Back from a fabulous road trip to Sierra Vista AZ and have finally managed to get through all the pictures that made it home. Our primary goal for the trip was to attend the 10th biennial meeting of the North American Butterfly Association. Taking the long way there via Alpine and Highway 191, we first stopped near Alpine AZ where a friend had given us directions for seeing the highly local (in both space and time) Nokomis Fritillary, which Rebecca had been searching for over the last few years. Success!
This is the female of the species, which unusually for butterflies is quite different from the male and is very dark on top while the male is a bright orange.
After rescuing one female caught in a spider web, another would soon land on Rebecca’s hand, a nice treat after such a long search. Spending a couple of hours in the boggy meadow and seeing nearly a dozen of these spectacular butterflies, we then took the long, slow, but quite scenic drive down Hwy. 191 to Clifton, past the huge Morenci open pit copper mining operation, through Safford and on to I-10.
At the I-10 rest stop in the Dragoon Mountains, we poked around looking for a few more butterflies and saw our first Pipevine Swallowtails and Gulf Fritillaries for the trip.
We also saw the first of what would turn out to be astonishing numbers of the huge horse lubber grasshoppers (the females are about 7 cm, nearly 3″, long!); this is the only one I saw that showed off its bright wing color.
Arriving in Sierra Vista a day before the start of the meeting, we spent the morning in Garden Canyon on the Fort Huachuca Army Base. Unlike most military installations these days, the public can get on base with just a driver’s license to visit a couple of the remarkable canyons in the area. But it should be noted that the MPs sometimes set up roadblocks back in there where they essentially strip search your vehicle. Not sure what they were looking for, but they had me open the hood, trunk, glove compartment and any other openings which they then proceeded to poke around, and had to see my license, registration, and insurance papers before letting us proceed. I’m not complaining, though, since they did allow us to visit what would typically be a restricted area for some great butterflies.
We almost didn’t make it to the end of the canyon that day, stopping at every wet spot along the way where there was always some kind of puddle party going on with multiple species of butterflies.
Above is an example of a puddle party of a couple of Southern Dogfaces joining in with Mexican Yellows and several others.
Interestingly, it seemed these yellow Pieridae would all form a group with similar butterflies, while the Lycaenidae, such as the Spring Azure and Marine Blue, light gray in color, would form their own group, and sure enough, the Nymphalidae, such as the darker colored Arizona Sister, zillions of Bordered Patches, and Theona Checkerspots segregated themselves into their own group.
One area was filled with American Basketflower (Centaurea americana), which proved irresistible to a variety of butterflies and moths. Of nearly a dozen White-lined Sphinx Moths hovering about, I got a pretty good picture of two of them hitting the same flower.
On these same flowers that morning, we saw our only Giant Swallowtail and Two-tailed Swallowtail for the trip along with several Pipevine Swallowtails, the latter being quite common in the area but not often seen at home.
Another special treat that morning that we wouldn’t see again during the trip was a Dull Firetip, one of several ‘lifers’ for me that just barely enter Arizona and New Mexico from Mexico.
Another special butterfly for the trip that also pops into southern Arizona from Mexico and that we’d see several times during the trip is Nabokov’s Satyr, named in honor of the Russian novelist who was also quite into butterflies.
Over the next three days, we had great fun catching up with friends attending the NABA meeting, several other friends that live in the area, and enjoying all-day field trips to some of the excellent butterfly habitats in the area. In addition to NABA field trips to Carr Canyon and Comfort Spring, the San Pedro River, and Brown Canyon, on our own we visited Ramsey Canyon and returned to Garden Canyon.
Our Friday field trip was to Carr Canyon, where we drove a rather rough 4WD road up to a picnic area and then hiked about 3/4 of a mile down to Comfort Spring. We had it easy riding in a Toyota Land Cruiser with our trip leader, but amazingly, a group from New Jersey actually made it to the top with their rented Crown Victoria. Surprisingly lush, the monsoon rains had done their job and wildflowers were everywhere in this canyon and pretty much everwhere else we’d visit in the area. One of the special butterflies that day, another one of those Mexican residents that cross the border into southern Arizona, was the Ares Metalmark.
