Monday, April 9, 2012

Butterflies - Early April

Butterflies are certainly out in impressive numbers and a first impression might indicate this to be the beginning of an outstanding butterfly year.  Olive Hairstreaks are certainly making a superb showing.  They showed up weeks earlier than expected and may be the most common butterfly species currently in the air at Blue Jay Barrens.  Every gravel bar in the creek seems to have one or two of the colorful creatures.

Many have staked out territories on their host plant, Eastern Red Cedar.  I’ve seen this butterfly in every prairie opening here.  I’ve probably seen more Olive Hairstreaks this year than I’ve totaled in all of my years prior to this.

They’re the only small butterfly I’ve seen at the Redbuds.  While I’m enjoying the bounty of this uncommon species, I’m wondering about the absence of other species.  Henry’s Elfin, which I mentioned earlier, usually appears a couple of weeks prior to the Olive Hairstreak.  So far this year, I’ve seen no Henry’s Elfins.  I’m wondering why.

Eastern Tailed Blue made its appearance early this year and is also common on the wet gravel along the creek.  A common butterfly that I haven’t seen this year is the Spring Azure.  Spring Azures are usually seen several weeks earlier than Eastern Tailed Blues.  What happened to the Spring Azures this year?  I’m out often enough that I shouldn’t have missed seeing them, no matter how early they emerged.

Clouded Sulphurs are all over the place.  Populations of this species always increase as summer progresses, so this may indeed be a record year for Sulphurs.

The white form of Clouded Sulphur is also abundant, but once again there’s a similar looking butterfly that is conspicuous by its absence.  I counted just a single Falcate Orange-Tip this year.  Falcate Orange-Tips show up about a week before the Clouded Sulphurs and I usually count dozens of them before the sulphurs begin adding their numbers to the mass of white butterflies.  This absence of regularly seen species makes me wonder if the weird winter weather is somehow responsible.  Warm wet winters have been known to cause fungus and disease problems in some overwintering insect species.  I hope that hasn’t happened to these butterflies.

Some species are here on their normal schedule.  Gemmed Satyrs show up early and are never very numerous.  It’s also hard to catch them sitting still, so I don’t have an excess of quality photos.  This is about my average shot for this species.

Swallowtails are around in near normal numbers.  Most stay on the wing and are just seen briefly as they pass.  This Zebra Swallowtail was visiting a damp spot along the creek.  Now that we’re in the season when rain is to be expected, all the rain storms seem to be giving us a miss.  We’re getting the wind, but the water has stayed away.  Most damp spots have turned dry and the creek is the only suitable area for puddling.

Juvenal’s Duskywings have flocked to the creekside.  This is a large skipper that is quite conspicuous in flight.  I saw up to a dozen of these sharing the same gravel bar.  Having them all take wing at once was quite an impressive sight.

This Mournful Thyris is a day flying moth, not a butterfly.  The tiny little thing was feeding on a bird dropping in the gravel along the creek.  If it hadn’t flown in just as I walked up, I would never have noticed it.  It’ll be interesting to see how things develop this year with our typical summer time butterflies.


  1. This is my first visit to your blog, super photos of the Olive Hairstreak, its not one that we have over here in the UK. So lovely to read that you have them in large numbers. Linda

  2. Lovely images. I like seeing the red buds, too. We are on the way home and will arrive tomorrow in Ohio after many weeks away. We have missed the early flowers, but hear the tulips are in bloom now.

    Great post.

  3. Thanks Linda. This has been a very favorable year for these little butterflies. Many years I'm lucky to see just one.

    Welcome home Lois. Things have changed a lot in the past few weeks. It must sometimes be a shock to see the changes when returning from an extended absence.

  4. I love the photos of the tiny butterflies. So much of the time it's the tiny delicate looking ones that get past over in Camera shots for the more popular Swallowtails or Monarchs. The tiniest ones use to be extremely abundant where I grew up in San Diego. But then wildflowers were also more plentiful. They have been replaced by many European invaders like the Mediterrean wild oats and Mustard and various forms of ragweed and other plants that don't seem to have the flower power to attract. Unfortunately for Southern California, the wildfires which appear on an annual basis now and burn regularly on the same areas, as opposed to every few decades in an ever changing mosaic pattern which happened in the historical times past, just seem to have fascillited the spread of these invaders over the natives.

    Nice pics Steve.

  5. Thanks Kevin. Invasive plants displacing natives and the resulting decline in native animals seems to be a problem everywhere. It seems a nearly impossible problem to deal with.