Field Trips

Big Thicket
Mitchell’s Memorial Day Marathon

 


Mitchell’s Memorial Day Marathon

The warm, still air, heavily perfumed with Oakleaf Hydrangea, resounded with a symphony of Wood Thrushes, Common Yellowthroats, Summer Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and vibrated with midges and deer flies. Poison Ivy grew rampant, and Smilax and blackberry vines hung everywhere, ready to lacerate. Most pervasive of all, though, was the muck. Whether we were hopping from tussock to tussock, teetering across rotten logs, or slithering over beaver dams, it was always there, ready to pull in an unwitting leg in an instant. It got on everything, and would not wash out or rinse off. Yet, it was this very goo that defined our quest, for this was the chosen element of our quarry. Yes, it was BEST butterflying at its most extreme yet, as we traversed across three states for the opportunity to chase down a humble brown bug that has the distinction of being the only federally endangered butterfly in the Eastern U.S., outside of Florida. Welcome to Mitchell’s Satyr country.

After a marathon road trip to get here on Friday night, we arrived in Alabama stoked. We had all read Glassberg’s melodramatic prose concerning this insect, of hope lost in New Jersey, then found again here in the state the stars fell on. We had no trouble following his excellent directions to the beaver pond where he and several others had seen it in 2000. Like him, we felt we were being drawn into its dark, watery domain. Fortunately, Jeff had relayed some contact information just in time to Alabama butterfliers Sara Bright and Paulette Haywood. Little did we know, at the time, how critical these contacts would become.

When entering into a forest straight out of Tolkein’s description of Mirkwood, it pays to take help unlooked for. Such was the case Saturday, as we spent a depressing morning chasing, through muck, mire, and briars, gorgeous Appalachian(?) Azures, brilliant orange and black Pearl Crescents, and homely (and maddeningly similar!) Appalachian Browns, but no Mitchell’s. Finally, a truck drove by, stopped, and a young man with a prophet’s name asked what we were up to. Micah Thorning held the fate of our excursion in his hands, and he reached out to help with gifts.

A field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, Micah’s expertise is with Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers. He did know, though, that the 2000 site was not the only place to look, and he talked of a road where multiple sightings had been made. So it was that our horizons were expanded – if only we could find the place through the labyrinth of Forest Service roads! So we parted, encouraged and hopeful, much beholden to a man who claimed little knowledge of butterflies.

After multiple attempts and turnarounds, we finally found Micah’s road, and it was beautiful! A vast beaver pond stretched across both sides of the road. Gorgeous habitat – same results. No Mitchell’s.

Pulling oneself bodily out of clinging mud is not what normally comes to mind when one thinks of butterflying. The muck was sapping our enthusiasm, and our energy. In her email on Friday, Sara had mentioned a place called the Sawmill Restaurant. Paulette had seconded the notion, and let it be known it was actually Saw Meal. So it was we took our muddy selves to this establishment that exuded the best of Southern cooking. It was seafood night – we saw it, and went gluttonous over piles of crablegs, crawfish, catfish, oysters, shrimp, and much more.

Sunday found us renewed, ever hopeful, and headed back into hills when the cell phone rang. It was Paulette. More help from a voice unseen.

We were at the VERY EARLY beginning of the flight season. With the current drought conditions, it was unlikely there would be any flying right now, BUT if there is, ….

     Keep to the shade.

     Follow the Sensitive Fern.

     They’re crepuscular – don’t waste the middle of the day on them.

So we sauntered rather aimlessly about, casting about roadside wildflowers, mineral seeps, and forested hillsides, finding Common Buckeyes, more Pearl Crescents, more Azures, Twin-spot, Clouded, Crossline, Tawny-edged and Zabulon Skippers, Pipevine, Eastern Tiger and Zebra Swallowtails, Gray and Striped Hairstreaks, an alder bush full of wooly aphid prey, Harvester caterpillar predators, and the black ants that husbanded both - and as a reminder of why we there, Little Wood- and Carolina Satyrs. By 4:00, we were headed back to Micah’s road.

