December 20, 2007

Dear Friends,

Welcome to my journey. This may be the only report all year that I actually type, as I have not yet departed and still have access to e-mail. Throughout 2008, I will be off-line and dispatching reports by hand, from various rural mailboxes around the land.

I see the plan of my year, such as it is, as being something like half of a daisy. The disk flowers are centered on Gray’s River, Washington, near the mouth of the Columbia River, where I live. (This is the area I wrote about in my recent book, Sky Time in Gray’s River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.) The ray flowers represent my excursions out and back, of which there will be several during the year. I will travel primarily by automobile–my 1982 Honda Civic (Powdermilk), starting out with 354,000 miles on the odometer. At this point, the only flights I intend to take will be to Alaska in midsummer and Hawaii at the end of the year, to wrap things up with the few (2) but beautiful Hawaiian endemics. Somewhere in the middle, I anticipate a long figure eight of an Amtrak trip.

My objective, as you know, is to encounter as many of the 800 species of North American butterflies north of Mexico (based on the new Pelham Catalog) as I possibly can in the year 2008. I don’t intend to merely tick them off, but to indulge in deep and revealing encounters with the butterflies, their habitats, and the landscapes and people and stories that make up their whole continental context. Of course I’ll be looking at the state of habitats and how traditional ranges are responding to climate change. It is these stories and perceptions and findings that will make up the pith of Swallowtail Seasons.

Many have asked if I will be taking pictures. I will not. Butterfly photography has come a vast distance since my Watching Washington Butterflies (1974), in which color photos of wild butterflies were first used in a field guide. But I have not come along with it! I will be working in word-pictures, which are my stock-in-trade. In this way, and insofar as it will be a Big Road Trip and a heck of a field outing, Swallowtail Seasons will resemble Chasing Monarchs (2000). But whereas that foray involved seeking one species in one general direction over three months, this one will address hundreds of species, every which way, for an entire year. I can’t yet quite comprehend, much less express, what an immense privilege this opportunity represents. And what a challenge.

Spontaneity will be the watch-word, as I’ll need to adapt to weather, fickle flight periods, information flashes, and many other variables. Thus I will make very few dates, commitments, or engagements, though I look forward to visiting and going afield with many old and new friends during the year. So be forewarned–you might get a call when I’m in your neighborhood! The same goes for my own “flight plans.” While I will have an extremely general outline of movements, I’ll need to be able to divert, detour, and digress, to shuck and jive, to pull a U-ey or hang a left at the flash of a wing or the rise of a cloud. Therefore, any prediction of when I will be where will be unreliable by definition. In rough terms, however, I will be orienting my travels around a number of “grail butterflies”–a dozen or maybe a score of species that I have always wanted to see, but which have so far eluded me–such as the short-tailed swallowtail of the Maritimes, the yellow Eversmann’s parnassian of the Far North, the Atala of southern Florida, or Behr’s sulphur of the High Sierra. The localities and flight periods of these will dictate many of my movements, and I will hope to pick up many of the other species along the way as I seek these special endemics.

So to start I shall head south down the Pacific Coast into the New Year. I intend to begin with the overwintering monarchs of the central California coast. A few other species fly year-round or at least very early in the year from the Bay Area southward. I will be looking out for West Coast ladies, gulf fritillaries, buckeyes, and cabbage whites in the early days, as well as some of the first spring emergents such as margined whites, echo azures, and western pine elfins. The farther south I get, the more species should be peeking out, including some early orange-tips and sulphurs. Spring rains and wildflowers in the desert will dictate many of my initial results. Before I return north from the first outing, I hope to find the precocious advance-guard of arguably one of the most beautiful of North American butterflies, the sonora blue. It shimmers with a truly empyrean blue, both the fore- and hindwings splashed with fire-engine orange. I have seen it only once, on a Super Bowl Sunday in San Jose.

Until the next word then, from the field,

Bob

The Washington Butterfly Association buys Bob Pyle a symbolic first tank of gas for the grand adventure at Bob’s local shop, the Rosburg Store, in Gray’s River Valley. From left to right: Butterfly Association members Al Wagar, David Droppers and Bob Pyle.


 

The Xerces Society » News

Firefly Populations Are Blinking Out

Blink and you’ll miss them this summer. Around the world, people are reporting that local firefly populations are shrinking or even disappearing.

