Just Butterflies

Although the blog has been dark for sometime, it was my intention to keep this post updated so that anyone looking for information on the Butterflies of Mendocino County can hopefully find it in a Google search. There have been many additions to my butterfly list since the last post and they are pictured in this edition of Just Butterflies.

I occasionally write a “Butterflies of the Woods” article for our newsletter at the Woods in Little River where I live. This has rekindled an old interest in butterflies and I have started taking note of the butterflies here in Mendocino County.

This interest first started many years ago while I was living in Southern California. My local Audubon Society (Palos Verdes/South Bay) held an annual butterfly count every July. It was based on the famous Christmas Bird Counts and used the same 15 mile diameter bird count circle. Birding can be slow during the summer and I guess we just like to count things! We would have teams of counters out in the field and would then report back for a lunch and the tally. The results would be sent to the North American Butterfly Assoication. There are approximately 450 butterfly counts in the North America. My old Audubon Society will hold their 38th annual count in July of 2018. They have also been involved in the conservation and habitat restoration of the endangered Palos Verdes Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis).

Butterflies come in all shapes and sizes. They can be conspicuously bright and beautiful or inconspicuously dull and hard to find. The identification of butterflies can be either very easy or extremely difficult. Like birds and people they will be affected by climate change. Birds and butterflies are interrelated in their migration and life cycles. I will link to several stories and websites at the end of this post. The last picture will be of a butterfly that I haven’t identified yet. I believe it’s a female Boisduval’s Blue but couldn’t get it pass the California butterfly reviewer at Butterflies and Moths of North America. Any help would be appreciated.

There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world with about 575 of these occurring regularly in the lower 48 states of the United States. Wherever you live you can find them.

Some of the following pictures are very good, others are not. This all depends on the cooperation of the butterfly and it’s condition when photographed. Some cooperate and others don’t. These are “mostly” common butterflies in this area and can be found without much effort and includes at this time only a small amount of local habitats. I’m looking forward to expanding my butterfly efforts in other parts of Mendocino County.

Some caution has to be used when naming these butterflies because, like birds, their names can change. For some of them I’ve indicated some variation in common names. Splitting and lumping has occurred over time. I’m using the most recent butterfly guides that I can find for this post. They include the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America by Jim P. Brock & Kenn Kaufman (2003), Arthur M. Shapiro’s Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions(2007) and Jeffrey Glassberg’s A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America(2017).


ANISE SWALLOWTAIL Papilio zelicaon




PALE SWALLOWTAIL Papilio eurymedon


COASTAL/MELANIC PINE WHITE Neophasia menapia melanica


CHECKERED WHITE Pontia protodice


CABBAGE WHITE Pieris rapae


MARGINED WHITE Pieris marginalis


ORANGE SULPHUR Colias eurytheme


GRAY HAIRSTREAK Strymon melinus




WESTERN BROWN ELFIN Incisalia augustinus iroides


WESTERN PINE ELFIN Incisalia eryphon


ECHO BLUE/SPRING AZURE Celastrina ladon echo


ACMON BLUE Plebejus acmon


GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae


MYLITTA CRESCENT Phyciodes mylitta


EDITH’S/BARON’S CHECKERSPOT Euphydryas editha baroni






GREEN COMMA Polygonia faunus rusticus


MOURNING CLOAK Nymphalis antiopa




COMMON BUCKEYE Junonia coenia


PAINTED LADY Vanessa cardui


AMERICAN LADY Vanessa virginiensis


WEST COAST LADY Vanessa annabella


RED ADMIRAL Vanessa atalanta


CALIFORNIA SISTER Adelpha bredowii californica


LORQUIN’S ADMIRAL Limenitis lorquini


MONARCH Danaus plexippus


CALIFORNIA RINGLET Coenonympha tullia california


COMMON WOOD NYMPH Cercyonis pegala boopis






FIERY SKIPPER Hylephila phyleus


SACHEM Atalopedes campestris


SANDHILL SKIPPER Polites sabuleti


WOODLAND SKIPPER Ochlodes sylvanoides


DUN SKIPPER Euphyes vestris osceola


MYSTERY BUTTERFLY–BOISDUVAL’S BLUE FEMALE? Found on 4/16/14 on the coast side of the Ten Mile Haul Rd. Plenty of lupine, it’s host plant in the area









Butterflies are Frustrating!

Back on June 11th, I was biking down a Fort Bragg back-alley along the GP property balancing a small Zappa's mocha coffee in one hand heading for my bus stop. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small butterfly along the fence. I put on the brakes and laid the bike and mocha down (without spilling a drop) and was able to get this picture.

