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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cloaked in mystery

Well, sometimes I just can't help it.  I'm from the Boston area, and the Bruins made me proud tonight (although I did feel bad for the Penguins; that was a tough loss!).  So I tried to think of the last photograph I took that had black and gold highlights.  This is what I came up with:


I photographed this Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) on San Juan Island in Washington on 25 May 2013.

Mourning Cloaks are often associated with willows, and sure enough, we found several of them basking in the sun near a willow thicket.  A few were also sipping sap from the bark (next image).


Note that the undersides of their wings are very different than the uppersides — predominantly black and charcoal gray with a golden border.


There are quite a few willow thickets on Bodega Head and I've often thought those sites would be good places to find Mourning Cloaks.  I haven't found one yet, and it's actually been a bit of a mystery why I haven't seen Mourning Cloaks locally.  Are they just not common along the Sonoma Coast?  

But recently, in A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, I read a reference to Mourning Cloaks undergoing a "catastrophic regional population collapse, disappearing from many places and becoming very rare in others."  And it sounds like this may have happened in the early 2000s.  So now I'm wondering if I arrived in this area at a time when Mourning Cloaks are harder to find...or if they've always been rare (or unrecorded) on Bodega Head?  If you are familiar with their status in this area, I'd love to hear more!
 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have seen Mourning Cloaks along Salmon Creek Road in Bodega just about every spring season (early arrivals) since I arrived in Sonoma county, in 2004. I have not been remembering them closer to the coast... So perhaps they are more of a shady forest "Lepidoptera"? Actually wondering about their coastal frequency now that you asked the question. There is a blog up the coast for the mendonoma (slang for Mendocino and Sonoma coast) area. The person who posts the photos different people take of natural history is Jeanne Jackson and she posts at: mendonoma sightings.blogspot.com. I am thinking that since she has lived along the coast for many years, she would know this butterfly quite well. She might be able to answer whether or not it is only seen one, two miles inland. Still don't remember seeing it any closer to the coast than Salmon Creek, Bodega.