Big Bend Butterflies

For a week in early April, Rebecca and I flew to Tallahassee, Florida in search of some new butterflies. Most of our time was spent in four units of the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area with one day devoted to participating in an annual butterfly count at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and our final day checking out a couple of butterfly spots in Tallahassee with my sister and husband who live there. While the term “Big Bend” brings to my mind the National Park in west Texas, that term is also used to refer to that part of northern Florida curving south around the Gulf Coast. This area of Florida came as quite a surprise to me, with very few other people around and its having unique habitats of swampy pine forests and sandy meadows. We had decided to visit after reading an extensive article on the butterflies in the area in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of “American Butterflies,” and would meet three of its four authors for our day at Suwanee. Over the course of four full days of butterflying, we’d see close to 50 species almost a dozen of which were new for me. Even Rebecca, who’d been butterflying in Florida in the past, added four species to her life list.

One of the first “lifer” butterflies for me, and which we’d see plenty of was one of five swallowtail species for the trip, the Palamedes Swallowtail, shown here nectaring on the wild iris that was in full bloom everywhere.

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)

Another swallowtail, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), wasn’t nearly as commonly seen. Interestingly, the female comes in two different forms. One is the yellow morph, which looks quite similar to both the male and the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) seen here in Albuquerque.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) - female

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) – female

The other form is the black morph, which we also saw on the trip.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) - dark female

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) – dark female

For the family Pieridae (Whites & Sulphurs), we’d only see three species, the most common of which is unusual to see here, the Cloudless Sulphur.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

We had hoped to see a few more representatives of the Lycaenidae family of hairstreaks and blues, but both of the hairstreaks we did see were new for me. One was the Red-banded Hairstreak, which I’ve been hoping to see for the last several years.

Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)

Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)

The other was a subspecies of Juniper Hairstreak, Callophrys gryneus sweadneri.

"Sweadner's" Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus sweadneri)

“Sweadner’s” Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus sweadneri)

Our common subspecies out west is Callophrys gryneus siva, and we’ve seen two others in California, C. g. loki on a trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park last spring and C. g. nelsoni back in 2012.

There were no members of the Riodinidae family (Metalmarks) flying there now and only a single species possible, the Little Metalmark (Calephilis virginiensis). We did, however, see a good variety of brushfoots (Nymphalidae family). One of my favorites because of its vivid orange coloring is the Gulf Fritillary.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Two species I’ve only seen previously on our trip to the 2014 NABA meeting in Chattanooga are the Appalachian Brown

Appalachian Brown (Satyrodes appalachia)

Appalachian Brown (Satyrodes appalachia)

and the Little Wood-Satyr.

Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela)

Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela)

On the Chattanooga trip, we’d seen Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) and Creole Pearly-eye (Enodia creola); on this trip we’d pick up the third species, Southern Pearly-eye (Enodia portlandia).

Southern Pearly-eye (Enodia portlandia)

Southern Pearly-eye (Enodia portlandia)

Almost half of the species we saw on the trip were members of the Hesperiidae family (Skippers), seven of which were lifers for me. Sometimes tricky to identify on your own, several skippers were pointed out to us by the local experts during the butterfly count at Lower Suwannee NWR, including Aaron’s Skipper, Broad-winged Skipper, Least Skipper, Ocola Skipper, and this Palatka Skipper.

Palatka Skipper (Euphyes palatka)

Palatka Skipper (Euphyes palatka)

A lifer for me that we were able to easily identify was the Salt Marsh Skipper,

Salt Marsh Skipper (Panoquina panoquin)

Salt Marsh Skipper (Panoquina panoquin)

and at a couple of locations that week, Rebecca nailed another lifer for both of us, the Twin-Spot Skipper.

Twin-spot Skipper (Oligoria maculata)

Twin-spot Skipper (Oligoria maculata)

Quite commonly seen just about everywhere was the Whirlabout, a species that’s only found in the southeastern US.

Whirlabout (Polites vibex)

Whirlabout (Polites vibex)

The only camera I had along for the trip was my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000, which is much smaller and lighter than my usual gear and has several features, notably the articulated screen and video capabilities, that should be useful for taking butterfly pictures and more convenient for travel. It did seem to do pretty well for the butterflies, although the auto-focus often had difficulty focusing on a butterfly against a distracting background, and sometimes had a little trouble getting the exposure correct. It was pretty easy, however, to switch to manual focus and back to auto-focus, and to adjust the exposure, if the butterfly would stick around long enough. For photographing birds, it was good at locking onto flying subjects pretty quickly, but the zoom really is limited to its 400 mm equivalent, and its reach was noticeably less than with the other equipment I’ve been using for the last several years. With a DX format camera, my Nikon 80-400 mm lens is equivalent to 120-600 mm, and my older Nikon 70-300 mm is similarly equivalent to 105-450 mm. Following are a few pictures of things other than butterflies to give you an idea of what I was able to get with the Lumix.

We had plenty of dragonflies flitting about while we were looking for butterflies, including this Great Blue Skimmer,

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) - female

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) – female

and would occasionally spot small crabs running about.

Crab

Crab

The wild iris were just gorgeous and were quite photogenic against the dark water of the swamp. While I was photographing one of them trying to catch that contrast of color against the very dark background, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird unexpectedly popped by for a visit.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Iris

Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Iris

At the base of a number of the plants growing out of the water were these interesting clusters of pink balls, which we’d later find out were eggs of the Apple Snail, one of the favorite foods I recall of Snail Kites.

Apple Snail Eggs

Apple Snail Eggs

One of the first birds I photographed from a pretty good distance away was one we don’t see out west, the Great Crested Flycatcher.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

The Hickory Mound Unit had a large open expanse of salt marsh, which was quite different habitat than the forested swamp of the other units we visited, and drew in a variety of good birds, including a Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kites, several herons and egrets, and various other waterfowl. One stretch of the road through the salt marsh had several fishermen who caught the attention of several other birds. At quite close range, this Laughing Gull was flying about hoping for a handout.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

We were also able to get pretty close to a Willet

Willet

Willet

and a pair of Double-crested Cormorants.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Another fabulous trip with plenty of good sightings and new species, these are just some of the pictures; I’ve posted a bunch more on my website at http://sandianet.com/florida/index.htm .

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About joeschelling

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

8 Responses to Big Bend Butterflies

  1. terrific post – fun watching the trip unfold!

  2. 1nmbirder says:

    You got some beautiful photos Joe. Sounds like a wonderful and successful trip!

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