By small I mean smaller then a dime with the wings folded. Upon reviewing the picture I thought this was going to be an easy butterfly to identify. I should never think that. In Kaufman's Field Guide to Butterflies of North America I first noted the Acmon Blue with it's large range in the west and thought that had to be the one but just below it was the Lupine Blue that had a smaller range that also included the Fort Bragg area. Kaufman states that the classification of these two butterflies is controversial. “The widespread forms may be Lupines, not Acmons, or they may make up multiple species.”

I submitted the picture to the experts at Butterflies and Moths of North America and got this response.

There is no information provided that will resolve whether this is an Acmon or Lupine Blue…it could be either.

Two weeks later on the bluffs overlooking Virgin Creek Beach I was able to get a few pictures of this butterfly.

This time I was able to get the bottom of the wings and thought that might be the key to identifying this butterfly. I knew that once again I was up against the Acmon/Lupine problem. I received this response.

There is no upper view or other information provided that would allow an ID except someone familiar with that locality-Ken Davenport

On July 13th, while birding at the Little River Airport, a totally different environment, I found several of these butterflies and got pictures of both the upper and lower wings.

What was the response from the expert?

Without knowing the host plant and the locality myself, I can't say which species it is. I suspect acmon but can't be sure. Maybe someone else familiar with that locality will know so I will leave the submission open to review.-Ken Davenport

Currently all three of my submissions for this butterfly remain pending waiting for a local expert to weigh in. It seems that I will now have to become a botany expert.To be fair to Ken Davenport he apparently lives in Bakersfield and doesn't know this area. At least I got a “possible” answer. I actually believe that he's correct. Kaufman states that the Acmon Blue flies “spring to fall” with 2-3 broods. The Lupine Blue “flies spring to summer depending on locality and elevation” with mainly 1 brood. Butterflies fly earlier at lower elevations. Shapiro's Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions states that the Lupine Blue flies generally in late spring. If that's true then this Acmon/Lupine Blue that I found near the end of Ward Ave. on July 23rd in most likely an Acmon Blue.

The later I find this butterfly the chances are that it's an Acmon Blue. That's my theory anyway. Shapiro has this to say about the Lupine Blue.

Of all the species listed in this book, this is the one whose status in our area is most uncertain. It has been recorded from Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Countries, but whether the specimens are correctly identified…remain to be determined…The situation is so fluid that we had best wait for Paul Opler to complete his revision of the group, now in progress, and hope that it clarifies these questions…Have fun!

That is why butterflies are so frustrating! The day I found the Acmon/Lupine Blue at the airport was a four butterfly day, something that is rare there. All of the butterflies were in fresh condition which indicates to me they had just emerged. There was no frustration in identifying them. This Painted Lady is probably part of a second brood since the airport was covered with them in the spring.

A Mylitta Crescent.

And a California Sister that flew up to me and gave me great views.

This American Lady recently settled down on some flowers on my deck. It is only the second one I've seen in Mendocino County and both have been at the Woods where I live.

Let's talk a little about birding. The big birding news, at least for me, concerns birding at the Little River Airport. Readers of this blog might remember an incident at the airport after I reported a Mountain Bluebird last year.

Sat. 6/14/14–This morning I was doing my usual birding at the Little River Airport and happened to start a conversation with the airport’s manager. I started the conversation with the announcement of a rare Mountain Bluebird last Sunday. He said he knew all about it and proceeded to tell me several stories about birders chasing it. One birder after watching plane activity proceeded to walk out on the active runway. Another group of birders decided to form a car caravan and drove out on the taxiway, stopped on it and got out and set up their scopes. He related a plane on the taxiway having to stop because of people in it’s way.

Apparently birders are not the only idiots there that do strange things at the airport. In talking to pilots I've heard many scary stories about people walking their dogs, riding their bikes and just having a good time out on the runway and in the hanger area. I have humorously called the airport my “playground” because of a 2005 newspaper article That stated,

As for the airport property incursions and the lack of enforcement against trespassers, the LRAAC wants an approved policy the Sheriffs department can use to disperse illegal assemblies, with guidelines on when to arrest and to prosecute those involved. Airport Manager Thorpe conveyed their reluctance to respond to calls without a clear policy for handling complaints.

The letter states, Now there is a mixture of teenagers and older people who have made the airport their playground. They ride motorcycles and off-road vehicles by developing their own unauthorized access roads and paths.

Sometimes people trespass on the airport in pickup trucks and park near the runway to drink at night. Then they smash large numbers of empty bottles by throwing them into the runway. The broken glass is a real danger to landing aircraft.

When the airport supervisor approaches these trespassers, their typical response is, There are several of us and one of you, what are you going to do about it?

The letter indicates the committee strongly supports increasing efforts to block runway access by implementing the CIP security fencing project, as soon as possible, and placing better No Trespassing and Warning Federal Offense signage around the perimeter.

