Trip Report: July 18/19 2021
(for NW Leps)
For my 74th birthday, I took to the field in the Dark Divide, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington. Conditions were sunny, clear and dry, temps in the high 70s to maybe 80 for a high.
I camped the night of the 18th at Elk Pass on NF 25, just below Mt. St. Helens on its east side, at the parking area for Boundary Trail # 1. The next morning's early sun, warming a big patch of naturalized Lotus corniculatu, brought out a male Plebejus anna to bask, and then many males and females among the yellow lotus (birds-foot trefoil), surely its hostplant here (as it is for acmon blues not many miles away). One fresh female Speyeria mormonia also appeared.
I took NF 25 north to NF 28, east to Mosquito Meadows, which I had long wanted to visit. Driving all four small Forest Service roads that are supposed to circumscribe the meadows, I saw no sign of them, only fir forest; perhaps they have largely succeeded to woods? But the mosquitoes were there, so that's something. (I see on Google Earth now that the main meadow is a little off NF 28 to the south).
From here, NF 77 runs northward to Pinto Rock and French Butte. In the first mile, on pearly everlasting, nectared a male Lycaena mariposa cascadia, and Limenitis lorquini, and Speyeria coronis cruised. Here was also the first of several stands of Eriogonum nudum I would see throughout the day. In the second mile, the only Nymphalis californica I would see. At the beginning of the third mile out from Mosquito Meadows, one comes to a climbers' parking lot at the base of the tall and very rugged welded-tuff breccia formation known as Pinto Rock. From here, NF 77 runs due north along and under the summit ridge of Pinto Rock.
The next mile took me a couple of mid-day hours to drive and walk, it was so rich: one of the most rewarding sites for both plants and butterflies I have experienced in years. The rocky slope on the right (east) side of the road was flower-packed including much Sedum (prob. divergens) and Valeriana, and ditto for the verge and slope down on the west side (almost in the lap of Mt. St. Helens), including yellow and purple asters and three species of blooming buckwheats: E. nudum, compositum, and heracleoides. These flowery areas alternated with stretches of shaded forest, but kept on coming.
Here's what I encountered in this butterfly-and-flower wonder-mile. in order: 1 small Colias eurytheme sighted, unless it was a sleepy orange or tailed orange—Occam's Razor! And 1 C. occidentalis netted. Icaricia icarioides (common), Euphydryas editha colonia and E. colon (both common); Speyeria hydaspe (few, fresh), S. coronis (see note below); P. anna ricei (common) Anthocharis julia (one male; then farther on and higher, several); B. epithore (several), nectaring on valerian with Parnassius clodius (several); L. helloides males here and there; one worn Polygonia gracilis or faunus sighted on the road. One big rock outcrop with much Sedum and a stand of E. nudum had P. smintheus males, within a quarter-mile of the P. clodius. Nectaring on the Sedum and sailing up and down the rock face, never in reach except for binoculars, was a pale female Chlosyne spp., surely C. hoffmanni from the location and the nearby presence later of several fresh males. Two quite light Phyciodes pulchella males were alighting on raspberries and chasing everything else. Of course I checked all three buckwheats for blues, and on E. compositum I found blue coppers (Lycaena heteronea), which became common farther along; and one worn, pale female Plebejus acmon almost devoid of scintillae.
Beyond this long mile the road crests the ridge and drops onto the east slope of French Butte to continue northeasterly. Here the aspect is entirely different, with fewer flowers and few butterflies other than S. coronis and Boisduval's blues on the lupines. At one point above a culvert, a mini-meadow retained a tiny flow, the only water I saw all day except for one sadly shaded puddle. Here there was a lone, worn female Glaucopsyche lygdamus on a mint; and then at the Burley Mountain junction, L. mariposa on pearly everlasting.
