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.