Another interesting sighting on our hike that day was a Spiny Lizard, a rather colorful creature similar to the Collared Lizards I see in New Mexico on rare occasions.
Down at Comfort Spring, we’d also get a very special ‘lifer’ that only occurs in the Huachuca Mountains, the Huachuca Giant-Skipper.
We’ve taken several trips in the last couple years hoping to see any kind of Giant-Skipper, so to get this one and have it sit so patiently for photographs was quite a treat. Getting to see it more than made up for the downpour that started soon after and continued as we made our way back uphill to the vehicles.
On Saturday, our field trip went to several spots along the San Pedro River, a lush riparian zone. The river was lined with large cottonwood trees growing near extensive grasslands that contained an astonishing variety and number of various grasshoppers and other insects along with some good butterflies. Plenty of those huge horse lubber grasshoppers were about, but there were quite a few other species around, including this mating pair of grasshoppers.
There were also large numbers of assorted caterpillars in the fields and many of the other locations we visited during the trip.
A friend in New Mexico recently told me about some cool bugs he’d been seeing on mallow plants near the Rio Grande that are called Calligraphy Beetles. Although I’d been looking for them since he told me about them, I hadn’t yet had any success. But there at the San Pedro River I’d finally see some and apparently two different species, a red one and this tan one.
Two of the new butterflies for me that day were the Acacia Skipper
and the Toltec Roadside-Skipper.
While getting several new butterflies at the San Pedro River Inn that day, I also got a few good pictures of a Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding on the Lantana bushes.
Sunday morning it was off to Brown Canyon on Ramsey Canyon Road for leopard frogs, several dragonflies, very cool bugs, and even more good butterflies. A rather fascinating subject on our hike that morning was what we think is the rather large and rather bizarre-looking caterpillar of a Glover Silkmoth.
The field trip ended a little earlier than usual since it was the last day of the NABA meeting, so we took off further up the canyon to the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve. While it is quite well-known among birders for the special hummingbirds that show up there, it was actually one of the better butterflying sites we’d seen all week, with large puddle parties rivaled only by those we’d see even later in the day back at Garden Canyon. Among the butterflies we saw there was this Theona Checkerspot
and a very cooperative Red-spotted Purple.
Returning to Garden Canyon, we were amazed to see huge numbers of Bordered Patches and several other species surrounding a small pool of water, most of them settled on the ground for the night (until disturbed by our approach). We had hoped to head up the trail from the end of the road to look for another species of Giant-Skipper, but realized it was getting rather late in the day. While wandering around all the resting butterflies, another couple drove up who hadn’t yet seen the Red-bordered Satyr, that while new for me on this trip we’d been seeing fairly regularly over the last few days. So we pointed out two individuals that were in there with everybody else around the pool, and since they too seemed to be ready to call it a night, managed to sneak up pretty close to one for a picture of this spectacular species.
Certainly a highlight of that final visit to Garden Canyon was seeing this Black-tailed Rattlesnake warming itself on the pavement late in the afternoon as we drove back out of the canyon.
The next morning, we got an early start for the drive back to Albuquerque but decided to take a quick look along the way around the Cave Creek area of the Chiricahua National Monument, hoping to possibly see the Chiricahua White that might be present this time of year. While we didn’t get that butterfly, we did add a couple of butterflies to our trip list, with a very worn Common Buckeye bringing the total for the trip to a respectable 60 species.
On the way into the monument, we had a peccary dash across the road in front of the car, and maybe because it is so quiet there early in the week came across a black bear grazing right by the road at the Ranger Station and essentially oblivious to our presence.
There must’ve been something really good to eat there, since the bear was still at it when we returned an hour later. Even cooler, just up the road from this one we spotted a young cub who played hide-and-seek with us at about eye level in a tree by the side of the road. It kept hiding behind the tree trunk as I fumbled with my camera, and about the time I was finally ready to take a picture, got tired of the game and ran off through the woods.
For a trip focused mostly on seeing a few new butterflies, getting to see so many other natural wonders in addition to those sixty butterfly species made for a most enjoyable experience. These and more pictures from the trip are now online at http://sandianet.com/sierravista/index.htm.