We all each had our plans on how to roust an endangered species up on this, our last, best chance. Carlton’s and Kelly’s plans were to check out the swamps further down the road. Mine was to follow the line of sensitive fern along the outer margins of the beaver ponds. Ednelza had had enough of the muck – she would just putter along the road, waiting for someone else to find something worth going in to see.

Over an hour later, I was deep into the swamp, but with little to show for it but for some mucky boots. Little Wood-Satyrs and Appalachian Browns had strung me along, teasing me throughout. Just now, three satyrids were busily chasing one another about a viburnum, and I was patiently awaiting for them to land, when Ednelza called something from far away. After about ten minutes, she finally made her way to my side where she saw my pictures of what turned out to be yet more Appalachian Browns. It was then that she showed her picture of beautiful eyespots encircled in orange on the hindwing, with distinct but isolated eyespots on the forewing…

“That’s a MITCHELL’S!!!!! WHERE did you SEE IT??????”

“It was there on the road, I yelled, ‘Honey, I think I’ve got it’, but you said you had your own bugs, so I left it there!”

Mud and briars couldn’t hold us back; we exited that swamp in record time. Ednelza knew exactly where she had left it. Sure enough, there was a large bed of sensitive fern – but there was no satyr to be seen. We called Carlton and Kelly – they were of course in disbelief, but Ednelza’s picture was incontrovertible – the bug was actually here somewhere , flying around us.

Soon, though, the lure of the swamp called me back into its utterly dark heart. There, among the sensitive fern, blueberries, and Carolina Azaleas, I would find this endangered creature bobbing languidly along some tannin-stained beaver stream. I would resolutely call my comrades in, that they may share in this treasure of the senses, the iconic insect in its palustrine habitat.

What I found instead was yet more muck, and that I was quite lost!

Finally getting back to the road, I found that we had attracted the attention of more passersby. Tom Price and his wife were local butterfly enthusiasts with lots of experience photographing Mitchell’s Satyrs! In the midst of being regaled with his tales, two important points stood out –

     These were gated roads that may be closed at sunset , and …

     His best picture of a Mitchell’s was taken in the morning.

So, over steak and roast beef at the Saw Meal, it was decided – we would hazard one more attempt in the morning. We would only be able to give it until 10am, as it would be a long drive back to Houston.

By 8:15, we were back at the original 2000 site, once again, I crashed into the muck – nothing. By 8: 45, it was decided – though this was the recommended spot by people in the know, and though it was much more en route along our return trip, nothing had been seen here. We would have yet one more date with Micah’s site.

We arrived back there at 9:10. We pulled off of the road. We got out, Kelly walked one way, the rest of walked thirty feet down the road, when Carlton said, “What’s that?” It had landed on a dead blade of grass, when Ednelza saw it, and instantly yelled, “KELLLY!!!!!”

There it was, in my binoculars, all those lovely eyes, complete with orange eyeliner on such a homely brown background. Homely indeed, and torn wings to boot, but no matter. It gave us all an opportunity to gawk and gaze, and then sauntered along, in classic satyrid fashion, into the middle of the road, then stopped and turned its less-damaged right side to catch the sun’s warmth – PERFECT!!!

So here we were, after two days of tromping through muck and mire, now standing on solid ground, gazing at the object of our quest - the rarest satyr in North America, a creature of the swamp, a shade – lover, who just now wished to lay out in the open, and take in some sun. Nature can indeed be ironic!

After all the photos had been taken, after Ednelza had danced her satyr dance, after we had all hugged and shook hands, it was finally time to leave this wonderful state with such wonderful people. More than any other field trip that I have ever been part of, the ultimate success of this quest depended on so many helpful folks. We will definitely return to this state the stars fell on, and next time bring more BESTers to enjoy this most extreme pursuit in this most generous land.

by David F. Henderson
President, Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas

 


 

Big Thicket

Saturday, May 13 dawned bright & clear; symbolizing the possibilities of the day. We were in the fabled Big Thicket, where one could expect to see the unexpected. In a spring that had produced such local rarities as Eastern Commas, Mourning Cloaks, and Coral Hairstreaks, as well as just generally rare bugs like the Little Metalmark and Yucca Giant-Skipper, we were ready to end this most illustrious season on a high note.... what we got was an opus!


