George Washington NF - 6/29/02

Mark Walker MWalker at
Tue Jul 2 22:24:25 EDT 2002

I spent the night in Harrisonburg, VA after flying into Philadelphia on
Thursday.  I try to enjoy the flying part of my life, but it really is
getting hard.  I've mentioned before that I still love to gawk out of
airplane windows, and that I get myself lost in the habitat below.  I really
must get myself a pilot's license.  Flying over Arizona was difficult, given
the extent of fire damage (it was still burning when I flew over).  I was
planning a trip to the White Mountains this summer, but that will likely be
So I flew into Philly, only to face the dilemma of lost baggage.  Sigh.
This really is the worst scenario for a lepidopterist who has been relegated
to checking all butterfly paraphernalia at the ticket counter.  Some of you
may recall a lepisode a few years ago in Quebec when my baggage was lost and
I was tempted beyond what I could bear to go out netting leps with a hotel
pillowcase tied to a stick.  It was mostly unsuccessful, but there are a few
pinned specimens in my house that will forever demand my admiration and
stimulate my memory.  And a few more that got away...
Gad, how I hate it when THEY lose your luggage.  America Worst - and I'd
sworn I'd never fly them again.  My night was hell.  No clothes, no
toiletries, no cold medicine, and NO PAJAMAS.  OK, so my pajamas are hardly
pajamas - but they beat the heck out of sleeping in the birthday suit (sorry
for the mind picture), a practice that is strictly forbidden when sleeping
in strange linens.  It's even worse when you are fighting an extensive cold,
have been breathing recycled airplane air for 8 hours, have shocked your
system by instantaneously going from hot and dry to hot and sticky, and are
forced to sleep without a shirt in a hotel room equipped with an air
conditioning system with a mind of its own.  I hardly slept a wink.
So on Saturday, after a fitful day of work in Chantilly and a restful night
in Harrisonburg, VA., I drove up into the George Washington National Forest
in north western Virginia for some butterfly R&R.  I made my way slowly up
and over the ridge and into the Shenandoah Mountain region near the border
with West Virginia.  This is incredible mountain country, and I found it
difficult to resist stopping frequently.  I found the butterflies to be as
equally irresistible as the scenery, and pleasantly common, too.
One of the most common butterflies of this region on this day was the Silver
Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus).  These were found at most elevations
flying to various nectar sources.  A purple milkweed was plentiful and a
good attractant of various butterflies - including Tiger Papilio (who can
identify these anymore?).  I saw both dark and yellow females, both large
and small individuals, so I'll guess that I may have seen as many as three
different species.  I took a few, but none that appear to be either
appalachiensis or canadensis.
There were Speyeria about.  A lot of Speyeria.  How much I love this genus.
The most common - and mostly at higher altitude - was Speyeria aphrodite
(Aphrodite Fritillary), also common at Milkweed.  Speyeria cybele was also
about - though more common at lower altitudes, and not nearly as common as
aphrodite in any case.  I saw no Speyeria Diana.
Surprisingly, I found only a single species of hairstreak about - Satyrium
calanus (Banded Hairstreak).  This also found its way to the milkweed.
For whatever reason, there were few folded wing skippers seen in this part
of the forest.  I did run into many the following day farther west in West
Virginia, but only Thymelicus lineola (European Skipper) was readily found
in Virginia.  Lots of spread wing skippers, though, including Thorybes
pylades (Northern Cloudywing), Erynnis brizo (Sleepy Duskywing), and what
may be either E. baptisiae, E. lucilius, or E. persius.  The latter is
seemingly unlikely, seeing as how I've yet to find one west of the Rocky
Mountains, but I will do my best to ID the few specimens that I brought
I thoroughly enjoyed finding the spectacular Cercyonis pegala (Common Wood
Nymph) flopping about the underbrush at the lower altitudes.  The
individuals of this region have the stunning yellow borders around the
forewing eye spots, and gorgeous blue scaling around the hindwing spots.
These individuals were immaculate.
