California Butterfly Trip

It’s been awhile since my last update due to being off to Southern California on a week-long butterfly trip.  Organized by Sunstreak Tours and led by Jim Brock, co-author of the excellent Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America, our nine-member group would get to see nearly 100 species  during the week, a great many of which were ‘lifers’ for me.  This may be a pretty long posting to show some of the better pictures culled from the hundreds I took that week.

Based primarily out of Sequoia Lodge in Kernville, we’d take long day trips each day to specific locations for some of the specialties of California.  The first day, for example, we headed south from LAX to Descanso near San Diego to track down the Hermes Copper that had been seen there recently.  First picture of the trip, however, and one of my favorites is this pair of mating Melissa Blues; that’s the male on the left, female on the right.

Mating Melissa Blues

Mating Melissa Blues (Plebejus melissa)

Then it was on to that Hermes Copper, a gorgeous butterfly and the first of the five species of Coppers we’d see during the trip.

Hermes Copper

Hermes Copper (Lycaena hermes)

Two other great butterflies we’d see that first day before heading to Kernville were the San Emigdio Blue, which has a very narrow range, and the Bernardino Square-spotted Blue, which is only found in Southern California and Western Arizona.

San Emigdio Blue

San Emigdio Blue (Plebejus emigdionis)

Bernardino Square-spotted Blue

Bernardino Square-spotted Blue
(Euphilotes bernardino)

From Kernville, we’d take long day trips over the next few days to places like Sherman Pass, Chimney Peak, Erskine Creek, Lubken Canyon, and Horseshoe Meadow.  Toward the end of the week, we moved on for one night in Bakersfield to head for the Fresno Dome area the next day, and then headed back to LA via the Santa Ynez Mountains and Santa Barbara.

Some of the largest and most dramatic of the butterflies are the swallowtails, of which we’d see at least four of the five species expected in California.  Although we only got a very brief view of the Indra Swallowtail, the Anise, Pale, and Western Tiger Swallowtails all posed for some pretty good pictures.

Anise Swallowtail

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)

Pale Swallowtail

Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon)

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

The Western Tiger was just enamored of that red thistle and spent easily a half hour feeding on that single flower.  While taking its picture, a most amazing bug appeared having a ridiculously long proboscis to slip into that thistle – we think it’s a Metallic Small-headed Fly.

Metallic Small-headed Fly

Metallic Small-headed Fly

Other large butterflies we’d rarely see perched included the Lorquin’s Admiral and California Sister.

Lorquin's Admiral

Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini)

California Sister

California Sister (Adelpha californica)

Much smaller but vibrantly colored, here are three more of the species of Copper butterflies we saw that week – the Gorgon, Lustrous, and Tailed Coppers.

Gorgon Copper

Gorgon Copper (Lycaena gorgon)

Lustrous Copper

Lustrous Copper (Lycaena cupreus)

Tailed Copper

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Although quite similar in appearance and sharing similar ranges, our exceptional guide Jim was easily able to distinguish the Variable Checkerspot, of which we’d see quite a few on several different days, from the less common and redder in color Edith’s Checkerspot.

Variable Checkerspot

Variable Checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona)

Edith's Checkerspot

Edith’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha)

Of the four fritillaries we saw, the bright orange Pacific Fritillary was another new one for me and posed for a pretty good portrait.

Pacific Fritillary

Pacific Fritillary (Boloria epithore)

Quite a few varieties of Elfin and Hairstreaks were also about, including the Brown Elfin,  Behr’s Hairstreak, Hedgerow Hairstreak, and Bramble Green Hairstreak.

Brown Elfin

Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus)

Behr's Hairstreak

Behr’s Hairstreak (Satyrium behrii)

Hedgerow Hairstreak

Hedgerow Hairstreak (Satyrium saepium)

Bramble Green Hairstreak

Bramble Green Hairstreak (Callophrys perplexa)

Last but not least, many different types of skippers were seen. Here are two of them, the Northern White-Skipper and Western Branded Skipper.

Northern White-Skipper

Northern White-Skipper (Heliopetes ericetorum)

Western Branded Skipper

Western Branded Skipper (Hesperia colorado)

Of course, there were plenty of things to see other than butterflies.  Certainly there were a few interesting moths about and plenty of colorful wildflowers, but several other creatures also were found sharing the same habitats as the butterflies.  Here is a pair of mating bluet damselflies,

Mating Bluets

Mating Bluets

and one of the two Pacific Chorus Frogs we spotted.

Pacific Chorus Frog

Pacific Chorus Frog

Most cool were some of the lizards we’d see in various locations, including a Great Basin Collared Lizard and the prehistoric-looking Coast Horned Lizard.

Great Basin Collared Lizard

Great Basin Collared Lizard

Coast Horned Lizard

Coast Horned Lizard

Most of us in the group were birders long before we got into butterflies and couldn’t help but look up now and then to identify some of them.  New for most of us were the Tri-colored Blackbirds, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, and a large flock of Chukar.  We also got close looks at Anna’s Hummingbirds, a couple of Clark’s Nutcrackers, and two Lazuli Buntings, and heard but did not see Wrentits.  Just as we were leaving the spot where we had that Great Basin Collared Lizard, Rebecca spotted a nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which I snapped a couple of pictures of as we were loading back into the van heading for the next location.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I’ve posted these and more of the trip pictures on my website at  A most enjoyable and productive trip, I’m definitely looking forward to future trips with Sunstreak and Jim Brock.


About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Photographs, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to California Butterfly Trip

  1. ttreacy says:

    Great shots, Joe. How’d you get those little guys to sit still for you? Looks like a fabulous trip. I want to go….!!!

  2. joeschelling says:

    You just have to talk nice to them, but it does help to sneak up on them 😉

  3. Rebecca Gracey says:

    The group of pictures you show here are all so beautiful. You’ve included wonderful photographs of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and flowers, but the butterflies are breath-taking!

  4. Sounds like you had a fantastic trip. Lots of great photos.

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