Sunday, June 22, 2014

unidentified Satyrium hairstreak ~ 06/22/14 ~ Chews Ridge

unidentified male Satyrium hairstreak

posted 10/11/14 - This ID has had me stumped ever since June.  Both photo series are of the same individual as I turned around to capture different lighting angles.  It would have been great to get a photo of the topside (dorsal) wing color and abdomen to help ID, but that didn't happen.  As I was asking Chris his thoughts as to what it was, he forgot it was simply sitting on my finger and it promptly flew away into the sun when he made a sudden movement.  That's the handicap I've given myself this year by not collecting specimens.  Honestly, I didn't want to deal with lugging around a net and killing jar, pinning and spreading, and not to mention permit paperwork.  I think scrutinizing photos has been a good learning tool for me, but as evidenced here, it's not perfect.

I sent one of the lighter-colored pics around to my trusted butterfly posse (I hope they don't mind me calling them that), and I received a surprising variety of answers.  Their suggestions for ID are as follows (links open in new windows for photo comparisons):
gold-hunter's hairstreak (Satyrium auretorum) - BOA, BugGuide, Flickr
mountain mahogany hairstreak (Satyrium tetra) - BOA, BugGuide, Flickr
hedgerow hairstreak, aka sepia hairstreak (Satyrium saepium) - BOA, BugGuide, Flickr

I also trust Butterflies of America (BOA) more than self-reported ID sites like BugGuide and Flickr, which both have a few ID errors.  Even UC Irvine's Butterflies of Orange County has what I believe is a gold-hunter's in the middle of hedgerows.  These look-alike spp. are not well-illustrated in my field guides, so we're not alone in our uncertainty.  Can you ID?

ps - After initially insisting it was a mt. mahogany because of how dark it was, I'm now leaning towards a hedgerow hairstreak, mainly because of the tailend patterning.  There's a notable lack of any orange near the tails, which even if worn would have been an indication for gold-hunter's.  Besides, the tails are too long to be a male gold-hunter's, I think.  Oh, how do I know it's a male?  The relief of the teardrop-shaped scent gland (stigma) can be seen in the middle of the hindwing in the shadowier photos.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

habitat ~ 06/19/14 ~ Castle Peak in the Tahoe National Forest

June 19, 2014

There are some experiences that are hard for me to write about on a public blog, because they're so incredibly personal.  Being able to take Art Shapiro out to his butterfly monitoring sites has been a special blessing that is helping me change my life's direction in a dramatic way.  His advice to me was simple, "Follow your heart."  I achieved what could only be described as butterfly nirvana as I sat on top of Andesite Peak, surrounded by swirling, flirting, fighting anise swallowtails and bright whites (spring white and the more elusive to me western white).  To see them hilltopping in motion in such a grand fashion took my breath away (and it wasn't just the high elevation hiking, either!).  This was a good day.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

grunion greeting, 2014 #4

female California grunion dug in sand laying eggs
while 4 males cluster around her head
It was all about the group fish p0rn this late 3rd night, high tide after the full moon.  We spotted numerous clusters of 4-5 males per female, as compared to one on one.  This only seems to happen when the runs are heavier, which makes sense.  The females are quite acrobatic, flipping themselves straight up into the air out of the sand to catch the next big wave back to the ocean.  It's totally fun to watch under the light of the full moon.

open season
4 spotted cusk-eels, 1 northern anchovy(?), several grunion

Steve the Fisherman was there (must recruit him!) with 6 other people and 2 buckets when we arrived.  They were the same folks from last year June 8 when Bob Lea measured fish.  They remembered me and asked if I wanted take measurements of their hand catch.  I did, which is a little tricky with wet fish and wet paper and wet pen and wet sand.  Have I mentioned it was wet?  And cold?  I have no idea what I was doing.  They told me they arrived around 10:30, started seeing cusk-eels around 11, and then the grunion followed with ~25 at a time.  I was impressed with how much they knew.  There was a tiny silver fish in their bucket (at 3 o'clock above) that did not look like a grunion.  I'm totally making a guess that it's an anchovy, because my other flash pics of it in my hand, in the dark, did not provide any detail.