On Jan. 9. numerous shots were fired on airport property. Two abandoned cars were discovered smashed with large amounts of garbage dumped where bonfires and disturbances have been taking place. On Feb. 2 a parent refused to take his children, who were riding bicycles, off the airports active runway, or to leave when ordered to by the airport supervisor.

The Little River Airport is now trying to make the airport idiot-proof. They have already installed gates around the terminal that will solve much of the problem. There has been a proposal for an Airport Traffic Area where you would need permission to enter from the airport manager.

On the rest of the property you will have to sign a Little River Airport: Permission to Hike on Airport Property Form. This form will indemnify Mendocino County from any damages or injury that might occur on the property and that you could lose this right to hike on the property if you enter the Airport Traffic Area without permission. The airport property is extensive at roughly 564 acres.

For me just stepping across Little River Airport Road puts me on airport property. The light green section (C) is where the locals are trying to save a valuable section of Redwoods.

I have been in negotiations with members of the Little River Airport Advisory Committee about boundaries for the Airport Traffic Area and certainly I'm making every effort to stay on friendly terms with the pilots and the airport manager. I know two members of the committee. They are mostly concerned with the idiots that are out on the taxiway and runway and have no problems with the berry pickers, mushroom hunters, dog walkers (on leash), and at least this local birder. Stay tuned.

The actual birding here in Mendocino has been slow but is beginning to pickup. The shorebirds have started to return. The Elegant Terns are returning in good numbers which indicates a warm ocean. With El Niño conditions expected we are looking forward to an interesting fall.

A Mute Swan turns up occasionally. Here it is at Virgin Creek and flying over Fort Bragg.

Heermann's Gulls arrived early and are here in numbers I've never seen before.

But the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me was during a recent SOS survey at Virgin Creek Beach. I had notice a strange bird calling and couldn't locate where it was coming from. The source of the call was a couple, Mike and Paula approaching me, who were out walking their Aplomado Falcon.

This is a Peruvian Aplomado Falcon, F. f. Pichinchae. The couple, both licensed falconers, had purchased it in Washington from a breeder. They had previously had a Gyrfalcon but found it too large for the area, whatever that means.

There is some controversy concerning falconry. There are those who believe that birds should fly free if capable. There are others, mostly falconers, who feel that falconry is a benefit. Wikipedia of course has an article on falconry. The art(?) of falconry is ancient with the earliest accounts dating to approximately 2,000 BC.

Falconry was largely restricted to the noble classes due to the prerequisite commitment of time, money, and space.

From what I have read it's still a sport for people with money. There are several groups of falconers that have been created. One of these is the North America Falconers Association.

Our Mission and Purpose: Is to improve, aid, and encourage competency in the art and practice of falconry among interested persons; to provide communication among and to disseminate information to interested Members; to promote scientific study of the raptorial species, their care, welfare and training; to promote conservation of the birds of prey and an appreciation of their value in nature and in wildlife conservation programs; to urge recognition of falconry as a legal field sport; and, to establish traditions which will aid, perpetuate, and further the welfare of falconry and the raptors it employs.

The Peregrine Fund is credited with the successful reintroduction of the Peregrine Falcon in the U.S. You can tour the Archives of Falconry at their facilities.

Falconry is one of the oldest methods of hunting. Eagles, hawks, and falcons are used by falconers to pursue and catch quarry for food. When the Peregrine Falcon became endangered due to the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides, falconers were instrumental in organizing the successful effort to recover the species.

Audubon doesn't seem to have a problem with falconry looking at it as another help with conservation. Audubon groups seem to welcome the falconer at their meetings and use the event as an educational tool.

I could not find a group that had as their main mission the banning of falconry but in Great Britain efforts were made by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other lobby groups to have falconry outlawed, but these were successfully resisted.

My biggest concern with falconry is that falconers are allowed to break the law.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA), codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 703–712 (although §709 is omitted), is a United States federal law, first enacted in 1916 in order to implement the convention for the protection of migratory birds between the United States and Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada). The statute makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell birds listed therein (“migratory birds”). The statute does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests. Over 800 species are currently on the list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits for otherwise prohibited activities under the act. These include permits for taxidermy, falconry, propagation, scientific and educational use, and depredation, an example of the latter being the killing of geese near an airport, where they pose a danger to aircraft.

To have a bird of prey just because you want one seems to me a violation of the intent of the MBTA. When you read the California Regulations for falconry it get worse. Things like this disturb me.

A Master falconer may possess any number of raptors except he/she shall possess no more than five wild-caught raptors for use in falconry at any onetime, regardless of the number of state, tribal, or territorialfalconry licenses in possession.

(3) Raptors may be captured by trap or net methods that do not injure them. The licensee shall identify all set traps with the name and address of the licensee and shall check such traps at least once every 12 hours, except that all snare type traps shall be attended at all times when they are deployed.