My ultimate objective was the Burley Mountain Lookout, one of only three remaining on the GPNF. This is barely across into Lewis County, all the above being in Skamania. One can drive (dodgily) most of the way to the 5,304-foot lookout, then hike the last bit. There is actually a little bit of subalpine aspect, with cushion plants such as Phlox diffusa, and lots of Sedum. It was 3 pm, still warm, but breezy. I was surprised how few butterflies were here—I'd expected more, hilltopping and utilizing the pseudo-tundra veg. But the good habitat is actually very small, it may have been a little late for such a dry year (flowers were going over already), and it must have been devastated in 1980 as it sits just NE of Mt. St. Helens (the views are fabulous of St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, all very near, and more distant Hood), plus the rugged juts of the Dark Divide—Juniper, Sunrise, Jumbo, Dark, Hat. Snagtooth, Badger, Shark, Pinto, and others..
There are a couple of modest stands of E. nudum on the summit, but no sign of E. enoptes blues. Here's what I saw up there: P. smintheus (only one), L. helloides, P. anna, I. icarioides, several each of S. mormonia washingtonia (very near the type locality), S. hydaspe, and S. coronis; one C. hoffmanni male; and then, right at the west end of the summit on the wind, one Papilio zelicaon—the only thing hilltopping besides flies, and the only swallowtail I saw all day! P. smintheus and S. mormonia were the only "alpine" notes on top. I was hoping for Agriades glandon, as the summits where I'd got the Skamania County records for both arctic blues and mountain parnassians were just a few miles away and clearly visible, but no such luck.
I took the long loopy drive on tiny FS roads to the Cowlitz River Valley below, trying for a woodland skipper on weedy habitats around Randle, in the waning warm sun, without success, and completed the circle back to I-5 and westward out the Columbia to home. It had been a great birthday.
The most notable distributional records were for the plant Eriogonum nudum, these several new stands being among the most western and southern for this rare species (and Euphilotes enoptes hostplant) in Washington. The P. pulchella are the southwesternmost record in Washington, and must be one of very few Skamania County records. The L. heteronea are the third Skamania County record, after the MSHNVM finds that both Caitlin La Bar and I have had on E. nudum, and the only robust colony known west of the Cascade Crest. The P. smintheus occurrences at Pinto Rock and Burley Mountain are among very few records in that part of the state, and the westernmost in Lewis County by a good stretch; I'd found it a few miles west in Skamania, on Strawberry Mtn, in 2018..
Argynnis coronis: Coronis fritillaries were everywhere. I saw hundreds of them, to just one N. californica. Coronis Frits are the new Cal Torts! at least this year. And they came in all sizes—from mormonia-small to quite hefty. See James & Pelham: https://bioone.org/journals/the-journal-of-the-lepidopterists-society/volume-65/issue-4/lepi.v65i4.a4/Observations-on-the-Seasonal-Biology-and-Apparent-Migration-of-Argynnis/10.18473/lepi.v65i4.a4.full
And what wasn't there: interestingly, I saw not a single skipper of any kind all day. Also absent were Pterourus (tiger) swallowtails. I also failed to record a single hairstreak of any species, nor any satyrs. While working on this I've just seen my first two Ochlodes sylvanoides of the year in my yard, and a western tiger swallowtail. I'm tempted to consider the field trip still on till I file this, and count them!
So here are the species observed on the GPNF yesterday:
clodius, smintheus, zelicaon, eurytheme, C. occidentalis, julia, helloides, mariposa, heteronea, anna, icarioides, lygdamus, acmon, coronis, mormonia, hydaspe, epithore, hoffmanni, editha, colon, pulchella, gracilis/faunus, N. californica, lorquini: = 24 species – not a high count elsewhere, but most respectable for Western Washington, especially just outside the blast zone of Mt. St. Helens.
All species netted, examined carefully in hand. and released after identity secured. with the exception of the orange sulphur and the anglewing, which were sight records. None collected; I saw no need for vouchers, as none were in question. In retrospect, a voucher of the field crescent might have been desirable; I hadn't realized its rarity in Skamania County at the time, and they were unusually light, more like a California crescent (P. orseis). I felt inclined toward a deathless birthday, call it sentiment or, loosely, karma. I'm sure it could be found there again, and I urge anyone to visit this marvelous mile and see what else you might find.
Data with lat/longs provided to Pelham separately, available upon request.
R. M. Pyle
Gray's River, Wash.