the sprawl.

For several days now, I have reveled and sweated my way from one butterfly hot-spot to another. Yesterday, in the western valley, master-birder/butterflier Benton Basham (who first broke 700 species on a birding Big Year) guided me to flowery spot after spot. We saw 79 species, almost 1/10 of the American fauna, 8 of which were new for my own Big Year. All day, we swam through high heat, humidity, chiggers, sand burrs, and 10's of thousands of butterflies. I wish every one could have seen those two massive Malachites together on purple mistflower, and the five species of impressive long-tailed skippers. I’ll be back to the valley for two more periods. Meanwhile, here is a collage of a few of the prominent species. RMP.

These species are, in order:
White Peacock
Snout (the most abundant of all -- millions)!

This butterfly is certainly not here -- it is South American. But another indigo & black beauty, the Mexican Bluewing, abounds!

I found this card floating on the surface of a stream near Big Bend Nat’l Park. Quite

appropriate, as it turns out, since it was at Sotol viewpoint between Panther Junction and Cottonwood Camp on the Rio Grande where I found both the Chinati and Fulvia Checkerspots -- two uncommon beauties. Chinati is a specialty of the Chisos Mtns.

Text here

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The Chiricahuas

October 03, 2008


Click on any image to enlarge.

October 3, 2008
I love this old hotel, especially for the splendid windows, which depict the flora and topography of the Sonoran Desert. The scarlet flowers of the ocotillo are especially fine.

Otherwise, the "grand" part is a bit past. But the place (and this whole border town) exists in a time warp. You wouldn't be surprised if Pancho Villa charged in the front door and up the marble staircase, guns blazing, as he once did.

As I work through the last of the several sky islands I've visited here in Arizona -- the Chiricahuas -- I am thinking a lot about phenology: the progression, or procession, of natural events through the year. Without a time machine or the ability to disapparate, or at least a big budget (and appetite) for aeroplanes and rental cars, I don't know how anyone would see all the American butterflies in a year, or even most of them. Each species has its own particular flight period, often keyed to the phenologies of their larval host plants and adult nectar sources, in turn militated by patterns of precipitation and temperature. So in order to see the full fauna in a given area, you'd have to return several times -- and then too, the emergence of a given species can vary by weeks, depending on the weather.

So, in short, I got here a little too late for the whole, rich roster of roadside skippers. But by doing so, I arrived just right for the amazing Giant Skippers in the Huachucas, not too late for the Red-rimmed Satyr, and just in time for Terloot's Pine White. So the phenology is a keen challenge -- and will remain so, on into Texas.

The great naturalist-photographer Bob Behrstock came afield with me in the Huachucas -- his photos show two of the big skippers.

Both photos below by R.A. Behrstock/Naturewide Images:
Dull Firetip (two crops). Fort Huachuca. A very worn individual we were lucky to see as the flight is about over.

Photo below by R.A. Behrstock/Naturewide Images:
Huachuca Giant-Skipper. Fort Huachuca.

Photo below:
Bob and Bob Behrstock in Karen LeMay and Behrstock's back yard.

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Along the Colorado

September 24, 2008

Lower Colorado River

Click on any image to enlarge.

September 24, 2008,
along the Lower Colorado River —

From the already autumnal cool of the lower Columbia to the evil heat of the lower Colorado (a 50 degree rise), I've driven the near-endless length of Nevada to reach the butterfly riches of the Huachucas, the Chiricahuas, and the Davis Mtns., Big Bend, and ultimately, the Lower Rio Grande in S. Texas. Having pretty much exhausted the North, I find more and more flying the farther I case the season -- at least in the mountains. In this bleak and torrid place, only a drooping roadrunner.

Longing for the Boreal,

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Some Photos

August 31, 2008

Along the Road

The three photos below are by Janet Chu.

Bob and Dr. Boyce Drummond at the Bucksnort Saloon, Sphinx Park, Colorado.

Mead’s Wood Nymph, Deckers, Colorado

The photo below is by Jim Wiker:

Hunting pearly eyes and lacewing skippers deep in the giant canebrakes, near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Temperature and humidity both in high nineties. This is also where I picked up a few dozen chiggers.

