Two Meadows in White Mtns AZ
MWalker at gensym.com
Thu Sep 23 17:06:22 EDT 1999
I've started to get into the habit of posting my escapades way after I've
enjoyed them. Sorry about this, because it really lacks proper continuity.
Oh well. The bottom line is that I've sufficiently exercised my
argumentative traits on issues like collecting and eternal destiny, so why
must I feel the need to voice my opinions on matters that can be so
eloquently handled by others? Wasn't it Ben Franklin who said that it's
better to think about what you might say rather than saying what you think?
I don't remember the exact quote, but I fall flat on my face here - and have
ever since I was the kid in grade school who blurted out stuff without
raising my hand. Pissed off the teachers, as well as all of the kids who
didn't appreciate my desire to draw attention to myself.
What the hell am I talking about?
It has nothing to do with releases or tagging Monarchs or getting married.
Over Labor Day weekend (here in the states, it's a holiday commemorating the
work ethic - so we all stop working, and create jams of traffic trying to be
the first recreationally equipped to get out of the city), Bill Gendron and
I met in Phoenix, AZ for a weekend butterflying marathon. We had so many
wonderful experiences, that I can't even begin to mention them all. I
thought I'd share with you at least two most wonderful experiences that took
place way up in the White Mountains of Arizona, east of Phoenix and close to
the New Mexico border. Both experiences took place in mountain meadows, and
both were classic butterflying experiences - hence my writing about them
The first experience took place in a high meadow/grazing area near Sunrise
Lake (or was that Sunset Lake?), west of Eagar and east of Show Low and well
above 7500'. Speaking of sunset, it was quite late in the day (after 5:00
p.m. Friday, September 3) and the sun was setting fast. In fact, we were
really only up at this location to investigate the habitat - which was quite
different from the other mountain areas that we had explored earlier in the
day. We always welcome any late flying butterflies (and Bill has a knack
for bringing them out - I've collected with him well after 6:30 p.m., while
solo I'm usually done by 4:00 p.m.), but neither of us expected much here.
The location is obviously wind blown, and covered with snow much of the
year. Even in early September, it felt like an unforgiving place for
calling it a night. Still, there were blooming thistles that demanded
We parked the car, and went for a chilly walk.
While walking the rocky moonscape, my attention was drawn to the many small
ground-hugging wild flowers that were blooming amongst the stone. I noticed
on one particular blossom what looked like a small, tattered butterfly
clinging with it's wings folded. As I looked closer, it appeared that the
butterfly had died while nectaring - one last meal before becoming only
exoskeleton. I swung my net, and watched as the skeleton fell into my net,
motionless. As I went to take a closer look, to my amazement, I saw some
slight motion in the legs and a twitching of the wings. The little creature
It was definitely a checkerspot, but extremely small (1.5 - 2.5 cm) and
marked much differently (black and red) from the two itty bitty Checkerspots
that I'm particularly familiar with (Dymasia dymas and Texola elada). We
chuckled over the find, and continued our walk. A bit later, on another
small blossom, I found a small grass Skipper also appearing dead on the
blossom. Swinging, this butterfly also fell lifeless into my net. But
again, the butterfly was clearly not dead - but almost sleeping. As we
continued to walk, we found dozens of more butterflies - including what we
identified as a Mormon Fritillary, all of which appeared to be "stuck" to
blossoms (the Frit was lifeless on a large thistle).
These butterflies were bedding down for the night! I'm sure the
biologically learned are not as surprised as I was, but this type of
behavior was new to me. At some trigger point - perhaps temperature, the
nectaring behavior in this meadow simply comes to an abrupt halt. Like some
Outer Limits episode, time and life appear to freeze - awaiting the warming
of a new day. It makes for an easy breakfast, for sure.
Curious, we revisited this same location the next morning, and found it to
be very much alive. We saw more of our little Checkerspot (which later,
referencing Scotts "Butterflies of North America", we identified as a
miniature sub-species of Euphydryas chalcedona), some beautiful specimens of
Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti), more Speyeria mormonia,
several Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis), Variegated Fritillary
(Euptoieta claudia), some Black Swallowtail (Papilio polixenes), Checkered
Whites (Pontia protodice), Orange Sulphers (Colias eurytheme), Southern
Dogface (Zerene cesonia), Dainty Sulphers (Nathalis iole), Sleepy Orange
(Eurema nicippe), Marine Blue (Leptotes marina), a yet to be identified
Polygonia (Comma), many Field Crescentspot (Phyciodes campestris), and a
number of small skippers (TBD).
The second experience took place on a meadow alongside of the highway just
south of Alpine, AZ, on Saturday, September 4. It was one of those days
that I've written about before where much cloud cover (and even a few
sprinkles) create a production of butterfly activity that plays something
like Red Light - Green Light. In this meadow, however, when the Red light
came on, the butterflies would either find a blossom to land on (with wings
curiously open), or would fall and disappear into the bush or grass. In
either case, though (and unlike the lifeless Leps of Sunrise Lake), they
would certainly evacuate at the slightest disturbance. To our delight, one
such creature turned out to be the magnificent, stunning and
take-your-breath-away Speyeria nokomis.
If you haven't had the pleasure of witnessing this butterfly in the wild (or
even in a collection), you are truly missing something indeed. I don't know
if it's just because I live in North America and have a biased appreciation
for the Fritillaries (no Morphos up here, I'm afraid), but I feel that the
elegance and beauty of a freshly emerged female Speyeria nokomis fluttering
about in the grass is a sight to behold.
Now, I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Speyeria diana in the wild - but
based on what I've seen in collections, I'm going to assume that she is the
undisputed queen of Fritillaries here in North America. However, I'll go
out on a limb and say that the magnificent lady Nokomis is not far behind
her in glory nor beauty. The marvelous contrasts, the subtle creamy colors,
and the greenish hue on the hindwing above - it's enough to cause one to
drop the net in awe.
We were also pleased to find the Poladryas arachne (Arachne Checkerspot),
which, like it's Phyciodes cousins (cocyta, campestris, and mylitta), would
wait out the cloud cover posed happily upon a promising flower blossom - why
run and hide, when a decent food source has already been located?
Our trip continued south and around the SE Arizona mountains, and our
species list was quite large for the weekend (including some wonderful and
fresh specimens of Cyllopsis pyracmon and what Opler is calling Gyrocheilus
patrobas - by the way, who comes up with these genus names, anyway?).
Too busy lately to do any more butterflying, and I'm afraid my freezer is
full. Maybe a few more trips before hibernation (is it possible that the
collecting season is too LONG out west? I never had any problems catching
up while living in Vermont), we'll see.
Hope yours is as sweet as mine.
18200 Von Karman Ave. Suite 790
Irvine, CA 92612
Ph: (949) 660-7770 Fx: (949) 660-7772
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mwalker at gensym.com
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