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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