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.


 

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The Xerces Society » News

Bumblebees in severe and rapid decline from climate change — study

Malavika Vyawahare, ClimateWire

The heat is beginning to sting for bumblebees. As the Earth warms, they are being driven out of their habitats in North America and Europe, according to a new study published in Science.

“They have disappeared from places they used to be found,” said Jeremy Kerr, an ecologist and one of the lead authors of the paper. “If these species are losing range at the rate at which we are observing here, that cannot go on for long before many of these species go extinct.”

By studying the distribution of 67 bumblebee species on the two continents over a 110-year period the authors concluded that human-induced climate change was a “significant cause of rapid declines in bumblebee populations.” The results are a grim reminder that not all species are adapting to climate change, experts said.

Warming temperatures are forcing bumblebees to retreat from the southern boundaries of their range while being unable to settle in regions farther north, the research found, effectively trapping them in what the authors called a “climate vise.”

Read more at EENews.net.


A ‘Climate Vise’ is Squeezing Bumble Bees’ Range

Brian Kahn, Climate Central

If you’ve hiked through a meadow in bloom in Europe or North America, you’ve probably heard the buzz and seen the lazy meanderings of bumble bees from flower to flower. Yet what was once a common sight on the southern end of their range is becoming rare or nonexistent.

According to new research published in the journal Science, climate change could be intimately tied with the plight of the prolific pollinator. But unlike other species that are shifting northward in response to warming temperatures, the majority of bumble bees species included in the new study are failing to expand their range. Because they can occupy a niche as early and late season pollinators, farmers, forests and flowers could all suffer from their disappearance.

“They’ve run up against a wall,” Jeremy Kerr, a biologist at the University of Ottawa, said. “They just aren’t colonizing new areas and finding new locations. Bumblebees are caught in a climate vise.”

Kerr led the new research, which analyzed a massive dataset of 423,000 observations of bumble bees across North America and Europe stretching back to the start of the 20th century. The results show that despite 4.5°F of warming that has made the northern end of their range more habitable, bees are failing to follow the heat even as they are disappearing on the southern fringes at an alarming clip.

Read more at ClimateCentral.org


Bumblebees being crushed by climate change

Cally Carswell, ScienceMag.org

As the climate changes, plants and animals are on the move. So far, many are redistributing in a similar pattern: As habitat that was once too cold warms up, species are expanding their ranges toward the poles, whereas boundaries closer to the equator have remained more static.

Bumblebees, however, appear to be a disturbing exception, according to a study in Science today. A comprehensive look at dozens of species, it finds that many North American and European bumblebees are failing to “track” warming by colonizing new habitats north of their historic range. Simultaneously, they are disappearing from the southern portions of their range.

“Climate change is crushing [bumblebee] species in a vice,” says ecologist Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa in Canada, the study’s lead author. The findings underscore the importance of conserving the habitat the insects currently persist in, says Rich Hatfield, a biologist with the Xerces Society for Insect Conservation in Portland, Oregon, who was not involved in the study. Where bumblebees vanish, the wild plants and crops they pollinate could also suffer.

Read more at ScienceMag.org.