(5) The following raptor species may be captured from the wild in California: Northern goshawk (Accipitergentilis), Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii), sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), red-tailed hawk (Buteojamaicensis), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus),merlin (Falco columbarius), American kestrel (Falcosparverius), prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus), barred owl(Strix varia), and great horned owl (Bubo virginianus).

(6) No more than two nestlings of the species allowed for capture from the wild may be captured by the same General or Master licensee during the regulatory year. In no case may all nestlings be captured and removed from any nest. At least one nestling shall be left in a nest at all times.

I will let you form your own opinion on falconry if you care to. The internet is filled with falconers justifying their hobby. One site justifies falconry because of it's cultural and traditional history.

Being a living culture, falconry remains strongly rooted in the past. This aspect has been recognized and accentuated in the UNESCO statement on falconry as Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Humanity, that describes and qualifies it using such expressions as “traditional activity” and „cultural heritage” that is “passed on from generation to generation”, providing “a sense of belonging, continuity and identity”.

There are many cultural and traditional practices that we are trying to end, such as discrimination against minority's, gay marriage and even flying the confederate flag. Not all historical practices deserve to continue.

Another site made this statement in a “moral” effort to justify falconry.

And even if you face falconry from an aesthetic point of view, you will find no contradiction. As far as we know, animals have no thirst for freedom.

How do you justify an argument based on unknown data?


While writing this post I conducted a SOS Survey at Virgin Creek. After the survey I found two new butterflies to add to my Mendocino County list. One was a Checkered White on the bluffs above Virgin Creek Beach.

The other was a West Coast Lady at Ward Ave. I have now seen all the Lady's in Mendocino County.

And I finally got a picture of an Acmon Blue. If you still remember the beginning of this post, my theory was right. This is my first picture of a male. It was on territory chasing away another male.

The expert at Butterflies and Moths of North America accepted my submission as an Acmon Blue.

You are right, based on date this should be an Acmon Blue. And familiarity with Acmon Blues leads to improved ability to tell the 2 apart, but maybe not with nominate Lupine Blues which occur in that part of the state-Ken Davenport

So I guess I found three new Mendocino County butterflies. Butterflies are now only slightly less frustrating!


The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.

Rabindranath Tagore

































Butterflies, Birds and that Darn Shrike

Updated 1/26/16–For those of you coming to this post because of the Mendocino Shrike you can scroll down to the end of it for a link to a North American Birds article just recently published. The authors Peter Pyle, Jon Dunn, Nial Moores and Robert Keiffer conclude that the shrike is a Red-backedXTurkestan Shrike hybrid.

Because I just recently photographed an unusual and uncommon butterfly and I'm excited about it, I'm going to start with butterflies today. Screw the update on the shrike. You'll have to go through butterflies to get to it.

Normally my pictures of butterflies are of species that are common (except maybe for the Green Comma). Two Tuesdays ago I was on a coastal birding trip with Chuck Vaughn, President of the Peregrine Audubon Society and Mendocino County Ebird reviewer. The birding sucked but I had told Chuck that I now stopped for butterflies. While we we looking for shorebirds from the bluffs overlooking Virgin Creek Beach a small bluish green butterfly caught my eye.

My first problem was trying to name this butterfly. All of my butterfly books had a different name for it. Kaufman had it as a Coastal Green Hairstreak. Glassberg had it as a Bramble Hairstreak. Shapiro has it as a “Coastal” Bramble Hairstreak.

Art Shapiro in his Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions had this to say about it.

This is one of our worst taxonomic nightmares. Scarcely any two authorities agee on the limits of species, or to what named entity various populations should be assigned, or even on the correct biological entity to which some of the names refer.

I guess some progress has been made in sorting all this out. Sometime back I had gotten an account with Butterflies and Moths of North America in hopes of uploading some of my sightings to their website. I decided to try it for the first time with this Hairstreak. I received a response almost immediately.

This is actually Callophrys viridis since a decision by the ICZN. Callophrys dumetorum now applies to what was called C. perplexa. BAMONA has not adjusted this yet-Ken Davenport. Yours thus becomes an important record.

When the reviewer stated , “Yours thus becomes an important record.” it gave me a warm feeling. ICZN stands for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. I guess we will call this butterfly a Coastal Green Hairstreak for the time being. You can read about the ICZN's decision in the News of the Lepidopterists' Society's (Yes–I did go there!!!) newsletter.

NatureServe, An Online Encyclopedia of Life states,

Very limited range and scarce and local in most of it. Already extirpated around San Francisco. Almost all habitats subject to disturbance or destruction from development. Loss of host plant through competition from exotics is a threat to some populations. For now believed to be over 20 extant occurrences but with threats, this species could be or become globally imperiled.

