Just back from a delightful butterfly trip with a few friends all last week to East Texas, and have gotten through all the pictures that made it home with me. Rebecca and I first flew to Houston where we met our friend, Linda, who joined us for the short flight to College Station. Jim Brock, lead author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America and a true expert in butterflies, picked us up and off we went. Flying through College Station was a great suggestion by Jim, avoiding all the Houston city traffic and with only two gates at that airport no problems at all with airport security lines. Based out of the Super 8 in Kountze, we’d be joined by our Houston friend, Steve Abbey, and Steve Moore from Massachusetts checking out a number of locations mostly around the Big Thicket National Preserve and spending a day near Sabine Pass close to the Louisiana border. We’d all been on trips with Jim in the past and were sure to have a great time and see some good ‘bugs’. In the course of the trip, we’d all pick up a few new ‘lifer’ butterflies (even Jim got one!) and with close to 50 species overall, I’d personally add 6 new species to my lifelist.
One of the first butterflies we’d see right where Jim expected it was the King’s Hairstreak, a new one for most of the group.
A couple of other hairstreaks would also be seen that week, which I’d only seen before on other trips to the eastern U.S., including Red-banded Hairstreak
and the similar Dusky-blue Groundstreak.
On the last day of our trip, killing time before our return to the airport, we checked out Lick Creek Park in College Station, where eagle-eyed Linda would spot another lifer hairstreak for a few of us, me included, the Northern Oak Hairstreak.
It took two visits, but just outside the town we were based in Jim took us to see another lifer for several of us, the Little Metalmark.
On a trip to the Big Bend area of Florida last month, Zebra Swallowtails regularly flew by but refused to land anywhere long enough to photograph, so it was a treat on this trip to have a couple that were a bit more cooperative.
While the weather was never quite as bad as suggested by the forecast, when the clouds rolled in the butterflies would disappear but the dragonflies (and mosquitoes!) would still be flying and we’d be treated to some pretty spectacular ones, such as this Bar-winged Skimmer
and the Halloween Pennant.
Amazing for those of us living in the desert were fields of wildflowers and a huge variety of flora in all the spots we visited. In the Big Thicket National Preserve, two of the nearly two dozen species of orchids were blooming for us. (Update 1/19/18 – this is actually an iris, Alophia drummondii. Thanks, Pauline, for pointing that out!)
Along the Pitcher Plant trail there was a boardwalk over a large area filled with those carnivorous plants, which trap and digest insects who fall into them.
Even the small spiderwort caught my eye with its symmetry and color.
Another creature we’d spot in several locations was the Green Anole, a small lizard that blends in well while catching some rays in the sun.
On our second full day of butterflying, we headed down past Beaumont, TX, to the area of Sabine Pass where we were unsuccessful in seeing the Bay Skipper we’d all hoped for and that Jim had reports of from a few days earlier. Fun day, nonetheless, with a couple of different dragonflies and a few birds that we rarely if ever see here. Interesting to see were Common Nighthawks flying in the middle of the day, which I normally only see right after sunset. Several of them were also perched nearby between bug-catching flights.
The most common butterfly that day was the Great Southern White, and we’d see large groups of 6-7 males swirling through the air around a lone female. It wasn’t too much of a surprise therefore to spot a mating couple in the grasses; he’s the bright white one and she’s the one with the darker markings – they both have those crazy-cool turquoise antennae.
We made a quick visit across the Texas-Louisiana border that day, but wouldn’t add any new butterflies. New for me, however, was this guy making its way across our path.
Several times at different locations we’d try hard to find a Creole Pearly-eye, one of the butterflies Jim was particularly interested in seeing. While we never did find one, we got excellent looks at several individuals of the closely-related Southern Pearly-eye.
It may have had something to do with the weather or the exact timing of our trip, but surprisingly we wouldn’t see any of the ‘Blues’ sub-family and only one of the half-dozen species of cloudywings and duskywings that might be expected there at the time. The one we did see, Horace’s Duskywing, was fairly common in several locations and is much more vividly marked than the ones we see here in New Mexico.
Many of the target species for the trip were members of the Hesperiidae (Skipper) family, and though we missed seeing a couple of them, we were thrilled to snag several others aided by Jim’s extensive knowledge of their appearance and behavior, and his having researched locations for them. A lifer for pretty much everybody was the Dukes’ Skipper, which didn’t hang around long enough for me to photograph even when it came back for a few seconds to the exact same perch after vanishing somewhere for at least 15 minutes. One we did get that is pretty rare to see and a lifer for me was Meske’s Skipper,
and another crowd favorite was the Yehl Skipper that I’d only seen once before in northern Alabama.
Good trip, good people, good ‘bugs’, and killer donuts (ref. Dee Dee Donuts in Zavalla TX), I’ll certainly look forward to hooking up with everybody again sometime soon.