2018 January 1
2017 BUTTERFLY REPORT FOR
SOUTHERN VANCOUVER ISLAND
This short unofficial report is a summary of butterfly observations made in 2017 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 2017 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 have been published – together with some splendid butterfly photographs – by Gordon in the 2018 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,
A long, cloudy, damp spring meant that few butterflies were reported in March and April – a month in which many species should be laying eggs. This does not augur well for 2018. There followed a long, hot, summer, extending beyond the solstice and into October, when ladies and sulphurs persisted long after we usually expect to see no butterflies.
We had some exciting rare migrants this year, such as
probable Clouded Sulphur
At the same time there were several usually or formerly common species for which very few reports, or even none at all, were received from the area covered by this report. Thus there were no reports at all of
Western Pine Elfin
Western Tailed Blue
and very few reports of
For Clodius Parnassian, Western Pine Elfin, Western Tailed Blue and Hydaspe Fritillary, the reason is probably that we did not sufficiently explore the wilder and more hilly parts of the area away from Victoria. Probably these species are still there and waiting to be seen by those who don sturdy hiking boots. The absence or scarcity of Mourning Cloaks and California Tortoiseshells is probably not of great concern. These are migratory species which typically have good years and bad years. We have had a succession of unusually good years recently, and we were perhaps due for a bad one.
Only one colony of Silvery Blues is known at present. Further exploration of roadside lupine patches may reveal more.
Of great concern is the absence or scarcity of Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Mylitta Crescent and the two commas. The commas are difficult to distinguish and observers may rightly be reluctant to report them at species level. Also, the Green Comma seems to be rather a local butterfly, and, if you don’t happen to visit an area where they occur, you may miss the species altogether for the year. Less explicable is the Satyr Comma, which used to be one of the commonest, most familiar and widespread butterflies in the area. We should make a special effort to find these butterflies next year.
Hesperiidae – Pyrginae
Rather few reports this year – perhaps under-reported? Reported in ones or twos from May 7 (a latish first sighting – doubtless reflecting the long, cloudy, wet spring this year) until a VNHS Butterfly walk in Layritz Park on June 4, when three were recorded, the last reported sightings of the year. Most reports were from local hills – Mount Tolmie, Christmas Hill, Observatory Hill. Also from Munn Road and Humpback Road.
TWO-BANDED GRIZZLED SKIPPER
This tiny butterfly is difficult to find, and only four were reported. One was photographed on May 4 near the Pike Lake Substation nectaring on Fragaria, a wild strawberry and the main larval foodplant. Another was a specimen reared from egg found in 2016; the adult ecloded (emerged) on May 15 and was released near the Pike Lake Substation. Two were seen at Goldstream Heights, June 6.
Hesperiidae – Hesperiinae
The first report of this European butterfly was on June 21. After that until about mid-July it was very abundant, especially at Panama Flats, and Eddy’s Storage on Stelly’s Cross Road. As often happens, there were few actual reports of a butterfly that is so numerous and familiar. The last report was a late straggler on August 4.
WESTERN BRANDED SKIPPER
I am at a slight loss as to what to call this butterfly. It was split a few years ago into two species, and the one that we get at Cordova Spit is supposed to be H. colorado. While there may be small perceived differences between geographically-separated populations of this butterfly, there remains a question as to whether these differences amount to two distinct species, or whether they are better treated as subspecies. I am inclined – until I know the full evidence for why they should be regarded as distinct species – to refer all populations to the single species name, Hesperia comma.
Whatever their name, several were seen at the Cordova Spit site during the period August 1 – 7. On this last date they were seen and photographed by several participants in a VNHS Butterfly Walk.
It would be exceedingly interesting to find a caterpillar of these butterflies, to see if they differ in any substantial way from those of H. comma. The supposed foodplant is Sheep’s Fescue grass. I am told this grass occurs there, though I have never seen it. The dominant grass there is Elymus mollis..
In late summer, this is one of our most abundant butterflies, usually starting to appear just as the number of Essex Skippers is beginning to decline. In 2017 there were reports on July 17 (the only July report) and from August 4 to September 22.
Papilionidae – Parnassiinae
There were no reports to Invert Alert from within the southern Vancouver Island birdwatching area in 2017. C’mon, observers! Let’s get ’em next year.]