You can read about the Green Hairstreak Project in San Francisco that is trying to link up isolated Green Hairstreak populations in the city in an attempt to keep them from going extinct.

Enough about Coastal Green Hairstreaks. Let's give the Edith's Checkerspot some love. It's a striking butterfly and they are now flying. This one was found in the grassy part of the trail to Virgin Creek Beach.

Orange Sulfurs are a common butterfly but you rarely see them with open wings. This is a female found recently north of Lake Cleone.

While trying to get a decent picture of the Orange Sulfur this handsome Brewer's Blackbird walked by eating from the flowers of the nearby ice plant. It's rare for me to get just the perfect light on a blackbird to show off it's iridescence.

Sora are listed as rare in Mendocino County. They are seldom seen. This one was swimming out in the open in a marshy area at Lake Cleone.

This Bonaparte's Gull was found at Virgin Creek. While not rare in Mendocino County you can see that this bird is oiled on it's left flank. Just yesterday on an SOS Survey at Virgin Creek Beach I noticed another black-headed gull flying over me. Based on the underwing pattern it was an extremely rare Franklin's Gull. Sorry–there wasn't time to get a picture as it disappeared to the south.

Finally we come to an update on the shrike as yet not identified. Is it a Brown Shrike, Red-backed Shrike or some form of hybrid?

On April 16th I received a morning call from Alison Cebula of California State Parks asking if I would like to help her with a Snowy Plover Survey in the Manchester State Park area. Alison as you might remember was the person who originally discovered the shrike at Alder Creek. I hustled down to the Van Damme Beach parking lot where she picked me up for the ride down the coast. We surveyed the Brush Creek area first and arrived at Alder Creek around 1:30PM. There were four birders at the overlook two local and two from the San Francisco Bay Area. The shrike was easy to find in the willows where Alison had first found it. I got a few pictures of it. I'm sure that a more assertive photographer could have done better.

After surveying the beach we came back to find the two Bay Area birders off the path and part way down the slope.

Alison asked them to get back on the path. They were unaware of Alison's and California State Park's concerns about endangered species in the area. Apparently they were also unaware of the poison oak.

This was the last day that the shrike was seen. I figured that I was the second to last person to see it. I find it to be the irony of all ironies that Alison was there when it was found and was there when it left. (Maybe!–see note below)

So now the call has gone out from the California Bird Records Committee for any and all documentation on this shrike. Joseph Morlan, the chair of that committee, was at one time certain that the shrike was a Red-backed Shrike. Based on a discussion on Surfbirds.com he's now sure that it's not a Red-backed but what is it?

Thanks for the new image which bears some resemblance to our bird. Expert opinion remains divided with at least two authorities confident that our bird is L. collurio X L. isabellinus while you and others support L. cristatus lucionensis. I now have a copy of Panov's monograph on shrikes which offers several other hybrid combinations which we had not considered including the possibility of L. cristatus X L. isabellinus. None of these taxa have been recorded in North America except nominate L. cristatus; the photos are pretty good; but we remain frustrated that this bird may never be identified to any level of certainty. Thanks again for any additional input you may be able to offer.

Joe Morlan

So birders that traveled many miles might never get a definitive identification for this bird. I don't know what that does for listers. STAY TUNED.

Note: In doing some research on this post I found some indication that a birder from British Columbia submitted some pictures taken on April 22nd which would indicate that the shrike was still in the area later then thought and even might still be there.

UPDATE (10/4/15): The September issue of the Falcon Flyer published by the Peregrine Audubon had a SPRING 2015 BIRDS roundup. It stated,

The spring birding period includes the months of March thru May, a very active time for bird migration and nesting. The highlight this spring was a vagrant hybrid SHRIKE, apparently of Asian origin, and its true lineage has yet to be sorted out. The bird, originally thought to be a Brown Shrike, was found by AC on 3/5 at the mouth of Alder Creek near Manchester. It was seen by literally hundreds of curious birders before it disappeared on 4/22.

Note the use of the terms HYBRID SHRIKE. This statement has some authority because one of authors of the article is Bob Keiffer. Bob Keiffer is working with Peter Pyle, Nial Moores, and Jon Dunn on an article for North American Birds (NAB) trying to determine the lineage of this bird. I know this because they have asked permission to use one of my pictures.

The link to the NAB article can be found here.

Joseph Morlan is now calling this shrike a Red-backed ShrikeXRed-tailed Shrike based on information from Peter Pyle.

If this confirmation holds-up it will certainly be a disappointment for the hundreds of curious birders that came from as far away as Rhode Island to see it. The American Birding Association(ABA) establish the rules for listing.

RULE 2: The bird must have been a member of a species currently listed on the ABA Checklist for lists within the ABA Area, on the AOU Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the AOU Area, or on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.

