More than 20 butterfly enthusiasts gathered at Turners Falls to join naturalist Mark Fairbrother of Montague on a butterfly tour of Western Massachusetts. Spectacular views of the areas abundant forested landscapes and the very low flowing rivers, resulting from this year’s lack of significant rain, were noted as the group traveled west on route 2 in the crisp sunshine.
Our first destination was the Mount Greylock State Reservation. Mount Greylock is the states highest peak with an elevation of nearly 3,500 feet above sea level. The elevation is responsible for the unique forest cover , which resembles plant communities, much farther north in latitude. There is also a delay in the unfolding of spring in higher elevations and several species observed had emerged weeks earlier in the relative lowlands of the North Quabbin area. Entering the reservation Mourning Cloak, Tiger Swallowtail, and White Admiral butterflies were noted on the steep climb to the summit. At an elevation of about 3,000 feet the presence of Spruce and singing Blackpoll Warblers confirmed the change in habitat. We were soon rewarded with the discovery of a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell. This spectacular orange and black butterfly is uncommon most years anywhere in Massachusetts.
The most unusual butterfly resident of the Greylock area is the Early Hairstreak. This diminutive creature is a forest butterfly whose larva feed on Beech and adults nectar on Birch blossoms and roadside flowers. The Early Hairstreak is rare throughout it’s range, but can be found in small colonies from the Maritime Provinces south in high elevations to Georgia. The colony on Mount Greylock was rediscovered in the 1980’s and is one of the most accessible in the Northeast. Our group encountered naturalists from a Mass Audubon “Wings over Western Massachusetts” tour and a group of 4 cars from New Jersey here to photograph the Hairstreaks.
Parking at the Department of Environmental Management Campground our group had walked only a short distance when the first Early Hairstreak was discovered. Close looks and photos were taken as the group tallied a total of eleven of these beautiful small butterflies. Pearl crescent, Pepper and Salt Skippers, and Spring Azures were noted along with many singing Blackburnian Warblers and a Blue-headed Vireo.
Traveling south out of the reservation the song of the Mourning Warbler was heard and the group stopped to try an catch a glimpse of this secretive warbler of high elevations. We were rewarded with great looks at another butterfly of the hill country the West Virginia White. This delicate butterfly is declining through much of it’s range and was anew butterfly for many on the trip. The final stop of the trip was at the Moran Wildlife Management area in Windsor. This spectacular collection of open fields wet meadows and upland shrub habitats is maintained by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and is visited by many wishing to view the abundant birds and butterflies. Silvery Blue, Monarch, Common Ringlet, Clear-winged Sphinx (Hummingbird) Moth, 35 Arctic Skipper, Black Swallowtails, and Pearl Crescent were noted.
Another great trip for the Butterfly Institute who will travel next Saturday June 12th to the Turners Falls and Gill area. We will meet at Athol High School at 9:00 am or the Fish Ladder in Turners Falls at 10:00 am.