Papilionidae – Papilioninae
This formerly common butterfly has become uncommon – some might say even rare –
and a sighting of one is an exciting experience. During the period May 21 to Aug 27, there were eleven sightings of single butterflies, involving perhaps only seven or eight different individuals. Locations were Mount Douglas, Shelbourne Street, Metchosin, Layritz Park, Mount Prévost, Government House, Mount Tolmie, McIntyre Reservoir. No caterpillars were reported, but an adult butterfly was photographed ovipositing on Fennel in a private garden in Shelbourne Street in the Jubilee area on May 26. An Anise Swallowtail that had been reared from a first-instar caterpillar found in Metchosin in 2015, emerged as an adult butterfly in 2017, after having spent two winters as a pupa.
WESTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL
Sightings from April 27 (a late starting date, reflecting the long, damp, cloudy spring this year, though the starting date in 2015 was even later – May 8) to the last sighting on August 15. June was the peak month for the species.
PALE TIGER SWALLOWTAIL
Reports from May 13 to July 19.
Pieridae – Pierinae
Reports from July 15 to August 18. Then a gap, followed by a sighting of six in East Sooke Park on September 10. I suspect the long gap was only apparent. They had perhaps largely gone from the Greater Victoria area, where most observers are concentrated, and were perhaps present throughout the apparent gap in the less-frequented area of East Sooke Park. Perhaps we should be giving that area more attention.
Within the area covered by this report, this was reported only from the railway line north of Cowichan Station. It should perhaps also be sought in nearby Bright Angel Park. Reports received from Cowichan Station were: A few, May 21. One, June 12.
Eight, June 29. Six, July 1. It was noted that in May the veins were heavy accented on the hindwing undersides (showing their close relationship to Pieris napi, the Green-veined White of Europe), but the June and July butterflies were pure white. It seems that there are two generations, with the first one being “veined”, and the second immaculate. We should try to verify this next year.
No caterpillars were found. The most probable foodplant is Nasturtium officinale, although in past years caterpillars there have been found on Hesperis matronalis. Both plants are common there.
With the possible exception of the Woodland Skipper at its peak, this is the commonest butterfly of the area. I didn’t say “our” commonest butterfly because, of course, it isn’t “ours”, being a European import. Although it overwinters as a pupa and not as an adult, adult Cabbage Whites can be seen in almost any month of the year except probably December and January. It is multibrooded. Hard to say what “multi” means; probably better to say continuously brooded. This year it was first reported on March 15 – the first butterfly sighting of the year. There were three further reports in March. In the first half of April it was seen on most days, in ones or twos. By mid-April it was common generally. In August and September there were huge numbers around McIntyre reservoir and the adjacent fields. If someone had made the effort, perhaps he or she could have counted 1000 in that area. Sightings of Cabbage Whites in small numbers or singles continued during October at several locations, though mostly at McIntyre reservoir. The last report was on November 1.
Pieridae – Anthocharinae
Reported in good numbers from March 30 to May 28.
Pieridae – Coliadinae
During a VNHS Butterfly Walk to see the Orange Sulphurs (quod vide) at McIntyre reservoir on September 3, a few rather paler, lemon yellow butterflies were seen. We were (maybe “I was” would be more accurate) probably guilty of too-hastily dismissing these as female Orange Sulphurs. Although we never definitively identified these paler butterflies, it is now thought to be highly likely that they were in fact Clouded Sulphurs. (They were not the almost white female form “helice” that occurs in some species of sulphur.) We’ll be better prepared next time we have a sulphur visitation.
A sulphur was seen at Lochside Farm on August 4, and another on Puckle Road on August 12. Although neither observer committed to identification at the species level, one seen on Puckle Road on August 13 was certainly an Orange Sulphur, and it is probable that the August 4 and 12 butterflies were also Orange Sulphurs. From August 14 to October 15 up to five and probably more could be seen almost daily, when the weather was suitable, at the McIntyre reservoir in Central Saanich. The last report was of a single near the Lochside Drive pig farm, Central Saanich, October 28. Many excellent photographs – including of the difficult upperside – were obtained.
We must make a note to seek permission, on a future occasion, to search the alfalfa patches in the Forbidden Field. The sulphurs may well breed here.
Lycaenidae – Lycaeninae
Reports from June 13 to September 28. Not thought to be an uncommon butterfly, yet in 2017 all reports were from Island View Beach or from Cordova Spit or from McIntyre reservoir, so it appears that this butterfly is of rather local distribution. Observers are asked particularly to note occurrences at other localities. In the past, caterpillars have been found, at other locations, on Rumex crispus, and suspected on Rumex acetosella. On Island View Beach and Cordova Spit, the larval foodplant is presumably Polygonum paronychia.