(vii) hybrids are not countable. Any bird with physical characteristics outside the natural range of variation for the species and clearly suggesting that it is a hybrid should be treated as a hybrid under the ABA Recording Rules. Song in oscine passerines is a learned behavior and should not be used as evidence of hybridization with that group.

With a warming planet caused by putting carbon into the atmosphere that a lot of wasted carbon chasing a bird you can't list.





Birds and Butterflies

I enjoy writing these birds and butterflies posts. They get me out into the natural world for observation and exercise. They awaken my dead brain cells. They help with my ego in that I can still identify and get a decent photo of a good bird or butterfly and it shows that you don't have pour tons of carbon into the air to observe nature around us.

On March 26th, I was biking south on the Haul Rd just north of Virgin Creek after having an encounter with a Monarch Butterfly (more on that later) when I noticed something sticking out of a water filled pothole. I noticed that the head of this something followed me as I went by. I stopped and got out my camera. It was a Northern Pygmy-Owl taking a bath.

Apparently my being on a bike didn't bother it but me being on foot taking pictures did. It flew to a tree nearby.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a really small and cute bird. It's hard to believe it a scourge of small song birds. A week later I was looking for the pothole and discovered that state park's personnel had filled in the hole not realizing it was a birdbath:-)

On April 2nd, I had a close encounter with 15 Short-billed Dowitchers during a SOS Shorebird Survey at Virgin Creek. At least I think They were Short-billed. The more I read about separating dowitchers the more confused I become. Apparently we never see dowitchers in full breeding plumage. That happens on their breeding grounds. Hearing their calls is one way to sort them out but in my situation the surf was drowning out any other sounds. Short-billed Dowitchers like the coast and salt water while Long-billed are more frequently seen inland and like fresh water but that isn't universal. My final determination in identifying these birds is that it seems Short-billed Dowitchers have a bend at the end of their bills.

Joining the dowitchers were 3 fairly early Long-billed Curlews. I don't have any trouble identifying these birds. They tower over the local Whimbrels. They are listed as rare in Mendocino Country.

While I was getting ready to leave Virgin Creek I noticed a huge raptor flying in from the south. It followed the creek and over the Haul Rd. scattering the Mallards and then flew over me again out to the shoreline heading north. It was a third year Bald Eagle, a first for me at Virgin Creek. Bald Eagles are listed as rare in Mendocino County especially on the coast.

The birding at the Little River Airport has been interesting. Birders in Mendocino Country have been finding migratory birds arriving extremely early. Both Wilson Warblers and Pacific-slopes Flycatchers arrived at the airport over a week earlier then any observed time. Purple Martins were heard 17 days earlier than previously records.

Since I've been watching for butterflies earlier this year then last year I found a few new species to add to my Mendocino List. This Margined White found near Lake Cleone is only the second I've found and forces me to check out all of the white butterflies that I thought were Cabbage Whites.

While I have seen Monarch Butterflies in Mendocino County, I have not gotten a picture. I noticed this male Monarch still flapping while caught in a spider web. I tried to release it but I noticed the legs were not working. The spider got to it before I did. If you would like to help protect the Monarch from extinction you can sigh the petition to the EPA here.

A new Mendocino County butterfly for me is this Red Admiral found while on the boardwalk at Lake Cleone. Actually found two of them but this one posed for me.

Another new butterfly that wasn't on my radar is this Echo Azure. At one time the Echo was considered a part of the Spring Azure complex which is still being studied as far as species classification. The Echo seems to have made it as a separate specie. This butterfly was found at the Woods where I live while walking back from the airport. Pretty butterfly!!



Some Birds, Butterflies and Even a Starfish

I like doing these birding posts. They don't require much research. Just get the picture and blog it. This post will have a little tragedy and maybe some hope. I'm going to throw some butterflies and a Starfish in for good measure.

While birding the Little River Airport on January 31st there was the second earliest Allen's Hummingbird recorded in Mendocino County.

Red-naped Sapsuckers are listed as extremely rare in Mendocino County. In the last few years they have been showing up regularly inland. I chased one that was found at Riverside Park in Ukiah in 2013. Failed to find it. One was found in early November, 2014, at the Rose Memorial Cemetery in Fort Bragg. It might be the county's first coastal record. I spent many trips to the cemetery in an attempt to find it and failed each time. I had given up until it was seen again in early February. On February 4th, I finally found it.

That same day after getting back to Mendocino on the bus I decided to see who was right in the reporting of two white geese out on the Mendocino Headlands. They were either Snow Geese or Ross's Geese. There was no obvious “grin patch”, the border at the base of the bill was straight and vertical, bill and head was smallish and petite, and another person's picture show bluish on the bill's base. Decision goes to Ross's Geese, a rare bird for Mendocino County.

