2019 BUTTERFLY REPORT FOR
SOUTHERN VANCOUVER ISLAND
This short unofficial report is a summary of butterfly observations made in 2019 within the southern Vancouver Island birdwatching area and submitted to the Victoria Natural History Society’s Invertebrate Alert Website:
I am not planning to produce a printed version, but if anyone would like one, let me know (jtatum at uvic dot ca) and I’ll see what I can do.
This report does not (apart from one or two brief mentions of particular interest) include the many butterfly observations reported from Vancouver Island in 2019 outside the area described above (for full definition, see any issue of the Annual Bird Report). Nor does it include the results of the Monthly Butterfly Counts organized by Gordon Hart, which cover the area of the Victoria Christmas Bird Count Circle. These are published by Gordon in the 2019 January/February issue of the Victoria Naturalist. It is hoped that this report, as well as the Monthly Count data, will give readers some idea of the dates when and places where our several butterflies can be found.
Hesperiidae – Pyrginae
There were 14 reports, of from one to four butterflies, involving 26 individuals, during the period March 31 to June 2. Most were from hilly areas (where the foodplant, Garry Oak, grows) such as Mount Tolmie, Mount Douglas, Christmas Hill, Munn Road, Mount Wells, Goldstream Park, and similar habitats.
TWO-BANDED GRIZZLED SKIPPER
One seen at Stebbings Road (Shawnigan Lake) by Jeff Gaskin and Kirsten Mills on May 7 was the only one reported in 2019. This species was missed in 2018. Let us hope that it is not becoming rare; it is our smallest butterfly and not easy to see or find.
Hesperiidae – Hesperiinae
The first report of this species was of a caterpillar found on Reed Canary Grass at Panama Flats on May 17. It pupated on May 25, and the adult butterfly ecloded (emerged) on June 3. After that, the next adult seen was at Royal Roads University on June 11. From then until late July it was abundant and ubiquitous. 94 were counted at Panama Flats, and 26 at Layritz Park, on June 18, and hundreds were reported from both Island View Beach and Witty’s Beach Parks on July 17. By this time they were so common that observers ceased to report them until the last reported record of the year of one at Island View Beach on a VNHS field trip on August 4.
In this Report, the “Western” Branded Skipper (treated as a full species by some authors) is included under Hesperia comma. There was only one report of a single specimen this year, seen at the location of the Cordova (Saanichton) Spit colony by Kirsten Mills on July 23.
The first report was of one at Island View Beach on June 29. There was an interesting report of one that came to light at Jochen Möhr’s moth trap in Metchosin on July 17. Many were reported from Mount Tuam on Salt Spring Island on July 25. From then they were common throughout until the end of August. Only a small handful made it into September, the last report being of two at Tod Creek Flats on September 13.
Papilionidae – Parnassiinae
The only reports received were of three seen by Rosemary Jorna on Mount Prévost on June 16, and one by Jeremy Tatum at Cowichan Station on June 18.
Papilionidae – Papilioninae
The first report of the year was of one seen by Val George at Cattle Point on April 30. After that, the only reports were of one or sometimes two on Mount Tolmie on several dates from May 23 to August 4, and two on Mount Douglas on May 20. Mount Tolmie seems to be a reliable location for this species, which was formerly common there, the caterpillars feeding mostly on Lomatium nudicaule. That plant seems to have largely disappeared from Mount Tolmie, but the likely foodplants Lomatium utriculatum and Foeniculum vulgare are common there. The species should also be looked for on Mount Douglas, and on Island View Beach and Cordova Spit, where likely foodplants are Lomatium nudicaule and Glehnia littoralis.
WESTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL
First reported on Mount Tolmie on May 9, a rather late start for the season, and the second report was as late as May 23. After that it was common until July 4. Interesting counts were: 15 on Saturna Island, June 6; 10 in Beacon Hill Park, June 13; 12, Cowichan River Estuary, June 16; 6 at Cowichan Station, 10 at Panama Flats, 12 at Swan Lake, June 18. No caterpillars were reported. After July 4, all reports were: one on Mount Tolmie, July 8; one at UVic, July 21; one on Mount Tolmie (VNHS field trip), August 4; one at Royal Roads University, August 11; one unidentified tiger swallowtail, Swan Lake, September 6.