Geraldine Watson's Pinelands Preserve was resplendent in Grass Pinks and Pitcher Plants, but it was the upland portion of this Big Thicket in microcosm that handed us our first thrill - there, sitting Satyrlike on a yaupon that was situated amidst a young grove of its host plant, sat none other than the long sought-after KING'S HAIRSTREAK! It sat graciously for a few snaps, then disappeared into the thicket, leaving us to turn our cameras onto review mode. The results were conclusive - parallel cell-end bars strongly offset from one another on a surprisingly large (Gemmed Satyr -sized) hairstreak, with its hindwing blue disk capped with red - in a grove of Sweetleaf. It could be no other! As Diane Milano put it - it "was a Striped on steroids!"


Then it was off to the Sundew Trail in the Hickory Creek Unit of the Big Thicket National Preserve. There we espied Nastra skippers as were serenaded by an Eastern Wood-Pewee, but not alot else other than the ubiquitous Pearl Crescents. So we traversed eastward to the Turkey Creek Unit's Pitcher Plant Trail where we quickly moved through an open pine/oak forest out onto a sedge meadow, where we soon saw a little brown butterfly dottling along the tops of its host, then diving into the shelter of a small shrub - just barely allowing for a glimpse of its trademark orange bands and elongated eyespots - GEORGIA SATYR! Then came the discovery - there was another- and another - and two more - there were four more... they were everywhere in that meadow! Georgia had come to Texas!

After basking in the glow of this bug that had brought us to the Big Thicket on so many fruitless quests over the years, it was time to attempt a grand slam - would the Little Metalmark still be around? It took some searching, but two members of the group - the indefatigable Diane Milano and Hugh Wedgeworth - did finally manage to grab looks (plus ~40 pics!) of this - the sole member of its large family to call Southeast Texas home. So the curtain closed on this most excellent day. Photos will soon be available on the BEST website, www.best-naba.org. For the forests, savannahs, swamps, and meadows that make up the Big Thicket, the Spring of 2006 has been a season to remember! As the focus of the butterfly season makes its annual shift southward to the coastal prairies and riparian forests, we hope to continue this wonderful run!

King's Hairstreak
Photo: Ednelza Henderson

 

Georgia Satyr - 5/13/06, Tyler Co, TX
Photo: Hugh Wedgeworth
Little Metalmark - 5/13/06, Hardin Co., TX
Photo: Hugh Wedgeworth

David F. Henderson
President, Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas
(BEST-NABA)
Director & Field Trip Coordinator, Piney Woods Wildlife Society


San Jacinto Count

A cold wind blew harshly across Southeast Texas, pushing a thick blanket of gray stratus clouds to block the sun's warming rays. Everywhere spring was budding and blooming forth, but you couldn't tell from the temperature or the light conditions! No, Saturday did not look to be an auspicious day for butterfly counting and the birders amongst the 10 of us that gathered in Cleveland that cold gray morning were all thinking our time would be better spent chasing neotropical migrants at High Island! - - - - -
Here we were, though, instead, so we decided to make the best of what, after last week's chart busting season opener in Conroe, was sure to be to be a disappointed .... We did, and it was not!

While there were no anglewings to be found, and the Pierids all but completely vanished from view (1 Falcate Orangetip and 1Cloudless Sulphur!), they were offset by outbreaks of Red-banded Hairstreaks, Pearl Crescents, and all 3 of the small satyrs to give us an astounding 941 adult individuals spread across 27 species!

