American Copper – Sleepy Creek WMA

My Son Andrew was down for a short vacation and we went on a hike in Sleepy Creek WMA. The weather was perfect, a little on the cool side (70 degrees) with a light breeze. Along the hike we noted 10 species of butterflies which included an American Copper. This is the latest I’ve seen this species in West Virginia. As the season winds down during the next month I’m still hoping to find an Ocola Skipper. We’ll see.

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Clouded Skipper, Leonard’s Skipper and Gray Comma

Spent a beautiful day looking for butterflies in Garrett County, MD and then my neighborhood here in Berkeley County, WV. A good variety was on the wing. Temps were in the mid 70’s in the mountains and mid 80’s here at home. In the upper part of “The Woods” subdivision there are now many Butterfly Bushes that have sprung up due to seeds being washed down the hill into the drainage gullies. These seeds originated from a house at the top of the hill that has several mature Butterfly Bushes. Combine that with this area not being developed yet and you have empty lots full of mixed grasses that include Bluestem. The reason I bring up Bluestem is that it is one of the hosts for Leonard’s Skipper which was also found. While searching through the lower collection of bushes Barry Marts located a Clouded Skipper at the house at the top of the hill. This was a new WV lep for me! Another southern irruptive species for the season. Can an Ocola Skipper be far behind? I love seeing the ventral view with the dark PM band that gets wider towards the top of the hind wing. Reminds me of a tornado vortex. Several other grass skippers were found, most being worn with a few exceptions. Sachem was the most plentiful followed by Crossline (6), Zabulon (3), Peck’s (2), Tawny-edged (1) and the before mentioned Leonard’s (1) and Clouded (1).
Clouded Skipper
In Garrett County we only spent a couple of hours but it was enough time to find (2) fresh Gray Comma’s. Eastern Comma was plentiful (12) following by Question Mark (2). This was most certainly a great day to be in the field. It not often you’ll be able to see a Leonard’s Skipper, Clouded Skipper and Gray Comma on the same day in our region.
Gray Comma

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Leonard’s Skipper – Sleepy Creek WMA

I took my dog Shadow on a tough 4 mile hike that we both desperately needed. Sleepy Creek WMA today was cool’ish with a nice breeze. The Sun came out enough from time to time to get some things moving. Many Great Spangled Fritillaries were on the wing but the highlight was my first Leonard’s Skipper in West Virginia. I only had my iPhone so the photo quality is lacking.
Leonard's Skipper

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Cloudless Sulphurs, LT Skipper and Solar Eclipse

I going to take a break from my “wildlife only” rule as this was possibly a once in a lifetime experience. Barry Marts and I traveled to eastern Tennessee in hopes of seeing the total eclipse of the Sun. Of course weather is the big unknown and you roll the dice. We took off on Sunday morning and made a butterfly stop at Grayson Highlands State Park in SW Virginia. This is the location of Mt. Rogers, the highest elevation in that state.  The park contains many hiking trails leading to the high point that have beautiful vistas, which is somewhat unusal in the eastern part of the lower 48. The day was partly cloudy with temps in the low 70’s. We parked at a trail head located at 4,600 ft and hiked a mile and a half up to 5,400 ft, still 2.5 miles from Mt. Rogers. Mt. Rogers was not our goal, rather the vistas, grasslands and wild ponies were. During the hike we found 22 species of butterflies which included a Harvester (seen by Barry), many Aphrodite Fritillaries and several fresh American Coppers. After leaving Grayson Highlands we drove to Kingsport,TN where to spent the night. This would leave relatively short 2 hour 15 minute drive early the next morning.  We left the hotel at 6:00 am and arrived at our eclipse location at Athens Regional County Park in Athens, TN at 8:20 am. It was hot and humid. About 10,000 people were estimate to be in that park when all was siad and done. All we could do was hope for no clouds during the event. While waiting for the eclipse to begin (shortly after 1:00 pm) we walked along a trail in the park and picked up a few new leps for the year. We located several Carolina Satyrs, Cloudless Sulphurs, an American Snout and a nice Long-tailed Skipper.

The throngs of people attempted to stay cool from the humid skies with temperatures in the lower 90’s. Progression of the eclipse crescent was watched on the ground through leaves of trees on the asphalt parking lot and also with various homemade pinhole projection devices. I took shots every 20 minutes or so with my 400mm lens until we neared totality and then commenced to take pictures more frequently as the big moment approached. I made it a point not to get too wrapped up in the totality phase fiddling with the camera. I wanted to experience the majestic view of the Sun’s corona naked eye for a bit before getting back to picture taking. As the moment of totality came near I looked to the west and saw a very dark sky…. the shadow of the Moon. The crowds in the park started to make more noise and then the famous “Diamond Ring” effect occurred. At this point 99.x% of the Sun’s light was being blocked by the Moon and even though it was noticeably darker than a full Sun it was still fairly light. Suddenly, someone threw a light switch and there is was… the corona! Stunning and awe inspiring I yelled at the top of my voice “AWESOME!”. A couple of stars became visible (notable was Regulus in Leo which is seen in one of the shots below) as did Venus and Jupiter. After taking in the sights visually I got down to the business of photographing this phase. I took off the neutral density filter that had been used during the partial phases and set my camera to take bracketed exposures of the corona. I had preset my camera settings at home a few days before and could only hope that something would turn out. After getting home and looking at the sequence of photos I was quite happy with the results. In summary; You can watch all of the videos and look at photos of a total solar eclipse but they do not do justice compared to what your senses experience by actually being there. God willing, I hope to see the next one the U.S. in April of 2024. I hope some of you do also. You will never forget it.
Click on any image below to enlarge

Partial phase with Sun spots Partial phase
Corona (inside portion) Corona (max)
Solar prominences Diamond Ring
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Early Hairstreak – Ricketts Glen

Once or twice a season usually between mid-July and mid-August I’ll go up to the Ricketts Glen State Park area located about 30 miles NW of Wilkes-Barre, PA looking for Tortoiseshells, Two-spotted Skipper, Dion Skipper and Early Hairstreak. On the 16th of July Barry and I made the trip as the weather was supposed to be partly cloudy and near 80 degrees. The weather turned out to be spot on and we found 32 species over 7 hours. A couple of probable Compton Tortoiseshells taunted us as they flew by but never sat down for a real good look and confirmation. However, on the hike to Splashdam Pond Barry flushed up a small lep that initially looked like an Eastern Tailed-Blue. It landed on some nearby grass and upon further inspection turned out to be a very worn Early Hairstreak (they have two flights a season in this area). This rarity uses Beech trees as a host and Beeches are certainly in good supply here. Continuing on to Splashdam we saw a few lingering Bog Coopers. Heavy patches of Milkweed greeted us once we arrived but harbored surprisingly few butterflies. Dion and Two-spotted Skippers were found here. We also found four Satyr species over the course of the day (Northern Pearly-eye, Eyed Brown, Appalachian Brown and Common Wood-Nymph). I’ve included side by side comparison photos below of the Eyed and Appalachian Browns.

Finally, it seems that we can’t go on a trip nowadays without running into a Black Bear. Not that I’m complaining(:> We saw a cub on the road to Beech Lake. This was our third Black Bear sighted in the last two weeks in three different states (VA,MD,PA). The bear sighting was trumped by a large Timber Rattlesnake, one of the few poisonous snakes in our region. We had great time for sure with excellent butterfly diversity.

Timber Rattlesnake

Click on any image below to enlarge

Early Hairsteak Striped Hairstreak
Dion Skipper Two-spotted Skipper
Eyed Brown Appalachian Brown
Long Dash Tawny-edged Skipper
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