Considering the bucket-toting folks were next to the wharf, Andy and I walked down the beach. About 250 yards down, there were another couple spots of grunion.  We stood between the two locations for most of our watch.  Andy walked down to the cement structure past a bonfire group, and he didn't find any additional grunion spots.  A couple hundred came up in a few waves around 12:30, but mostly it was maybe a dozen to 30 or so at a time over the course of 45 minutes that we observed them.  When we returned to the wharf, the group described hundreds coming up onto a long flat section of the beach.  It sounded like a W-3 to me.  For Monterey, this was a good grunion night.  To compare with my past observations, click to see a definite W-3 and a fantastic W-4.

06/12/14 full moon 9:13pm
06/14/14 high tide 11:51pm 6.16 ft
beaches: Municipal
Charlies: 6 + 1 western gull + flock of unknown gulls
others: Andy, Steve the Fisherman, 6 other people grunion fishing by hand, and a bonfire group
my observation time: 11:29pm - 12:57pm
W-2, 30 at a time already running on arrival, couple hundred at a time max

Friday, June 13, 2014

sunrise ~ 06/13/14 ~ at home

There seems to be an unusual number of squid boats this year.  They light up the night with their squid lights, green, red, white.  It's Christmas!  Ooof, now that I read that old post, maybe I say there's an unusual number every year?  Ha!  That's partly why we moved bedrooms, because for several months of the year we had very bright night lights.  Thanks to the incredibly fast growing Monterey pines, that soon may not be a problem for us.  Because of the funny way sound carries across the water, I can sometimes hear their conversations on their boats from our balcony.  Many seem to be from outside of the Monterey Bay area.  I wonder if squid fishermen are nomads, following their catch.  I also wonder what else they catch in their nets besides squid, because surely there are other larger animals who would also like to eat squid. The young male sea lions are making a racket down by the Coast Guard Pier, the harbor seals seemed to have doubled in numbers, and a lone, young male elephant seal is being a bully at Hopkins.  There have been high counts for other marine mammal sightings in the Monterey Bay - 56 humpbacks and 150 Pacific white-sided dolphins on June 11, 2014 in a.m. only!  Just to note, last night was grunion greeting for the June full moon.  I didn't go.  Maybe tonight?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

mountain mahogany hairstreak ~ 06/10/14 ~ Pinnacles

I asked Paul J. his ID of this individual, because I've never knowingly seen a mountain mahogany hairstreak before.  Although, I did note in the Pinnacles Count about seeing a hairstreak with a blue tail end (just like this one!) and was hoping my count partner from the Sequoias had gotten a picture.  Tiny, dark, zippy shadows.  The iridescent sheen looks so much like the hedgerow hairstreak I photographed only 2 days before that I can easily see getting them mixed up on the wing from a distance.  Up-close and depending on the lighting, it's darker than the hedgerow, without the bright copper color, and has an overall blue cast to the underside wings.  Other people note the white flecks in the wings and the pointier forewing tip compared to the hedgerow.  I have a hard time seeing other people's descriptions of shapes, so that doesn't work very well for me.  With the relative lack of tails, this is apparently a boy

ps 08/05/14 - Art also pointed out many male hairstreaks have a stigma on the forewing that shows through as a relief.  It's absent in females.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

hedgerow hairstreak ~ 06/08/14 ~ Hastings

bronzed hedgerow hairstreak (aks sepia hairstreak) nectaring on chamise
(Tenney and Walker)