A breakdown follows:

Papilionidae

Giant Swallowtail Heraclides crestaphontes - 3
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Pterourus glaucus - 1
Spicebush Swallowtail Pterourus troilus - 3
Palamedes Swallowtail Pterourus palamedes - 2
(dark swallowtail sp. - 2)

Peiridae

Falcate Orangetip Anthocarus midea - 1
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae - 1

Lycaenidae

White M Hairstreak Parrhasius m-album - 1
Red-banded Hairstreak Calycopis cecrops - 214
Dusky-blue Groundstreak Calycopis isobeon - 2
Juniper Hairstreak Callophrys gryneus- 4
Eastern Tailed-Blue Everes comyntas- 3
 

Nymphalidae

Pearl Crescent Phyciodes tharos - 187
American Lady Vanessa virginiensis - 2
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - 1
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - 5
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia - 10

 


RECORD BREAKING OUTING - 3/11/2006

Saturday, March 11, may have been only warm and partly to mostly cloudy here in Montgomery County, Texas, but for the 6th annual Conroe Butterfly Count, butterflying was HOT!

Spring, and the butterflying season, started early this year, as was evidenced by both high numbers of individuals and a great diversity of species.

Here's a final breakdown of our numbers:
 

# Participants: 7, in 2 parties
 

Sites visited: W.G. Jones State Forest; San Jacinto River Turnaround at SH 242; Montgomery Trace Wilderness; Loop 336; Montgomery County Extension Service Gardens; Stoltje Road; Milano/Wedgeworth & Henderson properties
 

Temperature Range: 72-82 F
 

Wind: SE, 0 - 10 mph
 

Partly to Mostly Cloudy
 

Butterflies seen:
 

PapilionidaePipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor
- 13
Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes
- 2
Giant Swallowtail Papilio crestaphontes - 3
Palamedes Swallowtail Papilio palamedes - 1
(dark swallowtail species) - 3
Peiridae
Falcate Orangetip Anthocarus midea - 75
Orange Sulphur Colias eurytheme - 100
Southern Dogface Colias sesonia - 4
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae - 30
Large Orange Sulphur Phoebis agarithe - 1
Little Yellow Eurema lisa - 3
Sleepy Orange Eurema nicippe - 2
Dainty Sulphur Nathalis iole - 2
Lycaenidae Gray Hairstreak Strymon melinus - 18
Red-banded Hairstreak Calycopis cecrops - 26
Dusky-blue Groundstreak Calycopis isobeon - 20
Henry's Elfin Callophrys henrici - 2
Eastern Tailed-Blue Everes comyntas - 8
Nymphalidae Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae - 1
Phaon Crescent Phyciodes phaon - 1
Pearl Crescent Phyciodes tharos - 205
Question Mark Polygonia interragationis -2
American Lady Vanessa virginiensis - 7
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - 5
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - 8
(Vanessa sp.) - 2
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia - 15
Goatweed Leafwing Anaea andria - 28
Southern Pearly-eye Enodia portlandia - 4
Gemmed Satyr Cyllopsis gemma - 5
Carolina Satyr Hermeuptychia sosybius - 54
Little Wood-Satyr Megisto cymela - 7
(Satyr sp.) - 3
Monarch Danaus plexippus - 20
Queen Danaus gilippus - 1
Hesperidae Silver-spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus - 1
Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus - 1

 


DEEP EAST TEXAS field trip
August 27, 2005

Butterflying in Newton County at a Crossroads

It was supposed to be a trip to find eastern rarities – partly to help fill out some holes in the upcoming BEST Butterfly ID Guide. However, after trekking across sandylands, swamps, and ravines in two of Texas' easternmost counties, the twelve butterfly enthusiasts who met in Jasper's Golden Corral Saturday morning did not see a single target species.

So what? With Zebra Swallowtails puddling in knots, clouds of Little Yellows and Cloudless Sulphurs swarming all over the road, and scores of White-striped Longtails hovering all around this area hundreds of miles from where they're supposed to be most common, the rarities could wait!

