Above the Tropopause: Searching for the Cassiope Blue

The Yosemite Butterfly County now officially closes the California season, with Paul @euproserpinus Johnson's Pinnacles Count opening it in the first weekend of June. I did 12 counts this year. My record in an eight-week window is 17 in 2010.
The big draw this year for the park's " Naturalist Series" was Robert Michael Pyle, the Godfather of American Butterflying. I hadn't seen him since his wife Thea passed away earlier this year. Three day pitch through the Sonora Pass has now become tradition for me. I don't collect much anymore so iNat photos of species have become my quarry. The Sonora Pass was sadly bleak from low snow and California drought.
Smiled at the lichen covered rocks that I knew a few more since my last visit one year earlier.
Connected up with Ken Davenport in Bridgeport, the most knowledgable where-species-are Lepidopterist in the state and author of " Yosemite Butterflies" ( 2007). Told him I wanted to see the Cassiope Blue ( Agriades cassiope ) this trip. He said he had a spot: Ellery Lake Dam along the Tioga Pass. " Meet me there at 9am tomorrow"
Also known as the "Heather Blue", the species was described only in 1998 and given full species status away from Agriades podarce, the more common Sierra Nevada Blue. A. podarce is found in wet meadows and hosts on Shooting Stars. Cassiope lives in a whole other world.
"We don't need to bring lunch, right?" I asked, judging by the spot he pointed at up the valley. " Two hours out, two hours back." What? My first assault into crumbling granite fields where each step feels like a never ending climb up a sand dune.
No butterflies for the first half hour. Lord, is this going to be a bust? Then Chris Tenney, the leader of the Monterey Butterfly Count and great birder, shouts from the other side of the bolder field " Shasta Blues " Good sign.
Reached the shelf and...there they were. Interesting to watch the males patrolling like Tiger Swallowtails along the ground in search of girls. Incredible difficult to photography. They never seemed to land. Don't really like photos in the net, but I was getting frustrated. Ken went higher for American Coppers ( L. rubidus ) which are also a High Elevation/rocky slopes species.
Chris shouted out that it's host, White Heather ( Cassiope mertensiana ) was in full bloom over on his side. I crossed the stream and...just sat to catch my breath ( heart pounding climb to 9,850) and ate my lunch. Then, my breath was removed again with the view of Ellery Lake and the Tioga Pass below. No greater manifestation of Vladimir Nabokov's famous quote: " To be in a rarified place with a butterfly and it's host plant...all that I love rushes in like a momentary vacuum and...I am at one."
Chris yelled, " There's one actually sitting on a heather flower" Got my shot.
Someone told me when I got back to San Francisco days later that White Heather was John Muir's favorite plant.
This is from Stephen Hatch's "The Contempletive John Muir"
" Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a muirland, for there is heather in me, and tinctures of bog juices that send me to Cassiope, and, oozing through all my veins, impel me unhaltingly through endless glacier meadows, seemingly the deeper and danker the better" Hatch adds: " The Scottish surname "Muir" means "one who lives besides a moor". A moorland is a large, open tract of land covered in heather. Cassiope is a white heather that grows in the Sierra Nevada."

Posted by robberfly robberfly, July 31, 2014 19:01

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Ruddy Copper Tharsalea rubidus

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 09:33 AM PDT

Description

Main Copper seen this day...

Photos / Sounds

What

Seep Monkeyflower Erythranthe guttata

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 11:05 AM PDT

Description

In the stream on the way down from the Heather Blue...

Photos / Sounds

What

Heather Blue Agriades glandon ssp. cassiope

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 2014

Description

The Heather Blue. Target species for the trip. Difficult hike to isolated population. Host is
White Heather ( Cassiope mertensiana)

Photos / Sounds

What

Western Moss-Heather Cassiope mertensiana

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 10:53 AM PDT

Description

Host plant for the Heather Blue butterfly. Blooming with Mountain Heather on this high shelf at 10,000 ft.

Photos / Sounds

What

Purple Mountainheath Phyllodoce breweri

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 10:55 AM PDT

Description

P. breweri is what is shown in Laws Guide

Photos / Sounds

What

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Description

a.k.a. The American Copper. Trashed but enough left to call it.

Photos / Sounds

What

Pacific Hulsea Hulsea algida

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 10:02 AM PDT

Description

Referred to as "Alpine Gold"...

Photos / Sounds

What

Sierra Blue Agriades podarce

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 2014

Description

This species was what the Heather Blue was keyed out of. Worn male. Last species-of-the-day before thunderstorm stopped the count.

Photos / Sounds

What

Yosemite Toad Anaxyrus canorus

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 2014

Description

Thrill to see again. Biologist in our group explained keying it away from Western Toad in ways other than white line. Distance in facial glands.

Photos / Sounds

What

Shasta Blue Icaricia shasta

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014

Description

Flying amongst the Heather Blues.
This is a male.

Photos / Sounds

What

Sandhill Skipper Polites sabuleti

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014

Description

Thick as flies this visit.

Photos / Sounds

What

Yellow-bellied Marmot Marmota flaviventris

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014

Description

Saw as I slowly descended the rock slide. Thank God for my new camera!

Photos / Sounds

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 28, 2014

Place

Bodie, CA (Google, OSM)

Description

By the time we found this slope with tons of butterflies, the Monsoonal storm was already forming. It got bleaker and bleak by the minute.
This subspecies was split in '63 from the Southern P. c. sol.
Yosemite Butterfly Count

Photos / Sounds

What

Lupine Blue Icaricia lupini

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 28, 2014

Description

A lifer for me. Up on the saddle before the lake. Both Pyle and Davenport at the compilation afterwards walked me through why this wasn't P. acmon. The elevation, the black chevrons above the aurora and P. acmon not found this high. They clearly...know more...than my...lumping instinct.

Photos / Sounds

What

Alpine Sorrel Oxyria digyna

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 10:10 AM PDT

Description

Host for Edith's Copper

Photos / Sounds

What

Human Homo sapiens

Observer

robberfly

Date

July 26, 2014 09:53 AM PDT

Description

robberfly's slow march towards Cassiope Blue

Comments

Beautiful pics, write-up, and quotes. I love "there is heather in me."

Posted by kueda about 7 years ago (Flag)

Ditto - but what got me was "tinctures of bog juices that send me to Cassiope"

Posted by leptonia about 5 years ago (Flag)

Am now officially the unofficial president of your fan club.

Posted by jzzipkin about 5 years ago (Flag)

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