February 12th was my 33rd Wedding Anniversary. My wife decided we would make a day of it by going to the Garcia River Casino and then out for dinner. Didn't have much luck at the casino but when we went outside to leave there was a Palm Warbler in the parking lot. Palm Warblers are listed as rare in Mendocino County.

The Long-tailed Duck continues at Virgin Creek Beach giving some up-close viewing opportunities. Several times I observed it flying in.

During my SOS Surveys at Virgin Creek Beach I've been reporting many dead seabirds on the beach. It seems that conditions in the Pacific Ocean are proving bad for much of it's wildlife. Two cases in point are a massive die-off of Cassin's Auklets and Sea Lions. It might be that our Cassin's Auklet here in Mendocino County is the Common Murre. I've been reporting many dead Common Murres on the beach. Some of them are fresh and still in the surf line.

On the 11th of February I witnessed one die right before my eyes.


But on the same day I saw something I hadn't seen in a long time. It was a Starfish.

If you have been following this blog for sometime you would have read a post called, What is Turning Starfish Into Goo?, back in December 2013. Is this a sign of hope? Will have to wait and see.

On the 26th of February I was going pass Lake Cleone on my way to have lunch at the Laguna Point parking lot (MacKerricher State Park) when I notice some fluttering in a little marshy area between Mill Creek Dr. and the Haul Road. It was a little grayish bird in the water. I was confused at first but realized it was a bird not normally seen while on land. It was a distressed(?) Fork-tailed Storm Petrel. They are listed as rare during spring and fall. It might be the first sighting for winter.

On the same day we had a massive flight of Aleutian Cackling Geese flying north. I estimated 930 plus geese with one flock having 450 plus birds in it. They were flying into a 20mph headwind.

The Violet-green Swallows have returned to the Little River Airport. I spotted two of them on the 1st of March, beating the last early date by two days.

Butterflies are also returning to the airport. I found the strikingly pretty Western Pine Elfin and the rather plain Brown Elfin on March1st.


Kaufman's Field Guide to Butterflies of North America said that the Western Pine Elfin flies late spring or early summer. I guess the butterflies are confused with our strange weather.



Birding and Butterfly News

I guess the title for this post should be something like, How to Get Yourself Shot by a Duck Hunter. The first couple of weeks in January were interesting for me as far as the birding went. I also found my first butterfly of the year.

On the 9th, I went to one of my favorite places to bird, Navarro Beach Road. It has many different habitats and you can expect to see lot's of birds.

When I got to the beginning of Navarro Beach Road I went out on the bridge over Navarro River to look for ducks. While out on the bridge a loud explosion occurred. The area is down in a valley with high cliffs around it. The explosion was startling and seem to echo from under the bridge. A short time later there was a guy rowing towards me from the west in a camouflaged kayak, in camouflage gear, and a camouflaged shotgun.

The section of the river west of the bridge is Navarro River Estuary State Marine Conservation Area.

  • In a state marine conservation area, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for commercial or recreational purposes, or a combination of commercial and recreational purposes, that the designating entity or managing agency determines would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community, habitat, or geological features. The designating entity or managing agency may permit research, education, and recreational activities, and certain commercial and recreational harvest of marine resources. (PRC Section 36710(c))

As you can see, if you go to the link, duck hunting is allowed. I don't see how a duck hunter can safely hunt there. There's a state highway(128) to the north of the river, a state park to the south, and the bridge I was standing on to the east. In which direction can you shoot? After talking to various agencies (and getting some bad information) it would appear that as long as the hunter is shooting safety, it's allowed. In all the years I've been birding there, it has never happened. It certainly changed my mood for the day.

At least he wasn't butterfly hunting! While walking next to the river I noticed a very colorful butterfly flying near me. I was able to get two poor picture of it before it went on it's way.

My first thought was, what was a butterfly doing out in the middle of winter? Since flowering plants and trees have been blooming I thought that butterflies were being confused. When I got home I got out my butterfly book to identify it. I'm reasonably sure it's a Green Comma. A new species for me. Commas used to be called anglewings, a name I prefer. Kaufman's Field Guide to Butterflies of North America' states,

Most are woodland butterflies, preferring to feed at tree sap, rotting fruit, mud, dung, or carrion instead of flowers. Commas hibernate as adults, usually in tree crevices, logs, or cracks in buildings. Hibernating adults occasionally fly on warm winter days.

So much for my climate change theory!

Birding at the Little River Airport has been slow lately. I failed to reach my goal of 30 bird species two times this month. On the 14th during a slow day I heard what sounded like an Osprey calling. I was so sure that I ticked it on my list. Then I heard some strange calls associated with the Osprey call. When I investigated I found a single Gray Jay. This was only the second time I've found them at the airport. The jay did not cooperate in getting it's picture taken. Gray Jays can be hard to find in Mendocino County especially If you're trying to find one.

