It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post since I’ve been busy working through the 800+ photos that made it home with me from a week-long butterfly trip to the White Mountains of Arizona. Organized and led by our expert guide, Jim Brock, co-author of the “Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America,” we spent several days based out of Eagar AZ hitting some of the best butterflying spots in the area, including Mt. Graham, Green’s Peak Road, and Hwy. 191 south of Alpine. Then we headed down to Sierra Vista AZ for some more good days in Carr and Ramsey Canyon, nearby Patagonia and the Harshaw Creek area, and other spots Jim knew of. About half of us had been on an excellent trip with him to the Southern Sierra Nevada of California in 2012, and most of us on the even more fabulous trip to Wyoming and Montana last year. Although this trip was closer to home and we did recognize a few of the butterflies this time, the group got a total of more than 100 species and my list has grown to 364 US species since October 2010 with the addition of 20 “lifers” and another 3 local subspecies. Below are a few of the better pictures; a lot more are on my webpage at sandianet.com/whitemt.
Of course, it wasn’t all butterflies all the time, and in addition to those, we spent time with several new lizards, some spotted a snake or two, and we had a couple of cool horned lizards.
But the butterflies were pretty amazing, and at times it almost seemed a short class in Roadside-Skippers, of which we’d see an amazing 11 of the 13 possible species in that area at this time of year. (It goes almost without saying that was only possible because of Jim’s knowledge and expertise of knowing where to go at what time of day and what plants to look for, not to mention realizing instantly what we were looking at.)
For this trip, my butterflying friend, Rebecca, and I decided to drive over to meet the group in Safford AZ after stopping at Rockhound and Spring Canyon State Parks near Deming NM and checking out the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area near Safford. Those stops on our own would add a few species to our list, including a couple that we wouldn’t see again with the group, including Leda Ministreak, Palmer’s Metalmark and Acacia Skipper (the group did pick up the Acacia Skipper the day we drove back through New Mexico on the way to Sierra Vista). At the end of the trip, we stopped for lunch at Paseo del Rio Campground outside of Truth or Consequences NM for some good butterflies on the way home while the rest of the group headed west toward Tucson (where they would pick up several additional new species for the trip, including a Sonoran Metalmark and the Elf we’d looked in vain for a few days earlier).
At several places during the trip, we’d come across large numbers of one of the more photogenic and spectacular butterflies, Ferris’s Copper. The male of the species is bright orange above,
while the upper side of the female is much more distinctively patterned.
In the field of coneflowers where we had plenty of those coppers were also a number of Small Wood-Nymphs. Usually only seen in the forest shadow, on that day several were visiting the coneflowers in strong light.
On one of our days at Green’s Peak Road, Jim had the idea that we should all climb this massive hill, where he promised us there should be a few butterflies illustrating the “hilltopping” behavior of some species, where the males patrol the tops of hills showing off for the females. I’d always wondered what constituted a “hilltop” in the mind of a butterfly, like maybe the top of a big rock or something relevant to their scale, but no, we’re talking mountain tops here. Good thing we made the climb, as we’d pick up a “lifer” species up there, the Old World Swallowtail,
and see a Fulvia Checkerspot, which I’ve only rarely seen before.
During the trip we saw five different checkerspots, most of which have quite interesting patterns on the underside, another example being the Tiny Checkerspot.
At the bottom of that hill were several small pools and damp spots from the recent monsoon rains that drew in a few dragonflies in addition to some butterflies. One of the pools was being actively patrolled by a male Flame Skimmer, who would occasionally take a break and perch on a favorite twig.
One morning, Jim brought a very large and very cool moth to show everyone at breakfast. Although it absolutely terrified one little boy at first, Jim explained that moths are actually pretty harmless and the kid finally came around and found it all pretty fascinating although he never quite got up the nerve to touch it.
Like most of those roadside-skippers, several other skippers were seen on the trip that are very strongly marked on the underside, several with interesting cobweb patterns. These butterflies are pretty small, but always fun to see. This is a picture of the Uncas Skipper (lifer!),
and this is one of a Carus Skipper, which I’d only seen once before near Silver City.
Another lifer for me on the trip was Peck’s Skipper, fairly common in the northern and eastern US, but present in only a very small area in eastern Arizona. Coincidentally, several days after I saw this butterfly a friend whose blog is one of only a few I follow posted a picture of one he’d taken in Northern Virginia, which I could now immediately recognize from that extended light bar in the middle of the forewing.
Surprising to me, on this trip we’d see a Monarch butterfly almost every day. The most popular butterfly because of all the publicity about its migratory behavior, I’d only seen a single one in New Mexico this year. Arizona, however, is more in the migration pathway, which might explain why we were seeing them regularly.
Another butterfly that one sees fairly regularly at home, but rarely poses for such a good photograph, is the Orange Sulphur.
And so colorful to make you think it escaped from the neotropics is the Gulf Fritillary we saw on the lantana in downtown Patagonia AZ.
While in Patagonia, we stopped by someone’s yard that had been planted as a butterfly garden. The garden was drawing a good variety of butterflies as planned, but also interesting was the variety of different bees that found the passion flowers irresistible.
A good one we’d see several times is the Central Spotted-Blue, good because we’d just seen one the week before in the Sandias but weren’t sure of what it was. Better yet, after returning home, we’d find another one higher up the mountain on its host plant, James’s buckwheat (Eriogonum jamesii).
Another quite rare species that only occasionally slips across the border with Mexico is the Valeriana Skipper.
Its cousin, the Arizona Skipper (C. arizonensis), also got added to my life list on the trip.
I’d hoped to see a few more of the Metalmark Family on the trip, but other than the Palmer’s that Rebecca and I saw first in the Gila Box and again on the stop at Paseo del Rio on the way home, I’d only see the Nais Metalmark. Not complaining, tho, since it was another lifer for the list. Some in the group also picked up the Zela Metalmark, which I’d seen before, and that Sonoran Metalmark after we left for home.
A couple other good ones for the trip were the Red Satyr (lifer!)
and the ‘White Mountains’ Common Ringlet – I’d seen ringlets before, but not the local specialty.
To end this post on a non-butterfly note, here’s a little different picture of a Cactus Wren taken at Paseo del Rio.
We had a couple of them goofing around in the cottonwoods by the river, and certainly the first time I’d ever seen one in something other than a cholla cactus. Good monsoon rains around here this month (very close to breaking the city record for July rainfall), which is great and should turn up a few good birds, butterflies, and other critters in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.