Butterfly Walk – Saturday May 20, 2016

A group of Sligo kids enjoyed chasing and catching butterflies along the Pepco powerline corridor in lower Sligo, on May 20, 2006, using their nets to capture several fascinating species.
Our leader was Frank Boyle who leads butterfly counts as part of the annual census conducted by the North American Butterfly Association.

About a dozen adults were present, including Sligo members and residents of the Hillwood Manor neighborhood who’d gotten word through their local listserv.

Before heading to the meadow, Frank explained that some butterflies spend the winter as adults, hiding behind loose bark of white oaks (like this one) and other trees. You can see these butterflies flying around on a warm, sunny day in Sligo in the dead of winter.
They include the Common Buckey and the “anglewings” (such as the Question Mark and Comma of our area).

The gorgeous Buckeye was one of the kids’ first catches of the day.
Frank called this species a real “wow” butterfly because of the dramatic false “eyes” on its wings.

Another good catch was an Orange Sulphur, which Frank helped us distinguish from the yellower Clouded Sulphurs we’d seen earlier.

One tiny, black butterfly we captured was a challenge to figure out. Frank showed the kids how to use a field guide to determine that it was a Common Sooty Wing from the little white spots on its forewings.

Our strangest find was this easily-overlooked object, sitting motionless on the leaf of a tulip-poplar sapling. It looked like nothing more than a bird dropping, but Frank explained that it was the caterpillar of a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, in its first of several “instars,” or developmental stages. It turns out that most swallowtail butterflies are bird-dropping mimics in their early stages.

Along the trail to the powerline corridor, we saw plenty of adult Tiger Swallowtails and a number of non-native Cabbage Whites. Most exciting were a pair of male Zabulon Skippers fighting over territory while showing us their distinctive orange wings bordered in black. We also learned to identify the “triple S” butterfly: a Silver-Spotted Skipper, known by the repeated flash of silver from the jagged white mark on the middle of its underwing. Zooming by overhead in the gusty winds on the corridor itself we saw several large Black Swallowtail butterflies, which Frank said are declining in the East for as-yet unknown reasons.

Part of our butterflying group

Report and photos by
Michael Wilpers,
Natural History Committee Chair