Way up at the top of this relatively high ridge (over 4000') I was thrilled
to find Boloria bellona (Eastern Meadow Fritillary) flying among the tall
meadow grasses that cover the more open areas.  This was a good spot to
spook out Speyeria aphrodite seeking comfort down in the grass.  There's
nothing quite like the experience of spooking a large resting female
Speyeria from down among the grass.  They emerge suddenly, often bumping
right into your awestruck face, only to float away before you can even think
about swinging your net.  I haven't enjoyed the Meadow Frit since leaving
Vermont some four years ago.  It made me remember that I was in the
Another shocking find way up at the highest altitude was a stunning
individual of Eurytides marcellus (Zebra Swallowtail).  This guy was missing
one of its outrageously long tails, but otherwise was immaculate.  He was
also next to impossible to net - a feat which required high speed running
down a rugged mountain ridge road.  Not being as agile as I once was, he
nearly killed me.  We won't speak of what I did to him, but my grandchildren
will likely be among those who get to enjoy him.  The only part in this that
I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way, was the leg breaking acrobatics it took to
run him down.  After that, it was all about science.
Descending down into West Virginia, I continued to enjoy lep activity well
into the afternoon.  At a riparian habitat well below the ridge I stopped to
chase after the very common Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), a bug
that can be elusive unless you chance to be where it is thriving.  It was
thriving here - but I saw not another individual the rest of this day or the
next.  Frequent, but never common (for whatever reason), was Phyciodes
tharos (or maybe cocyta).  I'll have to check out the antennae.
Also common in this lowland riparian habitat were Enodia anthedon (Northern
Pearly Eye).  These, as always, were found in the deepest forest dwelling -
avoiding light and alternating between territorial dogfights and sudden but
invisible perching on tree trunks.  I also found an unusually dark
individual of Asterocampa clyton (Tawny Emperor).
Common everywhere were Limenitis arthemis (Red Spotted Purple), Celastrina
neglecta (Summer Azure), Everes comyntas (Eastern Tailed Blue), Colias
eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), and Pieris rapae (Cabbage White).  The Cabbage
Whites were especially common at altitude - which I found curious.  They
were having a good emergence on this day.
By evening, I found myself in Monterey, VA - back over the state line from
West Virginia.  This little town enjoys a rich Civil War history, having
housed the armies of both the North and South during multiple changes of
possession during 1861-1863.  The large meadow behind my motel (equipped
with black-and-white TV and no phone) had skipper activity until sunset.  I
swooshed through the tall grasses with my net in hand, drawing curious
glances from local passersby, and listened to the unfolding drama from a
nearby high school baseball field.
I ate at a charming little mom and pop restaurant next to the county
courthouse and adorned with a large neon trout over its roof.  I was the
only patron.  I ordered (Shazam!) the trout dinner (Gawwwlly!), and was
pleased to be served the whole fish, lightly floured, and fresh from the
frying pan.  Fay, the proprietor, caught me talking to God and chose to sit
down to spill out her grieving heart.  She had recently lost her eldest
daughter to a sudden and unexpected heart attack (at the youthful age of
48), and was still struggling to deal with the loss.  We talked for over an
hour, speaking of children, military life, and the joys of pre-1970 Sierra
Vista, Arizona.  Afterwards, Fay thanked me, treated herself to a strawberry
milkshake, and closed up shop an hour early.  I walked the streets of
Monterey, enjoying my own strawberry milkshake, and pondered the possibility
that this heartfelt meeting was not an accident.
The list:
Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)
Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail)
Eurytides marcellus (Zebra Swallowtail)
Pieris rapae (Cabbage White)
Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur)
Colias philodice (Clouded Sulphur)
Satyrium calanus (Banded Hairstreak)
Everes comyntas (Eastern Tailed Blue)
Celastrina neglecta (Summer Azure)
Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary)
Speyeria aphrodite (Aphrodite Fritillary)
Boloria bellona (Eastern Meadow Fritillary)
Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot)
Phyciodes tharos (Pearly Crescentspot)
Vanessa virginiensis (American Painted Lady)
Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral)
Limenitis arthemis (Red Spotted Purple)
Asterocampa clyton (Tawny Emperor)
Enodia anthedon (Northern Pearly Eye)
Cercyonis pegala (Common Wood Nymph)
Thorybes pylades (Northern Cloudywing)
Erynnis brizo (Sleepy Duskywing)
Erynnis baptisae? (Wild Indigo Duskywing)
Thymelicus lineola (European Skipper)
Mark Walker
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