The Last Days of Winter - Part 3

Mark Walker MWalker at
Fri Mar 22 14:05:25 EST 2002

This is the last installment of The Last Days of Winter, which is
appropriate since it is officially over today.  On Wednesday I flew from
Orlando, Florida to Albuquerque, NM in order to support a last minute
meeting scheduled in Colorado Springs, CO.  The weather report was favorable
- with highs projected in the upper 60's - which was a good thing
considering the fact that all I had in my suitcase was shorts, t-shirts,
rainpants, and a windbreaker.  I was pleased to arrive in Albuquerque by
10:30 a.m. under sunny skies with a growing anticipation of finding
something flying on my long drive north to the Springs.
Things were not looking so good, however, and I observed that there was
little vegetation that appeared to have noticed the coming end of the
season.  Nothing is leafing out, and all the grass has fresh evidence of
frost-burn.  Even the juniper has a brownish "I'm not done sleeping" look to
it, and there was no sign of Callophrys anywhere.  Still, by the time I
reached Las Vegas, NM (the OTHER Las Vegas) the mercury was hitting 67
degrees F.  I couldn't stand not having a closer look, so I headed into the
hills for a brief excursion.
To my astonishment there was snow on the ground, and the creek had a nice
layer of ice over it.  Scrambling up one particularly rocky canyon, I nearly
slipped to my death on an ice field hidden by last autumn's leaves.  Once
again, I found myself in a situation where I might lay unnoticed for many
days with a busted head - with no one back home having a clue where I might
be found.  Such is the life of a lone Lepidopterist that never bothers to
tell anyone where he is going.
"What was that?"  I said to myself - actually out loud, but please don't
tell anybody (if you shout in frustration in the middle of an uninhabited
forest and there isn't anyone to hear you, do you really make a sound?).
You'll be pleased to know that there was no reply.
It was Nymphalis antiopa (Mourning Cloak), and it was sunning itself on the
tops of the smaller pine trees in the canyon.  There were many of them to be
seen, and I was very pleased.  A bit later, I found a few more cousins of
this overwintering species - Polygonia gracilis (Hoary Comma) and Nymphalis
californica (California Tortoiseshell).  The Commas were a particularly
pleasant surprise, only because they are so showy in the bright sunshine.
Spring had indeed arrived in New Mexico!  I looked long and hard for
something newly emerged, and finally did run across one single female
Anthocharis sara (Sara Orangetip) flying weakly 500 feet above the canyon
The rest of my drive to Colorado Springs was equally pleasant, and I was
anticipating a few net swinging opportunities in the two remaining winter
days to follow.  To my dismay and discomfort, I awoke on Thursday to find
the weather forecast of sunny 70 degrees was in gross error.  It was snowing
instead, and did so all day long - with daytime temperatures at The
Broadmoor Hotel as low as 18 degrees.  Brrrr - not very comfortable when
you're wearing shorts.  
Regardless of the calendar, I'm afraid it's still winter here in Colorado.
Mark Walker
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