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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.

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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