Sunday, March 31, 2024

More Elfins near Huntsville, 3/28/24

A few weeks ago I ran up to San Antonio to find my lifer Henry's Elfin.  Since then I've been wanting to see more elfins and have been studying iNaturalist for possibilities.  Eastern Pine Elfin used to occur in the Lost Pines near Bastrop but there's only one record since the big fire.  The next closest possiblity seemd to be the Sam Houston Forest Wildlife Management Area by Huntsville and there were also records of Frosted Elfin in the area.  The next thing I had to do was keep an eye on the weather.  Cold fronts preceded by warm days have been the pattern and I needed to go soon because these butterflies are only around for a short time in early spring.  I finally got a favorable weather forecast at a time I could get away so I made a quick run up there.

I decided to try County Line Road first as it seemed to pass through good pine forest habitat.  It was a cold clear morning but warmed up fast and soon butterflies were nectaring on the early spring blooms.  Problem was I really had no idea how to search for elfins.  The Henry's Elfins in San Antonio were a stakeout at a lone scraggily red bud in a city park.  This was different as I had thousands of acres  to search but no experience to guide me.  So I just looked for butterflies on the flowers.  The Spicebush Swallowtails were my first for Texas.  In fact at first I was passing them off as Black Swallowtails.  They use sassafrass as a host plant.

I was hoping for duskywings and this fresh Juvenal's Duskywing did not disappoint.

But other duskywings were more worn and I'm not sure of the ID's but I think they may also be Juvenal's but I can't rule out Horace's..

Grass skippers included the common Clouded, Fiery and Huron Sachem (split from Sachem recently).

My first butterfly of the day was this Little Wood Satyr.

I found several small satyrs and hoped for the newly described Intricate Satyr but I think they were all Carolina Satyrs.

Then as I was walking along a damp sandy side track I saw a small dark butterfly flush from the ground and move ahead of me to land again.  I thought it was another satyr and was going to ignore it but I raised the camera and looked though it and was amazed that the small dark butterfly was infact an Eastern Pine Elfin.  I chased it quite a ways down the sandy track and got a few shots but nothing great.  But what a cool butterfly!

Then I remembered that most of  photos of Eastern Pine Elfin I had seen on iNaturalist were of indiviuals on the ground.  At one point another small butterfly interacted with this one and it proved to be my lifer Red-banded Hairstreak.  I was hoping to see one.

Then I flushed another small butterfly and expeced another Easterrn Pine Elfin but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a Frosted Elfin.  It posed for a while.

During the rest of the day a few more small dark butterflies flushed from the ground but they shot straight up into the pines not to be seen again.  I guess they were getting minerals from the damp sand.  Anyway I was happy to have scored on my two targets.  Otherwise it was just common stuff around.  I was surprised to see so many Goatweed Leafwings.

The Red-spotted Purple is now the Red-spotted Admiral as it has been lumped with the White Admiral.  This is the eastern subspecies.  I've seen the western subspecies at Big Bend.

This Eastern Giant Swallowtail was a Texas lifer I think.  The ones we have in the RGV are Western.  Nick Grishin made this split a few year ago.

There's still more east Texas butterflies I need to see but it's too early in the spring.  So I will make another trip in a few weeks for southeastern hairstreaks and skippers.  I finished the trip with three lifers and two more Texas lifers.