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Dr. Glassberg’s Excellent Adventure Day 5

(Pictured above, a Taiga Alpine – Ed.)

I started the day, as I’ve been starting every day, at the local supermarket, Fred Meyer.  It’s huge!  It also has a gas station.  Unlike most gas station stores and vending machines, this one features a vending machine devoted to mosquito repellant. Famous for its mosquitoes, I had traveled here to Alaska with numerous cans of repellant along with a head net. Yet, amazingly, there have been almost no mosquitoes!  Don’t let anyone know.  Also, unlike supermarkets back East, Fred Meyer has successfully trained me to use self check-out.  The parking lot is a favorite hang-out of Common Ravens, known to some Native Americans as “The Thief.”  I imagined the one in the photo was attempting to run off with my rental car.

Common Raven

Four hours of driving yesterday left me wanting to take it somewhat easier today.   I opted for staying reasonably local, visiting the Goldstream Bog and Murphy Dome.  While there was no chance to see a lifer, still I’d get a chance to see many of these seldom-seen species another time.   I was able to get a photo of mating Jutta Arctics in the bog.  Up at Murphy Dome I saw a few more Taiga Alpines and a White-veined Arctic, a species new for this trip.

White-veined Arctic
mating Jutta Arctics
Prickly Rose
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Dr. Glassberg’s Excellent Adventure Day 4 Alaska – Steese Highway

(Jeff explores Eagle Summit in search of the Astarte Fritillary. Pictured above is a Mustard White – ed)

Having quickly succeeded with Taiga Alpine and Early Arctic, I decided to try for Astarte Fritillary at Eagle Summit. Eagle Summit is about a two hour drive northeast of Fairbanks, along the Steese Highway.   Ken Philip, the posthumous author of Butterflies of Alaska, had detailed a population there.  The problem is knowing where “there” is.  Although I had spoken with Ken numerous times before his death in 2014, I had never thought to ask him exactly where on Eagle Summit did Astarte Fritillaries fly. I set out under sunny skies and arrived a little after 9 am.  I parked in a one-car pullout on the southeastern side of the Steese Highway and climbed the approximately 400 feet to the summit.  Even for a 71-year old flatlander from New Jersey, it wasn’t that difficult. As I climbed, I searched in all directions for rockslide/scree that is the habitat for Astarte Fritillaries.  I saw very little that looked promising.  I reached the summit and it was rather broad and flat, again with no rockslide/scree.  Scampering down the northwestern side, I finally saw an area with some amount of rockslide.  However, I didn’t see any Astartes.  In fact, I didn’t see any butterflies at all!  It was early for Astartes, the earliest date that I know about from here is June 15, so I wasn’t too worried about that.  I was more concerned about the lack of habitat.

Wildflowers near Eagle Summit

I spent another couple of hours looking around in the vicinity and managed to find a few butterflies – 4 Old World Swallowtails, a Western White, 3 Mustard Whites and, unexpectedly, 2 Taiga Alpines.  At around 12:30, butterflying was stopped by a sudden downpour, accompanied by pea-sized hail.

Eagle Summit

On the way back I did run into (figuratively) a moose mom and her young charge.

Young moose!

Back in Fairbanks, I contacted Derek Sikes, curator of entomology at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, to see if he had any more detailed information about the Eagle Summit location for Astarte Fritillaries. It turns out that he didn’t. This might be related to the fact that he works on carrion beetles. He did, however, suggest that I contact Zdenek Fric, a Czech national who had spent some time in Fairbanks and who he remembered going out for Astarte. So I did. And Zdenek quickly responded! Unfortunately, since his response was that he went out to Eagle Summit following Ken Philips instructions, but didn’t see any, was not encouraging, to say the least! He volunteered that he ended up thinking that perhaps the habitat was on the northwest side of the Steese Highway, rather than on the southeast side.

Near Eagle Summit
Alpine Flowers near Eagle Summit
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Dr. Glassberg’s Excellent Adventure Day 3 Alaska

(Jeff continues looking for the Early Skipper in the environs of Fairbanks. Pictured above is a female Palaeno Sulphur. – ed)

I wake up at 5:30 am. It looks like it’s going to be sunny this morning.  I reach the Sheep Creek Road bog at around 8:30 am.  The Common Alpines are already flying.  A female Palaeno Sulphur was nectaring at a dandelion look-alike.

Around 9 am I enter the bog, none too optimistic that I’m going to find any Early Arctics, since I didn’t see any yesterday.  As soon as I enter the bog, Jutta Arctics are all around.  They’re quite variable here.  Although most individuals have underside HWs much more contrastingly patterned than do individuals in populations throughout most of the rest of the range, some are fairly unicolorous.  When the Jutta Arctics take wing with their rather languid flight, the overall impression is one of darkness.  I end up counting 42 Juttas. 

Alpine Azalea and lichens

Taiga Alpines prove to be more common in the bog than I had realized yesterday, and I ended up getting some additional photos of the seven individuals that I saw.  Then, at around 9:45, a pale arctic flies in front of me and lands about 20 feet up in a spruce.  An Early Arctic! I grab a few distant, tough angle photos that are fairly useless except to document the sighting.  The butterfly itself, in addition to staying its distance, was old and worn.  Even so, the photographer, himself old and worn, was feeling elated! 

The Early Arctic!

Other butterflies in the bog included Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, Spring Azure, and one worn Bog Fritillary.  A few hours later, an arctic flew in and landed right beside me.  Startled, I turned quickly and frightened it, sending it off to a nearby spruce.  It was a second Early Arctic.  Although also worn and distant, I was able to get somewhat better (but still bad) photos of this individual.

Polaris Fritillary

Early in the afternoon, I drove to Murphy Dome. Although the temperature was 55 degrees, 10 degrees less than at Goldstream Bog, there were a few butterflies flying.  At a high spot, Old World Swallowtails were hilltopping.  Farther out in a moist tundra area, a few Polaris Fritillaries and Banded Alpines were flying.  I was able to snag some photos of a Polaris Fritillary and a lucky shot of the topside of a Banded Alpine in flight.  Driving back, just below the Dome, I braked the car as I saw an alpine landed on the side of the road.  It, and two others, proved to be Red-disked Alpines.  I had seen this species only one other day in my life, in Wisconsin, where, as some readers of American Butterflies may remember, I drove my car into the bog. This time, as with Banded Alpine, I was able to get a photo of the upperside of an individual in flight.

All in all, a pretty spectacular day.

female Polaris Fritillary