A second objective of this trip was to see whether lightning would strike again, and the "Butterfly Crossroads" experience of last year would repeat itself. It did. Within one hour, this site had yielded over 25 species, including Pipevine, Black, Palamedes, Zebra, Giant, & Spicebush Swallowtails, Little Yellows and Cloudless Sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-Blues, Red-banded and Gray Hairstreaks, Snout, Gulf Fritillaries, Common Buckeyes, Pearl Crescents, Confused Cloudywing, Horace's Duskywing, and much more.

These were not zipping by, or hovering over flowers – they were sitting, eagerly sipping directly from the bare ground. Interestingly, very few skippers were seen, with the exception of the bizarre White-striped Longtails, which were everywhere, fluttering in the way of photo ops, landing on people, etc. All this was taking place along an intersection of sandy roads surrounded by clearcuts, so the radiant heat matched the butterfly activity. The heat index was easily in the 100's for most of the area.

However, the biggest bug of the day held court along a shady puddle by a culvert, accompanied by a host of lovely Ebony Jewelwings. Its fresh forewing pattern was like nothing most of the group had ever seen. Swathes of brown, patches of mauve, lines of black, and flecks of silver, all done up in a satiny upholstered pattern, with no glassy spots to provide windows of doubt as to its being any of it's "true" cousins – this brown beauty was a perfect match with the Brock & Kaufman's illustration of a False Duskywing!

With the previously easternmost sighting being Polk County 50 or more miles to the west, the range of this denizen of Central Texas and the Rio Grande Valley has now been pushed eastward to the very borders of Louisiana! So, instead of inhabitants of marsh and swamp, pinelands, and hickory slopes, the best bug of the day was a vagrant whose type usually inhabits thornscrub 500 miles away!

After leaving this incredible site, the action tapered off dramatically. Despite lots of flowers, clear skies, and hot temperatures, few butterflies were seen at Collins Park, Wild Azalea Canyon, or the Blue Elbow Swamp. It was almost as if the "butterfly crossroads" had drawn off the populations from everywhere else! However, mating Spiny Oakworm Moths (Anisota stigma) a nectaring Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moth (Cosmosoma myrodora) and a Question Mark ovipositing on elm brought some relief to the butterfly drought.

Later at Al-T's in Winnie, the bulk of the group relived the moments through the eyes of the photographers in its midst. It had been a long day in nature, full of wonders – a day well-spent. The "butterfly crossroads" of Newton County will definitely be visited by BEST again!

By the way, does anyone want to form a Newton County Butterfly Count? This time of year would be good to catch the puddling action. August is completely free for count dates. Let me know!
 

David F. Henderson
President, Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas (BEST-NABA)
 


Brazos Valley results
July 23, 2005

Saturday was hot, extremely humid, and even rained a little, but that didn't put a damper on the butterfly action in Waller & Austin Counties.

Sites visited were Hibiscus Hill Plantation, Yucca-do Nursery, Peckerwood Gardens, Steck Bottom and Peters-San Felipe Roads, and Stephen F. Austin State Historical Park.

Butterflies seen by the 8 participants were as follows:
 

Papilionidae
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor - 3
Giant Swallowtail Papilio crestaphontes -22
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus - 5
dark swallowtail sp. - 3
 

Peiridae
Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae - 11
Large Orange Sulphur Phoebis agarithe - 1
Little Yellow Eurema lisa - 74
Sleepy Orange Eurema nicippe - 6
Dainty Sulphur Nathalis iole - 1
 

Lycaenidae
Gray Hairstreak Strymon melinus - 9
Red-banded Hairstreak Calycopis cecrops - 3
Dusky-blue Groundstreak Calycopis isobeon - 4
Hairstreak sp. - 2
 

NymphalidaeAmerican Snout Libytheana carinenta - 7
Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae - 42
Variegated Fritillary Euptoieta claudia - 11
Phaon Crescent Phyciodes phaon - 1
Pearl Crescent Phyciodes tharos - 27
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - 1
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia - 2
Viceroy Limenitis archippus -16
Goatweed Leafwing Anaea andria - 7
Hackberry Emperor Asterocampa celtis - 10
Tawny Emperor Asterocampa clyton - 27
Carolina Satyr Hermeuptychia sosybius - 122
 