PALE TIGER SWALLOWTAIL
The first report was of a pair in copula seen on Munn Road during a VNHS field trip on May 5, with two more on the same day on Mount Tolmie. Recorded from many locations, including 15 on Saturna Island on June 6, until June 22. No further reports after that date, except possibly the unidentified tiger swallowtail on September 6, referred to under Western Tiger Swallowtail.
Pieridae – Pierinae
Not a good year for this species. Records from July 16 to September 6. Most reports were of from 1 to 3 individuals, the most reported at one time being 7 along the Panhandle Trail on August 2.
The only reports were of 8 (of the prominently-veined spring brood) on April 28, and a single (of the pure white summer brood) on June 1, all along the railway line north of Cowichan Station.
Of those butterflies that do not spend the winter as adult insects (and which could therefore in principle be seen in any month), the Cabbage White was the first (March 15) and last (October 22) butterfly species reported during the year. (See Red Admiral and California Tortoiseshell for later records of overwintering species.) Cabbage Whites were a daily sight from mid-March to the end of September, with several hanging on through the first three weeks of October. This European species, the Essex Skipper (also known as European Skipper) and the native Woodland Skipper and Western Spring Azure are probably the most numerous butterflies in our area. Some of the larger counts during 2019 include 50 at McIntyre Reservoir, June 14; 125 at Panama Flats, plus 12 at Island View Beach, June 18; 45 at McIntyre Reservoir, plus 5 at UVic, September 1; 44 at various locations, September 25.
Pieridae – Anthocharinae
Reports of this short-lived (in the adult state) harbinger of spring were from March 18 to May 15. After the first, March 18, sighting, on Mount Douglas, there was a bit of a lull, the next being on March 28, with several more until March 31, when 7 were counted on Mount Douglas. The butterfly arising from the chrysalis found on 2018 June 16 in Jochen Möhr’s Metchosin garden ecloded (with a d – claudo, claudere, clausi, clausus) on 2019 March 30, when Jochen , for one brief careless moment, had walked away for a few minutes from his camera. (But see Painted Lady.) As a result of rainy weather, there was another gap until April 15, after which it was seen regularly until May 15. Mount Douglas, Prospect Lake power line, Mount Tolmie, Christmas Hill, Goldstream Heights, Munn Road and the Panhandle Trail were locations where it was most frequently seen.
Lycaenidae – Lycaeninae
Reports of this double-brooded species were from June 11 – 18, and again from August 4 to September 1. This is a somewhat localised species. Locations from where it was reported were Mount Tolmie, Goldstream Park, Island View Beach, McIntyre Reservoir.
Lycaenidae – Theclinae
The taxonomy of this species is currently in a very fluid state, and reference to it may be found under several names, including, for example, Rosner’s Hairstreak, Juniper Hairstreak and Callophrys gryneus. In our area, it is usually a spring butterfly, but there are occasional records later in the year, indicating that the species may be at least partly double-brooded. In 2019, most records were from April 28 to June 11, but one was photographed by Annie Pang in Gorge Park on August 4. The immediate inference is that this would have been part of a second brood; however, it was a rather worn individual, so it is also possible that it was a spring butterfly that had managed to survive for several weeks. Spring records were from Cowichan Station, Panhandle Trail, Goldstream Park, Metchosin, Mount Tolmie, Kemp Lake, Highlands, and Memorial Crescent. While the larval foodplant is usually listed as Western Red Cedar, many of our sightings are from localities where there are no cedars in sight.
WESTERN BROWN ELFIN
As with the previous species, its taxonomy is in a very fluid state, and it may be listed under many names, from Incisalia iroides to Callophrys augustinus. Two of several questions are whether it should be treated as a distinct species from Callophrys augustinus, or whether Incisalia is a valid generic name.
There were reports of only 7 adults during 2019, from April 4 to May 26. A caterpillar was found on Salal at Munn Road on June 17; unfortunately it was found to have been parasitized by a tachinid. A brown lycaenid butterfly was photographed by Gordon Hart in the Highlands on July 29. It was not easy to identify with certainty, but, in spite of the very late date, it is thought to have most likely been this species.
I don’t know why, but Invertebrate Alert received only three reports, of five individuals, of this species in 2019. One in the Highlands on March 31; two along the Panhandle Trail on April 20; two in Goldstream Park, April 21.
