Whoa, it’s been more than a month now since my last blog update and time to start catching up on things around here. Right after my last update, it was off on a two-week butterfly trip to southeast Ecuador, a part of that country I hadn’t visited before. A great trip with lots of cool butterflies. Almost 2800 photographs came home with me that I’ve been busy going through so that’s going to have to be the subject of an upcoming post. Home for two days, then a day with the Thursday Birders at Bosque del Apache NWR before getting up at 2:30 am the next morning to head for the Lower Rio Grande in south Texas for the next 11 days and another 965 photographs that have had me busy since we got back home just in time for that bizarre election day. Rebecca and I have gone down there four times in the last six years where we’re usually joined by our Houston friend, Steve, for some pretty hard-core butterflying. Our visit coincided with the biennial meeting of the North American Butterfly Association and the Texas Butterfly Festival, so we’d run into many of our butterflying friends on field trips and other events. As usual, we’d end the latest trip with close to 100 species including several new ones. And of course there were always a few other things that caught my eye when it wasn’t trying to focus on one of those butterflies. This water lily was in the small pond just outside the Visitor Center at the National Butterfly Center – one of the spots we’d spend quite a bit of time at during the trip.
One of the local characters there was a Marine Toad who discovered if it sat right on a stump covered with butterfly bait that a free lunch was in order. He’d sit there patiently as butterflies would come to the bait and snap one right up about every 30 seconds or so.
One of his most common treats was the Tawny Emperor present in large numbers anywhere the bait was used, so I had to look around a bit to find a single one nectaring on the crucita (mistflower) that was popular with most butterflies. (I’ll only post some of the trip pictures here – there’s lots more on my website.)
The weather this summer had been pretty dry for the area, so the flowers weren’t quite as plentiful as on previous trips and it was interesting to note how the species and numbers of butterflies varied from other trips. Not quite as many birds were about, either, but we’d run across flocks of Plain Chachalaca pretty much anywhere we went.
A cool bird sighting on two different visits to Estero Llano Grande State Park was the Common Pauraque, a tropical nightjar. Almost invisible in the leaf litter where they rest during daylight, they flush quickly when you happen onto them.
Although they are pretty small, hairstreak butterflies are always a treat to see with their fascinating colors and patterns. One of the local specialties seen at Estero Llano Grande is the Silver-banded Hairstreak.
At Hugh Ramsey Park in Harlingen, we spotted a Red-crescent Scrub-Hairstreak, a lifer for me. It had been on my target list for the trip and was the only one we’d see the whole time.
Another South Texas specialty is the Clytie Ministreak.
Metalmarks are another family of small butterflies that can be strikingly attractive. Although there seem to be quite a few members of this family in the neotropics, here at home we just don’t see them very often and only a few species possible. South Texas, tho, does seem to get a good variety of gorgeous ones. Pretty commonly seen there is the Red-bordered Metalmark,
less common is the crazy cool Blue Metalmark,
and then there’s everybody’s favorite, the Red-bordered Pixie.
We always stay at the Alamo Inn B&B when we’re down there, a favorite of birders and butterfliers visiting the area. Last year, we had several Pixies in the garden there along with a number of Soldier butterflies, neither of which put in an appearance this time. Another lifer butterfly I’d get on this trip was the Polydamas Swallowtail, so it was just too cool when another guest pointed out one of its caterpillars right there in the garden.
The brushfoot family was well-represented over the course of the trip, too, including all those Tawny Emperors and a ridiculous number of Queens. Very common and nearly impossible not to photograph is the Gulf Fritillary.
Maybe even more common, the White Peacocks we’d see on this trip must have been quite fresh and had unusually vivid marking.
More unusual to see was a Ruddy Daggerwing, who could be found in the exact same spot on several visits to the National Butterfly Center.
Another of my favorite types of butterflies are the leafwings, of which we’d see several individuals at a couple of locations.
Some of the smaller members of the brushfoot family were also fun to see. Possibly the wackiest looking butterfly of all and present in huge numbers everywhere was the American Snout.
Another butterfly that is handsomely colorful on both sides is the Crimson Patch, also generally found only in South Texas.
We also had a good number of species in the Pieridae family (Whites and Sulphurs), one of which we don’t often see is the Tailed Orange.
That leaves the largest family of butterflies, the skippers. Lots of skipper species, especially in places other than the neotropics are small, dull brown jobs that can be difficult to identify. But every now and then, however, there’s one that has to show off. This one in particular we’d heard had been seen in the area, and one day Steve spotted one hiding under a leaf, but it wasn’t until the last day of our trip right in the Alamo Inn garden, we finally got one to put an exclamation point to the trip, a Guava Skipper!
Stay tuned – next up (as soon as I stop fooling with those 2800 raw files) are some of the astonishing butterflies from that Ecuador trip.