California is a state of diverse landscapes, floral communities and butterflies. Within the state one encounters pockets of excellent butterfly diversity in small areas. The Kern Valley region at the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is one of these diverse butterfly areas.
Access to good butterfly spots in the region is excellent and the abundance of roadside flowers allows for easy watching. Throw in the many wet spots and creek crossings where butterflies congregate in numbers and it’s a photographer’s delight. Early June is prime time for the butterflies of the region with around 100 species on the wing including two California endemics.
Our search for butterflies will start from as low as sea level and take us high into the mountains to nearly 9400 feet. Weather at this time of year is usually sunny and hot in the low country (80-95 degrees), sunny and cool (60-85 degrees) in the mountains.
We’ll start our tour in Los Angeles on Saturday. Departing Los Angeles on Sunday morning, we will drive to Kernville nestled on the north shore of Lake Isabella along the banks of the majestic Kern River. We will use a comfortable hotel in Kernville as our base most of our trip. This will enable us to easily reach all of the prime butterflying areas without having to change accommodations.
From Kernville (2600 feet) we will make daily excursions to excellent butterfly spots in the area. We will remain flexible as to the exact order we visit localities and the amount of time spent at each in order to take advantage of hot spots. Butterflies are more unpredictable than birds. Exactly where and when populations will appear is highly dependent upon local environmental and climatic conditions. The uncertainty heightens our excitement. The following areas are illustrative of those we will visit.
Sierra Madre Mountains/Santa Ynez Mountains
The Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara are usually our first day’s destination. This will provide our best chance for Harford’s Sulphurs, Gabb’s Checkerspots and Goldhunter’s Hairstreaks. On our drive to Kernville we’ll make a brief stop in the Sierra Madre Mountains to look for the elegant California Dogface, California’s state butterfly.
San Diego County
If conditions are right we may spend our first morning in the foothills above San Diego searching for one of California’s prize butterflies, Hermes Copper. Our drive north will include a stop along a coastal marsh for another California specialty, Wandering Skipper.
Erskine Creek Canyon/South Ford Valley
Located just south and east of Lake Isabella, this canyon is one of the better places in southern California to watch butterflies. The nectar is plentiful and varied. In addition, a creek crosses the dirt road several times creating plenty of muddy spots for butterflies to congregate. Best of all, the action can be easily viewed from the road. Expect to see the chaparral hairstreaks like California and Hedgerow along with the more riparian Sylvan Hairstreak. Blues can be varied and Acmon, Lupine, Boisduval’s, Square-spotted and the endemic Veined (with its startling bright orange veining above) are all known to occur in the canyon. Western Tiger, Pale and Anise Swallowtails can be viewed on the purple blossoms of yerba santa. California Sister and the similar Lorquin’s Admiral will test your field identification skills. ‘Chalcedon’ Variable, Northern and Leanira Checkerspots inhabit this canyon along with California Ringlet and Great Basin Wood-Nymph. Skippers will be present as well, with Rural and Juba along with Northern White-Skipper being among the most anticipated. Gorgon, Great and Tailed Coppers are also found here. We may spend the afternoon in the hills above Bodfish watching Spring Whites and Gray Marbles. Just a short distance away is a local colony of saltbush where the equally local San Emigdio Blue, another California endemic occurs.
Sherman Pass Road
While based at 2600 feet, we normally drive up to the high country via the Sherman Pass Road. Most of the butterflies found in the forests of the high country differ from those down in the lowlands and the Sherman Pass Road will take us above 9000 feet and give us access to a variety of good butterfly habitats. On the way up to the pass we’ll stop and check stands of yerba santa for fritillaries, checkerspots and hairstreaks. Mountain Mahogany Hairstreak, Callippe Fritillary and ‘Chalcedon’ Variable Checkerspot are very likely. Higher up towards the pass we’ll search for Clodius Parnassian, Pacuvius and Persius Duskywings, Arrowhead Blue, Large Marble and other mountain species. A side trip to Big Meadow is possible where a huge colony of Edith’s Checkerspot is found. Also in Big Meadow are the southernmost colonies of ‘Sierra‘ Arctic Blue, Edith’s Copper and Lustrous Copper. Greenish Blues are common in wet meadows throughout the Sherman Pass region. Sandhill Skippers that we encounter will be darker than the ones found in the lowlands below, giving them a quite different appearance.
Bald Mountain/Kern Plateau
What would a good butterfly trip be without a stop at a good hilltop? At 9382 feet, Bald Mountain will provide us with just such a stop. Positioned at the edge of the arid Kern Plateau and the heavily forested southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Bald Mountain is a mecca for hilltopping butterflies. Among the potential species to be seen here are Pearly Marble, Large Marble, Indra Swallowtail, Pale Swallowtail, Spring White, Behr’s Hairstreak, Mexican Cloudywing, Propertius Duskywing, and Great Basin Fritillary. Once in a while an ‘Alpine’ Sheridan’s Hairstreak is seen here.
Owen’s Valley/Lubken Canyon
The lower east side of the Sierra affords us the opportunity to sample desert butterflies. A visit to an alkali spring in Lubken Canyon usually reveals Yuma Skipper, Alkali Skipper, Field Crescent and even Lorquin’s Admiral. A side trip to Big Pine has yielded Mojave Sootywing in recent years. Far above the Owen’s Valley lies Horseshoe Meadow where hundreds of butterflies have greeted us in the past. A colony of Arrowhead Blues awaits us on the way up.
Fresno Dome/Yosemite Region
On Day 7, Friday, We’ll depart Kernville early in the morning for a drive to Fresno Dome, a moist, coniferous forest area just south of Yosemite. Our target butterfly here is the elusive Western Cloudywing. However, Pacific Fritillary, ‘Stella’ Sara Orangetip and Mustard White also occur in this rich environment. In past years this day has yielded hundreds of butterflies with Spring Azure and ‘Nelson’s’ Juniper Hairstreak covering the blossoms of buckbrush trees and other flowers. In the late afternoon we’ll drive to Bakersfield. Night in Bakersfield.
On Day 8, Saturday, we will return to Los Angeles stopping to look for butterflies along the way. The trip ends on Day 9, Sunday morning, at the Los Angeles airport.
Leader will be Jeffrey Glassberg.
Cost of the trip is $3195/person from Los Angeles. Cost includes double-based accommodations, lunches and soft drinks, ground transportation, airport transfers, tour leader fees and entrance fees. Not included are dinners, alcoholic beverages, laundry services, and other items of a personal nature. Single supplement is $450. This trip is limited to 8 participants.
Click Reservations for a Reservation Form.
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Southern California Sierra Nevada
Saturday May 28 - Sunday June 5, 2016