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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 – Alaska, June 12th

(Here’s a “lost” blog post from Jeff’s Alaska trip (he didn’t lose it, I did), enjoy! Pictured above is a Jutta Arctic. – Ed)

Day 5. June 12, 2019

Thinking that it still may be too early for Astarte Fritillary, I decide to take a run for an arctic that has been recently described as a full species.  Although not yet evaluated by the NABA Names Committee, I, and most taxonomists, think that it probably best treated as a subspecies of Chryxus Arctic, ‘Tanana’ Chryxus Arctic.  It’s essentially identical but has slightly different mitochondrial DNA. The population is known only from the Tanana River Valley of Alaska, just entering adjacent Canada.  Reportedly, it inhabits open grassy areas in boreal forest. So, even though, currently,  I’d vote against species-hood for Tanana, being so close (relatively) to its very limited range, I think its worth the effort to chase it –  maybe it will prove to be a real species, and plus, I don’t really have anything else to do today.

Habitat of the ‘Tanana’ Arctic

In the paper describing the taxon, most of the individuals examined had been collected close to Tok, Alaska – about 200 miles from Fairbanks.  One individual was collected closer to Fairbanks – on Spruce Road south of Delta Junction, along a power line cut – about 100 miles from Fairbanks.  So, off to Spruce Road I go, driving down the Alaska Highway. 

Palaeno Sulphur

I get to Spruce Road and the weather is beautiful, lots of sun and reasonably warm.  I drive up and down the length of Spruce Road.  No power line cut that I can see.  Worse, the habitat along the road doesn’t look good at all, mainly low shrubs, not really grassy.  I spend an hour looking.  Not only don’t I find any ‘Tanana’ Arctics, I don’t see any butterflies. Disappointing.  I decide to head out and look around the general area.  I drive aimlessly, something that I’m particularly good at.  About 8 miles away, I notice some telephone poles heading perpendicularly away from the Alaska Highway.  I take a U-turn and pull off the road.  I park, get my gear, get out of the car, and almost immediately see an arctic!  It’s a Jutta Arctic. Justa Jutta Arctic.  

‘Tanana’ Arctic

Unlike Spruce Road, there were quite a few butterflies – I ended up seeing 14 species.   And, after going through a couple more Jutta Arctics, ‘Tanana’ Arctics showed up – at least 7 of them!  So, a good day in the Tanana River Valley.  On the way back, another moose showed up.

Hi there!