4TH OF JULY BUTTERFLY COUNTS
June 11, 2005

1) RAVEN COUNT:

The Raven Butterfly count was very successful this year. With the heat rising to 98 degrees and no breeze at all, the numbers of butterflies were suprisingly high. We had 8 individuals on our excursion to northwest Montgomery County (Steve Abbey, Carlton Collier, Don DuBois, David Henderson, Ednelza Henderson, Diane Milano, Kelly Walker and myself).

Most of the count was spent roaming creek beds. We also spent time at a closed down nursery, road construction areas and wild flowers along the roadsides.

We had a total of 49 species with an individual count of 654.

Pipevine Swallowtail -- (Battus philenor) 1

Black Swallowtail -- (Papilio polyxenes) 2

Giant Swallowtail -- (Papilio cresphontes) 5

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail -- (Papilio glaucus) 9

Spicebush Swallowtail -- (Papilio troilus) 3

Palamedes Swallowtail -- (Papilio palamedes) 3

Orange Sulphur -- (Colias eurytheme) 2

Cloudless Sulphur -- (Phoebis sennae) 14

Little Yellow -- (Eurema lisa) 10

Dainty Sulphur -- (Nathalis iole) 7

Gray Hairstreak -- (Strymon melinus) 10

Red-banded Hairstreak -- (Calycopis cecrops) 13

Dusky Blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon) 3

Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta) 16

American Snout -- (Libytheana carinenta) 2

Gulf Fritillary -- (Agraulis vanillae) 3

Variegated Fritillary -- (Euptoieta claudia) 6

Silvery Checkerspot -- (Chlosyne nycteis) 22

Phaon Crescent -- (Phyciodes phaon) 3

Pearl Crescent -- (Phyciodes tharos) 38

American Lady -- (Vanessa virginiensis) 7

Painted Lady -- (Vanessa cardui) 1

Common Buckeye -- (Junonia coenia) 18

Red-spotted Purple -- (Limenitis arthemis) 1

Goatweed Leafwing -- (Anaea andria) 10

Hackberry Emperor -- (Asterocampa celtis) 3

Tawny Emperor -- (Asterocampa clyton) 2

Southern Pearly Eye -- (Enodia portlandia) 4

Gemmed Satyr -- (Cyllopsis gemma) 3

Carolina Satyr -- (Hermeuptychia sosybius) 195

Little Wood Satyr -- (Megisto cymela) 1

White-striped Longtail -- (Chioides catillus) 3

Long-tailed Skipper -- (Urbanus proteus) 2

Southern Cloudywing -- (Thorybes bathyllus) 1

Horace's Duskywing -- (Erynnis horatius) 5

Funereal Duskywing -- (Erynnis funeralis) 5

Wht/Com Checkered-Skipper -- (Pyrgus albescens) 5

Tropical Checkered-Skipper -- (Pyrgus oileus) 15

Clouded Skipper -- (Lerema accius) 3

Least Skipper -- (Ancyloxypha numitor) 6

Fiery Skipper -- (Hylephila phyleus) 20

Southern Broken-Dash -- (Wallengrenia otho) 135
Northern Broken-Dash -- (Wallengrenia egeremet) 7

Little Glassywing -- (Pompeius verna) 6

Sachem -- (Atalopedes campestris) 1

Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon) 2

Dun Skipper -- (Euphyes vestris (=ruricola)) 3

Lacewing Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aesculapius) 17

Ocola Skipper -- (Panoquina ocola) 1

Swallowtail sp 2

Scallopwing sp 2

Checkered Skipper sp 5

Also noted immatures:

Goatweed Leafwing caterpillar 1

Variegated Fritillary egg 1

Thanks,

Hugh Wedgeworth
Raven Count Coordinator

Cut 'N Shoot, Texas
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