Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In the Desert with Dr. Steve

Impressive Lenticular Cloud

I have been remiss in not writing the final post from my trip to California in March. After the IBCM (Imperiled Butterfly Conservation and Management) course I stayed on to meet up with Dr. Steve in Palm Springs and spend some time in the desert. Dr. Steve is a chiropractor from Los Angeles. It's hard to believe that I have now known him for fifteen years.

On Saturday we hiked in Murray Canyon, one of the Indian Palm Canyons south of Palm Springs. Our hike began on a gloriously sunny day. The desert wildflowers were in bloom and we were treated to views of an impressive lenticular cloud over the mountains.

Dr. Steve Hopping on Rocks

The stream in Murray Canyon flows year round. The trail crosses the stream many times. There was lots of rock hopping as we crisscrossed the stream. This took some getting used to, but there were no seriously wet feet.

View of the Washingtonia Palms

Most of the trail is lined with desert fan palms (Washingtonia filifera), a species that I always enjoy visiting. We saw a fair number of butterflies, however few of them posed for a photo.

Bottom of the Cascade at the End of the Trail

The trail ends at a cascading waterfall. Unfortunately the spring runoff had the stream levels very high, so I was unable to position myself for a good photo of the whole cascade. As we were there on a Saturday, the trail was surprisingly crowded. There must have been between 50 and 100 people in the canyon that day.

Another hiker snapped this photo of me and Dr. Steve at the waterfall

Dr. Steve really enjoyed the hike (as did I). It's always an enjoyable opportunity to spend time outdoors with a friend that I don't get to see often enough.

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Some Rare (and not so rare) Stuff From the Fen

Yesterday was a Bluff Spring Fen workday. In addition to killing lots of lily of the valley, I took the opportunity to view some of the rare plants and animals at the Fen. Some of what I saw was truly rare.

Small White Ladyslipper (Cyprepedium candidum)

Small white ladyslippers are one of the Fen's rarest plant species. They are on the state list of Threatened species. For a number of years they have been decline at the Fen, so it's a pleasure to see them showing something of a resurgence this year.

Prairie Parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii)

Prairie Parsley is rare to the point that it's hard to find even in catalogs of prairie plants and seed. Ours came from seed collected years ago on a railroad prairie near Elgin. This is only the second time it has shown up on our site. It is not quite fully in bloom yet.

Seneca Snakeroot (Polygala senega)

Some of the plants at the Fen are not spectacularly rare, but still qualify as uncommon. This Seneca Snakeroot is from seed gathered at another railroad prairie remnant in Elgin. The seed was collected on the Fourth of July in 1994. It has been blooming at the Fen for about a decade now, and the population is expanding nicely.

Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)

Wood Betony is both uncommon and uncommonly beautiful. I really like the mandala effect provided when I look directly down at the blooming spike.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

Some relatively common things are rarely seen at the Fen. Dogface Butterflies are a southern species that only show up at the Fen about one year in five. Apparently 2011 is one of those years. They don't sit still long for photography. I'm really annoyed at that one blade of grass.

Baltimore Checkerspot Chrysalis (Euphydryas phaeton)

Baltimore Checkerspots are a fairly common species at the Fen. It's not unusual to be able to encounter several dozen on an hour monitoring transect. It's very unusual to find a chrysalis, however. Leon found this one on a skunk cabbage leaf.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Pearl Crescents aren't rare at all. I don't care. It's always good to see them, and I was happy with the photo.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

In Search of Shivering Butterflies

On Wednesday afternoon I played hooky from work. I have been wanting to photograph two rare butterfly species: the Olympia Marblewing and the Hoary Elfin. Both are found in sandy dune habitats and have brief flight periods early in the season. Illinois Beach State Park, on Lake Michigan up near the Wisconsin border, hosts ample populations of both species. Wednesday was a beautiful summery day- sunny with temperatures well into the eighties. I thought that it would be the perfect time for a photo trip.

Foggy Dunes

Illinois Beach State Park is somewhat notorious for having cold weather. I checked Weather.com before I left work and learned that it was mostly sunny and 75° up at the park. "OK," I thought, "cooler near the lake- but still plenty warm for butterflies." By the time I made the hour-long drive out there the wind had shifted off of the lake. It was foggy and my thermometer was reading 57°, even though it was still in the 80s at O'Hare Airport. Conventional wisdom has it that butterflies begin becoming active when temperatures reach or exceed about 65°, and then only if it's sunny out. I cursed my luck thinking I had wasted an afternoon.

Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios)

The day ended up being a lesson on the limits of conventional wisdom. It was less than five minutes after I sent a complaining text to a friend that I saw my first Hoary Elfin.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Caterpillars of Hoary Elfins feed only on bearberry leaves and flowers. Bearberry is an extremely rare plant here in Illinois, so it's really not surprising that this butterfly is on the state endangered species list.

Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios)

As I continued wandering through the dunes, I started seeing more and more elfins- over a dozen in very suboptimal conditions. I even encountered a mating pair!

Mating Elfins (more insex for Rodger)

As excited as I was to be finding elfins, I really wanted some photos of Olympia Marblewings. I have one digital image of a hoary elfin from last year. It isn't the best photo, but it's sufficient for use in talks. In contrast, my only marblewing photos are from at least a decade ago, and they are on film. Unfortunately, I wasn't seeing any.

Olympia Marblewing (Euchloe olympia)

Finally, I noticed that one of the white sand cress flowers seemed unusually large and yellowish. Moving in to check a bit more closely, I found a marblewing, torpid in the cold. The chilly weather that I was cursing when I arrived at the park ended up helping me out by keeping the butterflies calmer and less active. I could approach close with the camera and take my time composing shots. I only saw 3 marblewings on this trip, but managed to get decent shots of both upper and under surfaces.

Olympia Marblewing (Euchloe olympia)

As I already mentioned, Illinois Beach State Park has a reputation for being unusually cold during the spring months due to its proximity to the lake. Both of these species of butterflies have very brief flight periods that coincide with this unpredictable and often quite chilly weather. It's possible that their willingness to fly under such poor conditions may be a survival adaptation that allows them to persist through years with very little good weather during their flight time.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

White Pines Forest State Park

Update: This post vanished in this week's Great Blogger Crash. Depending how you are viewing my blog, it may appear twice or be dated incorrectly. It was originally posted on Tuesday, May 10.

On Sunday, Leon and I joined Michael, Kevin and Iva and headed out to White Pines State Park. It's in the north central part of the state, out by the town of Oregon. Neither Leon nor I had been to this park before, so we were looking forward to seeing it. Much of the park sits atop limestone bluffs that line Spring and Pine Creeks, tributaries of the Rock River.

After a picnic of cheese and crackers with sandwiches and a nice bottle of Riesling, we went for a hike through the woods. The spring flora was putting on a good show.

Jacob's Ladder(Polemonium reptans)

Large Flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

Bishop's Cap (Mitella diphylla)

We saw a bunch of butterflies and some other insects. The butterflies were reluctant to land, so the photography wasn't very good. I was disappointed to miss a shot of a Meadow Fritillary. I did manage a couple of bug photos.

Spotted Lady Beetle (Calvia quatuordecimguttata)

Leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala sp.)

After hiking, we had an early supper at The Roadhouse in Oregon. It's a restaurant that time forgot. In this case, time seems to have forgotten sometime in the early 1970s.

The Roadhouse!

It was a gorgeous day in beautiful surroundings with good friends. What more can one ask for in life?

L-R: Kevin, Leon, Doug, Michael
Photo by Iva

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