WESTERN PINE ELFIN
The only report of this species within the area covered by this report was of two seen by Aziza Cooper at Goldstream Heights on May 2.
Eleven reports – of 12 individuals – from April 19 to August 22, distributed by month as: 1 in April; 6 in May; 2 in June; 2 in July; 1 in August.
Lycaenidae – Polyommatinae
WESTERN SPRING AZURE
Numerous reports of this very common spring butterfly from April 9 to June 22. (In 2018 the corresponding dates were April 10 to June 18.) Among the higher counts: 8 at Goldstream Park, April 20; 15 along Munn Road, May 5; 12 along the Panhandle Trail, May 7, and 16 there on May 15.
The only report from the Colwood exit colony was of six there on May 17. However, a new colony was found at the Koksilah Road exit from the Trans-Canada Highway, where three adults and two ova were spotted on a lupine patch on May 26.
Nymphalidae – Nymphalinae
Reports on 18 dates from March 19 to September 25 suggest that this butterfly is making a welcome come-back from a series of lean years. Adults were seen from March 19 to April 28. Then no more adults until June 1, although at least one caterpillar was found in the May gap. Caterpillars were found along the Lochside Trail near Blenkinsop Lake; in Goldstream Park; along the railway line north of Cowichan Station; and in the grounds of Royal Road University, where six were found on June 26.
The resurgence of the Satyr Comma may have put an end to the Green Comma’s attempt to become the “default” comma in the area. Although there were reports from March 17 to June 11, the great majority came from Gordon and Anne-Marie Hart’s property in the Highlands, where they are regular. Other localities where they were noted were Metchosin, Prospect Lake Road, Butchart Gardens, and Charter’s Creek.
This was one of the earliest (March 20) butterflies of the year (beaten by a few days by Satyr Comma [March 19], Mourning Cloak [March 16] and Cabbage White [March 15]), and (without competition) the latest (November 17).
Three were found by Kirsten Mills on the Mount Tolmie reservoir on March 20, and from one to three (whether the same or different individuals we know not) were seen there on many dates from then until May 9 and another there on September 26. Other localities were Little Saanich Mountain (Observatory Hill), Mount Douglas, Summit Hill, Happy Valley Road, Highlands, and Finlayson Arm Road. Most reports were from March to May inclusive; there were six sightings from June to November (none in August). A photograph by Tina Akhavan of one sunning in a brief sunny spell on November 17 in Finlayson Arm Road was a welcome surprise. Although this butterfly is usually assumed to be only a non-breeding spring migrant on the area, it is known to have bred here in previous years, and recent late-season sightings near the large Ceanothus bushes in Gordon and Anne-Marie’s Highlands property suggest that breeding may have occurred there.
After a few lean years, 2019 promised well, with reports of singles on 16 dates from March 16 to June 4, although none were seen after that date, so 2019 must be counted only a moderate year at best. The very varied localities where it was seen were South Valley Park (we bet Jeremy Gatten was looking for a Redwing when he saw this butterfly there!), Outerbridge Park, Cuthbert Holmes Park, Goldstream Park, Goldstream Heights, Highlands, Swan Lake, Panhandle Trail, Blenkinsop Valley, Panama Flats, Mount Tolmie.
The only reports of this now uncommon butterfly were of one at Munn Road on April 15, and one along South Shawnigan Lake Road on May 7.
One was seen by Jeremy Tatum at Panama Flats on May 17. That makes it three years in a row in which this rare butterfly has been seen. As in 2018, only one American Lady was sighted. 2017 was the big year.
We first heard word of a huge northerly migration of this species in California on March 17. While we did not get spectacular swarms here (the bulk of them are believed to have passed through mainland British Columbia), there is no doubt that 2019 was an excellent year here for the species. Our first report was from Mount Tolmie on March 17, though it is doubtful whether this was from the reported California swarm. From one to eight Painted Ladies were reported on many days on Mount Tolmie (either on the reservoir, or near the Jeffery Pine) from April 19 to September 26, and one on the Mount Tolmie ivy patch on October 22. Painted Ladies were an almost daily sight at other widespread locations from May to September: Christmas Hill, McIntyre Reservoir, Munn Road, Prospect Lake, Cowichan Station, Sooke, Royal Roads University, University of Victoria, Uplands Park, Panama Flats, Millstream Road, Highrock Park, Highlands, Holland Point, Sidney Island Spit, Mount Tuam, Colquitz River Trail, Maber Flats, Metchosin, Atkins Road, Mount Douglas, Beacon Hill Park, Cecelia Ravine, Gorge Park, Cedar Hill School, Doncaster School, Government House, Brentwood Bay. The last report of the year was of one at Government House, October 27. Caterpillars were found on various thistle species (including Onopordum) at Royal Roads University (June 21), Millstream Road, Holland Point. A remarkable movie of a Painted Lady butterfly ecloding (emerging) from its chrysalis in Metchosin was obtained by Jochen Möhr on September 3, and can be viewed at
WEST COAST LADY
All reports were: One on Mount Tolmie, June 1, July 27 and 28, August 1. One in Oak Bay, June 21. One on Mount Douglas, July 3. One in Atkins Road, August 20.