And the photo below is by Boyce A. Drummond

Pawnee montane skipper (Hesperia leonardus montana) on gayfeather (Liatris punctata) that Bob saw in Trumbull Colorado with Boyce Drummond on September 1, 2008.

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A Wide-Ranging Search for Northern Species

August 31, 2008

All Over!

Click on any image to enlarge.

Boulder, en route to Gray's River
The latter half of August has been a giant crazy-eight, a last-gasp effort to find Northern species before Autumn's embrace -- if Kentucky can be called Northern! I began by driving Powdermilk through Idaho and Montana, seeking Christina Sulphurs and Hayden's Ringlets; then E. Utah for Nokomis Fritillaries and big Yuma Skippers. From Denver, I flew to Maine to track down Dorcas and Bog Coppers, white admirals, Atlantis Fritillaries… and to hear John Piot's 40-drum steel band, Flash in the Pan. Then to the subtropical heat and rain of Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio and Mississippi meet in bald cypress swamps and canebrakes. This paper plate led to my rendezvous with Jim Wiker & Sally Agnew. Jim guided me deep into wet habitats replete with uncommon satyrs, skippers, and carnivorous, Halloween-hued Harvesters. Onward in the rented Bronze Copper from one end of Kentucky to another, past "butterflies already yellow with August," as Ezra Pound had it, to meet stunning Diana. Back to Colorado by rail, WY, NE, SD, home -- and summer is over.

When I returned to Illinois, it wasn't for the scenes on the reverse, but for this one. Here I witnessed three (all 3) kinds of pearly eyes sipping sap at the same tree, at the same time, in a light rain at dusk. In that same canebrake I collected over 100 chiggers -- all over my body. It was just about worth it!

Weaving the ridges of the KY-VA-WV borders, in deep Appalachia, I beheld the enormities of mountaintop removal for coal, and wound through one sorry little coal town and fouled stream after another. But, it was the way of life, as logging has been where I live. I paused in Matewan, scene of the labor battle leading to the infamous "massacre" of miners by company goons. This is also the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country. "Bygones are bygones," I was told by Cathy McCoy, who then went on to tell me of the massacre of McCoys by the Hatfields. My overall impression of this land, where towns are named Majestic, Lovely, and Beauty, is one of a conflicted landscape --

and a people not without their own conflicts. But also a place of courtesy, difficult and distinctive dialect, and actual beauty in the hills, when they escape the coal-shovel. And, I saw one of the great butterfly spectacles of the entire year here in Matewan. It was on the site of yet another feud -- a rip-rapped riverbank slope above the Tug Fork, where Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush) and kudzu were struggling for dominance. There, an astonishing array of butterflies thronged the purple Buddleia: hundreds of swallowtails, fritillaries, ladies, skippers, and others -- 21 species in all. They included scores of big, flashy silver-spotted skippers, whose larvae -- with their red, yellow-spotted heads like a coal miner's hard-hat and headlamp -- quite happily feed on kudzu.

Though I spent most nights of my Appalachian swing in my rental car, the Bronze Copper, I did splurge for a night (and a desperately needed shower) here at this inn. Once a state-of-the-art company town school, it held children until 1992. (The school up the road was for "colored" kids.) It has since become a pleasant hostelry, situated hard below Big Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky, and a classic locale for the big, black and blue fritillary known as Diana -- my reason for coming.

And another great old inn: Glen Isle Lodge, in Bailey, Colorado, type locality for Mead's Wood Nymph. My mother, brother, and I stayed here in 1964 to seek that butterfly, and I also had my first honeymoon here in 1966. Glen-Isle is essentially, amazingly unchanged -- right down to the proprietor, Mrs. Barbara Tripp, who was there on both those earlier visits! In nearby S. Platte Canyon, with biologist Boyce Drummond, I saw the Fed. endangered b'fly, the Pawnee Montane Skipper. And after the field, Antler Ale at the Bucksnort Saloon in Sphinx Park, a pink-granite Brigadoon in a narrow Front Range Canyon.

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Robert Michael Pyle won the 2007 National Outdoor Book Award....


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