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Dr. Glassberg’s Excellent Adventure Day 9 Alaska

(Here’s Jeff’s final post from Alaska, maybe the most impressive for butterfly pictures! Above is a male Eversmann’s Parnassian, on Eagle Summit. – ed)

Sunday, June 16.
Today, the thought is to try for better photos – of Astarte Fritillaries, Polaris Fritillaries, Eversmann’s Parnassians and others.

female Eversmann’s Parnassian

When I arrive at Eagle Summit it’s slightly colder than yesterday, 51 degrees vs 52 degrees, but the sky is blue and sunny and there’s little, if any, wind. A perfect day! I wended my way to the rockslide area.

Magdalena Alpine

I spent about three hours amongst the rocks, trying to stand up on the steep slopes. A few Bolorian blowbys might well have been Astartes, but I didn’t see any that I was sure of. As a consolation prize, at least three Magdalena Alpines cruised the rockslides and, on a few occasions, landed close enough to me to enable reasonable photos. A Melissa Arctic landed near me and added another species to this trip.

Melissa Arctic

At about 1 pm, the winds picked up considerably and I decided to call it a day. I had succeeded in obtaining identifiable photos of my three targets, Taiga Alpine, Early Arctic and Astarte Fritillary. Plus, I had the bonus butterfly, ‘Tanana’ Chryxus Arctic. Back in Fairbanks, I was able to switch my plane flights and fly out tonight. Mission accomplished – at least this part of it.

Banded Alpine
female Eversmann’s Parnassian
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Dr. Glassberg’s Excellent Adventure Day 8 Alaska

(Pictured above, Alpine Forget-me-nots near Eagle Summit – ed)

Saturday, June 15.

It was overcast in Fairbanks when I awoke.  The weather report for Circle, AK, about 50 miles east of Eagle Summit, was the closest information that I could find, and the prediction was for mostly cloudy skies and some rain.  So, I had a choice, stay in Fairbanks in the clouds and rain, or drive to Eagle Summit and hope the weather folks were wrong.  No offense intended weather folks, but I headed for Eagle Summit. 

It was good that I did because I saw some wildlife on the way.  There was a snowshoe hare, a red fox, a vole and most excitingly, a caribou (reindeer are the domesticated version of this species – that’s why Santa Claus’ sleigh team are reindeers) – the first I’ve ever seen.  It was a young un, without antlers (almost), but hey, it was still a caribou!  You may be thinking, how do you know that it was a young caribou (other than the fact that it pranced – I didn’t tell you about that)?  Turns out the caribous (including reindeer, of course) are the only species of deer whose females also have antlers.  Good to know.  The photo isn’t so great, but keep in mind that it was taken from a long distance with a macro lens intended for butterflies!

Five miles from the base of Eagle Summit the temperature was 59 degrees – and it was sunny with limited wind! By the time that I reached the Eagle Summit pullout, it was 52 degrees.  But it was still sunny without too much wind.  I began walking and climbing.  For the first time, I was confronted with clouds of some type of gnat-like fly.  It was literally impossible to breath without inhaling some of the flies with the air.  The flies made the half hour or so walk/climb/scramble to the rockslides very unpleasant.  However, I was buoyed by sightings of Banded Alpines, Reddish Alpines, many Polaris Fritillaries and the most Eversmann’s Parnassians I had ever seen.  A little worn out, I eventually made it to the rockslides.  And then, the flies disappeared! 

Astarte Fritillary!

I wasn’t there too long before an oxymoronic large lesser fritillary flew in and landed not too far from me. A ran off a series of photos, then tried to walk around so that I would have a better angle. I partly succeeded when the Bolorian decided that enough was enough, and away it went. Astarte Fritillaries are larger than other are other species of lesser fritillaries, there’s a known colony here at Eagle Summit and they’re found on rockslides – so, an Astarte Fritillary! But wait, you say, you’ve seen this movie before. Glassberg gets excited, looks at the photos, and realizes that he’s seen a more common species in the genus. Good for you! But not this time! This time, it actually was an Astarte Fritillary. The photo of the upperside isn’t great, but useable. Unfortunately the underside photo that I got is pretty woeful. I’ll come back tomorrow to try for better shots.

Can you spot it?
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Dr. Glassberg’s Excellent Adventure Day 6 & 7 Alaska

(Pictured above, Shooting Stars. -Ed.)

Thursday, June 13.  Deciding that it would be a lazy day, I took the easy way and drove to Murphy Dome.  The usual suspects made an appearance.  I did get some photos of the upperside of a male Polaris Fritillary.

Polaris Fritillary

Friday, June 14.  Drove to Eagle Summit.  It’s cool (55 degrees), cloudy, and very, very windy.   First, I explored the area north of Steese Highway, following the suggestion of Zdenek Fric.  Although I found some rockslide areas, these didn’t look particularly promising.  Next, I drove a little farther east, to a hilltop that had a trail running up to it.  I parked and walked about 15 minutes to the summit.  Once there, I encountered a young man and woman who were researchers at U. of A. Fairbanks.  I asked what they were doing.  Looking for birds they responded.  Anything in particular?  Ptarmigans they said.  Turns out that they were radio tracking ptarmigans in the area.  I suggested that they turn their attentions to butterflies, as so little was known about them.  They seemed surprised at this, but I’m thinking that I didn’t really succeed in creating more butterfly researchers.  I asked if they knew an area nearby with rockslides and/or scree.  They directed me back to the first Eagle Summit area that I had visited a few days ago, but told me that rather than going to the top, as I had done, that I should continue along the side of the mountain for about one-half mile and they I would find the area.  I wished them fun with ptarmigans.


So, I, of course, set out to find this area.  I parked at the one-car pullout and followed the ptarmigan researchers directions.  In a while, I found some areas that looked like promising habitat for Astarte Fritillaries.   However, I didn’t see any. This may have been because it was cold, cloudy and windy.  I estimated that the wind was blowing at a steady 40 mph for much of the time.  At one point, it almost carried me off the mountain!  But, at least the area seemed reasonable.  On the way down I saw a surfbird (a surprising number of shorebird species nest on Eagle Summit) and photographed some wildflowers, but because of the wind, most of the photos were fuzzy.