The majestic northern Sierra Nevada of California provides the backdrop for this exciting Sunstreak tour. Lofty peaks, lush mountain meadows and streams, accessible mountain passes and sagebrush covered hillsides provide some of the most outstanding butterflying in the western United States. We'll probably see early season species such as 'Stella' Sara Orangetip, Mustard White, Large Marble, 'Alpine' Sheridan's Hairstreak and Pacific Fritillary. We'll take advantage of this early season jaunt into the high country to seek such rarities as California Crescent and Johnson's Hairstreak. Ridings' Satyr, Uncas Skipper and Mariposa Copper are distinct possibilities. In addition, we’ll see a tremendous array of fritillaries, coppers, blues, checkerspots, whites and skippers.
The trip begins at 7pm on Monday at the airport in Los Angeles. Tuesday morning we'll head northward to the White Mountains of California. Along the way we'll stop in the Owen's Valley to look for Yuma Skipper. If time allows, we'll search the alkali flats north of Bishop for Alkali and Sandhill Skippers. Mohave Sootywing may still be around in addition to a unique population of Melissa Blues. This scenic drive will take most of the day and we will arrive in Bridgeport, California in time for dinner. This high elevation (7000 ft.) scenic town nestled in the eastern foothills of the Sierras, will be our base for exploration.
From Bridgeport we will make daily excursions to nearby hot spots where we expect to find not only fantastic butterflies but great scenery as well. We will remain flexible as to the exact order we visit localities, being guided by local weather conditions and the status of the snow pack at some of the higher passes – allowing us to work with weather conditions, not against them. Butterflies are more unpredictable than birds. Exactly where and when populations will appear is highly dependent upon local environmental and climatic conditions. These conditions are often the result of weather factors that occur six months earlier, or more!
We intend to visit most, if not all, of the areas described below. There are many other productive sites that we may visit, since a large portion of the tour area is public land.
Though we will be based on the east side of the Sierras, a trip to the upper west slope is a must. This area was the subject of a Definitive Destination article in the summer 1996 issue of American Butterflies. At Niagara Creek, a beautiful area with blooming California lilacs amidst open meadows and woodland, and other nearby spots, we’ll have our best shot at Clodius Parnassian, Hoffmann’s Checkerspot, an interesting local population of Northern Blue, Pacific Fritillary, and Johnson’s Hairstreak. Atlantis, Hydaspe and Great Basin Fritillaries may be zipping about with Northern Checkerspots, Dotted Blues, and two or three species of coppers. Blue and Lilac-bordered Coppers may be common on roadside flowers. There may still be a ‘Stella’ Sara Orangetip or two flying, along with Sonora and Sandhill Skippers.
Sonora Pass is a famous butterflying location and is one of the focal points of the NABA Fourth of July Dardanelles Butterfly Count. This is high altitude butterflying at its best! Depending upon whether it’s an even or odd year, one may find Riding’s Satyr or Chryxus Arctics right at the pass. Both flew together in a recent “odd” year. Many types of blues are found here including Boisduval’s and Arrowhead Blues. Glance around and you may see a small grayish butterfly darting about. This will be a Sooty Hairstreak, an odd, tailless species associated with the myriad lupines found at the pass. Nevada Skippers are best seen on a small flower stewn summit just a short hike from the pass.
Our best opportunity see ‘California’ Phoebus Parnassian will be at this site. Here, too, fly Chryxus Arctics and two unusual checkerspots – a miniature form of Edith’s and a nearly pure orange version of Variable Checkerspot. The Variable Checkerspot here is interesting in that just a few thousand feet below, on the western slope, one finds an essentially black form. In 2006, a mudpuddle here yielded eight species of blues!
In a meadow near the entrance to Yosemite National Park, we will search for one of California’s endemic species – Sierra Sulphur. These high-altitude beauties are a lovely shade of green, very distinct from the sulphurs that we normally see. At least six species of coppers can be found at and above Tioga Pass, and we will have an excellent chance of seeing many of them, including Mariposa Copper.
This scenic lake provides one of the more impressive backdrops for butterflying that you'll ever experience. The east trail is an easy stroll that takes one into the realm of 'Alpine' Sheridan's Hairstreak, Mexican Cloudywing and Edith's Checkerspot. The western trail is a bit more challenging but offers close views of Lustrous and American Coppers. We may scale the slopes above the lake to look for Square-spotted Blue and the recently described Heather Blue, a butterfly as yet seen by very few butterfliers! These scree-slope inhabiting, heather-feeding blues are close relatives of Arctic Blues, which are also found here in the moist meadows nearby.
Walker River/Mono Lake/Conway Summit
Just a short distance from Bridgeport are areas of extensive wet meadows and sagebrush hills that harbor a very different set of butterflies than those found in higher habitats. In one wet meadow, both Nokomis Fritillary and the lovely western Great Spangled Fritillary, with its black and cream females, both occur. We will be early for Nokomis, but in the same area we're likely to see Ruddy, Copper and a lovely form of Common Ringlet. On the drier slopes Zerene, Callippe and sometimes Coronis Fritillaries cavort around the fragrant mint blossoms amidst the sagebrush.
Before returning to Los Angeles on Monday night, we’ll drive into the White Mountains, home of the ancient bristlecone pines. These high mountains are also home to a number of unique butterflies. Distinct forms of Uncas Skipper, Sandhill Skipper, Greenish and Boisduval's Blues and many others, occur here and nowhere else. On our hike we are likely to flush Ridings' Satyrs and 'Anicia' Variable Checkerspots. No matter what we see, both the bristlecones and the view are worth the ride.
The trip ends at 9 AM on Tuesday, in Los Angeles, California.
Leader will be Jeffrey Glassberg.
Cost of the trip TBD/person from Los Angeles. Cost includes double-based accommodations, all meals (except, because of staggered arrival times, dinner the first night), soft drinks, ground transportation, airport transfers, tour leader fees and entrance fees. Not included are alcoholic beverages, laundry services, and other items of a personal nature. Single supplement TBD.
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