Lycaenidae – Theclinae
Reports of singles, or of two or three, from May 10 to June 21. Unlike in 2015, there were no reports in July or August.
[Note: Some authors place the following three butterflies in the genus Callophrys.]
WESTERN BROWN ELFIN
Sightings from April 9 to May 22.
Sightings from April 1 to May 20.
[WESTERN PINE ELFIN
None were reported this year to Invert Alert from within the boundaries of the southern Vancouver Island birdwatching area. Observers should check the Spectacle Lake area.]
This is a bivoltine species, flying in the spring and again in late summer. In the experience of the compiler, caterpillars of the first brood feed on the flowers of Salal, and of the second brood on the flowers of Pearly Everlasting, and are coloured accordingly to match the flowers of these two plants. Strangely in 2017 there were only two reported spring sightings, on May 2 and 20, reflecting the awful spring we had. There were three reported sightings in summer – August 5 and 27, and September 11. Not a good year for this species.
Lycaenidae – Polyommatinae
[WESTERN TAILED BLUE
There have been no reported sightings of this species in our area in the three years for which these reports have been compiled. Years ago it was not a rare butterfly in the Victoria area, occurring, among other places, at Ten-Mile-Point before that area was heavily built up. There may yet be some areas worth searching, such as around the Kinsol Trestle, or the railway line north of Cowichan Station.]
WESTERN SPRING AZURE
This is one of our commonest spring butterflies, and certainly the commonest blue.
Sightings in 2017 from April 5 to June 11.
The only sighting of adult butterflies during 2017 was of eight flying around the lupines at the Island Highway Colwood exit on May 20. A week later, ova were conspicuous on the lupine flower heads, but no adults were seen. This area should be checked every ear, as well as other roadside lupine stands.
Nymphalidae – Nymphalinae
All reports received were: April 21, one photographed at Fort Rodd Hill. May 4, one seen in the Highlands. May 21, one seen at Cowichan Station. July 1, One caterpillar found on nettle at Latoria Creek Park. (A good butterfly place in the spring, by the way.)
That’s all for the entire year! What has become of this formerly very common butterfly?
It is possible that it is not quite as rare as suggested by these very few observations, because the several comma species are tricky to identify, and observers are often rightly reluctant to go beyond “Comma sp.” For example an early comma on April 14 was so described. Nevertheless this butterfly has inexplicably become quite uncommon. Searches for caterpillars on the nettles on Lochside Drive north of Blenkinsop Lake in July and August drew blank, although there were plenty caterpillars there of Red Admiral.
This species, too, was scarce in 2017, although reports of this species are always inhibited by identification difficulty. VNHS members saw one in the Highlands on their May 7 walk, and one was photographed there in May 22.
We have had a run of several good years for this migratory visitor, but 2017 was not one of them. One on Mount Douglas on April 16, and one on Observatory Hill on April 30, both photographed, were the total 2017 tally.
After a run of several good Mourning Cloak years, none at all were reported to Invert Alert in 2017 from within the southern Vancouver Island birdwatching area. We received reports from elsewhere on the Island of one past Port Renfrew on April 21 (Rosemary Jorna), and one at Tofino on May 4 (Val George).]
If some of the nymphalids disappointed, others made up for it. The first indication of this rare butterfly on Vancouver Island was of one photographed about ten miles north of Courtenay on August 8, a long way, of course, outside our area. Then on September 11 an enthusiast photographed a butterfly at McIntyre reservoir, Central Saanich, sending a copy to Invert Alert only about a week later in case it might be of interest. It was an American Lady! From then until September 28 many butterflyers saw or photographed American Ladies at that location. Examination of several photographs obtained determined that at least three individuals were present at the reservoir. We don’t know exactly how many there were other than being certain of at least three. On September 27, at least one (probably more) was spotted at Whiffin Spit, Sooke, and, from outside the area, we heard of one that was photographed at Errington, near Parksville, also on September 27. The last certain identification of one at McIntyre reservoir was reported on September 28. One was seen at Albert Head Lagoon on October 15.
Before 2017 the only other report of an American Lady received by Invert Alert since its inception in 2010 was of one in September 2012. There had been a (very) few sightings of the species before 2010.