The insect’s dilemma first came to the world’s attention at the 2010 International Firefly Symposium, where researchers from 13 nations presented evidence of firefly population declines and declared “an urgent need for conservation of their habitats.” Since then, additional conferences and several scientific papers have documented regional firefly disappearances, and at least two citizen-science projects are attempting to document the phenomenon, but the full scope of the problem remains to be uncovered, says firefly researcher Ben Pfeiffer, founder of Firefly.org, a website about the decline of the insects, also called lightning bugs.

“It’s worrying,” said Pfeiffer. “When people see a habitat that’s got three, four, five different species of firefly flashing, each with a different flash pattern, it’s an amazing thing. It changes their lives, but few people get to see that anymore.”

The exact extent of the decline is unknown, but early indications suggest that lightning bug populations have shrunk in many places and disappeared from others. “Everyone is reporting declines,” said Eric Lee-Mӓder, codirector of the pollinator program for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Lee-Mӓder said he suspects that decades of overzealous collection by the medical industry may have also contributed to fireflies’ decline. Pharmaceutical companies used to pay bounties of up to a penny per firefly to collect their chemicals for biomedical use. The pharmaceutical company Sigma Chemical Company collected up to 1 million fireflies a year and sold the chemicals for about $260 an ounce, according to a 1975 report in the Milwaukee Journal.

“If you do the math, that’s a lot of insects,” Lee-Mӓder said. “You multiply that over a pretty wide area and add these other stress factors, and there’s no doubt that it has had a major impact on populations. We just don’t know what that impact is yet.”

A 2013 study published in Ecological Modeling found that some firefly populations failed when medical harvest rates exceeded 60 percent.

Continue Reading >

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[VIDEO] Western Bumblebee no longer in Willamette Valley

Though Oregon may be experiencing a population boom, there is at least one group that is no longer found anywhere in the Willamette Valley.

The Western Bumblebee.

“Western Bumblebee used to be one of the 3 most common species in Oregon,” said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society in Portland. “It’s really declined dramatically and is no longer in the Willamette Valley where it was most common.”

Natural history photographer Clay Bolt is working on a film about protecting native bees: “A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumblebee.”

That is one of the 4000 native bees quickly disappearing in the United States.

“It is clearly on an extinction trajectory, the science supports that, the entire bee research community is in agreement,” Bolt told KOIN 6 News. “It’s not just this one species, it’s many many other species that will, too.”

Bolt’s work is part of the first to draw attention to our declining bee problem. Bees tare wildly important in Oregon and all of the US for pollinating.

“There are certainly many in the Western US that are in need of conservation, attention and protection,” Jepsen said.

Late last year, US Fish and Wildlife agreed to consider the Rusty-patched Bumblebee for protection under the Endangered Species Act — but so far, no other steps have been taken.

This post originally appeared at: http://koin.com/2016/06/27/western-bumblebee-no-longer-in-willamette-valley/

 

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Groups seek to protect rare butterfly whose only home is San Juan Island

San Juan Island is the only home to the island marble butterfly. Populations of the species disappeared from Canadian islands in the 1900’s and were rediscovered on San Juan Island in 1998. The species has suffered further decline since rediscovery and faces limited protections.

In the grasslands on south San Juan Island, several patches of bright yellow flowers are fenced off from the rest of the landscape.

The flowering plants are considered weeds by many, but to the island marble butterfly, they’re imperative to the species’ survival. This landscape is the only place the shrinking island marble butterfly population is known to remain, the Skagit Valley Herald reports.

“The populations have constricted pretty dramatically to the point that this is the only home of this butterfly on the Earth,” Ted Thomas of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said while walking through the American Camp portion of San Juan Island National Historical Park.

For about 15 years, various groups have fought for the butterfly to receive federal Endangered Species Act protection. On April 4, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service deemed the butterfly a candidate species.

That means the species qualifies for protection, but the agency does not have the resources to complete the listing process, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

Naming the island marble butterfly a candidate species is not good enough for some.

“I was very surprised by their decision,” said Scott Hoffman Black of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which has twice sought protection for the butterfly. “There is really one secure population left of this animal on the planet. It is much more endangered than many species that are listed.”

Continue Reading: http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/06/groups_seek_to_protect_rare_bu.html#incart_river_home

 

Note: The Xerces Society is not responsible for the content of external sites.  Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by the The Xerces Society is implied.