Not a good year for the species. None were reported before July 8. On that date, the first report of the year was a caterpillar found on nettle near Blenkinsop Lake during a VNHS field trip. Later on the same day an adult was seen hill-topping on Mount Tolmie. The caterpillar formed a chrysalis on July 11, and an adult emerged on July 21. There were no subsequent reports until September 18, when one was found in Beacon Hill Park. One was found in Happy Valley Road on September 21, one in the Highlands on September 24, and one on Mount Tolmie on October 1. A nymphalid butterfly, which flew past the observer too fast for certain identification, at Esquimalt Lagoon on the late date of October 6, was believed by observer Jeff Gaskin to be probably a Red Admiral.
Nymphalidae – Argynninae
Reported only from Mount Tuam, Salt Spring Island, where there were many on July 25 and August 8. Ren Ferguson gives an interesting account of behaviour and interactions in the July 26 afternoon Invertebrate Alert.
Nymphalidae – Melitaeinae
This species may be found under several names, including P. campestris (older literature) and P. pulchella (recent literature).
Up to 10 individuals were found at the usual site at Eddy’s Storage on Stelly’s Cross Road, Central Saanich from May18 to June 2. However, it was the site discovered by Ron Flower in 2017 next to the First Nations cemetary on West Saanich Road that stole the show. Tim Zurowski estimated more than 100 there on June 11.
It seems that this formerly common butterfly has become quite rare in our area. Thus none were reported in 2017, and only one in 2018. In 2019 the only reports were of two along Stebbings Road in the Shawnigan Lake area, May 7; two along Millstream Road on July 21; one at Malahat Station on July 28.
Nymphalidae – Limenitidinae
The first report of this species was of a final instar caterpillar found on Black Hawthorn, near Blenkinsop Lake on May 15. It pupated on May 18, and the adult emerged on May 27. The first adult of the year was noted in Gorge Park on May 21, after which it was common throughout the summer until the end of August. High counts included: 20, in the Cowichan River estuary, June 16; 6 at Cowichan Station, 9 at Quick’s Bottom, 14 at Panama Flats, 14 at Cuthbert Holmes Park, 10 at Island View Beach, all on June 18; 16 at UVic, June 20. September records were: one at Elk Lake, September 6; one at Brentwood Bay, September 22; one at Panama Flats, September 25.
Nymphalidae – Satyrinae
RINGLET or LARGE HEATH
Reports of this somewhat localised butterfly were received from four localities in 2019;
Island View Beach: 2 on May 6; 18 on August 4; “several” on August 26; 1 on September 6.
Cordova (Saanichton) Spit: 8 on May 7.
Quick’s Bottom: 1 on June 18.
Layritz Park: 24 on June 18; 12 on September 1
No reports were received from Rithet’s Bog, where it is also known to occur.
In January, Sonia Voicescu completed her comprehensive report on habitat restoration for this species at Rithet’s Bog. Her report can be viewed at
Ringlet-report_Rithets-Bog_final.pdf and Ringlet-report_Appendix.pdf
All records were from Mount Tuam on Salt Spring Island, where many were seen on July 25, August 2 and August 10.
No sightings were reported from the area covered by this report of Western Tailed Blue, Boisduval’s Blue, Hydaspe Fritillary.
Butterflies reported in worryingly small numbers included: Two-banded Grizzled Skipper, Branded Skipper, Clodius Parnassian, Western Brown Elfin, Moss’s Elfin, Western Pine Elfin, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Mylitta Crescent. Please keep a lookout for, and report, these species in 2020.