This was our group's last find of the day for the Hastings Count.  It was a long, hot day in a near-futile search for hairstreaks.  Oof.  Maybe we saw 4 individuals that weren't CA hairstreak?  Paul was particularly good at spotting those.  I didn't keep count.  Thankfully, Jerry Powell did.  There are a handful of other small brown butterflies that, from a distance, can look just like the hedgerow hairstreak.  They're tiny, dark, zippy shadows.  Even with binoculars, the hairstreaks have the annoying habit of turning their leading edge towards you so you can't see their wing pattern.  Ya, I'll probably not take a liking to most hairstreaks, because they seem to be best found at the top of very tall buckeye trees or other inaccessible trees, like blue oaks and coffeeberry.  We even resorted to throwing rocks at trees with hopes to flush out the butterflies.  Jerry was particularly skilled at this endeavor with one well-placed hit to the top of a trunk, whereas I was lobbing the first rocks I could find into thin air.  Ha!  This is not regular practice, mind you, just for the annual count's purpose of recording every possible butterfly we can find.  I'll admit I didn't do this for the Pinnacles count I recorded.  I had no idea how to do it before.  Eh, generally, if they play that hard to get, I'm not that interested.  To me, it's easier to search through closer-to-the-ground nectaring plants (although I have found a hedgerow hairstreak on its host plant buckbrush at Pinnacles).  Blooming chamise growing on top of a hill seems to do the job here.  Lots of butterflies like the toppest top.

Chris and Paul prefer using binoculars (pfft, birders.) and have both given me heavy binoculars to pointlessly carry on long, hot hikes.  I'll try most things at least once, and I did try using the special close-focus binoculars for butterflies a few times.  I don't particularly care using them because I have trouble finding and focusing on what are frequently fast moving objects.  Plus, I worry I'll miss seeing the many butterflies that do fly within a few feet of me, as I have seen happen so often when other people are too focused looking through their binoculars.  Eh, the extra effort of hauling them around is not worth the results to me.  I'm not sure if anyone was able to determine the IDs of the ones we saw sitting on the tallest buckeye blooms, anyways.  There you go.   

Oh!  One last ID note, Paul pointed out the rich, suede brown color on the dorsal side of the abdomen also matches the topside wing color.  In the photos above, there's a little nip at the forewing apex that shows the topside color.  Handy-dandy reference, but I already forgot which other hairstreak the comparison was made.  Did, I mention it was a long, hot day?

ps 06/14/14 - Here's the look-alike mountain mahogany hairstreak with a similar nip in the right forewing.  Note the darker brown color with bluish tint of the mountain mahogany.  Considering the tail length, is this a female, then?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gorgon copper ~ 06/05/14 ~ Chews Ridge

They're all look-alikes!  Heavy sigh.  At first, I confused the female Boisduval's blue with the Gorgon copper with that split orange couplet dotting towards the butt when their wings are held at rest above their body.  Now that I'm looking at this picture, there's a definite chalky white that I've also noticed in the great copper and is totally absent in all the blues I've seen so far.  Also, I think I might get the topside female with its golden-hued window panes mixed up with the similarly looking tailed-copper.  I have yet to get a good look at females topside in-person, because I didn't bother this one too much except to take its picture.  She looks heavy with eggs and lots of fat.  In flight, the boys flash a beautiful alternating leathery brown with white, only a couple feet off the ground.  They're quite distinctive.

Boisduval's blue ~ 06/05/14 ~ Chews Ridge

Now, here's a butterfly with a fancy French name!  Jean Baptiste Boisduval was a famous lepidopterist, among other things, and I often see his name associated with the naming of numerous butterflies.  Chris Tenney introduced me to Boisduval's on my first ever visit to Chews Ridge back April 17, 2014.  It looked so similar to the silvery blue I saw the previous week on April 8 at Pinnacles, that I spent some time really comparing the two and even consulting with Art Shapiro.  I have netted pics of a couple extremely worn Boisduval's from a May 2 visit to Chews Ridge, which I haven't posted yet.  So, I'm guessing these here are the 2nd generation this year.  

Since I rarely get pics of the full-on topside, I've had to rely on the underside markings.  See the white-outlined, curvy row of black spots and then the black spots closer towards the wing edge (submarginal) on both the fore and hindwings (particularly in the middle picture above)?  Well, Boisduval's will always have a hint of those submarginal black spots, even when really worn, and silvery never does.  