The next day was a SOS Shorebird Survey at Virgin Creek Beach. In the gull flock was a first year Glaucous Gull. These are the best pictures of a Glaucous Gull that I've ever taken and no it didn't fly because of me.

We only get one or two Glaucous Gulls every winter. Most are first year birds. They are rare here but are an easy gull to identify because it's one of our largest gulls and are very pale with a sharply bicolored bill.
Further up the beach I was looking for Harlequin Ducks in the water or on the rocks. I found five of them which I think is a new record for me at Virgin Creek. While watching them a female Long-tailed Duck popped up.
It was the closest I've been to one. Most of the time they are further off shore. Long-tailed Ducks are rare in Mendocino County with generally only one per winter if they show up at all. It has been refound several times.
The most exciting event of the day was the Battle of the Phoebes. After the Long-tailed Duck sighting I heard a commotion just below the bluffs. Two phoebes were having a territorial fight. I realized one was a Black Phoebe.


The other was a Say's Phoebe that appears to be overwintering on the Mendocino Coast.

I have always admired the pugnacious nature of the Black Phoebe. I've seen them go after American Pipits and Yellow-rumped Warblers when they get in the way. I've also seen one nonchalantly ignore a Sharp-shinned Hawk at the Little River Airport. But the Black Phoebe was no match for the Say's. The Say's Phoebe chased the Black for a few minutes, caught it and took it to the ground and beat the crap out of it. The Black Phoebe left the area and appeared unharmed the next bluff over. Lesson learned- don't mess with a Say's Phoebe.


Say Goodbye to the Monarch?

So I lied to you. A few posts back I said this would be my next post. Sorry about that. The seniors at the Lodge where I work  all joke about having CRS (Can’t Remember Shit). I may be checking in soon.

I don’t remember (CRS) where I got this picture.

The headline is “The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear“. The story by Jim Robbins appeared on the New York Times website.

“ON the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.

This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.”

“Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.

That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.”

The subject of Climate Change isn’t mentioned in the story. Loss of native vegetation, price of corn, herbicides and people’s lawns are the main problem. A new study brings climate change into the picture.

“Researchers from UBC, the Université de Sherbrooke and the University of Ottawa combed through Canadian museum collections of more than 200 species of butterflies and matched them with weather station data going back 130 years. They found butterflies possess a widespread temperature sensitivity, with flight season occurring an average of 2.4 days earlier per degree Celsius of temperature increase.

The researchers used the date of collection found in records to estimate the timing of flight season for each species, and compared it with historical weather data.”

“With warmer temperatures butterflies emerge earlier in the year, and their active flight season occurs earlier,” says Heather Kharouba, lead author of the paper published this week in Global Change Biology. “This could have several implications for butterflies. If they emerge too early, they could encounter frost and die. Or they might emerge before the food plants they rely on appear and starve.”

Honeybees on the Verge of Extinction: That the shocking headline for this Huffingtonpost.com post.

“Just like in the mid-1970s EPA said yes to known deadly substances for the convenience of farmers and for the profit of a handful of chemical companies, EPA repeated its misguided policy in the early 2000s. Now the neonicotinoids are spreading death to honeybees all over America and the world.
I have known about this tragedy for some years, but I always hoped honeybee keepers and reasonable farmers would minimize the harm. I was wrong.
A few days ago I called up a beekeeper inviting him to an environmental conference planned for June 2015. He declined because, he said, there would be no honeybees left in another year or two.
I was stunned. I asked him to explain.
“Scientific evidence mounts almost daily confirming the decades-long observations of beekeepers that pesticides are playing a major role in the dramatic decline of honeybees and other pollinators,” he said to me.”


The butterflies that I have seen flying around lately have all been Painted Ladys, Vanessa cardui. The picture above is from the Little River Airport this last Saturday. I don’t know if our warm weather has them flying later this year, I don’t have any data to prove that. 

Wikipedia states that, “V. cardui is one of the most widespread of all butterflies, found on every continent except Antarctica and South America…Vanessa cardui butterflies are raised in many preschool and elementary classrooms to demonstrate the life cycle of a butterfly. Naturally, this is one reason they are so popular amongst children. They are also often found in science fair projects…Groups of two to eight Painted Lady butterflies have been observed to fly in circles around each other for about one to five seconds before separating symbolizing courtship. Groups of butterflies usually will not fly more than 4.5 meters away from the starting point. In order to establish and defend their territory, adult males will perch in the late afternoon in areas where females are most likely to appear. Once the male spots a female of the same species, they will begin pursuit of her. If the foreign butterfly is a male, the original male will give chase, flying vertically for a few feet before returning to its perch.”  That last part may explain why I’m noticing them this year.