This was a fairly good Painted Lady year, with almost daily reports from May 4 to October 15, and a few stragglers after that date. The last report was of one at McIntyre reservoir on October 28. Evening hilltopping butterflies on Mount Tolmie provided most of the reports, though there were widespread and numerous sightings from throughout the area. The most reported on a single day from one location was nine on Mount Douglas on May 21. Seven were counted at McIntyre reservoir on August 20, and seven at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific on September 22.
By mid-August, the Painted Ladies on Mount Tolmie, evening hill-topping mostly near the Jeffery Pine there, were beginning to look rather past their “Best Before” date, even though still flying strongly. But elsewhere, such as at McIntyre Reservoir, Highlands, Whiffin Spit and elsewhere, pristine fresh specimens were being seen.
I have described 2017 as being a “fairly” good Painted Lady year. It doesn’t quite make the grade as a “very” good year, because, surprisingly, no caterpillars were reported. However, an empty caterpillar nest was noted in a thistle near McIntyre Reservoir on August 20, so we can be sure that this migratory species did breed here.
When discussing the Monarch butterfly, we usually caution that the species is bred commercially and released at weddings. It should also be borne in mind that the Painted Lady is also bred commercially and delivered to schools for educational purposes.
WEST COAST LADY
One at Mount Tolmie from June 16 to August 14. This was a similar situation to that in 2016, where a single West Coast Lady was at Mount Tolmie from May 7 to August 29. In that year we wrote: “not necessarily the same one all the time, of course”. I am not so sure about the “of course”. I am wondering if the reports from June to August this year might well in fact have referred to a single individual. In June, it was described as “pristine”, but as the year went on the butterfly seen there became more and more worn.
After August 14 none were seen until a surprise single at McIntyre reservoir on October 28.
The first report received by Invert Alert was of one at Muir Creek – a little outside our area – on April 3. However, from May 9 to September 27, there were almost daily sightings throughout the area from Weir’s Beach to Cowichan Station. It was a regular evening hilltopper at Mount Tolmie. Caterpillars were found all along the Lochside Trail between Blenkinsop Lake and Lohbrunners in late July and early August, as well as at Swan Lake and Weir’s Beach.
Nymphalidae – Argynninae
None were reported. Next year we need to put on some strong boots and get up into them thar hills.]
Nymphalidae – Melitaeinae
Several observers managed to see these localised butterflies at Eddy’s Storage on Stelly’s Cross Road, from June 5 to July 5. It is difficult to count how many there were there, though the most seen there by one observer on one day was at least a dozen on June 11. Two additional colonies were located – one at the Zanzibar Restaurant at the corner of Stelly’s Cross Road and West Saanich Road, and the other at the First Nations Graveyard on West Saanich Road.
None!!!!! Has it become really that rare? Or do we need to open our collective eyes just a little more? We received two reports from outside our area: One at Nanoose on May 24, and one on Gabriola Island on June 24.]
Nymphalidae – Limenitidinae
This reliable resident butterfly was reported from June 11 to August 29, plus one late straggler on Cedar Hill Golf Course on September 6. One observer counted 28 at Swan Lake on July 1. On August 6, one was photographed in the North Jubilee area, on which the orange patch near the forewing apex was replaced with white. A young (first or second instar) caterpillar was found at Blenkinsop Lake on August 22 feeding on Aspen, a slightly unusual foodplant.
Nymphalidae – Satyrinae
[Also known as the “(Choose your own adjective) Ringlet”.]
In 2017 there were sightings of this butterfly from May 19 to September 22. Though sometimes regarded as not common, it is more accurately a localized butterfly, and, where it occurs (such as at Layritz Park, Quick’s Bottom, Island View Beach, Rithet’s Bog) it can be very common. Thus on the VNHS Butterfly Walk on June 4 in Layritz Park, at least 40 were counted, and it was noted as numerous on several dates at Island View Beach.
Nymphalidae – Danainae
I do not normally keep a space in the template for this report for the Monarch butterfly, but in 2017 there were in fact two credible reports by reliable and experienced observers. One was seen flying over the McTavish interchange on the Pat Bay Highway on June 12, and another was seen at Rocky Point on September 25. While I repeat the usual mandatory caution that the provenance of Monarchs seen in our area must be treated with caution since Monarchs are known to be bred commercially for release at weddings, I also add that viewers must keep in mind the possibility that at least some of the Monarchs occasionally seen here might be genuinely wild butterflies. There is little real evidence either way.