The real point of this post is that I know the bottom picture is absolutely a female with a brown topside and hints of orange on the hindwing underside with an extra row of dots (Good grief, it looks just like a Gorgon copper from the underside!), but I can't really say for the first set.  Another form of female?  Or is it a boy?  Does anyone know?  Erg.  I should mention that green sheen in the first photo is not always evident.  Usually, it just looks black.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

tailed copper ~ 06/03/14 ~ Pinnacles

For such a plain Jane name, this tailed copper really packs a beautiful design punch in such a small package.  It was surprisingly quick, and I only managed 2 photos before it took flight.  I believe this was a male, if I recall the solid topside leather brown color correctly.  The female topsides have golden-hued window panes that seem to glow in a classic butterfly pattern.  I read their caterpillars eat gooseberry.  And, once again, that's CA buckwheat serving up tasty butterfly energy drinks.

western brown elfin ~ 06/03/14 ~ Pinnacles

western brown elfin
Callophrys augustinus (aka Incisalia augustinus iroides)

I followed a tiny dark shadow through the CA buckwheat patch.  In the bright sunlight, I wondered if it might be a hairstreak, like the mountain mahogany or hedgerow.  Nope.  It was so dark, the flash even went off in the second pic, highlighting the Impressionist painting vibe I get under certain lighting conditions.  It surprised me that it's on the wing now, since I last saw brown elfins at Pinnacles in early March.  This one looks pretty fresh, except for the huge bite out of its left wings - that's probably why I was able to approach it several times to take pictures.  This must be a second generation.  Let's see if there'll be a third, or even a fourth generation this year.

CA kingsnake ~ 06/03/14 ~ Pinnacles

Ah, man!  The truck ahead of me ran over this gorgeously large snake on the road out of the Pinnacles west entrance.  I had to stop and check it out, because I don't get to see as many snakes as I would like, especially ones this large.  I'm sure some of my more squeamish readers will be glad to know I picked the PG-rated head shot; the other side was a bit gruesome with more blood and a cracked eye, which I found totally fascinating.  So, this is my first CA kingsnake I've ever seen... I think.  Certainly, I didn't know what it was until I got home and looked it up.

checkered underside of California kingsnake

I nudged it a little bit.  Dead.  So, I gingerly picked up its tail to flip it over.  It was still quite flexible.  Wow!  Look at that amazing belly pattern, like a checkerboard, kinda.  The way the curvy head scales transition to the orderly rectangular belly scales is amazing.  Reminds me of what they did to Mystique in the X-Men movies, eh-hem, to keep her modesty.

very large California kingsnake (over 3 1/2 feet?)

This has got to be an old snake to be so big, right?  I'm sad to see it become bird food.  I pulled it over to the side of the road, because we certainly don't need turkey vulture (or heaven forbid, condor) roadkill, too.  Does that happen?

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a downloadable .pdf of the CA kingsnake.  To open it up, click here.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

CA hairstreak ~ 06/01/14 ~ Pinnacles

Here's another worn-torn individual shown nectaring on CA buckwheat.  It's superficially similar to the grey hairstreak, down to similar bite marks out of the hind portion of their wings.  Those tail-end bright spots sure seem to do their job in keeping these little snack-sized morsels alive long enough to get to the worn-torn looking stage.  Cool beans.  I wonder what the spots look like under UV for bird predators?  Girl?  I can't tell.

gray hairstreak ~ 06/01/14 ~ Pinnacles

Strymon melinus
(Shapiro and Tenney)

I have another photo (a bit too fuzzy to post) where there's a hint of barely there orange on top of the abdomen.  And, given how pointy the butt is, I'm guessing it's a boy.  Female gray hairstreaks have gray colored abdomens.  I'm glad to have him for the count, even if he's a bit worn.  Fresh grays are quite stunning and reportedly very common.  I first caught him on woolly yerba santa, and then he hopped over to CA buckwheat for another pose.

I noticed I'm developing a fondness for butterflies that tend to perch at about my waist-height, and at Pinnacles that usually means CA buckwheat and woolly yerba santa.  They're the ones I'm most likely to capture a natural pose with my point-and-shoot.  I've really enjoyed looking at my own macro shots, because I'm seeing details that are impossible in-person.  It's kind of a funny thing, I have an excellent dissecting scope with snake lights and several pairs of binoculars, but I don't like using them as visual aids.  It's just one of those quirks.